Refinement: How We See and Experience Adversity

“See, I have refined you, but not like silver; I have tested you in the furnace of adversity.” — Isaiah 48:10, NRSV

In a previous post, we talked about the fact that adversity is a guarantee in life. Struggle, as you probably know, happens to everyone at one point or another. The intensity, causes, and manifestations of struggle may change, but the fact is adversity is a companion we should get used to. This leaves us with those two all-important questions: how will we face it and how will we surface on the other side?

For me, one of the most adverse experiences that I have been faced with is the loss of my job and calling, all in the span of a few months. After being let go from working at my appointed church, I was eager to  get back into ministry elsewhere. The problem was, the more I thought about it, the less I wanted to go back. Don’t get me wrong, we have been attending churches and I have still kept my Christian spiritual life in tact. I also want to get involved at whatever church we join, teaching classes, serving in missions, etc. However, I want to do those things for free, not tethered to the institutional church. There are some who are called to that and who do amazing work in professional ministry. My personal sense of integrity, idealism, and faith keep me from being one of those people. Others may be called to use these gifts in professional ministry, but I have learned it is not my way.

On one hand, this was a good realization. It is just as much a blessing to know when one is not called to something as knowing when one is called to something. I fostered a lot of resentment in my time in professional ministry, mostly toward other clergy who had a sense of belonging that I never experienced. I also had major issues with a necessary component to church in the United States, which is keeping the right people content. To me, if something is true or in need of being presented, it needs to be presented, regardless of the implications for a person’s spiritual life. If their spiritual life is selfishly constructed, what are we even doing?

Anyway, I won’t go much further down that road.

On the other hand, this one hurt. I was planning to spend my life in ministry. I wanted to be important in the eyes of others and in the eyes of God. I wanted my life to matter for the cause of Christ.

I should say that being fired was actually a bit of a blessing. I had issues with that placement. I was bad at keeping boundaries that protected me, my relationships, and the amazing congregation of youth and adults I love. Being let go and having the opportunity to face those ugly truths has actually made me a better man, and it also allowed me the chance to see what I should (and shouldn’t) be doing with my life. All in all, I’m happier now than I have been in a long time, and I have God and my amazing wife, family, and friends to thank for that. However, this is not the only result that could have come.

You see, adversity like this is not strange or uncommon. Whether it is brought on by chance, our own doings, or the doings of others, we are all going to face the ugly side of life and free will at many points throughout our brief existence on this earth. With that in mind, we need to answer those two all-important questions.

I submit that we look at adversity as divine testing. Now, before my more progressive friends close this window, and before my theologically… assertive (Calvinist?) brothers and sisters jump sky-high with delight, let me expand on what I mean by “divine testing.” When most of us think about the idea of God testing us, we look at it in academic terms. Just as the teacher is the one who hands us the blue book or scan-tron, we imagine God is the one who engineers the particular circumstance by which we are tested. God hands it to us, and we are expected to do our best to pass it.

For some of us, this may be comforting, but it isn’t for me. It makes God seem a bit cruel. However, I do believe we are tested in that God watches how we respond to certain things. God gives us freedom and the tools to make choices, even gives us the means of making the right choices, however, it is up to us to complete that act, and God is watching, prepared to give revelation in either an affirming or corrective manner.

This is a middle road opinion, to be sure, but I find it to be the most Scriptural of the available options. For example, take a look at the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4. A situation of adversity comes up (4:5), God warns and encourages Cain (4:6-7), a regrettable choice is made (4:8), and God responds accordingly (4:10-12). The same happens with everyone, from the heroes of faith (like Moses and David) to the entire nation of Israel and the body of Christian believers. All are tested, but not because God puts them in crappy situations. Rather, we are all tested when we face adversity that is common to all, specific to our situation, and has the potential to cause us to act unfaithfully. 

If you look at the Scripture at the beginning of this post, you’ll find that it is a quote from a context in which Isaiah is making note of the times Israel failed their tests. This failure led to their conquest and exile as a natural out working of their violation of God’s covenant. There are many tests that we have failed or will fail. However, the grace of God in Christ is relentless. While we may fail, God calls us to repent (to change our ways and move in a different direction). If we do this, and if we continue to put in efforts to better ourselves and stay connected to God, we will eventually see a change in how adversity affects us.  What once drove us to sin, anger, bitterness, addiction, and other negative actions can actually be an opportunity to live in faith, kindness, compassion, and honesty. When we move from the former to the latter, it is the grace of God working within us, refining us, and making us more whole.

I have responded to the recent tests in both positive and negative ways. I have been hurt, angry, and resentful. However, I have also gotten help for those things, and a result, I have grown closer to God, my wife, my friends, and my family. I have also gained more understanding regarding what kind of life I want to have in order to serve God and others best. In the end, I hope you will pray for me that I may come through this process refined and improved. I will also pray for you in that regard, dear reader. 

Go forth in hope, knowing that every day, we are being tested. Every situation presents us with an opportunity to do good or evil, and we must choose. Remember that God is always with you, no matter what, and rise to the occasion the next inevitable time adversity comes to meet you. By the grace of God, I know that we can overcome.

Peace be with you!

Feel free to comment on this post or ask for prayer from the Contact page!

Wrong Question, Right Answer: On “The Good Samaritan”

“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.” — Luke 10:36-37, NRSV

This story, often called “The Parable of the Good Samaritan,” is one of the chief parables in the Christian faith. It is about kindness that reaches across social, ethnic, and even religious boundaries. It also showcases one of the best turn-arounds Jesus has ever pulled on someone, and the result is a message that is sorely needed in our world today.

You can find the whole story here, and you will notice that after a lawyer asks Jesus about the necessary qualifications for entering eternal life, and Jesus answers rather bluntly, we get a new question that sounds familiar to anyone who knows this story. “And who is my neighbor?” From there Jesus enters into an unexpected narrative with an even less-expected result.

Now, for those of us unfamiliar with the parable, don’t feel bad, as the most familiar interpretations and lessons on this parable tend to miss a major point. Jesus never answers the lawyer’s question.

The odd interpretation most come to is that one’s neighbors are the people who are merciful toward you, so go and be like them, which one has to admit, sounds weird. It is seldom noted that Jesus doesn’t tell the lawyer who his neighbors are, that he may concentrate his efforts on them. Instead, Jesus teaches the lawyer how to be a neighbor to even one’s most despised enemy (as the Samaritan is to the Jew in this parable).

We as humans always look for the minimum. We want to know how much we really have to achieve, and we strive to fulfill that while still trying to get everything else we want. When it comes to religion, this tendency is more pronounced. We always ask what we can get away with. Not in those words, but we ask things like, “Will I go to hell if…?” or “What does the Bible specifically say about me wanting to…?” We seek technicalities, or, like the lawyer, we want to know who we are allowed to mistreat. He didn’t ask that… but he did.

The lawyer already noted that the Law teaches us to love our neighbors as ourselves in verse 27. Therefore, his question (“Who is my neighbor?”) is really kind of wrong. He is asking who he needs to love as himself. He is exhibiting an action we do all too often in our world today. There are people who are more inherently worthy of our love and respect than others. We don’t want to treat our enemies civilly, much less with love, as Jesus teaches in Luke 6:27-36, found here. We want to love who we feel deserves it, but we also want to be free to hate (or “strongly dislike” as every minimal Christian puts it) those we feel have earned it.

With this in mind, we often will be found asking the lawyer’s question every time we come to this story. Now, luckily, we are mostly given the right answer, that everyone is to be our neighbor, treated with love. Jesus, however, doesn’t even bother to answer the lawyer’s question with that. Instead, Jesus asks (and answers) his own question.

Notice, after the parable, Jesus asks, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” His advice is to go and show the same mercy to others. His question and answer are not concerned with who our neighbors are so much as whether or not we are being merciful neighbors to everyone.

Jesus tells us to stop looking for the minimum requirements and to start focusing on being disciples, day in and day out. It’s not important who our neighbors are! It is, however, important to know whether or not we are being neighbors to others. This is an essential teaching for today, when we seem to be more than happy to retreat back to our segregated, isolationist way of surrounding ourselves with similarity and calling that Christian love. It is an essential teaching in my country, where we Christians want to know the minimum we have to religiously adhere to while remaining free to ultimately do what we want.

Our future as a planet depends on our ability to accept this teaching. It will take the help of God every day, but I guarantee that if we wake up determined to be a neighbor to everyone (as opposed to finding worthy neighbors to love), things will start to look different. God is always at work, but when we open the door to our hearts and our lives in this way, real changes will start to happen. I personally think real change is something we desperately need if we want to survive as a species!

I hope this little talk has proved helpful for you. I hope you are, like me, pondering this story anew. Most of all, I hope you will join me today in a journey of discipleship, determined to be a neighbor, exhibiting God’s love to all. It takes practice, but it is totally worth it.

Peace be with you!

Floods Will Come

“I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built.” — Luke 6:47-48, NRSV

I remember seeing an illustrated version of this parable. If I remember correctly, it was in Grandma’s Gospel, a book my grandma in West Virginia (who we are visiting this week) used to read to me on her front porch swing. I have always liked this teaching, even if at first it was because I’d laugh at the guy that thought he was building a strong house on sand. Anyway, I feel this is a good parable to ponder as we enter into a new year. Why?

A new year is a new opportunity, a chance for a new way of life for some of us. It is important that we take a moment to pause and consider how we are going to live in this new year. 2017 certainly revealed a lot about our more negative sides. Selfishness, greed, prejudice, and apathy marked the public sphere, leading to a sense of despair for everyone involved (except for those in power who benefit from the above sinful expressions). The question now is whether or not we want more of the same.

You see, such sinful expressions are the result of houses built “without a foundation” (Luke 6:49). Fragile existences based on possessions, status, self-satisfaction, or the need to be superior often fail us in the moments when the floods of life come along. Notice I said “when,” not “if” the floods come. The text says the same thing. “When a flood arose, the river burst against that house” (Luke 6:48).

Floods are going to come, regardless of whether or not our lives are rooted in stone or sand. Living a life founded on the rock of faith does not exempt one from the immense and often overwhelming pain life brings along. In similar fashion, basing our existence on things that can be easily swept away (work, relationships, self-importance, fleeting pleasures, etc.) doesn’t do us any favors either. The trick for this new year, then, is building our lives on a foundation that is not only strong enough to sustain us through the pain of life, but also has the power to provide shelter and peace for others in the midst of their own storms. 

How do we do that?

It begins with the teachings of Christ in Luke, all summed up earlier in chapter 6. You might recognize the foremost of these teachings in Luke 6:31, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” From there, look around at the other teachings.

“But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return” (Luke 6:35).

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37).

This chapter is then wrapped up with the parable of two foundations.

Coincidence? Of course not. Keep up.

Jesus says the one who builds their house on a strong foundation is the one “who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them” (Luke 6:47). If we want to begin and continue this year in a new, better way, the best advice is build a foundation on those things that keep us kind, gracious, patient, loving, forgiving, and compassionate. What’s the best example? Look at Jesus.

Jesus was maligned almost everywhere he went. People claimed to be his disciples, only to abandon him with alarming quickness. He came teaching freedom, transformation, and a closer relationship to the Divine, which led to a miserable death on a cross. In the midst of mistreatment, persecution, beatings, and a humiliating execution, Jesus never compromised on his love, compassion, justice, and inclinations toward healing and wholeness for those who needed it.

If we want to experience a different sort of year, that’s exactly what it’s going to take for us.

Floods are going to come. Whether literally, as in Puerto Rico and the Gulf Coast of the United States, or figuratively in the form of mass shootings, sudden loss of life, familial stress, unemployment, or the ending of important relationships, these floods all have the capability of turning us into self-serving people who only serve to feed the hateful atmosphere that has been so prevalent in our world as of late. If, however, we build our lives upon a foundation beyond ourselves, a foundation that prioritizes the care and well-being of others, we will be able to withstand the turbulent waters. 

Will there be damage? There always is. Will life hurt? Of course. If, however, our lives are geared toward others, in alignment with the will of God, our pain can be healed and made useful. This results in a very different reality from the one we have seen before. You know, the one where our pain and our suffering and our desires take precedence over anything else.

As you go about beginning this new year, I hope you join in me in doing some construction work. How can we change the foundation of our lives to one that is firmly set on the unshakable rock that is the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ? We won’t always get it right, but our continuous efforts alone will yield something beautiful that will go a long way toward healing previous damage done to us, to others, and to all of creation. So let’s get started!

Happy New Year!

Peace be with you!

Blessed Foolishness: A Comment on Church Status

For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. — 1 Corinthians 1:22-24, NRSV

Alright, so get excited, everyone. This is a rant I have been just waiting to go on, but don’t worry. It is rooted in Scripture and a love for the faith that continues to strengthen and change me. This post was prompted by President Trump’s Christmas speech. Actually, it was prompted more by the response to said Christmas speech, piled on top of the comments I have heard over and over again about the supposed, rightful Christianity of the United States. 

First, I must issue a disclaimer. I am not attacking or denying the Christian faith of the majority of Americans dating back to our nation’s founding. I am not going to be dumping on the president. I am not going to be dumping on the United States. I am also not going to be dumping on Christianity. I am, however, going to take issue with a tendency that has plagued the Christian Church throughout history. As a matter of fact, this is a tendency that has always plagued humanity, namely the tendency to seek out power and protect however much power we manage to get our hands on. 

What do I mean by “power?” I mean social, political, military, and economic influence. I mean that which makes Christians the primary beneficiaries of policy, the chiefly expressed and practiced religion, and the religion that is adopted by the nation to suit the purposes of the nation. It is my contention that for us as Christians to seek out or possess such influence is to undermine the entire faith. 

Christianity was never supposed to be a faith of worldly power. Jesus himself addresses the lack of popularity to be expected by Christians in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The quote at the start of this post comes from a bigger section of the First Letter to the Corinthians in which Paul address the fact that Christian beliefs alone are counter to the world’s logic, much less the way they live their lives in pursuit of “nothing… except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).

My point is that Christians believe God Incarnate, Jesus, the King of kings, did not come with the might of an army, the wealth of a king, or the privilege of the elite. He was a son of a carpenter, wandering from place to place, living off of the kindness of others, and spreading a message that challenged the powerful, lifted up the poor, and ended with his own crucifixion. Jesus never pursued worldly power or wealth, and he never encouraged his followers to do so. He actually warned against it multiple times, saying, “You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24).

So what is my point? After President Trump’s speech, so many extoled the virtues of our Christian country. On top of that, we have a habit of talking about our troops as if they were Christ, potentially sacrificed on the altar of freedom for our salvation. Even more, we equate being a good American with being a good Christian, and  the American values of wealth and privilege seep into our churches and teachings, causing us to mistake riches for blessing, status for righteousness.

This is not the first time. Whether in Rome, the Crusades, colonization, or modernity, any time the Church has sought or achieved worldly power, it became decadent, corrupt, and idolatrous. Forced conversions, wars for land, wars for power, slavery, and the blending of Christian and civil religion all resulted from the Church’s pursuit of that which is counter to Christ… and I worry it’s happening again.

When we as Christians become concerned with our status or endorsement by the government, when we emphasize numbers, when we seek after wealth, power, and security above all else, we start down that wide road that “leads to destruction” (Matthew 7:13).

It is my prayer that you will join me in praying for the Church, that she may recover her purpose and identity. It is my prayer that you will find strength not in riches or status, but in the humble cross of Christ. Remember that the love of God is not found in material abundance or social privilege, but in the humble, daily pursuit of justice, service, and kindness for all people. If we can remember that, we  could have a bright new year ahead.

Peace be with you!

The Season of Giving and Why God Probably Doesn’t Like Christmas

“Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them.” — Isaiah 1:14

Now THAT is a Scripture full of holiday cheer! Okay, so between the title and Scripture, you may think this is going to be harsh, but it really isn’t. I don’t hate Christmas, and neither does God, I’m sure. There are, however, some issues for the faithful, and anybody else, when it comes to seasons, rituals, and holidays. So let’s talk. 

Now, this isn’t going to be a rant about the pagan roots of modern-day Christmas decor and traditions. Yes, it’s true. No, it isn’t a bad thing because those symbols are re-interpreted faithfully. All in all, if it bothers you, don’t get a tree. It’s not a requirement and your faith is more important. So there. Done. 

That said, the reason I picked the Scripture I did for this conversation is because I’ve gotten sick of hearing the phrase “Season of Giving” applied to Christmas time. Why? Because giving, kindness, and familial love are not to be restricted to particular times and places. This attitude actually typifies one of the worst issues facing us as Christians (and as people in general).

What issue? The issue of compartmentalized living. You know what I’m talking about. “Religious me” is private and for church time. “Work me” is for work. “School me” is for school, and so on. Similarly, we have “Holiday me,” the alter ego that goes all “best behavior” for the span of about a month or so, and I am just about sick of all of it.

Don’t get me wrong, I have been just as guilty of this as everyone else. It’s a problem we all have in this world where it is frowned upon to be utterly devoted to a way of being that doesn’t match the values of the powers that be. That’s why we have holidays, designated times for kindness and familial celebration so that, when they end, we can ease back into life as it should be lived: in pursuit of other things. 

This practice is as bad as it sounds, especially within the Christian world. When Christmas became the “Season of Giving” and our holy days/worship meetings became THE time and place to devoutly practice our faith, a major battle was lost in the war for our souls. It became much easier to have our cake and eat it. We can worship at the designated moments while dedicating the remainder of our time to getting what we want, achieving what we desire to achieve. Why is this a problem?

Nothing changes, including our hypocrisy. To us, it seems like balance. To the rest of the world, it’s the proof that what we believe is self-serving B.S. 

So what is the solution? Abandon holidays?

Don’t be dramatic

While we are on the subject, though, it’s time worship and holidays (from the Old English word meaning, “Holy Day”) were re-understood as what they were really intended to be: reminders. The practice of faith and goodness is not found in the sanctuary, worship center, or the temporary toleration of difficult people in the “spirit of Christmas.” Worship, holy days, and other such themed seasons are supposed to be reminders, means of getting in the habit so we can function like human beings were intended in the other aspects of our lives.  

Now, you’ve no doubt heard or been this person before. “I don’t celebrate commercial holidays because we should be that way all the time.” Well, we aren’t, ding-bat, that’s the problem. However, instead of treating these holy days and weekly reminders as instances in which we can learn how to habitually love, we treat them like the timed trials in which we are to get all of that distracting affection, adoration, and discipleship out of the way so that we can get back to living life in the usual self-serving, poor-ignoring, tension-avoiding way. 

This is why God says what he does in the Scripture at the start of this post from the prophet Isaiah. Our holidays and designated times/places for worshiping and following God “have become a burden to [God], [He] is weary of bearing them,” precisely because their point is being missed entirely. These seasons and holy days are designed to teach and remind us to “cease evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:16-17). These are actions that make up a lifestyle of faith, the intended lifestyle of Christians (it’s even a great way to live as a non-Christian, I might add). This is not a lifestyle that allows for our preferred, compartmentalized lifestyle. We are to be “faithful me” at work, at school, at home, in the voting booth, in the mall, yes, in our places of worship. 

As you go about the holidays, worship, and rituals of your life (whether they be Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, family dinners, new moons, weekly worship, Lent, Ramadan, etc.), remember that these are times to develop habits, not to hastily exercise all of your kindness. What habits? The habits that will allow you to live a faithful, kind, generous, just, and full life all day, every day. If we can begin to take even a tiny step in this direction, perhaps we will see a “Season of Giving” that never ends, and that Kingdom of God will move just a tad bit closer.

Peace be with you!


Sharing, Caring, and the Word “No”

“Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away.” — Mark 4:5-6, NRSV

An exceptionally special person in my life shared an article with me, which you can find here. The article regards empathetic people, people able to really grasp how a person is feeling and thinking. Most people have some level of empathy, and whether or not it is your primary way of dealing with others or not, this article is worth the read. Empathy, and caring for others in general, is a draining place to be in. Odds are, you know what it’s like to be a giver. It can be rewarding, powerful, and somewhat addicting. In fact, it can be tempting to make our lives all about what we put out into the world, which, while well-intended, leads to a severe loss of self.

In the world of faith, it is no different. The quote above is from the “Parable of the Sower” in Mark 4. In this parable, Jesus is addressing the various responses to the Gospel that we still find today. The article my beloved friend shared with me made me think of this parable, specifically the seed that fell on rocky ground.

Why is that?

Well this particular instance of withering is characteristic of many people who are too busy reaching out to develop any depth of soil or rootedness in their lives. Why is this important? Roots nourish the plant. They reach deep into the nutrient soil far below the surface, supplying the plant with the energy, growth, and the ability to healthily grow and be sustained. Even when the season changes and the weather turns harsh, the plant can retreat into the soil, back to the roots, until the time comes to reach out again.

In life, we are called to “bear fruit”, yes (Mark 4:20). We are called to reach out to others and care for them as we would like done for us (Luke 6:31). However, if we don’t gain depth, develop roots in our lives, and take the time to make sure we are healthy, we won’t be able to do that to the degree we want to. We will give and give and give until there is nothing left and we become defined by the uses we have for others. When times get difficult, when it becomes hard to give, our shallow sense of self will cause us to wither away, as Jesus says in Mark 4:17. Even though Jesus is referring to remaining faithful in the face of persecution, the application still works for the situations in which our failure to be nourished eventually chokes out our ability to be a nourishing presence for others.

Sure, we might be able to give, nonstop martyr-style for a good long while. However, that giving will lack the transformative depth, quality, and sustainability to truly make a difference in our lives that the lives of others. The same truth for empathy and self-giving is true with practicing faith. It doesn’t matter if you read the Bible a book a day for a year if by the end of that time, you’re sick of doing it and don’t even know how to live what you’ve read. It doesn’t matter if you go to church every week, multiple times per week if you don’t take the time to personally develop your faith in a way that complements that community time. It doesn’t matter if you go build houses in a foreign country in the name of Christ if that is the limit of spiritual development you allow for yourself, burning out in a matter of a few short years.

In all of this, the truth remains the same: in order to sustainably show grace, compassion, and love for others, we must first be able to receive the grace, compassion, and love we are offered by God, by others, and by ourselves. What does this look like?

  1. Develop sustainable spiritual habits that nourish your soul. Reading a chapter of Scripture in the morning and evening, praying two or three times a day, meeting with the Church once a week, serving regularly, going on a spiritual retreat by yourself to recharge, all of these are possible means by which you can remain spiritually rooted in God and your place in the story of His love.
  2. Make sure that you are mentally healthy. Everybody needs someone to talk to, and sometimes, dishing to your friend over cocktails just won’t do it. There is no shame in seeking out professional mental help, even if you “feel fine.” It is a place where you can literally vent about anything and everything by someone who is not going to judge you. It is also a great place to discuss your worries, your concerns, and to develop a plan that keeps you in the healthiest place imaginable so that all of your relationships and endeavors function as highly as possible. God wants you to be equipped to handle all that faithful living involves, and that includes having the mental capacity and health to know what you need in order to better serve others.
  3. Make sure you are as physically healthy as your situation allows. There are many things out of our control, but having some sort of regular physical care (whether that means gym workouts, sports, walking, regular doctor visits, sleeping 10 hours a night, or a healthy diet) is key to being able to healthily manage your own life along with the concerns of others when needed. Not everyone can exercise conventionally, I get that, but making sure that you, in some way, are taking care of your physical needs will ensure that you are strong enough to handle life.
  4. Maintain boundaries. There is absolutely no shame in saying, “No,” as the article I was discussing earlier points out. Including the concerns above, you have a life which God has given you to enjoy and maintain, which means that sometimes, you will have to know when to back out of “giving mode” so that you can soak up the nutrients you need. Whether that is time with family, friends, your counselor, your Bible, or your weight set, there is no shame or selfishness in making sure that you take time to charge your batteries. No one has the right to obliterate or transgress your boundaries, and if they can’t understand that, it’s their problem, not a problem with you.

In order to give effectively and meaningfully, we also have to be able to receive the spiritual, emotional, and physical nutrition God intends us to have. If we are going to live impactful lives, we have to have the roots to sustain us, and those don’t come except through radical self-care. Just as God loves others, God loves YOU and wants YOU to live a blessed life that blesses others. The only way to achieve that, to give as God gives, is for us to take time to soak up the grace we are offered, and to, sometimes, just say, “No.”

Peace be with you!


“Do not be upright to excess and do not make yourself unduly wise; why should you destroy yourself? Do not be wicked to excess, and do not be a fool; why die before your time? It is wise to hold on to one and not let go of the other, since the godfearing will find both.” — Ecclesiastes 7:16-18, NJB

Now that is an odd quote. Isn’t faithful life all about being as righteous as is humanly possible? Aren’t we to try to avoid intentional sin at all costs, as we are crucifying Christ again by our repeated iniquities (Hebrews 6:6)? Well, yes and no.

I have been asked a lot by students in ministry whether this or that is a sin, and if this or that will send us to hell, as if there is a list of actions that is so specific that if we so much as dip a toe in the pool of that particular wrongdoing, we go straight to the hot (cold in Dante’s Inferno) place. I always like to point to this quote from Ecclesiastes as part of my answer.

This quote can be misapplied, of course, to literally mean one should balance each good action with a negative one. Such a misinterpretation could have people seeking out wicked behaviors, which is probably (read, “definitely”) not what any of the biblical authors had in mind. So what are we looking at here?

My contention is that this is a discussion of trends. Wisdom literature (Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, Wisdom of Solomon, Job,etc.) is concerned with how one lives “the good life.” This genre is concerned with what it means to truly live life, and to do so well. Wisdom literature readily admits the fallibility of people. We will all screw up sometimes. This is a fact. It is inescapable. With that being the case, how can we avoid a fiery fate?!

Okay, first of all, as addressed in a previous post, hell is not the reason to live a good life. Being overly concerned with the varying realities of hell is really no way to live a full and productive life of discipleship. Secondly, whatever side of God’s judgment you end up on certainly doesn’t depend on committing the right sins or not. It also doesn’t depend on you living the perfect life. It depends on your faithfulness to Christ and the trend of your life. No, I am not talking about how many re-tweets and likes you get. I am talking about whether the curve of your life tends more toward right actions and loving behavior in the name of Jesus, or… not. Remember, salvation, that is our renewed relationship with God by which we enter into eternal life, is found in the faithfulness of Jesus Christ evidenced in His sacrifice on the cross, that we may know the infinite love and victory of God (Romans 5:24-25). It does not depend on our perfection, but our lives should be outward expressions of our faith as often as we can do so, by the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us.

So where does the Ecclesiastes text fit into this? The teacher speaking in this book of the Bible is concerned with the wasted efforts of those who place too much emphasis on their personal righteousness and wisdom, as they will eventually die, just as fools and the wicked will. It is not that righteousness and wisdom are bad, but they become unhealthy if the pursuit of them is taken to excess (7:16). Think about it. Have you ever been expected to be perfect, whether by yourself or others? It is impossible, and on top of that, because of its impossibility, it breeds resentment of ourselves, of others, even of God. Also, we waste life for fear of messing up. We avoid enjoyment because too much can lead us to sin, and while this is true, it is just as wrong to not enjoy the life which God has granted us, failing to help others do so as well.

Now, the teacher anticipates the opposite problem, which is why the very next verse explicitly forbids excessive wickedness and folly. As I said previously, we all mess up. We all take things too far, but these should be as unintentional as possible, and kept to a minimum. However, we can never fully let go of our selfish inclinations, and we really shouldn’t pretend that we can, as this is dangerous. Instead, as the third verse of our selection indicates, the best thing to do is acknowledge our faults, enjoy life, and ensure that the trend of our life is as positive as possible.

What does this look like?

Last night, I was sitting on the couch thinking about my life. I have cheated, hurt people, spoken harsh and cruel words, and participated in a large assortment of other sinful behaviors. However, I have also healed lives, brought hope to others, helped to break down barriers between communities, and served others. I realized that my life is a story within a story. My story is a part of the greater story of God’s salvation through Jesus Christ, and it was up to me to decide how the rest of my story will go. Here is what I wrote in my journal last night:

“When I meet my end, whatever and whenever that may be, it is my goal to leave behind a story that, for all its twists, turns, and steep falls, has the ability to kindle hope and inspiration.”

You see, the life of faith isn’t about the amount of mistakes you do or don’t make. The life of faith is about the transformation of your story into an upward-trending testimony to the power of God to redeem and work through you. Yes, there is plenty of negative in my past. There is plenty of pain to deal with. However, I don’t have to deny that in order to allow God to redeem my story. Instead, recognizing it and doing all I can to both enjoy life and live it in a much more righteous way for what days I have left are far more realistic and faithful options for me to pursue.

As you take stock of your life, consider what you want your story to be. Don’t walk about living in fear of mistakes, and thereby denying the beautiful things in life that God has given for you to enjoy. Also, don’t seek out enjoyment so much that you go all, “Carpe Diem” on us all and live a life of selfish indulgence. Rather, balance. Enjoy, but also help others to do so. Live a life that is as giving, compassionate, and kind as possible, and keep yourself personally nourished so that you can sustain that work. Let your life tend toward righteousness and gratefulness, and you will be just fine.

Peace be with you!