Monthly Archives: November 2015

A Convicted Soul

With only one month left to 2015, I can’t help but mull over the previous eleven. Was it a good year? What have I done right? What have I done wrong, and how can I make 2016 better?

A few weeks back, people shared how many hours they spent on Facebook in the past year. I avoided the calculation myself, knowing it was embarrassingly high.

And for what? Is my life better for it, or have I spent more time frustrated and angry rather than joyous?

I fear the former.

The worst part is not how I felt while there, but how I made others feel. Have I brought more laughter and joy, or anger and frustration?

I fear the latter.

I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. If I want or need to make a change, now is better than later. A date shouldn’t determine when I do something good or right.

A few days ago, I engaged in a discussion on a Facebook group with one person, and after a few exchanges another person stepped in and said, “I think you’re talking past each other.”

I stopped and realized he was right. I responded, “That’s what happens when people are more interested in talking and not listening — of which I am as guilty of as anyone.”

All my anger and frustration is the fault of one person. Me. As I considered this, a particular scripture popped into my head:

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

(Philippians 4:8)

Since I didn’t know the exact wording of the verse above, I performed a word search. In doing so, I discovered this one:

Remind everyone about these things, and command them in God’s presence to stop fighting over words. Such arguments are useless, and they can ruin those who hear them.

Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth.

Avoid worthless, foolish talk that only leads to more godless behavior.

This kind of talk spreads like cancer, as in the case of Hymenaeus and Philetus.

(2 Timothy 2:14-17)

I’ve been so busy arguing over minutia, I’ve lost sight of the big picture, and my role in the world. My anger and frustration, and making little to no headway in my arguments, should have made me realize much sooner the error of my ways. I am not here to move people to my side of the political or ideological aisle. The world is what it is, and politics is a force in and of itself that no bloviating by me will alter its course. I cannot save this world anymore than an ant can dig an ocean. My job is to explain the word of truth as well as live it. Not argue about it.

It seems that’s all social media does: foster arguments. Starting today, I will no longer participate, especially where politics and current events are concerned (which will only worsen next year due to elections). Imagine the hours I will gain. I will actually have time to catch up on my reading, and my writing. Heck, I may even find motivation to publish something.

T’ain’t No Such Thing as “War on Christmas.”

5278865791_5727405ef9_zI’m hearing the cries already. “People are trying to take Christ out of Christmas!”

I constantly see “evidence” on how Christians are being attacked and killed for their faith.

But there’s no such thing as war on Christians, or Christianity, either.

I can hear many of you shaking your head quite vociferously at that statement. You want to present yet more “evidence” on how many Christians are being persecuted, and killed for their faith, especially in the Middle East, China, and India. Yes, I can feel your fingers itching to scroll down to the end of this entry, and argue with me.

Heck, you can even say the Bible disagrees with me, and all I have to do is look at the early church in Acts. (ex: Stephen is arrested and stoned [Acts 6:8-7:60], Persecution scatters believers [Acts 8:1-3], and King Herod Agrippa kills James, and imprisons Peter [Acts 12:1-5])

So what in the world am I talking about, then, if I have no biblical — or even worldly — basis for my contention?

When we say there’s a war on Christmas, Christians, and Christianity, we’re making it about ourselves.

Wars can only be declared by nations, not the soldiers. The soldiers accept the responsibility, and consequences of that war, absolutely. Christians also willingly decided to fight in this war, so we shouldn’t be surprised — or complain — when we are injured, or killed during that war. We instead should be grateful, and even honored (Acts 5:41).

As long as we remember who we fight for. It’s not for ourselves. It’s not for our particular religion, or even our faith. We fight — and sometimes die — for Jesus.

If the world hates you, remember that it hated me [Jesus] first.

John 15:18

Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword.

Matthew 10:34

Or to encapsulate this entire entry:

Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. Soldiers don’t get tied up in the affairs of civilian life, for then they cannot please the officer who enlisted them.

(2 Timothy 2:3-4)

The Advantage of Growing Up Godless

A friend of mine recently wrote of her experiences growing up in a “Christian” home where she and her siblings were taught that the only way to heaven was to act and think a certain way. Whenever they failed to meet that standard, they were punished and told they would burn in Hell for it. Forgiveness could not be attained by merely asking for it; they had to prove themselves worthy of it. She also described how the cruelty of her family’s teachings nearly forced her to give up faith in God.

Her experiences were so foreign to me, yet it still broke my heart.

Every child experiences some form of great pain, pain that never goes away even into adulthood. It forms our long-term fears and can even determine our day-to-day actions. Letting go of those memories is often beyond difficult. The pain is almost part of our DNA, and it surfaces when we’re unsure, scared or hurting. It seems nothing we do helps us to keep pain in the past so it doesn’t effect our present, or determine our future.

About ten years ago, I decided to write in my first blog every painful memory I carried with me. I can’t tell you how cathartic that was. For whatever reason, writing them down and sharing my pains with others made them less painful. They no longer have power over me.

The one pain I never had to deal with is the pain of religion — or at least misinterpreted religion that paints God as cruel, angry and unforgiving. My parents rarely discussed God. They had no faith in him, so there was no reason to talk about what they believed didn’t exist. I remember my mom was a bit hostile when it came to organized religion. I don’t know why for sure, but I’d be willing to bet she was burned by religion much like my friend above.

While she didn’t go into any tirades about her hostility, I knew enough that my rebellion as a teenager was to attend church. No lie.

I consider myself lucky. The church I first attended was focused on Jesus — who he was (and is) — and the love God has for us. Growing up in a home without God, I had no pre-conceived notions of an angry, vengeful and spiteful God, let alone a loving one. When I started my search for God, I was, and am, able to see him with clearer eyes and mind. A clean slate if you will.

One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him.

When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, ‘Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.’ Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them.

Mark 10:13-15

That’s the key, I think. Children are innocent. They haven’t learned how to distrust. They believe anything is possible, and that they are worthy of being loved, no matter what. Jesus calls us to be like those children.

Since I started my own spiritual journey with Jesus, I have learned that God does not accuse me, but instead shows me mercy when I do wrong, comforts me when I hurt, cheers for me when I succeed, and shows me a better way when I’ve strayed.

My biggest prayer is that everyone could see God in a similar way. To release any past toxins (religious or otherwise), and to consider the idea of a loving God instead of an angry one. And most of all, that everyone relegate the pains of the past to replace them with the joys of today, and the hopes for tomorrow.

To be children once again.

I can appreciate how difficult that is for some, especially those who have been damaged during their formative years, but Jesus is all about making the impossible possible.

** Spoiler Alert **

That is not the title of my entry. The title of this entry is actually a spoiler. I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t that the point of a title?

Mostly that’s true, but not when the subject is about a movie.

Before I go any further, if you have not seen Pixar’s “Inside Out” and want to without knowing a few particulars, stop here. Except for one thing. If you want to watch it with young children, I recommend they not be younger than 7. It’s not scary or anything, but a few things happen — especially emotionally — that younger children may have a difficult time processing. Either that, or watch it first to decide whether or not they can handle it.

End of disclaimer.

Have you ever watched a movie so profound it sticks with you, sometimes for days or even weeks?

“Inside Out” was one such movie for me. I watched it on Amazon Prime with my son a few weekends ago, and I cried through most of it. Yep. Bawled my eyes out.

The story takes place inside the mind of a little girl named Riley. At Headquarters are Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger and Fear. Each one has their own purposes. Joy is obvious. Disgust prevents Riley from being poisoned, such as eating broccoli. Fear prevents Riley from getting hurt. Anger makes sure Riley is treated fairly. The only emotion Joy sees as having no purpose within Riley is Sadness. After all, who likes to be sad?

Sadness keeps trying to take control of Riley (for which no one knows why at first, not even Sadness), and consequently, Joy and Sadness are thrown out of Headquarters, leaving Riley with feeling only Anger, Fear and Disgust. All this happens at the same time Riley’s family is forced to move.

I won’t get into what all befalls Joy and Sadness as they attempt to return to Headquarters (and here come the spoilers), other than to say Riley ends up feeling nothing. In that desperate moment, Joy discovers that one of Riley’s most happy moments started out as one of her saddest. Joy realizes that sometimes it’s Sadness who leads Riley to experiencing Joy. At times, Sadness can be more important than any other emotion — that it’s not only okay to be sad, it’s necessary. It both inspires us to act, and when others see our sadness, they surround us with compassion and understanding.

I follow a Facebook page called “Friends of Phoebe.” It’s written by a mother of two children. The youngest is a 5-year-old girl with Leukemia. The page is the family’s journey as she goes through chemo, and all the other challenges that comes with fighting the disease. It’s heart-wrenching at times.

During one particularly rough day, the mother was frustrated with her and her daughter’s frustration, anger and sadness. I responded this way (a few days before I even saw the Pixar movie):

“And that’s okay. We’re not supposed to be happy all the time, even in the best of circumstances. Strength can be found in our tears as well as our smiles. Just know that even during the dark days, we’re all rooting for you, even as we cry with you.”

God didn’t give us so-called negative emotions such as grief, frustration and anger to torture us. He gave them to us, because they often spur us to do not only great things, but necessary things.

I’ll use Jesus himself as an example.

The shortest verse in the Bible is “Jesus wept.” He had just learned that his friend, Lazarus had died. And because of that grief, he brought Lazarus from the dead (too bad we can’t do the same).

Jesus experienced frustration, often because of the thickheadedness of his own disciples, the Pharisees and people in general. That frustration forced him to escape to be with himself and pray for renewal. Something we need — probably more than we’re willing to admit.

Anger drove Jesus to bring justice to the Temple. He saw how people had turned his Father’s house into a marketplace. He made himself a whip, drove out all animals, scattered coins, turned over tables, and chased out the money-changers.

As with Jesus’ life, and the point of “Inside Out,” we need to embrace Sadness, Frustration and Anger (and a slew of others), because without them, we may never experience real Joy, and Solace (and a slew of others).

We end up feeling nothing, and that’s worse than any “negative” emotion we can name.

So what is the title of this entry?

The Importance of Sadness.

I Am Heartless

As much as I hate memes, the ones most cringe-worthy are those that say, “Click like or share if you love Jesus” and other variations thereof.

So if I don’t click, I don’t love Jesus?

They’re nothing more than chain letters of old that threatened horrible stuff if I didn’t send the letter to other ten people. I don’t think Jesus is going to bar my entry into heaven because I didn’t like a specific meme on Facebook.

There’s another type of meme going around lately where it shows a picture of a child battling cancer, or an animal struggling to survive something horrendous. They all say, “Scroll past if you’re heartless. If not, say Amen.” Or some variation thereof.

I scroll past every one. I refuse to be guilted into commenting on someone’s feed, especially someone I don’t know who — it seems to me — is only looking for more likes and comments. I’m all for supporting those who are hurting and struggling, but don’t try to make me support them by telling me I’m heartless if I don’t. Provide ways I can actually help, such as donating to an organization dedicated to eradicating cancer, or providing help for families struggling to keep up with the costs of their child’s care.

To me, it’s no different than the fire-and-brimstone preachers pounding on their podiums and screaming that I’m destined for hell if I don’t repent right this instant.

It’s not attractive, and it’s not helpful. Certainly not to the people who get a thousand amens, but don’t have the money to pay for the medications their child needs to survive.

A few weeks back, we studied the book of Exodus. The Israelites reached the Red Sea, and they saw the Egyptian army overtaking them. They cried out to the Lord and wished they could return to Egypt because, “It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness.”

But Moses told the people, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the LORD rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. The LORD himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.”

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the people to get moving!”

Exodus 14:12-15

I laughed when I read the last line, because it seems so unexpected, and was a direct contradiction to what Moses said. But it’s also apropos to my own complaint. There are times we need to stand still and cry out to God, but there are also times we need to get moving. I’ve said it countless times before; if we want to make a difference, we need to actually do something. Typing amen and sharing Facebook memes accomplishes next to nothing.

In short, don’t try to shame me into doing something. I will act because it’s the right thing to do, and for no other reason.

The Widow and The Orphan

Give justice to the poor and the orphan; uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute. Rescue the poor and helpless; deliver them from the grasp of evil people.

Ps 82:3-4

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.

Jas 1:27

There are many arguing for bringing Syrian refugees into the United States. Some suggest that not everyone escaping Syria are terrorists, and we shouldn’t allow fear to drive us from being compassionate (or “being Christian”). On the fear part, I wholeheartedly agree. We can’t allow any fear to drive us to act or not act. We need to step back and be a bit more rational and pragmatic about any solution, without fear and knee-jerk reactions (yet with a great deal of caution). That includes taking into consideration compassion, economics, and national security. The first two I will expand on, but national security I will leave alone for now.

As the two scriptures above say, we are called to take care of the orphan, the widow and the oppressed. By those two verses alone, you’d think I’d be all for allowing the refugees in.

And you would be wrong.

Does that mean I’m a bad Christian? No (well, not entirely anyway), and here’s why.

The United States of America is a great country. In many ways we are rich, and we have a lot to give. And we do. Whenever there’s a crisis, Americans are usually one of the first to step up. And I’m not talking as a country through the power of government, but as individuals, charities and communities. Therein lies the rub.

Our country is $18 trillion in debt and it’s growing by nearly $1 million a day. Our overall unemployment (counting those who have quit looking for work) is over 90 million. Many who are working are struggling to pay the bills, because the only work available is at minimum wage or slightly over. Women abort their children at an astonishing rate, either out of convenience or because they don’t think they have a choice. Too many of our veterans are homeless and dying before receiving the treatment they need, because the government has refused to keep its promises to them.

Sometimes, as individuals and as a nation we have to take a step back, and fix our own house before inviting others to join us. How can a person who can barely feed and clothe his own children be expected to take care of strangers — without sacrificing the well-being of his children and himself in the process? That’s what many people are asking — no, demanding — Americans do, and that’s not right.

Yes we are to take care of the widow, the orphan and the oppressed. But nowhere does the Bible say we must turn to our government to further its own debt (and take more money out of our pocket) to do it. That’s not Christian compassion. It’s quite the opposite in fact; first, it’s shirking our personal responsibility and making others do it for us. Second, the government has to forcibly take from one person to give it to someone else, because government produces nothing on its own. That’s thievery. (Note: I’m not against paying taxes. They are necessary, but there has to be limits).

There are many widows, orphans and oppressed right here in our country. Why are we not doing more to take care of them?

All that said, if any American wants to sponsor a refugee person or family, and take them into their home, I’m all for it. If any American wants to fly half-way around the world to help refugees, I’m all for that, too. That’s the definition of Christian compassion. I am simply not for any government telling me I must pay to bring refugees over here, house them, clothe them, and feed them when there are so many already in this country who also need that.

I also think there are many other people and countries who are equally (if not more so) capable of taking in refugees, and they are much closer to the problem than we are. Whenever someone is closer to the problem, they can more easily find a solution. We are over 3000 miles away. Many countries are stepping up, such as Germany and France. Good for them. Telling America to take care of it is like me begging the California government (who is also millions of dollars in debt) to pay for my house because I lost my job. Especially when there are agencies, charities and individuals in my own town who can help me — and who can afford it.

It’s like I said in a previous blog: We can’t save the world, but we can make a difference a little at a time much closer to home — figuring out what we, as individuals, can do instead of trying to do what everyone is telling us what we should do.

Paul wanted to preach in Asia, but God told him no. He then tried to enter the province of Bithynia, but again God said no. God wanted Paul in Macedonia instead (See Acts 16). At one point Jesus told his disciples not to enter certain towns, because they were needed in their home of Israel (Matthew 10:5-6).

Far be it for me to tell anyone who they should or shouldn’t help, because the Holy Spirit is the one who should decide. Where I am meant to help is different from someone else. I believe, however, there are times when we must exercise our compassion at home first (like in Matthew noted above). This is especially true for the US government. Our nation — our house — is a mess, and it will continue to fall apart if we ignore it in favor of people and problems across an ocean thousands of miles wide.

Now for the meme that started it all:

Joseph and Mary As most of you know, I despise memes. They too often present a complex problem and “offer” a simplistic solution. In this case — as in many others of this type — it’s all designed to make Christians look like hypocrites, and try to shame them into doing what they think Christians should be doing to avoid looking like hypocrites.

As far as this meme goes, the entire premise is incorrect. Joseph and Mary were not refugees. They were returning to their hometown, because they needed to be counted for a census. The only reason they had no place to stay is because so many others also had returned to be counted, and all the inns were full. Joseph and Mary were neither homeless nor escaping from oppression (Luke 2:1-6).

The innkeeper took compassion on the couple and let them stay in his stable, because that’s all he had left to give. Neither he, nor the young couple forced a government official, or another innkeeper (with the help of a government official) to take care of the problem for them.

Yet this is exactly what the meme is implying. If you want to solve a problem, do so. It’s unfair to demand the rest of us do it by trying to make us feel guilty, or by using the government to make us do it.

If you think I’m heartless and as “un-Christian” as ever there was one now, stay tuned. My next entry will show you just how heartless I really am.

A Bit of Heaven in The Middle of Hell

Between the terrorist attacks in Paris to earthquakes in Mexico, college students protesting against “painful” dissenting opinions and the annual “War on Christmas” complaints while the rest complain about the complaining, I lament with many others how our world is literally going to hell, and we are helpless and powerless to change things.

And we are. We can’t change the world into what we think it should be. It’s impossible for two main reasons:

One person’s ideal world is different from another’s which is different from yet another person’s. If we can’t agree on a perfect world, we can never achieve it.

The second reason is we can never find ultimate peace, because there are too few people who have peace in their own heart and soul. We live in a broken world that not one person on this world can fix. There will always be someone to come along to destroy that effort, whether through evil desire, or a good desire, but different means to attain that goal.

We need to stop trying to save the world. We need to forget about what we should be doing, and instead ask ourselves, “What can we do?”

Our church has a monthly program called “That One Thing.” We ask other charities such as food pantries and local shelters and ask what they need the most. One was a children’s abuse center where they needed pajamas for children of all ages so they had something new to wear their first night away from their abusive home. Another month we collected feminine products for a women’s shelter. This month we’re buying gifts for children who have an incarcerated parent.

Step away from the news. Turn off social media. Instead, walk around the neighborhood to find and meet a need there. In the midst of all the Hell surrounding us, we can show others — and ourselves — what a little bit of Heaven looks like. That’s something we all can do.

Too Many Teeth, Not Enough Food

Turns out I didn’t bite off more than I could chew. Quite the opposite. I went overboard.

After working on the newsletter article for a week, and praying as I sent it off that I didn’t mess anything up too badly, I received the following email.

You have done an excellent job. Thank you very much.

We are going to do some minor changes. I should have told you, but this story is meant to be used for our next newsletter. I am sorry that I did not tell you the context. A newsletter requires the story to be a bit more concise. But, we are going to use your story for our blog, as well. And, what you have written actually fits in perfectly for a blog or even a book.

So, we will use your story as it is for our blog. Readers have a bit more time. But we are going to make it a bit more concise and direct for our newsletter.

Thank you, again, for this wonderful work. It is very well done.

Here I was, stressing that I wouldn’t delve enough into the world they wanted me to, and I delved too deep. I suppose as issues go, I could have done worse and instead left the readers wanting.

I emailed her back and asked what the limit was as far as word count/pages. That way I don’t force them to reedit what I was supposed edit. I also apologized and included the hope that I didn’t create more work for them.

Funny. After I first read the email, I couldn’t help but think it’ll be the last time they ask me to do anything for them.

Is it even possible to be fired from a volunteer job?

I doubt it, but my mind tends to over-think, over-analyze, and expect the worst every time I make a mistake. After I read the email a second time, however, I’m more assured they can still use me. Overall it was positive.