Generic or Genuine

Generic (or “off-brand”) products have been on the shelves as long as their name-brand counterparts. They provide a low cost alternative to the name brand products we know and love. Normally, the only discernible difference is in appearance. Occasionally, though, you’ll see a difference in performance.

Not long ago we ran into this problem with the store brand laundry pods we bought. They all stuck together in the container and broke apart when we tried to get them out, leaving a soapy mess all over the other pods. In theory, these pods do the same work as the name brand. In practice, they just aren’t the same. In fact, they create a mess for the people who use them!

When we buy an off-brand product, we justify it by saying, “Oh it’s just as good!” But the level of expectancy is low. We all know that to be true – we just don’t admit it! Just think of eating a name brand Reese’s verses eating a Dollar Store peanut butter cup. There’s a difference.

There is a difference between name brand faith and generic faith. There is a difference between faith built on the Word of God and faith built on the doctrine of men. I’m noticing that it’s getting harder for people to distinguish between the two. Even seasoned Christians are getting fooled. The trick that Satan pulls is to mix Truth with lies. He will also come at us with Scripture taken so out of context that it can be construed to mean anything we want it to mean.

Satan came to Eve in the Garden of Eden and said to her, “Did God really say you would die if you ate that fruit? He didn’t mean that.” Eve believed the serpent, took the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, ate it, and shared it with her husband (see Genesis 3). Satan came to Jesus in the desert and confronted Him with Scripture (see Matthew 4).Jesus shut the devil down with Scripture.

Satan is still doing this today. And there are two very key things we can learn from each above instance. While Eve may not have had the written Word of God to pull from, she had the actual voice of God tell her not to do something. Her and Adam lived in a perfect paradise. God had provided everything that they needed. He walked with them. He was with them. There was no brokenness; no sin. They had no reason to believe that God would lie to them. But Satan made it look good. He made it seem logical. “Of course God would tell you that you would die. He doesn’t want you to be like Him.” Eve didn’t bank on what God had said and we have suffered the consequences of that treason since then.

When Satan confronted Jesus, He came back with Scripture. Satan quoted from the Psalms (specifically from Psalm 91, otherwise known as “The Protection Psalm”). Psalm 91 is absolutely true. We can test that and see it. But the way that it was used was out of the plans and purposes of God. Jesus knew that because He knew the Father; He knew the Word. So when Satan brought this to Him, He was able to say, “Yes, it does say that. But the Scripture also says this about you’re saying to me.” Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:16 back to Satan and the devil couldn’t argue.

When we are confronted with non-biblical or “off-brand” theologies, we can’t just take them at face value; even if they look good. This Sloppy Grace or Hyper Grace theology that’s been working its way around is a prime example. Yes, grace is real. Yes, grace is afforded to us for every situation. And it may seem logical to think that because grace covered you once, it will always cover you. So why keep asking for forgiveness if God has already forgiven you? Because grace does not negate the need for forgiveness. The grace of God does not negate what Christ did on the cross. It was because of grace that He died. Without forgiveness, repentance, and without making Jesus the Lord of our lives – we will not see Heaven. Sorry to all of the “once-saved-always-saved” folks, but Scripture tells us that our names can be blotted out of the Lamb’s Book of Life. That means that asking for forgiveness once does not cover future sins. Grace and sanctification work hand-in-hand. We must always continue to strive for a holy life, but a holy life is not a byproduct of God’s grace; the grace of God enables us to live a holy life.

So how can we tell the difference between genuine and generic? By knowing the product. In this case, it’s knowing the Father. It’s knowing the Word of God. The only way to know them both is to spend quality time with them. We go into the Secret Place and spend time with God. We read our Bibles and meditate on Scripture. When something comes along that doesn’t quite sit right in your spirit, ask God for uncommon discernment and wisdom. He will give it to you. He never wants His children to be led astray. The world may be confusing right now and the Church may not exactly be helping to make things clear, but the Word of God is the anchor in the storm. It will hold us steady during these rough times.

Advertisements

Who are you?

We live in a world of labels.
I’ll bet you have a few. I know I do.
Some of them I was born into: daughter, granddaughter, niece, cousin. I was labeled “big sister” back in ’91, “student” when I entered into school, “sick” with every doctors visit, “trouble” every time I got suspended, and “lost” every time I tried to find my way.

Looking back, I can see symptoms of depression in my life starting as early as the 2nd grade. I began labeling myself “hopeless,” “worthless,” and, “nothing.” I repeated these to myself as a sort of sick mantra until those words became my identifiers. It’s important to note that I was the only one identifying myself like that. To my remembrance, no one (up to that point) had ever called me “hopeless,” “worthless,” or “nothing.” I honestly can’t even tell you what prompted me thinking that. But once the thought was there, it stuck.

At eleven years old, I began self-harming and I gave myself the labels “depressed,” “anxious,” “broken,” and “hurt.” They were added to the list of other identifiers I had accumulated, but they were always the ones that came out on top. Before anything else, I was “depressed,” “anxious,” “broken,” “hurt,” “hopeless,” “worthless,” and “nothing.”

Sounds exhausting, right?
It was.

I clung to those labels like they were life itself. I became comfortable being that. I found comfort in the pain that I felt; only because it was familiar. My pain became like Linus’ security blanket. I carried it around everywhere. I was never apart from it. It became an extension of who I was.

But then something happened when I was a freshmen in high school. I allowed Jesus into my heart to be the Lord of my life. When I did that, a whole new batch of labels came with it: “daughter of the King,” “cleansed,” “whole,” “accepted,” “worthy,” “valued,” “confident,” “precious,” “rescued,” “beautiful,” “beloved,” “redeemed,” “helped,” “significant,” “justified,” “heir,” “complete,” “healed,” “powerful,” “established,” “anointed,” “sealed,” “blessed,” “forgiven,” “loved,” “treasured,” “intelligent,” “adopted,” “united,” “restored,” “ambassador,” “blameless,” “reconciled,” “peaceful,” free,” “strong,” “destined,” “transformed,” “new,” “cherished,” “chosen,” “secure,” and so much more.

But I didn’t believe it. I couldn’t accept it. I allowed my pain to define me. And this thinking challenged the very definition of who I thought I was. I couldn’t be “broken” and “healed” at the same time. I couldn’t be both “worthless” and “worthy”. It was uncomfortable and painful to think that I could be any kind of good. So I didn’t believe it. When someone reiterated the God-labels to me, I would nod my head and quietly agree while totally shutting down to the idea that I could be everything that God said. That led me down a path a self-destruction that almost killed me.

After five suicide attempts, twenty years of struggling with self-injury, almost twenty-five years of struggling with depression and anxiety, and serving Jesus for fifteen of those years, I can tell you one thing to be absolutely true…

The pain that you feel does not define who you are.

It doesn’t matter what labels you’re born into, what ones are thrust upon you, or which ones you give yourself. The only true definition of who you are is found in Christ Jesus alone. He will never call you “hopeless,” “worthless,” or “nothing” because you’re not. He will never call you “broken,” but will bring you out of brokenness. He takes every bad label that is on you and transforms them into something beautiful.

It may be hard to hear and accept good things about yourself right now, but I want to challenge the way you identify yourself. I want to challenge the idea that you’re too broken to be fixed. How differently would you live if you even entertained the idea of “What if…?” 

What if I’m healed? What if I’m accepted? What if I’m clean? 
What if I’m valued What if…? 

Start small. Begin every day saying one thing that God says about you and try your very best to believe it and live it out for that day. Then do it again the next day. And the day after. Any time the old thought comes back to mind or you catch yourself starting to feel bad again, repeat it to yourself. Say it out loud. Yell it and scream it if you have to – I have. There’s no shame in it. If you’re tired of living under the heaviness that pain and hurt bring, Jesus provides an escape for us – through Him and through the Word of God.

I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to be defined by the pain anymore, but it’s your decision. I sincerely pray that you have a true encounter with Jesus and He reminds you who you truly are.

Follow the link for a list of “Who God Says I Am”

It’s okay.

Do other Christians not like to admit when they’re struggling or is it just me?

I’m not talking about broadcasting every innermost thought on Facebook or posting a confession video on YouTube. I’m not talking about spreading your business to anyone who will listen. I’m talking about just simply saying, “I’m not doing okay right now and I need help.” I don’t know what it’s like for you, but it’s been super difficult for me to ask for help when I need it.

I can’t remember a time in my life that I haven’t struggled with my mental health. As early as the 2nd grade, I believed that I was hopeless, worthless, and nothing. I would repeat that to myself like some sick mantra: “I am hopeless. I am worthless. I am nothing.” In a perfect storm of trauma orchestrated by the Enemy, I began a battle with self-injury and suicide at eleven years old. I kept this struggle to myself for four years until I was finally able to speak about it. But I only spoke about it when it was absolutely necessary and, even then, I never asked for help. I desperately needed help, but wouldn’t allow myself to ask for it or accept it. I’ve been on the receiving end of many conversations where someone would offer their hand to save me and I would just sit there – spiritually deaf and mute – so willing to die in my depression instead of taking their hand and being led back to Jesus.

“But Laura, you say that you’re a Christian. How could this be such a struggle for you? How could you get to the point where you wanted to kill yourself?”

I’m so glad you asked.

In February of 2017, I relapsed in self-injury. I can’t remember the particulars that led back to cutting, but I remember how incredibly difficult it was for me to admit that I had. What was even more difficult for me was asking for the help and accountability that I needed. It was a Thursday night. My friend and I were assigned to pray in our Healing Room at the church. Before we left, we were talking and I asked for prayer. My hands were shaking as I reached into my pocket, grabbed the razor, and placed it on the table between us. I couldn’t bear to make eye contact. Instead, I sat there ashamed praying that I could take the moment back. That somehow God would turn back time and I would keep my mouth shut. But the cat was already out of the bag and there was no putting it back in.

So with the encouragement of my church family, I started getting help and began meeting with a counselor on a regular basis. But the depression didn’t ease up. In fact, it only got worse. I was barely eating (and feeling sick when I did eat) and wasn’t sleeping for more than an hour or two. I was experiencing panic attacks at night and horribly vivid nightmares. It was getting increasingly harder to not think of suicide. I had no plan and no intentions of following through with those thoughts – but every action starts as a thought. Again, I found myself needing help but not willing to ask for it. I so badly wanted everyone to think that I was doing better; to not feel like a burden; to not be just another thing that people had to worry about. But it just kept getting worse until I was hospitalized for eleven days.

That’s one of the lies that depression will tell you. That you’re a burden if you tell people that you’re struggling. That it’s better for everyone if you keep quiet about it.

It’s so easy to live in the struggle. It’s so easy to cling to the familiar even if what you’re clinging to is killing you. It’s so easy to take ownership of the struggle. Like, somehow, we’re too broken for Jesus to help. That we’re too far gone to be brought back. That we’re nothing but damaged goods.

It’s complicated and sometimes exhausting being a Christian who struggles with depression. I have been given the tools necessary to overcome, but there are times when I need help to use them.

If you are a Christian and you are struggling with your mental health, let me tell you this: you have permission to ask for help.

We are not strong enough to handle this on our own.

We were never meant to do life alone. God has given us Jesus, who is able and willing to help us in times of pain and loneliness. But God has also given us a body of believers around us to help us, pray for us, and encourage us. When we are brought into the family of Christ, we have the best built-in support system. Don’t shut them out.

It’s better to have a partner than go it alone.
Share the work, share the wealth.
And if one falls down, the other helps,
But if there’s no one to help, tough!

Two in a bed warm each other.
Alone, you shiver all night.

By yourself you’re unprotected.
With a friend you can face the worst.
Can you round up a third?
A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped.
– Ecclesiastes4:9-12 (MSG)

If you are in the middle of the struggle right now and you have someone that you can talk to, talk to them. Speak up. Trust me when I tell you that they would rather have you talk to them then stay quiet about it.

If you don’t have anyone that you can talk to, please talk to me. Leave me a comment or contact me on my website.

If you would like someone to pray with you, please contact my church.
Life Church (856) 629-4680

You can also text HOME to 741741 for free 24/7 crisis support in the US or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifelife at 1-800-273-8255.

Don’t let yesterdays pain deafen the hope of tomorrow.

There is a Cloud

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1 NIV)

I don’t know about you, but I take great comfort in the fact that God is always with me and around me. I also take comfort in knowing that I am surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses described in Hebrews 12:1. But there was a lot of lead up to 12:1. Chapter 11 outlines some of the greatest heroes of the faith; Abraham, Enoch, Noah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, and others are all showcased in the “Hall of Faith.” Each of these extraordinary men and women did great things and were commended for their faith, but none of them received what had been promised (Hebrews 11: 39). God’s plan reaches far beyond what they did – it extends to us and to those who will come after us “so that only together with us would they be made perfect. (Heb. 11:40)”

While we have a great cloud of witnesses in the heavens surrounding us and encouraging us to run this race of faith, we are also witnesses to those who are running their races.

I got saved as a freshmen in high school, but I didn’t have great Christian role models at home. What I did have was a tight knit family within my youth group that showed me how to live out my faith. They taught me how to pray, worship, and share Jesus with others.

On the other hand, I also had an established group of friends who were not Christians who didn’t outright discourage me from believing in Jesus, but certainly didn’t encourage it. This was an issue for me then. Growing up, I didn’t have many friends and I didn’t want to lose the ones that I had. So I ran my race, but I didn’t run full force. When I was around my church family, I acted like them. When I was around my other friends, I acted like them. I knew I was wrong, but I kept doing it anyway. And I firmly believe that because I didn’t break away from the “black cloud” and immersed myself in the cloud of witnesses, I lost perseverance when running my race.

As a young adult, I walked away from the Church; I abandoned God. To my former youth group family, both students and leaders, I would have seemed like a lost cause. They never gave up faith, though. I spent almost four years in the world and had it not been for the prayers of those who had poured into me as a teen, I would have died there. They continued being heroes of the faith even while I was running amuck. Eventually, God pulled me back in and I haven’t looked back since.

Now I’m surrounded by an even bigger cloud of witnesses with my new church family. Not only that, but I now realize that I am also in that great cloud of earthly witnesses. Just as I looked to others to teach me when I was younger, there are now others looking to me. It is an amazing and humbling honor. It encourages me to run this race of faith with perseverance.

Who did you look to? Who is looking to you? What or who encourages you to run your race?

Target: Missed

anguish (n): severe mental or physical pain or suffering
anguish (v): to be extremely distressed about something

I love the kids that I babysit. One in particular has a deep love for video games and YouTube. We’ve had countless conversations about game theories, watched tons of gaming videos on YouTube, and have speculated about upcoming releases. Over the past couple weeks, he’s been obsessed with Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros Ultimate; more importantly, how it doesn’t include the fan favorite character Waluigi.

untitled

Waluigi: Luigi’s rival. Likes to say “Wah.”

For the first few hours today, all he could discuss was the complete injustice Waluigi has suffered at the hands of the Nintendo executives. (Okay, so maybe he didn’t say it exactly like that, but the sentiment was there.) There was a lot of impassioned shouting, his face got red, and his voice hit a pitch that I’m pretty sure irritated the neighbor’s dog. (I can’t really argue with him, though. Daisy is a playable character and characters that aren’t even Nintendo based are part of the new lineup! But I digress.)

And then it hit me: I’m seeing more passion and anguish in this ten year old boy over a video game than I do over most Christians about winning souls – including myself. Last week, I attended a wedding where most of the guests were unsaved. My pastor began working the room and then encouraged us (me and the others from our church) to mingle and talk to the other guests. Me and a friend got up to introduce ourselves to some people, but I held back. I missed it. That made me reevaluate just how grieved I am over lost souls.

There have been plenty of times where I missed it; times when I was too immature to recognize the situation, too insecure to speak out, too embarrassed to speak up, or just flat out refused to share the Gospel. Truth be told, my anguish has been lacking. But it’s not just me. There’s an incredible lack of it within the Church itself.

Hell is a very real place. Without anguish birthed through the heartache of God for this world, we lose our passion for souls. Without a passion for souls, we take the passive stance of ignoring the eternal lives of those around us, potentially condemning them to hell.  We’ve all done it. None of us are perfect. This isn’t meant to judge anyone. This is meant to draw attention to an enormous issue.

Jesus gave us our marching orders in Matthew 28:18-20.
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Jesus has ultimate authority and He has given the same authority to us to do the things He has done and greater (Mark 16: 17-18 and John 14:12). The instructions are simple: go, get people saved, baptize them, and disciple them. If we’re so committed to following Jesus, then what’s stopping us from sharing the Gospel? I believe that all of our excuses can be boiled down to fear and pride.

Fear paralyzes us and keeps us from sharing the Good News. It’ll say to us, “You can’t talk to them. They’re your friends. They’ll disown you.” Joshua 1:9 says, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” We shouldn’t be fearful in any situation, especially in sharing Jesus with others. There is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun.

Pride make us think higher or lower of ourselves. It’ll say to you. “You can’t let them know that you’re a Christian. What about your reputation?” Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves…” Meaning, it doesn’t matter how we feel about ourselves, we are to share the Gospel. Period.

If we allow fear and pride to take over our hearts, we have no room for anguish. We lose sight of what’s important. We become lackadaisical in ministry. We begin to do things “good enough” instead of in excellence. Without that spiritual anguish, a once thriving ministry will be on life support. Minus that anguish, it’s no longer about souls; it’s about us. And following Jesus was never meant to be about us. It was always meant to be about souls.

I know that I’m asking God for a greater hunger for souls and for the boldness to speak the Truth of Jesus in every situation. I’m asking Him to embolden me to share the Gospel at all costs. Won’t you do the same?

 

Check out the video below to see Rev. David Wilkerson’s full sermon: “A Call to Anguish.”

Goodbye, Ms. Spade. I’m Sorry.

As I was scrolling through Facebook last night, I saw that Kate Spade had committed suicide. Admittedly, I don’t know much about her except that she was a famous designer. At dialysis today, I overheard the techs talking about her. To my understanding, she left behind a teenaged daughter. They were commenting on Spade’s wealth and asking why someone as affluent as her would kill herself. I can’t speak for Ms. Spade. I have no idea what was going on in her mind, but I can guarantee that it was dark.

Having made several attempts myself, it always strikes me when I hear that someone has committed suicide. I understand being in that pit; the utter loneliness, desperation, and hopelessness. The longing for understanding and compassion, but the need to isolate. The absolute lie that those feelings are valid and that every ounce of hurt is deserved.

As I listened to the techs talking, the knowledge that we are living in a broken world settled heavily in my heart. Satan does nothing but steal, kill, and destroy. When someone commits suicide, he’s done just that. He has stolen hope from the individual, killed them, and has destroyed their loved ones.

Let me just say that I am in no way discounting mental illness. That is a very real thing. One that is not talked about enough in Christian circles. I’ve been through the mental health field myself and am currently on medication for Major Depressive Disorder. Mental health is not something that I make light of. But I also understand that we have an enemy who is just as real and even more fierce than mental health diagnoses.

But there is a God who is even fiercer and more powerful than anything Satan conjures up. Yes, this world is broken and can feel hopeless. But giving up isn’t the answer. Jesus is our Healer. Jesus is the only one who can bring hope to the hopeless. As Jesus followers, it’s our job – mandate, really – to show the world Jesus through our words and actions. My prayer is that Ms. Spade had Bible-believing Christians cross her path and speak Truth into her life so that when she had her last interaction with God, she would be saved.

To the Spade family, I am so sorry for your tragic loss. I can only imagine what you must be feeling. May you feel the presence of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter sent from God, around you during this time.  “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in Him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13 NLT)

Word up.

Words.

There’s just something about them. They have the innate ability to rip you into pieces or lift you from the darkness. You can twist and manipulate them until their original intent is gone. You can dive into their roots and rediscover their true meanings. You can pour your heart and soul into them. You can speak them and move mountains or you can speak them and have them mean nothing.

The Oxford English Dictionary has 171,476 words in current use and 47,156 words that are considered obsolete. They also have about 9,500 derivative words included as sub-entries. On any given day, we speak around 16,000 of those 228,132 words. It astounds me that we often say so much in so little and, contrariwise, so little in so much. 

What are we saying? Who are we speaking to? Why bother to say anything at all?

Believe it or not, there are people out there who don’t actually mean what they say. Shocking, I know. We say things and make promises with no intention of following through. Which, in a sense, is freeing for both parties – but only if they both recognize that there will be no follow through. The person speaking is free from the responsibility to the one they’re speaking to. And the person on the receiving end is free from any obligations they might have had if there would have been any follow through. However, if they both aren’t on the same page, it leaves one person wounded by empty words and one with a twinge of guilt, if any at all. It seems to me that most people are content with this.

I’m guilty of this just as well.

When we talk with our friends and say things like, “I’m here for you.” or “We need to get together,”or “I’ll pray for you,” how often do we really mean it? We like to believe that we can do everything that we say. Its impossible, though. We’re human. We fail and fall short all the time. We are a far cry from perfection. [If you think you are, then please try to walk on water. I’d love to watch.] It’s taken a long time for me to realize this. Too often would I wait for people to follow through on their words. In that waiting, I’d be hurt thinking that they didn’t care. There are some who are genuine. But even they have their flaws. And I can guarantee that I’ve left someone waiting and hurting. I’m not perfect either. Please don’t expect that of me. I’ll only let you down. We can’t fully rely on other people. We can’t expect perfection from others. 

What really bothers me is when we give God lip service. Its inevitable, I know. [That brings us back to the perfection thing.] Think of how many times we’ve stood in our church services, youth groups, chapel services and just sang along with the band not because we meant what we were singing, but because the song was nice. Or recited a prayer like a well rehearsed speech with no hint of the Holy Spirit. Our words have such a profound and deep impact and we often don’t realize what it is we’re saying. Pay attention to the lyrics during worship. They weren’t written just because they sounded pretty. They are declarations to our God. There are implications to what we’re saying. We can sing songs that proclaim our freedom from bondage, and still walk with our heads down, burdened by our sin. We can sing words that give glory to God, and our lifestyles don’t show it. Think about the Lord’s prayer. Most of us can recite it without thinking. And that’s the problem. We don’t think about what we’re saying. I’m not saying be perfect, [I think I’ve made my view on that quite clear.] nor am I telling you to stop talking to God if you think you can’t follow through. I’m challenging you: be aware of what you’re saying.

For as often as we speak hollow words, God’s Word to us is never hollow; it’s never void. We fluctuate and change. We say one thing and mean another. We don’t speak when we should. We speak when we shouldn’t. We’re imperfect. But God’s Word is perfect. It never changes. It is without error and it is incapable of error. When God speaks to us, He’s not giving lip service. He means everything that He says. He tells you that you’re loved? He means it. He tells you that you’re accepted? He means it. He tells you that the only way to get to Him is through Jesus Christ, His Son? He means that, too. God’s Word is living and active. When we read His Word, it’s not like we’re reading some random piece of literature for school whose words – whether fiction or non-fiction – are dead. They don’t bring life to our spirits. You can’t get life from death. Death only begets death. But life – eternal and complete life only found in God – begets life. God’s Word brings life to us.

Some of the greatest conversations I’ve had weren’t laced with proper grammar or “big words.”

I’m not perfect. You’re not perfect. Let’s not expect others to be.  

Don’t stay silent. Your words have the potential to do great things and help those in ways you can’t imagine.

But don’t think there may not be consequences for speaking when you should remain silent. 

Don’t think that your words hold no weight. Whether you like it or not, they do.

While we can’t rely on the words of others to bring life to us, we can always rely on the Word of God to bring us life.