Category Archives: Faith

A Little Numbers Game

I wrote this back in 2006, so some of this will be a bit dated. I share it again, because I think it’s important to remember.

10,005 – 1 does not equal -10,006.

That’s an obvious statement above, but it’s something I think we all tend to forget.

I’m not talking about numbers, but negative critiques, rejections, or harsh comments.

My pastor last Sunday did a sermon on The DaVinci Code. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know exactly what happened, but this is the gist of what I heard:

After he gave his sermon, someone approached and commented at how it wasn’t appropriate to do a sermon on a fictional book.

Whether the person meant it harshly, I don’t know. But my pastor’s reaction is important. He took the comment so hard, inbetween the 8am service and the 9:30am service he kneeled before the altar and wept.

I know he had to be thinking he made a terrible mistake by preaching on that subject. I’m sure he completely forgot any positive comments people gave him. Top that off with having to do the same sermon two more times. I doubt I could have pulled it off like he did.

Why is it so easy to wrap our entire beings around one negative comment and ignore all the other 10,005 positive comments as if they never happened?

I wish I had an answer to that, because I do it all the time. It’s a grueling mental wrestling match to convince me otherwise.

So I use this entry to encourage you to ignore the comments that hurt, and embrace the ones that uplift (as well as consider the source; not everyone has your best interests at heart). I bet the positives outnumber the negatives in almost every case.

Apathy

Either I’m not getting enough Sun, my hormones are completely whacked out, or it’s a combination of both, but I’m suffering from a severe case of apathy.

I’m not sad or depressed, but I can’t seem to find a reason to care about much of anything more than what I’m required to do for work and family. I’m either in automatic or neutral, and don’t care enough to change gears even when I know I should.

I keep thinking I should be concerned, but I’m not. Mostly. Actually, I am concerned, but not enough to do anything about it.

Part of why I’m writing it down is so that maybe, just maybe doing so will push me out of this odd mood I’m in. Sometimes seeing what I’m thinking and feeling on the screen helps me to find a solution to whatever is bugging me.

Change o’ subject (sort of):

I’m thinking of changing the name of my blog again. This time to “Dear God. I Have Questions.”

Two reasons for this.

Once again, I volunteered to write several devotions for my church’s yearly Lenten devotional. Eight, actually, which is the most I’ve volunteered to write so far. In one of them I admitted I don’t love or trust God as much as I know I should. I take much of my faith for granted, and worse, when it starts to matter, I hide it away, afraid.

Many non-religious accuse religious people, Christians especially, as following blindly, never asking challenging questions. For some, that’s probably true. I’ve heard enough stories where church leaders have punished people in a variety of ways for daring to challenge their beliefs or orthodoxy.

Yet that’s far from biblical. In both the Old and New Testaments, God and Jesus encouraged questions and seemed to enjoy being challenged (as long as the questioner was genuine in wanting to learn). For example, in the Old Testament, Jacob literally wrestled with God–and would have won if God hadn’t cheated. In the New Testament, never once did Jesus condemn anyone for asking questions. Sure, he was tough on the Pharisees, but he also knew their motives; their questions were meant to trap him, not to learn.

I want to focus my blog on studying God’s word to strengthen my relationship with him, and hopefully show others that to be a Christian actually means to ask a lot of questions, to challenge our current religious thinking, and yes question what the Bible says about certain subjects we find objectionable or problematic (while at the same time knowing that my understanding of said scripture is what’s flawed, not the scripture itself).

I also hope that by increasing my time of study, it’ll kick me out of this apathetic funk.

Growth on a Concrete Past

Jesus said we must love our enemies. Many verses (both Old and New Testament) describe what that looks like.

From the Old Testament:

“When you encounter your enemy’s ox or ass wandering, you must take it back to him.

When you see the ass of your enemy lying under its burden and would refrain from raising it, you must nevertheless raise it with him.” – Exodus 23:4-5 (TNK)

“If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat;

If he is thirsty, give him water to drink.

You will be heaping live coals on his head,

And the Lord will reward you.” – Proverbs 25:21-22 (TNK)

From the New Testament:

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” – Luke 6:27-28 (ESV)

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 7:12 (ESV)

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 7:12 (ESV)

Social media is an unforgiving place. It’s been around long enough that things we’ve written a decade ago are still around for people to see–and judge. People far too often find themselves being condemned (some have lost their jobs, college scholarships, homes and family, while others have been so destroyed, they ended up killing themselves). Not one of those people judging them took into consideration that the person has grown and changed.

Yet too many forget the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12), especially when it comes to entertainers, politicians and other famous people. We automatically assume that, based on past bad acts (real or merely accused), when they do something good, their motives are impure. We condemn them regardless–as if we can know their mind, and it’ll be forever unchanged.

I’ll bet if you go through my many entries of this blog, you’ll find entries where I was indeed wrong, and have since changed my mind. I would hope that anyone who reads them will at least give me the benefit of the doubt and ask if I still feel that way or not.

As I’m sure you would, too.

We also give that same courtesy to those we love. When they do something wrong, our first thought is, “Why would they do such a thing?” We don’t ascribe bad motive and condemn them automatically; we instead ask them why, and assume they perhaps had a legitimate reason.

We need to do better in giving people–all people–room to grow. We can’t change the past, but we can change our mind, learn and grow. So, too, can our enemies. Because, like it or not, we all have enemies, and I think we all hope they would love us as Jesus loves us–and give us equal benefit of the doubt when our wrongdoing is brought to light. Just like our loved ones do.

No one is above–or below–that level of grace. Jesus did that for us, and he expects us to do the same.

Fewer Rules, Higher Standards

More on Leviticus (sort of).

Along with describing the rules of animal sacrifice, Leviticus shows just how much the Jewish people were required to do with regard to cleanliness, disease diagnosis and control of its spread, and also criminal punishment (see Leviticus 24:17-22).

Then Jesus comes along and turns much of that around. We are no longer required to make animal sacrifices to atone for our sins, or expect an “eye-for-an eye.” Instead, Jesus became that sacrifice, so it’s no longer necessary. That’s not to say we don’t have to ask for forgiveness or atone for our sins in other ways, however. If anything, what God requires for forgiveness is a bit more difficult. Instead of sacrificing an animal, we have to sacrifice our pride, ourselves. It’s a sacrifice of the mind and heart that requires (gasp!) humility.

Aside: Does that mean we give up who we are and become mindless automatons? Not remotely! God wants us to continually seek him out, ask questions, sometimes, yes, even struggle with him when we’re angry or frustrated. That’s how human relationships work sometimes. What we must never give up, however, is trust. Although we may not understand what God does (or doesn’t do), we have to trust that he knows what he’s doing, and will always have our best (and eternal) interests in mind.

Many of the laws laid out in Exodus (the Ten Commandments) and in Leviticus, include punishments that were based on a person’s actions, whether murder, thievery or adultery to name a few.

While Jesus told us to forgive other people’s sins (accepting the legal consequences of those sins, whether they be murder, stealing and the like is a different conversation), he also changed the standards.

No longer are we guilty of murder if we literally murder someone; we are guilty of murder when we hate someone. We ‘re no longer guilty of adultery if we sleep with someone other than our spouse; we commit adultery when we lust after another man’s (or woman’s) spouse.

Not only did he raise the standards, it’s also God’s way of telling us yet again (because he also states this many times in the Old Testament, too; the New Testament is just a bit more emphatic about it) that sin always starts in the heart, not when we commit the act. If we refuse to entertain sinful behavior in our heart and mind, we can’t act on them:

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” ~ Philipians 4:7-9 (ESV)

Next up: How the verse above can be misinterpreted.

About What’s Not Said

I’m reading Leviticus which is basically a manual of instruction for the Levites–the tribe of Hebrew priests.

A lot of it is repetition as far as animal sacrifices, when someone is considered “unclean,” and how to be cleansed. Some of it seems harsh, especially how women are treated with regard to their menstrual cycle, and how long they had to be sequestered after they gave birth. The time of sequestration also varied depending on whether they had a boy or a girl.

I have to remember, that was a very different time, and they didn’t know as much about hygiene as we do–much of which we take for granted today.

But I digress.

The Hebrews, before the Exodus were surrounded by people who worshipped false gods, many that made human as well as animal sacrifice.

Why God felt it wise to continue the animal sacrifice I can’t answer, but I trust that his reasoning was both important and logical for the Hebrews at that time.

Again, I digress.

Why did people sacrifice to their gods? What’s the first thing you think of? For me, in stories I’ve read and movies I’ve seen, people sacrificed to their gods in order to find some kind of favor.

In Leviticus 8, God requires sacrifices for forgiveness or thanksgiving (and animal sacrifice only. No human sacrifice, another stark difference with their neighbors). Leviticus says nothing about sacrifices in order to receive anything else such as wealth, status, children, and long life. I can’t help but wonder if that’s on purpose, as another means to set the Israelis apart from their neighbors–and to show that God can neither be bought nor bribed.

It occurred to me then that sometimes what’s not said is just as important as what is said.

Not My Tribe

We live in an era in the States where people have tribalized themselves. At first glance it’s not a terrible thing. That we seek to spend our time with those who share the same interests and points-of-view is a natural part of being human. We want to be loved, respected, and understood. Generally speaking, we’re terrified of feeling isolated, especially in a group of strangers who think, behave, and believe differently.

Unfortunately, we’ve taken that natural tendency to the point of seeing those of un-like mind as an enemy. We see those differences as a threat to our own world-view, perhaps even our very way of life. As such, we no longer want to simply separate ourselves, but destroy those who aren’t a member of our chosen tribe.

One of my pet-peeves is when people misuse scripture. Two misused verses in particular make me grind my teeth:

“…If God is for us, who can be against us?” ~ Romans 8:31b (ESV)

“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” ~ Matthew 12:30 (ESV)

As to the first verse, there’s one word that people tend to gloss over: if. Some assume that they’re doing God’s work, and anyone who disagrees or actively fights against them, they are going against God and is therefore God’s enemy.

They often use the second verse to bolster their point of view, but they forget (or ignore) that Jesus is talking about himself. No follower of Jesus, or any other human can claim it for themselves.

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” ~ Matthew 5:43-44 (ESV)

A scribe once asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was. He responded, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” ~ Mark 12:29-31 (ESV)

When I see all this tribalism and hatred or contempt of anyone not within that tribe, I not only think of the scripture above, but ask myself how God sees it all. Can we really expect God to take our side over another? Would a parent take the side of one child over another when they fight to the point of calling the other child an enemy deserving of death?

God hates none of his children, and because he calls us to be like him, we must love our enemies, no matter what tribe they belong to (see Isaiah 56:3-8 and Galatians 3:28).

I Done Did It Again

I dove into another Twitter discussion with a few atheists about how God condoned slavery (specifically Exodus 21:20-21).

I initially tried to say that the Hebrew word used in those verses was “ebed” which translates to servant and/or slave, and that they were considered more indentured servants than slaves as we define them today. Yet the last part of verse 21 does say, “…since the slave is his property.”

Part of me wanted to argue against it, but I had to admit that yes, God did allow for the owning of slaves.

Does that mean he condoned it, though? It could be argued, certainly.

So then comes the next question. If God allowed for and condoned slavery, does that mean slavery isn’t bad? It’s a question that deserves an answer. I think I got a glimpse after thinking about it more last night, but that’s a discussion for another time, because I need to do more research (although you’re always welcome to give your own thoughts in the comments. I would love to hear them).

Part of why I like discussing scripture with agnostics and atheists is they challenge my thinking, force me to study scripture more, and try to understand the background and context of that particular book or passage (because context does matter, sometimes more than the words themselves). After all, I’m supposed to know God’s Word so I can defend it (see previous entry Defend Yourself!).

I often use Twitter to both practice that defense, and discover where I lack knowledge and wisdom.

In this particular discussion, I discovered I lack quite a bit. But that’s not only okay, but good! Few people change their thinking on Twitter anyway, so I don’t really lose anything by losing an argument, or fail to convince someone to my way of thinking. Plus the anonymity helps.

My motive is to learn what I don’t know.

Do I hope my opponents gain a little more understanding, and perhaps even change their mind eventually? Of course, but I don’t expect it.

Speaking of studying, I have to write five devotions based on certain chapters in Psalms before June 26, and I don’t even have the first one written yet! I did start, but I couldn’t get my most recent Twitter implosion out of my head. Now that it’s out, maybe I can concentrate on writing the devotions and get them done in time.