Category Archives: Faith

Forcing Gratitude

Interesting title, don’t you think? Is it even possible? Can gratitude really be forced?

For someone to attempt to force others to be grateful, the answer is no. One can act grateful for fear of certain consequences, but in their heart and mind, I’ll wager they’d be far from grateful. I’d even bet they’d be angry and resentful.

I’ll admit I’m of the latter. With Thanksgiving just around the corner, while no one is forcing me to be grateful (as such), I am having a difficult time convincing myself I should be. That’s the whole reason behind the holiday: to express our thanksgiving and gratitude to God for all our blessings.

And I should. Intellectually, I know that. My heart, however, is stubborn. It prefers to mope. To be resentful and keep count of all my losses, frustrations, and failures.

Even pointing out how many have lost more than me isn’t enough to pull my heart out of its malaise.

I know I’m not alone. No one is enjoying (except for politicians, bureaucrats, and tech companies) the current upheaval, the loss of liberties, and the general isolation from friends and family. The latter is especially difficult to accept right now considering Thanksgiving has always been about gathering and sharing in the year’s blessings.

We can’t celebrate that one cornerstone of the holiday this year, whether by a number of family members choosing not to, or by government edict. What, then, is the purpose of celebrating it now when it’s largely stripped of its meaning?

I know what some of you are thinking: I can still celebrate with my immediate family. I can still celebrate with others online. I can still count my many other blessings–for which I am self-aware and honest enough to know they’re innumerable.

Yet ignoring what my heart is telling me is not a solution. It’s pulling the wool over my own eyes.

Unless someone can show me different, no scripture exists that states we must ignore our griefs. And that’s what I’m feeling: grief over losing my country; grief over losing my God-given liberties; grief over my forced isolation; and grief with the certainty it’ll only get worse.

So while God doesn’t demand we never grieve or ignore it, he expects us not to wallow in them and provides ways to rise above them. I’ll admit when I searched for relevant scriptures, I was inundated with so many possibilities, how could I possibly narrow it down?

So I concentrated on Psalms, because David so often wrote about his own doubts, struggles, and grief:

Psalm 30:5: “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”

Psalm 34:17-18: “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Psalm 147:3: “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

In short, no matter how much we grieve, God is there to lift us up. We just need to take a moment, be still, listen, and healing will come. As long as we believe he will. While gratitude can’t be forced, doing so is certainly in our best interest. Otherwise all we have to hope for is despair.

Bowing to Nebuchadnezzar

I ran into a friend this morning and we got to chatting. At one point she mentioned the book of Daniel, and it reminded me of something I wrote back in 2015. After reading through it again, it seems even more applicable today and worth a repeat:

Yesterday a friend and I talked on Facebook about all the horrible things going on in the world. She commented, “Seriously I do wonder if we’re now living in the end times. The world is in a dreadful state and it is just getting worse.”

To which I responded, “I used to think that, but—at least from what I read—globally before and during WWII things were a lot worse.

“Some days I wonder why God is still waiting and wish he’d just end it already. Other days I’m grateful he’s not, because it gives everyone more opportunities to both spread and understand the truth.

“I feel selfish by wanting it to end, because it’s coming from a place of fear in that I don’t want to see my nation fall, or for my good life to end.

“I have to constantly remind myself that God is still in control. Even if there are hardships I can’t even imagine to come, I know eternity with God awaits me.

“I just hope I continue to have the wherewithal to show God’s love to others, but I sometimes (often) wonder why I bother since so many hearts are hardened against him.

“At least that’s how it seems. I could easily be wrong about that. I’ll never know when my words or deeds will influence someone the right way. Jesus didn’t give up; God hasn’t given up. Nor should I, because then I am no good to him or those who need him.”

I’ve heard a few people express concern that Christians are about to enter an era of persecution in Western countries including the United States.

I often wonder the same thing, especially recently, but then I thought, are trials and persecutions a bad thing—at least as far as the Kingdom of God is concerned?

In all instances when people or government tried to eliminate Christians and Christianity, they have instead resulted in explosive growth. Today, the highest percentage of Christian expansion is occurring in China and other oppressive regimes where it’s supposed to be illegal. Our country is also experiencing revival in spite of state and local governments shutting down or restraining churches.

It’s easy to stand with the faithless when they’re standing. Not so much when they all sit down. That’s when the faithful are noticed. It’s frightening to be singled out and take the risk of being vilified at best–killed at worst.

But that doesn’t mean we should sit down. It’s during the times when the faithless sit down that we must stand up taller. If we don’t, we show the world that we have fallen prey to our own fears; we prove our own faithlessness and even distrust of God’s promises.

After Nebuchadnezzar built his 90-foot-tall golden statue in the book of Daniel, all people from every nation were required to bow down to worship it. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused. They stood up when everyone else bowed. The king noticed and demanded they be thrown into a fiery furnace. Because of their faithfulness, the fires didn’t touch them, and the King and all his men bowed down to worship God.

Sure, their faith led them into the furnace, but it also led them right back out again.

I like to say God loves paradox. He uses our weaknesses to show his strength. He uses the darkest moments in our lives to reveal his grace, his love, and his promises.

He uses the world’s attempt to kill Christianity in order to further his Kingdom.

We must be part of that, otherwise our own faith is meaningless.

Therefore, do not be afraid of today’s or future trials and tribulations. Don’t fret about governments’ attempts at restraining or destroying the Church or our faith. Welcome them, because it’s at those times people will see Jesus most clearly. Our mortal lives and daily comforts should be the smallest price we have to pay to help accomplish it.

The Liberty to Walk Away

I’ve expressed a few times lately that we need to look for what the Bible doesn’t say as much as what it does say. This is another such time.

One statement I’m hearing a lot lately is, “If you love your neighbor, you would do X.”

Ever since I heard it the first time, it’s been eating at me. What’s so bothersome about it? Is it not scriptural? After thinking about it for a few weeks, I finally understood.

The entire statement is absurd.

Nor is it scriptural.

How’s that for an audacious statement? Read on, and I’ll explain why.

The most obvious one is what the scripture in question actually says: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” What I call the biggest little word is missing: If. Meaning there are no qualifiers attached.

Loving one’s neighbor can take many forms, and yes, that can include doing X if someone asks us to (the key word being “ask”). Yet there are things we must never do.

One is to use force or the threat of force to make sure people do something or act a certain way—such as through local or federal authorities.

The worst part of the statement is it implies that anyone who doesn’t do X doesn’t love their neighbor. As such, it’s an attempt to shame people into compliance. That’s coercion, the other thing one must never do.

Liberty is defined as:

• the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views

• the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved

• a right or privilege, especially a statutory one [such as the US Bill of Rights]

• the power or scope to act as one pleases

But what does the Bible say about liberty as well as loving one’s neighbor? Are they mutually exclusive, or do they go hand-in-hand?

The story of the Good Samaritan is the oft-cited example of loving one’s neighbor (Luke 10:25-37).

The Cliff-Notes version is a man is robbed, beaten, and left for dead. Three people encounter him: a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan (it almost sounds like the beginning of a joke, doesn’t it?). Only the Samaritan stops to help him.

So now we need to look for what’s not said. In this case, no angel (nor God) came down and demand of any one of the men to stop and help. The story also doen’t include any authority forcing the three to act, nor do any of the men complain to the authorities to force the other two to act. They all had the option to walk away. Including the Samaritan.

Mark 10:17-22 has been sticking with me lately:

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (ESV)

The key statement is in the last verse: “He went away sad…” Yet the verse, “Jesus looked at him and loved him,” is equally poignant.

Jesus loved him, and because of that, allowed him the choice—the liberty—to walk away even as it may have broken his heart to do so. He told the man the truth, and with conviction, which is important. But again, looking for what isn’t said, he didn’t threaten or force the man into changing his mind with local/worldly authorities, or coerce through shame.

We are called to be just like Jesus, and that includes giving people the liberty to make their own choices, to walk away without us piling on threats or shame as they do so.

So in answer to the question I asked above, loving one’s neighbor must include liberty, no “ifs” about it. We can’t do one without giving the other.

1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 (ESV): “and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”

When God Sings

Here in the States, we’re spoiled by many things. That includes not having to wait long for election results. As such, we’ve forgotten how to exercise patience.

For what appears to be exactly on par with the rest of 2020, we are forced to wait to find out who wins, and not only nationally. Some local elections can’t be called, yet, either. Part of it could be they’re as yet too close to call, or many ballots have yet to be counted (and some have yet to be delivered by the post office I’ll bet).

Many believe this is one of the most important national elections of our lifetime, so I can see why people are nervous and anxious. The number of people who voted alone proves that.

I am no exception. I, too, wanted results when I awoke this morning, but I’m also not surprised nothing was made official. Because that’s 2020 for you.

But I’m also not one to wallow in that anxiety (much), because it doesn’t change anything.

Yet God knows me better than I know myself, because I woke up to the lyrics of a song by Tasha Layton called “Into the Sea (It’s Gonna be Ok).” The lyrics parading through my mind were: “I hear the Father singing over me, ‘It’s gonna be okay. It’s gonna be okay.’”

I will take that with me, not only during this nail-biting wait, but whenever I’m feeling lost or anxious.

I hope you, too, can sing to yourself, “It’s gonna be okay.”

You can find the entire song on YouTube here.

Choosing Fear

Is fear a choice? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself of late.

When my son was a bit younger, I allowed him to do things that could have hurt him: climbing trees, crawling up steep river banks, yes even using knives and matches after I showed him how to properly and safely use both. Nor did I ever leave his side when he did.

Some have asked me why, and the answer is simple: if he scrapes a knee, cuts or burns himself, he’ll quickly learn not to do it again. Because pain is the best teacher out there. More so than his mom constantly screaming, “Don’t do that; you’ll hurt yourself!”

Almost all parents learn early on that children don’t always listen to motherly warnings, and eventually push against her natural desire to protect them from harm.

It’s a fine line between teaching children prudence and thoughtfulness when it comes to taking risks, or teaching them to be afraid of taking risks.

Because, like pain is a powerful teacher, fear is a powerful motivator. Healthy fear can prevent us from taking too big of a risk resulting in injury or death, or at least make us pause before we leap. Again, it’s a fine line, and everyone’s line is different. You’ll never see me parachute out of an airplane, but invite me on a fighter jet, I’m there!

Fear is necessary for our survival in many ways. It can quickly jump in when a dangerous situation arises. It releases adrenaline, which increases a body’s reaction-time, strength, and heightens awareness.

Another fear is the one that makes us pause, such as standing at the top of a hill and looking down the other side to gauge its steepness, and determine if we can climb down without risking serious injury or death.

Then there’s another, unrelenting fear that sticks with us day after day. All one has to do is look around to know we are drowning in it: fear of who’ll be elected; fear of losing our liberties (and in some instances, being allowed to keep them); fear of deadly disease; fear of natural (and unnatural) disasters. The list is endless.

Sometimes that fear can motivate us to work against any of the above such as voting, running for office, or campaigning for those of like mind; living healthy to strengthen the body; and preparing for natural and unnatural disasters (such as making sure our homes are secure against storms and our persons against tyranny). Again the list is endless. Being proactive is key in eliminating those fears.

So while fear can be a good thing, it can also hinder and cause us real damage. Unhealthy fear tends to overwhelm, not motivate. When it grabs hold, we isolate ourselves, lose trust in the people and world around us, and in the end quit living. When we quit living, we die soon after, because that fear too often leads to loneliness and despair.

As usual, I must turn to scripture. What does God say about being afraid, and is it really a choice?

And as usual, because fear is universal and effects us in so many negative ways, the Bible is filled with verses about it. Since this entry is getting a bit long, I will share only three. You should see a common thread in all of them:

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous hand.” Isaiah 41:10

“For God have us a spirit not of fear but of power love and self control.” 2 Timothy 1:7

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 (all verses in ESV)

In all three (and every other verse on fear I searched for) stressed the importance of depending on God–that only he can give us the strength and means to rise above our fears.

By wallowing in fear, we are in effect saying that God cannot be trusted or depended upon to protect us. The last verse in particular shows us what we can do.

That’s not to say it’s easy. It’s not. Far from it. It takes constant, intentional effort. Sometimes daily, if not a minute-by-minute effort through constant, thankful prayer and supplication.

Yet it’s never without reward, that being God’s peace, and protection of our heart and mind. When we fill our heart and mind with God and his promises, there’s no room left for fear.

Spiritual Blockage

Last week I once again signed up to write a few devotions for my church during Advent. While normally greedy by picking between four and six, I chose two (mostly because we were asked to pick only one or two).

As I read through the suggested passages of the first day I chose, I noticed what I can only describe as a spiritual blockage. I couldn’t care about the passages, had no desire to prayerfully seek out wisdom and discernment, and allow God to use his voice through me.

It was a bit startling, and… sad. I honestly had no idea how much I’ve been struggling of late until that moment. I’ve kept it quiet, putting on a brave face—for myself as much as for everyone else.

I could attempt to convince myself that pretending to be strong and “together” was for the benefit of those around me, because they need me to be strong. That may be partially true, but I must also be honest if I am to learn and grow.

Pride is once again my main motivation.

Anyone who’s read my blog for a while knows I don’t enjoy admitting I’m weak. In fact, I hate it.

Yet it must be done. If I continue to allow pride determine my thoughts and actions, it becomes an idol and leaves no more room for God.

My apathy toward the passages mentioned above was God’s way of slamming a door in my face and saying, “You’re neither prepared nor equipped to uplift others until you let me uplift you.”

I like to think God uses the words I write to speak to others, but (again, I must be honest) most often the words that spill from my fingers end up speaking to me. That last statement above in quotes is one of them. I had to stop typing for a few minutes, because I could no longer see through the sudden tears. Just thinking about them now makes me want to cry all over again.

Because that’s who God is. Always aware, always standing by, ready to give us whatever we need—as long as we remain open to receive and accept what he offers with gratitude, praise, and thanksgiving.

And humility.

“Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless… But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:28-29, 31 (NLT)

Banish the Dark

I’ve always said our life is built in the moments. We are to live in those moments. We need to avoid dwelling on or live in the past, because it can’t be changed. Nor should we worry about the future, because we can’t control or predict it.

We should also avoid getting so caught up in the moment we’re not doing what we need to do to make that moment better.

For instance, it’s easy to wake up to a dark and cloudy morning and not look for or see the sun peek through a break in those clouds.

I took the above picture this morning as I walked into a coffee shop. If not for the bright orange ball reflected off the store window, I would have missed it by the time I bought my coffee and headed back to my car.

One of the first lessons I learned on my faith journey is that darkness can never banish the light.

I too often wallow in my daily frustrations—this morning being no exception. Yet watching that beautiful sun inevitably rise reminded me that it still rises to banish the dark—in spite of the clouds—-and God is still sovereign.

A Spiritual Competition

In reading Leviticus, I’ve discovered some of it is about what’s not said. For example, see previous entry about sacrifice. Since then, I’ve been noticing other things that are never said, or in this case, what God will never say.

I’m reading a bible study on the book of Romans, and one chapter talks about comparing ourselves to others, whether it’s in our professional, personal and/or professional lives. It’s understandable, since so much of what we do and and are is based on competition: competition for food, land, and other resources. It’s how we survive and thrive as a species.

One way to win any competition is to study our competitors and see if we are better or worse than them. Perhaps plan accordingly so we can win against them. Too often, though, when a competitor (real or imagined) exceeds our abilities, we become disillusioned instead of motivated to improve. Again, understandable, but not wise.

All of that, especially disillusion, should never affect our spiritual life. To God, the grace, mercy, blessings, and yes, even conviction, he extends to us are not dependent on anyone else. That’s the definition of relationship. For instance, I treat my husband different from my son different from my friends. To tell my son he needs to be exactly like my co-worker would be silly and more than a little weird.

Since God seeks to build a relationship with each one of us, he never has and never will say, “you lose, because so-and-so prays, and/or works better than you.” Because God’s resources–gifts if you will–are abundant. They’ll never run out, so we need to quit acting and believing as though they will.

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.