Category Archives: Faith

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.

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? Perhaps 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).