God, Church and Christians: Misconceptions and Bad Conceptions

“Christians are very judgmental.”
“Organized religion is a cult.”
“Only church people make it to heaven.”
“Christianity requires you to ‘give up’ fun things, or restrict yourself.”
“You can’t dress or act like that in here.”
“Something must be wrong with you…that’s why God let this happen.”
“Once I was able to reason, I learned I was a sinner and God was upset. I [also] discovered non-Christians are also nice people. So whom do you believe?”

I have been raised Christian my entire life. I have never been the guy to hang out on the streets and try to hand you a Bible, or the guy to protest others for their “ugly sins.” My expression avenues have always been through music and trying to manage my own life the best I can. In 2015, there are so many varying views, opinions, lifestyles and experiences as people try to live their very best across the world. But what’s interesting is that God seems to be the entity receiving the largest amount of mixed conceptions. Some thank God when good things happen, some blame him when the bad takes place (or both). Some may choose another route completely, finding something else to put their trust in. Why is that?

Here’s my theory: any time we don’t like something, that means we had a previous influence steer us away from it. It could be our own perception, another person’s opinion, or even a bad experience. My brother doesn’t like peanut butter because he didn’t like the taste of it – but he has to taste it first to arrive at that conclusion. Some may have negative conceptions of God because of a former experience (or experiences) that they had, which may often have been with other people. Even people who are church-goers and/or Christians have confused and discouraged each other with their words, sometimes right in the church! Next thing you know, you have people in the church leaving, and people outside the church wanting nothing to do with “that religion stuff” or “the crazies” or “the high-and-mighties.” All of this and MUCH more, as I’m finding, is a leading cause is misrepresenting what God is actually about, and misleading people away from Him.

Today, I don’t want to try to force you to think you need to drop what you’re doing and run to the altar with your hands up. I don’t want to tell you how wrong you are, or how right you are. That’s not my place, and I am not an expert myself – just a young, 20something black male. I want to, instead, address the things that are untrue about God, church and faith that are false stereotypes; but also the bad things that are being done, which NEED to stop.

Misconceptions:

  1. “You’re not good enough” or “God doesn’t love you”: Some church folks have shown this with the hesitant way they act towards newcomers. Some just up and say it to your face. Some who may not be church-goers say it to keep you away from trying church. LOOK: Anyone, no matter who you are, should never tell this to any human being no matter what the context. I’ve written plenty of blog posts and research papers, and although I’m far from being published, no one can tell me I’m not good enough at it to try. I’d just work harder at it and seek outside assistance when proofreading! So don’t tell anyone they aren’t good enough for God. He loves everyone the same no matter what, and saying otherwise will only discourage them, tick them off, and misrepresent what God’s about. It DOES show, however, excellence in ignorance.
  2. “Church makes you christian”: Here’s the thing: sitting in a Starbucks doesn’t make you a frappuccino. As great as church has been for me personally, no church is perfect. And the good ones are aware – that’s why they exist, to foster people needing God to help them! Being Christian means you accept Jesus and you have (or are developing) a relationship with Him. Going to church surrounds you with his messages to give you a weekly spiritual boost, and it surrounds you with others trying to keep themselves on his straight-and-narrow as well. Otherwise, it’s like marathon training by yourself: not like you can’t do it, but when you go through the rough stages or want to quit, you need someone there to help push you along and tell you not to give up!
  3. “Christians are perfect” – I’m not perfect because of Jesus. I’m not perfect, so I need Jesus! If people were perfect, there would be no reason to do or be anything, because we’d all be robots. Don’t let anyone fool you – everyone has their shortcomings.
  4. “You have to act a certain way”: The only thing you HAVE to do as a Christian is believe in Jesus and try to live your life as a good example through Him. But listen: believing in God doesn’t always mean you were the worst human being on earth before, and some Christians write others off when they make it sound like this. God takes you as you are, and makes you better. Plain and simple!! So if you go to church for the first time looking for answers in a very difficult time, don’t let Sister Patty LaWeave and her attitude tell you “sorry but we don’t let hoochies in here” or “you might want to change your clothes before you come to God” or even “God wouldn’t have made you that way if he loved you.” You just stay in there and get whatever it is that you needed that day. At the end of the day, you’re still his son or daughter, and he just wants the chance to be there for you. Sister Patty LaWeave has nothing to do with that, because she can’t help you.

Bad Conceptions:

  1. JUDGEMENTAL CHRISTIANS: The #1 complaint of Christians from day one. I can’t call this a misconception because it is true of many – not all by any means, but it definitely exists. The Bible tells God’s followers not to do this unless they want to be judged too. But this is a problem far spanning religion. Christians are judged for being Bible-toting do-gooders who stay in their little judgmental box. Minorities are judged based on the color of their skin. Women are judged by men who don’t want to be surpassed. The LBGT community is judged by those who ask why they “choose being this way”. I could go on, but look: WE ARE ALL PEOPLE. PERIOD! If you don’t accept me or respect me, my default will be to want nothing you stand for. But if you, the imperfect person, show me, another imperfect person, respect and kindness, I may be more open to you and what you stand for.
  2. Christians saying negative things to each other: Some of the things that are said are misconceptions. The fact that negative things are being said is not a misconception. I’ve touched on some of these examples already, as well as the fact that we need to treat each other with respect. Yes? Yes. This is at its’ worse here because the church is a place where people should be lifting each other up, not tearing each other down. The rest of the world has enough negativity and esteem-knocking as it is! The worst example I heard recently was a Christian telling a woman with a miscarriage that God took their child because “something must have been wrong with it, but better that He took it instead of letting it be born with something wrong.” Are you kidding me?!? The fact that this statement alone didn’t completely steer this person away from God in such a vulnerable time is a miracle of God in itself.
  3. Churches are close-minded/won’t adapt: This is another thing that many are guilty of, but it’s also associated with the Christian stereotype. It also boils down to: some people like things a certain way and in strict order, while others are cooler about going with the flow. I’m no expert in how churches operate, but when my church had to move to new buildings twice within two years and across town, being closed-minded was not an option. We had to adapt to some logistical change nearly every week, and without people willing to adapt, there would be no church right now. If a marketing consultant never adapts with social media sites, he or she is chopping out a huge part of potential outlets and the company doesn’t grow as well. I could go on with more examples, but you get the point. When things change, good or bad, we have to go with it if we want to grow. Otherwise, we’d all be perfect, right?

Now, I don’t want the things I’ve just mentioned to scare people away from God. But these are very real things that anyone may have experienced when it comes to him, church and other Christians. It is true that some Christians don’t always use the best approach. It’s also true that some Christians really do their best to represent God to anyone they encounter. I’m not always the best example, but I try to remain open-minded, I love all sorts of people, and I tend to get along with most people I meet. My personal experience is that God has gotten me where I am today, and I just don’t want to see more people write the guy off because of Christians saying or doing blatantly negative things. You hear about Westboro Baptist Church type of situations, and well, of course people are going to feel some kind of way!

To reiterate my bottom line: WE ARE ALL PEOPLE. NO ONE IS BETTER THAN THE OTHER. Me talking to Jesus does not, in any way, make me a better human being that you. We all have eyes, ears, hands and toes. We all like to eat, look forward to payday, and enjoy the electric slide a wedding once in a while. Not only are we all human: none of us are perfect. In fact, I am quite aware of how flawed I am. I’ll probably make a good few mistakes tomorrow! Now, my comfort in making my mistakes is that, no matter what, God will forgive me and let me pick up & learn from it (sometimes, after checking me). This doesn’t give me a license to be a screw-up; it just insures me that no matter what, He will still love me. Maybe not all my actions, but me. He has this thing called unconditional love – and nothing we do is ever bad enough for it to run out. No living thing on earth is capable of this. I can say with certainty that when I found myself as low as I could possibly be, God’s unconditional love was the only thing to let me know it’d be all right, and to pick things back up. (It wasn’t stories I’d heard, not other people so much, not any of my stuff – it’s something no one else can provide quite as well).

Depending on the eyes reading those last few statements, the word “preachy” may come to mind. That is far from my goal, or my calling in life. But I want to close with these two things that I hope we can all at least try to agree on:

  1. Love each other. Everyone on this earth deserves that, no matter what. When I see people, I don’t immediately think of them as gay, white, Japanese, Jewish, fat, sick, mentally challenged or whatever. I say “hey Sam, how’s it going?” Even if some people make me hope I never see them again for some reason, I still do my best to treat them right. Not only do I want that back from them, but it’s how we were made. Everybody doesn’t stick to that all the time, but I can only work on me.
  1. Meet people where they’re at. We are all very different from each other! I can’t necessarily talk to a young person about faith the same way I would to an old person (for example). Christians, every approach can’t be the same for everybody – once we’ve acknowledged that we weren’t sprung from the ground perfect, we need to respect and love people before trying to approach them about God. And if you’re someone being approached about God, I’d say at least be open to listening. Hopefully it’s done in a way that peaks an interest in the very least. I promise you, it was His sheer grace alone that got me where I am today and kept my family alive countless times. True story.

We all have free will to chose whatever we wish to believe. Just remember: a student has to be willing to be taught, but it won’t work if the teacher only says “nope, wrong answer, it was 6.” But if the teacher says “here’s how I got there; now you try for yourself. If you want it, you can totally do it”, the results might just be a little different.

-BB2

Music Monday: Sinema (Swoope)

Hello all, and welcome to this week’s segment of #MusicMonday! In this segment, we take a look at music past, present and future to celebrate the artistry, and its’ effect on us as a people.

Today’s #MusicMonday doubles as a promo for a new album release of an artist I’ve known for some years now! It just hit iTunes last week and I haven’t been able to put it down yet!

Allen Swoope released his newest hip-hop/rap album last week, Sinema, which uses many of the same styles of hip-hop beats & music creatively, while the focus is on the message he is telling through story and God’s Word. His other projects over the past few years typically do something similar, but this one uses all 12 tracks in a row to tell one straight story – one of lust, addiction, fantasy, and sin. It opens up with an exchange of phone calls between Swoope & a woman named Mya Desiree. (Get it?) They’re into each other, but she spend the album leaving messages trying to get in touch with him while he continues to avoid her. They hooked up recently, and he wants her, but was it really worth it? Is there more to their story? How long can he keep her in the wings, and why won’t she let up? Was it love or lust?

Musically, this thing sounds fresh as a mug. Swoope himself came up as a highly gifted church musician, and created nothing but the best & dopest of sounds in the studio. To add to it, he brought in other talented singers and rappers (J.R., Tragic Hero, Natalie Lauren, Tedashii, etc.) to add to the effect. I could go on about the sound of this album, but really, that’s not where the focus is, and you can get a good sense of that yourself by listening to it. The focus is on the message! I won’t ruin the story for you if you haven’t heard the album, but seriously, check this thing out. Swoope is a master at using God’s words and messages for us and finding ways to put it in music that will captivate the listener. The hook is a dope sound with a beat – but the truthful messages to teach and minister to others is what really sticks. Music is such a powerful medium that can promote any message about whatever’s out there in the world today that might not be the best for us to digest. Any rapper out today can do that – but Swoope specifically focuses on utilizing the words straight from the Kingdom of God. And done so genuine! It’s not just “we made a beat and threw ‘Jesus’ in it” – it truly is from someone who’s heart is after God and making the lives of someone who will learn from this better.

So that’s today’s #MusicMonday! Go on iTunes and check out Swoope’s work and let me know what you think! Let’s promote hip-hop that isn’t only good, but promotes something great.

Have a great week, and sing on, my brethren!
-BB2

Music Monday: Great is Thy Faithfulness

Hello all, and welcome to another segment of #MusicMonday! In this segment, we’ll talk about favorite songs, artists & genres and their role in music in order to keep great music alive. Today we’re talking about a well known hymn that has lived on for almost a century and gotten many believers through many a challenge:

Great is Thy Faithfulness started as a poem written by Thomas O. Chisholm in 1923 based on his own experience with God’s faithfulness. He sent it to William Runyan, who set the poem to music and had it published by the Hope Publishing company, and it later became popular among churches via hymnals & such. The refrain goes:

“Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!”

To me, there is no truer statement to sum up this entire song than the 3rd line of this refrain. There are just things that we cannot do on our own, whether we want to face up to it or not. When times get extremely challenging in our lives and push us to a wall where we can’t face it on our own, it’s that trust in God & His provisions that get us through. Yesterday morning at my church for the sermon, we sung a few hymns (starting with this one) and then had brief discussions in small groups based on some follow up questions such as “Where have you seen God’s faithfulness in your life? How do you know He’s faithful?” For me personally, I can definitely say that God has placed certain people in my life at my rough moments. Whether it was my family understanding and supporting me when I needed it; or even being around loving church members & coworkers who don’t necessarily know something’s going on but they create the positive environment I needed to be in; or someone who I meet and can almost instantly relate to when going into new territory; or even someone who did or said something small but extremely kind that made me stop and put my issues in perspective & they didn’t even realize it – these are all the kinds of people God will place around me at just the right time for the right reasons, because He knows it’s what I need during my rough spell to stay encouraged and get through life’s bumps in the road.

How often do we sing these songs (or any songs) and not take a step back to really think about the meaning of them, or their impact? It’s so easy to pop a song on in the car and just have it as background noise because you’ve heard it so many times. But it’s so important to know what you’re putting into your ears, because whether you realize it or not, this is what will go into your soul. With songs as powerful as Great is Thy Faithfulness, it’s overwhelming to think about just how faithful God has been in my life…let alone the lives of every other person in so many ways! Some of us should be dead right now, or extremely ill, or destitute, or very discouraged from a lack of success, the list goes on. But no matter what our position in life is right now, no matter how much money we do or don’t have, the bottom line is, if you are sitting here reading this, God still has us on this Earth for some reason, and He continues to make provisions for us every day here and there to keep us on the journey He’s laid out for us. The question then becomes, what will we do about it?

Thanks for reading today, and I hope you enjoyed this glorious hymn as well as any others that might impact your life in a special way! Please feel free to share a hymn or song that means a lot to you, and let’s keep meaningful music of all kinds continuing to live on and touch lives.

Have a great week, and sing on my brethren!
BB2

PS: Singer in the video is the great gospel artist, Fred Hammond, performing some years ago on TBN.

What I’m Living For

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To close off the month of May, I’d like to share a very important Scripture that I read this morning. It was perfect with things that have been on my mind lately. The gist: our worldly troubles & anxieties < God’s glory when this life is over. There’s one good way to get a piece of that peace while we’re still on earth waiting for the day.

Thank you, Lord.

“Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.) And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory.”
-Romans 8:18-30

BB2