Category Archives: Faith

Christ’s Mandate. What Is It?

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

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

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

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

My answer:

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

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

Small Crises

I experienced a bit of a crisis earlier today that nearly drove me to literal tears. My pastor sent a church update that said in part:

Q: When will we meet face-to-face again?

A: No one knows. Montana just announced a three-phase opening. In phase one, churches can gather with no more than 10 people present. Phase two allows churches to gather with 50 or less people. Phase three has no restrictions. My sense is that it will be months before we can gather for worship face-to-face again, with a strong possibility of more seasons of isolation to come (emphasis mine).

I honestly wanted to scream after reading that. Not weeks to go back to fellowship, but months and more isolation to come?

It was then I realized not only how much I miss going to church, but how much I appreciate and need the fellowship that goes along with it.

Yes, my church posts online sermons on Sundays, and will start offering online classes. But it’s not the same. I “attended” a live online Easter service with my son, but while a good service overall, it made me sad. I doubt I can watch more. The online courses are the same way for me, so why do something that only makes me angry or sad? A part of me wonders if I should quit entirely. After all, what’s the point of attending or supporting a church that’s no longer a church except via computer screen? It’s cold and disconnected, and that’s not real worship or fellowship to me.

I was thinking on my way home today that once my church finally returns to normal, and I decide to continue to go, I will still be angry for a long time afterward. None of you need to guess as to why; I’ve made my position clear on all of this.

One could sat that God is aware of the limits we’ve been put under, so in no way do those limits limit him.

All true, and I can’t argue against it.

One could also say I’m being petulant, and I can’t argue against that, either. Yet I must also acknowledge my feelings—whether or not they’re rational or justified—before I can move past them.

Now that I’ve splattered my emotional brain vomit all over your screen, I will admit to something that happened a few minutes ago. While writing this entry, I researched the online classes available so I could mention them here. Turns out none have started yet. Instead, the link led me to a signup page with a poll asking what type of class I’d be interested in—along with a request to facilitate one.

Guess what God whispered in my ear when I saw the request to facilitate?

During trying times like this, God often asks us to be part of the solution, and I am not exempt from appointment no matter how much I mope (or maybe it’s because I mope?).

Dang it.

Obey… Without Question?

I’ve seen some use scripture (such as Romans 13:1-7) to justify doing everything our leaders tell us to do without complaint. Some even go as far as telling others they’re not being “good Christians” if they don’t also obey.

On the surface, yes we need to obey the law. One reason is what good are we to God if we’re all in prison?

How then can I justify rebelling instead obeying the laws (or orders) signed by some governors and mayors at this time?

The simple answer is: they’re illegal orders.

During declared emergencies (which is what happened here), no one–not even the President or Congress–has the right to suspend our constitutional rights (except in the case of martial law, but it has not yet been declared). Plus, the US is not run by rulers, as such. Our Constitution is based on the premise that everyone in authority are our servants, not the other way around. The People have the power, not our elected (or appointed) officials. No member of our government has a legal right to violate our constitutional rights, so to rebel against orders that violate the Constitution is actually obeying the law, not the other way around.

To change directions a tad, in a comment on my last entry I touched on why all these orders about staying home, avoiding all social gatherings including church, etc. goes against God’s law.

Leviticus describes in detail what a person must do when/if they get infected with a contagious disease. First, it must be verified by a priest, and if confirmed, they must quarantine themselves in seven-day increments until the symptoms completely disappear and stay gone for another seven days. In every case (including leprosy), the person infected is responsible for making sure no one else gets infected (see Leviticus 13:45).

One thing I’ve noticed about Leviticus is not only what’s said, but what isn’t said. When it comes to preventing the spread of disease, the onus is always on the infected to prevent the disease’s spread. Under no circumstances were the healthy forced to quarantine themselves, act like they themselves are infected regardless, stop working and shut all economic and community activities down. Also, not once (that I know of) did God tell his people to not gather for fellowship, worship, and praise.

Those who stress passages about obeying authority also tell us that any violation of God’s law is exempt from obeying said authority (although there may be a cost for disobeying). For instance, God would never obligate us to commit a crime such as murder simply because the governing authority tells us we must.

The same goes for government officials taking away our God-given and constitutionally protected rights. It’s our legal duty to put a stop to it either by protest, petition, voting and/or through the courts. Anything less is actually violating what God said about obeying authority, because all those avenues I just mentioned are legal, and our right to exercise.

One question to think about when considering God’s character through all of this: when given a choice, would God want us to willingly choose oppression to the point we fear everything and everyone around us, we can’t work to feed our family, gather together in fellowship, and openly praise and worship him?

The Heartbreak of Asking for Help

I consider myself far more lucky and blessed than most, especially now. I still have a job (even if my hours can be shortened depending on how much work I have to do), and we have a good nest egg that’ll last us a while even if I didn’t have any work. And no debt.

A church member asked for help and told me how humbling it was. How she worded it, I could tell how much effort it took to do so. She was forced to set her pride aside, and even admit to herself and others she couldn’t take care of herself or her children as well as she needed to.

I wanted to cry after I read that. Not because I know exactly how she feels, but how difficult it would be for me to do the same.

Many consider self-reliance a virtue, and asking for help is a weakness.

While I think self-reliance is a virtue, asking for help when faced with no alternative is also a virtue. None of us is perfect or can do all things at all times. We, after all, don’t balk at hiring a plumber when a pipe breaks, or taking our car to a mechanic for an oil change.

Someone on Twitter created a poll on what pastors considered the greatest chapter in the Bible. Suggestions included Romans 8, I Corinthians 15, Psalm 23, and Isaiah 53. I didn’t know the answer, but I added what I thought was the most important chapter in the Bible–at least during these current tumultuous times: Ecclesiastes, specifically chapter 3, verses 1-8 (ESV):

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

There is also a time when we need help, and a time to help others.

Whatever time this is, we should also remember one of my favorite verses, Ecclesiastes 7:13 (NLT): Accept the way God does things, for who can straighten what he has made crooked?

We may not like the season we’re in, but God doesn’t ask (or expect) us to like it. We must accept it eventually, however (we have no choice, after all), yet also with the knowledge that it won’t last. Seasons never do.

“Am I Enough?”

For this Lenten season I wrote eight devotions for my church. In one I wrote about how sometimes God asks me if I love him. In my most honest and quiet moments, I have to admit I don’t love him as much as I know I should (I’ve added said devotion below).

Now God is asking me, “Am I enough?”

Again, if I am to be honest, I have to answer no on that, too. If he was enough, I wouldn’t stress or worry over anything, let alone the things I can’t control.

I long for him to be enough, but I also have to do my part—and that’s to trust him and seek him out when I’m feeling overwhelmed. He has never, and never will, let me down. Even if (when) I suffer difficult times, he’s always there to give me the strength and wisdom to make it through. As long as I trust him and know that he is indeed… not just enough. More than enough.

Not Without Help

I like to say I depend on God, and it is true. Sometimes. More often than not, though, I like to go my own way and don’t invite God to join me. He comes along anyway, a few steps behind, watching, waiting. Perhaps even shaking his head at my incessant idiocy of trying to do things my way and failing.

One problem of doing things on my own is I start to feel alone, abandoned even. Worse, I begin to lose my sense of right and wrong. I make excuses for my actions—my sins. I sometimes even consider them not sins at all.

When that happens, I no longer sense God’s presence. His voice becomes weaker, but when I do stop and strain my spiritual ears, I hear him ask, “Do you love me?”

John 14:15-16 (ESV) says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Helper to be with you forever.” There’s that word again. The big “if”. The qualifier to all of God’s promises.

Do I love God? Tough question, because I want to say “yes” without hesitation or equivocation. Yet I have to admit it’s not always true. Pride in myself interferes.

I should therefore not be surprised when the Helper Jesus promised goes silent.

We must always keep in mind that while Jesus is always ready to forgive us and intercede on our behalf, and the Helper always ready to give us the strength and wisdom we need to face whatever comes our way, we must do our part. We must love him above all else, and keep his commandments as an expression of that love. What a tiny sacrifice compared to what Jesus did for us.

Who Are You?

In good times, it’s easy to put on a mask, and present ourselves as someone we think people prefer to see. We want to look like we’re all together, happy and content. Part of it is not wanting to burden others–to be a “wet blanket” to use a cliche. The biggest reason, however, is pride. We want to show the world we’re better than we are; no one likes to admit their shortfalls, mistakes, and weaknesses.

That “perfect” mask we’ve created we also keep on for ourselves. I’ve said countless times that we humans are experts at deceiving ourselves.

When troubled times hit, however, that mask falls away, and we can no longer hide from the real face in the mirror.

I saw a meme a few days ago that said, “I guess God got so mad about all of our fighting down here that he sent us all to our rooms.”

Funny, but true in a way as well. When parents send children to their room for misbehaving, it’s in the hope they’ll take that time to contemplate what they did wrong, and how they can do better next time.

I, for one, got a glimpse of who I am with regard to facing troubles not of my making, and one with which I have no immediate solution. Like so many others, I am at the mercy of my own government telling me what I can and cannot do, where I can and cannot go, and with whom I am allowed and not allowed to spend my time.

The rebel in me had a two-week long temper tantrum (as everyone who’s been reading these posts as well as my Twitter and/or Facebook feeds can attest).

With my mask now shattered at my feet, I must face the awful truth in that I’ve yet to take my own advice.

When stripped of all pretense and deception, who I am is a spoiled, angry hypocrite.

Nor am I unique. I keep thinking of the Israelites when God rescued them out of Egypt in Exodus. Talk about complainers! It seemed that no matter how well God took care of their needs, it was never enough. One of my favorite passages was when the Israelites reached the Red Sea, and they saw the Egyptians marching after them. They screamed at Moses that they were better off as slaves in Egypt, because at least there they wouldn’t be massacred.

I don’t think they feared the Egyptians so much as the unknown. At least as slaves, they knew what their future held. Heading toward an unknown wilderness–even freely–can be a terrifying idea.

We are in a similar (if figurative) unknown wilderness now. We can’t help but ask, “When will this end? Will I have a job when it’s all said and done, and even if I do, how do I feed my family and pay all my bills in the meantime?”

Many have said we need not fear, and that we should trust God, and pray unceasingly. Moses said as much in Exodus 14:13-14 (ESV): “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”

I love God’s response (vs 15): ”Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward.” He then went on to part the Red Sea and deliver the Israelites from the Egyptians.

We should absolutely continue to pray and trust God without qualification, yet at the same time we need to listen. He might also be asking us to “go forward.”

Regardless of what our government is doing (whether rightly or wrongly is a different discussion), we are not completely helpless or without means or resources. We may have to drop our masks in front of others and ask for help, while at the same time look for ways we can help those with even fewer resources.

Listen

Anyone who’s read my posts here and on Facebook over the last few days knows I’ve been going back and forth between sarcasm and humor, frustration and sadness. Some might have been a little irritated with all that back and forth, and for that I apologize.

The main reason is I lost a bit of hope. Everything seems to have fallen apart all at once. Businesses have closed and canceled events. People are unwilling to meet even the smallest of gatherings. My own company is effectively shut down because of state mandates, fear of infection, and lack of work. I have the option to take vacation and/or sick pay, but I told my boss I won’t take any. It doesn’t seem right to get paid when the company isn’t receiving any income to cover it. I’m still technically employed (I come in only when there’s work to do, and as of now I have maybe four hour’s worth on Monday), but for how long? Even though my husband and I have a decent nest egg that will keep us afloat for at least three months, I hate the idea of not working.

All in all, it’s the uncertainty of it all I can’t tolerate.

Worse, God has been silent.

Does that mean I believe he’s abandoned me?

No. Although it’s taken about two weeks, I now understand the reason for his silence.

My mom once told me a story of when she was a child. They went to a store and my mom saw a bag of beads. She begged Grandma to buy them for her, but she said no. My mom threw herself to the floor and proceeded to cry, kick, and scream. Instead of giving in, Grandma gently placed her foot on my mom’s chest, crossed her arms and waited for my mom to calm down.

I am that child. My life has been great, wanting for nothing. Now that I may lose my livelihood and can no longer do the things I enjoy (even if it’s not permanent), I spiritually threw myself on the floor kicking and screaming. What else could God do but gently put his foot on my chest and wait for me to calm down?

He knew I wasn’t yet ready to listen.

Perusing Facebook this morning, people have commented that they prayed for me. It must have worked, because I’m feeling much better. I’m more calm and can hear God whispering a bit louder now.

What’s he telling me? The same things I’ve been trying to say to others: to not worry, and to keep on doing good. Because nowhere does any of the scripture I’ve shared include any caveats. We do good and refrain from worry by believing in and trusting God, no matter what. Our circumstances are irrelevant to all of that.

Now some might be thinking, “At least you have something to fall back on. What about those who don’t? Do you really have cause to complain?”

Yes, and no. My complaints are not intended to minimize or shove aside those who have it harder, but to show that no matter where a person is in life (financially or otherwise), we all have stresses, concerns and insecurities. We also have an innate and undeniable sense of survival. People now are in survival mode (although it is lessening, hallelujah!), and that makes thinking of others before or at the same time as ourselves is near impossible. No one is immune to that, no matter their tax bracket.

Because I am doing better than most, and will likely have a lot of free time on my hands over the next few weeks, if you local folks need anything at all such as running errands, picking up supplies, or merely a shoulder to lean on, comment here or email me (Andra @ almarquardt.com). For those not as close, comment or email me anyway with your needs and concerns. I still might be able to make something happen for you.

Give Me a Reason

I don’t like to post scripture unless I start it with a real-world situation with which it applies (how’s that for an example of perfect sentence structure?). Part of why is because that’s what I want to see when others post scripture. Why did they think that particular passage was so important to share? How is it applicable to their life, and perhaps in turn mine, too?

Another reason is many of my readers aren’t Christians. I imagine they would roll their eyes and scroll on by without a second thought (no, that’s not a complaint; it’s an observation. I do the same when I see certain political posts).

A few days ago, I wrote a long entry about how, as a whole, people are anxious to the point of extreme stress, and that holding onto those feelings (as well as acting on them) is doing more harm than good. Two days later, and it appears I wasted my time. People are more anxious and more stressed than before. I fear no amount of scripture or real-world examples will make any difference–even amongst Christians.

I often point out that the only thing in this world I can control is me. This is true for everyone. People will do what they will do, and this world will do what it will do. I am but one person out of eight billion, so how could I even dare to believe my words will make a difference? In other words, me posting on social media has as much positive effect as Grandpa Simpson yelling at the clouds.

Yet I try, and yet I hope, because that’s who I am–optimistic to the point of idiocy.

And if you thought I would refrain from posting an applicable biblical passage or two at the end of this, boy were you wrong.

2 Chronicles 15:7 (ESV): “But you, take courage! Do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded.”

Galatians 6:9 (ESV, emphasis mine): “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

Breathe

The headache started early yesterday afternoon. No big deal. I get them occasionally due to hormonal imbalances. Usually it’s a dull throb behind my eyes that doesn’t require medication.

Sometimes it worsens as the day goes on, and this was one of those days. Still not enough to make me get out of my chair to take some Excedrin, though. Then I watched our governor give a press conference closing all K-12 schools state-wide (public and private) for a week.

My son being twelve and my hubby self-employed, I don’t have to take time off from work to take care of him, or scramble to find either daycare or a babysitter. My heart does go out to those who do, though.

Still, my headache figuratively exploded and traveled up my skull and all the way down my neck. Even after taking two Excedrin, it refused to let go. My hormone-induced headache morphed into a tension headache. Oh, yippee.

I slept little, worrying over not so much what would happen to me or my family–or even my state as a whole other than more runs on grocery stores. I had hoped that this weekend would give people two days to calm down, reflect, and act a bit more rationally. Instead, I think people will continue to panic even more by stockpiling, cleaning out bank accounts, and pulling more money out of the stock market.

I may be wrong, and I sincerely hope I am, but never underestimate the irresistibly of survival instinct. The larger community matters little to the scared individual during those moments.

Which is why this morning I stood outside my house in one inch of snow and below-freezing temperatures to watch the sunrise (one of the benefits to hot flashes; I didn’t even shiver). Thick clouds covered the sky, but not enough to prevent all of the sun’s light from breaking through. Small birds chirped to announce the dawn, and while initially calm, a cold breeze soon wafted through, making the as yet bare trees wave at me. That I didn’t see the sun’s orange glow or the blue sky, the filtered gray light was still a reminder that regardless of what other people do, we can still count on the earth’s rotation, and the sun’s light and heat (yes, even in the winter however scant it may be) among many other constants we take for granted. For instance, we’re still in control of how to act or react to any given situation, no matter how trying.

Today (and possibly for the rest of the week), I resolve to not watch or listen to a single bit of news. I will avoid the incessant pessimism of both the news and social media in that we’re all doomed. Because we’re not. Historically we’ve weathered by far worse. We’ll get through this one, too, and hopefully we’ll march through to the other side a little bit wiser.

Some have said that it’s better to overreact to a situation than under-react. In the simplest terms, sure. The logic is still flawed, however, because those aren’t the only two options available. Maybe instead of knee-jerk overreacting, or pretending there’s no problem at all, we should stop and take time to study the facts through legitimate, scientific, and non-biased sources (which eliminates almost all news media). From there, we can rationally figure out the best course of action that doesn’t harm ourselves, others, and both the short and long term future.

While none of us can predict the future with certainty, we all have a hand in how it unfolds. As we pause, we must consider the consequences of our actions and how they will affect ourselves, our family, community, and our nation. Once we’ve formulated and pursue a logical plan of action, maybe then we can breathe a little easier. No more anxiety or fear, but with confidence and hope.

“Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?… So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Matthew 6:27 & 34 (NLT)

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” 1 Timothy 1:7 (NLT, emphasis mine)

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.