Spirituality

Keeping it Simple

Today I need a break from mental dissecting and mulling-over. So at the risk of sounding like a corny devotional, I’m sharing Ecclesiastes 5:18:

Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot.

It sounds a bit defeatist, but I like this reminder that people were made to feel joy and that while life might feel trivial and meaningless to me at times, it is, after all, still my life. I can’t think of a better way way to show gratitude for the things I’ve been given than to take pleasure in them. And it seems to me those moments of joy are a tip-of-the-iceberg glimpse of what we might have in store. Frankly, that rare flash of simple, pure happiness is probably one of the single most motivating factors for me to seek and seek to please God.

Spirituality

All or Nothing?

Yesterday, I told you that I have a hard time with black and white. Continuing in that vein, I’d really appreciate some perspective on a passage from Acts. I’ve included the scripture selection at the bottom of this post for reference.

First, a little background. If you’ve been reading the blog, you know that I started attending a Bible study that is reading through and discussing the book of Acts. Since I was a late-starter, I decided to catch up and read the first five chapters. Acts begins with Luke recounting the ascension of Jesus. He proceeds to give us the history of the early Christian church. After Jesus ascended, his disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and went out to teach and preach, performing good works and miracles. The number of followers increased rapidly and Luke tells us that Christ’s followers lived communally in that no ones’ possessions were their own. They divided all that they had amongst each other according to need and lived simply.

Acts 5:1-11 introduces us to Ananias and Sapphira. The couple sold a possession, but instead of dedicating all of the proceeds to the cause, they reserved some of it for themselves. Peter confronted them, saying that they lied not “…to men but to God.” When confronted, Ananias and Sapphira dropped dead.

So, what are we to take from this? Is “all or nothing” the moral of this story? I feel like there are a few things left unsaid here. Notably, what was their ultimate fate? Would it have been better for Ananias to give nothing? I wonder – can any of us truly say that we give our all – no holds barred – to anything? I don’t want to read something that isn’t there – the Bible never says that God struck them down or in any way directly caused their deaths, but I feel like that’s the implication. What do you think? I’m really very interested to hear some opinions or educated commentary. Thanks!!

Acts 5: 1-11

Lying to the Holy Spirit

 1 But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. 2 And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? 4 While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”
5 Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. 6 And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him.
7 Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter answered her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?”
She said, “Yes, for so much.”
9 Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10 Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband. 11 So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things. 

Spirituality

Roadkill

Driving home yesterday, I passed for about the third time this week the remains of some now unrecognizable creature on the highway. I am one of those softhearted people who grieves for every squirrel and feels guilty that we’ve invaded their natural habitat with asphalt and vehicles. Anyway, I found myself thinking, “Oh I wish someone would clean that up so that I don’t have to see it.”  The thought struck me as hypocritical. After all, if I’m going to feel guilty about something, I should be able to face it, to take some responsibility for it. If I’m being honest, I expend a lot of effort NOT thinking too hard about things like that, because I’m not actually willing to stop driving, or to lay down in front of a bulldozer to protest construction. But I do feel strongly that not knowing how to fix something doesn’t mean we should just push it somewhere off-radar and forget about it.

I realize my example might seem a little ridiculous to some of you, but it did bring this issue into focus for me. Facing the things in this world that are uncomfortable, ugly or evil is a necessary part of living. I can try to hide from my awareness of them, but deep down I know when I should be acting on that awareness. I can pass a homeless man on the street and try to forget about it, but if I truly feel the urge to help in some way, the only way to have peace is to go ahead and do it. I am NOT saying that we shouldn’t be careful, realistic and think and pray about the best way to help or act. Scripture gives us 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21:

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good.

And finally, a few verses from Revelation. These were hard for me to post here, and hard for me even to read with objectivity.  For whatever reason, I shy away from black and white. But even that speaks to my point. (Good grief, I’m fighting it even now… trying to make excuses for all of those condemned people mentioned below…maybe because I’m not sure I can truly separate myself from them…)

Revelation 21: 7-8: The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.

Spirituality

Christianity and Selflessness – A Contradiction?

Today I want to put two verses out there that seem contradictory to me. I would love it if someone could direct me to scripture that ties these things together or even give me a different perspective when it comes to interpreting these verses. I am NOT looking for scripture that is in direct opposition.

One of the things that confuses me a little about Christianity is the emphasis on selflessness. Of course I understand the concept, but it sometimes seems that we are exhorted to be selfless so that we may reap some ultimate reward. Isn’t that a contradiction? Isn’t that selflessness for selfish reasons?

It could be argued that even Jesus’ sacrifice (which I really feel is beyond words or explanation), could not be called selfless. Yes, the Bible speaks to His agony and sacrifice for the sake of others, BUT He knew the outcome before he died and while it meant salvation for people, it also was a way for God to save the creation he loves. Make sense? Just following a train of thought. Luke 6:35 is a prime example of incentive for selfless acts:

“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great…”

Now, I feel that grace deserves a place in this conversation as well, because Luke 6:35 also seems to indicate that we can “get” something out of our actions. What is the “reward” to which he refers? I always have subscribed to the teaching that regardless of WHAT we do, on our own we can never earn our way to salvation. How, though, can I reconcile that with James 2:14 and 2:17?

“What good is it my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?”

“So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

Somehow I think I’m missing the point here… would appreciate some help squaring these apparent contradictions.  Thanks!!

 

Spirituality

Maintaining Focus

When I started this blog, I had two fears:

  1. That others would judge me (pride is a bit of a problem for me 🙂 )
  2. That readers would misunderstand me

While I can’t do much about fear number one, except learn to get over it, I feel like I need to make a statement about my mission, if you will. My purpose with this blog is to grow closer to God. If God can use me or these entries in any other way, fantastic. I continually pray for guidance before I write, but I’m afraid it may seem sometimes like I’m trying either to sow seeds of doubt or to convert people and that is NOT my intention. I just find that searching for answers to the questions I have is a way for me to strengthen my line of communication with the divine. I believe that I won’t ever have the answers to some questions. Indeed, I can’t imagine anyone satisfactorily answering my most fundamental question. I am okay with not understanding the true nature of God or even of people, but I don’t think that means I shouldn’t try.

So, if you feel like I’m missing the point with some of these posts, feel free to let me know! I won’t be offended. Or, if I am, I probably won’t let on! 🙂 Truly, I welcome everyone to challenge my viewpoints if you feel compelled to do so.

I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your comments and support! Tomorrow, a post on selflessness and its apparent contradictions within Christianity.

 

Spirituality

Love from a Scriptural Standpoint

I believe that the way someone relates to God is personal and I would not presume to criticize it. What I’m after today is opinions about how our understanding of love has evolved. For example, I see a lot of raised arms, tears and loud proclamations of faith these days in church services. On the flip side we have a more solemn, ceremonial or just quieter expression of faith from stodgy and boring Presbyterians like myself. 🙂 In all seriousness, sometimes I think that people have given love meaning that it hasn’t always had. So, I went to scripture. There are an incredible number of verses on love, and some have different implications than others. (This brings me to a brief aside about seeking answers in scripture. I think it can be dangerous to take one verse or passage as irrefutable instruction about how one should live or behave. And “context” doesn’t always mean just the verses immediately before and after. When taken as a whole -the Bible might say something quite different on a subject than you thought it did when you just read one verse.)   Sorry – back to the topic at hand. Below are a few verses dealing with love.

  • Luke 6:35 seems to refer to “love” and “kindness” interchangeably: But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.
  • And then we have the iconic 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
  • Romans 12:9: Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
  • 1 John 4: 18-19: There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.  We love because he first loved us.
  • 1 John 3: 16-18: This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.  If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?  Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

And of course, there are MANY more verses which may say something different to you. My point is that none of these really say anything about the way we should express our love. And perhaps sometimes we make it gooier or more dramatic or more solemn than it needs to be. What I take from this is that we should be listening to ourselves, searching our hearts and assessing what is truly sincere and what is merely, well, show.

Hope everyone has a great weekend! Thanks for reading.

Spirituality

Bible Study – Another Good Experience

Just a brief post since I’m still recovering from my last floundering attempt. 🙂

I attended a bible study at the Methodist church down the street tonight. There were just five people of varying ages. Everyone was incredibly kind, open and attentive. It was refreshing to talk to people in a polite forum in which everyone’s comments were given sincere consideration and no one interrupted. I felt quite comfortable asking questions that probably seemed a little out there. One of the attendees happened to be another mother about my age who lives in the area and, like me, doesn’t have many connections. She also just started attending. It was great to find someone to whom I can relate.

The bible study is currently studying the history of the early Christian church through the book of Acts. Very interesting. Nothing I’m feeling moved to relate here at the moment, but definitely some material for future posts. Glad I didn’t lazy myself out of a good experience! Take care…

Spirituality

Way Over My Head – Please lend me some perspective!

Yesterday, I told you that I would refer to good and evil in the simplest terms. Today, not so much, but I’ll still do my best to be clear. My question is this: What do we mean when we call God “good?” And is it really possible to be objective?

One of the people whom I love and respect most in this world (you know who you are!) forced me to consider a truly frightening question a few years ago and it’s bothered me ever since. We were having a conversation about the existence of God, Heaven and Hell. I can’t quote her exactly, but the gist was this:

         Even if Heaven does exist, I’m not sure it’s a place I want to go. I can’t imagine a               parent who, having the power to stop it, would allow a beloved child to suffer for              eternity in Hell, just for refusing to acknowledge him.

Well, to be honest, I can’t quite reconcile that, either. I know the free-will argument; that God allows His children to make a choice, that He doesn’t force our commitment. But drawing the only parallel I can, which is the earthly parent/child relationship, it just doesn’t make sense to me.  I can understand it a little better from the standpoint that we all have God within us and to actively choose to Deny that is to submit to a self-imposed suffering.

The other problem I have with the free will argument is that God created all things, including our concept of good and evil. So, can there be any objectivity about the goodness of God? If He had created a world where the rules were different, where stealing and lying were considered “right” we would, presumably, still follow Him.  I’m not stating this very well. I know it sounds blasphemous, but it really is an honest question. Let me put it another way.

If God created this world and everything in it, including our concepts of good and evil, does it actually matter if He is “good” or not? Should we accept him simply by virtue of His being The Creator? I know that scripture says that God is love and reveals a number of other attributes of God, but again, He could have created the world to understand love in a completely different way.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading! I know this is one of those irritating questions that might simply be something I have to take on faith, but I really do feel compelled to ask it. Let me close by saying that regardless of my questions, when I look at the world around me – the human capacity for thought and feeling,the incredible variety and color, the beauty of nature, our bodies, the incomprehensible enormity of time and space – I feel God and I feel that God is good, as I understand goodness. I’m incredibly grateful for the life I’ve been given. Thanks again,

Spirituality

On Conscience and Obedience

A quick note before I begin: If you’ve ever taken a philosophy course (maybe even if you haven’t), you’re probably acquainted with the idea that “good” and “evil” are just abstract words that really have very little meaning. In the interest of keeping today’s post coherent and simple, however, I refer to good and evil or right and wrong the same way a four-year old might.

I know quite a few people who have a hard time with the idea that God “communicates” with us or interacts with us on a personal level. My own opinion on this is sort of… suspended. As I’ve mentioned before, I talk to God all the time and feel a connection. And I think that while there is always divine influence in my life and in the world, I can’t always see it. (I should just stop there, but I’m going to air a pet peeve: I have a really hard time with it when people assume that they understand “the reason” for something. It seems to me that our personal lives are such tiny little pieces of the whole and to think that we could comprehend why things happen or see their ultimate outcome… well… I just can’t buy it.)

So, for those people who don’t literally hear God – I have a concept on which I’d really like some feedback – either positive or negative. Here goes: Is is possible that God is ever-present in our lives because we’re all born with a “God Spark” which is, therefore, a part of everything we do? For example, we all know what it means to hear our conscience directing us one way or another and we all know what it means to deny it. Could obedience to God mean obeying that inner impulse? I think part of the reason this makes sense to me is because it levels the playing field – it gives us all an equally direct line to God. Please don’t misunderstand me – I’m not saying I know how God reaches people, or saying that I understand something as personal and complex as the human conscience… it’s just an idea. What do you think?

One last thing – most of my posts are going to deal with morality on some level. If you’re not convinced that morality is anything but a social construct and you haven’t read C.S. Lewis – you absolutely should. The link below will take you to Mere Christianity. You can read the entire book online, but the first two chapters will give you his argument for morality. It’s simple, logical and really interesting. If you read it, let me know what you think. Take care, all!

http://www.truthaccordingtoscripture.com/documents/apologetics/mere-christianity/cs-lewis-mere-christianity-toc.php

 

 

 

Spirituality

A quick follow-up to the salvation question…

I’m feeling so good about this blog today! It was absolutely terrifying for me to put myself out there and to open myself up to judgment from my friends and family. Thank you to those who have taken the time to read it thus far and even respond.

To be honest, I didn’t expect to find any kind of peace on yesterday’s question of salvation so quickly. The pastor of the church I visited responded to my post (you can see her response in the comments when you click on the “Giving it a go with the Methodists” post on the right-hand side of the screen). It was eye opening for me to hear such an open, grace-centered opinion from an educated theologian.

My brilliant mother also gave me some insight. She pointed me toward the verse below in the first chapter in John:

 John 1:9 That was the true Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

I’ll let you read the verses before and after for context if you’re interested, but to me, that verse supports the possibility that we can know Jesus in more ways than one, because that spark is present in us all.

Now, for those of you who feel like I’m missing the point, here and have doubts that the Bible is a true source at all – I do plan to explore that further. However, it might be a little while, because I can’t open that door without doing some serious reading first! Shalom!