Patterns and Shapes

When I was walking on holiday last week I became very aware of all the patterns and shapes in the plants around me.  There is so much variety when it comes to shapes – shapes of flowers and plants, shapes of birds and animals and people, shapes of coastlines and mountain ranges.  And there are so many patterns on trees, plants, shells, rocks, animal skins…  I’m sure there are many more things that haven’t crossed my mind too.  It got me thinking that God must be really into shapes and patterns.  Maybe I’m over-stretching this thought but it really stuck out to me at the time.

You know those shape sorter toys that kids have?  Well (like many people I guess) I’ve always felt a bit like a square peg in a round hole.  Or maybe I’m a round peg in a square hole?  Somehow I feel like the shape I’m supposed to fit in is more square 😝  and I’m probably not round but more of an irregular shape😂..  Anyway you get my drift.  Why is it that when God made such a huge variety of shapes and patterns that we limit each other so much?  Our tiny minds can only handle so many shapes and patterns so we try to make everyone fit into a few categories or types.

I’m not exactly sure where I’m going with this.  I guess what I’m saying is it’s important to find out who you really are and what really matters to you and be yourself.  It’s also important to allow others to do the same.  We need to stop trying to make people into clones of the ideal people we think they should be – the ideal parents, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, friends, colleagues or whatever and allow for the variety that God has created.

‘Stop imitating the ideals and opinions of the culture around you, but be inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit through a total reformation of how you think. This will empower you to discern God’s will as you live a beautiful life, satisfying and perfect in his eyes.’
Romans 12:2 TPT

It’s very easy to rhyme off this well known verse about not ‘conforming to the pattern of this world,’ (NIV) but I think that what I’m realising more and more is that it’s just as dangerous in some ways to conform to the religious ‘patterns’ we see in churches – even the ones that don’t seem to be traditional.  There is a danger of producing a string of lukewarm clones who smile and sing and warm the pews (or chairs) on a Sunday morning and don’t make any real impact on the world.  I don’t know about you but I don’t feel like I’ve made enough of an impact.

I’m looking for that total transformation, to become a reformer.  In Philippians 3:17 Paul says we should imitate his example.  I think we need to be looking for more in our lives and in our churches.  We need to be looking for better examples to imitate – be it your favourite Bible heroes or Jesus himself.  For the majority of us (I appreciate that there are exceptions) no matter how nice or how good your pastors or church leaders are they probably ain’t no Paul.  I’m pretty sure most of them aren’t living out Jesus words about doing even greater works than He did (John 14:12) or our world and our churches would look quite different.  This is in no way at meant to be having a go at leaders – I’m not into ‘bashing’ anyone.  I just think we need to raise our expectations if we’re really going to stop conforming and make a real impact in the world.

A couple of months ago I heard a sermon illustration that got me thinking.  The speaker was saying if you found yourself in a boat and someone fell overboard you would do everything in your power to try and save that person.  Yet we are surrounded by people who are drowning because they don’t know Jesus and we are sailing along happily in our little boat that is church – feeling quite comfortable and enjoying the worship, the fellowship and some ‘feel-good’ sermons and ignoring the people in the water all around us.  We need to have the same urgency to do something about that as we would if we were trying to save that person who had fallen overboard.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not there yet.  I’m talking to myself here (yes, it’s possible that I’m slightly mad 😜).  I’m not the most confident person in the world but I’m praying for boldness and change in that area.  I want to make an impact.

So whatever your true shape is I would encourage you not to conform – either to the world’s pattern or to the pattern of lukewarm Christianity but find someone worth imitating, step out of your comfort zone and make a difference.  Be the person God designed you to be and not the person that fits into a mould designed by other people.  And be bold!  I truly believe that if we allow ourselves to do that we can change the world.

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Known

Known

To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is what it means to be loved by God.
Timothy Keller

Isn’t this what everyone wants? To be fully known and loved in spite of your faults and failures. To be known and valued and loved for who you are.  It’s definitely what I want. That’s why the title attracted me to this devotional by Tauren Wells and that in turn lead me to this song.

I love these words:

Known
It’s so unusual it’s frightening

You see right through the mess inside me
And you call me out to pull me in
You tell me I can start again
And I don’t need to keep on hiding

I’m fully known and loved by You
You won’t let go no matter what I do
And it’s not one or the other
It’s hard truth and ridiculous grace
To be known fully known and loved by You
I’m fully known and loved by You

It’s so like You to keep pursuing
It’s so like me to go astray
But You guard my heart with Your truth
A kind of love that’s bullet proof
And I surrender to Your kindness

How real, how wide
How rich, how high is Your heart
I cannot find the reasons why
You give me so much

It’s so unusual it’s frightening
I’m fully known and loved by You

So the devotional was meant to last 5 days but it was a particularly good one and I couldn’t put it down so I finished it off in a couple of sessions.  I could relate to so much of what was said.  I’m going to quote quite a few chunks from it in this post as he’s much better with words than I am and I couldn’t put it any better.

He starts off by talking about the fact that so many of us hide who we really are.

I’ve come to the unfortunate realization that there is a version of Christianity that many of us have bought into that has trained us to be professional pretenders.

You know it’s not even deliberate sometimes but just that culturally we don’t open up, we don’t share our hearts, we’re not honest about the parts of life that suck.  When we’re asked how we are at church we don the ‘good Christian mask’ and tell everyone we’re fine or worse quote scriptures that really mean nothing to us since it’s not really where we’re at.  If you’ve been following my blog from my first post Who Am I Really? you’ll know that I’ve been there.

It’s funny ’cause at church last Sunday a woman I’d never spoken to before made a point of coming over to tell me that I was known and loved by God.  It sounds a bit trite when I just say it like that but it felt meaningful and made me emotional at the time.  I really needed that reassurance again.  Sometimes I wonder if all our professional pretending at church actually turns real people off and means they don’t hang about.  You know if you feel like you can’t live up to the level of perfectionism that many Christians seem to have or everything in your life doesn’t feel blessed or wonderful; when life is tough and you’re struggling – why would you hang around people who don’t get what that feels like?

Another thing that lady reminded me of is that God loved me before I did anything for Him and still loves me even if I’m doing nothing.  I’ve always been pretty active at church so I think maybe subconsciously it’s like I felt I was earning God’s love or something?  I know that’s ridiculous really, no one can do enough to earn God’s love.  I guess I’ve always been a ‘people pleaser’ and I really need to make sure I’m not projecting human expectations and characteristics on to God.  In the devotional I was reminded again that God loves us simply because we’re his kids, full stop.  We don’t need to DO anything.

I’m realizing that who we are known by trumps what we are known for. With God, we are not loved based on reputation; we are loved based on relationship.

Over the last year or so I’ve realised that so many relationships I’ve had at church have been very shallow.  Those people haven’t really known me and I haven’t known them either.  Neither have we really loved each other, if we had we’d have been in contact outside of church.  We’d have taken more than a passing interest in each other’s lives.  We’d have been there when we were needed and lifted each other up when we fell down.  It’s easy to have polite conversations on a Sunday and never go any deeper, never really care who comes or goes.  I don’t think that’s what I want in a church.  I want to be treated differently to that but I know I need to treat others differently too.

Relational poverty is one of the greatest challenges our culture faces today. These days we tend to have followers but not friends, likes but not love, comments but not conversations, crowds but not companions, churches but not communities. Our society has popularized a new kind of relational experience—one that gives us a broader network of ‘contacts’ but lessens the importance of having deep, meaningful connections with others. The priority on ‘I, me, mine’ has eclipsed any sense of ‘us, we, ours,’ and the result is that people feel more alone than ever before. Our time has been dubbed the ‘age of loneliness.’ In fact, it’s been estimated that one in five Americans suffer from chronic loneliness.

This is so sad but so true.  Too many of us are surrounded by people, people who are supposed to be our brothers and sisters, and yet we’re lonely.  There are too many people in our churches who have no real friends, people who are even sidelined by other Christians.  I don’t like it.  How can we change this?  I genuinely want to know.  Maybe in time I’ll get some inspiration on this but in the meantime I don’t have any answers so if you do please feel free to leave a comment.  As the song says ‘it’s so unusual it’s frightening’ but I’m so thankful that whatever I’ve done or not done I’m fully known and loved by my Papa, Abba, Father God.