An Upside-Down World

The seven deadly sins are: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth.

Contrast those with the seven corresponding virtues: humility, charity, chastity, gratitude, temperance, patience, and diligence.

Whenever I see a “celebrate [specific] pride month” declaration (and they seem to get more numerous every year), I cringe. I have to fight my own pride on a daily basis so it doesn’t get the best of me, because I know first hand the damage it can do.

Isaiah warns us in 5:20: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”

He continues with, “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!” (Vs. 21)

The rest of the chapter goes on with what the Lord of Hosts will do to those who rejected him and his law.

Similar warnings are repeated in 2 Timothy 3:1-4: “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,”

I wouldn’t be surprised if this passage is where the seven deadly sins originated.

I also found that not only are people embracing pride, gluttony, sloth, etc., they’ve been vilifying anyone who embraces the seven virtues such as humility, chastity, and diligence.

It’s easy to get angry, scared, or depressed in watching the warnings written from six to two thousand years ago unfold before our eyes. I’ve been silently screaming at the sky like Grandpa Simpson for months now, because my own warnings seem to make little difference. The only ones who hear are those who already agree. Sometimes I wonder why I keep trying to plant seeds on what is obviously infertile ground.

I can already hear the thoughts of some of you. Your fingers are itching to respond, to tell me what I appear to be missing:

God himself. The power of the Holy Spirit working in our heart and in the world. Yes, we are being warned, and things do appear to be falling apart. Yet God himself is not deterred, broken, or swayed, so neither should we be deterred, broken, or swayed. Just because the ground looks hard and infertile, it could merely be parched, awaiting for me to toss out a few seeds so God’s Spirit can sprinkle a little rain that’ll allow that seed to take root and grow.

Yes, we live in an upside-down world, but God is still working. Diligently and without pause—even if we don’t often see the results.

He still expects us to do our part, and not by focusing on the seven deadly sins so much as making sure we’re living instead by the seven virtues.

Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?

That’s a question people have been debating for centuries. Those on each side of the argument are adamant their point of view is correct, and they each have the scripture to back it up.

On the side of baptism being a requirement:

Matthew 3:13-15: “Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. But John tried to talk him out of it. ‘I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,’ he said, ‘so why are you coming to me?’

“But Jesus said, ‘It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.’ So John agreed to baptize him.”

Mark 16: 16: “Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned.”

Acts 2:38: “Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 13:24: “Before [Jesus] came, John the Baptist preached that all the people of Israel needed to repent of their sins and turn to God and be baptized.”

Colossians 2:12: “For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead.”

On the side of baptism being unnecessary:

Mark 1:4; “This messenger was John the Baptist. He was in the wilderness and preached that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven.”

Aside: This could be used to prove both sides of the argument, because notice the word should instead of must. Also, it states that baptism shows they had repented, not that baptism was required for forgiveness.

Mark 16: 16: “Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned.”

Aside: You may wonder why I use this scripture for both. Simple. The last sentence does not say anyone who refuses to believe and be baptized will be condemned.

Luke 3:16: “John answered their questions by saying, ‘I baptize you with [Or in] water; but someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. [Or in the Holy Spirit and in fire].’”

Acts 8:14-17: “When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that the people of Samaria had accepted God’s message, they sent Peter and John there. As soon as they arrived, they prayed for these new believers to receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them, for they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John laid their hands upon these believers, and they received the Holy Spirit.”

Aside: Another example that can be used to prove both sides of the argument. However, Peter didn’t baptize the believers with water, but laid hands on them instead.

So which is it? Must I be baptized with water in order to receive salvation?

Since there are scriptural references going both ways, I turn to what I know about the nature of God.

There are many churches such as the Salvation Army that don’t believe water baptism is a requirement. Does that mean every member of the Salvation Army is doomed to Hell?

What about the countless children who didn’t live long enough to be baptized? Does God send them directly to the fires as well?

Since God is love, I don’t believe so, any more than my parents would permanently turn their backs on me because I refuse to shower.

I also have never been baptized (that I know of), nor do I anticipate ever doing so. Is my soul in jeopardy although I’ve given it and my life to God, and asked forgiveness of my sins through the blood of Jesus Christ? If I am to die without a minister or preacher pouring water over me, is my entire life a waste?

I acknowledge that perhaps I test God by not being baptized, but I also trust in God’s love enough that he won’t hold it against me. As Mark 1:4 said, baptism is an outward expression that we have repented of our sins. It comes after we accept salvation, not before, or even during. I show through my other actions I have accepted Jesus as my savior.

Baptism of the Holy Spirit is what matters.

Why then did we baptize our son when he was a baby? Does that make me a hypocrite, or at least uncertain as to my belief, willing to jeopardize my soul, but not my son’s?

No. As Mark 1:4 said, baptism is an outward expression of what’s already taken place in the heart and soul. My husband and I wish to show our friends and family that we will teach our son about and (hopefully) accept Jesus as his savior for himself someday.

In the end, like accepting Jesus for yourself, the same holds true for baptism. If you find it necessary, by all means get baptized. If you don’t think it’s necessary, that’s okay, too–as long as your faith is sincere in both cases.

The Mighty Pen

A few days ago, my hubby and I met with some friends at a restaurant. Most of the conversation circled around firearms, but then it turned toward other subjects such as the riots, and other issues and controversies of the day.

Soon the conversation turned toward social media.

One mentioned how he doesn’t always agree with what I write on Facebook. He considers responding, but ends up leaving no comment. He said my posts are so well written, anything he adds would look stupid by comparison. “I simply don’t know how to write with as good of grammar as you do.”

Aside and disclaimer: this is not meant as a braggadocios post, but something else, which I will explain further.

I quirked by head at him and said, “Huh. I never thought of using good grammar as a weapon before.”

“That’s exactly what it is,” he said. “A weapon.”

Another piped up with, “The pen is mightier than the sword after all.”

The problem with some cliches is they often become so common, they take on a certain abstraction with no real-world value people can use in their daily life. I’ve used the pen versus sword phrase before in previous posts, usually to say that we need to ever be aware of every word we speak or write. They can tear people down as easily as they can uplift.

Yet I still never considered writing well (having good grammar) as a weapon to the point people wouldn’t want to engage—feeling inadequate to the task.

in some ways I was gratified by the comment, but it also made me sad. I never want to intimidate anyone with my skills. I want them to be inviting and informative so people will engage, even if they disagree. Sometimes especially if they disagree. I would rather look like a fool for a moment than a fool forever because I didn’t take the time to listen and learn something new.

I get it though.

I like to sing, and love to belt out tunes while in my car or alone in the house. I may even be fairly good at it. I also don’t know how to read a single note of music. I couldn’t distinguish a B from an A to save my life.

If a professional singer asked me to do a duet, however, I would have to politely decline. I’m simply not skilled enough—feeling inadequate to the task. ‘Tis better to sit in the corner and not engage.

At the same time, by not taking up the invitation, I deny myself the benefit of the singer’s skills to possibly improve my own.

Sure, in some instances I like the idea of wielding my grammar skills as a weapon, but I prefer to wield them to teach and edify, but mostly as an invitation to discuss ideas and learn from others.

A Harsh Rebuke

Mark 8:33: “But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (ESV)

I often wonder what Jesus felt at that moment. Knowing his life would soon end, was Satan tempting him to stay? Was the rebuke as much for himself as for Peter?

Curiosity aside, when God does something that goes contrary to everything I want or think I need, I argue with him. I beg him to change his mind. Intellectually I know God will always do what’s best, and that I will never, ever win an argument with him. Still, I continue to try. He doesn’t rebuke me as harshly as Jesus did Peter, but I wonder if perhaps he should.

Or, maybe it’s not God who needs to rebuke me, but me who needs to rebuke myself and Satan for muddling my heart and my mind with the things of man to the point I can’t focus on the things of God.

It’s easy to do. We are finite creatures on this earth. We have our daily struggles and distractions that to focus on God’s long, eternal view can be near impossible. We lose sight of our trust and faith—whether it’s due to our worries, our doubts, or our pride. Perhaps a combination of all three. We have to remember that even when we get lost, God never does, and he never loses sight of us or what he wants to accomplish through us.

When we feel lost, we have to remember and speak Jesus’ own words: “Get behind me Satan, for my mind will not be set on the things of man, but on the things of God.”

What Would Jesus Do?

That was a popular question few decades ago, further popularized by the acronym WWJD. It was a simple way to get people to think before they act, and with the hope they’d make the right decisions. It fell away rather quickly for many reasons, one of which is, can we really know what Jesus would do in any given circumstance?

That said, if I created a poll that asked: If Jesus were alive on earth today, would he wear a mask? I’ll bet the results would be an even 50/50.

The fact that our opinions would be split on the question means we’re asking the wrong question, and our motives for asking are improper. It’s placing Jesus in the middle of an argument and asking him to take sides so we can point to the opposition and say, “See? You’re wrong!”

Sure, no one that I know of has asked this particular question, but they’ve asked others (such as would Jesus be a Republican or a Democrat; would he approve of turning people away at the border; etc.). I also wouldn’t be surprised if people have thought of this question and just haven’t asked it outright yet.

Regardless, Jesus won’t take sides, because this is a human question, not a godly one.

Some might at this point say, “Aren’t you assuming to know the mind of God here? How do you know he won’t take sides? This is an important question!”

Sure, for us. Not for Jesus. Whether or not people wear a mask does not determine the health of their soul. Jesus won’t assume that someone wearing a mask knows and follows him anymore than someone not wearing a mask doesn’t know or follow him. Eternally speaking, the question is irrelevant. He will, in the end, ask, “Is your mind, body, and soul right with me?”

So what’s the point of this entry? Is it about masks, what Jesus would do or not do, or something else?

We’ve been in a frenzy about a virus to the point of obsession for the last four months. No matter where we go or what we do, it’s literally in our face. We can’t escape it from the news, from social media, and at every gathering (online or in person), it’s too often the main subject of discussion.

I think we need to stop and return (or keep) our focus to Jesus, because no matter what—whether it’s a hurricane, earthquake, virus, or disease that’s about to destroy our body, he’s still in control and—both figuratively and literally—has our soul well in hand.

Set your minds on the things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. ~ Colossians 3:2-3 (ESV)

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. ~ Philippians 3:12-14 (ESV)

Heavenly Treasures

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” ~ Matthew 6:19-21 (ESV)

I’m a technophile. I am always looking for the newest gadget. A while back at lunch I drooled (figuratively speaking) over a fellow restaurant patron showing off a gadget that turned his phone into a projector. He caught me staring, but I didn’t care. It was cool!

When Christmas season gears up (no pun intended), we are flooded with advertisements of the newest gadgets and toys that no one can live without.

And I am tempted. I don’t need any of it, but I excel at convincing myself otherwise. The purchase might satisfy me for a while, but then what? If I die, all those gadgets will end up at a second-hand store, given away, or tossed in the trash.

We like to think we’ve evolved, but we’re no wiser than those who came before. We simply have better tools (and toys). Like those Jesus preached to in Matthew, I’m so busy collecting worldly treasures, I’m not collecting heavenly ones.

What do heavenly treasures look like, anyway?

It could be giving money we would otherwise spend on toys to more useful causes, or using our talents to glorify God more—to name a few. It boils down to what we choose focus on: the shiny stuff of this world, or God and his will.

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” ~ Matthew 6:33 (ESV)

No Bad News

I think we can all agree social media and much of the Internet can be a toxic place. It’s where we vent, argue and too often call each other nasty names—all without having to accept any consequences thereof.

We also have the choice to either not participate, or offer something better.

Starting tomorrow, I’m going to offer something better.

Over the last few years, I’ve written short devotions for my church (about 300 words or one page each). Some are pretty good—if I say so myself—and there’s nothing stopping me from sharing them with the rest of you.

The surest cure for emotional and mental toxicity is emotional and mental positivity. While some of you may not share my faith, I promise nothing of what I share from now on is an attempt to preach at or convert you. My only desire is that you find a little joy and hope in my words.

Consider my page from now on a no bad news area.

Shout It Out

I doubt anyone in this country has never heard the phrase, “Separation of Church and State.” It’s often attributed to the First Amendment of the US Constitution in that no church can interfere with state policy or law. It’s been used to eliminate any religious activities or symbols on public property, including prayers during public events (such as school football games). Some have even gone so far as to tell anyone appointed or elected to public office must leave their religious convictions at the door. Others use the phrase and the First Amendment to mean that we have a freedom from religion instead of freedom of religion. Amazing how one little word can change the entire meaning of something, isn’t it?

Yet anyone who’s ever read the Constitution knows that phrase is not there.

So where did it come from?

When our country was in its infancy, many had questions about what the new government had the power to do or not do. One of those concerns was religious freedom. In England, only one church was recognized by the state, and those who wanted to run for any public office were required to be a member of said church. Some churches, in this case the Danbury Baptists, were understandably concerned how they and their members would be recognized by the US Government—if at all, and if they would continue to enjoy their freedom to worship as well as take part in public/state policy-making.

In 1802, they wrote a letter to Thomas Jefferson looking for those answers.

Jefferson responded in part: “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ʺmake no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,ʺ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.” (Emphasis mine).

Both letters can be found here:

Many Christians (especially conservative Christians) hate the “separation of church and state” phrase, because—for one—it’s wrongly attributed to the First Amendment. The second reason I mentioned above in that it’s used to stifle religious freedom and expression instead of protecting it—especially in the public square to the point some politicians are using it as a religious test for governmental appointments (which is also unconstitutional and goes against what Jefferson said in his letter).

So why do I bring all this up now? Simple. Have you noticed that no one is using it anymore?

I believe it’s because government has—for the most part—finally succeeded in shutting them up and shutting them down. They’ve no more reason to bludgeon us with it.

As such, if we want to keep our churches open and free, we need to quit balking at using that phrase and shout it from the figurative rooftops.

Because that “wall of separation” not only means—as the phrase has been used for at least as long as I’ve been alive—that no church can interfere in government/public activity, it also means the government can’t interfere in any church activities. That includes forcing them to shut down down completely or holding services for only a certain number of people.

It’s not enough to say closing churches is unconstitutional anymore (whether temporarily or permanently). It’s become so cliche that it’s background noise that won’t even invoke an eye roll. Now, if we say it’s a violation of separation of church and state, that might make their ears perk up a bit.

In short, it’s time to play by their rules and use the same words they’ve used against us for so long.

Christ’s Mandate. What Is It?

I recently commented on a thread in Facebook about how we as Christians are responding to current societal and political issues of late. They are as varied as one can imagine: from accepting any and all governmental orders, to fighting tooth and nail for our constitutionally protected freedoms. Almost every single one uses different scriptural references to back up their point of view.

No, this isn’t about whether or not the Bible is rife with contradictions.

Nor is this post about politics (so you can relax).

It’s about our mandate as Christians, and to answer the question: does God expect us to create heaven on Earth?

My answer:

Many Christians keep making the same mistake some of Jesus’ followers made: that he came to overthrow human kingdoms and begin a new, literal and political kingdom as well as a heavenly one.

Some think our mandate is to make society look how we think Jesus would want it, when in truth the “Kingdom of God” is within all of us once we become one of Jesus’ followers. We are the kingdom, not government, not countries, not society as a whole. Our mandate isn’t to change the world, but to bring Jesus to those who need him, so that they themselves may be changed.

A Good Day

This blog is supposed to be about my life, my journey, specifically my writing journey. As most of you figured out quite early, my writing journey adds up to less than 25%. The other 75% focuses on religious philosophy and raving rants when life doesn’t go my way.

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me if I’d like to do a pregnancy photo shoot with her and her husband. My response was probably more excited than it should have been. Any opportunity to see anyone other than my husband and son and my coworkers, though, that was something to be excited about, however “over-the-top.”

It didn’t matter to me that we saw no sun, endured a few scattered rain droplets and 48-degree temperatures. The only upside weather-wise was little wind. The point was being outside and doing something different with different people.

Admittedly I was a bit nervous. When it comes to photo shoots I have little experience. I only got paid once to take some family photos for a friend a few years ago. I once helped with a wedding and family reunion, but so many others also took pictures, mine didn’t shine when compared to everyone else’s (nor did I get paid; in both cases, I was helping out a family member).

All-in-all, the photos turned out pretty good this time around, although I still have some editing to do. I should have kept my eye on the settings, because a few turned out a bit blurry. But, that’s how we learn, right?

That wasn’t the end of my good day! That morning before I left for the photo shoot, I received a text from another friend asking if me and my son would like to do a one-shot D & D. Like I was going to say no?

I decided on a human monk as my character. As a monk, I not only had lethal punches, but I could punch as many as four times per turn. The last bad guy I punched in the face at least a dozen times total before I finally knocked him out. Even though I didn’t physically punch anyone, mentally I felt like I had. There was something cathartic about it.

Hey, women can have aggressive issues, too, ya know.

When my son and I returned home, I couldn’t park in the driveway, because two other cars had parked there. I didn’t care, because tell-tale smoke billowed out of our grill and engulfed my husband and two of his guests. That meant steak. Delicious, char-broiled steak. That I had already eaten supper at the D & D get together didn’t matter. There will always be room in my belly for steak. My son agreed, so we shared one.

We and our two guests sat in the garage to eat our steak and solved all the world’s problems in the next three hours.

Spending real, face-to-face time with so many others for such varied reasons is what made my day, and made it worth sharing with the rest of you.