Is It Dangerous to Think?

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Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. Luke 24:45

Or to put it another way—it’s impossible not to think.

But… isn’t that dangerous? Doesn’t “thinking” lead us down all the wrong paths?

Often when I hear popular Christian leaders spouting political opinions (left and right), I wonder, “Where did you get that? That’s not in the Bible. That doesn’t sound like Jesus.” Then I go to the Bible myself, asking the Holy Spirit for guidance. Usually I find that a favorite political belief is spun off from a minor Bible verse with little or no related context. That’s dangerous. When we embrace others’ opinions as Truth, we might not be trusting the Holy Spirit to guide us.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. Proverbs 3:5-7

Here’s the thing… Everyone thinks. So we need God’s guidance. Fortunately, He’s given it to us, as long as we open our mind to it. When we allow Him to, God does show us His way.

In fact, the real danger is in closing our minds to the Holy Spirit.

And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Matthew 12:31

When we pretend we’re not depending on our own understanding, we’re actually soaking up understanding from sources around us—politicians, media, news programs, friends—even well-intentioned pastors. And that’s much more dangerous than thinking for ourselves. So read, pray, and think. Trust that the Holy Spirit is more dependable than any human.


What Makes MY Ears Itch?

Progressive 48For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 2 Timothy 4:3

I see this verse used a lot as a condemnation of progressive teaching, especially the current political hot-button topics. But is it aimed at progressive teaching?

But what if I applied it to myself? What do my ears itch for? What do I really wish for?

  • Not gay rights—I’m heterosexual.
  • Not justice for the poor or oppressed—I’m middle-class and white.
  • Not abortions—I’ve never had one, and I never plan to.

So what do MY itching ears want to hear?

  • That God wants ME to be rich (or at least upper-middle class), and that I’ll never worry about running out of money.
  • That if I work really hard and if I’m good, He will bless me.
  • That “those people” are bad, and I don’t have to actually get to know people who make me uncomfortable.

In other words, if I were to suit my own desires, I would seek out right-wing fundamentalist teachers. I would hear that God blesses me because I please Him (but He doesn’t bless “outsiders”). That I deserve to be comfortable because I tithe and teach Sunday school to children who look a lot like my own children. And that I can ignore or vilify anyone who makes me uncomfortable or unhappy.

It would be so much easier to sit back and enjoy my life as a “good” Christian. But Jesus wants me to care about rights for the oppressed, justice for the poor, and caring for unwanted children.  (FYI, I’m pro-life, not just pro-birth.)

So what kind of teachers was Paul talking about when he said this to Timothy? The answer is found above it, in 2 Timothy 3:

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. 2 Timothy 31-4

I know some right-wing ideologues who fit this description. Do you?

Most importantly, I try not to read the Bible with other people’s sins in mind. What matters is that I don’t get too smug or selfish. I don’t assume that any Bible verse is mine to use as an attack on someone else.  All I’m called to do is love them. Yes, I have an opinion, but I believe God’s message can reach anyone, even the hopelessly rich and pious… if they’ll only listen. The only person I need to work on is ME.

More violence. More… kindness?

1447530257730I spent yesterday media-free, blissfully unaware of what was going on in the rest of the world. (Yes, it can be done.) When my husband came home, he told me there had been another act of terrorism, this time in Paris. I was feeling particularly fragile, so I asked him not to tell me the details.

Anyway, I know enough to guess: there was violence in some part of the world. People died. I know some people feel such strong hatred toward other people that they feel the need to kill. They have a point to prove; but what is their point? It’s lost in the shock and the grief. Yeah, they hate us, and we hate them. That’s the lingering message.

What more do I need to know? Violence. Hatred. Anger. Fear. Now people on our side feel such strong hatred that they feel the need to retaliate… and the violence spreads. It spreads in talk of war. It spreads in words. It spreads in bullying. It spreads when young men pick up guns and shoot into crowds of innocent people. And it spreads when we look suspiciously at people who might otherwise be friends.

We will never solve the problem of violence, but I hope we can find a way to keep it from spreading through our souls. I believe the only anti-violence is KINDNESS. No matter how illogical it seems, I do believe people can be cured with kindness. And I will do my best to spread it among those people who are willing to accept it.

Pass it on.

It Is Not the Healthy Who Need a Doctor, but the Sick

Progressive 35On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17

Fundamentalists are really eager to diagnose other peoples’ “illnesses.” But they have no plan or prescription, except, “Stop being sick.”

Statistics show that the church is shrinking. Young people don’t want to go. Why not? The big screens aren’t big enough? The music isn’t cool enough? I doubt it. The church is shrinking because it thinks it’s a club for the elite. “Good Christians” come to boost their own egos and to show each other how righteous they are. As long as it stays that way, people will stay away in droves. More and more, they will define themselves as “spiritual but not religious” and look elsewhere for help.

So, what is the diagnosis, and what is the cure? Fundamentalists would say the illness is homosexuality, laziness, or promiscuity (but only among women. Promiscuous men seem to be exempt) and the cure is to just stop being that way. (Repent!) Maybe some people can simply drop their old habits, but not me. For me, repentance has been a lifelong, zigzagging road. (And I’m still on that road.)

I believe the illness that Jesus talks about is loneliness, and we all need to become “caregivers” for one another. I know what loneliness feels like, and hopelessness, and desperation. And I know these things are not cured with a few words like “repent” or “Jesus loves you,” or even the best Bible verses. I know what it feels like to hate my life so much that I think I can’t take another day. And those feelings did not magically disappear when I became a Christian! The only way to treat this is a steady, ongoing application of love (real, flawed, imperfect love) combined with an ongoing search for–and acceptance of–God’s perfect love. As Christians, we have no right to withhold God from people whose sins we don’t approve of.

Let’s move our egos aside to make room for those who need God (just as much as we do). As Jesus washed the feet of His disciples, let us wash the feet of all who are willing to come.

Jesus answered … “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:13-15)

That Old Question: Law vs. Grace

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For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

Grace: …a spontaneous gift from God to man – “generous, free and totally unexpected and undeserved”. (The New Dictionary of Theology)

Law vs. grace. Which do we follow? The good news is that we get to choose–well, both.  When we really accept grace, we don’t just brush the law aside; we want to please God, and we keep trying. But when we choose the law, we brush grace aside!

Sadly, some small but very vocal groups have hijacked the media, leading people to believe that Christianity is all about law and punishment and hell. It’s not.

Yes, God wants us to follow the law. Otherwise we take advantage of the gift of grace. “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” (Romans 6—the whole chapter) and “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” (Romans 3:20)

And… accepting His grace allows me to obey the law. We cannot ever earn God’s favor. “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” (Romans 3:20)

So which is right? Ultimately, grace is what sets Christianity apart from other religions. Because of Jesus, we don’t have to obey the law, but because we have been freely granted grace, we want to please God. “For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh.” (Romans 8:3)

“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17)

Let’s accept God’s gift to us. All Christians have been given the free gift of grace; it would be rude to turn it down.

Will I Get Struck By Lightning?

Progressive 33So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

The man asked him, “What is your name?”

“Jacob,” he answered.

Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” Genesis 32:24-28

Jacob was a difficult man. He lied to his dad and he cheated his twin brother (Esau) of his birthright. And when he fought with God (or an angel), God not only blessed him but renamed him Israel—”He who struggles with God!”

If there was hope for Jacob (and there was a lot), there’s hope for me. Like Jacob, I struggle with things I don’t like. I get mad at God when things don’t go my way! And, more than anything else, I struggle with the “Why” questions: “If God is all powerful and all loving, why does He allow suffering?” I still haven’t found an answer that fully satisfies me, and I won’t pretend the answers I’ve heard do satisfy me. They don’t. And that leads to doubt.

In Bible studies, I think I make people uncomfortable. When everyone has agreed how meaningful a passage is and how wonderfully God has worked in their lives, I’m the one who ruins that moment of bliss with “But what about…”

Yes, I am familiar with the verse, “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.” (James 1:6) Some churches teach that if we doubt at all, even a little, that leads to the “slippery slope” of disbelief. But here’s the thing. I doubt. I question. I CAN’T NOT question, and I’m not satisfied with pat answers. I think too many people believe that “doubt=sin” and must be squelched. And certainly, letting your doubt drag you down is not good. But pretending we have no doubt is worse. If we don’t face it straight on, it sits there like that moldy tub of “something” in the fridge, and we have to keep pushing it to the back and ignoring the funky smell. I’ve chosen to accept my doubt, keep reading and praying, and admit that God will, in time, answer all our questions.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1

The Earth Belongs to God

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The Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him. (Psalm 24:1)

Christians should be at the forefront of caring for the earth. We know the artist; why not his greatest work of art? Why do we follow behind the rest of the world in creation care?

As climate change has become ever harder to ignore, businesses and politicians have convinced Americans—especially Christians—that there is no such thing as climate change… then that it’s just the natural fluctuation of the earth’s climate… and then that it might be real, but caused by God himself: the actual end times. All these reasons lead to the same conclusion: apathy. There’s no reason for us to act, because it’s all God’s doing anyway. *Yawwwn.* Apparently He cares so little about the Earth that he’s willing to wipe it out as an object lesson, right? So if He doesn’t care about it, why should we?

I feel differently. If there is to be an apocalypse, (Disease… Heat… Dried up rivers… Dead fish… Disappearing islands… Weird weather…), it appears that it will be cause by us. I want no part of that!

But… We don’t have to go that way. I love God’s creation, and I plan to do all I can to help save it. I love and respect it as His own. God’s work is amazing!

Praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights above.

Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his heavenly hosts.

Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars.

Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies.

Let them praise the name of the Lord, for at his command they were created,

And he established them for ever and ever—he issued a decree that will never pass away.

Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,

Lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding,

You mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars,

Wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds,

Kings of the earth and all nations, you princes and all rulers on earth,

Young men and women, old men and children.

Let them praise the name of the Lord,

For his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.

And he has raised up for his people a horn, the praise of all his faithful servants,

of Israel, the people close to his heart.

Praise the Lord. (Psalms 148)