2 Timothy 4:1-8 Itching Ears and the Crown of Righteousness

8 05 2013

 

What-I-Want

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully. 2 Timothy 4:1-4 (NRSV) 

I’d have to say that the time is already here where people won’t listen to sound doctrine, and that there are plenty of teachers and preachers out there catering to the itching ear crowd.  I’m not the one to go out there with Chick Tracts or to scare the bejezus out of people with fear of hellfire.  I do believe in a real, literal hell, but I also understand that fear of hell doesn’t save- only the grace of God in Christ does.

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This being said, a Christian pastor who is doing his job isn’t always going to be popular, and the sermon should make you squirm from time to time.  I can’t say that I agree with everything that comes down from the pulpit, especially when it challenges my understanding of orthodoxy, but I do understand that the pastor’s job is to preach, teach and challenge me.  If what he (they) is (are) saying doesn’t inspire serious prayer, study and reflection- even if I still don’t agree- then either I’m not listening to the pastor, or the pastor is afraid to get me where I live.   I am thankful that for the most part the pastors at my church aren’t afraid to tell it like it is and they aren’t afraid of “offending” anyone.  “Christian” is not a synonym for “nice.”

Sometimes being nice is un-Christian, especially when it is necessary to tell that truth or give that wake-up call.

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I pray that the Holy Spirit will give me the discernment to accept right doctrine even when it seems contrary to my notions of orthodoxy, even when it’s not comfortable because it calls me out on my own sin, and to remind me that I’m not a dog.  I don’t need my ears scratched.  I need the truth, even when it hits me where I live.  Even when it offends.

“As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:4-8 (NRSV)

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At first I had to wonder what Paul was getting at, but looking a little bit deeper we can see throughout Paul’s letters that he insists that righteousness is something that:
a.) Does not come from observing the law or by our own good works.
Is the law then opposed to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could make alive, then righteousness would indeed come through the law.But the scripture has imprisoned all things under the power of sin, so that what was promised through faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” Galatians 3:21-22 (NRSV)
b.) Is found only in the mercy and the grace of God in Christ.
“Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death,if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:7-11 (NRSV)
 
“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Titus 3:4-7 (NRSV)
So the good works that we do are merely the good works that God created us to do and that God gave us the resources to do.
“I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6 (NRSV)
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.” Hebrews 12:1-3 (NRSV)
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Now if you really want to get into something weird in Revelation (and now that I found it, I’ll probably have to keep digging…) check this out:
And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing,
‘You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.'” Revelation 4:9-11 (NRSV)
 
I understand that Revelation is apocalyptic literature, and therefore there is a great deal of symbolism and allegory to be had in that particular book.  There are many groups who have theories (here’s one of the more theologically sound ones) as to who the twenty-four elders refer to.  You can pretty much disregard the ones that involve monsters and space aliens, unless of course, you’re into that.  I’m not much into literal interpretations of Revelation or way-out versions of end-time prophesy, but what I take from this passage is that everything that the “great” people of God ever had came from God and all the glory goes back to God- and that worship is infectious. (in a good way of course.)
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Proverbs 28:14 The (Reverent) Fear of God, and a Heart of Flesh

8 04 2013

Banner red hearts-heart of worship

“Blessed (happy, fortunate, and to be envied) is the man who reverently and worshipfully fears [the Lord] at all times [regardless of circumstances], but he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity.” Proverbs 28:14 (AMP)

Fear is generally a negative concept for me, so as I was drawn to the second part of this verse (“he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity”) I wondered why (in the NRSV translation, which is the one that my church generally uses,) the first part of this verse reads, “Happy is the one who is never without fear.”

Say what?  How many times are we told in Scripture, “Be not afraid?”  The other thought that crossed my mind, was that if fear makes you happy, then I should be the most elated woman on earth.

This is one reason why I do eventually want to learn Hebrew and Greek, so that I can read the words from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.  But even if I were to start my education in the Hebrew language today, it’s going to take awhile before I learn what the letters and phrases really mean (denotations as well as connotations.)  So when one Biblical translation doesn’t quite make sense or isn’t clear, I like to try some different ones.  The Amplified Bible that I quoted above can be a bit cumbersome to read, and in that translation one can lose the poetic literary feel of Scripture, but it does draw out and clarify seemingly contradictory verses such as this one.  It is generally a good idea to look at a few different translations of confusing or seemingly contradictory verses:

Blessed is the one who always trembles before God, but whoever hardens their heart falls into trouble. Proverbs 28:14 (NIV)

Happy is the man who is always reverent, But he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity. Proverbs 28:14 (NKJV)

A tenderhearted person lives a blessed life; a hardhearted person lives a hard life. Proverbs 28:14 (MSG)

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The fear of God is not the same thing as the pervasive anxiety that can and (sometimes does) paralyze me and keep me trapped in terror. I like the word “reverence,” because it does insist respect for God, but it doesn’t quite convey the same idea as when Isaiah fell flat on his face, exclaiming, “I am a man of unclean lips, because I have seen the Lord, God of Hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5)

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever. Psalm 111:10 (NRSV) 

Here where the psalmist is speaking of the fear of the Lord, I can assume he’s talking about that reverent fear, the condition of putting God first before one’s own understanding and one’s own wants.

It is a good thing to be tenderhearted, but I don’t think that just being tenderhearted is the entire picture here either.  There are plenty of atheists, agnostics and humanists out there who are tenderhearted and will do anything to save the trees or save the bees, or “stop global warming,” or “end capital punishment,” and so on, but who do not acknowledge the sovereignty of God.  The Apostle Paul saw the humanists coming, and he gives us a warning about serving the creation versus the Creator:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth.  For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves,because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”  Romans 1:18-25 (NRSV)

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The problem with just being tenderhearted, is that it matters what you’re tenderhearted toward.  It is good and right to be respectful of God’s creation and to be a good caretaker of the earth and of the blessings He has given us. God does reveal Himself to us in His creation.  That’s sort of His point toward the glory and beauty and majesty in nature and in all the wonders that can be observed in the cosmos.  He put that stuff there to point to Him!  But when the love of nature or the love of stuff, or the sovereignty of science become your god(s), and hedonism is your creed, there’s a problem.

Then there’s the person like me, who has (I hope) a healthy, reverent fear of God, but little to no natural tenderhearted tendencies.  (Empathy is not generally a strong trait in those on the autistic spectrum.) I’m wary.  I’m cynical.  I’ve been deeply wounded emotionally, and trusting people is next to impossible for me.  How am I supposed to have a tender heart- because I wasn’t really wired that way?

The sin of the Garden – the sin of the Fall- was the sin of wanting to be as God.  To see good and evil.  To hold the power of life and death.  To think that humanity has all of its own answers and fixes and solutions for everything.

The surrender in another Garden was the sacrifice of the Son of God- Who put aside the authority of His deity and took on human flesh, to die an ignominous death- to save both the unbelieving (but tenderhearted) hedonist, and the believing (though wounded and hard-hearted) runt kid nobody wanted.

“A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26 (NRSV)

Lord, let it be so.  Give me a tender heart toward You and Your will, and eyes to see people as You do.





John 16:33- Jesus Wins!

4 04 2013

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“(Jesus said:)I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace and confidence. In the world you have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]! For I have overcome the world. [I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you.]” John 16:33 (AMP)

Jesus understood how difficult life could be for us, and how badly we need encouragement at times.

This life is not the end, even when it is easy to get to the end of hope.  It is easy to be overwhelmed by physical pain, by emotional distress, by all of the problems that plague humanity.  It is easy to be afraid, to withdraw, to try to escape the expectations and criticisms of others.   There is more to life than the routine of: get up, go to work, go home, go to bed.  There is something beyond loss and pain and disappointment.

As a person who struggles with both depression and chronic pain, the reality that Jesus has overcome the world is good news.  Otherwise life would be completely pointless and hopeless, with nothing to look forward to other than ever-increasing physical pain, as well as ever-increasing disillusionment and disappointment.

It’s easy to let circumstances steal our joy, but we learn from Proverbs that it’s not about our circumstances:

“Blessed (happy, fortunate, and to be envied) is the man who reverently and worshipfully fears [the Lord] at all times [regardless of circumstances], but he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity.” Proverbs 28:14 (AMP)

The Apostle Paul echoed this sentiment to the Thessalonians as well:

“Be happy [in your faith] and rejoice and be glad-hearted continually (always); Be unceasing in prayer [praying perseveringly]; Thank [God] in everything [no matter what the circumstances may be, be thankful and give thanks], for this is the will of God for you [who are] in Christ Jesus [the Revealer and Mediator of that will]. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (AMP)

On the surface it seems to me like Paul is saying that we should be slap happy all the time.  When I first read this passage I thought ot the 90’s cartoon Ren and Stimpy, in which Stimpy was a happy-go-lucky fat cat, and Ren was a nervous, paranoid and seething little Chihuahua.  In one episode, Stimpy is upset that Ren isn’t happy.  So Stimpy manufactures a “happy helmet” for Ren, so that Ren can be happy all the time.

ren happy helmet

Stimpy’s invention didn’t work out well.

God never asked us to deny our true emotions, but He does ask that we surrender everything to Him.   He has ways of transforming us and changing our perspective when we surrender ourselves to him.

“You have turned my mourning into dancing for me; You have put off my sackcloth and girded me with gladness,

To the end that my tongue and my heart and everything glorious within me may sing praise to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.” Psalm 30:11-12 (AMP)

We aren’t going to be happy all the time in this world.  But even through our mourning, our disappointment, our pain, in Christ there is a steady and strong undercurrent of joy- not a superficial, feigned happiness, but a true and lasting joy.

Lord, I pray that we can see through our tears and trials and cling to the joy we find in You, and lift our hearts and voices in praise no matter what our circumstances.





Matthew 28:1-8 Back from the Dead? Really? (Easter Sunday)

31 03 2013

 

Empty-tomb

“After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.  And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.” Matthew 28:1-8 (NRSV)

I find it hard to imagine being one of these women.  Their beloved Teacher was brutally murdered and the last they’d seen of Him is when His body was wrapped and placed in the tomb to be buried.

To come to His grave to pray and mourn was probably almost more than they could bear.

Then to be told,”He is not here, He is raised,” would have seemed to be too good to be true.

This account speaks to the cynic in me.  I’ve never seen an angel in real life as far as I know, and people don’t just raise themselves from the dead. I would have a really hard time taking this guy seriously, whether he claimed to be of the heavenly host or not.

I could see me being more like the disciple, Thomas.  I’d be the one wanting see-it-for-myself proof.

“But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’  Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.'” John 20:24-29 (NRSV)

I have a hard time taking others’ words for anything.  Because I am skeptical and cynical and stubborn by nature, I see exactly where Thomas is coming from.  My response to those who promise monumental deeds or fundamental change is generally, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

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This is where a good number of people out in today’s world stand as far as Christianity.  As a person with more than a few atheist/agnostic friends, if the topic touches upon my faith, they ask me questions such as:

“Who cares about some Jewish dude who supposedly came back from the dead 2000 years ago?”

“What does the “Kingdom of God” mean today when there is so much suffering and evil and corruption in this world?”

I don’t have any scientifically acceptable answers to that question.  There is all kind of suffering and evil and corruption in today’s world.  I can’t even begin to explain how a person like me ever was able to come to faith in God, or what value God sees in an obscure purveyor of automotive parts in an obscure part of the world, let alone why the Son of God would die for someone as inconsequential as me.  It is by the grace of God in Christ alone, and that’s the only answer I have.

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I’m not a theologian or a scholar or anybody important, but I do pray that by the grace of God I can help build His Kingdom here on earth, and that by His grace maybe I can show someone else what that Kingdom looks like.

That is the message of the empty tomb, for those of us who believe to go out and live in a manner that reflects that faith- even though we have not seen the wounds in His hands, His side and His feet- we still know that Jesus is Who He says He is- the Risen Son of the Living God.

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1 Peter 1:18-19 The Paradox of Judas and Jesus (Holy Week Wednesday)

27 03 2013

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“You must know (recognize) that you were redeemed (ransomed) from the useless (fruitless) way of living inherited by [your] forefathers, not with corruptible things [such as] silver and gold, but [you were purchased] with the precious blood of Christ (the Messiah) like that of a [sacrificial] lamb without blemish or spot.” 1 Peter 1:18-19 (AMP)

Interesting, the paradox of this week.  First, Jesus rides into Jerusalem seated on a donkey, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 –

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Zechariah 9:9 (NRSV)

Then just a few short days later, Judas betrays Jesus and offers him up to the high priests for the equivalent of less money than it would take to fill up a Honda Accord.

Jesus freely gave His precious blood, that has value way beyond any material currency here on this earth, to redeem us from the conditions of sin and death that humanity put in motion to begin with.

Somehow, it seems like a rather raw exchange.   Even I want to say, “Jesus, you got ripped off!”

I can’t help seeing a deep injustice here.  Jesus was sinless, yet He had to endure the torture and death on the Cross?  Crucifixion wasn’t really done in the neat and easy and clean way that medieval and Renaissance authors usually depict it.  The artwork is aesthetically pleasing, but not terribly accurate. It’s a lot more bloody and dirty and nasty than the sanitized painting above.  Mel Gibson had the gory details of Roman torture and crucifixion portrayed pretty closely in his movie The Passion of the Christ.

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Unfortunately we are more like Judas than we want to admit.  How often do I sell Jesus down the river for trivial things that have no eternal value?  How often do I overlook or miss an opportunity to be a part of His Kingdom to do something else?  How many times do I make decisions without thinking about whether or not my actions are pleasing to God?

“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.” Matthew 10:32-33 (NRSV)

This statement Jesus makes is scary.  I know that I don’t acknowledge Jesus in everything I do 24/7, 365.  Sometimes my behavior and actions and the words I say betray my faith.

I don’t want Jesus to look at me come Judgment Day and say, “I don’t know you.”

The good news is that (paradoxically) Jesus forgives us when we ask Him.  He forgives the penitent sinner, no matter how badly we have screwed up.  We are not forgiven because we are such great people.  Left to our own devices we end up like Judas- selling out Jesus for the most trivial and mundane of things, and sinning over and over and over again in spite of “knowing better.” Our salvation is made possible only by the greatness, love and mercy of Christ.

Mercy

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35-39 (NRSV)

I thank God today that Jesus took the punishment that I deserve.  I pray that the Holy Spirit will help me live in response to His priceless gift of salvation.





1 Corinthians 9:24-25 Race to Win, and Colossians 3:1 My Parents’ Wisdom

20 03 2013

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“Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it.  Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one.”  1 Corinthians 9:24-25 (NRSV)

Today’s question:

Are you “running the race” for a heavenly prize or an earthly one?  What does this imply for how you discipline yourself?

I’ve never been much for competitive sports.  First of all my physical coordination is abysmal, and I have no athletic ability.  I remember attempting to play softball when I was a small child (before I got rheumatic fever and was forbidden from organized sports.)  I was usually last in the batting order and way, way out in the outfield.  Until my grandmother made the school aware that my family doctor had forbidden me from gym class and brought the doctor’s note, I actually did take gym class -until I was in eighth grade and ended up in the ER with a badly sprained ankle from attempting to run laps.  It was not pretty.  Everyone else knew how badly coordinated I was and how bad I sucked at every single activity in gym class, and so I was always chosen last for teams.  Sometimes the kids fought over who had to take me, although if the boys were included in the team activity, I was usually preferred over the not-so hygienic boy who ate boogers and dead bugs.

I do believe in personal fitness, even though I don’t get into organized sports.  The current wisdom for people like me with joint damage and minor heart valve damage is that exercise is necessary and healthy, including plenty of cardio, and preferably no or limited impact exercise. Swimming, walking or bicycling are the preferred types of exercise for me as I have a good deal of deterioration in my joints.   No, I don’t have six pack abs and I will not be doing any biathalons any time soon.

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The only one I “compete” against is me.  How many laps can I swim or how many minutes can I put in on the elliptical machine?  Probably not as many as most people, but I know that exercise is necessary for bodily health, so I do it the best I can.

I’ve long since been tired of the always-on mentality this society wants people to have- achieve this, get that, know this, do that.  In the eternal scheme of things, how much do those things really matter?  Not flipping much.  The more time goes by I care less and less about much of what the world deems to be important.

I can’t say that I always live in such a manner that I am working toward the “imperishable wreath.”  I’m not the most disciplined individual.  I have many flaws. I make a lot of mistakes.  And this journey would be completely impossible for me, save for the strength and power of Christ.

 

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“So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” Colossians 3:1 (NRSV)

Today’s question:

What attitude taught by your parents do you need to reaffirm?

Mom and Dad have a sort of strange relationship as far as their faith.  Mom converted to Catholicism when she was in high school- before Vatican II.  She is very much a practicing Catholic, including saying Rosaries, going to Confession regularly, praying to various saints and observing holy days and seasons.  Dad grew up as a Regular Baptist, but dropped out of the church when there was a scandal involving the leader of the youth group he belonged to.  Even though Dad isn’t directly involved in a Christian community, he does know the Bible and he does pray, and he lives as a Christian witness. Both of their traditions are highly conservative, and they actually agree on core issues such as the sanctity of human life, but those traditions’ theologies  are strikingly different, to put it mildly.

From one side (mostly my grandmother) I heard that a person had to accept Christ and pray the “sinner’s prayer” to be saved. From my Mom’s side I heard you have to be baptized and believe and then follow all the rules and maybe you’ll be saved and maybe not.  So Mom and Dad didn’t agree on how one is saved, or means of grace, or what sacraments are and aren’t.  (I don’t agree with either of them on the issue of sacraments!) That confused me.  So I had to find these things out for myself, which isn’t easy to do when your parents disagree on important issues of faith.

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As time went on I observed their attitudes toward each other’s faith tradition soften.  Part of that I think was the influence of ecumenism and Vatican II, when it was declared to Catholics that Protestants were no longer to be deemed “heathens” but considered to be “separated brethren.”  I think we are all “separated brethren” over some things, and part of our calling in this life is to agree to disagree and love God and each other anyway.

I don’t see Dad becoming Catholic anytime soon, but I do believe that I will see him in heaven.  I believe I’ll see Mom too, even though I don’t see her at the tent revival running up for the next altar call.   God makes fewer distinctions regarding who’s in and who’s out than we do.

I’ve really been encouraged that they pray together.  It took years for them to actually do that, but they do now.  That’s something that I wish that I could do with Jerry, (I’m always praying for him, whether he knows it or not,) but he is an agnostic and thinks prayer is a lost cause.

If I am really seeking the things of Christ, then I would seek to reconcile myself not only with God, but with those who don’t share my faith.  Sometimes it breaks my heart, but Jesus calls us to love others even when they aren’t lovable, and when we disagree.

 





Vanity and Knowledge vs. Innocence and Humility

13 03 2013

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“I, the Teacher,when king over Israel in Jerusalem, applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.

 What is crooked cannot be made straight,  and what is lacking cannot be counted.

I said to myself, ‘I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.’ And I applied my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a chasing after wind.

For in much wisdom is much vexation, and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow.” Ecclesiastes 1:12-18 (NRSV)

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“He (Jesus) called a child, whom he put among them,  and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’ Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:2-4 (NRSV)

Ecclesiastes is one of my favorite books of the Bible.  At first it seems rather depressing and despondent, but I can see and feel where Solomon’s coming from.  When I was growing up my family always had high standards, and the pursuit of education was especially prized.  Failure and mediocrity were not tolerated.
Because I had unusual gifts, my parents placed higher expectations on me (at least academically) than on my older sisters.  I didn’t always appreciate the dog-and-pony show that accompanied my precocious reading ability- “Oh, show Mrs. so-and-so how well you read the dictionary!,” got old very quickly.   I got tired of hearing how I should help my sisters (the same ones who would beat me up and take my stuff the minute there were no adults around) with their homework because they struggled with spelling and writing.
I got noblesse oblige and self denial pounded into my head as a child, and I didn’t like it.  I felt as if I were expected to show up on stage 24/7, give what I didn’t have, and then give some more.  I did, too, partially out of fear of my parents’ wrath, and partially out of the fear of hellfire, because not fully utilizing one’s gifts was a Grave Sin.  I kept up that impossible pace until my early 30’s when my physical health crashed.  Me- the unwilling, doing the impossible for the ungrateful.
innocent-child
This is how “normal” kids see the world.
terrortrex
This is how I saw the world when I was a kid.
Nobody understood how completely terrified I was of virtually everything- especially of being deemed inadequate and unworthy.  I spent my entire childhood being the geeky little nearsighted poor kid with the bad clothes who everyone used as a punching bag.  I was bound determined not to spend my adult life being the rest of the world’s doormat and sick joke.  But behind my carefully cultivated professional façade of impenetrability and capability, the little geeky kid was looking around the corner for the next beating. Nobody understood that my mind is always going a million miles an hour and that it drains every ounce of energy I have when I am around people- just to filter out the noise around me.  I don’t read body language well at all, and what comes naturally and subconsciously for most people is an acquired and conscious skill for me.  I can interpret and (usually) send the proper non-verbal signals when I interact with other people, but it is an energy draining and somewhat “artificial” process.
I have, and can acquire the necessary technical knowledge I need to function, but I am a poor navigator when it comes to relationships and the complexities of dealing with other people.
IgnoranceIsBliss
I don’t know what “normal” is.  I know that I’m not normal and most of the rest of the world is. One thing that I wish that people would understand about “abnormal” people like me is that usually when a person is given an exemplary gift in one area, that person is likely to have a profound deficit in another.  I am more than aware of my deficits, and they are limiting and severe.  I may know a lot of things, yes, but in my knowledge I know all too well just how inadequate and unworthy I am.
Some of the happiest people in the world are small children and those with cognitive deficiencies, which is telling. They haven’t been burnt enough by the world and the malice of others to become cynical and jaded and wary.  Ignorance may just be bliss in certain circumstances.
dejavu
The quest for the knowledge of good and evil led humanity to the first sin: wanting to be as God. (see Genesis 3)  The problem with that is that humanity, while made in the image of God, is not God.  We are finite and limited both in our physical presence and in the knowledge we my attain.
“Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness,’ and again, ‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.'” 1 Corinthians 3:18-20 (NRSV)

I can’t help but to think of all my atheist and agnostic friends who say things to me such as, “Don’t you know anything about science?  Why do you believe creation stories that involve some guy in the sky and a chick and a dude and a snake?”

Actually, I don’t have a problem with science in that it tries to explain the “how” of creation, whereas the Bible does not.   The Bible speaks of the “Who” did the creating and the “Why,” but the creation story of Genesis was never meant to be taken as a collection of scientific facts.  The only problem I have with putting faith in science is that our knowledge is limited and fallible.  Science does not have all the answers, and sometimes what is taken as scientific fact today is disproven tomorrow.

One has to have a lot of faith to believe that something arose from nothing for no reason at all.  I don’t see how creation was possible without some sort of sentient Force or Designer behind it.  For me it is far less a leap of faith to believe in a Creator God than in random chance.

Faith does require an open mind and heart.  It is a gift of God to be able to surrender to Jesus and follow Him, even when the rest of the world thinks you’re touched in the head for doing so.