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.”

How It Should Have Ended: “Samurai Jack”

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(The following is a shameless rip-off of HISHE [How It Should Have Ended]. You should check them out on YouTube. They’re really funny and clever, and put a lot of work into their stuff…unlike me. :/ And if by some chance they ever do this one, I’ll be sure to take it down.)

“HOW ‘Samurai Jack’ SHOULD HAVE ENDED”

(Scene opens at the wedding scene, with Ashi walking down the aisle. Suddenly, her face falls and she collapses. Jack quickly breaks from the altar as the rest of the guests are shocked and runs down to her, picking her head off the ground and cradling her in his arms. She looks to him as she reaches out and touches his face.)

ASHI: Without Aku…I never would have…existed…

(To his horror, as well as that of the audience, she fades away from existence. Jack is left only holding her bridal attire. He bows his head and nearly begins to mourn…but then stops and looks up.)

JACK: …But…if Aku never existed, then Ashi would have never existed. If Ashi had never existed, then the time portal would never have existed. (Grows more thoughtful) And if the time portal never would have existed, then I would never have gone back to the past… And that would mean I would still be in the future…so Ashi would live…but if she lived, then I would go back to the past…so she would die…and…

(Jack is suddenly interrupted and goes wide-eyed as a cosmic ripping is heard. Everyone looks up in shock, but are helpless to do anything as they, the wedding scene, the land, the sky, and all existence itself is suddenly caught up in a huge vortex; warped and twisted into oblivion. As Jack cries out, all reality everywhere is sucked into a singularity, leaving only a blank white realm of nothingness.)

(Focus on it a moment, before Jack slowly floats by, blinking and confused. He looks around with a wide-eyed stare for a few moments, before a giant black monstrosity begins to float by in the opposite direction.)

AKU: Foolish samurai!

(Jack snaps his head up in alarm.)

JACK: What the…Aku?!

AKU: I merely destroyed the world of the future…but you, samurai? You just had to go back and create your little time paradox, didn’t you? I spent over 10,000 years turning this pitiful world into a realm of death and despair, and yet you outdid me in five minutes and destroyed all existence!

(Pause)

AKU: Wait…what am I saying? (Giant evil grin) Good job, samurai! I can’t thank you enough for destroying me and incurring some, shall we say, minor collateral damage! Never mind what I said! BWA-HA-HA-HA-HA!

(Jack is left staring out into nothingness with a regretful and despairing look on his face…)

(…Before the scene shifts back to Aku’s lair with Jack and Black-Suited Ashi in the heat of the giant final battle.)

ASHI: …So that’s why I can’t send you back, Jack. I mean…even if I’m willing to get erased from existence, there’s still the whole problem of creating an unbreakable time loop.

JACK: (Musing a bit himself) Yes, I…suppose I never really thought about it that way. (Looks regretful) And…it would be pretty bad if I had gone through all of that just now just for you to end up a memory, exactly as I feared.

ASHI: (Also looking uneasy) Yeah… Pretty much the only way it would be worse is if I didn’t vanish from existence immediately like I should, but instead I stuck around for several months while everything got rebuilt and it was only at the exact moment we were about to get married that I vanished. I mean, if our lives were a show, that would be the writer just punching the audience in the stomach and laughing at them.

JACK: But, um… (Looks back up to Aku, who is staring down at them rather immobile this whole time while attackers continue to hit him with no effect) You have no problem…um…holding him still and keeping him from escaping while I destroy him, yes?

ASHI: Oh. (Morphs limbs into elongated scythes) Of course not.

AKU: (Looking at the camera) Uh-oh…again. Probably should have fled during that explanation.

(Ashi morphs her arms into more spikes and pins Aku to the flaming while while Jack cries out, leaps up, and slices him into one piece after another until everything is destroyed.)

(Cut to outside as Aku’s tower is destroyed with the rest of him. The possessed combatants are released and everyone is left in a smoldering crater. Everyone cheers and cries out loud shouts of victory. After going over the survivors, it finally returns to Jack and Ashi in the center.)

ASHI: (Smiling and looking to Jack) So…what now?

(Jack gets his normal grim look.)

JACK: Now…I must find a different way to return to my own time and end the evil that is Aku.

(Nearly steps away when Ashi moves forward and puts a hand on him.)

ASHI: Whoa-whoa-whoa…I thought we already pointed out how that’s risky? I mean, even if I don’t send you back in time, I still get erased from existence. And not just me…

(Motions around)

ASHI: Everyone gets erased from existence.

(The ones closest suddenly stop and looks back.)

FORMER-BLIND ARCHER: Wait, what? What did she just say?

DOG ARCHEOLOGIST: She just said Jack wants to erase us from existence!

(Jack looks shocked as he’s suddenly put on the spot.)

JACK: Wh…what?

APE JUMP-GOOD GUY: (Looking heartbroken) Jack…erase-good…?

WOOLIE: But…I thought we were friends…

(Jack shakes his head.)

JACK: Wait, no, no! It’s not like that!

(The Scotsman shoots forward glaring at him angrily.)

SCOTSMAN: Ya’ scabby roaster! Yer off yer hide if yer thinkin’ o’ erasin’ me an’ my kin! Not after ah’ll we did jus’ now!

SCOTSMAN’S DAUGHTERS: (In a unified chorus) Ya’!

(Jack puts his hands up defensively.)

JACK: No, no! This isn’t about erasing anyone! Don’t you understand? This is about saving billions of lives throughout history!

(Everyone is quiet for a moment.)

APE JUMP-GOOD GUY: Does that make old family come back to life?

JACK: Um…no.

FORMER BLIND-ARCHER: Does it give our people a better future?

JACK: No…and…there’s a good chance it’ll be worse.

SCOTSMAN: Wha’ ’bout me an’ my kin? (A legion of ghostly Celtic ancestors suddenly materializes behind him, all wanting an answer.)

JACK: (Uncomfortable) …All of you will likely never be born.

DOG ARCHAEOLOGIST: Does that keep us from ever being enslaved?

JACK: No, and…(Growing more nervous)…you’ll probably end up being non-sentient dogs as well.

WOOLIES: And us?

JACK: (Sweating) Not only will you never exist, but pretty much every non-human race that ever lived on Earth will never exist…the sea monkey people, the bird people, the salamander people, the emoji-antenna people…

BROKEN ROBOT: (Feebly raising a hand as shorting out) Does this future bring X-9 back…or reunite him with Lulu…?

(Long pause)

JACK: (Grimacing) …But billions of people! Billions of people who would have never been born or had a chance to be happy and grow up in peace!

SCOTSMAN: Yer bum’s out the windae! The way ah see it, billions o’ folks ‘re all panbread if ya’ do go back!

RAVER: What makes them more important than all of us, huh?

FORMER-BLIND ARCHER: And Aku’s dead. There’s nothing to worry about anymore. We can rebuild a new and more peaceful world. Isn’t your world still beset by petty infighting, lack of respect for natural resources, and run by self-serving feudalism?

(Everyone looks to the archer at his sudden insight. He shrugs.)

FORMER-BLIND ARCHER: Considering the fact I still look like this after 50 years, obviously I’ve been around a while.

ASHI: (Looking a bit tentative) Jack, did you, um…maybe ever think of…not going back to the past? I mean, all the time portals were going to be gone forever just until a little while ago anyway, right? Hadn’t you…kind of gotten used to the idea of living here in a world with no Aku?

(Jack stops for a moment and thinks about everything he’s been hearing. But then, he grits his teeth and shakes his head.)

JACK: Wait…no, no! I can’t! Think of what you’re asking me to do! You’re asking me to trade a few years of peaceful memories including painful ones of my father cutting a man in half in front of me for the only woman I’ve ever truly loved, a world full of friends who were willing to sacrifice themselves to save my life, countless alien and magical races united to build a peaceful and advanced society, the chance to see a destroyed world grow back and be restored to its former glory, and the opportunity to have a personal hand in it all and lead and guide the future to a glorious new destiny!

(Everyone stares back blankly. Jack stares back at all of them. Silence reigns.)

(Smash cut to Jack and Ashi kissing at their wedding, now set in the future with everyone in the series gathered around them and applauding them.)

THE END

(Scene opens on the white nothingness. After a moment, Ashi floats by, still in her wedding attire and looking around. Not long after, someone else floats by and bumps into her.)

NIA TEPPELIN: …So what do they have you in for?

My Little Devotional #128: “Toil and Trouble”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Buckball Season”

In this episode, when Applejack and Rainbow Dash find a new sport to get competitive about, they get a rather tall shock on seeing their friends Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy are natural pros at it, and decide to recruit them for the Ponyville team in a game against Appleloosa. Yet though Pinkie and Fluttershy have a natural love of the game, it isn’t long before Applejack and Rainbow are putting them through the wringer on demanding practice sessions and pressuring them to win for Ponyville. The game goes from being fun to nerve-wracking and miserable from pressure to succeed, and causes both to slip up repeatedly before it finally nearly drives them to quit the team all together rather than have to deal with the demands placed on them. It’s not until Applejack and Rainbow ease back on their approach and focus more on getting Pinkie and Fluttershy to enjoy themselves that they’re able to play at their best again.

There’s a folk saying that if you do what you love for a living, you’ll never work a day in your life. I think that’s one of those proverbs that’s more empty wind than anything meaningful. To me, following that advice is a quick way to learn to hate doing what you love.

From academics to performances to hobbies to actual jobs, there are a lot of things in this world that people can have natural talents for and/or have to work at in order to be good or the best at. To some people getting that good is impossible, while to others who are “naturals” comes a love of both the activity and the challenge associated with it, as that’s “part of the fun”. I’m an amateur writer myself. Give me a subject and I can usually write a short story of it lickety-split, and even if I can’t I love the creative process of coming up with something for it. But I can’t draw for the life of me, and I’m astonished at people who can do that at the drop of a hat. There’s also sports, public speaking, leadership roles, cleaning, community organizing, singing…all sorts of things.

For the Christian, probably the biggest one is one’s own ministry or personal way of serving God; how they walk with him and promote the Kingdom in their daily lives. Often this one is a continual challenge, with finding new ways to minister and better ways to connect with people, to say nothing of all the need in the world there is for the Gospel and for other forms of assistance. Yet this sort of work, along with any other aptitude, hobby, or proficiency a person might possess, can still be vastly rewarding even in its challenge when it’s the right personality for the right job.

Yet often a problem that occurs is the same as that presented in this episode: it stops “being fun”; or rewarding, effective, stimulating, or any of a million other things that take something we like and make it a drudgery. Sometimes this is due to being stuck in a rut and becoming stagnated, but it can also be due to too much pressure, either external or internal, applied to a person. It goes from being a pastime to something more serious and pressing. Something that has no real reward or penalty for doing well other than our own satisfaction and enjoyment that now requires ever greater commitment and attention. And with that commitment and attention comes unnecessary and unwanted pressures that take something we are enthusiastic about and make it a chore.

And sadly, Christianity and serving the Kingdom of God is no exception to this, and the problem is made worse in some Churches.

Part of being a Christian is to grow toward being more like Christ, a process that will not (and cannot) ever be completed in mortal life but will only happen after our own death and resurrection. Yet some Churches have started what I tend to view as a potentially dangerous precedent. They talk about the blessings and power of God moving into the lives of Christians right now if they only have faith; leading to material prosperity, excellent health, and continuous miracles in their lives. The idea is you only need sufficient faith, prayer, and devotion to God and you can count on all problems in your life being resolved supernaturally as soon as they arise, and you yourself can be empowered to be a good and wonderful Christian to minister in every situation that comes your way; even ones you aren’t prepared for.

While that all sounds good, the problem is that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes misfortune still strikes. Sometimes Christians still suffer. Sometimes prayer isn’t answered the way we want it. Sometimes you don’t know what to say or do to minister to someone even after you pray about it. Sometimes you still feel awkward and uncertain in a foreign situation even if you’re committed to following Jesus. And that’s where the bad part comes in. This little voice in your head…

“Well, if you had really wanted your prayer answered, it would have happened.” “If you really committed more to your devotional life, you would have been healed.” “If your faith had been stronger, God would have answered you.” “If you call yourself a real Christian, you’ll have the power to succeed in any situation.”

And that’s where fear and despair comes in; the thought that if you did pray more or have more faith or, deep down inside, wanted to serve God better, you’d be a more natural Christian and be able to have all these blessings and do all these things, and the fact that you aren’t means you aren’t a real Christian. So you must do more things and act a certain way to prove you are a real Christian and have really been saved and to prove that you love God. Now you start doubting your own salvation and, even more importantly, the Power of God’s Grace.

This is a dangerous path to follow. As the message of this devotional goes, it’s not long into doing this that Christianity stops being about an outpouring of love and concern for other people and more about trying to earn yourself merit points to feel more comfortable about yourself and your status before God. Christianity loses all semblance of letting God work through you and of honestly sharing the Gospel and becomes all about the self. And that is the most fruitless and exhausting chore of all.

Just as in ancient Biblical times the old religious orders measured their worth before God by the good works they did and earning the titles of “rabbi” and “teacher”, nowadays worth is measured by how many miracles and blessings you have earned through your faith and devotion. I heard one author actually call this the “Gospel of Glory”, but not of God’s glory or the Lord’s glory but rather the individual’s; measuring one’s own spirituality and holiness by how much spiritual power and gifts they possess.

I don’t doubt that spiritual blessings, miracles, prophetic utterances, and straight up healings do happen, but it’s important to note that these things don’t happen as a result of any action on our part or by becoming “holier than thou”. Ultimately, we’re all the same. Through and by our own merits and good works, there is no difference between the faith-healing pastor at a pulpit and the drug-addicted criminal lying in a gutter. “Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20) Both will eventually receive the same sentence for their sins, for God shows no partiality. It’s the Power of Christ and the magnitude of His Sacrifice that makes all equal, done without the input of man and without any conscious will or merit on their part. “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) It’s all about His Glory and Majesty. Accepting Him as Lord and Savior makes us clean before God, with no remembrance of past sins or wickedness and no tallying of our own works. All done through Christ and not earned at all by any effort. All we can do is accept it when offered to us.

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:22-26)

Far from turning the Christian life into one of drudgery, fear, and doubt, this Sacrifice is to set us free from those things. Now that we know that we can’t “earn” any salvation or favor from God but rather we freely have it showered down on us, we should be empowered to be more genuinely loving and thankful. To reach out and minister to people out of care, affection, and thankfulness other than out of a meaningless attempt to gain favor or prove ourselves as Christians. No one can “prove themselves” to be a Christian because becoming a Christian had nothing to do with any meritorious action originating from us. God merely offered us the opportunity and we accepted. He is the one who declares us Christians, not ourselves or anyone else.

If you’re like me and constantly fighting battles with worry, self-doubt, and concern that you’re not doing “good enough” to be a real Christian, perhaps you’re looking to the wrong individual for the source of salvation. Instead, try to focus on the power of the Cross and the One who died upon it, and just how clean you have been made by the power of that Sacrifice. You are now a child of God.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1: 12-13)

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, I can never thank you enough for the blessed and holy Sacrifice of your Son, Lord Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty of all of my sins and to make me born again as a child of God. Now that I have this blessed assurance, grant me the power to never cheapen it by succumbing to false worry, self-doubt, and despair but to cling to the Power of Christ and His unbeatable Sacrifice. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Devotional #127: “Opportunity Rings the Doorbell and Finds No One Home”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Dungeons & Discords”

This was one episode I had to watch more than once to get the real hook for it, but once I did I found it to be rather poignant. Discord finds his normal time of the month with Fluttershy cut off due to her being called off on business, and ends up reluctantly heading out along with Spike and Big Macintosh for a “Guy’s Night”. However, when it turns out that “Guy’s Night” is nothing more than tabletop RPGing, Discord vents not only his distaste for the two as unsocial nerds, but ends up, in his usual fashion, trolling them to boot. Yet he gets a major shock not long after when Spike blows up and reveals the only reason they even invited him was because they felt sorry for him, and he, much to his own embarrassment, realizes as geeky and pathetic as he thought Spike and Big Mac were, he was the one who didn’t have any other friends to hang out with besides the one pony who would tolerate him. He quickly realized, far from being the life of the party, he was in fact receiving pity and had inadvertently thrown it back in the face of those distributing it.

This episode made me think a bit about how we can become so focused on achieving one thing or focusing on one good thing that we completely ignore what’s right in front of us.

Given the recent horrendous flooding in my area, it brought to mind a story I heard in a sermon once:

There was once a very devout and religious man. His faith was great and he put his complete trust in God in every situation. One day it began to rain very hard, and the river near him started to flood. But he wasn’t the least bit afraid. Instead, he prayed to God to deliver him from the flood, and he believed completely that he would save him.

The water climbed until it reached the doorway of his house. At that point, an emergency vehicle came by offering to evacuate him. Yet he shook his head, saying that he had already prayed to God and he would take care of him.

The water continued to rise until it entered the house and was up to the man’s waist. At that point, a boat with emergency workers came by and offered to evacuate him. Again, he shook his head, saying that he had already prayed to God and he would take care of him.

The waters continued to rise dramatically after that, until the house itself was submerged and all that was left was the roof. The man sat on top, but the water continued to climb and would soon cover that as well. At that point, an emergency helicopter came by and a man went down on a line to take him away. Yet once again, he shook his head, saying that he had already prayed to God and he would take care of him.

The flood waters continued to rise, the roof was covered, and the man was washed away and drowned. Yet being a man who had accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior, he went to Heaven and came face to face with God. Only then did he express his disappointment. He told God that he prayed to him to deliver him and had been faithful and trusting the whole time, never wavering and faithfully awaiting him to save him, and yet in the end he had let him drown.

God, in response, could only shrug. “Well, I sent you a car, a boat, and a helicopter. What else did you want me to do?”

There are many people in this country and around the world who not only call themselves Christian but also pray for more power and more opportunity to make a change in the world around them. Yet how often do they witness to others? How often do they do charitable work? When there’s an emergency in their area, do they volunteer any time? When there’s a shortage on food for the needy or blood for the sick, do they make any donations? When a friend or co-worker is hurting, do they go out of their way to do something to make them happy? Do they try to connect with their own families and children, making a conscious effort to make time for them?

I’ve shared this in an earlier devotional, but now’s a good time to bring it up again. Back in college I volunteered at a soup kitchen. I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to proclaim Jesus to the people who came in and out. Yet whenever people came in, I’d always get tongue-tied and tense as I tried to think of the perfect way to break the ice and share the message, and as a result I always ended up sounding stressed and miserable, and the few times I could bring up God I got into religious arguments rather than provided anything persuasive or constructive. Meanwhile, the other Christians who volunteered there connected far more readily and easily with people just by talking to them as fellow human beings. They didn’t even mention the name “Jesus” to them and yet frequently got “God bless you”s back from the people who came in. Clearly, I was doing it wrong…focusing so much on saying the perfect line or getting out the core message of the Gospel that I missed a golden opportunity to minister right in front of me.

There is never any shortage of need in the world, and God calls people both to higher vocations as well as to “lesser” ones that are all around them. “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” (Romans 12:4-8) In fact, the Bible indicates that if we want more responsibility, God wants us to prove ourselves responsible in smaller matters first. (“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” Luke 16:10) And being a Christian isn’t just in one sphere of influence, but happens everywhere in every aspect of life. Therefore, we must be sure we aren’t so focused in one possibility that we let everything God is sending our way go unnoticed as it lands right in front of us.

I take today’s episode as a little friendly reminder to not be so focused on obtaining a goal, gaining a vocation, or making one achievement that we neglect to see the very answers to our prayers and callings of God spread before our eyes. I don’t think any of us would like to come to the end of our lives and see God shrugging in bafflement at our cluelessness. 😛

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you that when I ask for opportunities to do your will and make a difference in the world, you always provide. And thank you for everything you have given me that enables me to serve some need in this world and make it better for those around me. Please open my eyes to all the opportunities you send me each day and not let any of them ‘float down the river’. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

Junk Bin #19 – “Spice and Wolf”

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Well, it’s May of 2017. You know what that means. Convention season is nearly upon us. Right now it’s less than two weeks until Anime Central, the biggest anime/manga convention in the Midwest. And what better way to ring in the season than covering the anime that’s a tribute to crummy cosplay.

“Spice and Wolf”

Speaking of Anime Central, it seems every year I go there they end up really pushing a new anime or manga with the hopes it’ll end up being big. Some of them, like “Hetalia: Axis Powers”, end up following through. Others like this one…er…not so much. For me personally, while I appreciate romance being a good part of a story if it’s relatable and heartwarming, romance in anime/manga, especially a series devoted to it, is something I tend to avoid like the plague. I’ve only really ever seen two romance series: “Please Teacher!” (which I may get to one of these days…) and “Spice and Wolf”.

This anime is technically two seasons, but considering the fact that both seasons are 13 episodes, leading to your standard 26 episode series…yeah, it’s a one -season. The setting is purely fictional but very reality-inspired, appearing to be locales in Northern and Central Europe in a time and political climate vaguely around the post Middle Ages. A major factor in this universe is “the Church”, but although it has a similar hierarchy as the Roman Catholic Church, they refer to God a lot, and their associated religious orders are major players, the absence of crucifixes and referring to what could be statues of Mary as “goddess” indicates this is more of a parallel universe to real world places and things, similar to the normal setting itself.

The plot centers around a traveling merchant, or peddler, named Lawrence. While conducting business in one of the last remaining pagan worshiping towns, in particular one that venerates a wolf goddess of fertility named Holo, he gets a rather shocking surprise that evening to find that Holo herself has taken human form and is sleeping in his cart. After a bit of a rocky start, Lawrence eventually works out a “contract” with her to take her to her home far in the north, and until that time she’ll be living with him as his travelling companion. This is a little rough on Lawrence. Being a travelling peddler, his livelihood depends on constantly meeting and talking with people, analyzing them for clues on how to make better and more profitable deals and disarming them with his wordplay, and now he suddenly finds himself not only in the unusual position of having an attractive young girl following him around everywhere but, worse than that, the fact that even in human form Holo always has wolf ears and a large bushy wolf tail.

So the plot centers on Lawrence and Holo travelling from town to town and conducting mercantile business, all while having occasional arguments, running afoul of local trouble, and, most of all, constantly getting into wars of words with each other in which either one tries to tease the other to show they’re the wittier of the two. And…that’s pretty much it.

It’s actually rather awkward. The series feels like it has a definite beginning and a middle, but…rather than an ending, it sort of just stops. Of course, if you see the series and final episode, one could make the argument that was the intention all along, but…no spoilers.

So what did I think?

When I saw this series being advertised around Anime Central, I expected something far more dramatic and fantastic. I also expected something far more risque, since most of the artwork around the convention, in typical anime fashion, focused on Holo when she’s nude. (And like I said, Holo is probably one of the easiest cosplays to do, as all the cosplayer has to do is put on wolf (or even fox) ears and a tail…and there you go.) The series, content wise, was actually quite the opposite. Aside from the first couple episodes, the most the viewer will ever see of Holo nude is, really, in the opening theme. She usually sleeps with all of her clothes on, even. However, content wasn’t what I picked this up for. I expected it to be a bit cute and energetic and heartwarming with bits of the supernatural and fantastic all over the place.

As it turns out though, there really isn’t anything that amazing or supernatural about it either. There’s a handful of times throughout the series where we get into something magic or mythological, but honestly? Almost all of it is grounded in reality. More grounded in reality than most animes I’ve ever seen.

The landscapes and cityscapes are beautifully animated and detailed. From the clothes to the streets to the environment, you get a feel for the size and scope of this world. You can see the dampness, the dryness, the cold, and the warmth from scene to scene. That’s one of the big parts of the series.

Plot-wise, as you might have already guessed, this series is a romance. Yet I have to give it credit for being only in part a romance, and for putting it right in the middle of something rather unexpected: mercantilism. This series devotes a lot of time to mercantilism. Speculating, price inflation and deflation, buying and selling on futures, and, above all, the idea that what a merchant or trader really deals in is not the price of a product but rather the value of a product, which is really two different things that we nowadays don’t really think about going to and from Walmart. And…it’s honestly kind of ‘smart’ in that regard.

Mercantilism, and the idea of being able to read people, make deals, takes risks, and survive from day to day by your own wits, is the real core of this series. Not just in the constant trading, but in the characters of Lawrence and Holo themselves. They’re constantly ribbing each other, teasing each other, trying to trap each other in speech and manipulate each other. Basically their favorite pastime is sharpening their wits against one another before applying them to the world (“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17). Of course, there’s also real-life mercantilism too, and lots of it and all of the concepts associated with it. If someone was going into being a trader, I’d almost recommend this anime to start getting an idea of how it works. I’m sure the stock market doesn’t operate nearly in the same way as merchant trading did in those days, but a lot of the basic ideas behind everything is the same. In fact, this series is so devoted to these things that this is really one of the least action-orientated series I’ve ever watched. Instead, I’ll go so far as to say this is one series you want to watch dubbed, because so much is going on in the dialogue and on screen that you constantly have to keep your eyes and ears open to catch it all. This is a series that, plotwise, tries to pull the wool over your eyes just like the crafty traders. I compliment it for being so surprisingly intelligent in that regard.

Unfortunately, those two are the only things that are really good going for it. To me? What drags it down is ultimately the romance.

The issue is that this is your standard anime/manga romance played out with characters doing things that don’t really help to make up for it, and who aren’t really likable to begin with. The constant teasing and tricking that they do of each other, after a while, stops coming off as a playful game and starts just looking…mean. Lawrence himself isn’t much to write home about. He’s shrewd about trading and clever at his work, but…that’s it. Holo continuously tries to point out that he’s “a good person”, but, aside from his interactions with Holo, that really doesn’t come out. Because he’s so shrewd and so eager to make money, a lot of his actions are borderline morally questionable, and some just plain cross the line. In the second arc, there’s no dancing around the point–he exploits a nice girl to make himself a profit. And the only justification we ever get from that act is Holo throwing out some balderdash about her being “stronger than she looks” and that she can get herself out of any trouble they cause.

So…the moral is go ahead and use people if they’ll be alright afterward?

But Holo…ugh.

Look, if you’ve watched one romance anime, you know the drill. You know every single trope you’re going to see. If the guy catches the girl in a compromising position, he’s being jealous and is a fool for doubting her. If the girl catches the guy in a compromising position, he’s a dirty cheater who needs to give her a reason to come back. If the guy says something careless that hurts the girl’s feelings, he should be ashamed of himself and do anything possible to comfort her and atone. If the girl says something careless that hurts the guy’s feelings, he’s too sensitive and he should have realized it was just a joke…and by getting upset about it he’s a jerk for hurting her feelings anyway. If the girl takes out her anger on the guy and says or does something emotionally hurtful, it’s because she’s in deep pain and needs the guy’s warmth and compassion, and he should be sensitive to that and respond accordingly as quickly as he can. If the guy takes out her anger on the girl and says or does something emotionally hurtful, it’s because he’s an a-hole. Bottom line: the guy is always wrong; the girl can never be wrong.

This anime has all that and then some. Like I said, the two of them are constantly teasing each other to try and outwit each other in wordplay, but of the two Holo is the one who makes it the most mean spirited. In addition to showing off her cleverness, she almost always calls Lawrence stupid or dull while bragging about herself as being the “wise wolf”. Whenever Lawrence tries to make a decision on her behalf that considers her independence and demeanor, any decision, ANY one at all…it’s always, always, always something she gives him a physical scolding for and calls him an idiot about, even if it’s something she would have gone along with. At no point in the series does Holo really become sensitive about other people and, aside from Lawrence, there’s really no point in which she becomes empathic toward other people. She always sees them as stupid and inferior to her and doesn’t hide it. To her, there is no moral quandary ever about exploiting people or playing on their emotions to get her own way. To her, if people don’t want to be exploited, they should be smarter and should learn a lesson from the experience.

Now, if Holo applied this sort of standard universally, including on herself, that would be one thing. But no, she takes that double-standard I outlined above and ramps it to 11. It’s never ok when it happens to her. Just as one case in point, one of her favorite things to constantly berate and insult Lawrence about are claims that he wants her to act like a helpless, weak, innocent little girl so he can get a thrill out of comforting her, because “that’s how he likes women”. So take a wild guess what happens whenever Holo is going through emotional distress or sadness and Lawrence doesn’t instantly jump to hold her and comfort her? That’s right…she flies into a bigger rage that he’s not more caring and responsive. Even the rare occasions in which she shows remorse for what she’s done to hurt Lawrence are rather half-hearted. Her usual method of “apologizing” is doing something to try and make amends to Lawrence behind his back and then going off on her own without a word or a look. I’ve done stuff like that before myself in the past, and do you know what that is? That’s being too prideful to face up to your mistake and admit you were wrong, let alone apologize.

I dealt with this pretty well for the first half of the series, especially in the second arc when Holo was faced with the realization that her often selfish and self-centered behavior (because, in addition to everything else I mentioned, Lawrence is constantly buying her nicer things to wear and groom herself with as well as treating her to lots of food and alcohol…leading to him also needing to put her to bed after she gets drunk every night and care for her when she’s sick) had actually potentially ruined Lawrence, she actually became apologetic and, for once, it looked like some of the anger she vented on Lawrence was really her being furious with herself. But that went away in the second season really quickly when Holo took out her emotional distress on Lawrence, saying a number of accusations that were both hurtful and all together untrue, and all before going off on a scheme behind his back that made him feel like crud for not treating her better and led to a multi-episode arc in which he thought he had to regain her trust and affection, where other characters were urging him to go after her and “gamble everything on her”, and forced him through a great deal of distress and heartache. And for what, you may ask?

Another physical scolding. Because Lawrence was supposed to realize that Holo meant this:

“I acted totally inappropriately when you’ve been nothing but good to me and I said a lot of hurtful things that were totally untrue because I was emotionally distraught. I’m sorry and I hope you forgive me. To make it up to you, I’m going to go along with your current scheme and look completely, even to you, like I’ve left you to side with that man you’re trying to get money out of, and I’ll make it look so convincing that I’ll even have a document written that I intend to marry him as soon as you release me as a legal guardian, when in reality what I’ll be doing is going behind your back and buying up the very goods you’re trying to get in order to make your latest money-making deal work and ensure everything works out for both of us…but of course I won’t try to tell any of this out in the open at any time because someone could be watching us and the illusion that I’ve gone over to him has to be perfect.”

When she said this:

(Staring blankly into space and half-vacantly muttering in such a way that this could apply to anything) “…sorry…”

Because…you know, obviously. You can’t win with Holo.

In addition to all that, the fact of the matter is this series is a bit too hard to follow. I had to pause it multiple times and occasionally rewind in order to know what was going on. Oh, you can try to ignore the gist of everything and just know where that leaves the characters at the moment, but that’s too confusing and you lose all the drama. And, unfortunately, in spite of my best efforts, things still left me scratching my head. There’s swindling the audience and then there’s leaving them too confused to know any better.

So what we’re left with, to me, is something that’s unique and even a bit intriguing, but ultimately something that won’t really appeal to anyone who picked this up. If you expected a supernatural fantasy, you’re out of luck. If you expected your traditional romance anime, you’re out of luck. If you expected something with more action and emotion, you’re out of luck. The only way you’ll get what you paid for is if you’re someone who wanted an anime about being shrewd and clever in trading, and even then things will probably go too fast for you to catch up with. But odds are if you were looking for one to begin with, you wouldn’t start by snatching up a box set with a wolf-girl on the cover smiling sensually.

The irony is that this anime itself might be a bait and switch. Perhaps one that would make Lawrence and Holo proud.

Rating: 2 out of 5

It certainly is a unique flavor of spice, but not really the kind that will make you want to wolf it down more than once.

What You Should Do With This DVD: If you’re a romantic anime fan, watching it once won’t be a totally wasted venture. Everyone else should hope they bought it low so they can sell it high.

My Little Devotional #126: “Mad About ‘Mongering'”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “The Times They are a Changeling”

There’s a new word trend in the USA in recent years: “(Insert-negative-word-here)mongering” (i.e. hatemongering, fearmongering, etc.). In politics it’s basically a cruder and more blunt way of performing the Appeal to Emotion logical fallacy. It’s trying to push forth a policy based on fear or hate toward something. Sometimes it’s applied correctly and sometimes it’s used as an excuse or misrepresented. I’m not going to use this devotional to pick on that, however, but rather to pick on the variant on the same practice that occurs in society, and in particular, once again, on the Internet.

This refers to the tendency to get people worked up over something by picking on a subject that can be hated or feared. While in it’s most basic form it’s just a variant on racism, stereotyping, and/or prejudice, I personally feel it’s a bit more of a special case or even its own thing. In the situation of more “pure prejudice”, there can ultimately be no justification for the fear and hate other than bias, misperception, or prejudgments. By comparison (and what makes it more potent) the latter situation usually involves at least one very real incident in which harboring a bit more fear and uneasiness about the subject at hand would have prevented a disaster. Just as a quick example, let’s consider the MMORPG “World of Warcraft”. Some people have become so addicted to it that they neglect their own lives and even, in some cases, the lives of their children to play it. If someone was to suggest that the game needed to be banned as a result of that, they would point to those instances even if they don’t represent everyone who plays the game. A bit simplistic and “light”, but it illustrates the point.

That’s the situation in today’s episode. Obviously, the Crystal Empire took a rather strong reaction to the presence of a potential Changeling…probably an overreaction. On hearing a report that there was a Changeling in the area, the entire Empire virtually went into lockdown, guards were hunting for Changelings in all corners, and even friends and family members of Shining Armor and Princess Cadance had to pass an identity test before they would be allowed anywhere near Flurry Heart. When the Changeling was actually spotted and everything degenerated into a witch hunt, even the rulers who instigated the situation began to wonder if they were taking things too far.

The problem, however, was that there had been a case in recent history in Equestria where not enough caution was used around Changelings. As a result, both Shining Armor and Princess Cadance were impacted, and all of Equestria ended up being put in jeopardy and nearly conquered by Queen Chrysalis. In addition, none of the residents of the Crystal Empire had ever encountered a “nice” Changeling before. So while everyone did go into a panic and, when the Changeling in question, Thorax, revealed himself they reacted unfairly with hostility and fear, it was unfortunately more justified and understandable in this situation. Even if they wanted to stomp or capture Thorax on sight, considering a rather bad past event, most others in Equestrian society would have thought nothing of it.

As a Christian, I think the ultimate thing that we preach that the world will not accept, will possibly reject, and (especially in many developing countries) will react to with violence and suppression is the saving message of our Lord Jesus Christ and His Sacrifice for salvation of the world. Yet as Jesus told us to be the “light of the world”, I’ve always believed that this wouldn’t be the only thing. After all, if the only difference between a Christian and an atheist is a Christian tells you to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior or spend eternity in Hell, then Christians aren’t much better (and possibly worse) than the other world religions we claim are false. To me, being a Christian also means outreaching to those in the world that have been rejected and made outcasts, to love the unlovable, and to stand up for those who no one else will stand for. That’s what Jesus did, and in His infamous parable about the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) He set out quite clearly what it means to care for one’s neighbor as well as expressed how great of a commandment that was.

Yet one of the greatest fallacies that Christians fall into that conforms them to the world rather than to God’s image is falling victim to societal bias based on fear and suspicion. Christians may fear and reject certain people from entering their communities, or favor or oppose certain national policies, or endorse certain practices that all are contrary to much of the Bible; but they do so anyway because they’ve moved away from considering the Word or the viewpoint of Jesus and moved toward thinking about things in worldly terms, including fears and biases.

I don’t want to dig too deeply into this to try and prevent snap judgments and reactions, so I’ll focus on just one example for now: the death penalty. This is a situation that not only are most Christians in favor of maintaining, but so many are in favor of it that a Christian being anti-death penalty is the exception rather than the rule (enough to where most pro-choice individuals justify themselves against pro-life individuals by pointing out they’re in favor of the death penalty, meaning they obviously “don’t think life is that sacred”…but getting off topic). There are religious arguments that can be made for it, but that’s not what I see people defer to. I see people pointing out the most heinous of offenders and venting their raw hate and disgust of them, saying how there’s no point to keep such despicable people alive on a taxpayer’s dollar. Some of them, they might point out, are not only clearly guilty but totally unrepentant, although even if they were (such as with the Son of Sam serial killer) no one would ever risk having them in society again. Sometimes they even bring up cases like with Ted Bundy, a serial killer who escaped police custody to kill others before he was captured again. And if they want to make a “Christian” argument, it’s that it would be better to protect innocent people by killing these offender than keeping them at risk by leaving them alive.

I can’t answer for everyone, but for me personally…even if I was to completely ignore Jesus’ defense of the woman caught in adultery (a capital offense) (John 8:2-11), the fact is our justice system is beyond biased. Just as one example, African-Americans who are found guilty of killing Caucasian-Americans are far more likely to get death penalty sentences than Caucasian-Americans found guilty of killing African-Americans. Furthermore, in one state alone in this country, Illinois, over a twenty year period 12 inmates were executed…while 20 on death row were exonerated in the same period. There were more people wrongfully waiting to die than people actually put to death. Even DNA tests are only as good as the agency that performs them, yet the magic word “DNA” automatically biases a jury into thinking someone is 100% guilty. It’s a tragedy whenever we hear of people who spent decades serving life sentences only to be cleared of all wrongdoing, but at least then they have a chance of regaining their lives. Not so with someone executed.

If I wanted to quote the Old Testament, which most consider to be nothing but God’s wrath and vengeance, even then it would be revealed that God would have spared Sodom if there had been only ten righteous people in it (Genesis 18:22-33). If God finds sparing ten people worth letting thousands endure in wickedness and depravity, I personally think that God would think for the sake of sparing the lives of  wrongfully sentenced individuals it’s worth tolerating keeping many genuinely wicked people alive.

Of course, this is only one example. Stances on pro-life and pro-choice, immigration, foreign policy, national charity, outreach to others, issues with the homeless…those are all things that I feel God’s Word says one thing and, due to fear or distrust, Christians flock to the “world view” because it’s safer and easier. It’s these points, as well as in witnessing, that we are challenged to go against what the world says is acceptable and even, in many cases, to risk their ire. Probably in these situations more than ever. After all, decisions made out of fear and distrust are usually based on a societal fear and distrust. To go against these likely means we’ll not only become an object of fear and distrust ourselves, but that people will misread our motives and level accusations against us, as people tend to do. From personal experience, I’ve had a moment in my life I was fearful to come out publicly with my stance on something because I knew my own close relatives would call me foolish and idealistic at best and a traitor at worse; even though neither were true and I knew they weren’t in my heart.

But ultimately, a serious question we all have to ask ourselves is whose interests we’re wishing to defend and who we want to look good in the sight of: the world or God.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for your Word, the Bible, which gives man insight into who you are as well as direction for eternal life. Give me a love for it so that I can know the mind of God and what he wishes for this world and for others, and then help me to follow that in spite of what other powers in the world try to do to dissuade me or persuade me. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”