Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Heart of the Matter

Do you ever read books that get the gears in your brain turning? I do love reading books that help me unwind and de-stress, but I also get some of my mental exercise by reading books that challenge the status quo and challenge the assumption that things have always been this way.

Most Advent seasons, I either re-read Christmas Is Not Your Birthday or The Advent Conspiracy. These are profound books that have changed how I view Christmas traditions and are important enough to me that I make sure to re-read at least one of them a year.

This year, as I have been slowly re-reading and reflecting on The Advent Conspiracy, I have been wrestling with the concept of what makes my Christmas celebration (as a Christian) different from a non-Christian's celebration.

I assist in an English as a Second Language (ESL) program and part of my job is to write summaries of important holidays and events in the United States. It typically is a pretty plain task, until we get into Christian holidays. I expected to end up with a list of "Christian" ways to celebrate these holidays and a separate list of "non-Christian" traditions for comparison. I ended up with a list of secular traditions for these holidays, but many Christians celebrate Christmas & Easter by doing many of the same things that non-Christians do, but with a Christian twist or with other a few more religious traditions added in. This went completely against my expectations.

This insight I had in the Christian/non-Christian holiday traditions helped me to catch a glimpse of the heart of the matter.

The lives of Christians should look and be radically different from a non-Christian's life and I mean radically different in a positive way. We should be a joyful, generous people driven by sharing the Good News with everyone our lives touch.

The Church is trying to reform what has become a frenzy of consumerism and spending at Christmas. Unfortunately, we try to do this by conforming to and mimicking the world's patterns, instead of letting our transformed lives speak of a better way to live. We are spending too much time, energy, and effort in an attempt to to add back Christian meaning to what has become secular traditions. Maybe we should give our culture the traditions they have claimed and instead allow ourselves to focus on celebrating Christ in a different way.

We are trying to focus on the sacred aspects of Christmas, but we are still attempting to do all the secular traditions that we associate with Christmas. We can't do it all. We are running ourselves ragged trying to do it all. The secular traditions end up crowding out the sacred ones. Maybe the Church needs to start doing Christmas in a way that is obviously, completely different from how the world does things. Then, the Church will be transformed once we stop trying to conform to the pattern of the world.

If "Jesus is the Reason for the Season" as our bumper stickers proudly proclaim, then perhaps everything we say, do, buy, and make for Christmas needs to justify itself in light of Christ.

To whom would Jesus have us give gifts?
What kinds of gifts would Jesus have us buy for others?
How much would Jesus want us to spend on presents we give our family & friends for His birthday?
What does Jesus want us to give Him for Christmas?
With whom would Jesus have us share our Christmas baking?
What attitudes would Jesus endorse in the shopping mall?
What traditions do we have that glorify Christ in this special season?
What traditions do we need to set aside because they are just about us and our comfort?

Radical? Yes.
Different? Yes.
Putting Christ at the center of everything each Christmas? Hopefully.

Being a Christian should mean that our lives are radically different from non-Christians' lives. We shouldn't be mostly identical, except for our Sunday morning and Wednesday night activities. Our Christmases should look more different than just adding in a Christmas Eve service and reading Luke 2 before diving into our pile of presents.

Is our Christmas radically different from a non-Christian's Christmas?
Are our lives radically different from a non-Christian's life?

What are we going to do to make it so we can answer yes to those questions?

Friday, December 8, 2017

Spending Less This Christmas Season

Last week, we looked at ways to worship Christ during this Christmas season. This week, I am looking at Spending Less. As a reminder, this series is based on the book the Advent Conspiracy: Can Christmas Still Change the World? I highly recommend this book, by the way.

What was the best gift that you ever received from a person in your life?

How many of the gifts that you received last Christmas can you remember and name?
How many of them can you point to in your house as something you use, see, or love every month?

How many of the gifts that you gave last Christmas can you remember and name?

Where am I going with these questions?

Each year, we participate in the hustle, bustle, and rush of Christmas shopping, but most of us cannot recall what we gave and received last Christmas.

We buy things without a lot of thought towards who made it, what their lives & living conditions are like, and what the effect this gift giving frenzy has on the environment. We buy all these gifts because we are buying into our culture's lies that spending a lot of money is how we show each other that we love each other.

This is what Christmas has become, but it doesn't have to stay this way.

What if we took time, starting in January even, to prayerfully ask God what He would like us to give our family and friends?

What if we gave of ourselves and our abundance to show our love for our family and friends?
What if I gave my favorite blanket, our favorite tea, or a well-worn and beloved book instead of some trinket from a store?

Discipline. Self-Denial. Delayed Gratification. These used to be marks of spiritual discipline and signs of a growing faith. Now they are becoming marks of fanatics and enemies of capitalism.

We don't have to buy our child, grandchild, parent, relative, or friend everything that they ever wanted. We don't have to go into debt to provide the perfect Christmas experience.

When we choose to spend less on the frivolous or cheap trinkets that last only for a season, we have more money freed up to buy gifts in line with our faith.

We can buy one bar of rich fair trade chocolate instead of bags of cheap knock-offs.

We can buy one peace pin with a story of bomb casings being remade into doves to give as a gift instead of a variety of cheap, mass produced jewelry.

We don't even have to spend (a lot of) money to give meaningful gifts. Instead of quickly throwing a gift in a cart and crossing a name off of our lists, we can take the time to sit down, write a thoughtful letter about the impact the gift recipient had on our life, and then look for something we can make or give with our time. Commit to walk with a relative on sunny days. Make the effort to regularly call a grandparent instead of buying a "world's greatest grandparent" tie to hang in their closet. Bake bread for a friend and sit down to eat it with them, along with tea or coffee.

We say, "Money can't buy happiness." We say that we know kids need our presence more than our presents. But we need to start living this out in our daily lives.

What are ways that we can spend less this Christmas season and beyond to future Christmases?
What are ways that we can spend our time, words, possessions, and space with others this Christmas?

Friday, December 1, 2017

Worshiping Christ this Christmas Season

Mind your toes. This year, I'm re-reading a book called the Advent Conspiracy during this season. I am asking myself (and you, by extension) some tough questions.

Our initial reflex is to give the answers that we know should be true, but we don't always do what we should be doing. Instead, I challenge all of us to examine our lives, time, money, and space to see what our answer is. Once we have compared the reality of what is with the ideal of what should be, we can decide which one is the more godly path to walk on.

Now that Thanksgiving has passed for another year, it's time for Advent. The church may call this 4-week season leading up to Christmas "Advent", but we have forgotten how to celebrate it. It should be a season of anticipation, longing, and preparation. It is a time of frenzied activities as we shop more, buy more, and do more in a frantic attempt to find peace.

Who should we worship during the Advent and Christmas season?
The answer to this is clear: Jesus. The prince of peace. Emmanuel-God with us. The lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world.

Who or what do we really worship during the Advent and Christmas season?
We say that Jesus is the reason for the season, but how much do we think of Him, worship Him, or glorify Him during this season? We have set up idols in the Christmas season. We chase after the perfect holiday, following consumerism as we put presents and material possessions before Christ. Harsh but true. We try to do more things, but peace isn't found by following our culture's recipe. Peace is found by rejecting the pattern of the world, and instead following God's pattern. We may have to reject a lot of harmless traditions to have the room and time to follow God.

Based on how we spend our time, money, and space, what is the center or focus of our Christmas?
Honestly how is our Advent & Christmas different from a non-Christian's celebrations? Being a Christian should impact every area of our lives and our lives should look vastly different (in a way that draws people towards God) than a non-Christian's.

If we have the holiday of Christmas to celebrate Jesus' birth, then what gift(s) do we give Him?
The wise men gave Christ gifts on Christmas. There is no record of them giving gifts to their families or friends because of Christ's birth, but that's for a later discussion. Let's follow the wise men's lead and give Christ some gifts this year. His Word says that He loves the poor, the foreigner, those who have been pushed to the margins of society & ignored. He identifies with these people. When we feed the hungry, clothe the shivering, give water to the thirsty, and fight against injustice, we are giving Him a precious present. Maybe we could find a charity or a non-profit and give a gift in Jesus' honor.

If we cleared our calendars for December from all the optional (non-work & school) commitments, what acts of worship should we add into our newly freed space? What are special ways that we can worship God this Christmas season?

Why should we give each other Christmas presents?
A Christian book was written called "Christmas Is Not Your Birthday" There are a few exceptions to this title, when someone really does have a December 25th birthday, but our culture has convinced us that in order to "properly" celebrate Christmas, we need to show our friends and families how much we love them by spending large amounts of money on them. But Jesus told His disciples to invite those who can't repay the disciples to share meals with them. Don't just invite those who will invite you to a reciprocal party, but invite those who can't repay you with the same gift. Maybe instead of giving gifts to our circle of friends, we should give gifts to the homeless, the refugee, and the single mom.

So how would I suggest that we celebrate Christmas if we don't follow our popular culture's traditions?
*Christ-Centric (or as the Advent Conspiracy book says, by worshiping fully)
*Simply (or as the Advent Conspiracy book says, by spending less)
*Generously (or as the Advent Conspiracy book says, by giving more)
*Joyfully (or as the Advent Conspiracy book says, by loving all)

In the following weeks, I hope to look at what each of these would look like in our lives as we celebrate Christ during the Christmas season.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Why It's Important for Christmas to Wait Its Turn

I went into a large box store in the days leading up to Halloween. I was shocked to see Christmas decorations and decor up already and ready to sell. I went into a dollar store and was thrown off by seeing Christmas, Halloween, and Thanksgiving decorations lining one wall. Even social media is chiming in with memes about "Santa needing to wait his turn" or "why I can choose to be holly jolly for more than one month a year."

This Christmas mania in October and November sets me ill at ease. I know that it's important to celebrate each holiday in its own season, but I struggle to articulate why.

I want Christmas to wait its turn because the Christmas season, as modeled by the consumer market, is not about anticipating Jesus' birth, but rather the Christmas season has become a time of overindulgence, overspending, greed, and gluttony.

But Christmas is not waiting its turn! And now, it is spreading throughout the year. Advent and the Christmas season used to make up 7%-11% of our year. Advent is a season of anticipating the coming of Christ. It encompasses the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas in the church year. On Christmas and for the next 11 days, many Christians celebrate Christmastide or the 12 days of Christmas. If you celebrate just Advent, it is 7% of your year. If you celebrate Advent & Christmastide, it is 11% of your year. But now, Christmas is spreading like a virus to other months, as it is approaching 25%+ of the year because it is taking over October, November, December, and even popping into July!

The beauty in mixing cultural holidays with the celebrations of the church year is being blurred and lost by the spreading of Christmas. We are missing out on a critical season of thankfulness. As soon as the air starts to turn crisp, we start thinking of what we want for Christmas and what we hope to get. We are not counting our blessings, we are looking for more stuff.

Furthermore, Christmas' meaning has become unfortunately marginalized or lost. We may still read Luke 2 as a family before we tear into our giant pile of presents, but Christmas is increasingly becoming a season to focus on indulging ourselves and surrendering to a bad case of the Christmas Gimmes. We build up our wishlists and dream of what we might get for Christmas.

Additionally, Black Friday, the unofficial start of the secular Christmas season, has been creeping into Thanksgiving. Many people leave a meal called Thanks-Giving to fight over more things to put into their houses!!

We are losing our spirit of gratitude. We are losing our ability to give thanks. We are losing sight of Christ in His manager because our presents block Him from our view. But we can invest in and cultivate a spirit of gratitude. We can relearn how to be thankful.

Ways to Cultivate a Thankful and Grateful Spirit

*Take time to brainstorm all the reasons that you have to be thankful. Not necessarily by posting things on social media, but grab a pen and paper as you write out a list of everything you have to be thankful for.

*Give thanks to God and the people He used to bless you. Thank them for what they have done and who they are.

*Take time to count your blessings.
"Count your many blessings; name them one by one"
"When I'm worried and cannot sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep. And I'll fall asleep counting my blessings."

*Keep a loose grip on your stuff...or it may get a tight grip on you! Look through your possessions to find stuff you can give away and share your blessings with others.

*Volunteer in a homeless shelter or soup kitchen! Serve on a mission trip! Find ways to interact with or serve those who have less. Remind yourself when you are serving them, that Jesus told His disciples that when we serve the stranger, the hungry, the sick, the prisoner, those who lack clothes & basic needs, we are serving Him.

*Commercials, advertisements, and window shopping awaken a spirit of discontentment, envy, and longing. Try to find more wholesome, simple pleasures to replace these activities & their negative repercussions. Take walks in the fall (or winter) weather. Take joy in seeing beautiful Christmas lights displays (as long as you are not becoming jealous & discontented over yours!) through walks or drives around town.

*Make a gratitude tree. Cut out leaves on which you & your family write blessings and things you are grateful for.

*Take time to time to sit in silence and listen to the Lord.

*Find a Bible Study (or make your own) that focuses on rejoicing, be glad, joy, thankfulness, and other similar words. Immerse yourselves in these verses and memorize them.

Remember that you are heading off in a different direction from your popular culture. It will seem like an uphill battle. You may be called a Scrooge or a Grinch for not joining in the Christmas frenzy early. Who knows? After a month of thankfulness and gratitude, you may find that your Christmas season is impacted too.

What other ways do you practice and cultivate gratefulness and thankfulness?

Thursday, November 9, 2017

What Do I Put in My Mind?

What do I put in my mind? Although I could look at this question in terms of dvds, video games, or other forms of entertainment, I will answer in terms of books. Books are my primary source of entertainment, so while there are many similarities between these forms of entertainment, the wording of this post will be asking about books.

A lot of us tend to view the world in terms of black and white, right and wrong, good and evil. Sometimes, especially it seems, when it comes to entertainment, there are a lot more shades of gray than we are comfortable with.

There are multiple categories of books and not all should be read. We may be used to viewing books in two categories (good or evil), but more categories are needed to fit all the different types of books in the world. Today, we will look at three categories (good, garbage, and fluff).

Good, pure wholesome fiction or non-fiction: These books challenge you and spur you on to be more Christlike as you continue to follow His way. Some of these books encourage you to look back at how far you've come, to give you strength to keep running the race ahead of you. These are the best books (in my completely unbiased opinion).

Garbage fiction or non-fiction: These books are filled with trash, due to their language, explicit content, and ungodly examples. Garbage books make you want to take a shower after coming into contact with them. These books urge you to leave the racecourse in the name of your freedom and blaze your own trail through sin-soaked land. The path you are leaving behind is the godly path. These books are better left on the shelf or better yet, in the trash.

Empty, fluff fiction or non-fiction: These books have none (or few) of the negatives associated the garbage books, but neither do they have (many of) the positives associated with the wholesome books. I think of these books like cotton candy or a sleeping potion. They congratulate you for being such an awesome person and give you the impression that you have arrived, that you are done changing and growing.

There's a lot of confusion over the empty, fluff books. A lot of us read them and think that we are reading good books. Yet, instead of challenging you and spurring you on to go deeper into your faith, these books placate you and subtly imply that your race is done. They feed you the lie that you do not need to keep changing and for that reason, they are highly dangerous books.

I do enjoy a good fiction book, but I don't like a lot of contemporary fiction, even those sold in Christian bookstores! Books like Little Women, Little Men, Jo's Boys, Pollyanna, An Old-Fashioned Girl, Eight Cousins, Rose in Bloom, and more along these lines are fiction, but they still challenge me to conquer my little vices along with the characters in the books. I love fiction books that teach great Truths so subtly through their pages so that I can see Jesus just out of sight on the page. Sometimes, I'll even stop reading to join the characters in making a change to my life or house!! At the end of the day when I read this kind of book, I feel pleased with how I spent my time. It was relaxing, profitable, and challenging all at the same time.

On the other hand, when I read fluff books, I read and my life stays the same. I am not inspired to grow and change with the fictional characters. After reading this type of book, I end my day feeling mentally bloated from too much reading and dissatisfied from wasting my day. I am not a better person or more Christ-like after reading a fluff book, and that spoils the enjoyment I get from reading.

So my question for you is this: what kind of books do you read: wholesome books, fluff books, or garbage books?
What books (fiction or non-fiction) challenge you and spur you on in your efforts to be more Christ-like?
What books hold timeless truths and glimpses of the divine on their pages?
What books do you go back to reread when you need encourage to keep in the race?
What books do you recommend to others?

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Doing Your Half in Marriage

A lot of times, I hear people talking about how they do their half in their marriage. But marriage isn't about doing your half. It's about two people giving it their all.

Below is a picture I took when this idea was bumping around my head. Ironically, to get this picture, I made all of the bed and then unmade my husband's half for the picture...only to remake his side too once the picture was taken.



Look at the ridiculousness of this picture. How silly the bed looks half-way made!!

All too often we Christians do this in our marriage because that is what the world teaches. Instead of following the world's teaching, we should follow Christ's way because His way is the way to life everlasting.

The world teaches us that we should only do our half of the chores, but Christ's way reminds us to be merciful, have compassion, and serve our spouse.

The world teaches us that we should nag our spouse to get things done, but Christ's way reminds us to pour ourselves out like an offering.

The world teaches us to demand our rights and our "fair" share, but Christ's way calls us to surrender our rights and treat our spouse as we want to be treated.

The world teaches us that we "deserve" Hollywood's version of romance or we have the right to look for someone else to make us happy, but Christ's way reminds us that love is patient, kind, forgiving and so much more. We look to God for our true source of joy, not another fallible human.

So the world's way or Christ's way? Halfway or all-the-way sold out. Selfish or selfless? Serving yourself or serving your spouse? Looking out for your rights/#1 or loving your closest neighbor as you love yourself?

A piece of advice? Don't just do your half in a marriage, go all the way, 100%, no reservations, completely all in for your spouse. Even if they never fully reciprocate, you still are obeying God and your marriage is getting 150% between the two of you. Don't follow the world's way, but follow God's.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Will You Choose Death or Life?

Imagine that you had a superpower. It's not the power of flight, super-speed, or invisibility, but it is the ability to cut a person down where they stand or raise the downtrodden up. What is this superpower?

It is the power of words on your tongue. It is a superpower that we all have.

Far too often, we cannot tell the difference in the conversations of a Christian and the conversations of a non-Christian. Well, one may say "heck" instead of "hell," but the conversation themes are frighteningly similar.

We even hear the same phrases uttered by either group.
"I'm just telling it like it is."
"If I'm mean/sarcastic/insulting, it's a sign that I like you."
"It's better for you to hear it from me."
"Did you hear about _______?"
"It's just a joke. Can't you take a joke? I'm just kidding; lighten up!"

Frankly, I am sickened by the use Christians have been making with this superpower. We have the power to build each other up, but we are using it to tear each other down instead. Bah!!

I expect depravity and petty hurtfulness from the world and its people, but I expect more of Christians. We who bear the name of Christ are called to be light and salt. Instead of shining light on the path to Jesus and helping to preserve people, we are shining the light on the worst areas of people to ridicule them and then rubbing salt in their wounds. We have become all too fluent in the worldly language of sarcasm. Sarcasm has no place in the life of the believer. It is cruel and is designed to hurt or cut another person down. We use sarcasm to speak rude things to each other with a laugh and a thin smile.

PEOPLE ARE DYING!! PEOPLE ARE TAKING THEIR OWN LIVES!! Why?!?!? Because culture has convinced them that they are worthless, hopeless, irredeemable, and broken. And the church is reinforcing that message instead of speaking truth, life, and hope to people. We speak words of condemnation to those who are already hurting, instead of pointing them to the true source of grace, mercy, and healing. We speak of judgment, but fail to point to the hope people can have in Jesus Christ. We cry out that the wages of sin is death, but fail to mention that the gift of God is eternal life.

The Bible has a lot to say about words and their power.

Proverbs 6:16-19 lists 6-7 things that God hates. They include a lying tongue, a wicked/scheming heart, false witnesses, and conflict stirrers in a community. How many times have we added fuel to the fire by gossiping or saying things that we know will stir the pot? God have mercy on us!

Proverbs 12:18 tells us that "the words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing." Are your words piercing people and their souls like swords, or are your words bringing healing to hurting people?

Proverbs 15:4 states that "the soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit." Are your words crushing the spirit of a person, or are your words soothing and a source of life?

Proverbs 18:21 tells us that "the tongue has the power of life and death..." Are your words bringing life or death to those who hear you?

Matthew 12:35-37 is a scary passage. Jesus is teaching that good people bring good things from the good inside them, but evil people bring evil things from the evil inside them. Every person on this earth will give an account before God on the day of judgment for every empty word that they have spoken. Your words will acquit you or your words will condemn you. The danger isn't just speaking evil words, but there is an equal danger in speaking empty words. How have you been speaking?

James 1:26 tells us that if you think of yourself as religious, but yet you have a loose tongue that is not reined in, you deceive yourself and have a worthless religion. Do you keep your tongue reined in or is your religion worthless?

James 3:1-12 is a whole passage on taming the tongue. It is called boastful, corrupting, fire-setting, and a world of evil. It is a restless evil and is full of deadly poison. How can we praise God and curse man with the same tongue? People are made in God's likeness. How are you doing taming your tongue? Are you letting it set fires?

Ephesians 4:29 is a familiar passage that exhorts us to prevent unwholesome talk from coming out of our mouths. Let words that build others up according to their needs be spoken. Speak words that benefit those who listen. Do your words tear others down or build them up?

1 Peter 3:8-12 challenges us to be like-minded, sympathetic, loving, compassionate, and humble. We should not pay back evil for evil or insult for insult, but rather we should pay back evil done to us with blessings. Do you retort with evil/insults/curses or blessings?

1 Thessalonians 5:11 tells us to "encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing." Are we in fact encouraging each other and building each other up? Or are we doing something else?

Hebrews 3:13 commands us to "encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness." Do you encourage each other every day?

Your tongue is capable of speaking words of life or death. Which are you using? Which will you choose?

Friday, November 3, 2017

Citizens of God's Kingdom in an Earthly Empire

Paul talked about how to be a citizen of God's kingdom, while in an earthly empire. Throughout Acts and the Epistles, we see how Paul uses and refers to his Roman citizenship.
-He used his earthly citizenship for the benefit of God's kingdom, as we see when he pulled out the Roman citizen card to get out of an unjust beating and back to the mission field.
-He taught that we should be good earthly citizens and obey what we can.
-Yet at the same time, Paul taught that we should civilly disobey laws that contradict God and we should always resist empire idolatry.
-He showed through his life and the suffering he endured that we should follow God's law above all else, but expect to be punished by the pagan empire for such obedience.

But I have trouble imagining Paul writing a letter to the early church full of patriotic pride.
-I can't picture Paul encouraging them to put trappings of empire in the church.
-He instead encouraged them to focus on God's kingdom through reaching the people of the Empire.
-Paul taught that we should pray for the empire's leaders, but we should make sure to pray for God's kingdom to come at least as much as we pray for the empire, if not more.

Paul recognized that his cultural empire and God's kingdom were going in different directions and he decided to follow God's kingdom instead of the earthly Roman Empire.

As I reflected more on biblical-era Roman culture, I realized something profound...The USA is a modern-day Rome. We are not in a Christian culture, but rather we are in an Empire culture.

We are the Empire
An empire doesn't value young lives (Rome allowed infanticide; the USA allows abortion), but Christians should value all life, whether that life is unborn, newborn, prisoner, elderly, or enemy.

An empire celebrates violence (Rome gloried in violent games in the Colosseum; the USA revels in violent football, wrestling, and other sports in a variety of arenas), but Christians resist conforming to the patterns of the world and instead strive to overcome evil with good.

An empire practices idolatry (Rome worshiped its leaders; the USA worships its leaders and their political parties), but Christians worship the only One deserving of praise, honor, and glory.

An empire uses its military to achieve its goals (Rome prioritized and honored its strong, active military; the USA outspends the rest of the world in military spending), but Christians are peacemakers. (Look up the difference between a peacekeeper and a peacemaker). Christians love their enemies, pray for their persecutors, and turn the other cheek when attacked.

An empire encourages a hedonistic atmosphere (Rome had rampant homosexuality, prostitution, and fertility cults; the USA has the LGBTQ movement, prostitution, pornography, and the free love movement), but Christians put to death their sinful natures and keep the marriage bed pure. Christians do not participate in degrading and dehumanizing acts because they value humanity being made in the image of God.

An empire boasts of its power (Rome was thought to be the greatest empire in the world; the USA's citizens will tell you that this is the greatest country in the world), but Christians know that the Kingdom of Heaven truly is the greatest.

An empire oppresses the weak. (Rome achieved its "greatness" through oppression; the USA built its greatness on the backs of slaves, discrimination, and oppression), but Christians follow their Servant King's example as we honor one another above ourselves.

An empire's citizens are more concerned with their rights than if they should do something (Rome promoted individual rights-Paul needed to give his "you have the right to do anything, but not everything is beneficial" pitch for a reason; the USA declares that they have the right to ______ because this is the land of the free), but Christians value others above themselves as we look to the interests of others.

An empire promotes many idols. (Rome loved money, pleasure, and comfort; the USA has the same values. We consume more than our fair share of resources, in the name of our "right" to do so because of our hard work. We work long hours to earn more money to spend on ourselves), but Christians love God so much that we do not let ourselves get entangled in the trappings of the world.

You may be thinking that because you don't endorse or want the empire priorities, that therefore we are not in an empire. There were Christians back in the Roman Empire. They didn't endorse the empire's methods or priorities, but followed God's Kingdom priorities, even though they suffered for it. Our American culture values the same kinds of things that the Roman Empire valued.

But there is hope. When Christians, who live within an Empire, begin to faithfully serve God's Kingdom, lives are changed. We live in an Empire, but we have the choice to serve the Kingdom instead.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Where Your Value Comes From

My husband has an unofficial catchphrase: "Your value does not come from _____________." (Can a catchphrase be modified each time it's used?)

My value does not come from whether I hit my steps goals for the day.
My value does not come from whether I am caught up on housekeeping.
My value does not come from an empty sink.
My value does not come from how successful I am at my job.

Instead my value comes from God.
I am His child.
I am made in His image.
He looked at mankind and declared His creation very good.

If I get my value from an earthly, temporal thing or achievement, there will be days that I fall short and don't measure up. Then I will be devastated because I am not measuring up.

If I get my value from the God of the universe, then I can rest secure in who I am, because God doesn't change.

So say to yourself when you fail at a task, "My value does not come from perfection or constant success." But also say to yourself when you succeed, "My value does not come from this current success or hinge on continued success."

My value comes from who God is and who I am in His eyes.
God sees me completely.
God knows me fully.
God loves me anyway.

Get your value from God.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Biblical Alignment Check-Up

What would the world look like if we Christians found out what God thought about different issues and then we aligned ourselves to His views?

Please hear me all the way out before grabbing your tar and feather kits for implying that your views aren't godly.

So often in my life and the lives of other Christians, we read the Bible for ammunition, to defend our views. We find a verse, or just part of a verse sometimes, that supports "our" view, so we slap a label of "Christian" on our opinion and declare that anyone who thinks differently is ungodly.

Yet, maybe we are going about this the wrong way. Maybe we shouldn't be reading the Bible to gain heavenly support for our arguments, but rather, maybe we should be reading the Bible to find out God's view on a matter and then align our view with His.

If we examine our beliefs, our opinions, our political views, and our national priorities by holding them up to the light of Scripture, we might be surprised to find that God hasn't been on our side in the matter after all, but rather God is waiting for us to join Him on His side.

Occasionally, when I want a big picture view of the Bible, I will do a 90-day blitz through the Bible. It requires reading about 15 chapters a day, but it has the benefit of being able to cover Genesis to Revelations in 3 months. I like to do this kind of blitz when I want to find out God's view on a matter.

It takes more time, but as we read through the whole Bible, we can note in a journal all the references the Bible makes on a certain subject. We can note when God issues a command for or against the subject matter. We can read when history records the subject matter as happening and study what happens when it occurs. We can find advice on the subject as well. Then when we are through our 3 month study, we can have a clearer picture of God's view on the subject matter. It should be a clearer picture than just a few out-of-context verses that support what we already think.

If we turn to the whole Bible for our guidance on how we should live, and then we put it into practice, it will change how we relate to the world and each other.

Instead of asking what we should believe to fit in our political party, shouldn't we be asking what does God believe about our issues in politics?

Need a place to start?
-What is God's view of widows and orphans?
-What's God's view of the poor?
-What's God's view of strangers, aliens, or foreigners?
-What's God's view on violence?

          What does He command Israel and Christians to do concerning these people?
          Am I doing this?
          What else should I be doing to obey God and love my neighbor?

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

We Need to Stop Dismembering God

Are you wondering where I am going with this post after reading the title? Me too. I hold to the belief that everything good, true, and pure comes from God. Yet we fixate on parts of God's character & worship it instead of Him. Worshiping anything, even a part of God Himself, instead of all of God, is idolatry.

Our minds don't like paradoxes, so we pick and choose which traits to focus on. We downplay or ignore traits that our cultures don't value, that make us uncomfortable, or that seem to contradict other parts of God.

So we are essentially dismembering God. We take His love, cut it out, place it on a pedestal, worship it, and condemn others for not doing the same thing we are.

God is loving, but He is also wrathful.
He is jealous, but God is also compassionate.
God shows mercy, but He also exacts judgment.
He is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, but He is also the Lamb of God.
God offers grace, but He also demands holiness.
He is the leader of a heavenly army, but He is also the Prince of Peace.
God is to be feared, but He is also our hiding place.
He is the Eternal King, but He is also the Suffering Servant.
He told us to put away our swords, but He also told us He would bring divisions.

Some of these are easy to accept, but others are a challenge. We cannot only choose the traits, characteristic, and aspects of God that we like best, but rather we are to study all of Him, even the difficult bits. To worship God, we need to worship all of Him.

But we need to go further than simply recognizing and worshiping all of who God is. We need to be able to see Him in His creation as well. We like things to be clear-cut, tidy, and black & white, so we paint things and people with very broad strokes. We are all good. They are completely evil. Our political party is godly, but theirs is practically demonic. We don't see the good in "others" (whether we're talking about a political party, religion, nationality, or any other division of us vs. them), because we don't look for the good in them.

I say again, anything good, true, or pure comes from God. Anything that causes us to think about or remember God and worship Him is both sacred and godly.

This doesn't just apply to our group, but to every group in the world. Anything good comes from God. Anything that rings of divine Truth comes from God. Anything so beautiful that you breath a prayer of thanksgiving to God, comes from God.

There are snippets & fragments of God's Truth all throughout the world, because all good, pure, lovely, true things & values are God's. Even in other cultures or religions, we can find Truth that points us to God.

Parts of God's heart, but not ALL of God's heart, can be found in political party platforms.

Some of God's Truth, but not ALL of God's Truth, can be found in good art, books, and even other religions. This is not to say that all religions are equally good or all religions lead to heaven, but rather that anything good in any religion comes from God because He is the true source of all good.

So look for the godly, the Truth, glimpses of the divine everywhere and you will not be disappointed. Most of the time, we look for the good in our group and the bad in the groups of others...and we find it. Then we puff ourselves up while criticizing the faults of other groups. If they dare to suggest that our group has flaws...well, we deny, cast blame, or point fingers. This is a wrong focus.

If we look for the bad in our group and the good in others' groups, we will find it. We criticize ourselves for the past sins of our group, mourning the mistakes made by Christians long ago. We polish the best traits of other groups and put them on a pedestal, and lament that we are not better. This too is a wrong focus.

Instead, we should look for God in everyone and everything. Then give thanks to God for everything good that reminds you of Him. We should look for godly traits not only in our friends, but also in our enemies. God cares for the poor, the marginalized, the prisoners. He also cares for the rich, the powerful, and the oppressors. He wants to see everyone come to repentance. Remember that every good (godly) value comes from God. Just because someone else values something else does not automatically mean that they are valuing something evil. First look at what they are valuing and ask yourself if it is godly. We serve a complex God. Anything that rings of truth or focuses your eyes heavenward or causes you to think of the Creator, comes from God because apart from God, there is no other source of truth or goodness.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Looking for Christ in Others

This is the end of my series on the factions in Roth's books. The rest of the series is herehereherehere, here, and here.

Every person has things & ideals they value. Frankly, we value some things & ideals so much that we not only idolize them but vilify others who dare to value something else more. My friends, this is not a good thing to do!!

In the Divergent world, the five factions clash a lot. If they were in our world, they'd be making social media groups where they agree how awesome they are & how blind the other factions are. If they formed denominations, they'd be questioning the others' salvation.

Let's play out a few scenarios to see how the factions would attack each other:

Abnegation would ask the others how they could be so selfish!
Amity would frown over the divisiveness of that statement.
Candor would own its selfishness and be ready to point out your flaws as well.
Dauntless would scorn their perceived meekness as a sign of a weak character.
Erudite would either be too deep in a book to care about Abnegation's statement or would be utterly outraged when Abnegation suggested that their book fund should be donated to the poor.

Amity would ask why it was necessary to be divided into groups. They would suggest a cookout.
Abnegation would agree...if the factionless (poor) were invited too.
Candor would ask why they should spend time with you, since they don't like you. See the truth hurts.
Dauntless would come for the food and then start competitive games of strength.
Erudite would come if there was a quiet corner to read and skip the small talk. It is logical to eat when it is offered.

Candor would tell you your faults & strengths
Amity would ask Candor why it was so negative & fault-focused. People already know their flaws and need encouragement.
Dauntless would punch Candor for criticizing them.
Abnegation would revive the unconscious Candor.
Erudite would ask Amity why they wanted to live in ignorance, even as a dazed Candor asked why it should hide the truth.

Dauntless would ask why people did not want to know, face, and overcome their fears.
Abnegation would shake their head at the self-centered focus of knowing my fears, facing my fears, and overcoming my fears. If we forget ourselves, won't that erase our fears?
Amity would point out that people's fears do not lead to peace or harmony, but division & hate. In the ideal world, people would overcome their fears, but Amity would struggle with dredging up the worst in people in the process of overcoming fears.
Candor would claim that they do know their fears because they are honest, but they don't face them as thoroughly as Dauntless.
Erudite would ask and see if they could study people in their fear scenarios and write a paper on it.

Erudite would ask why people didn't study or learn more.
Abnegation would tell them that serving the poor is more important than knowledge.
Amity would tell them that living in harmony & peace is more important than knowledge.
Candor would tell them that speaking the truth at all times is how people learn about themselves and others.
Dauntless would show Erudite that they had learned the practical skills: fighting, defending, mastering their fears. What else is needed?

There would be bickering, insults, and fighting if these factions lived in our world. But we fight among ourselves even without factions like Roth's.
"How could someone who values ______ be a Christian?"
"How could someone not value ______ like I do? Don't they read their Bible?"

Now please listen...er read...carefully: everything good, every pure ideal & value, all beauty comes from God. Jesus would not be placed in a faction, political party, or even church denomination because such a narrow, human construct could not contain all of His goodness. So we dismember Jesus. We build walls around our group, effectively cutting off parts of Jesus' nature that don't fit in or mesh well with our beliefs, that make us uncomfortable. To accept all of Jesus is to look for Him everywhere, even in other groups or across the aisle. Then we will be more Christ-like instead of trying to form Jesus in our image.

Then we can say to Abnegation: I see how you strive to be selfless like Jesus. Jesus does value selflessness.
Then we can say to Amity: I see how you surrender your preferences & submit to the group like Jesus submitted to His Father's plan. Jesus does value peace & harmony.
Then we can say to Candor: I see how you strive for honesty because Jesus is the Truth. I see how you speak hard truths like Jesus spoke hard truths to the religious leaders. Jesus does value truth.
Then we can say to Dauntless: I see how you strive to protect the weak like Jesus did. Jesus proclaimed freedom to captives and release to prisoners.
Then we can say to Erudite, I see how you strive to be a good teacher like Jesus..the Good Teacher. I see that knowledge can point us to God. Jesus taught the crowds and His disciples.

Once we can see Jesus' traits in other groups, we can start to pray to be fully Christ-like.
Lord, may I be selfless like you. May I be friendly, peaceful, and harmonious like You. May I be truthful like You. May I be courageous & defend the weak like You. May I seek after You, to know you more.

Once we can do that with fictional divisions, we can look for the real divisions in our world and do the same thing.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Erudite in the Christian Walk

You can check out the rest of this series hereherehere, here, and here.

Today's musing is based on the Divergent series' faction of Erudite and what godly traits can be seen in their faction. Once more, I wonder what Bible verses, books of the Bible, and people in the Bible would be favored by Erudite folk. What songs in the hymnal would they be drawn to? Let's jump right in.

Erudite's Favorite Verses:
Theme Verse: Proverbs 18:15 the heart of discerning acquires knowledge and the wise seek it out.

They would also like these verses:

Psalm 119:66 teach me knowledge & good judgment because I trust you. This would be their prayer.
Proverbs 13:16 the prudent act with knowledge, fools expose folly.
Hosea 4:6 People are destroyed from lack of knowledge.
1 Peter 1:5-8 Add goodness to faith & knowledge to goodness & self-control to knowledge & perseverance to self-control & godliness to perseverance & mutual affection to godliness & love to mutual affection. Possess these qualities to be effective & productive in the knowledge of Jesus.
1 Corinthians 13:2 You can have knowledge without love, but you are nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:12 In the future, I will know fully even as I am fully known.

Their favorite book would probably be Proverbs for its pithy wisdom or any of the history books because yay learning!!

Erudite's favorite person in the Bible would have to be Solomon as the wisest king of Israel. They would also like Jesus because He is the great Teacher who makes you think through your faith. He knows all things.

When it comes to their favorite songs (from the Nazarene Hymnal Sing to the Lord), I imagine Erudite liking the following songs:
Tell the Blessed Story (#695)-Teach me & I will teach.
I Love to Tell the Story (#696)-Teach me & I will teach.
We've a Story to Tell the Nations (#698)-Teach me & I will teach.
Tell Me the Story of Jesus (#205)-Teach me & I will teach.
Apostle's Creed (#8) & Nicene Creed (#14) These are statements of belief to study and learn. Who needs songs?

A Erudite Prayer: May I seek to learn more of You, myself, & Your world. May I apply what I learn of You & keep on studying. May I obey Jesus, the greatest teacher who lived.

I look in the Bible and I do see how the wisdom that Erudite values can be a godly trait. Maybe I should join them in their prayer to be discerning & knowledgeable like Christ.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Dauntless in the Christian Walk

You can check out the start of this series herehere, here, and here.

Today's musing is based on the Divergent series' faction of Dauntless and what godly traits can be seen in their faction. Once more, I wonder what Bible verses, books of the Bible, and people in the Bible would be favored by Dauntless folk. What songs in the hymnal would they be drawn to? Let's jump right in.

Dauntless's Favorite Verses:
Theme Verse: Psalm 82:3-4 Defend the weak, fatherless, poor, oppressed. Rescue the weak, needy, and those who need delivered from the wicked.

They would also like these verses:
Deuteronomy 31:6 calls for people to be strong and courageous. They should not be afraid or terrified because God is with them & will never leave or forsake them.
Romans 14:8 outlines how we should live for the Lord & die for the Lord and either way, belong to the Lord.
1 Corinthians 13:7 Love always protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres.
Ephesians 6:10-17 The armor of God passage calls for people to be strong in the God's mighty power and to struggle against the forces of evil.
1 Timothy 6:12 Paul tells Timothy to fight the good fight of faith.
2 Timothy 2:3 Paul tells Timothy to endure hardship like a good Christian soldier.

Their favorite book would probably be Joshua or Judges since it records Israel conquering its land.

Dauntless's favorite person in the Bible would have to be the mighty men of the Old Testament like David, Sampson, and the others. They would also like Jesus because He did clear the temple and He gave His life to save us. He did not fear death, but rather, he conquered it.

When it comes to their favorite songs (from the Nazarene Hymnal Sing to the Lord), I imagine Dauntless liking the following songs:

Onward Christian Soldiers (#644): enough is said in the title. no explanation is needed

Soldiers of Christ, Arise (#629): see the explanation above

Victory All the Time (#648): It sets up the fight between right & wrong. It calls for people to fight the devil's forces.

Give of Your Best to the Master (#540): Yes, Abnegation would also like this song, but so would Dauntless. They would like to give of the strength of their youth. They engage in the battle for truth. Jesus is their example because He was dauntless, young, and brave.

A Dauntless Prayer: May I be a brave defender of the oppressed. May I be strong so I can defend the weak. May I follow Jesus' way as He bravely laid down His life to save us.

I look in the Bible and I do see how the courage that Dauntless values can be a godly trait. Maybe I should join them in their prayer to be brave like Christ.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Candor in the Christian Walk

You can check out the start of this series here, here, and here.

Today's musing is based on the Divergent series' faction of Candor and what godly traits can be seen in their faction. Once more, I wonder what Bible verses, books of the Bible, and people in the Bible would be favored by Candor folk. What songs in the hymnal would they be drawn to? Let's jump right in.

Candor's Favorite Verses:
Theme Verse: 1 Corinthians 13:6 "Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth"

They would also like these verses:
Psalm 25:5 Guide me in truth and teach me. This would be their prayer.
Proverbs 12:12 God detests lying lips, but delights in the trustworthy.
Proverbs 27:6 We should trust wounds from friends, but an enemy multiplies kisses.
John 8:31-32 Hold to his teaching and know truth. The truth will set you free.
John 14:6 Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.

Their favorite book would probably be Ecclesiastes for saying the hard truths about meaningless life or any of the prophets for speaking the truth.

Candor's favorite person in the Bible would have to be any prophet for speaking God's (unpopular) truths, but at the same time, they would love Jesus because A) He called out sins in the lives of the religious hypocrites and B) He literally said "I am the Truth."

When it comes to their favorite songs (from the Nazarene Hymnal Sing to the Lord), I imagine Candor liking the following songs:

I Know Who Holds Tomorrow (#612): This song speaks the truth of not knowing the future or understanding tomorrow.

The Solid Rock (#436): Lean on Jesus (the Truth). Stand on Him. All of ground sinks. Put your hope in Him (the Truth).

Where He Leads, I'll Follow (#481) He is our example and pattern, so  we should follow Him.

A Candor Prayer: May I be honest and truthful. May I be known to have Your integrity. May I follow Jesus' way since He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

I look in the Bible and I do see how the honesty that Candor values can be a godly trait. Maybe I should join them in their prayer to be truthful like Christ.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Amity in the Christian Walk

The first part of this series is here and the second part is here.

Today's musing is based on the Divergent series' faction of Amity and what godly traits can be seen in their faction. Once more, I wonder what Bible verses, books of the Bible, and people in the Bible would be favored by Amity folk. What songs in the hymnal would they be drawn to? Let's jump right in.

Amity's Favorite Verses:
Theme Verses: Romans 12:13-18 This passage commands believes to share with those in need, practice hospitality, bless cursers, rejoice with rejoicers, mourn with mourners, live in harmony, associate with all regardless of position, and live at peace. It fits their ideals quite well.

They would also like these verses:
Psalm 119:63 talks about being a friend to those who fear God & follow His laws.
Psalm 122:8 says that for the sake of family and friends, they say peace be with you.
Proverbs 17:9 says that anyone who would foster love covers over offenses. If someone repeats a matter, it can separate close friends.
Proverbs 17:17 says that a friend loves at all times (but a brother is born for adversity).
Proverbs 18:24 says that unreliable friends lead to ruin, but there is a friend that is closer than a brother.
1 Corinthians 13:4-5 says that love is patient & kind. It is not envious, boastful, or self-seeking. It does not dishonor others, get easily angered, or keep a records of wrongs.
1 John 4:11 says that God loves us, so we should love each other.

Their favorite book would probably be Ruth. She's loyal & stays with Naomi. Both women give up their preferences for social harmony.

Amity's favorite person in the Bible would have to be Jesus. He was called a friend of sinners and welcomed diverse people into His group.

When it comes to their favorite songs (from the Nazarene Hymnal Sing to the Lord), I imagine them singing these songs as they harvest their farms together:

For the Beauty of the Earth (#776): This is a song rejoicing in creation as they farm & celebrate relationships.

For the Fruit of All Creation (#773): This is a song that is thankful for the harvest & farming process. They help their neighbors and share the harvest.

All Creatures of Our God & King (#77): This is a song that celebrates with creation and calls for us to forgive others.

An Amity Prayer: May I yield my desires to the group. May I seek unity & harmony over being right or having it my way. May I follow Jesus' way of friendship with and compassion for the lost.

I look in the Bible and I do see how the harmony that Amity values can be a godly trait. Maybe I should join them in their prayer to be a friend like Christ.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Abnegation in the Christian Walk

The other day, I gave a brief introduction to the Divergent Series in addition to musing why I believe that every problem in the world can be traced back to selfishness. You can read that post here.

Yet, as I reflected more on each faction, I realized that each faction has some (but not all) godly traits that Christians should strive to implement.

When I think of the faction Abnegation, I can see Christ-like values in them. I let my mind wander and imagined what their favorite verses, books of the Bible, and people in the Bible would be. I imagined what songs they would pick out as their theme songs if they had a copy of a Nazarene hymnal (Sing to the Lord published in 1993).

Abnegation's Favorite Verses:
Their theme verse would be Philippians 2:3-4 where Paul talks about valuing others above ourselves and looking to the interests of others. This describes them to a T.

They would also enjoy the following verses:
John 15:13 They would lay down their life for their friends, because that is truly selfless.
1 Cor. 13:4-5 Love is patient & kind. It is not envious, boastful, or self-seeking. It does not dishonor others, get easily angered, or keep a records of wrongs.
2 Cor. 9:7-11 They give generously and cheerfully. They give gifts to the poor.
James 3:14-16 To justify their worldview, they would point to this passage to say that we shouldn't boast about or deny having envy or selfish ambition, because these traits lead to disorder and every evil practice.
1 John 3:16-18 They would remind each other to lay down their lives and keep sharing their materials possessions with those that do not have any. If they have stuff and do not share, how can they have God's love in them? They would like the practical side of loving in action and in truth.

I think their favorite book would be James. They would like the tying their faith to their actions, as well as James' critique that selfish ambition leads to evil practices. It is so practical and concise that it fits their priorities.

Their favorite person in the Bible would have to be Jesus. I mean He was the servant to all. He helped the poor and the marginalized. He even gave up the glory of heaven for a time to save us. He is the ultimate example of selflessness.

If they had access to the Nazarene Hymnal, I think they would love the following songs:

Make Me a Blessing (#533): This song has the prayer of "make me a blessing". It talks about how giving as given to us and asks for people to be a helper to helpless.

Make Me a Servant (#535): This song has the prayer of "make me a servant." It extols virtues like humility and meekness. It wants the singers to lift up the weak.

May the Mind of Christ, My Savior (#483): This song asks for peace so that they can be calm to comfort the sick & sorrowing. It wants people to exalt him (Jesus), even as they seek to abase themselves, because that is the way to victory. Their goal is to win the lost and for the lost to forget the channel (us) so that they only see Jesus.

Give of Your Best to the Master (#540): This songs calls for people to give the Master (Jesus) our strength, ardor (passion), and the best that can be offered. It wants people to follow His example and serve Him.

Take My Life & Let It Be Consecrated (#455): This songs encourages people to offer Him their moments & days. It asks for hands that move for Him. Throughout the song, it tells the Lord to take the person's riches, will, and self.

These songs have the theme of selflessness and service. So they fit in the Abnegation box pretty well.

An Abnegation Prayer: May I forget myself in serving You and others. May I become less so You may become greater. May I follow Jesus' selfless way.

I look in the Bible and I do see how the selflessness that Abnegation values can be a godly trait. Maybe I should join them in their prayer to be selfless like Christ.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

It All Comes Back to Selfishness

This post requires a little back story, so bear with me. There is a book series by Veronica Roth called Divergent. The books in the series are Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant. This distopian series is set in Chicago's future where everyone within the city walls is divided into one of five factions. When people come of age at 16 years old, they have the choice to remain in their faction of birth or choose another faction. Each faction was originally formed based on what people viewed as the principle problem of humanity.

Some people looked at the world and viewed selfishness as the root of all problems. So they strove to become selfless. They formed the Abnegation faction where they strive to forget themselves in service to others.

Others decided that the lack of friendliness is the root cause of evil in the world. So they strove to maintain group harmony and friendliness. They formed the Amity faction and are this society's main farmers.

Still others viewed dishonesty as the world's greatest problem. So they decided to be completely honest, no matter the cost. They formed the Candor faction and serve as judges.


Some people viewed cowardice and fear as humanity's principle problem. So they strove to be brave and fearless. They formed the Dauntless faction and serve as the city's police force.

The last group of people viewed ignorance as the main problem of the human race. If people just knew more about the world and the people in it, there would be less problems. So they seek after knowledge. They formed the Erudite faction and serve as the city's teachers and researchers.

So those are the five factions and a nutshell summary of their worldview & jobs.

Do any of these resonate with you? Do you view selfishness, lack of friendliness, dishonesty, cowardice, or ignorance as the root of the world's problems?

I believe that selfishness is humanity's primary problem. 
Why do we hurt others? Because we want our way. 
Why do we sin against God? Because we want to do our own thing instead of submitting to His plans. 

As I kept thinking about this theme, I realized that selfishness is the underlying root of the problems of all five factions. Let's look at them again through the lens of selfishness. 

Why are we (as humanity) selfish? We put our needs and wants before others' needs. We are more interested in making sure we get our "fair share" than fairly sharing with those around us.

Why are we not friendly? We put our preferences over group harmony and are willing to fight for our rights instead of submitting to the group's wishes.

Why are we dishonest? We value our reputation and safety more than releasing the truth that could help someone else. We want more resources and are willing to lie, cheat, and steal to get them.

Why are we cowardly & fearful? We value our safety over opening our lives to those who need protecting. We do not defend the weak because we might get attacked along with them. 

Why are we ignorant? We do not want to learn about those who are different. We do not care to stay informed about how we can make a difference for those who are struggling. If we keep the poor and foreigners as nameless statistics, we do not have to care. 

So I view all of humanity's problems as stemming from an innate, carnal selfishness that we are born with and must fight against every day we are alive. But I am not ending this post with the depressing fact that we are selfish. Now we will look at ways to be selfless and, may I be so bold as to add, more Christ-like.


Abnegation
Let us ask ourselves what areas can we cut back in so that we can help our local and global neighbors more.
Let us make the choice to dress simply, modestly, and practically so that we remind ourselves through our clothing choices that we are not the center of attention.
Let us be prepared to care for those on the margins of society who need extra help.

Amity 
Let us ask ourselves when can we yield our preferences to the group's decision because we do not need minor divisions to further fracture us.
Let us make the choice to submit to each other as much as possible instead of fighting for our rights at the expense of our fellowman.
Let us be prepared to be the ones to yield time and time again because we love others well and we put them before our preferences.

Candor
Let us ask ourselves if our reputation should be more important than speaking the truth.
Let us make the choice to honestly give our opinions and share hard truths that help us grow as humans.
Let us be prepared to be purposefully misunderstood by those willing to lie to get ahead even as we become known as people of honesty.

Dauntless
Let us ask ourselves who are in need of defenders and commit to both speak up for them AND intercede for them. (The poor, the foreigners who struggle to express themselves in their 2nd, 3rd, or 7th language, those preyed upon by the system).
Let us make the choice to refuse to participate in oppression in any form and to speak out against it.
Let us be prepared that some of our choices will draw negative attention and hate towards us for standing up for those on the margins of society. Let us count the cost and be protectors.

Erudite 
Let us ask ourselves each day what can we learn about our local and global neighbors so that we can understand them instead of fearing them.
Let us make the choice to study and develop good, helpful things for our world instead of destructive things.
Let us be prepared to continue to learn more about ourselves, our neighbors, our world, and our God as we better understand each person and thing in our lives.

It all comes back to selfishness, but there is a way to move past selfishness and choose selflessness. We can choose the Way of Jesus.


Monday, September 11, 2017

An Open Letter: To the One Who Stayed, From One Who Went

We attended church together. Living life with one another. Participating in church activities and other events. Until one day, when I announced that I would be going forth into the world for ministry. I was so excited to prepare for this mission God laid on my heart, so I shared my news with you. Yet some of you did not share my joy and the fire in me dimmed a little.

I know that you are a loving, sincere, godly person, which is partly why I was so blindsided that you weren't sharing my joy. Your words, regardless of the good intentions or playful banter you meant, carried far more sting that I think that you realized. Your smile as you spoke those words did not remove the barb your words placed in my heart.

Sadly, when I talk to others called to missions and ministry, they have encountered similar words with all-too-familiar barbs wounding their own hearts. This is coming from someone who went out into missions. I want you to know that these are NOT words support the missions-minded people in your midst.

What I Heard: God is telling me that you are supposed stay with us.
What My Head Understood: The speaker is going to miss us a lot & is not looking forward to us leaving.
What My Heart Felt: God speaks with one voice and the speaker is trying to play the "God card" to guilt me into staying instead of going where God is leading. This call is new and scary for me, and now I am doubting the Spirit's leading.
My Final Thoughts on This: Your message from God and my message from God are contradicting each other. They both cannot be true. Can I be honest? Your message sorta deflated me. It stole part of my joy of my calling. Your jest caused me stress and doubt. I'm sorry I didn't laugh much and that my smile seemed a bit forced.

What I Heard: Don't worry. They'll be back [to our church]. They are just doing what they feel God is telling them to do.
What My Head Understood: The speaker sees that God is calling us to missions, but hopes we will return.
What My Heart Felt: How sweet! The little child thinks God is calling her to missions. Don't worry. It's just a phase and she'll soon be back never to leave.
My Final Thoughts on This: Your message did not tell me that I am a fellow believer who is capable of listening to God's call and obeying. It is more patronizing and condescending than helpful. I feel belittled and written off. I am hearing the unspoken ending of your comment: I'm getting this call wrong because we "feel" God is calling us...but you don't think He really is.

What I Heard: You didn't ask me for permission to go to <place>.
What My Head Understood: You are sad that we are going and maybe a little hurt that we announced our plans instead of consulting you.
What My Heart Felt: Should I be conducting a survey before I do what God is calling me to do? Pardon my bluntness, did I need your permission?
My Final Thoughts on This: You're right. I didn't ask your permission. Because I don't need your permission. Frankly, I need very few people's permission to follow where God leads.

What I Heard: Let's pray that the doors don't open for this journey to happen. (i.e. house to sell, funds to be raised, etc.)
What My Head Understood: They are sad that we are leaving and don't want us to go.
What My Heart Felt: Are there people praying that hurdles will be raised between me and this ministry? Isn't fighting the devil's forces enough? Must I fight the church's "prayers" too?Our prayers are conflicting each other. God cannot answer two opposing prayers at the same time. Why aren't you praying that I follow God's will? Why are you trying to up the cost of following Him?
My Final Thoughts on This: You can pray prayers like that...but it doesn't mean that you should. Honestly, it hurts to feel that some people at my own church are not supporting me in this mission. It is much more necessary to have prayer warriors praying for us and the real challenges we will face instead of people praying against us.

I do understand the point the speakers meant to make in these examples, but I doubt that they realized how much more difficult my transitions were for me, because of these words. When I was preparing to uproot myself from my family, my home, and my 'normal life', I did not feel supported and encouraged by some within the church community. The church is supposed to be a sending agency, so freely send.

Now all that being said, our parents and many wonderful, loving people were awesome with our move into missions. They were excited for us and they sent us on our way with promises of prayer and support. They prayed for us, encouraged us, let us store things in their homes, supported us financially, and sent us on our way with blessings. That is an image of what the church is supposed to be. In fact, the previous post is all about those highly helpful & encouraging messages we got from many of you.

I hope I wasn't too harsh here. Hearing others in ministry around me receive comments like these still causes my heart to throb with pain even though it has been years since I first heard these comments and began the forgiveness process. So please carefully weigh your words. See Proverbs 12:18Ephesians 4:29, and Proverbs 18:21.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

An Open Letter: To the One Who Encourages, From the One Who was Sent

As you know, God calls people into missions and ministry with Him. We who are called share this announcement with you, our families and church families. So many of you responded with overwhelming love and support as you prepared to send us forth. Thank you.

I'm not sure if you realized how much your words and gestures meant to us as we prepared to go and as we went where we were sent. So I will tell you now those things that you said and did that meant so much to us.

Some of the comments we received from others carried a hidden barb, but your sweet words helped carry us through moments of doubt, exhaustion, and trials on our way to the place of our calling. Your words helped us endure while we were there.

Prayers
-We're praying for you.
-Let us know how we can pray for you.
-You are in our prayers.
All of these promises and sentiments bolstered us. You let us know that you would be interceding for us on a regular basis. Thank you for your prayers.

Confirmation
-We have seen this call on your life for a long time.
-We affirm this is God's call drawing you.
-I knew you would be a missionary for years.
Sometimes we doubt our call. We wonder if we are projecting our desires and wishes onto our plans. We want to confirm that we are interpreting the Bible, the Spirit, and our experiences correctly. Your confirmation reassured us and spoke against our doubts. Thank you for your confirmation.

Connection
-Please give me your address so I can write you.
-Can I send you care packages?
-Got an e-mail address that I can write to?
-Can you put me on your newsletter list?
When you wrote or sent us care packages, you sent the message that we were not forgotten even though we were out of sight. Getting letters of encouragement or care packages with things that were hard to get or expensive in our neck of the woods (but cheap in the US) meant to world to us. How much did it mean to us? Think "Wall of Encouragement." I put your letters, drawings, and pictures on our wall to encourage me and bring a smile to my face every time I walked past it. Thank you for making the effort to stay connected despite the distance.

Speaking Engagements
-You are "our" missionaries at our church, featured on our missions wall!
-Come to our church and speak in Sunday School or in an evening service. I know you haven't left yet, but we want to hear about what you expect to be doing.
-You are invited to come back after your trip and tell us what happened. Pictures are appreciated.
People love to speak about things they are passionate about. We are very passionate about missions. Thank you for showing up to listen to us talk about missions and for asking questions. We are excited to talk about where God is leading us and about a people you may not know, but whom God loves deeply.

A Listening Ear 
-Please post lots of pictures of your life in the new place.
-When you come back, I want to hear the long version of your trip.
-The more photos the better.
-Tell me about your trip.
Those of us who go on mission trips soon learn that when we return, most people want the short summary or the one sentence synopsis of our trip. To find someone who wants to hear all about our trip: the highs, the lows, the challenges, how we saw God move, where we plan to go from here, etc., that person is pure gold. Thank you for listening to us ramble, even when we have trouble explaining what we have experienced.

Those of us who have been sent out by God to new fields thrive on your encouragement. Thank you for being willing senders of missionaries, pastors, and workers into the harvest field. In my next post, I will be looking at some of the phrases that discourage those of us being sent out for missions, but I wanted to thank you for your love before looking at a few phrases I pray people will stop saying to those called to missions.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

God Make America into a Place You Desire to Bless

I see it all the time on social media, "God Bless America." It's a song. It's a prayer. It's a slogan. Instead of scrolling past the sentiment, I paused and considered it more fully. I had the distinct thought pop into my head as it blatantly challenged the status quo, "Why *should* God bless America? We aren't doing what He commands."

I look at our culture and ask myself why should God bless America?
Why should God bless a country where abortion has been legal for 44 years?
Why should God bless a country that idolizes the rich, the famous, and the sexy?
Why should God bless a country that over-consumes the world's resources and underpays its workers?
Why should God bless a country that preaches to "follow your heart" and "be true to yourself"?

I think about these actions that are in direct opposition to God and His commands. Perhaps like Jonah, I want to write off this country as undeserving of God's blessing. And you know what? I am right. America does not deserve God's blessing because no one does. I do not deserve God's blessing and neither do you. A blessing by its definition is a favor or gift of God, which therefore cannot be earned or bought.

So America does not deserve to have God bless it, but as the Weeping Prophet reminds me (Jeremiah 29), we are to seek the welfare of cities we have been placed in exile. Pray for the welfare of the cities & countries we are placed. May we pray, as citizens of America and citizens of the world to become a place that God desires to bless, a place that walks in obedience to His commands and seeks His kingdom before its own.

Let's zoom into a passage of the Bible that most of us have heard a thousand times: Matthew 5:3-12. This passage is commonly referred to as the Beatitudes. Let us see how America is doing with the Beatitudes and pray that God will make America into a place He desires to bless.

Verse 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Is America poor in spirit? We are rich in wealth and consumerism, pride and rationalization, but we are lonely, lost, and isolated. I guess we are poor in spirit after all. Bless us, Lord, for we are poor in spirit.

Lord, we are poor in spirit. We are a culture of instant gratification and technological marvels, but all the things in the world cannot fulfill or stifle our need for you. We may have things, but we are lonely, anxious, and depressed. We have money in our bank accounts, but we are poor in spirit. Cultivate in us a desire to seek Your kingdom first. Bless us, Lord, for we are poor in spirit.

Verse 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Is America mourning? We mourn for the ever-elusive "good, old days" when things seemed simpler and slower. We mourn for those we have lost to sickness, to murder, to the gods of our culture: Money and Consumerism. I guess we do have reason to mourn. Bless us, Lord, for we are mourning.

Lord, we are mourning. We have lost favor, as Christians, in the eyes of our culture and we mourn. We see a rapidly changing world that spurns the things You have taught us to value and we mourn. We have suffered loss and face new diseases and threats we never imagined would exist one day and we mourn. We are in need of Your comfort today. Bless us, Lord, for we are mourning.

Verse 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Is American meek? We are bold, brazen, prideful, arrogant, and proud. We trample the meek in our quest for more things, either by depriving them of adequate resources to survive & thrive or by paying them poorly in the quest for bargains. We have valued ourselves more than others as we have labeled meekness as a trait of the weak. Bless the meek, Lord, for we have dealt poorly with them.

Forgive us, Lord, for we should be meek.

Verse 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Does America hunger and thirst for righteousness? Do we eagerly seek to live rightly with You, with our fellow countryman, and with our global neighbor? Or do we thirst after the gods of this world: Fame, Fortune, Power, and Greed? We have reassured ourselves that our motives are pure and the end will justify the means, but we have forgotten that You have called us to be holy. Bless those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, Lord, who desire You more than anything else in the world.

Forgive us, Lord, for we do not hunger and thirst after righteousness. Awaken in us, Lord, the hunger and thirst for righteous living.

Verse 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Is America merciful? We have taken revenge and dressed it up as a poor farce of justice. We cry out for blood and retribution after bombings, shootings, acts of terrorism, threats, and even perceived slights. We preemptively strike our enemies before they attack us. We take a life for a life instead of turning the other cheek. We hit back twice as hard when we get struck. Bless those who show mercy, Lord, even when they are hurting from wrongs inflicted on them.

Forgive us, Lord, for we are not merciful. You have shown us mercy, but we are like the unmerciful servant in Jesus' parable. You show us mercy (that we do not deserve) and yet we exact the full payment we are due from others. Teach us to be merciful. Please.

Verse 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Does America have a pure heart? Do we avoid the sinfulness saturating our culture? Do we give up our right to watch & read what is popular, because it does not bring You glory? There is a lot of mud and slime coating the entertainment of this world. We compromise and slowly slip down a slope where we impress worldly things on our hearts. Bless those who have pure hearts, Lord, and purify our tainted hearts.

Forgive us, Lord, for we have sullied the hearts You placed in us. We have dabbled in things that create callouses and hardened hearts in us. The mud of the world clogs us ears so we do not hear Your Spirit's guidance. Create in us a pure heart, Lord, for ours have been tainted by the world and its entertainment.

Verse 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Is America a peacemaker? A peacemaker makes peace wherever they go. A peacekeeper enforces peace through the threat of violence. A soldier or military force can maintain or restore peace by the presences of weapons, but a peacemaker tries to make peace through reconciliation of quarreling groups. We have assumed that these are the same thing because they both start with peace, but You have called us to be peacemakers. Bless those who are peacekeepers, Lord, and give us courage to follow Your path to peace.

Forgive us, Lord, for striving to be peacekeepers. Grant us the courage to be peacemakers in our homes, communities, countries, and world. Help us to let go of our weapons we use to have control in a frightening world.

Verse 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Is America persecuted because of righteousness? We are challenged because we have been enforcing global peace at the end of a gun. We are challenged because we care more about good deals and low prices than human lives. We actually have become a place that persecutes the righteous as intolerant, bigoted, hate-filled, hypocritical, self-righteous, pompous fools. Bless those who face persecution, Lord, and give us the courage to stay true to You no matter the cost.

Forgive us, Lord, for crucifying those who attempt to follow Your commands. Grant us courage to obey You no matter the earthly cost. May we seek Your Kingdom and Your righteousness before all other things.

Verse 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Verse 12 Rejoice and be glad,because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Is America insulted, persecuted, and falsely & evilly slandered because of Jesus? Can you imagine the complaints? "How dare you feed our people suffering from famine!?!" "How dare you spend your defense budget on a global clean water initiative!?!" "How dare you refuse to bow to my gods!?!" "How dare you say I am a sinner, a bad person!?!" "How. Dare. You." What started off as humorous complaints, quickly grew more serious. The world will insult those who follow Jesus. The world will persecute those who follow Jesus. The world will slander, libel, and smear those who follow Jesus. Our motives will be questioned. Our routines will be turned upside down. Our very lives may be forfeit. Bless those who pay the cost of following Jesus, Lord, and may we be meek peacemakers in the face of persecution.

Sometimes, Lord, we have gone from the persecuted to the persecutor. We jump on the bandwagon of roasting leaders and the famous for failing to do things we are not doing either. Forgive us for trading insult for insult, persecution for persecution, and spoken evil for spoken evil. May we rejoice in persecution because it increases our heavenly reward, even as it burns off the impurities in our earthly lives.

This post turned out much differently than I expected. I was knocked off my high horse of scornful judgment rather forcefully. I looked in the mirror and saw Jonah staring back at me. I saw Jeremiah shake his head as I was too busy judging and condemning to apply his message. I call myself a foreigner, exile, and ambassador of Christ, but I forgot how exiles are supposed to live in the place God has placed them.

Forgive me, Lord, for I have too swiftly acted as judge and jury. I have written off an entire country as undeserving of Your blessing. I have desired Your judgment and wrath to be poured out in condemnation of a nation. I did not take the time or make an effort to reach out to these people I wrote off long ago. You long for them repent and draw near to You, but I long for their judgment, knowing full-well what the outcome should be. Thank You for Your grace, Your gift I could never earn or buy. Thank You for Your mercy, even though I fully have earned the punishment Jesus took on Himself. Forgive me, Father, for I had forgotten to be merciful. May You make America into a place You desire to bless and may You use me to be a blessing in this place. Amen.

Maybe I cannot fully pray "God bless America," but I can pray "God, make America into a place You desire to bless" and that, at least, is a step in the right direction.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Not My Vice

In the life of each individual, there are certain weaknesses and struggles that each person will have over the course of their life. However, weaknesses, struggles, and vices can vary from person to person.

For me personally, I am not addicted to coffee or pop. They are not my vices. I rarely ever want either beverage. Other people really struggle with limiting their intake. I shouldn't judge them for their struggles and expect them to overlook my different vice.

We run into problems in the church when we vilify a person who struggles with certain sins, because it isn't a sin we ourselves struggle with.

For example, we silently judge the homosexual or unwed mother in our community, because "how could they so blatantly break God's law?" while we help ourselves to the third plate of food at the church dinner.

Yes, the Bible condemns homosexuality as a sin and sex outside the bounds of marriage. Gluttony is also a sin and so is pride.

If we thank God that we are not like the _______ sinner, then we are being like the Pharisee instead of the tax collector in Luke 18.

God doesn't have a point system to get into heaven. He doesn't rank them and have a list of the worst and least bad sins. He doesn't say that cursing is -10 points, but pride is -30 points. There is a line on the ground. If you have sinned, you are on the far side of the line, separated from God. Thankfully, God offers mercy to the repentant sinner. If you submit to the Lordship of Jesus, His blood covers your sins and allows you to cross the line.

So maybe it is time that we stop silently judging those who struggle differently than we do. Maybe it is time for us to say, "You struggle with X. I struggle with Y. Let's challenge each other to cast off our sins by God's grace."

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Loving the Other Side

When something controversial hits the news, every few days, I sometimes break my rule of internet-ing and read the comments to an article. Why do I read the comments? So much hate. So much scorn. So much anger.

As a Christian myself, my thoughts are directed to the other Christians commenting and posting about the controversy at hand. Instead of holding criticism of Christianity up to show how persecuted* we are in the U.S., I challenge believers to surround the controversial events in prayer.

-Pray for Christians to have discussions that are both loving and gentle. Pray for Christians to live 1 Peter 3:15-16. (Discussion means that you hear what the other side says, not use the time when their lips are moving to think of more arguments).
-Pray for people to have open hearts & minds as they learn about world events and discuss them.
-Pray for Christians to meet hate with love, anger with peace, intolerance & mockery with prayerful answers.
-Pray for God to use these events to draw hearts closer to Him.
-Pray that these events doesn't alienate & turn off those who are not Christian, but lead to more discussions characterized by compassion.
-Pray that God will raise up Christians to *know* what they believe, *why* they believe it, and how to lovingly *share* their views without hate or judgment.
-Pray for those who suffer persecution and who face beatings, threats, death, loss of property, and more around the world.

Christians, may your words be steeped in 1 Peter 3:9, 13-16 as you respond to people about the latest controversy and at all times.

9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. ... 13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

 New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


*As a side note, I recommend that American Christians who talk about persecution in the U.S. read about the persecution of the early church (beatings & death) and the persecution of believers in other nations (described by organizations such as the Voice of the Martyrs). Remind yourself what the Bible says about how we our to treat our persecutors and what our response to persecution should be. Pray for places where persecution goes beyond hateful words and financial repercussions. Pray for places where persecution is rampant due to owning a Bible, having or attending a house church, or converting a local. The mood in America has changed, but then again, the Church does not always display the love God asks us to show, the Church does not always reflect the attitude of the early church believers who rejoiced in their ability to suffer persecution for Jesus' sake.