Category Archives: Faith

The Seventh Deadly Sin

In today’s society (especially this month), it’s all about pride. Pride in your skin color, your heritage, and culture. Pride in your sex, your gender (for those who consider them separate), and who you’re attracted to.

The seven deadly sins are: Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy and Pride.

Why is pride on that list, especially since society expects us to celebrate every kind of pride imaginable–believing it to be a virtue?

Humans are a rebellious lot, and rebellion against God is our favorite. The first and easiest way is through hubris: in believing we know better than God. “He’s too far away to understand. He doesn’t care. Look at all the evil in the world that he does nothing about. He doesn’t exist anyway, so everything is up to us to create or destroy however we see fit.” Etc., etc.

The first sin in the Bible began with the temptation of pride: “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat [the fruit], and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5, NLT, emphasis mine)

Almost every evil deed (including our own) can be traced through a seed of pride.

Taking the spiritual out of it, there are other, worldly consequences of pride.

When people embrace pride, they lose all humility. As such, they believe they are perfect, and have nothing left to learn. They become haughty, and few people like to spend time with a “know-it-all” (I am certainly guilty of this).

They also start to see others as less than them. Less smart, less beautiful. In extreme examples, less human. Anyone who has a modicum of historical knowledge knows the consequences of dehumanizing a certain group of people.

Prideful people often see others unlike them as the enemy that must be destroyed. At the very least ignored or silenced, because how dare anyone question their beliefs or opinions?

How often have people harmed themselves or others accidentally, because they believed they could do something without taking a step back first and asking, “Can I really do this? Should I do this?”

Humility, on the other hand is acknowledging that no one is perfect, including themselves. Humble people tend to self-reflect (without being self-absorbed). They are more inclined to seek out new knowledge, new people, are less judgmental of others, and are willing to test their assumptions. Above all, they are willing to change their view and apologize for being wrong if enough facts to the contrary come to light.

Imagine what society would be like if people embraced humility instead of pride.

“Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” ~ Proverbs 11:2 (NLT)

“Do not love the world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.” ~ 1 John 2:15-17 (NLT)

Perfectly Ordinary

A while back I saw this meme:

I understand the complaint, but at the same time, the cartoonist didn’t research into artwork of Jesus from around the world. He instead concentrated on European artwork. Following are several I found with a cursory Internet search.

From the Democratic Republic of Congo:

Korea:

Mongolia:

Philadelphia, USA:

I don’t know who painted this or where the artist is from (if you do, please comment), but I think it’s gorgeous:

While most agree Jesus was of mid-eastern descent, no one knows what he looked like. The Bible makes little mention of his physical appearance (with some notable exceptions). Many, however, attribute Isaiah 53:2 to Jesus’s appearance: “For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.”

The notable descriptions of his appearance in the New Testament are during his transfiguration in Matthew 17:2: “And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light.”

His resurrection in Matthew 28:3: “His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.”

And his return in Revelation 1:13-15: “and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters.”

All those descriptions never mention his skin or eye color, how tall he was, his build, or if he had any distinguishing features as he grew up and started his ministry.

In other words, he looked like everyone.

That different cultures would weave him into their own, and artists would depict him with their own ethnic features is a beautiful thing. Because God doesn’t care about our physical features, neither should we care about Jesus’ physical features. It’s all irrelevant anyway. What matters is the heart and soul.

That’s how he would want it, I think, because he didn’t come to earth to save only the Israelites, mid-easterners, Europeans, or anyone else of a specific ethnicity or nationality.

He came to save all of us.

Undisciplined Devotion

Once again my church offered an opportunity to write several devotionals for Lent. This time focuses on the book of Mark. Because I have so much reading and editing to do, I chose to write only four (I usually pick five or six).

I’m not one to set aside time for devotions, whether it’s reading the Bible, other devotionals, or scriptural studies. My faith suffers a little for it, but it’s never been enough to change my ways.

The main reason I like to volunteer to write devotions is it forces me to read and study. Even more than that, it forces me to discover how it applies to me, so the reader can apply it to his/her life also. Writing devotions requires study, but also introspection and humility.

Laying one’s heart and shortfalls on a page for hundreds of people to read is never easy. It’s a 300-word journey from ignorance to wisdom. Even more importantly, it should end with a focus on God, not the writer. A difficult task for someone as prideful as me. So much so, this time I’m tempted to tell the editor to add Anonymous to my devotions instead of my name. I want God to shine through the words, not me.

Defend Yourself!

“I learned a long time ago that anything worth doing is worth defending.” ~ Mike Rowe

Does God call us to follow him blindly and without question?

Some like to accuse Christians of being blind sheep, ready to dive off a cliff simply because God said so. I’ve heard some Christians accuse others that to doubt and question is a lack of trust and faith in God — and could even be considered blasphemous (I was told this once as a teenager when I revealed that God makes me angry sometimes).

In a previous entry, I talked about how God appreciates when we doubt. A friend commented thusly (in part), “Though a Christian may from time struggle with the no fear part of our faith, I believe when we still follow God’s word despite that fear, that God rejoices in our faith, love for him. So submit to His Word!”

To which I respond:

I’m not suggesting God doesn’t rejoice in our faith. Of course he does! Nor does doubt mean we love God less. All I’m saying is God understands and even expects us to doubt. Having doubts is part of who we are in this world. Nor do I recall him ever saying we should never ask him questions, or to never get angry at or frustrated with him (acting out in that anger is a bit different. When God told Moses he couldn’t enter the promised land because he acted out in anger, and as such didn’t give God credit a good example [See Numbers 20]). As if we could hide our doubts from him anyway.

Doubt isn’t always a bad thing, as long as we come to him with those doubts.

Moses argued with God, as did Abraham (which saved Lot and his family). David and Job had doubts. Lots of doubts! Jonah tried to run away, and got angry with God when Nineveh repented. Naomi believed God had abandoned her (as did Mother Theresa for most of her life). Peter argued with Jesus, Thomas doubted him. Paul worked against him, and Ananias felt a little betrayed when he was asked to heal and forgive Paul who had persecuted so many of them.

So what does all that have to do with defending oneself as the title suggests?

Because when we struggle and doubt (and as long as we turn to God with those struggles and doubts) he teaches us where we have fallen short or are mistaken in our assumptions. When we learn through those doubts and struggles, we grow stronger in our faith, and as such can better defend that faith.

God often compares us to sheep, because sheep are stupid creatures. They will literally jump off a cliff following other sheep, never realizing the danger until it’s too late. That does not mean, however, God wants us to remain like sheep. He wants us to be able to defend our faith to those who also question and struggle (including ourselves).

Proverbs 2:1-5 says, “My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” (Emphasis mine).

Other such examples of the importance of seeking God and his wisdom, and for defending our faith:

Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

1 Peter 3:15: “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” (Emphasis mine)

2 Corinthians 10:5: “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,”

Titus 1:9: “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”

In short, yes, we need to submit to God and his word, but by submitting without question or not attempting to overcome our doubts, we can neither grow, understand, or defend our faith.

Carbon Copy Christians

How do you like my alliteration, there?

Yesterday someone posted this on Twitter which states: “To the “Christians” who gave money for a GoFundMe to build Trump’s Wall, there are children & veterans without shoes, sick people without healthcare, a city without drinking water, and immigrants fleeing from certain death. Please reevaluate your Christian values and try again!”

I responded thusly: “Do you have proof that Christians who donated for the wall don’t also help children, veterans, the sick, etc.? If not, then your assumption is false. Christians can do more than one thing and donate to more than one cause, you know.”

This isn’t about the wall, or politics, but how some perceive Christians in general. They seem to think we’re all monochromatic in our beliefs and actions. Truth is, I know many Christians who:

Believe homosexuality is a sin;

Believe homosexuality is not a sin, and some even go so far as to say Jesus and the disciples were all gay;

Believe God condemns abortion;

Believe God approves of abortion;

Believe God condones the abuse of women and children;

Believe God both condemns and expects punishment of all abusers;

Believe Jesus was a pacifist;

Believe Jesus was a warrior;

Believe God would be for gun control and that all guns should be banned;

Believe God would not expect people to give up their ability to protect themselves with firearms or other weaponry;

Give to liberal causes;

Give to conservative causes;

Vote Democrat;

Vote Republican;

Want a border wall;

Don’t want a border wall;

Want bigger government;

Want smaller government;

Want lower taxes;

Want higher taxes;

And the list goes on.

People insulting Christians, or non-Christians telling Christians how they should act is a pet peeve of mine. I can’t judge how a Jew, Buddhist or Muslim how to act or worship, because I don’t know enough about their religion to make that call. Now, if they do something illegal or harmful to others (Christian and non-Christian alike), then yes, I will shamelessly point fingers. Not as far as how someone decides to spend their time or money, however, because it’s none of my business. In the end it’s between them and God.

Still, although it bugs me, I don’t get as upset as I used to, because someone reminded me of a verse where Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” (John 15:18).

Therefore, I should be more surprised when people (non-Christians especially) express love and admiration for Christians.

A sidetrack here: You might wonder how people within a single religion could have so many opposing beliefs. There are many reasons, I think. One is we’re all individuals with different backgrounds, experiences, and therefore points of view. Because the Bible is so big written by many authors, and with many messages and stories, it’s easy to approach it with our own colored view, to see what we want to see, and be blind to the rest, especially when those parts seem to contradict each other.

I’m reading “The Rational Bible: Exodus” by Dennis Prager. He said (paraphrased), that God always leaves us room for doubt, including doubt in him and whether or not he even exists. Now why would he do that? He’s God, after all. Couldn’t he reveal himself to everyone in a single moment to where no one could deny his existence? Sure, but he also wants to be chosen, just like we like being chosen and having choices–whatever those choices may be.

No one doubts the Sun gives heat, or that winter is cold and summer is warm. Why? Because they’re obvious based on mere observation. They’re undeniable. Therefore, there’s no need for faith in whether or not the sun will continue to give off heat, or that I will need to wear a jacket in the winter and put on sunscreen in the summer.

God wants to be sought after, and yes, to be doubted. Part of it is because he loves it when we ask him questions, to seek truth and understanding. Doubt spurs us to ask those questions. No questions can be asked if we already know all the answers. Mystery is a fabulous thing, because of the joy in making the discovery.

Someone once asked Dennis Prager why he’s a Jew and not Muslim. He said (again, paraphrased), “Because Israel means to struggle or wrestle with God whereas Islam means to submit. I prefer to wrestle with God than submit.”

So do I. Sure, God always wins in the end (even if he does cheat sometimes. Just ask Jacob [Genesis 32:22-32]). I have grown more in my faith wrestling with God than simply submitting to him. Why? Because I gain more understanding of who God is and why he does what he does after that struggle.

And don’t we all want people to ask us questions, to be noticed, believed and understood?

Story Matters

An author recently posted on Facebook asking for feedback on one of his series. Unable to turn down an opportunity to read a book in one of my favorite genres (two actually. The series is a combination of sci-fi and fantasy), I eagerly accepted.

I ended up loving the story and characters, and the author graciously sent me the other two in the series as well as a prequel novella.

In one of the emails, he mentioned that he was pushing the release of the final two (out of five) due to an illness. I was bummed, but I also know the importance of one’s health takes precedence.

Yesterday, the author posted that his cancer had returned, and the doctors gave him about two months to live.

My completely selfish response was what you might expect. I thought, “Oh, no! I’ll never read the rest of the series now!”

As you also might expect, I mentally berated myself for thinking such a thing. I did post a comment saying that I would pray for him and his family, but it felt hollow as I typed.

Do I want him healed, or if not, that his family experiences God’s strength and comfort? Absolutely. But my prayers still feel tainted by my selfish and silly desire to read the final books, when a man is dying and a family is soon devastated. What’s an incomplete series compared to that?

Or am I wrong?

I heard a story years ago where a woman dying of cancer wrote Stephen King. She asked him to tell her what happened at the end of his “Dark Tower” series, because she wouldn’t live long enough to read the remaining — and as yet unreleased — books.

Sadly, he couldn’t answer, because even he didn’t know at the time.

Studies have found that those who read fiction are statistically more empathetic. Understandable when you think about it.

When reading about fictional characters, we learn their thoughts, motivations, loves, hates, fears and desires. Something we don’t always see or get in real life, because few of us lay ourselves bare with the exception of a scant few — if that. As we read, we place ourselves in the shoes of the characters, and we can’t help but correlate their experiences, thoughts and feelings into our own life and those around us.

To give an example, I’ve never been clinically depressed. I didn’t understand how debilitating it can be, and I used to quietly scoff at those who did. Until I read “Becoming Olivia” by Roxanne Henke. The book is about Olivia who has a great life, but can’t shake the depression that seemed to come out of nowhere.

After reading it, I will never again scoff at anyone who suffers from depression again.

Now it may seem at this point that I changed subjects on you. First I talked about selfish prayers, then I jumped to how stories make us more empathetic.

What both illustrate is the importance of stories in our life. They not only entertain, but can convey certain truths. Stories, like most other arts engage us emotionally, spiritually and intellectually. They can also live beyond the creator’s own life. Plus we never want the story to simply stop with no end in sight.

We are built to both create and listen to or read stories. They’ve been used since the advent of language to remember our past as well as convey truth. Even non-Christians know the stories of Adam and Eve, Noah’s ark, and Jonah and the whale (although technically, it was a fish). Whether they literally happened is always up for debate, but their messages still stand many millennia later. The same goes for Dicken’s “Oliver Twist,” and “A Christmas Carol,” Shakespeare’s plays, many Greek tragedies, and countless others.

Stories matter. My selfish response and a dying woman’s letter is evidence of that.

Still, I do hope God will ignore my selfishness behind the words of my prayers, because I never want to see a person die so soon, and his/her family left to pick up the pieces.

The Devil of Pride

I recently engaged in a conversation on Twitter about why the mere statement of a scientific fact makes some people go into a near apoplectic rage (yes, I write it that way because I wanted to use “apoplectic”).

More accurately, many of the responses seemed angry if not enraged. My opponent admitted that the fact itself didn’t anger him so much as the political motive behind it.

I responded, “I don’t understand why it should. Facts help us learn to question our current beliefs; that we could be wrong — or we could be right, and we now have more confidence that our opinions have real merit. We should all be willing to learn, because that’s how we grow.

“Who presents those facts, and their perceived motives behind those facts should be irrelevant. If one of my opponents presented such a fact, while I may be initially irritated, I will set aside my emotional reaction and thank him/her for it.

“Perhaps that’s just me.”

After I wrote that I realized if I could point out a single problem with our society, it’s pride. When we succumb to the devil of pride, we become so sure of our beliefs, we grow rigid, unable and unwilling to grow, learn or change. Our intellectual opponents we soon see as our enemy, and that enemy must be destroyed at all cost.

Part of pride results in depending more on our emotions instead of facts and logic. We should then not be surprised when we and others react emotionally when we see facts that contradict those emotions.

Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before ruin, arrogance before failure.” (TNK)

I also like Proverbs 16:16: “How much better to acquire wisdom than gold; To acquire understanding is preferable to silver.” (TNK)

Another problem with pride is it can destroy our relationships. When we don’t allow opposing views even from those we love, the end result is a deep loneliness. No one likes spending time with someone who refuses to listen. If someone at least gives a different view a fair hearing, it doesn’t matter if they don’t change their mind in the end. That they listen is enough, because they approached the discussion with humility.

We are human. That makes us flawed. We’re not right all the time; it’s impossible. A little humility and willingness to learn, to acknowledge our flaws can go a long way in mending relationships instead of destroying them. Humility can also help us find joy instead of unrelenting anger, defensiveness and frustration.

Best of all, we decrease the chance of looking foolish when we’re forced to face the facts.