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CROSSING THE GAP

Build Bridges, Not Walls

I cannot be the only person who has heard this phrase over and over in the past few months. Like an echo reverberating off the walls of the treacherous chasm that is our indifference. As cliche and annoying as those four words have become, there is so much truth to them. However, I do not think that this phrase fully captures the importance of religious and racial tolerance in today’s society.

In the picture above is the Mackinaw Bridge. I love the Mackinaw area; I love the Upper Peninsula of Michigan even more. However, to get from Mackinaw City to the Upper Peninsula you have to cross a bridge spanning five miles. The first time I crossed the Mackinaw Bridge I was terrified. It felt like the slightest breeze would knock the car over the edge and into the perilous depths below. Over the years every time I would cross the bridge I would feel more and more at ease. Having faith that I would make it to the other side because I knew I had done it before is what calmed my quivering nerves.

Recently I went to the U.P. with a friend of mine who had never gone that far into Michigan before. When he saw the fast approaching bridge looming before us he froze. While I marveled at the beauty of the bridge that I had seen many times before I heard him whimper, “we aren’t going over that, are we?” After some coaxing he mustered up the courage to suck it up and brave the massive bridge.

After this event had transpired, a question occurred to me.

Do people ever decided NOT to cross the Mackinaw Bridge because they are afraid of it? Does their fear cause them to miss the beauty that is on the other side of the bridge?

Although many people are brave enough to cross a bridge, could you imagine if more people were too afraid to cross the gap? What would be the point of building bridges if no one were to use them? I see a lot of people that, without questioning it, put on their hardhats and slip on their harnesses and go out into the world to build relational bridges. However, I see even more people who would rather steer clear of those bridges for the fear that something may happen while crossing the bridge. There are even people that go as far as to set up blockades so that no one can cross.

To often I think we are too focused on what can knock us off the bridge, and we do not pay attention to what we will discover on the other side. Much like my experience with the Mackinaw Bridge, I believe those who are scared of crossing the gap will find it easier once they have made the effort to do so once before. Moreover, once you have crossed that bridge, you might just find that you are excited to do it again.

We will always need people who are willing to build bridges. Those who want to bridge religious and racial groups are invaluable to society. However, I encourage more people to gear up to cross those bridges that are already built.

Don’t allow the fear of what could go wrong distract you from the beauty you will find when you reach the other side. As a Christian I have found something new in my faith from learning about Islam and Buddhism. Studying these two religions has taught me more about how I can be a better Christian. God has given us the gift of culture and diversity, and if you are willing to take the time and effort to cross over into their world, you might find out something new about yourself. All you have to do is have a little faith.

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IRON IS BETTER THAN GOLD

[As iron sharpens iron,
    so one person sharpens another.]

Proverbs 27:17

Have you ever wondered why we do not talk about gold in the same way we do iron or steel? An ounce of gold can cost almost $1,500. Gold is a luxury item, used in jewelry and expensive goods. I could buy a ton (literally) of iron for about $70. Wouldn’t we want to be like gold? Wouldn’t we want our faiths and ourselves to be to shine and glimmer, to be something sought after? However, throughout the bible our faith, our reward, our body is referred to as anything BUT gold. It’s like gold has received this bad reputation. Gaudy, extravagant, something only some people can get.

See there is the problem. A faith like gold alludes to a faith that is available to the spiritually rich. A faith like gold compromises the biblical idea that we all have access and the ability to receive Christ’s reward and to HAVE faith. During Ancient Rome (and even prior to that) most swords and other weapons were made of iron because it was something that even the poor could afford and use (yes, I am aware the picture above features steel products rather than iron, unfortunately I don’t have any iron broadswords lying around for a photo-op). In the Bible or faith is compared to iron because even the poor in spirit had access to it and can utilize it. The beauty of gold is outweighed by God’s desire for everyone to be able to afford faith in Him. God does not care about the beauty of our faith and spirit but that we are able to have it. And that we are able to carry our faith into battle when we are called to.

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ

[1 Peter 1:6-7]

For anybody who has ever taken a chemistry class might know  gold’s physical properties. Gold is a very soft metal, it is very malleable. Gold also has a melting point of around 1,900°F. On the other hand iron is a strong metal and much harder to scratch, mold, or break. The melting point of iron is about 1,000°F HIGHER than that of gold. I’m not trying to give you a chemistry lesson, but further shed light on why we should rejoice with our faiths like iron. 1 Peter, in the verses above, say two things about our faith, they are more precious than gold, and they are tested by fire. If our faith is like iron then we can praise and give glory to God knowing that iron-like faith has a higher tolerance to the trials of fire than a faith like gold. God does not compare our faith to something like iron to detest those whom wish for gold, but to show us that we can bear the heat of trials if we take on the properties of iron rather than of gold. It is a way of showing that what society considers valuable is not what God considers of value.

Lastly, with iron faith God is equipping us to take on spiritual warfare. From those who persecute us, to the devil in our heads telling us we are not good enough. Imagine a Roman soldier, going into battle. He is not a wealthy man so he cannot afford the best, but he has his trusty iron sword. It is worn form battles passed. It is dingy, chipped, even slightly dulled. As the battle turns nasty he finds himself against an opponent. Clearly wealthy, the opposition is clad in gold, not golden, but gold. The hilt of his sword is encrusted with jewels and the blade is gold through-and-through. The shear look of him makes the Roman soldier discouraged. How could his dingy iron sword compare to the magnificence of gold. As they clash, strike after strike something happens. The gold sword of the opponent begins to crack and break. One more strike and the sword completely shatters.

Although the opponent with a gold sword looked more put together and worthy of victory than the Roman soldier with his dingy iron sword, the Roman soldier still was triumphant. Although iron can became drab and worn, an iron swords integrity is far stronger than gold. A gold sword will shatter in battle. God knows that our faith, our spiritual life is not perfect. It is not beautiful and put together. Our faiths generally look more like the iron sword, I know mine does. It is a mess, dingy, and sometimes even dull. However if we put on an act of a faith like gold, we will lose every time. Although my faith can, and will be, dulled I know I can rely on those with iron faith to help sharpen it again, so that when I am headed into the battle of spiritual warfare I know I will be victorious. God compares our faith to iron to show us that we do not have to be perfect and beautiful to serve Him.

YOU CAN’T MUTE GOD

When I was in high school I decided to forego my chores at home to go hang out with my friends. A few hours later I received a phone call from my dad. Very soon into the conversation I realized my father was calling to chastise me for not completing my jobs. Instead of listening to what he had to say I decided I didn’t feel like being lectured and muted the call volume. I let out the occasional “OK”, “mhm”, and “yeah” to make him believe I was still listening even though I had no idea what he was saying. I did not want to deal with my father and decided what he wanted me to do could be put on the back burner until I was done with what I wanted to do, and then I would do what he asked of me. Maybe.

Sometimes I feel like we treat God the same way. Even someone that does not really know yet how to listen to God can perceive what it is we are being called to do by our heavenly Father. However, when it comes down to the everyday grind of life, between school, work, friends, food, and binge watching a season of your favorite show on Netflix, we generally put God’s requests and demands to the wayside. You see, we think that we can do what I did to my dad. That we can put God on mute and pretend like we hear what he is saying. I have been putting off writing this very blog post because I have been so busy and kept saying “yeah I will do it when I have time.” Yet I never seem to get around to it, and I know God keeps telling me to write it that someday I will be able to reach someone, to affect someone. That may not happen early on in my writing career, which is why I keep failing to update this blog. Yet God keeps telling me to do it, and I keep trying to silence his call.

Unfortunately, unlike my not-so-perceptive dad, my God is not so easily fooled by our noncommittal responses and our attempt to drown him out. I know that I have been feeling the call to write this blog, work with a rescue mission, read my bible, go to church, and so much more, over and over. God does not stop calling us to do things. He doesn’t want to wait until we are ready to get a reasonable response or action.

I know I am not the only one who realizes this, or even struggles to do what we are told to do. I am busy. I have work. I have college classes. I have a social life and a lot of TV to catch up on, but God should take precedence over all of that. Through my own failures in this realm I have realized one big thing. If my dad did not ask over and over for me to do my chores, I would always be too busy to do them. Our grass would never be mowed, our dishes would never be clean, my room would be more of a mess than it already is. In the same way, if we have our choice, if we continue to attempt to mute God, if we keep making excuse for our lack of commitment to our beliefs, God’s plans for us will never be fulfilled. The one person who might read something on my blog may never be moved towards God if I never write the blog post. The family at the rescue mission may never hear of God’s grace if I decide not to volunteer. I may never read a passage that motivates me if I fail to read my bible. I may forget to worship my Lord if I decide not to go to church.

All of these things that we fail to accomplish due to our desire to do our own thing could be used to further God’s kingdom. We cannot mute God. We may try to, we may try to pretend to hear what God says, but in reality we are ignoring Him. God will keep on calling us, until we decide to shut up and listen. If we continue to ignore God’s voice, the day may come when we stand in front of Heaven’s gates and God might ask you, “Why did you mute my call?” God is calling you to do great things, no matter what it may be we cannot further His kingdom if we do not pick up the phone and listen.

I DON’T WANT YOU TO JUDGE ME

It’s sad how often I hear this phrase when I ask friends if they are doing alright. As a Christian whom is very intentional in my faith I want people to openly come to me with their problems and concerns, knowing that I am a viable resource. Unfortunately more often than not I am hit with the infamous phrase, “well, I don’t want you to judge me.” It always leaves me thinking, is it because I come off as a judgmental person (I certainly try not to be), or is it because Christians have left a bad taste in their mouths for how to deal with these situations.

This sucks because I know as a Christian we are not supposed to be doling out wrath and judgement to the broken and the sinners. What person is going to decide to be a Christian, or follow God when Christians are screaming down their throats that drinking is sinful, you will go to Hell if you do drugs, God hates fags, and so many other nasty comments. I can tell you now that if I was not a Christian, someone coming up to me and judging me for my lifestyle certainly is not going to change my mind. So how do we combat it? How do we fight the stigma of Christians being judgmental? How do we urge other Christians to do the same?

The answer to that is not always forthright, but I like to look to Matthew 7.

Do not judge or you too will be judged…Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?… (Matthew 7:1, 3)

Christ does not call us to judge others! There is only ONE lawgiver (James 4:12). How can any of us judge anyone else when we ourselves stumble daily? I personally use that remark every time someone doesn’t want me to judge them. I cannot pass judgment because I myself am far from perfect. All I want to do is be there to help. That is what God wants from us. Not to critique people’s lifestyles, but to be a lighthouse in the rocky waters of their sins. We shouldn’t be trying to sink their ship that may barely be staying afloat. We shouldn’t be smashing them against the reefs of guilt and punishment, but instead,  guiding them safely to shore with our light of truth and righteousness so that their broken vessels may be repaired and made new by Christ.

None of us are perfect creatures. None of us have the right to act like we are. We are all broken, and we all need Christ to make us new. If you encounter problems with friends who don’t want you to judge them, remember this. Let them know you are not here to judge, but to be there for them. Let them know you have no room to judge. I cannot profess to always holding true to that, but by the grace of my God I know one day I will be able to be an untainted light to those in need, without an ounce of judgment in my soul. I pray the same for you.

 

BIG CHURCHES AND BIGGER EXPECTATIONS

 

I have always been very picky about where I go to church. I don’t want it to be a small church, but certainly not too large, but that have to have contemporary music. The pastor has to challenge me to grow in my faith, but not come off as pushy or rude. I also HATE when I feel like the church is trying to sell me something. Offering money to the church with an open heart is an amazing and good thing, but I dislike when a pastor stops his own sermon to say that “if you are struggling with your faith you should join this class for $20.” That kind of pitch does not belong in a sermon so I try to avoid those types of churches like the plague. I have noticed this happens much more often in the larger churches. My experiences with that behavior left a bad taste in my mouth in regards to all large congregations. Recently, however, my tune has changed towards large and mega-churches. My visit to Northview Church in Indiana gave me hope for the future of big, contemporary churches, proving to the cynical me that these churches provide so much good for the community.

Pulling into the parking lot of Northview was overwhelming enough when I was greeted by traffic directors who had a specific spot for me as a first-timer to park. “Why does a church need traffic directors?” I asked myself as I weaved through a parking lot that could have double as a parking lot for an amusement park. I entered the church and was blown away by the sheer size of this church (the entryway itself was the size of my home church!) After choosing which of the three levels of the sanctuary I wanted to sit in I realized that not only was I going to get to listen to some amazing contemporary music, but I was going to be graced with a concert at church (they had a light show.) When the pastor began his sermon I was expecting it to be surface level and rather shallow as I was used to from big church pastors, but I was pleasantly surprised. The pastor was strong and influential, passionate and challenging. I did not feel like I was being sold anything, but encouraged to look at what the church offered. His sermon and the church atmosphere showed me what a larger church could provide to the community.

With new and fun music, a large and exciting atmosphere, and the resources to reach out to other churches and other parts of the community, mega churches have the capacity to affect more people than I can imagine. I now see the how essential the large churches are to attracting new Christians, millennials, and people that want to learn how to grow in their faith. Large churches may not be for everyone, but they have the opportunity of doing so much good for the Christian community.

MILLENNIALS WELCOME!

I’ve spent the last year at college challenging myself to step out in my faith and diligently follow the commandments the God has given us. I have always been a Christian, or at least a professed Christian. I went to church when I deemed necessary, prayed when I needed God, and talked about God when the conversation popped up. As I like to explain to people, I didn’t really take my faith seriously, not because I didn’t care to follow Christ, but more because I didn’t quite know HOW to follow Christ.

It can be difficult to be a Christian in this society, especially when we are also labeled “millennials” which has developed a negative connotation to it. Being a millennial has grown to mean that we are lazy, spoiled, and incapable. Not only that but I have noticed that the high school and college age kids are also the ones that are leaving the church at an alarming rate and questioning the Christian faith and not receiving answers. How can we as Christians grow if we never have the opportunity to ask questions, receive answers, and grow in our faiths?

My purpose in writing this blog is to share my experiences with questions and challenges. I am a college student studying the Christian religion, but I am not close to having all of the answers. I do not want to write to my peers as a superior in Christian knowledge, but as someone who wants to grow through what I have to write and hopefully help others in their walk as well.

 

Photo Credit to Allison LoPrete
https://www.instagram.com/allison.loprete/