Category Archives: Faith

The Liberty to Walk Away

I’ve expressed a few times lately that we need to look for what the Bible doesn’t say as much as what it does say. This is another such time.

One statement I’m hearing a lot lately is, “If you love your neighbor, you would do X.”

Ever since I heard it the first time, it’s been eating at me. What’s so bothersome about it? Is it not scriptural? After thinking about it for a few weeks, I finally understood.

The entire statement is absurd.

Nor is it scriptural.

How’s that for an audacious statement? Read on, and I’ll explain why.

The most obvious one is what the scripture in question actually says: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” What I call the biggest little word is missing: If. Meaning there are no qualifiers attached.

Loving one’s neighbor can take many forms, and yes, that can include doing X if someone asks us to (the key word being “ask”). Yet there are things we must never do.

One is to use force or the threat of force to make sure people do something or act a certain way—such as through local or federal authorities.

The worst part of the statement is it implies that anyone who doesn’t do X doesn’t love their neighbor. As such, it’s an attempt to shame people into compliance. That’s coercion, the other thing one must never do.

Liberty is defined as:

• the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views

• the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved

• a right or privilege, especially a statutory one [such as the US Bill of Rights]

• the power or scope to act as one pleases

But what does the Bible say about liberty as well as loving one’s neighbor? Are they mutually exclusive, or do they go hand-in-hand?

The story of the Good Samaritan is the oft-cited example of loving one’s neighbor (Luke 10:25-37).

The Cliff-Notes version is a man is robbed, beaten, and left for dead. Three people encounter him: a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan (it almost sounds like the beginning of a joke, doesn’t it?). Only the Samaritan stops to help him.

So now we need to look for what’s not said. In this case, no angel (nor God) came down and demand of any one of the men to stop and help. The story also doen’t include any authority forcing the three to act, nor do any of the men complain to the authorities to force the other two to act. They all had the option to walk away. Including the Samaritan.

Mark 10:17-22 has been sticking with me lately:

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (ESV)

The key statement is in the last verse: “He went away sad…” Yet the verse, “Jesus looked at him and loved him,” is equally poignant.

Jesus loved him, and because of that, allowed him the choice—the liberty—to walk away even as it may have broken his heart to do so. He told the man the truth, and with conviction, which is important. But again, looking for what isn’t said, he didn’t threaten or force the man into changing his mind with local/worldly authorities, or coerce through shame.

We are called to be just like Jesus, and that includes giving people the liberty to make their own choices, to walk away without us piling on threats or shame as they do so.

So in answer to the question I asked above, loving one’s neighbor must include liberty, no “ifs” about it. We can’t do one without giving the other.

1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 (ESV): “and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”

When God Sings

Here in the States, we’re spoiled by many things. That includes not having to wait long for election results. As such, we’ve forgotten how to exercise patience.

For what appears to be exactly on par with the rest of 2020, we are forced to wait to find out who wins, and not only nationally. Some local elections can’t be called, yet, either. Part of it could be they’re as yet too close to call, or many ballots have yet to be counted (and some have yet to be delivered by the post office I’ll bet).

Many believe this is one of the most important national elections of our lifetime, so I can see why people are nervous and anxious. The number of people who voted alone proves that.

I am no exception. I, too, wanted results when I awoke this morning, but I’m also not surprised nothing was made official. Because that’s 2020 for you.

But I’m also not one to wallow in that anxiety (much), because it doesn’t change anything.

Yet God knows me better than I know myself, because I woke up to the lyrics of a song by Tasha Layton called “Into the Sea (It’s Gonna be Ok).” The lyrics parading through my mind were: “I hear the Father singing over me, ‘It’s gonna be okay. It’s gonna be okay.’”

I will take that with me, not only during this nail-biting wait, but whenever I’m feeling lost or anxious.

I hope you, too, can sing to yourself, “It’s gonna be okay.”

You can find the entire song on YouTube here.

Choosing Fear

Is fear a choice? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself of late.

When my son was a bit younger, I allowed him to do things that could have hurt him: climbing trees, crawling up steep river banks, yes even using knives and matches after I showed him how to properly and safely use both. Nor did I ever leave his side when he did.

Some have asked me why, and the answer is simple: if he scrapes a knee, cuts or burns himself, he’ll quickly learn not to do it again. Because pain is the best teacher out there. More so than his mom constantly screaming, “Don’t do that; you’ll hurt yourself!”

Almost all parents learn early on that children don’t always listen to motherly warnings, and eventually push against her natural desire to protect them from harm.

It’s a fine line between teaching children prudence and thoughtfulness when it comes to taking risks, or teaching them to be afraid of taking risks.

Because, like pain is a powerful teacher, fear is a powerful motivator. Healthy fear can prevent us from taking too big of a risk resulting in injury or death, or at least make us pause before we leap. Again, it’s a fine line, and everyone’s line is different. You’ll never see me parachute out of an airplane, but invite me on a fighter jet, I’m there!

Fear is necessary for our survival in many ways. It can quickly jump in when a dangerous situation arises. It releases adrenaline, which increases a body’s reaction-time, strength, and heightens awareness.

Another fear is the one that makes us pause, such as standing at the top of a hill and looking down the other side to gauge its steepness, and determine if we can climb down without risking serious injury or death.

Then there’s another, unrelenting fear that sticks with us day after day. All one has to do is look around to know we are drowning in it: fear of who’ll be elected; fear of losing our liberties (and in some instances, being allowed to keep them); fear of deadly disease; fear of natural (and unnatural) disasters. The list is endless.

Sometimes that fear can motivate us to work against any of the above such as voting, running for office, or campaigning for those of like mind; living healthy to strengthen the body; and preparing for natural and unnatural disasters (such as making sure our homes are secure against storms and our persons against tyranny). Again the list is endless. Being proactive is key in eliminating those fears.

So while fear can be a good thing, it can also hinder and cause us real damage. Unhealthy fear tends to overwhelm, not motivate. When it grabs hold, we isolate ourselves, lose trust in the people and world around us, and in the end quit living. When we quit living, we die soon after, because that fear too often leads to loneliness and despair.

As usual, I must turn to scripture. What does God say about being afraid, and is it really a choice?

And as usual, because fear is universal and effects us in so many negative ways, the Bible is filled with verses about it. Since this entry is getting a bit long, I will share only three. You should see a common thread in all of them:

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous hand.” Isaiah 41:10

“For God have us a spirit not of fear but of power love and self control.” 2 Timothy 1:7

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 (all verses in ESV)

In all three (and every other verse on fear I searched for) stressed the importance of depending on God–that only he can give us the strength and means to rise above our fears.

By wallowing in fear, we are in effect saying that God cannot be trusted or depended upon to protect us. The last verse in particular shows us what we can do.

That’s not to say it’s easy. It’s not. Far from it. It takes constant, intentional effort. Sometimes daily, if not a minute-by-minute effort through constant, thankful prayer and supplication.

Yet it’s never without reward, that being God’s peace, and protection of our heart and mind. When we fill our heart and mind with God and his promises, there’s no room left for fear.

Spiritual Blockage

Last week I once again signed up to write a few devotions for my church during Advent. While normally greedy by picking between four and six, I chose two (mostly because we were asked to pick only one or two).

As I read through the suggested passages of the first day I chose, I noticed what I can only describe as a spiritual blockage. I couldn’t care about the passages, had no desire to prayerfully seek out wisdom and discernment, and allow God to use his voice through me.

It was a bit startling, and… sad. I honestly had no idea how much I’ve been struggling of late until that moment. I’ve kept it quiet, putting on a brave face—for myself as much as for everyone else.

I could attempt to convince myself that pretending to be strong and “together” was for the benefit of those around me, because they need me to be strong. That may be partially true, but I must also be honest if I am to learn and grow.

Pride is once again my main motivation.

Anyone who’s read my blog for a while knows I don’t enjoy admitting I’m weak. In fact, I hate it.

Yet it must be done. If I continue to allow pride determine my thoughts and actions, it becomes an idol and leaves no more room for God.

My apathy toward the passages mentioned above was God’s way of slamming a door in my face and saying, “You’re neither prepared nor equipped to uplift others until you let me uplift you.”

I like to think God uses the words I write to speak to others, but (again, I must be honest) most often the words that spill from my fingers end up speaking to me. That last statement above in quotes is one of them. I had to stop typing for a few minutes, because I could no longer see through the sudden tears. Just thinking about them now makes me want to cry all over again.

Because that’s who God is. Always aware, always standing by, ready to give us whatever we need—as long as we remain open to receive and accept what he offers with gratitude, praise, and thanksgiving.

And humility.

“Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless… But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:28-29, 31 (NLT)

Banish the Dark

I’ve always said our life is built in the moments. We are to live in those moments. We need to avoid dwelling on or live in the past, because it can’t be changed. Nor should we worry about the future, because we can’t control or predict it.

We should also avoid getting so caught up in the moment we’re not doing what we need to do to make that moment better.

For instance, it’s easy to wake up to a dark and cloudy morning and not look for or see the sun peek through a break in those clouds.

I took the above picture this morning as I walked into a coffee shop. If not for the bright orange ball reflected off the store window, I would have missed it by the time I bought my coffee and headed back to my car.

One of the first lessons I learned on my faith journey is that darkness can never banish the light.

I too often wallow in my daily frustrations—this morning being no exception. Yet watching that beautiful sun inevitably rise reminded me that it still rises to banish the dark—in spite of the clouds—-and God is still sovereign.

An Upside-Down World

The seven deadly sins are: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth.

Contrast those with the seven corresponding virtues: humility, charity, chastity, gratitude, temperance, patience, and diligence.

Whenever I see a “celebrate [specific] pride month” declaration (and they seem to get more numerous every year), I cringe. I have to fight my own pride on a daily basis so it doesn’t get the best of me, because I know first hand the damage it can do.

Isaiah warns us in 5:20: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”

He continues with, “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!” (Vs. 21)

The rest of the chapter goes on with what the Lord of Hosts will do to those who rejected him and his law.

Similar warnings are repeated in 2 Timothy 3:1-4: “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,”

I wouldn’t be surprised if this passage is where the seven deadly sins originated.

I also found that not only are people embracing pride, gluttony, sloth, etc., they’ve been vilifying anyone who embraces the seven virtues such as humility, chastity, and diligence.

It’s easy to get angry, scared, or depressed in watching the warnings written from six to two thousand years ago unfold before our eyes. I’ve been silently screaming at the sky like Grandpa Simpson for months now, because my own warnings seem to make little difference. The only ones who hear are those who already agree. Sometimes I wonder why I keep trying to plant seeds on what is obviously infertile ground.

I can already hear the thoughts of some of you. Your fingers are itching to respond, to tell me what I appear to be missing:

God himself. The power of the Holy Spirit working in our heart and in the world. Yes, we are being warned, and things do appear to be falling apart. Yet God himself is not deterred, broken, or swayed, so neither should we be deterred, broken, or swayed. Just because the ground looks hard and infertile, it could merely be parched, awaiting for me to toss out a few seeds so God’s Spirit can sprinkle a little rain that’ll allow that seed to take root and grow.

Yes, we live in an upside-down world, but God is still working. Diligently and without pause—even if we don’t often see the results.

He still expects us to do our part, and not by focusing on the seven deadly sins so much as making sure we’re living instead by the seven virtues.

Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?

That’s a question people have been debating for centuries. Those on each side of the argument are adamant their point of view is correct, and they each have the scripture to back it up.

On the side of baptism being a requirement:

Matthew 3:13-15: “Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. But John tried to talk him out of it. ‘I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,’ he said, ‘so why are you coming to me?’

“But Jesus said, ‘It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.’ So John agreed to baptize him.”

Mark 16: 16: “Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned.”

Acts 2:38: “Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 13:24: “Before [Jesus] came, John the Baptist preached that all the people of Israel needed to repent of their sins and turn to God and be baptized.”

Colossians 2:12: “For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead.”

On the side of baptism being unnecessary:

Mark 1:4; “This messenger was John the Baptist. He was in the wilderness and preached that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven.”

Aside: This could be used to prove both sides of the argument, because notice the word should instead of must. Also, it states that baptism shows they had repented, not that baptism was required for forgiveness.

Mark 16: 16: “Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned.”

Aside: You may wonder why I use this scripture for both. Simple. The last sentence does not say anyone who refuses to believe and be baptized will be condemned.

Luke 3:16: “John answered their questions by saying, ‘I baptize you with [Or in] water; but someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. [Or in the Holy Spirit and in fire].’”

Acts 8:14-17: “When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that the people of Samaria had accepted God’s message, they sent Peter and John there. As soon as they arrived, they prayed for these new believers to receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them, for they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John laid their hands upon these believers, and they received the Holy Spirit.”

Aside: Another example that can be used to prove both sides of the argument. However, Peter didn’t baptize the believers with water, but laid hands on them instead.

So which is it? Must I be baptized with water in order to receive salvation?

Since there are scriptural references going both ways, I turn to what I know about the nature of God.

There are many churches such as the Salvation Army that don’t believe water baptism is a requirement. Does that mean every member of the Salvation Army is doomed to Hell?

What about the countless children who didn’t live long enough to be baptized? Does God send them directly to the fires as well?

Since God is love, I don’t believe so, any more than my parents would permanently turn their backs on me because I refuse to shower.

I also have never been baptized (that I know of), nor do I anticipate ever doing so. Is my soul in jeopardy although I’ve given it and my life to God, and asked forgiveness of my sins through the blood of Jesus Christ? If I am to die without a minister or preacher pouring water over me, is my entire life a waste?

I acknowledge that perhaps I test God by not being baptized, but I also trust in God’s love enough that he won’t hold it against me. As Mark 1:4 said, baptism is an outward expression that we have repented of our sins. It comes after we accept salvation, not before, or even during. I show through my other actions I have accepted Jesus as my savior.

Baptism of the Holy Spirit is what matters.

Why then did we baptize our son when he was a baby? Does that make me a hypocrite, or at least uncertain as to my belief, willing to jeopardize my soul, but not my son’s?

No. As Mark 1:4 said, baptism is an outward expression of what’s already taken place in the heart and soul. My husband and I wish to show our friends and family that we will teach our son about and (hopefully) accept Jesus as his savior for himself someday.

In the end, like accepting Jesus for yourself, the same holds true for baptism. If you find it necessary, by all means get baptized. If you don’t think it’s necessary, that’s okay, too–as long as your faith is sincere in both cases.

A Harsh Rebuke

Mark 8:33: “But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (ESV)

I often wonder what Jesus felt at that moment. Knowing his life would soon end, was Satan tempting him to stay? Was the rebuke as much for himself as for Peter?

Curiosity aside, when God does something that goes contrary to everything I want or think I need, I argue with him. I beg him to change his mind. Intellectually I know God will always do what’s best, and that I will never, ever win an argument with him. Still, I continue to try. He doesn’t rebuke me as harshly as Jesus did Peter, but I wonder if perhaps he should.

Or, maybe it’s not God who needs to rebuke me, but me who needs to rebuke myself and Satan for muddling my heart and my mind with the things of man to the point I can’t focus on the things of God.

It’s easy to do. We are finite creatures on this earth. We have our daily struggles and distractions that to focus on God’s long, eternal view can be near impossible. We lose sight of our trust and faith—whether it’s due to our worries, our doubts, or our pride. Perhaps a combination of all three. We have to remember that even when we get lost, God never does, and he never loses sight of us or what he wants to accomplish through us.

When we feel lost, we have to remember and speak Jesus’ own words: “Get behind me Satan, for my mind will not be set on the things of man, but on the things of God.”

What Would Jesus Do?

That was a popular question few decades ago, further popularized by the acronym WWJD. It was a simple way to get people to think before they act, and with the hope they’d make the right decisions. It fell away rather quickly for many reasons, one of which is, can we really know what Jesus would do in any given circumstance?

That said, if I created a poll that asked: If Jesus were alive on earth today, would he wear a mask? I’ll bet the results would be an even 50/50.

The fact that our opinions would be split on the question means we’re asking the wrong question, and our motives for asking are improper. It’s placing Jesus in the middle of an argument and asking him to take sides so we can point to the opposition and say, “See? You’re wrong!”

Sure, no one that I know of has asked this particular question, but they’ve asked others (such as would Jesus be a Republican or a Democrat; would he approve of turning people away at the border; etc.). I also wouldn’t be surprised if people have thought of this question and just haven’t asked it outright yet.

Regardless, Jesus won’t take sides, because this is a human question, not a godly one.

Some might at this point say, “Aren’t you assuming to know the mind of God here? How do you know he won’t take sides? This is an important question!”

Sure, for us. Not for Jesus. Whether or not people wear a mask does not determine the health of their soul. Jesus won’t assume that someone wearing a mask knows and follows him anymore than someone not wearing a mask doesn’t know or follow him. Eternally speaking, the question is irrelevant. He will, in the end, ask, “Is your mind, body, and soul right with me?”

So what’s the point of this entry? Is it about masks, what Jesus would do or not do, or something else?

We’ve been in a frenzy about a virus to the point of obsession for the last four months. No matter where we go or what we do, it’s literally in our face. We can’t escape it from the news, from social media, and at every gathering (online or in person), it’s too often the main subject of discussion.

I think we need to stop and return (or keep) our focus to Jesus, because no matter what—whether it’s a hurricane, earthquake, virus, or disease that’s about to destroy our body, he’s still in control and—both figuratively and literally—has our soul well in hand.

Set your minds on the things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. ~ Colossians 3:2-3 (ESV)

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. ~ Philippians 3:12-14 (ESV)

No Bad News

I think we can all agree social media and much of the Internet can be a toxic place. It’s where we vent, argue and too often call each other nasty names—all without having to accept any consequences thereof.

We also have the choice to either not participate, or offer something better.

Starting tomorrow, I’m going to offer something better.

Over the last few years, I’ve written short devotions for my church (about 300 words or one page each). Some are pretty good—if I say so myself—and there’s nothing stopping me from sharing them with the rest of you.

The surest cure for emotional and mental toxicity is emotional and mental positivity. While some of you may not share my faith, I promise nothing of what I share from now on is an attempt to preach at or convert you. My only desire is that you find a little joy and hope in my words.

Consider my page from now on a no bad news area.