My Little Devotional #137: “Say As I Do”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “All Bottled Up”

While modern culture, especially on the Internet, might disagree, I think it’s a pretty clear fact of life that, when it comes to friends, loved ones, or the far majority of people we meet on the street, we don’t want to say things to upset them…even if we need to.

Such was the dilemma Starlight Glimmer found herself in within this episode. Trixie, the first friend she had ever been able to make on her own, had lapsed into one of her normal bouts of selfishness and self-centeredness that caused Starlight no end of trouble for an entire day. But while she desperately wanted to call her out on it and vent her frustrations, she was scared at what the reaction would be and feared driving away one of her only friends.

In this particular case, it led to a rather amusing sequence where Starlight continued to bottle up her anger until it figuratively and literally broke free, resulting in more mayhem. But considering this sort of problem in a more general sense, it’s representative of a special problem to the Christian.

Witnessing is the biggest point of contention in Christianity, whether you’re a Christian or (ironically) not a Christian. It doesn’t take a relatively great amount of effort to practice witnessing in small ways, such as praying for friends and family, sharing a verse, paying for someone’s meal at a fast food place, or comforting someone who is visibly sad and depressed. But, one way or another, we all will eventually get to the point where we get an opportunity to talk more concretely about the Gospel and the Bible, and that’s where things that require more of a conscious investment take place.

On what I would call the “soft end” is stances on things like abortion and homosexual marriage. The harder stuff is the “first part” of the Gospel. To tell people about the glorious sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ and His love for the world, naturally we first have to tell people about why that sacrifice is necessary as is the need to accept it.

That’s not a very pleasant message to the nonbeliever. (Sometimes I think Christians lose sight of that in their witnessing. What someone might think is a glorious message of saving power and salvation might only be one to fellow Christians. To everyone else, it might sound very much like “join us or die and suffer eternally”. It seemed to be a pretty big theme in the New Testament that before people accepted the saving message of the Gospel, they were convicted, either by others, the Word, or themselves, that they were sinful and wanted more.) But nevertheless, sometimes we have to get into the “hard” stuff about the message, and that’s usually not a pleasant feeling. Most of us don’t want to say anything to upset or anger friends and loved ones, let alone total strangers. And to me that’s perfectly natural. We were designed to be social creatures. Again, contrary to what Internet posters or the news media would like you to believe, most people want to live in peace with each other. We don’t like doing things that will get society or even individuals upset at us.

Unfortunately, sometimes we don’t have a choice. Sometimes telling someone something unpleasant for their own good is something that needs to be done, like in this episode. And when it comes to the saving message of the Gospel, sometimes there’s no other recourse but to avoid any sugarcoating, dancing around the issue, or even being able to get away with sharing the Gospel “without words”, so to speak. The time will come when we’ll just have to come out and say it. The analogy that’s often used in sermons is if you see a person about to walk over a cliff and they don’t realize it, you would have to shout at them to stop to save their lives even if they didn’t want to hear it. And if we truly believe all people are doomed without the Gospel (“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” [Acts 4:12]; “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”” [John 14:6]), then we have to share it as well in spite of how uncomfortable it might be at times.

And while this is a good point, it only introduces me to the main idea I want for this devotional.

Unfortunately, I don’t know any way to make this kind of testimony easier. But getting back to what I keep referring to, our modern culture and the need to always express our opinion about everything in our society, I have one item of advice that I think is worth noting.

I do see Christians online who preach the more difficult parts of the Gospel to accept, and I commend them for boldly doing so as it’s more than what I do, but often I strongly believe how they’re doing it is shooting themselves in the foot. Obviously, when they speak out like that, it invites nonbelievers to come in and start attacking the message and, occasionally, they themselves. That’s understandable, and it’s also an opportunity for dialogue if handled right. Yet this is where I see what could be an opportunity get hamstrung.

Oftentimes the Christian will get sucked into the same “game” and start attacking the individual and their own beliefs right back, which lowers them to their level. Not to mention that when other nonbelievers see this behavior, they conclude that all the Christian is trying to do is disparage everyone who isn’t one of them, which is what everyone else online does and, as a result, they consider Christianity with the same dim view as any other religion.

Other times I see Christians falling back on the same defense: saying that the reason their opponents don’t think their message is brilliant and good is because they are destined for destruction and the Word of God has been hidden from them, whereas all people who truly belong to Christ see how great it is. That may very well be true (See 2 Corinthians 4:4). It also may be true that the particular message may impact some and not others. It further might be true it was a message only “the choir” would appreciate. Finally, it might be true that the message was, quite simply, a bad message. After all, if every single word ever preached was good, proper, and perfect, we’d all still be Roman Catholics. (“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” [1 John 4:1])

Finally, and most infuriatingly, so many Christians will outright insult their opponents on a long post and then end it with a “have a blessed day” or “God bless you” and a smiling emoji…as if that somehow negates the fact they insulted someone just to make themselves feel superior and clever. That is the absolute worst. In those instances, Christians don’t look like everyone else…they look worse than everyone else. Now everything they accuse us of is justified: that we’re snooty little busybodies who think we’re better than everyone when we’re supposed to recognize how broken we are. (There’s an easy way to avoid this one: don’t insult people to begin with.)

I’ve heard things from my loved ones before that were unpleasant to hear. Oftentimes I was angry at first and even reactionary. However, I also ultimately considered what they were saying and, in time (usually an hour or two), I began to accept what they were telling me. Why? Because I know them and I know they love me. I know they truly care about me and my well-being. Most of all, I know that they would not say something like that to willfully get me upset unless it was really for my own good, because they generally don’t say things to get me upset because they don’t want to.

And how does a Christian who goes out of their way to start political fights, mocks people of different races, creeds, or affiliations, and is always trying to be smarmy with biting insults toward people who disagree with them look when they’re saying something that says, in essence to the non-Christian, that they’re smarter and more favored by God than them?

To me, a good rule of thumb is to not look for trouble. It’s the responsibility of the witnessing Christian to police themselves and not be drawn into this modern culture tendency to vent hate and disgust at everything. While I don’t always succeed, I try not to start a fight about anything unless it’s something that’s worth fighting about…and, frankly, unless it’s a matter of life or death like the Gospel, there is nothing worth starting a fight about.

If we must look like “jerks” in the eyes of the world, let it be about something that we know is worth the reputation. Don’t take extra steps to earn it. As Paul cautioned in Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, I thank you again for the sacrifice of your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, by which the world is redeemed and reconciled to you and we can have eternal life in Heaven. As I have received this wonderful good news, I choose to share it with all those around me in some way today and every day by both the words I say and the life I live. As I commit myself to your commission, please strengthen me to avoid clinging to anything petty, selfish, or what serves to only justify myself and, as always, “speak the truth in love”. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

Honest Fake Trailer: “Castlevania – Season One (Netflix)”

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(The following is a ripoff of “Smoosh Games” as well as “Screen Junkies”, with the latter involved in making “Honest Trailers” for movies and the former involved in doing the same for video games. Both of them are great, funny, and voiced by Jon Bailey’s epic voice, so make sure to check them all out on YouTube.)

*WARNING! SPOILERS!*

From NETFLIX…

The odd hybrid of TV network and website that makes you get down on your knees and beg for additional seasons of your favorite shows…

And Adi Shankar…

The producer best known for that movie where Liam Neeson punches wolves and making obscure comic book fans cry for joy on giving them Judge Dredd media that doesn’t even mention the name Rob Schneider in it…

Comes the most shocking, disturbing, and bizarre work of the supernatural that the world has ever witnessed…

A video game adaptation that’s not terrible!

“CASTLEVANIA”

The time period is 1400s Wallachia, and the Inquisition is getting medieval on pretty much everybody…

When LISA TEPES is burned at the stake after being falsely accused of witchcraft…

Because being married to a guy with clearly visible giant fangs, pointed ears, and taloned hands who only comes out in the darkness isn’t suspicious at all…but owning a microscope and test tubes? DAUGHTER OF DARKNESS!

Her husband LORD VLAD DRACULA TEPES decides to pull a Frank-Castle-vania and carry out his violent genocide of the entire human race in retribution.

DRACULA: “Any one of them could have said ‘no’!”

(Shot of demon gargoyle carrying away a baby in its teeth.)

Yeah, that’s right, helpless babies! You should have shielded her with your rattles and screamed: ‘Goo-goo-GAH!’

Watch as the legendary lord of the undead unleashes a nightmarish army from hell to plague the earth…

…with a very grotesque sense of humor.

(I mean, come on. These things are strong enough to just rip and grind people up with their bare hands and blow up buildings with fireball breath, and yet rather than destroy this one town in one night they act like a bunch of demonic trolls. They kill kids in the middle of the night without killing the rest of the family, somehow rip out this one guy’s throat while he’s sleeping right next to his wife and she doesn’t notice until the next morning, and decide to take the time and effort to “redecorate” with heads and human entrails? And they’ve been doing this for, like, a couple nights now? Why are people still putting their kids in other rooms or sleeping above ground anyway?)

When Dracula’s rather-cool-looking-yet-incredibly-impractical-and-impossible-to-build castle rears its ugly flying buttresses and sends out its PM-shift-only hoards to slaughter mankind…

(Because those demons in the second episode are clearly out in the sun.)

It will be up to TREVOR BELMONT…house Belmont…last of the Belmont family…the legendary vampire killers…

To spend 85% of the series going around sulking and brooding in a Ned Stark cape and repeatedly try to convince the audience he doesn’t care…

(On leaving the Speakers) “I don’t care.”

(On meeting Sypha) “I don’t care.”

(On fighting Alucard) “I don’t care.”

…Until he finally does.

ALUCARD: “Do you care, Belmont?”

TREVOR: “Honestly, I didn’t. But now? Yes…it’s time to stop it.”

Took you long enough! There’s only seven minutes left in the season!

For years you’ve enjoyed the “Castlevania” franchise as it’s pit you through the many dark halls of Dracula’s castle, destroying every candle in sight and scarfing down pork chop a la wall as you battled nightmarish legions of the undead…

Now watch a series that features a mini-skirt wearing Belmont doing 90% less whipping and 300% more:

Swearing…

“Sh’t…” “Sh’t…” “F***…”

Ball-busting…

(Numerous groin hits)

ALUCARD: “This isn’t a bar fight. Have some class.”

And falling through floors.

(The pretty much continuous floor-falling of the fourth episode)

Brace yourself for an adventure with a legendary vampire killer who kills a grand total of three monsters…

(The two demon gargoyles and the stone cyclops)

And the rest of his time just maiming and killing normal humans…

(The various scenes of Trevor whipping and killing the bar patrons and corrupt clergymen.)

Because this plot makes the Roman Catholic Church look so demented, corrupt, insane, and evil that it practically makes the legion of wretched spawn from hell and their infernal undead overlord bent on massacring humanity actually look like the good guys.

BISHOP: “My life’s work is in his name!”

ALPHA DEMON: “Your life’s work makes him puke.”

But…there was Token Unnamed No-Lines Priest who was able to make holy water, so…good for Christianity…?

So sit down to binge watch and enjoy the entire imitation anime series…which should be pretty easy because even if you sit through the credits and the production logo at the end of every episode the entire season is shorter than the average movie…

And sink your teeth into a video game adaptation that doesn’t suck because it did one thing all the others before it didn’t do…

Wrapped the obligatory 10 minutes of pure gamer fanservice inside a DECENT PLOT.

And feel Dracula’s own personal anguish as you yourself are forced to wait one year for Season Two, all while debating the eternal question…

“Was this ‘Berserk’-knock-off really that amazing? Or has the bar for video game adaptations just been set so painfully low that anything above decent seems like ‘Citizen Kane’?”

STARRING…

Thorin Leatherwhip… (Trevor Belmont)

Hell-lander… (Vlad Dracula Tepes)

Medieval Belle… (Lisa Tepes)

Saipha Bellnadeez…S…Seefa Beelnaids…Sifha Bellnadas…Ugh, the witch from the game!… (Sypha Belnades)

Vampire Hunter D-elicious… (Alucard)

An old guy who took up way too much of Season One’s short run time… (The Head Speaker)

Judge Claude Frollo… (The Bishop)

The Great Goblin’s Hideous Neck Sack… (The Archbishop)

AND NOT STARRING…

The one character you will hear nothing but whining and complaining about for the next six months from Internet trolls for not being in the series… (Grant Danasty)

And the one character the Internet trolls are being surprisingly quiet about for not being in the series. (Death)

“CASTLEVANIA: CRY OF JUBILATION…THAT IT’S NOT LIKE THE STREET FIGHTER MOVIE”


 

TREVOR: “What’ll one coin get me?”

SHOP VENDOR: “Bit o’ dried goat.”

TREVOR: “I’ll take it.”

Uh, Trevor, this is a Middle Ages market in a city with no sanitation or way to enforce laws that just got a surplus of ‘meat’ that’s not goat. I wouldn’t trust anything from the local butchers if I were you.

My Little Devotional #136: “What’s It Worth to You?”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Celestial Advice”

It’s a maxim so old, tried, and true that it doesn’t even need a proverb: you never know what you have until it’s gone.

Such was certainly true in this episode. Going in a bit of a different direction, I won’t so much refer to what happened to the characters as my own reaction to it. Like many fans, I didn’t like Starlight Glimmer that much going into this. I thought her redemption was too rushed and weak, she was made too much into “Pony Sue” and she distracted too much from the other characters. I also thought the Season Six finale was rather contrived in a flimsy attempt to make her look good by having her save everyone.

Yet in spite of all of that, I found an odd thing happening when this episode neared. The promos indicated a very real possibility that she might leave being a regular on the cast and only appear more at random like many other characters. The thought of her distancing herself from the rest of the Mane Six was something I thought would make me happy. It was, after all, what I thought I had wanted. And yet when the episode arrived, I actually found myself regretting it. I had learned to appreciate her character flaws for making her more real and relatable rather than someone to hate. I could see aspects of her in myself and in other people around me which made her easier to connect to. And her mere existence allowed greater possibilities for plots and the ability to see sides of others we hadn’t seen before. Finally, I appreciated her character type and way of doing things. To my astonishment, I didn’t want her to leave. And I actually liked it when the end of the episode revealed she was staying on.

This was kind of a flimsy example, but it got me thinking of more serious cases. It’s a common theme among older people, myself included, that we have lots of regrets about vast periods of our lives that were devoted to pointless worrying and wasted on what amounted to nothing. Of course, hindsight is always 20/20, and not everything that we see as unimportant as adults wasn’t important when we were younger, but that doesn’t make it any less regretful. It doesn’t make us think less of how much time we spent on things that didn’t matter and how much more we wish we had spent on things that were worthwhile. Part of that is a natural result of growing older. A lot of it, however, is maturity and the ability to gradually see things beyond yourself and the immediate desire.

A classic example is with friends and loved ones. It’s a common thing that when someone is alive you focus on things about them that annoy you or make you angry. Perhaps we even look for reasons to stay away from certain people, rant about what annoys us about them behind their backs, and even use them as anecdotes for what to avoid or who not to emulate. And then, when they pass on, we turn around and speak nothing but good about them and wonder why so much time was spent arguing and fighting, or focusing only on the “parts we disliked”, and not making more memories together while we could.

Perhaps years of family reunions pass in which one finds the experience boring or tedious and frequently excuses themselves; only for a patriarch or matriarch in charge of everything to stop holding them and, suddenly, they find themselves fully losing contact with the rest of their extended family. Perhaps one day one hears a news story about how an old acquaintance or even an old friend from high school ended up in an accident or died, and they realize they were so close by to where he or she lived yet he or she never bothered to stay in touch.

This, of course, doesn’t begin to get into times spent not trying out a new pursuit, or going on that vacation or mission trip, or pursuing that career or dream. Or other cases about deciding whether or not to build a family or visit an old home, school, or hangout more before it was torn down. Yet in all of these cases and many others, the same things always come to mind:

“Why did I spend so much time worrying about my job, or my car, or my house, or how I was going to pay this bill or wanting to watch that one TV show or wanting to do that hobby? Why didn’t I spend more time on this? Why did I think that other stuff was so important?”

Time, and age, is the greatest aid toward focusing one’s priorities. I’m at the age of my life where I find myself starting to realize some doors I didn’t go through when I had the chance are now closed to me forever, and I start wondering about what it will be like one day when I’m in my 70s or, God-willing, 80s. Thinking like that, a lot of priorities start to shift.

One of the reasons I believe I see a heavy bias toward older individuals as Christians is not just due to the changing times but the fact that, at some point, everyone is going to reach a time in their life where they’ll take a good look at where they’re at, see that they have fully come into their own as an adult, that they’re providing for themselves, making ends meet, perhaps are married and have a family of their own, and then ask themselves: “What now?” Do you just keep this going until you get too old to keep it up and then wait to die? Will all the thoughts, the hopes, and the dreams you had, fulfilled or unfulfilled, and all the feelings and experiences you went through all your life simply fade to nothing? Will I ever see those people who left an impact on me growing up again, or are they gone forever? What happens if I’m the last of my family to die? Will anyone know I was ever here in 100 years?

Some atheists and agnostics would say this is the point where the “cowards” turn to God. Fair enough. I’m sure some people embrace Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and any other religion you can think of simply because they’re scared to die and they want reassurance…although I would consider you a true rarity of an individual if you weren’t, at least at one point in your life regardless of your faith or lack thereof, afraid to die.

Yet death can happen at any time. You don’t have to be elderly to die tomorrow. And while death seems far more real as we get older, as I said before there’s more than just death that takes significance as you get older. You learn to appreciate life better. You learn to see how foolish some of the things we did as children and teenagers were; not just in how we treated ourselves through reckless behavior but how we treated others, such as parents we used to think were “smothering” us or acts we did to others out of spite or meanness that we realize served no purpose. We reach the point where we’ve mastered things such as driving, housework, and home repair and have become totally self-sufficient, where we have the ability to treat ourselves to what we like, and we start realizing there’s always something else we need to get, drink, or do in order to get the “buzz” that we thought we would get from the last thing we indulged in. We start realizing small moments such as sitting together on a porch or taking a walk were far more important than we ever realized, and we put far more stock in time than in our youth when it seemed that was all we had. We stop thinking about taking care only of ourselves and start wondering what sort of legacy we’re going to leave behind. All of these things come with age and also turn people to the Bible, God, and Lord Jesus…in my experience far more than the fear of death.

Lord Jesus Christ came to Earth to give people life and give it more abundantly, as He promised (John 10:10). He did so by paying the ultimate price for the sins of you, me, and everyone in the world through His crucifixion on Calvary; wiping away all of the evil we have ever done and will ever do so long as we trust in Him and accept His Sacrifice so that one day we can have eternal life with Him in Heaven. “Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:18-19) “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).

Yet He didn’t come simply to make us spend our lives toiling in misery and hoping for death so we can collect on that gift. The Kingdom of God is at hand within us (Luke 17:20-21). He came to give people liberty from their worries, their fears, their pasts, and their pains now. To turn people away from living in dread and fear of the future and in its place to give them hope. To have them stop thinking only of the pain, toil, drudgery, and ultimate futility of this life and to live in happiness and faith at our destiny and joy at how every person, no matter who they are or where they are, is not only a precious Child of God (John 1:12; Galatians 3:26) but can make this world better today. To not focus so much on ourselves and everything wrong that we can’t see the beauty and opportunity in what we have all around us.

If you would like to invite Jesus into your life to become your own personal Lord and Savior, to be freed from your sins and have the promise of eternal life, and to start seeing this world and everything around you in a whole new way with new appreciation, you can do so by praying today’s suggested prayer (borrowed from In Touch Ministries) or something like it:

Lord Jesus, I ask You to forgive my sins and save me from eternal separation from God. By faith, I accept Your work and death on the cross as sufficient payment for my sins. Thank You for providing the way for me to know You and to have a relationship with my heavenly Father. Through faith in You, I have eternal life. Thank You also for hearing my prayers and loving me unconditionally. Please give me the strength, wisdom, and determination to walk in the center of Your will. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

My Little Devotional #135: “All for You”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “To Where and Back Again”

Starlight Glimmer was in her own personal worst-case scenario in this episode. After inadvertently reliving her disastrous past where her “leadership” was used as an excuse to intimidate and dominate others, she finds herself unwillingly thrust into a situation where she must reluctantly take the mantle of leadership again to direct three very unruly individuals on a rescue mission against Queen Chrysalis; made worse by the fact she has no magic to handle the problem herself for once. Although this is quite possibly the last thing she would want to do, she realizes there’s no one else to help, and that if she wants to save her friends and her country she has to bite back her fears and hesitation and go ahead regardless.

As children, we often daydream of adventure and action and going through lots of extreme situations involving danger and brave decisions, much like characters in books and movies that we enjoy. As adults, once reality sets in, the fact is we’d usually prefer to avoid such things. While I believe the greatest enemy of Christian action in the world is apathy, I think a close second is a very emotional reaction: fear.

When it comes to trying to share the Gospel, or even simply standing up for Biblical values, fear always seems to be a factor. There’s the natural fear of public speaking or sharing something about Jesus or the Bible, as they’re not part of what is normal conversation or interaction (especially when ministering to a stranger). Then there’s the fear of not saying or doing something in the right way–trying to convey one message and then being so stunned and awkward that it becomes completely botched and misses the point we were trying to make. And, of course, there is the fear of rejection. Hostility, anger, insults, or even simply starting an argument from who we’re trying to share the Gospel with are all unwelcome possibilities.

The worst part to me of all of these fears, which can and have left me crippled and tongue-tied…unable to even say “hello” to people before, is the knowledge that this is nothing compared to the fears that Christians have around the world in more persecuted countries. Knowing I’m tongue-tied about sharing a Bible verse or two with someone else while in other countries Christians boldly preach the Gospel in the face of threats of violence, loss of job, loss of property, loss of social status, and possibly even death leaves me feeling disheartened, meager, and inadequate.

I imagine I’m not alone in these feelings, and as such I imagine some, if not most, of us often enthusiastically pray to God to be used by him in the safety of Church only to grow nervous, shy away, and try to think up an excuse when the time actually comes around. The question is how do we conquer this fear to do what needs to be done when we see a genuine need in the world that will require some effort and, dare I say, danger and un-comfortability on our part to satisfy it?

I wish I could say it was simply a matter of “just pray about it”. While I still encourage everyone to do that, there’s no guarantee that will take away the fear all together–just give the courage to proceed in spite of it. That’s not always easy. I also would say in spite of the fact that the sufferings and issues of American Christians might be insignificant compared to those of Christians around the world, that doesn’t de-legitimize whatever holds us back. (After all, would you go up to a parent who just lost a child and say, “Buck up; Job lost ALL his children plus his livelihood and savings in one day!” and expect them to feel encouraged?) But how do we overcome this fear?

To me, I think a large part of the answer lies in the Bible quotation: “He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30) At the time, John the Baptist was referring to his own glory diminishing to make was for the Glory of the Son of God, in particular within their respective earthly ministries, but this is one Bible passage that I take in a different light to apply to us all as Christians. Like many passages in the Bible that encourage the gradual maturation and perfection of the self, this one, at least to me, focuses on the point of maturity to shift away from the self and toward God and others.

Case in point: let’s say you’re outdoors somewhere with a group of people and one person accidentally upsets a hornet’s nest. Odds are you’re going to bolt for it immediately along with everyone else. If the person who upset it trips and falls, there’s a chance you might be brave and altruistic enough to go back to help them up, but it’s more likely you’re thinking about letting them be stung rather than get yourself and them stung. Now…let’s say that person is your child. The hornets are just as dangerous as before but something tells me the danger and fear matters considerably less now. The focus of your fear, now, is on the well-being of your child. And most of us would probably not only go back but, if the child was small enough, we’d pick them up and run faster with them and try to absorb as many of the stings as we could. Again, the threat was just as bad as before…perhaps even worse since you went back…but it mattered less because someone you loved more than yourself was in danger.

And to me, that’s the ticket. That’s what I get from that verse. As we mature and connect with other people and with God, we grow not only to love God and others but to love them more than ourselves (which are the two greatest commandments to begin with [Matthew 22:36-40]). And when you love someone, care for them, and wish their safety and well-being more than your own, then all those other personal fears and dangers don’t really matter. There are plenty of places in this world I could go and things I could do that I would never do on my own even if you paid me. Yet if it was to try and help a family member or someone I loved who was in danger, I’d go and do anyway because I wouldn’t care what happened to me. In the same way, the more we move past our own fears and insecurities and think about others, the more inclined we will be to act without fear…and, in my personal belief, the more inclined we will be to act on God’s Word and direction without prompting or “needling”.

Last but not least, remember that if you’re feeling too nervous or fearful to carry out what you feel is the Will of God in your life, be encouraged to know you’re in good company. Gideon required not one but three miracles before he acted on God’s word (Judges 6:17-21,36-40). Peter denied Jesus three times when he was close enough for Jesus to actually see him doing it, and right after a few hours ago swearing he would go to death with Him (Luke 22:54-62) (although even that was better than most of the Apostles…who simply ran and didn’t look back). Jonah tried putting himself as far away from the place of his ministry as possible (Jonah 1:1-3). And as for Moses? He practically begged God not to do his will (Exodus 4:1-17).

Into everyone’s life, so long as they’re human and carrying out God’s Word, will come fear, hesitation, reluctance, and failure. That’s inevitable. What’s important is to keep growing toward maturity, keep focused on others and God outside of our own fears and doubts, and to keep picking yourself up and trying again.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you that failure is truly never final; that so long as there is life in me each day I can become whatever you desire me to be in spite of whatever happened the day before. Please grant me the same love for others that you have, so that all of my actions today will be motivated by love of you and of others; and that by feeling the same love you have I can better do your will. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Devotional #134: “My God Ate It”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Top Bolt”

Today’s episode featured a pair of Wonderbolt Academy candidates: Sky Stinger and Vapor Trail: two pegasi who had been friends since childhood and flying together for years. Unfortunately, their friendship hadn’t entirely been a healthy one, as it was revealed that while Sky thought of himself as being an expert flier, many of his more amazing stunts and feats were a result of Vapor assisting him by flying alongside him. Furthermore, Vapor herself was pretty much not thinking about what to do with her life beside help Sky succeed, only intent on devoting her energy to assisting him at her own expense. This came to a head when both reached the Wonderbolt Academy and the two learned they would have to perform in solo trials, which would expose Sky’s shortcomings and force Vapor to evaluate her own decision to be in Wonderbolt Academy.

One of the big conflicts in this episode that Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle went through was the decision to expose what was happening to Sky, as he was unaware of how this relationship was working out and attributed all of his success to his own talent. Rainbow Dash and Vapor Trail alike insisted that the truth be concealed to keep him from losing his confidence, and Vapor was even more upset at Dash and Twilight when the truth came out as it prompted Sky to accuse her of trying to sabotage him when he found his previous “swelled head” opinion of himself wasn’t justified. Yet for all of the anger and shaken confidence that resulted, none of that changed the simple fact that it was all going to come out in the solo trials whether Sky and Vapor liked it or not. Both had to “pony up” and take responsibility for their own performances. Hiding from the truth wasn’t helping anyone or changing anything; it was only making it worse the longer it went unexposed. (And truth be told, it probably would have had a much lesser strain on their relationship if it had come out before they both hit Wonderbolt Academy.)

There’s a couple of bumper stickers that came out years back, one after the other. One read: “God is my Copilot”. Yet not long after that one became popular and widespread, another sticker came out reading: “If God is your Copilot, switch seats”. The idea behind the latter sticker was one that’s prevalent in a lot of churches nowadays: everything should be a complete and total dependency on God. No decision should be made that’s not influenced by God, and every single matter, great or small, should be relied on God to overcome rather than our own effort. While I can agree with this to an extent, I personally think it might be taking things too far.

I believe God wants us to trust in him at all times and to live lives devoted toward bringing the Kingdom of God and glory to him, to rely on him and his Word when making decisions, and to trust in him in times of trouble. But to rely on God for absolutely everything and not the slightest bit on our own work or actions is unhealthy and irresponsible.

Here’s a basic example. Let’s say I have an unhealthy lifestyle of eating a lot of junk food and not exercising enough. I start getting overweight with high blood pressure and shortness of breath. So what do I do? During an altar call for “faith healing”, I pray to God to miraculously take away my high blood pressure and shortness of breath, and then I resume my unhealthy lifestyle. In this case, would it make sense for God to give me a miracle to heal me so that I can go right back to my unhealthy habits?

Here’s a darker example. Let’s say that my habit is alcohol. I go out every weekend and get intoxicated, and a number of times I’ve lost control while drunk and said and done things to others I’ve regretted later, and on top of that I regularly try to drive myself home. Before I get in the car each time, I pray to God to not only get me home safe but to miraculously restore my relationships with people I may have hurt through my bad choices. Would it make sense for God to “fix everything” there?

Constantly relying, either consciously or unconsciously, on someone else to spare you the consequences of your own poor choices isn’t a mark of faith or trust; it’s a mark of personal irresponsibility, immaturity, and dependency. Often, in the case of with people (such as in this episode), it involves the “enabler” being a friend or loved one who is determined to spare the other party the negative consequences of their actions for fear of what will happen to the dependent (just as Vapor didn’t want Sky’s confidence ruined or to be yelled at and accused of backstabbing). That is when it becomes co-dependency.

God does not encourage co-dependency. While God desires people to follow his Will and instruction, he never promises that there will be no difficulty. He promises that he will see them through any difficulty. “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10). “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Hardships and challenges are what push us and drive us to make us grow. Being delivered from hardships and challenges keeps us where we are. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4) “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:6-7)

There’s no baseball player out there who just got up one day and started hitting home runs and making double plays. There was an awkward time where they clumsily swung the bat and missed pitches being hit to them. No one just wakes up and goes out to pick up their driver’s license. They have to go to a parking lot or out somewhere and fumble trying to master control of the car before they’re suitable enough to pass a test. You can’t go up to a professor at a university, have them wave their hands over you, and say: “boom, you’re an engineer now”. You have to put in the time and hours to study and learn how to be one. And you can’t pray to God to miraculously make you a star ball player, mechanical engineer, or a car driver either. You have to do these things yourself and take responsibility for them even if God is directing you to become or do those things.

And sitting around saying: “those classes are too hard”, “I don’t need to practice”, or “these rules are boring” are just excuses to exerting personal responsibility. So would be blaming the instructors for being “out to get you” or pouting and refusing to exert any effort, like Sky ended up doing.

The entire generation that God personally delivered from slavery in Egypt was brought to the borders of the Promised Land; which God had guaranteed to them if they would rise up and take it. Yet when they saw that they were going to have to fight for it and that there were opponents to overcome, they started making excuses of how it was impossible for them to win, which eventually turned to lamenting that they had ever left Egypt at all and even to wanting to stone Moses for bringing them that way to begin with. As a result, that entire generation died in the desert around the Promised Land without ever setting foot in it; because they preferred to make excuses rather than exert any personal responsibility toward seizing the promise God had given them. (Numbers 13-14)

To me, that’s one of the greatest Biblical examples of need for personal responsibility. We would all do well to take it to heart.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for your promise never to leave me or forsake me, and to be with me always until the end of the age. Grant that I have the faith to believe in this wholeheartedly and act upon it; both in carrying out your will for me and in doing what I need to do in order to be a mature individual and grow past my sins and deficiencies. And give me the wisdom to never use you as a crutch or excuse to doing what I need to do for myself. Let me seize everything you have set out for me to take. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Devotional #133: “Bending the Rules”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Where the Apple Lies”

In my college days, when I was more prone to starting arguments over Christianity, one of the big complaints I heard from non-Christians about my faith was the claim that the Bible contradicts itself. And, admittedly, I can see how that would be an issue in certain places. Jesus Himself addressed it in the New Testament when referring to the case in which David and his followers ate the “showbread”, bread that could only be eaten by the priestly class according to the Mosaic Law, and yet that was never counted as a sin against him (Mark 2:25-26). Yet there are a lot of other heavier examples than that one.

The old Mosaic Law clearly stated that killing was prohibited. It was one of the Ten Commandments that all of the Israelite community heard and wasn’t just handed down to Moses, for that matter (Exodus 20:13). And yet, not long after that, the Israelites waged a God-ordered military campaign against the resident tribes in the land of Canaan. The Israelites were also ordered not to intermarry with any of the Moabites, who were not only often regarded as perpetual enemies but also were feared for turning the hearts of Israel away from worship of God toward pagan gods (1 Kings 11:1-2), and yet King David’s great-grandmother was Ruth the Moabite and actually has a book of the Bible devoted to her. The Mosaic Law had prescriptions against defrauding and cheating with an emphasis on being honest in dealing with others (Leviticus 19:11, 13, 35-36), and yet the nation of Israel’s founding started with Jacob cheating his brother out of his father’s blessing (Genesis 27). And there’s no question that the Sacrifice of Lord Jesus Christ seemed to nullify some parts of the old Mosaic Law (we no longer stone people for doing work on the Sabbath, after all) while some parts remained completely intact (you still aren’t allowed to steal; Sacrifice of Lord Jesus or not).

What all of this gives a sense of is, in spite of the claims of objectivity, that morality according to the Bible is nothing more than whatever is relative: whatever gets the “right” party what they want at the time. The rules only apply whenever its convenient. This is certainly the impression that many non-Christians receive, and what those who are against religion in general claim Christianity is guilty of the same as all other major world religions. If nothing else, one can make the claim that there are no “hard rules” when it comes to Christianity. That everything is ultimately based on a standard at the time. And if that’s the case, is what we call “sin” permissible every once in a while? Is sin even something concrete and objective to begin with? Is there really anything that can be considered definitively evil?

The fact of the matter is I don’t know what the answer is to all of this. I struggle with it every once in a while myself, and when other Christians have tried to “explain” the heavier portions I’ve been left either unsatisfied with the answers or even angry with them. I could argue that no system is absolute all the time, and that if people will criticize religion for it then human secular institutions are far more guilty. After all, most countries on Earth forbid murder for any reason yet they definitely have militaries and police forces that can do so whenever they need to. Neither does any country have a totally blameless past even if they laud themselves now. The United States, for example, prides itself in the modern day as being an example of freedom and liberty, and yet it spent decades instituting laws that denied its own citizens full citizenship and freedom, and enacted policies of murder of the native inhabitants of North America and theft of their land. That means that there are two principles that apply to human society and history regardless of which religion (or lack thereof) that you endorse: (1) there are some times people have to do certain things even if they never would normally do so or if they had no other choice; and (2) just because a society or people are where they are today as a result of doing something genuinely evil does not make that past act morally right.

This devotional, however, focuses on the former case in regards to individuals: are there times when it is “ok to sin”? Applying the case of killing to an individual, we can all agree that murder is morally wrong, but we would be excused if we were trying to defend ourselves from someone seeking our own life and had no other choice. Yet what about in smaller situations, like in this episode?

Applejack made a deal that she shouldn’t have as she had no authority to make it, but when it looked like it might hurt her family business she tried telling a “little white lie” to hopefully get out of it. Obviously, Applejack was trying to cover up her own mistake, which might not be too acceptable; but she was also trying to keep from inadvertently hurting her family’s business relationship, which is more of a gray area. When her own mistake could lead (unjustly) to her grandmother’s reputation being hurt by telling the truth, what should she do then?

In the same vein, what about when we want to tell lies to avoid upsetting people, such as telling them the dinner they worked hard making for us tastes horrible or honestly telling them how they look when they’re sick in the hospital? And surely if someone was a government agent who had been captured by a hostile nation and was being interrogated, it would make sense to lie to protect one’s own nation and people. Or think to places like Nazi Germany where a citizen might be hiding a political refugee, perhaps even saving their lives, in their homes, and a corrupt government comes to their house demanding to know if they are hiding someone. Surely we would say it would be idiocy or even immorality to not lie in that situation. Is it acceptable to sometimes deceive via lying if the truth could lead to disastrous consequences?

I’m not going to pretend that I know what to say for all situations. This isn’t something that can be answered with an umbrella statement. Yet to me what everything ultimately boils down to, and what Jesus Himself seemed to indicate, was what’s on the inside. Motive, spirit, and intent. It was keeping with the spirit of the Mosaic Law that Jesus emphasized, as it is impossible for mankind to keep the Law perfectly to begin with anyway. In doing so, in some cases He lowered the standards set by the Law (John 8:7) while in other cases He made them far stricter (Matthew 5:27-28); yet at all times it ultimately came to what was the spirit of man in committing the deeds. If I tell a lie, is it because I don’t want to hurt someone or because I want to protect myself? If I cause another harm, whether mentally or physically, is it because it was pain that was needed to unsettle them from where they were or was it out of spite, anger, vengeance, or a desire to see them suffer? If I’m going to engage in an act of civil disobedience, is it because I want to draw attention to a greater crime that needs to be addressed or is it because I want to use it as an excuse for lawlessness to sate my own personal anger?

Yet even then, it’s important to always note that sin isn’t sin simply because some stone tablets say so. Sin is what it is because it’s destructive and brings death and misery to those who practice it and end up on the receiving end of it. God’s commands and instructions aren’t just to give us special hoops to jump through but because things that are prohibited are almost always genuinely bad. We can probably always find an “exception” to most crimes (i.e. stealing might be wrong; but if you have to either starve to death or steal a piece of food to save yourself it might be possibly overlooked that one time, especially if restitution is made later), but the reason the rule is in place is because in the far majority of cases it’s a genuine crime, and in the small set of cases in which it might not be it’s dangerously easy for a potential transgressor to fool themselves into thinking it’s for a good cause rather than their own selfish desires. As said in earlier devotionals, the key is always to be honest with yourself and strive for a pure heart and a clean conscience. When your primary motivation is to love and to serve God and others wholeheartedly and selflessly, then that motive should help guide you toward making the right choices.

For that reason, devotional life can never be discounted. Reading what God’s Word says about a certain situation and praying over a course of action are both good ways to make sure that we’re always treading the right road and that we do indeed have the best motives. So can being accountable to someone else. As Proverbs says, “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” (14:12). Most translations add “to a man”, and to me that illustrates that it’s very easy to talk ourselves into something that ends up appearing perfectly good, but once we talk about it to someone else the truth becomes clear. It’s yet another reason why the true essence of Christianity lies in the community and not the individual.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for the instruction found in your Word, which guides us in truth even when we are tempted to rationalize or reason away our actions. Help me to always strive to live in harmony with it and to place you and your Kingdom first in all of my actions and deeds, and thereby maintain a clean conscience and keep from sinning against you and others. Please help me to pursue accountability for my own actions as well so that I can keep from deceiving myself into committing transgressions and selfishness. Lastly, as far as I am able, please help me to live an honest and truthful life with you, with others, and with myself. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Devotional #132: “The Way I See It…”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “P.P.O.V. (Pony Point of View)”

I had a devotional about this topic before, but as it’s a timely one that doesn’t get touched on much, I feel it’s appropriate to revisit it.

In this episode, Applejack, Rarity, and Pinkie Pie have a disastrous time on a boating trip, yet when they try to explain who was at fault to Twilight Sparkle she receives three different accounts…none of which agree with each other. After carefully considering all three stories and the common elements, it turns out none of the stories reflected reality at all, yet it wasn’t fair to call them “lies” either. Each individual believed they were giving the honest truth, but the problem was each one focused only on certain aspects, distorted and warped them to suit their notions, and ignored everything else. That didn’t stop them all from insisting that their stories were perfectly true, however, and actually getting angry when disbelief was indicated.

I rarely read political news anymore, because whenever I do I feel like I’m losing my mind. Part of that is due to the fact that I look in on both right-leaning networks as well as left-leaning networks, and some days the same reporting on the same incident is so wildly different between the two you’d think the same thing happened in two alternate universes. That clearly shows that objective reporting is dead, as I highly doubt that one of the networks is saying the completely honest truth while the other is telling bold-faced lies. Nor do I believe that either side (at least not completely) is out to totally distort everything to delude people. Rather, I think either network is made up of people of the same political ideology and they, like all of us, see what they want to see and hear what they want to hear. Back when I was in college I heard the Christian Science Monitor had a reputation for being one of the genuinely unbiased news sources out there. I read an article from them and I was overwhelmed. Seeing a news report that genuinely just reported facts without any spin or bias was so shocking that it hardly even looked like what we call “news” nowadays. (I can only hope it’s continued that trend…)

Usually it’s impossible to get either side to look in on the other’s network. In fact, usually when you suggest it, you get mocked for being a “mindless sheep”…as if the person who did the mocking wasn’t already clinging to their own source as absolute “Gospel”.  The fact this exists at all in news is distressing, but it really does just simply illustrate the greater truth about people in general.

People claim that they want to hear all of the facts to know the truth about something and then make a decision, but this is usually a lie or, at minimum, a form of self-delusion. The reality is none of us see the world the way it is no matter how many facts we read. We always see the world the way we are.

This isn’t any clearer than in the political stories I just mentioned. I’ll take the recent incidents with the James Comey hearing. Once it was concluded, one side claimed that it completely vindicated the Trump administration of any wrongdoing whatsoever. The other side claimed it was such a scathing indictment that they could start impeachment proceedings immediately. That’s insane. The exact same factual event happened, and yet two different news sources said two completely different things occurred. But this sort of self-delusion and distortion of truth can happen anywhere, especially within us.

Just as a personal example, as I’ve said before, I suffer from perfectionism; the need to be externally pleasing and do things just right in order to be a good and conscientious person. Sometimes that can interfere with my work. Let’s say I put in a full day during a busy schedule and it’s time for me to head out. Sometimes, however, I’m afraid to. Knowing it’s a busy time, I’m afraid that this will reflect poorly on my work ethic because I’m not willing to put in extra time. Sure I’m not required to put in more, but if I don’t will that show I’m not willing to make any sort of sacrifice for the team? And sure, my supervisor may be fine with me putting in normal hours, or perhaps even has said to me before not to work later, but I second guess myself. What if he didn’t really feel that way? What if that was just something he said to be polite? What if he naturally expects that advice to be ignored by anyone else on the team? What if he expects me to put in at least a little extra time? What if I inadvertently slacked off today and I really am “in the red” when it comes down to it? It’s not long before I start imagining scenes of my supervisors being disappointed with me or angry about failure to turn things in. Sometimes I even obsess over it all weekend, ruining what down time I do get. And this is all in the face of compliments and praise I get both at work and on my performance reviews. None of those things matter anymore. My perfectionism now dictates reality to me rather than having the ability to see things the way they are.

Bad childhood experiences, past hurts, phobias, irrational fears…all of these things can do the same to people. People might stay isolated and alone because they think everyone is untrustworthy and “out to get them”. Or maybe people choose only to see acts of violence or crime by individuals of a certain race on TV and conclude an entire race is bad, while ignoring hundreds of thousands of members of the same race who are neither violent nor criminals. Perhaps they say all Christians or Muslims are psychopaths because of a terrorist attack, while they ignore millions that live normal, peaceful lives. Or maybe they demand that a particular race, creed, or religion “prove” their peacefulness by demanding they denounce and rally against an act of violence or terror…while at the same time if a member of their own race, creed, or religion does the same they get angry if someone tries to say it’s representative of them.

From a personal standpoint, I believe that one can conclude God is real and that Jesus is indeed the Son of God and Savior of Mankind through exposure to genuine Christians, one’s own conscience, and the natural world along with the Bible. And people who are honestly seeking God or truth have indeed become Christian as a result of doing so. Yet there are others who demand more concrete proof before they will say they believe in God. For them, there’s all sort of books like “Jesus Freaks” and “The Case for Faith”, as well as personal witnessing, testimony, and miracles from thousands of Christians worldwide; but more often than not they’ll say: “that’s not ‘concrete’ enough…I need real proof”. For those people, I’m not even sure Jesus Christ manifesting Himself before them would be enough, because they’ve already concluded God isn’t real. At this point, in their mind it’s simply rationalizing away anything that says contrary.

If you’ve read the first few books of the Bible, you’re familiar with how the Israelites that left Egypt during the Exodus almost continuously complained against Moses and sought to return to Egypt after every difficulty that arose, and this was after they saw God bring the plagues of Egypt, part the Red Sea, feed them daily with manna, and guide them with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. It’s easy for us to shake our heads and laugh at these people, but I take it more seriously. If even they continuously doubted God when he acted explicitly on their behalf, how much less would it take us to fall away from faith and start seeing the world through our own narrow vision?

I believe one of the most important instructions the Bible emphasizes is the need to be honest with ourselves and, above all, to strive to remove any inner lies and deception from inside ourselves. I have a message from God in my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God before their eyes. In their own eyes they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin.” (Psalms 36:1-2); “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” (James 1:22-24); “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23) “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Luke 6:41-42)

So long as we aren’t honest with ourselves, we will distort the world and everything we see and hear to fit our own warped lenses. And when that happens, we will never accurately see any truth, including God’s Truth.

A good prayer for today (and perhaps regularly) might be to ask God to confront us with anything that we are being dishonest or in denial about, so that we can remove it and clearly see what we’re overlooking. This isn’t necessarily easy, because the first step of this is admitting that we’re currently wrong about something we may have a strong opinion about and even adamantly defend. Yet if we want to keep growing to become more mature and perfect in Christ, we have to be willing to face it. As Lord Jesus said: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for your instruction to be on guard against self-deception and the warning for the consequences. Please help me to always be honest with myself so I can see the world clearly and truthfully, as you do, rather than to suit whatever distortion I want to see. In doing so, help me to live a life more eagerly pursuing genuine truth, including your truth. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Devotional #131: “Humble Bumble”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Every Little Thing She Does”

As I’ve noted in my reviews, Starlight Glimmer seems to “get off easy” for a lot of the stuff she does; whether accidental or intentional. What I thought was rather surprising for this episode was the first character who ended up holding a grudge was Pinkie Pie. (It was over cake, of all things, but ignoring that for now.) But what I keyed on for today’s devotional was something that occurred later. Starlight earlier admitted that she only wanted to do things that showed off her strengths and aptitudes. She hates doing anything that shows off her shortcomings, her anxiety, or her ineptitude, because she measures everything including her relationship status with others at how good she can do things and not by the emotional connections involved. Ironically, at least for her, it’s only when she takes Twilight Sparkle’s advice and lets herself make something of an embarrassment of herself trying to bake a cake with Pinkie Pie that she not only gets her forgiveness but ends up connecting with her.

While it’s sort of subordinate to the main lesson of the episode, it serves as a nice little reminder that a little humility can go a long way. Perhaps even better than showing off what we’re good at.

There are a number of issues in English translations of the Bible from the root words, as they don’t always have the exact same meaning that one was trying to convey in the modern sense. One of the more noteworthy culprits is the term “meek”. It’s used importantly in two passages, the more well-known being Matthew 5:5 (“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”), and the other in Numbers 12:3 (“Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth.” ESV). In modern English, meek is usually synonymous with shy, timid, withdrawn, and easily cowed and compelled through threat and force. The impression that is given from someone who is “meek” is someone who is “wimpy”.

Looking at Matthew 5:5 it might be easy to draw the same conclusion, but looking at Numbers 12:3 it’s easier to point out the mistranslation. The phrase is used to refer to Moses, saying he was the meekest man alive on Earth. Well, going by the modern English connotation of “meek”, that’s obviously not true if you know anything about Moses. Moses was bold enough to appear before the Pharaoh of Egypt on multiple occasions and proclaim against him in most of them, all while the Pharaoh was in a position to have him executed on the spot. He also proclaimed the words of God to thousands of Israelites time and again when many times it was met with hostility or even threats of death, and led them through natural disasters, divine encounters, and hostile nations attacking to the edge of the Promised Land over the course of 40 years. While I’m sure he had some assistance from God, someone who was very timid, quiet, and impressionable couldn’t have done this.

In this sense, that word refers to being humble. Some translations even directly change it to say that Moses was the most humble man on Earth, and in that context that makes sense as in this passage Moses is being falsely accused of using his status as Prophet of God to set himself higher than everyone in the community. It was pointing out how Moses was never self-interested or thought of himself as higher than any other Israelite, and the Bible attests to this. Many times Moses diminished himself, pointing out his own inadequacies and fears to God whenever he was called to do something (“Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”” Exodus 4:10; “But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”” Exodus 4:13). And it was the accusation of one of his own countrymen that he wanted to become king of the Israelites that drove him to abandon his comfortable lifestyle among Egyptian royalty and take up the meager life of a herder for decades (Exodus 2:14). Yet in spite of being humble, Moses ended up being one of the most important historical figures of the ancient world and doing amazing things that changed human history forever.

A lot of people suffer, in one area or another, the same affliction that Starlight Glimmer went through. They feel the need to only ever show off their “good side”, or only talk about things they’re comfortable with, or always make themselves look like they’re at their best. There’s a number of reasons for that. In Starlight’s case, it was because she didn’t know how else to interact with people. For others, it’s from a mindset of perfectionism–the idea that our worth is measured only by our ability to please everyone. For still others, it’s an esteem issue–if they can’t be “externally great” then they’ll focus on their own deficiencies and obsess over them.

The problem is even if we acknowledge that being meek and being humble are two different things, the latter connotation isn’t too admired in society either. We have the idea that it’s the big, bold, loud, and daring who shape the world. The ones who proverbially “make waves”. Who speak out fiercely as overt forces for change on a national level. The people who seem perfect in every way and everything they do is a raging success. This, however, is an illusion. No one is perfect. No one has ever been perfect. No one can do everything perfectly either. Yet the sides that we see of other people, especially celebrities or public figures, including those who do altruistic work or try to improve the world, is often only one side. And because we only see the good side, that’s how we identify that person, and how we end up judging and measuring ourselves by that standard.

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve done this but I’m sure everyone else has felt the same way at some point. Can you recall the last time you heard of some amazing missionary, or some incredible witness, or even someone who managed to organize a massive community event or charity…and you thought to yourself: “if only I was more like that person”? Or when in the company of others who seem to be swapping stories of their own goodness, generosity, or experiences, do you find yourself choosing your own words carefully to try and make your own successes look better and your own shortcomings look smaller?

There are good reasons why God desires that we be humble. For one, the opposite of humility is pride, and pride leads to a whole host of problems from alienating people; to causing us to resort to any means to maintain that pride; to blaming external factors or others for anything we do wrong; to swearing off our dependence on God and others in the first place. But for another, being humble means you are being honest: with yourself, with God and with others. It means you acknowledge where you are deficient or fall short in life; if unchangeable you accept it as a part of who you are, and if changeable you accept it as something that needs to be worked on. It means you are willing to show your true self rather than a fake face hiding behind perfectionism, pride, or the need to be someone else. And that means that you are fully open to God’s love, as he accepts you for everything you are, and you can fully acknowledge the love of others who accept you with everything you are. It also means “selling yourself”, as a normal, average, flawed human being and admitting the same. And admitting one’s own weaknesses is the first step toward overcoming them.

My message for this devotional is to take a page from Starlight Glimmer: perhaps be humble enough to show those around you the sides of your life you’re not so good at or the parts of you that aren’t quite as perfect as you would like them to be. You might find you’re in good company.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you again that you accept me as I am, both in terms of strengths and weaknesses. Please help me to always be honest with you, with others, and myself. That includes not putting up a false front or hiding behind pride, but being open with my inadequacies as well as my aptitudes. And if I have been hiding behind a wall of pride myself, please help me to pursue the kind of “Godly humility” that Lord Jesus preached. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Devotional #130: “Trust Me”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Viva Las Pegasus”

Most of this episode centers around the owner of a resort in Las Pegasus named Gladmane who has some of the most talented performers in Equestria working under him, although each one is talented enough to move onto bigger and better things if they want. On the surface, it seems that they stay purely out of loyalty, as Gladmane prides himself on being everyone’s “friend” and keeping them happy. Yet it turns out as the episode progresses that all is a farce. In truth, he keeps the performers poisoned against each other and constantly fighting so that they won’t ever pair up long enough to leave him for better deals or greater success. Yet because he acts so friendly and concerned all the time, no one ever suspects anything. They assume he has their best interest at heart the entire time, when in reality he was taking their trust and faith in him and violating it.

One of the greatest sins that can be committed, not only in terms of damage it does externally but also internally, emotionally, and spiritually, is betrayal. Taking someone’s complete trust and then purposely and willfully violating it completely. It’s such a terrible crime that when Dante wrote the “Inferno” he made it the worst possible sin in Hell…one Satan himself is guilty of. And as anyone who has ever suffered betrayal in one form or another knows, what it leaves behind is terrible. A more recent example in history is the people who sunk their life savings into Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme and will now never see a fraction of that money back, nor will any amount of time he spends in prison undo it. Debatably, such a crime does far worse damage than theft, burglary, or property damage, even though those crimes usually carry stiffer penalties.

Betrayal is a crime against trust. We all know that we take a chance when we trust people with anything. Some risks are small and some are high, and how much we trust someone with is a measure of faith we put into other people. How badly that trust is violated hurts our faith in others that much worse. It’s likely that those victims of Madoff will never trust anyone with a single dollar of theirs again, even if a different investor has a good chance of recuperating at least some of their losses. Nor are they likely to trust anyone else asking for money, such as a charitable organization that fulfills a genuine need or a church asking for a tithe. In that sense, the wound of betrayal continues to linger on and impacts others downstream.

While many of us may be lucky enough to have not been a victim of a loss of retirement or savings, chances are all of us have had to deal with betrayal before. Some of us have been have had it come from someone we genuinely trusted and perhaps even loved. And it’s likely to have impacted how we regard others in the future and how we treat them. The emotional wound that it leaves behind is terrible, because it doesn’t easily heal. Having exposed ourselves to the chance of being hurt so badly before, it is unlikely after feeling that pain that we’ll ever want to expose ourselves again. It can lead us to locking other people out, keeping them at arm’s length, or simply shunning the company of others. It can also lead to warping our perspective of humanity rather badly.

But the worst impact of all is how it effects us in our relationship with God.

A good part of Christianity is based on faith and trust in God. It’s the ultimate foundation for our faith, right back in the Old Testament with the patriarch Abraham, (“Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” Genesis 15:6) and stemming all the way to the Apostle Paul (“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9). In between, from Moses to Joshua to Samuel to Daniel to Solomon to Mary to Jesus Himself and with everyone else who came before and after them, it was all about acts of faith and trust in God. But if we’ve been betrayed in the past, we’re likely not to have much trust in others; including God. And if we’ve been betrayed by a different religion or even a “Christian” Church, then that much more less so because that’s what we associated God with.

On a personal note, I know someone who’s suffered most of their life with feelings of distrust toward others. They feared that they can never expose the truth about themselves and certain things they’ve done because no one would ever look at them the same way. Yet this dishonesty, both with themselves and others, did nothing to help anything. By thinking they couldn’t expose it to others, they ended up thinking that a part of them was evil and unlovable…both to others and to God. And that came out in a brutal way when they finally did confess, and it almost ended up disastrously. And that’s bad any way you look at it.

As Christians, it’s not only important to recognize God is love (1 John 4:8), but to also accept it. If we fail to do so, if we see God as only a judge and someone “out to get us”, we’ll never fully trust God to forgive us of our sins; much less be with us in difficulty or in whatever he calls us to do. And if we don’t trust God to be with us to lead us and guide us in times of trouble, and we don’t trust that God loves us, then we won’t act from that perspective and do anything for the Kingdom of God, because we feel we’ll be “on our own” everywhere we go.

While it’s important to be careful about whom we choose to trust, we can’t go through life never trusting anyone. As I mentioned in earlier devotionals, humans are social creatures. We need relationships to live: both with God and with others. Anything less is failing to live as a human and sentencing us to a miserable life. But if our trust is violated, or we never had much trust in others to begin with, how do we learn to trust other people?

That’s not an easy answer, especially to someone who has had their trust violated. It might require psychiatric help or counselling, or facing up to a lot of painful things. I have no universal answer because all people are unique. Yet from my perspective, the biggest thing I can encourage is we need to take a chance to at least look for someone to trust. When one is emotionally wounded, the only way to ever be cured is to risk getting hurt again, unfortunately. We have to find someone we are willing to take a chance on trusting. (That’s also why I suggest a professional, because they, at least, are required by law to keep your secrets or they can’t practice.) Once we’ve experienced that we can trust someone with who we are, and all of what we are, we can accept that others, including God, will do the same.

As uneasy, uncomfortable, and fearful as this might be, I strongly urge anyone wrestling with this trust issue to do so. Don’t be like the person I knew and spend years of your life needlessly living in fear of what will happen if people know the “real you”. Remember, God already knows the real you and accepts you completely (Jeremiah 1:5).

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you that you have promised to never leave me or forsake me, and that this saying is trustworthy even in the darkest of times. If I am having trouble accepting this, or having trouble placing my trust in others, especially if I am still hurting from an earlier betrayal, please help me to open my heart to others once again and to seek the help I need to open up once again. In doing so, I will be better able to minister to others and fulfill the Kingdom of God. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

 

My Little Devotional #129: “Seeing Mud and Seeing Stars”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “The Fault in Our Cutie Marks”

In this episode, Greta Griffon goes to the Cutie Mark Crusaders with the intent of getting a Cutie Mark; believing that it’s the key to being able to spread the magic of friendship to the rest of griffonkind. Unfortunately for her, griffons getting Cutie Marks is simply impossible–only ponies can get them, and no amount of trying, wishing, or wanting will change that for griffons. However, by the end of the episode, both Greta as well as the Cutie Mark Crusaders realize that even if she can’t get a Cutie Mark, she can still embody friendship and spread it to others. She can still have something that makes her happy even if it isn’t what she would prefer, and she shouldn’t let the fact she can’t have some things make her forget she can have others. In either situation, the idea is that even if there are some things that we as individuals have no control over, we can’t let those things stop us from working with the things we do have control over…and, most of all, we can’t let those things we can’t change keep us from being happy.

It’s actually a shocking idea to many people that all individuals can choose to be happy. The cynic would say that it’s easy for someone in a first-world country to say that, but what about people living abroad in situations of war, famine, poverty, or total lack of civil liberties? Can they “choose” to be happy then? Well…for me personally, although I won’t be conceited enough to say they have to be happy, they can still choose to be happy. That’s something I had to learn for myself.

The fact is no one can make us feel one way or another. There is no magic set of external circumstances that will force us to be happy or sad…or angry or enthusiastic or tranquil or depressed or any other emotion. Feelings are God-given and they arise naturally from things that happen to us, which leads some people to think we can’t “own” our feelings. To an extent that’s true, but nevertheless there is nothing that makes everyone happy or sad. Take a tearjerker movie, for example. Some people are emotionally impacted by it and break down in tears; others laugh at the whole thing and make fun of it. Some people would be overjoyed and believe their worries were over if they could be making the US median income, while some millionaires sit around depressed and suicidal. Why does that happen?

While we may not have control of our feelings, we have control of what we let “get to us”, so to speak. What we allow to impact us emotionally and what we don’t. That’s why people we love often can hurt us far more with minor infractions than strangers or acquaintances who initiate a major betrayal. We may be angry at the latter case, but devastated in the former. Some people let everything in, and those people are especially emotionally vulnerable because everyone can hurt them deeply. Others do what we call “building up walls”, which is where they never let anyone in for fear of being hurt, but end up miserable and alone because God designed us to be social creatures.

As individuals, we can choose to let things in to make us happy or sad, or we can choose to block out the same things. And this, I have found, is the key to being emotionally stable. Depending on what you do, you can be an optimist or a pessimist–able to keep a smile on your face when the world is ending, or sad and despairing even if you have financial success and are surrounded by loved ones.

I still remember when I read the Bible for the first time that I got caught on several passages, but one in particular that stuck out to me is Proverbs 17:22. “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” For a long time, I thought this proverb as an empty platitude. “Well, duh. Obviously it’s good to have a cheerful heart and not to have a crushed spirit, but how is that advice? You either have it or you don’t. What kind of proverb is this?” It wasn’t until years later that I started to realize that this wasn’t just a statement but a directive, because at the time I thought that I was helpless to my own feelings and had no control over them. Either I’d be happy or sad, and I had no control over it. But the truth is quite the opposite.

Just this last weekend I went to an anime convention. It’s the only anime convention I go to all year and I spend a third of the year preparing for it. Yet when I went this year, I kept thinking…all weekend long…about how the laptop I use at work had crashed and how I needed to get it fixed early on Monday morning. I kept dreading the worst. I kept thinking it would ruin me getting my tasking done on time. I kept thinking that my supervisor would be upset. I kept thinking how much it would mess up my normal schema and flow of a work day. And the truth is I didn’t really need to worry about any of that. It took some time to fix but it was no big deal and no one else cared. But because I was worried about it,  and wouldn’t stop being worried about it, I didn’t enjoy myself the entire weekend. Always whenever I sat down to do anything or enjoy anything, that fact was in the back of my head. It didn’t give me a moment’s peace until the car ride back from work on Monday.

I let that get to me. I let it dominate my thinking, because I thought to ignore it was to diminish the problem all together. I refused to mentally “put it down” for even a second. And so, surrounded by a fun time, with events and attractions I waited a year to see, with nothing to worry about for three days…I had a miserable time. I let one thing beyond my control destroy any chance of happiness I had even when I had plenty of reasons to be happy.

This is a rather simplistic example, but I hope that all of you can see the meaning behind it and apply it to bigger things. We can choose to let things tear us apart or let them slide. Likewise, we can choose to let things fill us with joy or ignore them completely. We can let the bad in our life keep us in a low, dark place or we can choose to see the bright things in our life and focus on them.

The Bible has examples of people who could have let their circumstances and problems bring them to their knees, but always managed to look beyond them. When thinking about David in the Old Testament, most people only think of him killing Goliath and becoming a great king of Israel. The truth is much of his life was rather hard and something no one would wish on themselves; such as his years on the run from King Saul leading him to be an exile from his own country, the constant wars he had to fight for his own survival and that of his nation, and eventually even seeing his own household turn on itself and his own son try to kill him. There were many times David was miserable and scared, as attested to in his Psalms. But whenever despair threatened to choke him or beat him down where he couldn’t rise, he always looked to God and put his hope in him. He focused on the fact that he knew God would be with him and deliver him, and that enabled him to rejoice even in dire circumstances. Just look at Psalm 27:

“The Lord is my light and my salvation—
    whom shall I fear?
“The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
    of whom shall I be afraid?

When the wicked advance against me
    to devour me,
“it is my enemies and my foes
    who will stumble and fall.
Though an army besiege me,
    my heart will not fear;
“though war break out against me,
    even then I will be confident.

One thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
“that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
“to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
    he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
“he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
    and set me high upon a rock.

Then my head will be exalted
    above the enemies who surround me;
“at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
    I will sing and make music to the Lord.

Hear my voice when I call, Lord;
    be merciful to me and answer me.
My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
    Your face, Lord, I will seek.
Do not hide your face from me,
    do not turn your servant away in anger;
    you have been my helper.
“Do not reject me or forsake me,
    God my Savior.
Though my father and mother forsake me,
    the Lord will receive me.
Teach me your way, Lord;
    lead me in a straight path
    because of my oppressors.
Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
    for false witnesses rise up against me,
    spouting malicious accusations.

I remain confident of this:
    I will see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord.”

 

Likewise, in the New Testament, Paul was definitely a man of affliction, and none of us would wish the same life he had to go through. “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” (2 Corinthians 11:24-27) And yet he always was able to keep going and have peace and even contentment in the worst circumstances. “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Phillipians 4:12-13) Paul put his faith in Lord Jesus, and in spite of being in situations that would leave most people physically as well as emotionally and mentally crushed, he always persevered and kept going without lack of enthusiasm. He knew his salvation was assured and the work he was doing was making a difference, and that carried him beyond all of his trials and troubles.

In both cases, the person looked to God. They knew he was there for them and would sustain them no matter what happened, would grant them success in their undertaking so long as they clung to righteousness, and none of that would change due to their circumstances. They kept their eyes on what was above and not on the pain and suffering they had to deal with below. As a result, they were never overcome by their depression and sadness but conquered all and went on to become great men of not only the Bible but of history.

My take-home message from today’s devotional goes out to all those who feel helpless, hopeless, and in despair. Don’t give everything bad in your life so much power as to choke out what good there is still there. Instead, remind yourself of what you have, or possibly still have, and let that carry you through any times of darkness.

Choose to let something make you happy today.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you that you are always with me and that you give me blessings in my life when I trust in you, if only I will take the time to look for them. When darkness, dread, and fear come upon me, especially when faced with tragedy, sadness, or loss, help me to always remember what I have now and to look forward to, and let these joys that you have granted me not be snuffed out by the gloom of things beyond my control. Help me to remember, in the words of William Ernest Henley:

‘It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.’
“Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”