Category Archives: Life

A Smorgasbord

I can’t believe it’s been a month since I posted an entry. Where did the time go?

My mind has been kinda… full, I guess you’d say. From editing short stories for “Havok Magazine” and chapters submitted by two writers groups, taking some online courses on writing and focusing on God as I write, beginning a bible study on the book of Daniel, working full time, and all other typical daily routines, I don’t suppose I should be surprised I haven’t been keeping up here.

Yet I have been trying to write a daily paper journal. That’s been fun. A change of pace. I still have good handwriting, too!

The nice thing about keeping a paper journal is I don’t have to worry about self-censoring, because I know no one will read it. At least not until I purposefully show someone. Or after I’m dead.

I don’t do that much, here, either, but that’s because I know you, my readers aren’t going to call me names for voicing an opinion you don’t like. I appreciate that, so thank you!

Quite a few years ago, I kicked myself off social media for an entire year. I ended up writing over 250,000 words. Talk about productive! With all the current upheaval of social media, I’m thinking it’s time to do it again. Taking every Sunday off has helped my peace of mind, but I think it’s not enough anymore. It’s a terrible place at times, and I too often feel depressed or at least anxious after spending a few minutes there. God’s way of telling me to walk away, perhaps?

One thing I won’t quit is this blog, though. I like it here, and I still long to put my words out there. I just need to be smarter about it. More focused.

I’m also reading more. For fiction I’m reading Brandon Sanderson’s “The Stormlight Archive, Books 1-3.” I’m 450 words into the over 3400 word story. It’s a good thing I read fairly fast!

For non-fiction, I go back and forth with Matt Walsh’s, “Church of Cowards” and Dennis Prager’s, “Rational Bible: Genesis.” Both are meaty books, so I take those in small doses.

What books are you reading?

Seek Thee First…

Every Monday evening, I participate in an hour-long Twitter chat using the hashtag “healthyfaith.” One person hosts and asks 10 questions either about a certain religious subject or a particular chapter/verse of the Bible.

Last night’s was about meditation and how Christians should view/practice meditation vs how the world views/practices it.

The short version is while eastern meditation (which many in the Western world have embraced) relies largely on emptying the mind, for the Christian, it’s the opposite. We must instead focus and fill our mind with prayer, worship, scripture, and God himself. Because if we empty our mind, something will eventually fill it, and that something may be something that should not be there.

I also mentioned during the discussion that I don’t take enough time to meditate on God’s word, prayer or praise. I make daily time for my friends and family, why then do I not do the same for the Creator of the universe and the one who died to save me from my sins? Shouldn’t he be first on my mind in the morning, throughout the day, and the last thing on my mind as I search for sleep?

Apparently God isn’t finished teaching me this lesson. A few years ago, I purchased a book called “Morning and Evening: The Classic Daily Devotional” by Charles Spurgeon. Based on last night’s chat, I figured it’s time I set at least fifteen minutes each day with God and God alone. Reading (and pondering) the morning lesson in the book would likely be a good start.

Because God loves symmetry and likes to poke at me to prove how well he knows me—in this case by teaching me the same lesson over and over again, I bet you can guess what the subject of this morning’s devotion is.

Yep, it’s about finding God where we set him aside (or lost him). One example he gave was, “Did you lose Christ by neglecting the Scriptures? You must find Christ in the Scriptures.”

He also says, “Take care, then, when you find your Master, to cling close to Him.”

So here I am, reading, studying, pondering. Giving him a moment of my time so that I may learn to cling to him, never again to let him go. We’ll see how long it lasts… but at the very least, I’ll know where to find God if I lose him again.

Keeping an Eye on the Sunset

“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,” Ephesians 4:26

This has always been one of my favorite verses. I remember it often (although not always) when I get angry at someone or something.

As to the first part of the verse: We sometimes think anger as a negative emotion, something to avoid. Some have even been told or believe that anger itself is a sin.

Yet, like fear can be healthy (as I described in a previous post), so anger can be, too. It spurs us to act against injustice, bad behavior, and other sins. There are plenty of instances in scripture where God, Jesus, and many of his faithful acted in anger, and few could argue those acts were absolutely righteous and correct.

So how are we to know we don’t sin in our anger? One is to take a step back, to look upon the situation with our head as much as our heart. To ask any action helps or hurts the innocent, and does it glorify God.

That leads us to the second part.

It’s important to solve every disagreement as soon as feasible, or let go of an unsolvable issue before the sun sets, because when we don’t, that anger grows and festers.

As anyone who’s ever held a grudge (and that be all of us at one time or another), knows how it can harm and eventually ruin relationships.

We live in a time of anger, and too many of us are destroying our families and friendships over what amounts to very little in the grand and eternal scheme of things.

So if you find anger prowling around, even though it may be justified, make sure to show it the sunset before it digs its claws and teeth into your psyche.

Reflections

I find it interesting how people see the same picture, video, or statement and draw the exact opposite conclusions. Who’s right and who’s wrong?

Do we allow our own biases, hatred, pride, and desires to both blind and color what we see and hear, the truth merely an annoying buzz in the ear, or a soft shadow in the corner of our eye?

Is it anything new?

If not, can we truly hope for peace with those we can never agree with on important issues, let alone together solve the problems we all face? Heck, we can’t even agree on what those problems are! How can we then hope to find solutions?

No good decision was ever made when led by anger, fear, or hatred. Yet here we are.

And who are we to blame? Is it a politician in Washington? A nameless bureaucrat? A podcaster or radio/television host?

The devil himself?

Or should we simply look in the mirror?

Not of This World

Multiple passages in scripture warn us not to “… love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15 ESV)

I admittedly have to remind myself of that, especially when I lose something worldly that I love. It could be a material item, a friend’s love and respect, or a freedom I enjoyed (and, yes, took for granted).

Does that mean I can’t (or am forbidden to) mourn the loss?

I’ve lost quite a few things this year, including some of the above. Because I’m not supposed to love anything this world has to offer, I’ve tried to stop myself from mourning those losses.

It has resulted in a lot of stress, anger, and frustration, and no amount of prayer and studying scripture has helped.

Or is it okay to grieve? Are we even capable of letting go of our losses without allowing ourselves that moment of grief?

By fighting my need to grieve, thinking it wrong—if not sinful—am I also preventing God’s comfort? After all, did he not promise to comfort those who mourn (Matthew 5:4)?

Another thing I have to remember is that I can’t lie to God. He knows my struggles and weaknesses better than I do. “Stiffening my upper lip” means nothing to him—except that it gets in the way of what he wants me to learn and grow from.

So, yes, I love things in this world I know I shouldn’t. If I am to let them go, however, I must give myself permission to mourn them. Once I let them go, I can then concentrate on and love the Father and everything not of this world instead.

A Platitudinous Society

Note: I wrote this back in April, so some of the below will seem a bit dated (showing how quickly things change, especially this year).

“Stay safe.”

“Stay Healthy.”

“We’re all in this together.”

A while back I saw a YouTube video about how all commercials now sound the same with some of the same platitudes above.

Someone posted on Twitter: “When this is over, the terms ‘Social Distancing,’ and ‘flatten the curve’ need to be abolished from American vernacular forever…”

To which I responded, “I want to rip the lips off everyone who tells me to ‘stay safe,’ or ‘stay healthy.’”

We could blame social media and the prevalence of memes and platforms like Twitter where pith is king, but the tendency to use platitudes didn’t begin there. We’ve been using them forever. For example, how long have people plastered bumper stickers on their vehicles? Over 50 years, I’m certain—at least since the 60s.

That and platitudes seem kind and make sense at first. Because really, should I truly want to rip the lips off someone who’s only expressing concern?

My problem isn’t with short, sometimes legitimately thoughtful phrases. It’s that they stop there. It’s like asking, “how are you?” and at the same time hoping that person doesn’t dive into a ten-minute soliloquy of their terrible, no good, very bad day.

Telling people to stay safe and healthy doesn’t feed their family, give them their job or business back, allow them to visit friends or family—especially those in the hospital or nursing home, and who may end up dying alone without the opportunity to say goodbye.

It doesn’t alleviate their anxiety, hopelessness, and despair.

Really, are these new platitudes any different than telling a parent after a miscarriage that, “You’ll see the baby in heaven,” “It was God’s will,” or “You can always try for another?”

I watched one of Dennis Prager’s Fireside Chats, and one thing he said is that everything we do has a price. One of the problems we’re having now by attempting to “stay safe and healthy” from this virus is we’re ignoring many a devastating price for doing so.

Forcing Gratitude

Interesting title, don’t you think? Is it even possible? Can gratitude really be forced?

For someone to attempt to force others to be grateful, the answer is no. One can act grateful for fear of certain consequences, but in their heart and mind, I’ll wager they’d be far from grateful. I’d even bet they’d be angry and resentful.

I’ll admit I’m of the latter. With Thanksgiving just around the corner, while no one is forcing me to be grateful (as such), I am having a difficult time convincing myself I should be. That’s the whole reason behind the holiday: to express our thanksgiving and gratitude to God for all our blessings.

And I should. Intellectually, I know that. My heart, however, is stubborn. It prefers to mope. To be resentful and keep count of all my losses, frustrations, and failures.

Even pointing out how many have lost more than me isn’t enough to pull my heart out of its malaise.

I know I’m not alone. No one is enjoying (except for politicians, bureaucrats, and tech companies) the current upheaval, the loss of liberties, and the general isolation from friends and family. The latter is especially difficult to accept right now considering Thanksgiving has always been about gathering and sharing in the year’s blessings.

We can’t celebrate that one cornerstone of the holiday this year, whether by a number of family members choosing not to, or by government edict. What, then, is the purpose of celebrating it now when it’s largely stripped of its meaning?

I know what some of you are thinking: I can still celebrate with my immediate family. I can still celebrate with others online. I can still count my many other blessings–for which I am self-aware and honest enough to know they’re innumerable.

Yet ignoring what my heart is telling me is not a solution. It’s pulling the wool over my own eyes.

Unless someone can show me different, no scripture exists that states we must ignore our griefs. And that’s what I’m feeling: grief over losing my country; grief over losing my God-given liberties; grief over my forced isolation; and grief with the certainty it’ll only get worse.

So while God doesn’t demand we never grieve or ignore it, he expects us not to wallow in our grief and provides ways to rise above it. I’ll admit when I searched for relevant scriptures, I was inundated with so many possibilities, how could I possibly narrow it down?

So I concentrated on Psalms, because David so often wrote about his own doubts, struggles, and grief:

Psalm 30:5: “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”

Psalm 34:17-18: “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Psalm 147:3: “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

In short, no matter how much we grieve, God is there to lift us up. We just need to take a moment, be still, listen, and healing will come. As long as we believe he will. While gratitude can’t be forced, doing so is certainly in our best interest. Otherwise all we have to hope for is despair.

100!

I just received a notification that my humble blog has reached 100 followers. In today’s online world, that number may seem anemic, perhaps even something to avoid bragging about.

Considering I write more than market this blog, 100 followers is more than I expected.

So now I have to find a way to thank each one of you… perhaps share one of my short stories? A series of devotionals I wrote for my church? Reader’s choice?

I’ll let you decide.

Bowing to Nebuchadnezzar

I ran into a friend this morning and we got to chatting. At one point she mentioned the book of Daniel, and it reminded me of something I wrote back in 2015. After reading through it again, it seems even more applicable today and worth a repeat:

Yesterday a friend and I talked on Facebook about all the horrible things going on in the world. She commented, “Seriously I do wonder if we’re now living in the end times. The world is in a dreadful state and it is just getting worse.”

To which I responded, “I used to think that, but—at least from what I read—globally before and during WWII things were a lot worse.

“Some days I wonder why God is still waiting and wish he’d just end it already. Other days I’m grateful he’s not, because it gives everyone more opportunities to both spread and understand the truth.

“I feel selfish by wanting it to end, because it’s coming from a place of fear in that I don’t want to see my nation fall, or for my good life to end.

“I have to constantly remind myself that God is still in control. Even if there are hardships I can’t even imagine to come, I know eternity with God awaits me.

“I just hope I continue to have the wherewithal to show God’s love to others, but I sometimes (often) wonder why I bother since so many hearts are hardened against him.

“At least that’s how it seems. I could easily be wrong about that. I’ll never know when my words or deeds will influence someone the right way. Jesus didn’t give up; God hasn’t given up. Nor should I, because then I am no good to him or those who need him.”

I’ve heard a few people express concern that Christians are about to enter an era of persecution in Western countries including the United States.

I often wonder the same thing, especially recently, but then I thought, are trials and persecutions a bad thing—at least as far as the Kingdom of God is concerned?

In all instances when people or government tried to eliminate Christians and Christianity, they have instead resulted in explosive growth. Today, the highest percentage of Christian expansion is occurring in China and other oppressive regimes where it’s supposed to be illegal. Our country is also experiencing revival in spite of state and local governments shutting down or restraining churches.

It’s easy to stand with the faithless when they’re standing. Not so much when they all sit down. That’s when the faithful are noticed. It’s frightening to be singled out and take the risk of being vilified at best–killed at worst.

But that doesn’t mean we should sit down. It’s during the times when the faithless sit down that we must stand up taller. If we don’t, we show the world that we have fallen prey to our own fears; we prove our own faithlessness and even distrust of God’s promises.

After Nebuchadnezzar built his 90-foot-tall golden statue in the book of Daniel, all people from every nation were required to bow down to worship it. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused. They stood up when everyone else bowed. The king noticed and demanded they be thrown into a fiery furnace. Because of their faithfulness, the fires didn’t touch them, and the King and all his men bowed down to worship God.

Sure, their faith led them into the furnace, but it also led them right back out again.

I like to say God loves paradox. He uses our weaknesses to show his strength. He uses the darkest moments in our lives to reveal his grace, his love, and his promises.

He uses the world’s attempt to kill Christianity in order to further his Kingdom.

We must be part of that, otherwise our own faith is meaningless.

Therefore, do not be afraid of today’s or future trials and tribulations. Don’t fret about governments’ attempts at restraining or destroying the Church or our faith. Welcome them, because it’s at those times people will see Jesus most clearly. Our mortal lives and daily comforts should be the smallest price we have to pay to help accomplish it.

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.”