Category Archives: Faith

What Matters

What Matters

I received an email congratulating me for signing up at http://www.writing.com, a website for writers who want to review and be reviewed by other writers, twelve years ago today.

Twelve years. It seems like a long time, but at the same time, not long enough.

I wondered at how much I have accomplished in that time, and I felt a little twinge of almost regret. When I started here, I had the singular dream of being published. Now, twelve years later, I’m still unpublished (mostly).

Have I wasted those twelve years?

Then I read the next email. Someone kindly reviewed one of my items:

Hello vivacious [my username on the site] ,I’d like to wish you a very happy account anniversary, may you have a magical day. I chose this item to review for your anniversary because I thought the title and the item description were very curious. I think this poem is very short on words however it packs with it a powerful message in which I totally agree with.

I think this is an easy to understand and very special poem. it makes me feel like I am glad to be alive and that I am but a child being guided through life by an all powerful God. I did not see any mistakes with your writing.

Thank you for sharing this item with me I appreciate your talent, you keep writing and I’ll keep reading God Bless You

The item in question I remembered was a poem, but that’s it. After looking at the date I added it, I knew why: 2006. Eleven years ago.

It’s short enough, so here it is:

These are not my words.

This is not my voice.

These hands are not mine.

Count this not as wisdom from me.

Only to God.

Only to God does this all belong.

These last twelve years were not a waste. Quite the opposite. I’ve touched many people here (figuratively speaking). I’ve made many friends that I keep in contact with both here and on other sites. Perhaps my words have encouraged and even blessed others.

Best of all, the review and the poem together smacked me across the face (figuratively speaking). It was God’s way of not allowing me to feel sorry for myself. My words matter. I matter, because he created me.

Regardless of how many years of my life passes, God will use me in ways both seen and unseen. Whether my own lofty dreams come to pass In the time or ways I want and expect them to is not important as far as eternity is concerned. What matters is that God’s will be done when it needs to be done. Not too soon, and never too late.

Christian Hypocrisy

It seems with many today, those two terms are redundant and interchangeable.

No matter what we say or what we do, people will call us hypocrites. For instance, part of our faith requires we help the poor, the orphan and the widow, yet there are countless examples of many Christians who don’t.

We consider adultery and lying sins, yet we support leaders and politicians who have. Scripture warns against gossip, yet how many of us gossip all over the place?

I submit that to be a Christian is to embrace our own hypocrisy. In many ways we can’t have one without the other.

Paul even said (Romans 7:14-25), “So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

“And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

“I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.”

Christians are required to acknowledge two things: That Jesus is the son of God who died for us, and that we are sinful creatures. As long as we live we will never be sinless. Sure, we try not to sin, and many times we succeed, but as many times as we refrain, we also give in. We simply can’t help ourselves. I still gossip. I envy and covet, and I too often take the Lord’s name in vain. I even hate, which as far as God is concerned, that’s murder (See 1 John 3:15).

Jesus knew this, which is why he told us not to judge (see Matthew 7:1-6). He once convinced a crowd not to stone an adulterous woman by saying, “Let the one who has not sinned throw the first stone.” (See John 8:1-11)

Aside: I don’t think the irony of Jesus being the only one qualified to throw that stone was lost on him.

The problem with people’s perception of Christians these days (sometimes deserved, sometimes not) is that we focus too much on people’s wrong-doings. We appear to forget that Jesus never pointed out a person’s sin without first offering them grace. The adulterous woman is one example, but also the Samaritan woman at the well (see John 4:4-38), and many others, man and woman, rich and poor.

After all, Jesus didn’t walk into my room one day, give me a list of all my horrible thoughts and deeds and say, “Clean all that up first, and then I will forgive you.” Quite the reverse, actually.

Am I a hypocrite? Yes, and worse. But that’s irrelevant, because I still try to be the best person I can be. Not because it’s required for my salvation, but as an expression of my gratitude for Jesus saving me when I wasn’t being the best person I can be. Hell, I’m still not even close, but at least I’m working at it. Either way, it doesn’t erase God’s love, nor his grace.

Obviously, the law applies to those to whom it was given, for its purpose is to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God. For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.

But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. (Romans 3:18-22)

Conversations with Mini-Me

For the longest time I didn’t like me. I am silly and weird, and too often too smart for my own good. Growing up people teased me, sometimes mercilessly. I soon believed that being silly and weird were wrong, and in order to be loved and accepted, I needed to be different. I needed to be “normal.”

Whatever that is.

Only after I reached my 20s did I realize how much energy it took to be something I wasn’t. It left me mentally and spiritually exhausted. Not only that, but people didn’t accept me as much as I hoped they would.

Where did I go wrong? How can I be loved and accepted, and be the person God meant me to be?

So I went on a little journey, and I began to talk to the little girl inside me. The one untouched by pain, the one who believed in herself and everything around her. A little girl filled with an immeasurable hope and certainty that nothing could ever go wrong.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that’s the person God wanted me to be – in all her glorious silliness and weirdness. In all her hopefulness and innocence. Unscarred by time.

Now in the last half of my 40s, I’ve not only decided to embrace my weirdness and silliness, but the joy that comes from not acting like an adult all the time. It’s okay to be childlike. To run around giggling. To make funny faces at people.

After all, if children know anything, they know how to embrace joy, and to express it with no regard over how it may look to others around them. They look at the world around them, not with boredom or cynicism, but with wonder and awe.

That’s what my mini-me reminds me to do when I’m feeling not so good about myself, and the pressure of too many expectations I simply can’t meet overwhelms me. It’s okay to be sillly. It’s okay to be weird. After all, if everyone was “normal,” how boring life would be.

Converse with and embrace your own inner child, in all his or her glorious silliness and weirdness. Those conversations may also help lead you to the person God meant you to be.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (Matthew 18:1-5 NIV)

You Are Not My Friend . . .

Jealousy. I wish you’d stop visiting unannounced. You saunter in, without even a knock on the door. You make yourself comfortable by sitting next to me on my couch, far too close. I can smell your rancid breath as you whisper your nasty thoughts into my ears.

The worst part is, I can’t place all the blame on you. I don’t kick you out the moment you walk through the door. I don’t move away when you sit next to me. I don’t cover your mouth, or cover my ears when you speak.

I listen, as much as I tell myself that I shouldn’t.

And your timing is always impeccable.

You only show up when I read about other people’s successes while I continue to flounder. No. It’s worse than that. I only dream of success, and don’t work enough to make it happen. Those people who succeed faster than me? They probably worked harder, and smarter than me. Therefore, do I really have the cause to complain? To moan and wallow in my frustration?

Or it could be God said, “It’s time” to them, when he’s asking me to wait a little longer. Do the reasons really matter? They shouldn’t, because God’s timing has never failed me, not once.

So I have decided, at least for this moment, to give jealousy the boot out the door. It’s not welcome in my home. I must instead use that energy to actually work toward my goals. How’s that for a novel idea?

As long as I continue to do that, success will come. Sure I may fail a few times along the way, but that comes with living life. We all fail more than we succeed. The singular difference between a failure and a success is the successful person never gives up no matter how many times he or she has failed to reach their goal.

I’m not so special that I deserve to never fail. Some will wait even longer than me.

And that’s life.

Allowing jealousy to whisper in my ear won’t change anything, except make me miserable and waste even more time.

Save Your Prayers

During the DAPL protests, I kept apprised reading articles posted by our local news agencies on Facebook. I quit reading the comments after only a few weeks, because they were so infuriating.

The ones that bothered me the most said, “I will pray for you.”

Now why, as a Christian, would that bother me? Aren’t we supposed to pray for each other, and welcome prayers on our behalf? Truth is, that phrase raises my hackles more often than it doesn’t. I couldn’t pin down why for the longest time, to the point I wondered if I should question my faith or lack thereof. If my faith was strong, there should be no reason prayers for me and to me should bother me.

A few weeks ago during Wednesday night church groups, I overheard a teacher for the teenage group say, “There’s a difference between praying for someone and praying at someone.”

A-ha.

Too often, when people say, “I will pray for you,” they make themselves the subject, and me the object. They make it about them – to attempt to show how righteous they are, and how unrighteous I am. It’s based on the assumption that I need, and want their prayers.

I also had to ask, did Jesus ever say, “I will pray for you,” especially during or after an argument with someone? I don’t recall a single instance.

There is another side to this coin, however. If I ask for prayers, then that phrase “I will pray for you,” is more than welcome. Also, if I didn’t ask for it, but people decide to pray for me without telling me, well, I can’t exactly stop that, can I? Not that I’d want to. As long as the people praying feel compelled to pray, and are sincere in their prayers (with humility, not self-righteousness), I have no problem with it.

Jesus said in Matthew 6:1, 5-6:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven … And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

I can’t stop anyone from praying, publicly or otherwise, humbly or otherwise. In the end, it’s not up to me to decide whose prayers are sincere. That’s between them and God. I do think, however, that when we decide to pray for someone, we need to be honest in our motives. Both in prayer, and every other means of expressing our faith, we should also do as Jesus did, and not make spectacles of ourselves.

Bees to Honey

Whenever I feel lost and overwhelmed, part of me wants to drop myself on the floor and throw a tantrum that would make even the most spoiled child stare in astonishment.

Life is complicated. People are complicated. As a rational personality who prefers order over chaos, when life doesn’t go the way I want, and people confuse me with their irrational words and deeds, I don’t know how to respond. My mind descends into its own form of chaos that I can’t escape.

I have learned, however, to find a place of solitude, even if it’s only inside my mind. To remove all distractions and give my thoughts and emotions time to settle. Writing has always helped, because it allows me to spill onto the page all the disorder in my mind. It’s also safe, because no one has to see it, and I won’t hurt anyone with my own irrational words and deeds.

Afterward, I can step back, study those words, and find understanding.

God’s gift to me that has saved my life and my sanity more than once. I’m sure it’s saved a few friendships along the way as well.

I promised with my last Facebook temper tantrum that my next entry would concentrate on faith and what acting on that faith means. No politics. You can be assured I’ve kept that promise.

Nor is this about accusations per se.

This entry is about what being Christian means. More importantly, why we – especially Christians – shouldn’t judge others.

First question: What is a Christian?

A Christian is a follower of Christ and his teachings. It’s accepting and embracing the idea that God loves us so much he sent his Son – a part of himself – to this earth to die for our sins. In doing so, we will have eternal life. All we have to do is give of ourselves, our mind, our heart and our soul to him. Not out of fear, but out of love.

It sounds so simple, which it is, but it’s far from easy. The moment we decide to follow Christ, that’s when the real work begins.

Second question: How does a Christian act on that faith? What does Jesus expect from us?

Someone asked Jesus a similar question in Matthew 22:36-40:

“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

Let’s dig a bit deeper now. Part of loving our neighbor as ourself is treating others how we want to be treated. That means, for instance, if I don’t want to be judged – for whatever reason – I have no cause to judge anyone else.

Matthew 7:1-5 is one of my favorite scriptural passages, partly because Jesus seemed to enjoy using hyperbole to get his point across:

“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.

“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”

These next passages have to do with the Body of Christ. It may seem that I’m jumping subjects, but I tie them together at the end. I hope you’ll stick with me.

I Corinthians 12:4-6, 12, 15-21

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ.

Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?

But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”

Now for the last jump from Matthew 6:1-4

“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.”

When I see memes telling me I’m either a horrible Christian or not one at all for whatever reason from a non-Christian, I get annoyed. Still, I see it so often, I’ve come to expect it. When I see a fellow Christians do the same thing, however, that’s when I get angry. All of the above scripture is why; we’re supposed to know better.

I heard a story of a woman who loved to bake pies. Whenever someone moved into the neighborhood, she’d bake them a pie to welcome them. Whenever a neighbor was hurting, or had a special occasion, she’d bake them a pie. Many appreciated her more than she ever knew, because whenever they felt lost and alone, with that one simple gesture, she made them feel loved and welcomed.

I saw another story of a woman who waved to all the students going to and from school every day for years. The students loved her for it, and some even said it was impossible to remain in a bad mood once they saw her smile, joy, and enthusiasm.

Should any one of us tell those women that they’re not “Christian” enough, or compassionate enough, because they don’t (that we know of) open their homes to the homeless, give their income to our favorite charities, or take month-long mission trips to war-torn countries?

Truth is we don’t know. Nor are we supposed to. Even if they didn’t do those things, the reason could be because God didn’t ask them to. Their part in the Body of Christ doesn’t demand it.

I also believe that since we’re not supposed to judge people based on their sins, we’re not qualified to judge people according to their good deeds, or what we consider their lack thereof, either. Our sins, and our good deeds are between God and us. Individually. If I’m not doing enough, it’s up to God to convict me, no one else, and certainly not on Facebook or other public venue.

And lastly.

The movie, “Hidden Figures” won a top award at this year’s Screen Actor’s Guild awards. Taraji P. Henson gave the acceptance speech, and she said in part:

“This film is about unity.”

“We stand here as proud actors thanking every member of this incredible guild for voting for us, for recognizing our hard work. But the shoulders of the women that we stand on are three American heroes — Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson. Without them, we would not know how to reach the stars. These women did not complain about the problems, their circumstances, you know, the issues. We know what was going on in that era.

“They didn’t complain. They focused on solutions. Therefore these brave women helped put men into space. … This story is about what happens when we put our differences aside. When we come together as a human race, we win. Love wins every time.”

My favorite part was the first two sentences of the last paragraph.

The memes, posts and comments about how horrible people are for not doing certain things will never help, because they don’t offer any solutions. It’s passive-aggressive behavior that only pisses people off. No one will ever bring people to their cause by tossing out insults.

Now, if someone were to approach me and say, “There’s a serious homeless problem in our city. I think we should rent an apartment building, and take up donations for food and clothing to help them out. Will you help me?”

That would spur me to action a lot quicker and with far more enthusiasm than someone screaming in my face, “You’re not helping the homeless, you hateful, selfish, hypocrite!”

Lure me with honey, because I’m no fan of vinegar.

It’s Personal

The message in church today was about how to keep love in a marriage. The scripture my pastor used was Ephesians 4:28-32:

If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

I focused mostly on verses 29 and 31-32 (in bold), because we need more of that – and not only within the context of marriage.

This also occurred to me during the sermon:

In the realm of politics, we can’t help but take things personal. This is especially true when someone personally attacks the candidate or leader we supported and voted for. We see it as an attack upon ourselves.

This is something we all need to be aware of when we criticize our leaders. Are we criticizing their policies (good), or their dress, looks, heritage, or mannerisms (bad)? I always hated the personal attacks on Obama and his family (some of it downright horrific) even though I disagreed with his policies. It was unproductive, cruel, and never gained a single convert. The same holds true for the nasty rhetoric against Trump and his family.

A friend of mine, Jessica, wrote this on Facebook a few days ago:

I’ve been trying to be better about checking my motives before posting stuff on Facebook. Often I decide my motives are wrong so I don’t post. So, I’m starting to wonder about the purpose of Facebook beyond being able to see pictures of people’s babies. If, after thinking about it some more, cute baby pictures turn out to be Facebook’s only redeeming purpose, I will stay on here because I totally love seeing pictures of people’s babies. People with babies: keep posting pictures of your babies. They are not only adorable, they also remind me how good our God is. And I need to be reminded of that. Especially after scanning past all the political posts.

I, too, need to keep in mind my ultimate and ulterior motives, not only in my Facebook posts, but in my blog. I’ve written plenty that I decided against posting (and others I probably shouldn’t have posted), because they sounded condescending and pretentious. I realized that I wrote them in an attempt to make myself look good, to appear “better than everyone else.”

Ugh. Humility isn’t one of my strengths, and it needs to be. If not for my sake, certainly for those around me.

Also highlighted in today’s sermon: Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. – James 1:19