Balancing Humor and Gospel Sober-Mindedness

I love to laugh, be silly and spread humor and ridiculum. It gives me great joy to discover or think up something funny and share it with others. If it makes me laugh, or smile, I figure it might do the same for at least a few other people.

When left to my own antics, I am naturally inclined to be a silly person. When life gets stressful, that side of me can take a backseat, unfortunately, but silliness is my default.

In recent years I’ve noticed that as I have continued walking with the Lord, and have become more committed to in-depth Bible study and prayer, I sometimes find myself going through more weighty thought patterns. After all, the world out there is getting crazier, darker, more depressing and evil all the time.

People need the hope of redemption through Christ, and there are only so many hours in the day. There are so many pressing concerns for which to pray, so many passages to read, so many relationships to invest in, so many people to serve. There is always a tidal wave of urgent matters for which the Christian can and should concern himself or herself.

In light of all that, it is easy to get lost in the thoughtful nature of living the Christian life to the fullest for the glory of God. For me, I entertained the idea that gospel sober-mindedness (that is, being alert and obedient to God’s work – 1 Thessalonians 5:5-8, 2 Timothy 4:5) can squeeze out the humor and silliness that I find so delightful.

This is a dilemma that I have wrestled with recently. In doing so, I was tempted to think that one has to dominate over the other: be immersed in work for the kingdom, or be silly. It is true that these things don’t naturally seem to fit together. After all, when I am defending the truths of God’s word, cracking jokes seems to fade away for the time being.

While it might be two different mindsets, I have ultimately concluded they are not mutually exclusive by any means.

If I believe that God is the giver of all good gifts (James 1:17), then I must acknowledge that humor is a gift from Him. If it is a gift from Him, then He has a purpose for it, and it is to be enjoyed (1 Timothy 6:17). That being the case, suppressing humor in light of “serious” work seems less like an either/or and more like “both please!”

The Bible teaches that we are made in God’s image (see Genesis 1, James 3, Psalm 8). It follows therefore that characteristics we have that are positive, such as an appreciation for, or the gift of, humor is a reflection of God Himself. He can’t give us humor if he doesn’t have it to give.

Application

In light of this reasoning, the question then becomes, what do we do with this knowledge? Like other ontological issues, the answer is to use what God has given us for His glory (Colossians 3:17, 23). If I have a sense of humor, I am to use it for the good of others and the glory of God. This in and of itself can be a service to Him, and could also be useful in kingdom work.

I’m not suggesting that humor should be as prioritized as equally as earnest gospel work. I am of the mindset that engaging in the spiritual disciples of Bible study and prayer take the highest priority.

Like anything, gifts from God such as humor are obviously misused for evil and corrupted intent just as certainly as worldly comics use vulgar words as adjectives. But knowing from Whom we received such a kind endowment and its intended use, we don’t need to worry about leaving it behind in favor of “serious” work.

Thoughts on this subject are always welcome!

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Posted in Advice, Biblical insights, Humor, Opinion, priorities | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Traveling New Zealand: South Island Majestic Beauty

The first two weeks of 2019 found my husband Mike and I taking a road trip through the stunningly beautiful South Island of New Zealand. The how and why of our ending up there went a little something like this.

2018 marked a milestone birthday for me (the big 4-0!). To celebrate, I wanted to go on a memorable vacation. Mike and I both love to travel, and we use special occasions as a reason to go on bigger trips than we usually would (like our fifth anniversary trip to Australia in 2015).

We’d been saving up air miles from our Delta AmEx card for four years, and finally had enough to buy one round trip ticket anywhere in the world. We’d also been nursing our travel budget back to health after our last big trip a few years ago. I was initially planning to do a week in South Florida in the spring of 2018 (closer to my actual birthday) because we could have paid for both our plane tickets with air miles. But New Zealand has been pretty high on our travel bucket list for quite some time. So I figured early in the year that if we waited until closer to the end of the year, we’d have a chance to save enough to make it happen. By the grace of God, we did.

Four days after Christmas, we went wheels up. In doing some looking at various flight itineraries, and knowing that we wanted to wait until after Christmas to go, I planned our route so that we would have a stopover in Sydney, Australia for New Year’s Eve. Sydney does a massive, world-renowned fireworks display to ring in the New Year, and I figured since we were going to be in that part of the world then anyway, it would be our only chance to catch it live.

It was mayhem, but it was totally worth it. NYE is big business in Sydney. They shoot off fireworks from the Sydney Harbor Bridge, as well as several places on the water throughout the harbor. Prime viewing locations are along the water, and they have figured out how to block access to the public from those locations, so they can charge a steep admission price for viewing. We talked to a couple that paid $400 per person! Since the fireworks were only a bonus on our trip, and not an essential piece, we opted not to pay for a prime spot. We decided to take our chances of finding a free location.

The fireworks start at midnight, so after taking a post 14-hour flight nap (an essential), we headed out around 9 p.m. to make our way downtown. We ended up on a street with a view overlooking the Harbor Bridge, with obstruction of another freeway overpass. The crowds were starting to get thick in the area, and we figured this was about the best we’d find for free.

In the video below, the crowd gets amped for the fireworks … then a short clip of them.

It was exhilarating to be able to witness the iconic event, even with the obstruction. Adding to the thrill was the happy, hyper crowd of thousands of strangers with whom we rang in 2019. (You can get a better view of the fireworks by googling it for a YouTube video.)

The next day, we had until mid-afternoon to wander about town, gawk at the Opera House and grab some lunch before we got on our flight to … Christchurch, New Zealand!!!!!

Our flight got in at midnight, so the following morning we picked up our rental car and embarked on the first day of our 12-day road trip covering the South Island. I had spent dozens of hours researching the sights to see and had put together an itinerary of how far we’d drive and where we’d stay each night of the trip.

Our first destination was Hanmer Springs, a lovely hot springs tourist town surrounded by rugged, tree-lined mountains. Spoiler alert: almost everything we saw was made more beautiful by rugged, tree-lined mountains, so that phrase and ones like it will come up a lot.

We paid the admission price for the hot springs resort and spent an evening soaking in various tubs of hot mineral water, with a great view. Quite relaxing. The largest pool also had a “lazy river,” which was more like a “raging river” and we had a riot being carried along by the current alongside strangers who were also having a fun time.

Hanmer Springs, Hanmer Springs Thermal Pool and Spa, New Zealand

A peek at the view beyond the hot springs

The next morning we made a side trip out to Kaikoura, where we had been told we could see whales and possibly penguins. No dice, so we continued on our way to Nelson, where we were highly anticipating not only a charming bed & breakfast but the warmest beaches on the island. Neither disappointed.

Nelson, New Zealand

Enjoying a little float in the ocean at Nelson

The pale greenish-blue water of the sea was slightly chilly but highly swimmable. The B&B was a beautifully restored old farmhouse on an eclectic farm tucked away in the mountains, but 15 minutes from downtown Nelson and the beach. The host was an entertaining fellow who was eager to chat with us about New Zealand and give us his unique spin on a myriad of topics. His partner was a former restauranteur, who made us a delicious breakfast the following morning.

Retiro Park Lodge, Retiro Farm Lodge, Nelson New Zealand

The digs at Retiro Park Lodge – Nelson, NZ

A little bit more time on the beach the following day, and it was time to head to our next destination of Westport, to begin the West Coast portion of our trip.

Westport turned out to be a mediocre beach town, with a beachfront that was nothing to write home about, especially compared to the beach we came from, and the beautiful beaches on the West Coast of the United States. We did find a cute B&B to stay, with a super nice older couple.

Lonely Planet ranks the 63-mile drive from Westport to Greymouth as one of the top 10 coast drives in the world, so we were excited to be driving it the following day.  Lush, green hills with rainforest-like vegetation greeted us on one side, the light blue ocean water on the other.

Great Coast Road New Zealand, Westport to Greymouth

A view from the Great Coast Road from Westport to Greymouth

Besides pulling off at viewpoints for pictures and video, we stopped at Punakaiki’s “Pancake Rocks,” a series of curious rock formations along the coast that looks like giant stacks of pancakes. There are also some impressive blowhole crevices among the rocks that showcase the fascinating landscape amidst frothy churning ocean water below.

"Pancake Rocks" at Punakaiki

“Pancake Rocks” at Punakaiki

Another stop that day involved driving about 30 minutes off the beaten path. Hokitika Gorge is a scenic, narrow river gorge where regular water mixes with glacier mineral sediment to form a captivating bright blue for a short section of the river:

Hokitika Gorge, New Zealand

Hokitika Gorge

I had seen it on my research and was eager to make the trip to see it in person. Well worth it.

It was also around this time in the trip that we were introduced to an obnoxious insect: the sandfly. Before I knew its name, I called it the bitey fly. I bet you can guess why. Many of my pictures were made blurry because of jerking the camera as every inch of exposed flesh became a sandfly landing strip when standing still. Their bites itched like crazy during the duration of our trip.  It was like camping by a Pacific Northwest lake in July. But I digress. On with the progression…

A turn inland lead us through the tip of the unbelievably beautiful Mt. Aspiring National Park. Once again, we drank in beautiful steep tree-lined vistas with more waterfalls than we could count, along a raging river. I could have caught many bugs in my mouth because it was agape as I looked about in disbelief at the scenery.

Roaring Billy Falls, Mount Aspiring National Park, New Zealand

Roaring Billy Falls, Mount Aspiring National Park, New Zealand

That night we stayed at a lovely Airbnb room in the gorgeous hills 20 minutes outside of the beautiful lakeside town of Wanaka. (More on Wanaka later in the trip.) Our hosts were a delightful couple who had recently moved to this gorgeous home from the bigger city of Christchurch for a change of pace. They had converted two bedrooms to Airbnb rentals, and we were pleased to have found this quiet, scenic locale to relax after some long days of driving and sightseeing.

We were pleased (for once) to wake up in the middle of the night, for we found that the clouds had burned off, revealing the majestic Southern Hemisphere night sky, which features an entirely different view and set of constellations than we see in the Western United States. We silently star gazed and admired the beauty and vastness of God’s creation.

Next up, the long, beautiful drive to take a peek at Milford Sound, the gorgeous, famous fiord that often serves as the pictorial icon for New Zealand. Also, it was recently featured in the opening scene of Mission Impossible: Fallout, which we had just watched before leaving on our trip.

Milford Sound, New Zealand (Fiordland National Park)

Milford Sound, New Zealand (Fiordland National Park). Two cruise ships showing as tiny white dots on the lower right show the scale of the fiords.

We shot pictures and video like the tourists we are, then made our way to our lodging in Te Anau on the eve of the highlight of our trip: an overnight cruise through Doubtful Sound, another sound in the massive, remote Fiordland National Park.

A fjord (or fiord as spelled by Kiwis), is defined as “a long, narrow, deep inlet of the sea between high cliffs, as in Norway and Iceland, typically formed by submergence of a glaciated valley.” If you are not familiar with this, do a google image search to get an idea.

No words can describe the majestic, unspeakable beauty we beheld over an afternoon, evening and morning. Even pictures don’t capture the sheer scale and beauty of this natural wonder. Three thousand foot cliffs with waterfalls galore towered on either side of us as our ship cut through the serene waters of the sound until we reached the churning Tasman Sea. The whole experience was like a prolonged worship service, praising the power and creative brilliance of our Creator God who made such a stunning display for us to enjoy. Not to mention, we were fed like kings and queens on this short cruise!

Doubtful Sound was rightfully the visual climax of our trip. We knew that it would be difficult to surpass its beauty. However, we still had five days to go and were pleasantly surprised at the fantastic stuff that we were yet to see.

Our next stop was Queenstown, a bustling adventure city at the base of picturesque mountains, on the shores of the blue-green Lake Wakatipu. I’d really been anticipating this place, one that I had dubbed “the Bend (Oregon) of New Zealand” based on my research.

It was indeed a happening town: a hip, crowded downtown area on the waterfront, and very difficult to find a place to park. Our anticipation about the city was dampened when we discovered that the hostel where I had booked us two nights to stay turned out to be much more ghetto than the strategic, misleading pictures on the website had led me to believe. Let’s just say the mattress was several years overdue for replacing, and there were some pretty stunning safety concerns arising from deferred maintenance on the place. 😉

We got a good laugh out of it, but we were more motivated to find outside things to do until late at night, to minimize the time spent in our dingy room.

The hostel was a good value (we saw why a bit too late), and it had a great location just a few minutes from the action of the lakefront downtown. It was also right at the base of a tall hill with a gondola going to the top, with a panoramic view of the area. Upon discovering that there was also a hiking trail to the top, we opted the next morning to get some exercise in rather than pay for the gondola ride. Well worth it, not only because we love to hike, but the calorie consumption-to-exercise ratio tends to get skewed quite a bit on vacation.

Queenstown New Zealand gondola, skyline Queenstown

Looking down at Queenstown after our hike. Skydiver coming down in the upper right. 🙂

That afternoon, we drove up the other side of the lake to Glenorchy, where we were promptly proved wrong about thinking we had seen all the spectacular scenery already. The lake turned a dazzling turquoise and was framed by snow-capped peaks along the drive. The town itself was in the center of all that beauty, and we stared in amazement, cameras flashing like crazy.

Lake Wakatipu near Glenorcy, New Zealand

Overlooking Lake Wakatipu on the way to Glenorchy.

The next stop was one I was also excited about (like everything on the trip. Ha.): Wanaka, positioned on the edge of a beautiful lake of the same name. Since we’d seen it earlier in the trip, we anticipated our return. Mike had found us an Airbnb private cabin up in the hills overlooking the lake and the mountains. Just our speed, and a welcome change of pace from the broken-spring-mattress dump we had just left.

Since every previous day was filled with driving and sightseeing galore, staying parked by a beautiful lake for two days seemed like heaven. That is one of my favorite things to do on vacation back home, so it was the best of both worlds; having a summertime lakeside vacay on the other side of the world.

We swam (the water was very cold but easy enough to adapt to for a lake-aholic such as me), laid out on the beach, rented a kayak and paddleboard, AND discovered that the brewpub across the street from the lake was just our speed as well. To top it off, we learned that a famous tree sticking out of the lake that is well promoted on social media via hashtag marketing (#ThatWanakaTree) was within the range we could paddle to, so we did the obligatory tourist thing and took pictures.

Wanaka, Lake Wanaka, #ThatWanakaTree

Oh, look! It’s #ThatWanakaTree. I played along with their marketing gimmick.

Our two days at the lake were the last big items on the agenda, and we were left with two days to make it back to Christchurch, from where our homebound flight departed.

Even still, there was more amazing things to see: Mount Cook, and a couple more beautiful blue glacier-fed lakes. Our drive towards the majestic jagged snowy peaks of Cook and surrounding mountains was enhanced by the beautiful Lake Pukaki in the foreground.

Mount Cook, Lake Pukaki, New Zealand

Mt. Cook, with Lake Pukaki in the foreground.

Driving to Mount Cook Village at the end of the road, we wished we had a few more days to do some hiking in the area. But after our requiste amount of gawking, we headed out to the evitable end of our fabulous trip.

On our way back to Christchurch, we stopped at Timaru along the coast, the recent home of a colony of little blue penguins we were hoping to see. Turns out, they only come out after sunset, and we had to be in Christchurch that night for a super early morning flight, so we weren’t able to see them.

Summary

If you’ve read to this point, congrats and thank you-you are a champ and perseverer. This trip was a dream come true for us, and we marveled the entire time at the beauty we beheld. Our running joke was that we should have had helmets on the whole time, to contain the mess from our heads exploding daily at the sheer delight of the scenery.

If you want to chat further or have any questions or comments, I am all ears. I suspect I will be eager to talk about New Zealand for years to come.

Here is a map outlining some more detail about our route. Thanks again for reading!

 

 

Posted in Blogging, For Entertainment Only, Opinion, priorities, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Update on Running Mileage Goal

At the beginning of 2018, I wrote a post outlining my plan to run 500 miles during the course of the year.

As of 12/29, I have logged 505* miles!

Extremely pleased to have completed one of my goals for the year.

The * caveat is to denote a couple things.

1. I originally planned to hit 500 miles with running alone, an acheiveable, yet ambitious goal.

2. Partway through the year, I decided to include ALL miles logged in fitness pursuits, to include walking (not everyday steps), hiking, and cycling miles.

3. Starting in September, I started adding to my log the walking mileage included in my journey down to the trail where I run (.6 miles each way). If I had been adding that all year, my mileage report would have been significantly higher.

I had a few other fitness goals involving numbers this year that are still in progress. But that gives me something to look forward to accomplishing!

I wanted to share my good news with you all before 2018 comes to a close. Have a happy New Year!

Posted in Blogging, Health, Random, Running | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Personal Reflections from 2018

2018 was a year like no other. Please disregard the fact that can be said about most years. 🙂 This year was unique; this post will explain why as well as a rare backstage pass into the reflections and lessons of yours truly.

I am well aware that if you are clicked on this post, odds are you are one of the elite few who cares enough to read my personal reflections. I don’t mean that callously, to imply that not many care about me. That is not true. Instead, I am saying that there aren’t that many who would take the time out of their day to read a post like this without a flashy title. Please know that I appreciate you more than you probably know. I’ll try to make this update worth your valuable time.

2018 was a unique year because it found me in a set of circumstances that were foreign to me. At the end of 2017, I had gotten laid off from my job as the Operations Manager for a small marketing company for which I had worked for the previous 2.5 years.  I found myself facing the holidays with the reality of being able to claim unemployment benefits for the first time in my life. My opportunities were wide open, and I looked forward to the possibilities. (Side note: in all previous instances of being laid off from jobs over the past decade, I had been working as an independent contractor, and thus disqualified from unemployment. So being able to file for it was in itself unique to me.)

I was determined to make the most of this transition, using my time wisely. I made a fresh commitment to getting up at 5:30 a.m. each morning, so I could be intentional to start the day with time reading God’s word and praying, as well as exercising before getting into the grind of the day.  This was always my goal as a full-time employee also, and I was able to do it about half the time, but I found that even then either my “quiet time” or workout time was cut short, because it was hard to do both and make it to an office job by 9 a.m. So one or the other suffered. I wrote about that struggle in this post.

Not long into my period of unemployment, I was offered a job that I had held in 2009, working as office help for a friend’s business. This particular friend ran his company (as a real estate appraiser) out of his home, and it was a casual environment. He offered a part-time gig with generous pay and plenty of flexibility. My only hesitation was that it was part-time, and I wasn’t sure if the wages would pencil out for our budget. I ran some numbers and realized we could make it work if we were extremely careful. So I gratefully accepted my friend’s offer, knowing I had the flexibility to fit in other employment as needed.

Thus, I ended 2017 and began 2018 working part-time for the first time in my professional life. This presented a variety of conflicting sentiments and realities.

… As a full-time employee, I always pined for more free time to get more accomplished on the homefront and spend more time on hobbies (like blogging!).

… As a part-time employee, I suddenly had more unscheduled time than I had in years, tempered with the reality of diminished finances that came with my schedule.

… As a full-time employee with multiple exciting professional positions over the years, I most often had a job that became my identity. The answer to the question, “What’s new with you?” could always be answered with the latest stress, challenges, adventures, or business travel that occupied my world.

… As a part-time office employee with a job that didn’t provide any drama or stress (not complaining about that), I realized my world had become less filled with stories and excitement. When someone asked me, “What’s new?” I struggled to answer. Since my job was only a piece of my life and not the defining portion, I didn’t know what to say.

Lest you think that is sad and pathetic, allow me to continue. This is actually where things got good when I stopped to ponder my situation.

Being vs. doing – processing the conflict

Have you ever stopped to ponder the paradox of being vs. doing? In other words, who you are vs. what you do. Or put another way, the state of your existence, or who you are becoming or wish to become, vs. the daily activities you do. It is a fascinating mental exercise. But it also breeds the complexity of pondering a paradox, because of their intertwined nature. I.e., you can’t become without doing, but enjoying the “being” portion is necessary also.

All that to say, that was something I thought about a bit this year as my lifestyle was turned upside down.

Given the gift of more time at home, I had the luxury of doing more strategic and less tactical, survival mode living. I chose to use my time for such things as:

Expanding my culinary skills, making new recipes more often.

Keeping up on chores/housework a bit better (always a struggle).

Joining a women’s Bible study at church, with intensive homework.

Most often taking the time to complete the intensive homework, which was enormously beneficial.

Taking more time in the morning to read the word and pray.

Making sure to exercise regularly after quiet time (As noted above. My work schedule helped accommate the time to do that with a later start time).

Taking more time to visit with relatives.

Spending more time with friends. (For a task-oriented introvert such as myself, this and the item above get easier to skimp on the older I get.)

Getting a record number of blog posts written in a year (didn’t make my goal of one per week, but got close).

Being more deliberate, strategic and prayerful about my interactions with the middle school students at church, at the youth group where I volunteer.

Listening to a lot more informative podcast content and less music. Reading more books.

Growing in my knowledge of theology (mainly due to the above & quiet time) and love of God.

Recognizing the need to speak the truth in love and practicing when given opportunities. Even when it is poorly received, regardless of how lovingly spoken/written.

Nurturing an urgency to have spiritual conversations with others more often (discipleship).

Getting more organized, bit by bit.

Then there is the recreational/fun stuff, like hiking, camping, family weekend trips, exploring the Northwest and get-togethers with friends.

It was indeed a full year. Full of activity, growth, and fun. Yet, with all the small but significant things that ended up keeping me just as busy as any other year, it was difficult to give a brief response to the question, “How’s it going?”

Perhaps it is a flaw in my thinking that I have felt it necessary to be able to give a concise response, or that my life needs to be full of drama or an important job title to be significant. In pondering “being versus doing,” I realized that in fact, “being” the person God is making me to be, though not always with an exciting story at the ready, is of higher value than I give it credit.

Learning to be content with a smaller budget and lifestyle was a dominant theme for the year. And you know what? I am better off for it.

I should also mention that I spent quite a bit of time this year working on a project I am very excited about that I am prepping to announce in early 2019!

2017 was a tough year, with multiple deaths of dear ones and various other challenges. 2018 was a year of adapting to changes and finding joy and delight in a simpler life.
2019 should be amazing. I am looking forward to a lot more moments to savor and enjoying the people God has placed in my life.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this update! I wish you joy, peace, love, and contentment as we head into the New Year!

 

 

 

 

 

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To Emote or To Reason: A Primer for Biblical Thinking

“We are living in a time where people hear with their eyes and think with their feelings.” – Ravi Zacharias

In a YouTube/social media driven world, the way we communicate and think has been turned on its head from ages gone by. Somewhere along the way, we’ve lost not only some valuable interpersonal skills, but our ability to separate emotion from reason has diminished as a society.

I want to make an observation of how I’ve seen some negative effects of this phenomenon creep into the church and into Christian thought. Then I will propose some suggestions.

First, It seems that Christian church in the United States to a large degree has disregarded or devalued the authority of God’s Word. The results of such a deterioration are always destructive. It can be argued that the church has opened itself up to some highly damaging ideas as a result. Whether corporately or individually, if one replaces the highest authority with a lesser, inferior authority, sub-par thinking and action will result.

In my observation, many have replaced God’s word as their measuring stick with things like cultural standards, the approval of others, or their own personal experiences and emotions. These things are necessarily always changing, unstable, unreliable and 100% subject to the corruption of sin. So it seems they are highly faulty standards by which to guide our lives. God’s word, on the other hand, remains the same and was intended to be the final authority in the lives of Christians.

As followers of Christ, we ought to continually becoming more like Him (Colossians 3, Philippians 1:6). He is our example (1 Peter 2:21-25).  If that is the case, let’s take a look at how he handled certain situations that may be instructive to us and serve as a guide after which we can model our decision making.

1. When Pharisees were testing Jesus about the moral law concerning divorce

Jesus’ response was, “Have you not read..” and then he proceeded to quote the law from Genesis in the Old Testament containing the answer to their question.

When Pharisees challenged that answer by citing an example that seemingly overrode the Scripture, Jesus’ response was to point to the original intent of the law, point out the sin that created an immoral exception, then not only reinforce the original law but expand upon its moral implications (Matthew 19:3-9).

Application: Jesus not only expects those who know Him to know the Scriptures, He does not deviate from demanding obedience to the law as given.

2. When the Sadduccees challenged Jesus about an erroneous belief they held

Mark 12:18-27 details an account when the Sadducces (It’s so sad, you see. That couldn’t be helped.), who did not believe in resurrection, asked Jesus about it, hoping to trip Him up with a question to justify their unbelief.

Jesus wasted no time in correcting their error: “Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not understand the Scriptures or the power of God?” He then proceeded to cite another Old Testament passage and provided an application of it that completely destroyed their error.

Application: Scripture must be taken as a whole and rightly interpreted (2 Timothy 2:15) to correct errors in our thinking. Jesus declared the Scriptures to be the words of God. How can we possibly do otherwise?

3. Jesus stressed the work of God’s kingdom as the highest priority

The Savior Himself was on mission from God the Father the whole time He was on earth. He did not deviate from that directive, and pointed to that same priority for His followers.

  • When His mother and brothers came to retrieve Him from the crowds, because they weren’t yet believing, He stressed that “My mother and My brothers are these  who hear the word of God and do it.” In other words, obedience to God as a result of membership in His family can and sometimes should be prioritized above our earthly relationships.
  • In Matthew 13, our Lord gave some parables to indicate the value of seeking Him. An example: “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it, he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
  • Later, He issues this decree: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up His cross and follow Me.” – Matthew 16:24

Application: Nothing is more important to Christians than obedience to God. Nothing.

4. God provided a way for us to know Him and His expectations

Through the supernaturally inspired word of God (2 Timothy 3:16), we have a trustworthy record of not only what He has done, but also what He is doing and what He will do in the future. Contained in that are hundreds of ***prophecies whose fulfillment has already come to pass, and those which will be fulfilled.

It is no secret that there is a lot to the Bible. Thousands of years of history, the law, the prophets, and the New Testament. It all works together to tell the story of creation and humanity. Yet, parts of it can be difficult to understand and apply correctly. God’s people down through the ages have endeavored to do so, and must continue.

It should be of great comfort to the believer that Jesus, before He ascended back into heaven, took the time to explain the mysteries of God to His disciples. We are told that for those to whom He appeared on the road to Emmaus on the first Easter, “beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:27)

Shortly after that, He appeared to the eleven disciples, freshly resurrected from the dead, and “then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,” (Luke 24:45). It is no coincidence that some of these men, who received direct relevation from God the Son Himself, were the ones appointed to write the New Testament, and whose eyewitness accounts were used by other first century New Testament writers as prime source material.

Application: We can trust what God says in His word, because it has been tested and proven. God’s decrees and will are not a mystery. We must apply ourselves to learn what He has revealed.

So what does all this mean?

I’m so glad you asked! My premise above is that we as individual Christians as well as the church corporately, get ourselves in big trouble when we take our eyes off faithfulness to God’s word and instead allow shifting cultural morality, seeking the approval of others, and our own selfish desires, emotions and experiences to be our focus and the filter through which we think and prioritize our lives.

If we have wrong beliefs, thought patterns, priorities or actions, digging into Scripture with the intent to learn what God has to say will correct those. By that, I do not mean proof-texting isolated verses out of context to back up what we already believe. I do mean, letting Scripture speak for itself and committing to learning the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27).

By uncovering the living and active word of God, we’ll see our lives transformed from the inside out, and by the kind intent of our Lord, His kingdom will be expanded for His glory and our eternal reward. Isn’t that better than any other alternative?

What are your thoughts on this subject? Have you seen your own life or that of someone you know be transformed by God’s word? Please share any comments or questions! Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Advice, Biblical insights, priorities, Reliability of the Bible, Theology | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Christmas Prayer

This post is for anyone like me, who sometimes struggles to not only get into the Christmas spirit but fight through the cultural holiday distractions to focus on the meaning of Christmas. This is a prayer I will pray often as the big day draws near.

Heavenly Father,

How quickly the Christmas season comes upon us. We get up from the Thanksgiving table, where we rightly pause to share our gratitude for your good gifts (James 1:17), only to be bombarded with all manner of Christmas music, most of which has nothing to do with your Son and a constant barrage of commercial reminders about getting that perfect gift for everyone on our lists.

It’s distracting. I confess it causes my mind and heart to focus more on the trappings of Western Christmas traditions than on the miracle that we celebrate that day.  I want my Christmas spirit to be rightly focused on You, and the glorious incarnation of Your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who came down and humbled Himself in human flesh to fulfill the prophecies set in motion in the Garden of Eden. To activate Your perfect, incorruptible, unstoppable plan to make a way for humanity to be redeemed.

Christmas is a wonderful time of year. The most wonderful, according to not only a song, but reality as we consider its unmatched significance. So while I conform to the cultural traditions of Christmas, allow me to keep my heart stayed on Christ.

As I decorate and enjoy the tree, let its beauty remind me of His far superior beauty.

As I shop for gifts, may I meditate on the perfect gift of Christ’s example, life, teachings, death, and resurrection.

As I spend time with friends and family, grant that I would appreciate them, love them as myself, and be thankful for them, as a gift from You.

As I consider the financial sacrifice of year-end giving to the church and other worthy organizations,  remind me that Christ sacrificed Himself, for our salvation.

Finally, as I dwell on my undeserved adoption into Your family, let it move my heart to compassion and action, to share the Good News of Christ to those who do not know, who go through the motions of Christmas detached from its true meaning.

These things I pray, in the name of Christ Jesus, Whom we celebrate. Amen.

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In Defense of Sola Scriptura

I can’t put my finger on what has caused it as a society, but I’ve seen it countless times. Professing Christians using sources other than Scripture as their go-to for understanding how to make sense of God and any matters about life:

* Motivational speakers

* Popular books (some billed as “Christian” that range from lightly esteeming the word of God to subtly or outright rejecting it)

* Media figures/celebrities

* TV preachers (some who are nothing more than motivational speakers or prosperity anti-gospel teachers)

* Personal experiences

There is nothing inherently wrong with gathering inspiration for life from other sources. There is an infinite amount of great material out there that can help you be more productive, manage your time better, develop your confidence, be a better spouse, parent or employee. These are all good things.

The trouble comes when we let human wisdom become more valuable to us than wisdom from God Himself, as revealed in the Bible.

My introduction into this type of thinking came several years back. I had pointed out on social media the biblical contradictions of a “Christian” book that was popular at the time. I received immediate rebuking from more than one individual who took me to task for criticizing the book because they liked it and it made them feel good. It brought them comfort in light of an experience they had previously.

I was stunned by the reaction. Yes, I understand how an emotional attachment to some person or form of media that has brought comfort would be held close to one’s heart.  Again, there is nothing wrong with that. But if the said item can be refuted or proven false by the teaching of Scripture, then we are left with the choice of which source we will believe. This is where the rubber meets the road. Or to use another car analogy, this is often where the wheels fall off, unfortunately.

In the years since that exchange, I’ve begun to see extra-biblical sources used as a primary authority more and more in Christian circles. As a Christ-follower who seeks to contend earnestly for the faith (Jude 3), it is alarming to me to see such a departure from Sola Scriptura: the view of the sufficiency of Scripture as our supreme authority in all spiritual matters. For more info on this topic, this article is an excellent resource.

It is my prayer that true Christians everywhere begin to see the crucial nature of this topic and return to a view of Scripture has been held by the church down through the ages.

Let Scripture speak for itself

Concerning the topic at hand, let us turn to some key Scriptures to shed some light on the subject. Who better to start with than the Lord Jesus Christ:

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who build his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell – and great was its fall.” – Matthew 7:24-27

When Jesus was challenged by the Pharisees, he assumed they knew the Scriptures and cited them to prove he was not in error, “Have you not read…?” (Matthew 12:3)

Similarly, when Jesus was tempted by Satan, he quoted the Old Testament:

“But He answered and said, ‘It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”” – Matthew 4:4

More verses that give us insight into the authority of God’s written word:

He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day.”  – John 12:48

Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other. – 1 Corinthians 4:6

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17

These are a few key verses that demonstrate that Jesus Himself, as well as the men He appointed to write the New Testament all point to Scripture as ultimate authority. This theme is woven throughout the Old Testament as well.

Application

Considering these things, we would do well as the Christian church, both corporately and individually, to return Scripture to its rightful place as the first authority by which we should order our lives. It is not a popular thing to do, in a culture that rejects and mocks the Bible, and those who hold it to be authoritative. But we must ask ourselves what our highest priority is, and to what or whom do we look for approval and moral authority?

Jesus’ words tell us the fate of those who look beyond Him. It is not a pretty finish. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t interpretive challenges, or that we won’t have questions about certain things that the Bible teaches. There are, and we will. But as His redeemed ones, He expects that we will seek out those answers diligently (2 Timothy 2:15).

Let us be like the Bereans, who test every teaching by “examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11)

Furthermore, let us heed the command, “no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.” (Ephesians 4:14)

The subject of Sola Scriptura, I believe, is one of the most important to face as Christians. It is my prayer that you, the reader, will consider these things with the weight they deserve. If you have anything to add or any questions, I would love to hear from you. Thank you so much for reading!

 

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Theology of Gratitude

As those of us who are fortunate enough to reside in the United States of America prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, we find a seasonal opportunity foisted upon us to reflect upon the blessings we have in our lives. Those things for which we give thanks. Social media posts abound with hashtags such as #30DaysofThanks, #AttitudeofGratitude, #Thanksgiving #Blessed, #Grateful, etc.

It is touching to see people express their thanksgiving. No matter what your perspective, I think we can all agree that gratitude is a beautiful thing. For Christians, however, it not only takes on a much more significant role in our lives, for the work God has done for us through Christ, but we also find that instructions for thanksgiving are stated often in Scripture.

Gratitude needn’t, or shouldn’t, be limited to one day or month per year. Instead, God lays out the blueprints for a life that oozes gratitude every day. Below I’ll point out some key verses about thanksgiving that indicate for us a pattern that I believe God intends for our daily lives. I’ll offer some thoughts as well, but let primarily God’s word speak for itself.

Giving thanks all the time

To underscore the importance of consistency in thankfulness:

“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

This verse can be a tough one for Christians, myself included. “In everything give thanks???” one might question. A key distinction I picked up in this verse is that it instructs us not to give thanks for everything but in everything. In all circumstances, not for all.

In other words, forcing an insincere “thanks” for that flat tire is not the point. The takeaway, as I see it, is that we cultivate attitudes that filter everything through the gratitude of having a right relationship with God. It makes being thankful regardless of what happens to us possible. Which leads me to my next point.

Giving thanks even when times are rough

God never promises us a comfortable life as Christians. Quite the opposite, in fact. He promises that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12) Not really warm fuzzies, is it?

Job, whom God had blessed with great wealth and a wonderful family, had everything he held dear to him taken away, including his health, in an account that is a rare insight into the workings of the devil. Nevertheless, when he was at his lowest, he still had a right attitude:

“He said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.'” – Job 1:21

Will we as Christians look to God and give him thanks, even when life hands us terrible things?

Giving thanks for what God has done

“It is good to give thanks to the Lord and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High; to declare Your lovingkindness in the morning and your faithfulness by night.”
– Psalm 92:1-2

“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” – 2 Corinthians 9:15

“Every good thing given, and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” – James 1:17

There is not enough time (nor human knowledge) to write, even as a summary, all of the good things God has done. For one very substantial thing, He has provided a way for us as sinful humans to be right with Him, through Jesus Christ (a.k.a. the Gospel).

Throughout the New Testament, we see a theme of giving thanks to God for His saving work. It is easy to see how that attitude is to permeate our lives.

Giving thanks for what God is doing in the lives of others

Having gratitude for what God has done for us is the first step on the road to maturity in thanksgiving. Next, we see that it is modeled for us to be thankful for the magnificent work God does for others.

“But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed,” – Romans 6:17

“We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints;” – Colossians 1:3-4

Giving thanks to God for who He is

This is a critical, yet joyful lesson to learn. God deserves our thanks simply on His own merits and glory.

“Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations.” – Psalm 100:4-5

“Therefore, since we have a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.” – Hebrews 12:28-29

No exclusion clause

Even the godless will be held accountable for their attitude toward God. Romans chapter one goes into damning detail about those who suppress the truth they know about God in unrighteousness. Keeping within the theme of this post:

“For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” – Romans 1:21

Conclusion

Not to end on a negative note, as the last heading might appear, I want to sum up in a way appropriate for the topic. As Christians, no matter what our life circumstances, family, income level, wardrobe, job, or education level, we have been given an eternal, priceless gift in the redemption of souls through Jesus Christ. Our hope is secure. We have everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Christ has given us the Holy Spirit to guide us into truth, and He is with us every step of the way (Matthew 28:20) until we see Him face to face in eternity.

With these truths in our minds and our hearts, becoming thankful 365 days a year suddenly becomes more natural.

Regardless of your personal belief system, I’m curious what you are most thankful for. I welcome your comments and questions. As always, thank you so much for reading!

Posted in Advice, Holidays, Opinion, priorities, Thanksgiving, Theology | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

An Easy Way to Keep Your Boss Happy

I’m willing to assume that most people who report to a boss are interested in ways to make sure their boss is happy. After all, when the boss is happy, he is easier to get along with, she may treat you better, and you may even find yourself getting promoted sooner. What is not to like?

I recently learned a trick that goes a long way in keeping the boss pleased with what you are doing. It is so obvious, yet effective, I wish I would have thought to implement it years ago. Are you ready?

It is simply this: do first the thing that the boss will notice the most. Or on a related note, choose to first tackle the task that is the boss’s highest priority.

This is a battle-tested theory. Allow me to provide a few examples.

For a physical job, such as construction work, the illustration could be the most striking. If you and your team are building walls to a home, and you can get them complete and erected by the end of the day, that work will be seen due to its visibility more than spending time studying blueprints, planning how to build out the second level. (I’ve never done construction work, so if this example is bunk I apologize.)

If you work retail and are tasked with putting up new signage and organizing the back room, putting up the signage first shows that you’ve accomplished something that the boss can see with her eyes.

As an aside, the person from whom I heard this concept called it “eyewash.” I thought that was amusing.

For the office worker, accomplishing something visually obvious may not always be an option. However, you can be sure to note what the boss finds the most urgent and move that to the top of your list. It is a great feeling, rather than dreading when your superior returns back to the office and asks if “it” is done, to be able to say, “Yes, it is! Have a look.”

Similarly, “eyewash” for the office worker might include adding some graphic touches and/or a nicely designed cover page to a report to make it look more visually appealing, rather than just the contents of the project.

You get the idea.

This concept can also be applied by homemakers or those who work remotely, who are looking to wow their spouse or roommate. If an area of the house is exceptionally messy or dirty, take a few minutes before your housemate’s arrival home to straighten up and thus provide an improved atmosphere.

Conclusion

It is easy to get buried in to-do lists, meetings and other distractions at work and forget to prioritize that which your supervisor deems most essential. By taking time to think through what the boss finds most urgent (you might have to ask), or alternatively, doing something that impresses visually, you may just find your boss is happier with your performance. I dare you to try it. If you do, please comment below and let me know what happened!

All comments and questions are welcomed. Thank you for reading!

 

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Thoughts From a Forgotten Demographic: Conservative Christians Who Didn’t Vote for Trump

I am troubled by the precipitous decline in civility amongst people in the United States who hold opposing views. This topic has been on my mind for some time. While I don’t often write about politics, I’ve stated before my thoughts on how to address this decline. This article is just my way of sharing my observations.

Before I get too far, I’ll point out that I didn’t vote for Trump or Hillary. They were both firmly untenable candidates to me, for different reasons. I voted for a third party candidate, not that it matters.

During the 2016 campaign

As I stated in the title, I am in fact a conservative Christian who did not vote for Trump. I found his antics, character, lack of statesmanship and decorum, and lack of any apparent interest in improving those shortcomings to be such an affront to my sensibilities that I was horrified at his candidacy. I was far from alone in that sentiment.

I saw many friends and acquaintances of similar beliefs share their sentiments early and often: he is unqualified and so painfully unpresidential. The fact that he was even running felt like a bad dream from which I couldn’t awaken.  Friends frequently shared articles and opinions with the same concerns.

I recall wondering to myself, “What is happening? Trump has supporters – but WHO ARE THEY?? Who are these people that attend his rallies? Do such people even exist, or is this some elaborate media prank?”

It began to dawn on me what was happening. Trump figured out how to market himself to the disenfranchised; those who were angry about what was happening in this country, but felt powerless to do anything about it. People who had seen the distant breaking wave of political correctness gather momentum over the last few decades, to the point in recent years where it had picked up enough height and velocity to turn into a terrifying tsunami, destroying (or wanting to destroy) everything in its path that offered dissent.

Others who boarded the Trump train were small business owners who were looking for tax and regulation relief, with a Commander-in-Chief who could empathize with them, as a businessman himself.

While I sympathized with those viewpoints, they weren’t enough for me to overlook his shortcomings as a candidate, which is why I didn’t vote for him, nor did many people I know.

Since the election

With the election two years behind us, the bitterness and adversarial spirit that plagued this land during the campaign season only seems to grow worse, not better. As one who admittedly spends too much time on Twitter, reading the viewpoints from people all over the political and moral spectrum, I’ve noticed something troubling to me.

The substantial base of Christians who identified more with #NeverTrump seem to be a political afterthought as if we never existed. More specifically, the progressives/leftists became transfixed on citing how the majority of “evangelicals” voted for Trump.

As an aside, I put “evangelicals” in quotes because it is unclear to me their definition of the term. For that matter, I wonder how clear that term is overall based on polling data. Does anyone who watches Fox News and goes to church once in a while get defined as an “evangelical”? But that is a separate discussion.

Leftists pound the drums of this trend so relentlessly that any voice of dissent feels as though it gets lost in the noise. They use that as their rallying cry that “evangelicals” have lost all moral credibility in voting for Trump. I take every opportunity I get to remind someone of that mindset that nearly 30% of evangelicals do not fall into that camp. They don’t seem to care, because that position doesn’t fit their narrative. It is much easier to push the stereotype that all Christians are Trump supporters than to take time to engage the nuances in people’s views. There is only so much shouting into the wind one can do before a sore throat to no effect becomes too discouraging.

A vicious cycle

It is not lost on me how the cycle of incivility has played out. Conservatives and working class folks, tired of being bullied into silence over the years by an ever more demanding and forceful progressive presence in society, had gotten to their wit’s end. They were disgusted by outrageous demands and infringements on religious liberty by a zealously leftward sprinting government under the Obama administration.

Along comes Trump; a crass loudmouth that knew exactly what to say and how to win over this crowd. It was so startling that many found it refreshing. Not knowing how to respond, just knowing that the bland, mostly spineless leadership of the GOP offered no hope in its current state, they embraced Trump – a hero that could represent them in Washington. That is my assessment of the otherwise astonishing fanbase he gathered.

The left, incensed that such a scandalous character had taken office, who was not afraid to viciously attack his enemies in tweets and verbally, ratcheted up their hate for everything Trump stands for, including all those who are loyal to him or approve of anything he does.

Incidents of sheer intolerance for dissent are on the rise. Public figures are being chased out of restaurants, homes are being threatened by mobs, even children of such folks have been targeted for the audacity of having parents who push back on a leftist agenda.

It seems the left even growls with disapproval at folks who won’t share their hate, want to remain neutral, or hold the traditional position of respecting the office of the President regardless of political agreement (see: Tiger Woods incident from August 2018). That appears to be a thing of the past in today’s political climate.

I see how the tone and rhetoric that Trump brings to the fight only serves to add fuel to the fire. But I also can’t help but observe that the left’s reaction tactics; openly calling for incivility, disruption and violence towards dissenters, ironically drives more people to support Trump who would not have otherwise.

Tactics mentioned above are so distasteful to the moderate, reasonable person, that even if they are somewhere in the middle ideologically, they may be inclined to ally with the other side, even if uncomfortably so.

It seems that neither side is backing down. Both seem prepared to fight until the finish, cranking up the heat with no end in sight.

A call to civility

There are a lot of things I miss about the way things used to be. High among them is the opportunity to have a conversation about politics that doesn’t end in a shouting match or dissolve into unsubstantiated name-calling. I remember a time when it was more widely normal and safe to talk about dissenting ideas and policies without fear of being unfairly labeled various unflattering titles.

How refreshing it would be if national discourse were more about discussing and weighing ideas than pointing fingers, more about trying to get along than trying to vilify other viewpoints.

In closing, I’ll suggest a few things that would help for both sides of the political spectrum. As we discuss politics, let us:

  • Know the true definition of words we are using to describe others. E.g., calling someone a “racist” is a pretty serious charge. It has lost some weight because it gets thrown around so much.
  • Be prepared to back up arguments with examples. This is an area in which I could certainly improve. Just calling someone, or a whole class of people, a name without citing specifically why you think they deserve that name has no validity as an argument.
  • Respect all other humans as having equal value as yourself.
  • Respect the right of others to hold different viewpoints.
  • Realize that we are never going to be entirely unified, but that we can still respect one another.
  • Remember that our political system was set up to win battles civilly, at the polls.

This post covers a lot of ground concerning things that have been on my mind for the last few years. I embrace the sentiments behind the bullet points above and welcome respectful conversation with others who hold different views. As always, thank you for reading!

 

 

 

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