What is faith?

Does having faith mean that you say, “I believe in Jesus Christ?”  Or does it mean that you live a life in a relationship with God your Father?

Galatians 3:7 says that those who are of faith are the children of Abraham.  So, what kind of person was Abraham?  If we want to live a life of faith, shouldn’t we be like our father Abraham?  Abraham started his walk with God by listening to what God told him.  Genesis 12 tells us that the Lord told Abram to leave his country, his extended family, his father’s house and go to a land that God would show to him.  God added that He would bless Abram for doing those things.  The only thing that we know about the results is that “So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him.”

That was just the beginning of a long walk with God.  God spoke and Abraham listened.  He proved his faith in what he heard by obeying.  If Abram hadn’t obeyed, we never would have heard anything more about him.  It was his obedience to what he heard that made him an exemplary standout in the midst of that age and even in the midst of all ages afterwards.  To this day, “the faith of Abraham” defines a flawless walk in God.  It was flawless because he never flagged in his faith.  Flawless doesn’t mean that Abraham didn’t have difficult moments where he wondered if he was hearing God correctly.  It didn’t mean that he lived a life of perfection.  His life was filled with difficulties and misunderstandings on his part about what God might have meant in His communications.  After all, Abraham was flying through the fog just as we are.  No one is born with a clearly defined road map explicitly pointing out the exact way that each of us should go.  There is nothing that points to the exact road that will lead us to our destination with no possibility of detours.

However, we do have the possibility to access the same tools that Abraham had: his intense love for his Father God and a desire to please Him.  God also gave us another resource: the Bible.  It not only teaches us right from wrong, but it also recounts to us the stories of others who have followed this way.  Most precious of all, it gives us the words of Jesus and the example of His life.  Abraham did it all without the benefit of such useful and encouraging tools.

So, what about believing in Jesus?   Jesus himself said, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham.  If they were children of faith as was Abraham, they would have believed in Jesus.  If we are children of Abraham, children of faith, our faith will lead us straight to Jesus.

After examining the life of our father Abraham, it is clear that living a life of faith means living without constant confirmation that we are on the right way.  God gives us enough light to see the portion of the path that we are travelling today.  We trust that God is giving us that light and that it is leading us towards a great destination.  We follow His will for us today, knowing that it will lead us to tomorrow where there will be another will for our lives.  And on it goes, a never-ending, spiraling upwards trajectory leading us closer our Father.

Memorial Day Freedom

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Memorial Day. In memory of those soldiers who died in the service of their country.  There is a boulevard in my small town called Memorial Boulevard.  Along this boulevard are several memorial statues dedicated to city soldiers who lost their lives in various American wars.  There are also oak trees planted along this boulevard and next to each oak there is a marker with the name of a city soldier lost in World War I.  There are about thirty such markers, a huge toll for such a small town at the time.  It has been nearly a hundred years since they died on foreign soil fighting for freedom.

So, what freedom did they fight for?  One hundred years ago, the average citizen had less freedom than modern young people in regards to his or her family.  It seems as if young people had certain obligations towards their families that young people today don’t have.  To a large degree, today’s youth can choose the career of their dreams, move to the location they desire and marry whom they choose.  They can make a life for themselves, but is that freedom?  At the same time, we have lost other kinds of freedom that people one hundred years ago took for granted.  Today, we owe much to our government.  More and more, our government decides what is appropriate.  We have lost the right to pray in our schools, to put the Ten Commandments in public places and even to display a creche at Christmas time on the town green.  The people of one hundred years ago would be surprised at what we can no longer do.  Are we now “free?”

What makes a person free?  We would all agree that a  person who is addicted to alcohol, smoking or to internet porn is not free.  He/she is a prisoner to that habit.  Just as an addict is not free from his addiction, I am not free if I freeze in fear each time I face a large crowd in a public speaking situation.  I am a prisoner of that fear.  Or perhaps each time I open a package of cookies, I eat the entire thing.  I am a prisoner to that craving.  Both situations create a negative result for me.

So, on this Memorial Day, as we honor those who died to preserve our freedom, what makes us free?  Freedom in regards to our family or our government increases or decreases and yet still we find ourselves not one hundred percent free.  The only real freedom we can enjoy is freedom inside of ourselves, in our souls.  Only the truth can make us truly free.  If we live that truth and free ourselves from those things that hold us prisoner, then we are free indeed with a freedom that no one can take away.

We are truly grateful for those soldiers who nobly fought and died to preserve our natural freedom.  It gave us the opportunity to find and live our spiritual freedom.  Thank you to those thirty young men who died one hundred years ago.  Thank you to the men and women who have died before then and since that time.  The most deeply felt thank you must be reserved for Jesus who most nobly fought and most lovingly died that we each might find our true freedom.  Thank you Jesus.  We remember you this Memorial Day weekend.

Living the love of Jesus?

This morning, the first day of the new year, I was reading a post (reblogged on this site) from Janie Kellogg about how changing our own behavior can help this poor world.  Her post inspired me and I suggest that you read her post before reading this one.

This is what I needed to face this year.  Maybe my story will inspire someone else out there.  Last year, I had a wonderful boss.  She was supportive, kind and helpful in showing us ESL adjuncts how to deal with difficult situations in our multi-cultural, multi-lingual classrooms.  However, she needed to move on to other endeavors.  In August, we got an interim director who quickly proved herself to be the antithesis of our previous boss.  At our first meeting with her, she informed us that we make too much money.  At subsequent meetings and in private talks, she pitted us against each other, creating an atmosphere of anger and suspicion.  She removed anything remotely associated with fun from our job and eventually informed us that starting next fall, she would be “forced” to either close our program or cut our salaries in half.  After some investigation, we discovered that everything she said to us was a lie.  Our program, instead of being broke, had the largest surplus in its history.  The list of both her underhanded actions and her lies went on and on.

So, where does changing our own behavior come into this story?  Well, I found myself not being able to look her in the eyes.  You know how the scenario goes.  She looks at you with those steely blue eyes and you quickly avert your eyes.  Why?  I discovered that I could not look at her because I hated her for everything she had done.  She had managed, in a few short months, to take away any pleasure I had in my job.  Why was she able to do that?  How did I give her that power over me?  It was a deeply emotional and spiritually tumultuous situation.  It threw my life into a constant upheaval.

I would like to be able to say that I totally overcame the situation and have no hard feelings towards her, but I’m not sure that is entirely true. I understand the problem and I pray for her and wonder what it was that caused her to become such a hard and mean person.  However, can I look at her without any trace of hatred in my eyes?  It makes me wonder: how did Jesus do it?  How did he look at Pilate, the one who could condemn him to death, and say “You could have no power over me unless it were given to you by my Father in heaven.”  How did he have such complete love that he could see, even in the probability of an excrutiating death, the love of his Father in heaven?  How can I get that same kind of love in a simple situation at work?

There is no easy answer for us.  I believe the answer lies in overcoming hatreds in ourselves, in continuing to pursue the love we see in our savior.  The hatreds may not go away in one day, but they can be eliminated bit by bit, layer by layer.  In the coming year, I’m sure that I (and we all) can do it, through step by apparent babystep, prayer and the love of the Holy Spirit’s inspiration.  We can overcome our challenges and let the life of God become an inspiration to others as well.  So, peace and prosperity to all this year, and may a wonderful overcoming spirit be ours through our loving Lord and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Listening!

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At the botanical gardens – quietness enters my soul.  Without the external hustle of this world, God’s Word comes more easily.  Listening.

This morning I was reading a passage from the Psalms.  I like to read a different translation from time to time.  Sometimes it gives me a new perspective on a topic.  The passage was Psalms 81:8 – 16 in the Smith and Goodspeed translation.

“Listen, O my people, while I warn you; if you would but listen to me, O Israel!  There would be no strange god among you; nor would you bow down to a foreign god.  I, the LORD, am your God; he who brought you up from the land of Egypt.  Open wide your mouth that I may fill it.  But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would have none of me.  So I gave them over to their own self-will, that they might follow their own devices.  If my people would but listen to me, if Israel would only walk in my ways, I would quickly humble their foes, and turn my hand against their enemies.  Those who hate the LORD would fawn upon him, and terror would be upon them forever; but he would be fed with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock would I satisfy you.”

Self will or God’s will?  It’s either one or the other.  They both cannot exist in the same space.  These two wills are constantly at odds.

It has to be a deliberate choice to stop the self plans and let God lay out his plans.  To get God’s view for this moment or this day or this life, I have to lay aside my self-will.  Forget about it.  Let it go.  See what God has in mind.  Let’s make a deal.  Self will is only going to get us in trouble anyway.  Let’s really listen.

Listening naturally to the world around us, we surrender our own thoughts to hear the sound of birds chirping, little bees buzzing and light breezes passing through.  Such wonderful music for our ears!  Listening spiritually to our Father, we surrender our own will to hear what he has to say.  A reverential symphony for our soul!

God’s Garden in our mind

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The article in the following link was published in the latest Natural Awakenings magazine.  It’s a free magazine that is usually found in our local health food store.  Dennis Merritt Jones is the author and he calls his article “Mind Gardening.”

http://www.naturalawakeningsmag.com/Natural-Awakenings/March-2015/Mind-Gardening/

The allegory in this article is so appropriate for a lovely spring day!  What do we find growing in our minds?  What do we allow to take root in there?  Sometimes I find my mind wandering off and pretty soon it’s off on some tangent, ruminating on some topic that had nothing to do with the first thing it was thinking about.  If I go back and trace its path, I find that what led me astray was a thought of complaining or of resentment or even anger.  Do I enjoy continuing down that black path of resentment and fault finding?  If I do, pretty soon the thoughts coming out of my mind will grow darker and darker.  They are like ugly, tangled weeds crowding out the sun.

But I have a choice.  We all have a choice.  No one forces my mind to follow any train of thought.  It is the one place where I have true liberty.  From my God given free will, I can choose to pull out those ugly thought weeds and plant beauty.  God’s paradise is a beautiful place.  If I keep my mind on God, His kingdom and positive ideas about life here on earth, my thoughts can be a colorful garden that is filled with a stunning variety of blooms.  If my thought garden is full of sunlight and a colorful array of flowers, it will always be at the ready to help anyone in need.  It’s all up to me.

The Kingdom of God is within.  It is in our minds and hearts.  We can create His kingdom right here on earth by sowing beautiful seeds in our minds.  So, the next time you’re driving down the road and finding that your thoughts have begun to flow into a sea of self pity or complaining or anger, pluck those ugly weeds out.  Plant in their place a seed of love and gratitude!

A Crystal Stair in Disguise

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This is one of my favorite poems by Langston Hughes, Mother to Son.  When one of my daughters was young, she changed it to Daughter to Mother and recited it to me at a time when my life seemed really as if it had been no crystal stair.  Quite a few years and experiences have passed under the bridge since then.  The poem is perfect as is, but as life’s struggles add layers of richness to one’s wisdom, I think that I would add onto this poem some kind of little postscript to thank God for every one of those difficulties: the bare places, the splinters and the places where the boards had been torn up.  Each one of them was leading me on to the next landing, the next summit where there would be a new panorama view on life and truth.  Thank you, Lord.  Life did not seem like a crystal stair to me at times, but although it was in disguise, it truly was a crystal stair leading to you.  That’s what life is all about!  Something to remember when you’re going through tough times.

Mother to Son

BY LANGSTON HUGHES

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

Langston Hughes, “Mother to Son” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 1994 by The Estate of Langston Hughes.

COMMITMENT

 

Recently, my students were learning how to revise an essay in my evening ESL reading/writing class.  A few sentences in the introduction of the revised final draft that we were studying in the book caught my attention.  “A generation ago, it was common for workers to stay at their place of employment for years and years.  When it was time for these employees to retire, companies would offer a generous pension package and, sometimes, a token of appreciation, such as a watch, keychain, or other trinket.  Oh, how times have changed.  Nowadays, people – especially younger workers – jump from job to job like bees fly from flower to flower to pollinate.”  (Great Writing: Great Essays 4, Cengage Learning, 2014)  We continued reading as the essay went on to explain the reasons people have for quitting their jobs.  However, my eyes and mind remained focused on the ideas and images evoked by those descriptive words, ideas about the subject of commitment.

My own father worked at GMC for many years and retired exactly as described above.  He had a nice party where they gave him a fine watch and a very nice pension package.  He was rewarded for his dependableness and his loyalty and his retirement package helped him to live a comfortable life for many years.  In contrast to his traditional life, it seems to me that nowadays people are not content to be in one job.  They are always looking for something better, something bigger, something with better pay, more benefits, or more prestige.  High profile CEO’s and sports team managers flit from team to team or from corporation to corporation just like the busy bees in the essay that my students read.  University presidents stay at one university just long enough to make a name for themselves before they start a search for something better.  They appear to be loyal at the time that they are at the university, but they are on a career path for themselves, not for the university.

No one blames any of these career people for jumping ship.  The sole exception seems to be when sports figures leave one team for another one that offers them a better package.  The fans blame them for leaving the home team and may even boo them when they come back to the hometown for a game against their former team mates.  The booing may last for a while, but before long that sports figure is replaced by another favorite in the hearts of the fans.  It makes you wonder though.  With so many prominent examples of professionals doing “what’s right for themselves,” how can young people understand the importance of loyalty or of a commitment?

Furthermore, the lack of loyalty in a sports figure or a university president or on the job is just a scratch on the surface of modern society.  What happens when there is no commitment or loyalty in a friendship or in a marriage?  In the United States, many friendships don’t seem to last very long.  Even in marriage, the idea of commitment is on the wane.  Couples come together for a time, but when difficulties arise, their love diminishes and they lose their interest in maintaining the relationship.  Before too long, they find “something better” and move on with their lives.

However, commitment and loyalty are qualities that are desperately needed today.  They are not simply old-fashioned qualities for a generation that is quickly disappearing.  It occurred to me recently that the importance of commitment cannot be negated.  In this life, we all are made up of both emotions and principles.  Emotions are as fleeting as the wind.  They sweep in like a summer breeze and inspire us with all kinds of wonderful feelings and ideas.  We think that these intense feelings will last forever, not realizing that life’s situations will change just as assuredly as the weather and as our situations change, so also do the feelings that accompany them.  For one minute we are on cloud nine and the next we can hardly remember what it felt like to float so high in the stratosphere.  Emotions inspire us, give us courage and make us take giant leaps of faith, but they can never hold us.  In a relationship, when we no longer feel the intensity of our first feelings, the emotional “high” of falling in love, will we “fall out of love” with the person we are with?  Will we forget what we ever even liked about the person?

That is why we need commitment.  We make commitments based on those lofty feelings.  We jump into relationships or marriage because we know what it is to feel on top of the world.  We enter into something that we say is for the long haul, but do we have what it takes to hang on to it?  A true commitment is the faith to hold us through.  It is the anchor that we hold on to when the current gets too swift and knocks us off of our feet.  Life is such that difficulties will inevitably come.  Everyone is subject to difficulties.  If someone has no difficulties, they must not truly be alive.  Some of the troubles that pop up in our lives seem but a moment, but others linger and pester us for years and years.  What does a person hang onto that has no faith?  More and more, we see people around us that are drowning.  They flounder and flail their arms and cry out for help.  Some get angry and act out on their anger in horrible ways that become the next day’s headlines.  They have no anchor.  They would like to make a commitment, but they have no faith.  There is nothing there for them to hang onto when trials come along.  In their relationships, they don’t even see the point of hanging on.

Commitment, on the other hand, hangs on in troubled times.  Commitment knows that troubles cannot last forever.  Faith holds on when everything around it is just a blur, at times not even remembering why it is holding on.  It just knows that it must hang on.  Everything we know and hold dear can crumble, but faith stands strong.  One day, when the situation finally changes and the summer breeze returns and the tender feelings fill our hearts again, then that faith finally receives its reward.  The emotions that once were strong are stronger still.  The person him/herself could not have ever imagined that the original loving emotion could somehow one day be doubled in sweetness, but now finds that it is so.

Living now

What happens when I live just in the now?

  • There is no more fear of the future and what it may or may not bring.
  • Anxiety is banished.
  • I’m just walking along with God, talking with Him now.
  • I trust Him to take care of everything as He and I walk along this road together.
  • He’s the one that knows the future.  I haven’t got a clue about it.
  • I know that when choices present themselves in my life, the decisions that I make will influence the direction of my life’s path, but I don’t worry about that.  I just make the choice based on what’s right and wrong now.  Then I don’t feel badly about the results because it was the best possible choice at the moment.
  • I know that it’s an adventurous path that I’m on.
  • When I’m relaxed (since there’s no more stress), the present moment is much more alive and interesting.
  • Some future plans do have to be made in this world, such as: work related issues, vacations, other kinds of business, but it all becomes ‘God willing.’  God willing, there will be a vacation this year and if it does happen, it will be that much more relaxing since God allowed me to have it.

Walking with God, living in the moment with Him creates an adventurous, interesting, meaningful and stress free life.  There’s no other way to go!  People who don’t have that don’t know what they are missing!  They think that it’s exciting to go out and get drunk and party etc.  There is no excitement in that.  What is there?  Just heartache, troubled relationships, hangovers, and depression when parties and life don’t meet up with expectations.

The Scriptures say, “I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil;” …. “Therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.”  (Deuteronomy 30:15, 19)  Those words are in really old language.  If we look at it in the light of what it means to us today, we could say: In each moment of life, we have a choice between what is good and what is not.  When we choose to follow the good, we will have a fuller and more adventurous life!  When we walk with God in the ever present now, we will have a more rewarding life!

Support of traditional marriage

In this morning’s paper there was an opinion piece by Mr. Stan Simpson.  In the article Mr. Simpson wrote about the troubled life of Aaron Hernandez, the Patriots’ football player accused of murder.  The major thrust of the article was about the difficulty that Mr. Hernandez had because his father died when he was a teenager.  Mr. Simpson used that case as a lead in to discuss “the crisis in masculinity.”  In his discussion, he quoted a minister and former football player who said that “Forty percent of all children go to bed without their biological dads in the house.”  Such a statistic is tragic.  We all have images in our minds of daddy coming home from work and greeting the children, taking them fishing or helping them learn something such as car repair, carpentry or even math.

Journalists are fond of bringing up such statistics without thinking logically about what the full scope of the issue entails.  The foundation of the whole issue presupposes a traditional marriage between a man and a woman.  Our society is in the process of eliminating support of traditional marriages and yet authorities in that society decry the problems that are created by eliminating traditional marriage.  These days if you support traditional marriages, you find yourself on the firing line.  I find that audaciously hypocritical.

Stable traditional marriages between a man and a woman are known to produce stable and responsible children.  Troubled marriages, single parenthood and other difficult situations statistically bring about greater numbers of troubled children who become troubled adults.  Our society is disintegrating from its core, which ought to be stable traditional marriages.  You can’t trash marriage and then complain when the results of trashing it show up in society.

By the way, I don’t think that the Hernandez case is a good example to use as a lead in to this topic.  He and his brother went to school with my children.  A lot of people have a lot of different opinions of what went wrong in Mr. Hernandez’ life.  In the end, only he and God and maybe a few close associates know what really went on.  It would be better to simply leave it alone and let the courts work it out at this point.

Parables

Jesus spoke in parables so that those who loved him could understand and learn valuable lessons, and at the same time those who didn’t know him would just think that it was a story.  People loved his stories, whether they understood them or not.  However, those parables teach us priceless lessons.  How?  Through correspondences.  From the parable of the mustard seed, we understand that the mustard seed corresponds to faith because it is so small, but becomes something much larger.  We also understand the pearl of great price, the story of the ten virgins who took oil in their lamps and many others.

Today, our world is telling us a story.  It smacks us in the face each and every day, but do we understand it?  Do we see beyond what is happening naturally around us?  One of these modern day parables is the food we eat.  The food we eat corresponds to truth.  Jesus said that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from God’s mouth (Mt 4:4).  What are we eating?

The world is being flooded with junk food.  What an appropriate name!  It appeals to our taste buds by including plenty of salt, fat and sugar, but it is making us sick and even killing us.  More insidious is the food that looks real, but has been completely adulterated.  It is either poisoned with herbicides and pesticides or it has been changed genetically from the way God perfectly created it.  The result?  Cancers and more diseases.  Not only is it killing us and making us sick, but we are addicted to it.  We love it!

Looking at it as a parable, we have to see that people are dying from a lack of knowledge (of the word of God).  “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge (Ho 4:6).”  People don’t believe that they live by every word that comes from God. (Mt 4:4)  They accept falsity rather than truth, they change the truth into something more ‘acceptable’ in our times, and they look for soothing words to appease their consciences.  Read Jeremiah 23:16, 17.  That is real spiritual junk food with all the elements necessary to make our souls fat and lazy, overpowered by the sugar high given to us by smooth and  ‘sweet’ words.

Let’s get back to the real Word of God.  It will nourish us and when we see the beauty it brings to our lives and how we flourish from living it, the world around us will change with us and reflect the new reality that is ours.  Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  When that becomes reality, the natural elements of this earth will show forth God’s kingdom.  There is no junk food in God’s kingdom, only delicious food that nourishes our bodies and spirits.