Category Archives: Faith
Words are a powerful weapon; they can be used for either good or bad, but words burn deep into our psyche and shape and fashion society whether we like it or not. When influential people twist words or use them to focus on the wrong thing, life tends to get out of focus.
Some time ago, a senator grilled a potential government appointee on his religious preferences (even though the Constitution forbids any kind of “religious test” for government service). During the interrogation, the senator kept focusing on the fact that in this person’s faith certain people groups were condemned to Hell. If this was a one time thing, I wouldn’t be writing this article; however, the news media is also focused on this idea: the exclusion of certain people groups by Christianity to Hell if they don’t believe in Jesus.
Unfortunately, they’re focusing on the wrong thing.
The Bible says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23.” ALL. Including Americans. Christianity isn’t about excluding certain groups or religions; it’s about showing that nothing we do will meet the standards of a Holy God.
But the major focus of the Bible (and Christianity) isn’t how badly we’ve all messed up–that’s the starting point. The focus of Christianity is God’s unconditional love and that He has provided a way for ALL to be saved. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.” This gift is available for ALL, regardless of color, race, ethnicity, language, religion, or location. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9 ” And it isn’t about turning everyone into Americans. (Christianity is actually the counter-culture to America.) You can be a Christian and retain your ethnicity, your language, your culture, something most other religions don’t allow. Other religious services look surprisingly the same in different cultures, but Christian services are as diverse as the cultures they represent.
It is the idea of unconditional love – love that accepts everyone no matter what – that seems to frighten the media and government. Because this type of love is completely inclusive, it frightens those who want to dominate or exclude or stereotype or limit others. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name. John 1:12 ” This kind of faith, that doesn’t limit believers to a specific people group, that doesn’t depend on what I do or who I am, that’s a powerful force that can’t be controlled by government. And what the government can’t control, it has a tendency to fear. It’s why religion and a free press are the first things to go in a repressive regime.
But this isn’t a blog about freedom of religion. It’s about unconditional love as the center and foundation of Christianity. The reason so many people are confused about what Christianity is truly about is because Christians are such a contradictory people. We mess up; we don’t get it right 100 percent of the time and those who judge our God based on our actions don’t always see the loving Father who cared enough for His children to die for them while they were still sinners. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8.”
Christianity isn’t about hate and exclusion. It’s about everlasting love and inclusion.
It looked like nothing more than a box of junk, the kind of thing a kid might keep under the bed, filled with odds and ends, bits of paper and plastic, string and beads.
Instead, the owner transformed this simple junk into magical objects filled with wisdom and fun. The owner was a young church leader in charge of the jovenes (teenagers and unmarrieds) and his particular skill set was using everyday objects, a little sleight of hand, and a dash of science to teach simple object lessons about faith in Jesus. I sat spell bound, even though I’d seen better “magic” acts. What made this spectacular was the enthusiasm and the wisdom with which this young man performed the simple tricks and the humble way he used them to draw interest into his message – faith in Christ.
Watching him demonstrate his routine for the youth group, I realized how often I dismiss people or ideas as “valueless” or “timewasters” or “unimportant” just because they don’t fit my preconceived ideas. I wonder how many of my students I have overlooked because they didn’t fit in, didn’t “sit up straight and pay attention,” insisted on doing it their own way, or just because they “looked” like they couldn’t do the assignment? How many adults have I ignored simply because I didn’t have time for their “nonsense”, “whining”, or “babbling?” How many times have I felt the sting when someone felt the same about me, dismissing my ideas, my interests, my skills as “pointless”?
There is a lesson in this humble box of junk for all of us. Life means variety. Life thrives on difference and individuality. Trying to force everyone into a single mode, a single mindset is anti-life. “Isn’t that exactly what religion does? Force everyone into a single mindset?” some will argue. And they are right. Religion, philosophy, government – all these do try to force people into a single mindset because people are easier to control that way. However, faith in Christ is not religion. People have taken various aspects of it and turned it into a religion, not faith in Christ. “Oh, you’re just splitting hairs,” some will accuse.
No, I’m not. Religion follows a set of specific rules which burden its followers. But faith in Christ follows two principles: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul. And love your enemies/neighbors as Christ has loved you.
And that, my friends, leaves us wide open to all the billions of ways to express that kind of love because we are all individuals. Love isn’t a burden. True love sets us free to be enthusiastic, creative, joyful, different.
A lot of people, including Christians, have a mistaken idea of sin and its consequences. Most view sin as a stumbling block that prevents God’s love from reaching us, or as a breaking of law that requires God to punish us.
Yes, sin has consequences, but the true tragedy of sin is often overlooked. Sin separates us from God, not the other way around. You see, God’s view of us doesn’t change. He sees us the way He has always seen us, as sinners, imperfect, impure. Even the best of us fail to match up to His standards, so we are all in the same boat—lost. When a person accepts Christ’s matchless atonement, God sees us through the forgiveness of Christ’s blood which washes away all sin, making us pure, forgiven, perfect. Those are the only two ways God views humanity and all our efforts, actions, strivings, and longings can’t change it.
The tragedy of sin isn’t that it changes how God views us; the tragedy is that sin changes how we view God. Sin reorders our priorities, warps our sense of right and wrong, infects us with a debilitating cancer of doubt and disbelief. It transforms us from people who can see clearly to people who “see through a glass darkly.” Our view of God changes from someone who “loves us with an everlasting love” to a mean and vindictive, capricious omnipotent being out to get us.
Have you ever had a friend who did something bad to you? Perhaps you forgave the friend because you felt the friendship was worth keeping, but your friend continues to avoid you, justifying his actions by assuming you wouldn’t forgive him, or that his actions were just “too terrible.” After time, the friend begins to tell other people how bad you are and that you abandoned the friendship. Hits a bit close to home, yes? Magnify those attitudes by the factor of God’s greatness and you begin to get a glimpse of what sin does in our lives, how it fractures the relationship on our side. The longer we wallow in sin, the harder it is for us to ask forgiveness and seek out the same God who is constantly pursuing us with love and mercy.
Romans 5:8 says it plainly and simply, “But God demonstrates his own love toward us, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He didn’t wait for us to “get good, get clean, get better.” He chose to love us when we were fractured, messed up beings without any value or worth. Christ’s atonement didn’t make us better; it made us forgiven. So even when we still mess up, still don’t get it right, still make wrong choices, He sees us as forgiven—not by our actions, but by His.
For the past several weeks, my husband and I have been struggling with the crushing burden of the usual life issues: health insurance companies that won’t pay on claims, medical debt, worry over college tuition, broken down cars, and the thousand and one little things like buying groceries that seem to overwhelm and suck the life force right out of us.
We’ve wallowed in misery and self pity and had fear gnawing at our souls about how are we going to live and get by and when do we start breathing again without wondering if we can pay the next bill.
A simple song posted by our son on Facebook completely changed my perspective and made me realize anew what truly matters.
Last year our little country church built a new sanctuary to replace the termite ridden almost 100-year-old frame building. Before the building was complete, my family gathered in the structure and spent some time just singing hymns acapella. Sounds weird, I know, but throughout the years our family has enjoyed doing weird things to bond—like board games, listening to Prairie Home Companion on long road trips, watching video games together, etc. So spending 30 or so minutes just singing familiar hymns in the almost completed sanctuary was great family time.
Who knew a year later, when our son posted the recording of one of those songs along with our church building on his Facebook page it would encourage his parents so much? But it did. I mentioned to my husband that the song exemplified our life, our purpose, and our ministry. It could very well have been our family motto, “Little is much when God is in it.”
Listening to the song as our family’s voices blended together in harmony and beauty made me realize that all those things I worried and fretted over really didn’t matter in the long run. What is truly important is the love our family has for each other, the encouragement and support we give each other, and our faith in an eternal God who watches over and cares for us.
Having faith doesn’t mean life will be easy or that we will never experience hardship and trouble. It does mean that we have something to hold on to when the world is crumbling beneath our feet. Keeping my focus on the eternal doesn’t negate what I must deal with in the present, but it does provide a peace that “passes all understanding,” and a grace to deal with life with inexplicable strength and wisdom.
Faith in Christ is the foundation for life. There will always be storms, and tempests, winds and waves, destruction and pestilence. How we endure those situations depends on our foundation. The simple song—and the priceless gift my son gave in recording it—reminded me that I have a sure foundation and that life can never, ever defeat the One who holds me in His hands.
A comment by a student of mine this past year, coupled with our anniversary this weekend, prompts this blog:
“Mrs. Parsons, how long have you been married?”
“How can you stay married to someone that long?”
“If you do it right, it’s easy.”
At first I was a bit disturbed by the student’s assumption that marriages don’t last long; then I realized that according to movies and television, relationships are as changeable as shirts; and most of these students have blended parents—sometimes multiple times over. I have lived long enough to see long term, stable marriages become the exception rather than the rule, and the faerytale principle of “and they lived happily ever after” diminish from an assumed expectation to something that only happens in books.
Thirty-three years and four children later, we’ve fallen under the “happily ever after” category. Unlike the movies, however, “happily ever after” takes a lot of hard work, teamwork, and sacrifice. I’m not saying those three things always spell a happy marriage because life tends to take a toll on even the most resilient folks. Yet there are a few sure fire ways to do it right.
I married my best friend. Contrary to the current American belief that relationships are formed based on looks, the best ones start with looking for character. Bruce and I spent a lot of time getting to know each other before deciding to get married. Since our courtship was pre-cell phone days while living in two different states, we wrote a lot of letters (daily, seven days a week for two years). We spent a lot of time finding out our common interests, likes, dislikes, what we thought of children, marriage, work roles, and whether we laughed at the same jokes. By the time Bruce proposed, he was my best friend.
We share the same faith. I know it sounds trite and corny and definitely not PC; however, a shared faith becomes a stable foundation for any relationship. We followed the same code of right and wrong, had the same source of strength and support, and came closer together through worship of the same God. Instead of dividing our household, our faith undergirded and protected our relationship.
We laugh together. From the very start of our relationship, laughter has seasoned and cemented our love. Bruce wanted someone to appreciate his sense of humor and I needed someone to keep me from being a dour and too serious person. Together we can laugh and share jokes even when everyone around us doesn’t get it. And after 33 years, we’ll see something, shoot each other a glance and burst into giggles without a word as if we’re reading each other’s mind.
In today’s world with the hateful rhetoric of women’s rights, male bashing, and hatred of marriage, I’d like to state “for the record,” that marriage can be delightful. I am my own person and Bruce is his own person. We didn’t “give up” our personalities and one doesn’t dominate the other. We have a shared partnership that grows sweeter and more wonderful each year we are together.
We hold hands and we’d rather spend time with each other than anybody else. We definitely don’t fit the stereotype of married couples in today’s society and that’s okay. Maybe that’s why we are still married and living “happily ever after.”
I love driving in the fog. It’s so still and mysterious and gives me time to expand my imagination. It transforms the ordinary into extraordinary. Whenever I get a chance to drive in the fog, I take the access roads to work. Not because it’s “safer,” but because I can drive slowly and enjoy.
Most folks don’t like driving in the fog because they’re in a hurry and hurry in “bad” weather spells danger on the road. For me, driving in fog is relaxing and I don’t want to deal with speeders, trucks or other hindrances, so I get off the freeway and take the freer mode of transportation on the access roads where life goes by at a slower pace.
Fog blurs outlines, transforms terrain, causes us see things differently. Fog has the ability to surprise us, or make us take a closer look at life. How many times have I traveled past a house or clump of trees and never noticed until fog changes the appearance? How many times have I driven the same route daily without noticing where I am along the route until fog forces me to pay attention to my surroundings? “Oh, am I already at the Tinnon house? Wait, I haven’t even reached the cemetery yet?
Fog is a reminder of the times I take life for granted, the times I overlook experiences, people, ideas because I’m caught up on the whirlwind of routine. Fog is a reminder to “be still” and know God, know myself, really see the people in my life.
On the other side of the fog, awaits life as it is meant to be lived: full of adventure, excitement, enthusiasm, and breathtaking moments.
I lost a dear friend this week…not because of a difference of opinion, not because time and distance edged us apart, not because we simply became too busy to interact. I lost a friend to cancer and death.
While I knew she had been sick, I had no idea how serious it was. You see, she lived in another state and wasn’t the kind of person to be complaining on Facebook, the phone, or through letters about her illness.
I should have called her over Christmas. I thought about it, just got busy with life and didn’t get around to it and now it’s too late. However, this isn’t one of those blogs about regrets or shouldves, wouldves, couldves.
It’s about friendship.
We met back in college when I was a shy, insecure freshman and she a self-assured, popular sophomore who didn’t have trouble including me among her friends. Even though we’ve lived states apart, we’ve stayed in touch. When my family was on furlough from overseas, and she was driving cross-country to see family, she stopped over. It was hoot the two of us, all of our eight kids and my husband at McDonalds, looking for all the world like a good Mormon family. (All the kids were blonde haired and blue eyed.) Our firstborn sons had the same first name and were only two weeks apart. When we were in her part of the world, she opened her home to us, took us sightseeing, spent time with our children.
Some would say we weren’t good friends because we didn’t talk that much on the phone, didn’t write often, seldom chatted on Facebook, etc. But she was the kind of friend that endures. Now matter how much time filled the gaps between touching base, we picked up right where we left off, no hesitation, no awkward silences, just the warmth and blessing of good friends who last a lifetime.
This week got me thinking about what makes a good friend and how expectations and obligations of culture can diminish or extinguish the light of friendship. If friendship is based on remembering birthdays and anniversaries, letter writing and phone calling, we are limited to only a certain personality type. If friendship is based on girls’ nights out, pedicures and manicures and movies or meals, we are limited by location and locale. If friendship is based on knowing every single detail of the other’s life and habits, we miss out on surprise and spontaneity.
I choose to remember my friend, not for all the things we didn’t do together, but for the things we did, the rare times we spent in each other’s company, secure in the knowledge we loved each other and supported each other. Because those times were few and far between, they are like precious jewels, diamonds in the fabric of our friendship. The quality of friendship I desire for all my children to experience–the blessing of a sustaining friend.
I’ll miss you, but I will never forget you.
This week we had an opportunity to watch Hollywood’s version of Noah. The film had some creative and interesting interpretations and stunning imagery. The whole sequence of “something from nothing” was incredibly beautiful. The movie did get a bit heavy-handed with the evil men: meat-eaters, technology-users/good men: vegetarians, environmentalists; however, it was an enjoyable film.
Unfortunately, the writer missed the whole point of the Noah story: redemption, not just saving the animals.
When Noah tells his wife, “I have seen evil and it is inside all of us,” the entire scope of the Creator saving a remnant takes on new meaning. The God who could create something from nothing could easily have destroyed the entire world and started over from scratch had He desired. He could have sent a plague to wipe out man and leave the animals had He so desired.
He chose to save a remnant, to give man a second chance.
This was the point the movie missed; the point that, in the end, kept the film from being superb. The mercy demonstrated wasn’t Noah’s, but the Creator’s. In the biblical account, Noah didn’t build his ark far from civilization, but right where everyone could see. Daily they passed by ridiculing Noah’s folly. Daily he preached redemption and salvation to anyone who passed by.
Until the last moment anyone who wanted could have come aboard the ark, but no one chose to do so. In the end, when the rain fell, the Creator shut the door to the ark–not Noah. The Creator spared Noah, his wife, his three sons and their three wives. It wasn’t about ending mankind; it was about giving mankind a second chance.
The visual promise of second chances came in the form of a rainbow, something we often take for granted. Beauty formed by splintering light through water, a truth that even in darkness, light shines.
Through Noah and his sons and their wives a bit of the Garden of Eden was preserved, the piece of “made in the image of God” which came through from the old world into the new, a remnant of the Creator’s original purpose: man made to fellowship with God and tend the earth.
Whenever a discussion comes up on whether or not I believe in evolution in regards to human beings, the first thing that comes to mind is regret. Animals don’t regret. Human beings do. We spend our lives living in regret for things said or done, things left unsaid or undone, roads taken, roads not taken, choices made, choices avoided, friendships lost, relationships broken, opportunities lost. It is a trait that makes us distinctly, uniquely human.
However, regret is not a condition with which humanity has to live. We can deal with it and move on; and therein lies the problem: we don’t deal with it.
People have an instinctive ability to avoid dealing with regret. We choose not to face up to our choices by blaming society, or others, or our circumstances. We choose to avoid the consequences of those choices by rationalizing our attitudes or actions. We choose to bury the past and hope, with time, those choice will be forgotten (and/or forgiven) and we can move on with our lives.
Unfortunately, regret that is not dealt with transforms into guilt. The results of guilt are devastating and we see those results in the forms of broken families, violence, physical and mental abuse, drunkenness, and drug addition. The only way to break the cycle is to confront regret head on. To see our actions and attitudes for what they are, accept responsibility, ask forgiveness, and make restitution.
It is a terrifying thing to see ourselves as others see us, whether for good or evil. When someone sees us in a positive light, often our own inadequacies keep us from accepting the accolades. When others see the ugly side of our natures, it conflicts with our self perception of being “good” and we run screaming from the truth.
People are a mixture of good and bad actions, attitudes, words, choices, and paths taken. A good balance acknowledges the times we are wrong and embraces the things that make us pleasant to be around. When we make wrong choices or bad decisions, the only thing to do is face it head on. Accept responsibility, no matter how unpleasant the truth, and do what must be done to right the wrong. Sometimes that’s not possible, but by at least acknowledging our responsibility we can begin to heal internally. Only then can we begin to move past and get on with our lives.
While we never forget the incident, we do come to a place where we can learn from it; a place where we can encourage others, a place where we can offer counsel on how to avoid similar problems, a place that refines our spirits in the fires of truth and makes us better people.
This past week a flurry of tweets surrounding Christians’ freedom of expression disturbed me. The debate itself has been around for the past 10-20 years or so, but never as viciously displayed as what I witnessed Friday.
Some would argue that a Christian’s choice of language is personal and no one has the “right” to “judge” them. News flash: The world will judge you even when Christians don’t. They expect Christians to be and act differently from them. Perhaps the real problem lies with our understanding of “judging” and “accountability.”
Judging is weighing someone’s actions and finding them guilty without hope of reconciliation. Guilty and punished. Accountability is showing someone the standard and how to get there. Missing the mark and correction. While Christians are warned against judging, we are commanded to reprove (hold fellow Christians accountable). The standards have already been set–we don’t get the luxury of changing them or picking and choosing which we want to follow.
But what concerns me more is the blatant lynch mob mentality that browbeats someone, who has dared to remind someone else of the standard, into submission and apology. It’s as if the more vicious we are in our response, the more we can justify a particular action by “majority rule.” In my experience, those who are the loudest and who resort to name-calling are the ones most likely to be on shaky ground. When one is standing on the rock, one can pay no attention to the tempestuous winds of words or the crushing waves of vitriol.
Meekness is not weakness, but strength under control. Christians are not doormats, except when their salt “loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.” It’s time we stood our ground against compromise and the watering down of our faith by fellow Christians.
As for the “language” issue: Here’s what the Bible actually says about it:
Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8
In addition, Proverbs is filled with specific rules for what kind of things ought to come out of our mouths, if we desire to be wise.
Christian apologetics means explaining what we believe and why. It never means backing down and saying sorry because you don’t happen to agree with the standards.