Content & Images © 2008-2014 - Rachel Miller, Ink Road Originals LLC, All Rights Reserved

Monday, August 27, 2012

Trust and the Sabbath

Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work....For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.--Exodus 20: 9-11

For some time now, I have been pushing myself so hard in my work that I've pretty much worked right through the weekend.  Besides the fact that I feel guilty about my failure to take a proper Sabbath, I've heard (and can personally confirm) that this kind of schedule is bad for creating burnout and heightening stress levels.  So, this past weekend, I really tried to stop. I really did. I ended up feeling restless and even bored, and found myself switching the computer on again, just to fill the boredom.

This experiment revealed some weaknesses in me that I need to correct. It also made me think a little more about the purpose of the Sabbath in Biblical times.  Most obviously, it was symbolic of the rest that we could find in Christ, who opened the doors of heaven for those who believe in Him (see Hebrews 4: 8-11).  Without minimizing this very important meaning, I also wanted to point out some subtler messages that the sabbath rest sends.

To a mostly agrarian society, the idea of completely stopping all work one day of the week was pretty radical. A lot can happen with livestock in one day (obviously, the Bible made allowances for helping an animal in distress on the Sabbath).  Also, if a person is harvesting a field and has to stop for a day of rest, what could happen to the unharvested crop in the meantime? This carries forward today, even in non-agrarian jobs, when a worker has to leave a project half-completed, and wonders if he or she did "enough" to stem the work overload when Monday comes.

There is also the worry about finances that creeps over people when they are not working. Taking a whole day off makes people very aware of the fact that they are not making money at that moment, especially those who make little money anyway, or those who have a lot of bills.  Since money buys food, clothing, and shelter, and these things are essential for life, taking a day off is almost like jeopardizing survival.  It can be scary!

On top of these basic worries, there is a feeling of lost esteem that can overtake people who are used to actively working at a job.  There may be few people to interact with on a day off, and no accolades or any kind of emotional reward.  This is perhaps the most subtle loss of all.

So, I guess what I'm saying is that, besides the spiritual symbolism, the Sabbath is a trust exercise that God established to teach us about Him and to clear up our misconceptions about work.  We can get so involved in our work that we begin to think we can control our futures and buy our salvation and security with our efforts, and we begin to value ourselves by our labor. God wants us to see that He guards our interests, provides for our needs, and gives us the value and attention that we secretly desire--but we need to trust His word on it!  Through Christ, God's only son, God has prepared and established a future for those who know Him which can never be taken away--not even by a catastrophe that sweeps over us in one day. The work of preparation, and the work of salvation, is already done. Now He just wants us to enjoy it with Him.

Let me reiterate my point: Work is good, but it serves a different purpose from establishing salvation, protecting our futures, or giving us our value. God has already done all of that, so if at all possible, we should take time from our labors to acknowledge and truly enjoy this new-found rest with Him.  That is what the Sabbath is for--a weekly reminder of God's power and provision.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Heed the Warnings

The evening news has been rather disturbing this week, bristling with stories of Christian persecution worldwide, as well as a declining moral climate and an increased acceptance of sin, especially in the legal arena.

Meanwhile, I have been reading through Jeremiah again.  I don't think I'm imagining things when I see similarities between the ancient Jewish culture in that book and today's culture.  The prophet told those people to repent or face punishment, and in chapter 18, he went through an elaborate demonstration and object lesson to convey this message. Even so, the leaders and officials seemed unimpressed.  They scoffed and said, "It's no use. We will continue with our own plans" (Jeremiah 18:12). These days, a similar reply would be, "You go your way, I'll go mine."  Even the threat of God's wrath, or of suffering and danger, was not enough to shake them or change their minds.

I bring up Jeremiah because I am concerned for the United States and many other so-called Christian countries of the world that have been making world news headlines recently with immorality and scandal. If God judged sin in those days with drought, famine, plague, violence, and ultimately invasion from a foreign power, what is to prevent Him from judging sin the same way now? I'm also deeply concerned that I've been seeing the same unimpressed, lackadaisical response to the threat of God's wrath in today's world as there was, long ago.

This is all very troubling. I could delve deeply into the situation, but there is not enough room in this blog post, or my schedule.  Besides, my main point is to call my readers to prayer and revival.

The sky is not falling; God is still in control, no matter what the newspapers say.  However, where there is sin to be given up, we should seek the Lord's forgiveness and change our ways. It is time for Christians to gather and pray for each other, and to pray for revival--a return to the Lord and His ways--worldwide.  The world doesn't need our charity as much as it needs our Savior.  It doesn't need our condolences as much as it needs His comforting.

I am praying nightly for these things. Care to join me? Set aside some time every evening, perhaps right after the evening news goes off on television, to pray for your neighbor, your nation, and any country in the world that you heard about on the news.  It may only take a moment, but it is a significant step!  Ask the Lord to reveal sin and bring about a desire for Him in the hearts of those you are praying for (that includes yourself and your own household).  Pray for the missionaries, preachers, and lay ministers.  Petition the Lord for a harvest of souls, and a change in the world through revival. Pray for the Lord's guidance and protection in this increasingly dangerous world. See you at the prayer closet!
Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.  Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts.  Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. (Isaiah 55: 6, 7 NIV)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Be Anxious for Nothing

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.--Philippians 4:6 NIV

My friends and I have a lot of reasons to be anxious, lately, ranging from a desperate search for jobs and income to fears about striking out alone on a new venture, moving, family troubles, starting a family, and health problems.  Add to that stack a pile of worries about the economy, politics, the state of society, and world events, and it seems we are running the full gamut of troubles right now. It can get overwhelming.  In fact, it seems like stepping back and looking at the "big picture" only makes it more overwhelming and frightening. It looks a bit like the whole world is coming to pieces.

But the Bible says "Do not be anxious for anything," so...

There are advice coaches out there who tell us to put our fears out of our minds and "focus on the goals" instead, as if we have a superhuman ability to forget the big scary thing bearing down on us.  Maybe some people have this ability.  I, for one, do not.  If I am able to keep moving, I only make slow progress, pausing frequently to measure the distance between me and my goals, and me and that crazy, charging bear called fear.  Yeah, it's still there, and it still seems a lot closer than the next paycheck, etc.

In fact,  it seems that, "Objects in mirror are closer than they may appear."  Ever been there?

However, if we look at this verse in Philippians a little more closely, we see that it isn't a rebuke, criticizing us for feeling afraid.  It doesn't minimize what we are going through, although we may someday look back and say, "What was I afraid of? Little did I know that good things were just around the corner."  That verse doesn't tell us that those aren't scary things, as if feeling fear is an insane response. It just tells us that we ought to spend that time and energy we are devoting to wholesale worry into doing something better--praying.  

Prayer, by the way, is not a self-induced hypnotism, in which when we say the words, just saying them is calming and soothing.  Prayer is not like a breathing exercise, or eating a piece of chocolate.  Prayer has real power to those who know the Lord (James 5: 16).  It doesn't just temporarily change our mood; it actually changes the situation, even if we don't perceive it at the time.  Why?  Because we are actually speaking to the real God who can fix our problems, and He is actually listening! He is taking extensive notes and collecting every one of our tears (Psalm 56: 8-9).  And because He has heard, He will react.  We can be confident that things are going to change, and that this big, scary thing (whatever it is), has finally met its match! 

Sometimes, God takes away the obstacle immediately, and sometimes He makes us wait for reasons only He knows at the time.  The waiting is the hardest part, after a prayer, because we can't see God or hear Him taking steps to correct the problem (usually), and people tell us we are silly for believing, and more often than not, we feel a bit silly, too.  Despite all of these things, we need to hold on.  Sometimes that is just what God wants to see us do.  We need to remember that we didn't speak to an imaginary God, or a weak power.  He can handle this, and He is handling this.

This is what Philippians 4:7 (the verse that follows the one at the start of this post) is talking about.  It says, "And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."  So the full instruction in Philippians 4: 6-7 is (1) when you have a problem that makes you feel anxious, (2) deal with it by presenting it in prayer to a real God, (3) and feel peace beyond what your mind and your heart tells you to feel, because (4) God personally reassures your spirit, demonstrating that He is acting on your behalf.

A friend of mine, a fairly recent convert to Christianity from Hinduism, told me about her recent experience that proved that God hears every prayer.  She said she was lying awake at night, praying about some big things in her life that are not going well, and crying about it.  Finally, she said to God, in her heart and not out loud, "Lord, I just need a hug right now."  She is living with a family currently, and they have a little boy who is not even school age, yet. The next morning, after this silent prayer, this little boy approached her and said, "God told me that I need to hug you," and gave her a big hug!  So, in this way, God sent her the message that He heard the whole thing (even the silent parts), and that He is taking care of it, from the smallest requests to the biggest ones.  I have faith that God is taking care of this situation, though we haven't seen it all, yet, because He has demonstrated that He is already actively taking part in her life.

Likewise, I have faith that God hears and that God is working in all of these other situations that my friends and I are going through, because He already has worked miracles in our lives. These present circumstances are just another situation in which His power can be known.  So I leave with a call to everyone reading this: Don't spend your energy worrying--just pray! Your fears may seem big and strong, but God is so much bigger and stronger.  Hang in there, and give all of your troubles to Him, so that He can lift you up, even in the midst of them.
"Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." --1 Peter 5:7 NIV

Monday, August 6, 2012

Why the Traffic Laws are Good

(Photo taken on vacation, from the passenger seat)
 I left the house today at about 1 pm with a couple of errands to run.  I hoped that, since I'm self-employed and a whole lot of other people are not, the roads would be safer to drive.  Boy was I wrong!  From people cutting around me as I accelerated on the interstate ramps, to a dump truck that didn't even gear up to enter the intersection until the light turned red, I had one frightening experience after another.  They all had one big thing in common--people violating basic traffic rules.

My harrowing experiences while running errands earlier today underscores why the traffic law is so important.  It maintains order and balance and preserves good things like peace and safety.  It's a good thing, even though it is restrictive of individual freedoms, and causes inconveniences like keeping us from reaching our destination as fast as we'd like.

Clearly, some people on the road disagreed with me, today.

I believe that God's laws function somewhat the same way.  Contemplate this: God's laws were written long ago, to maintain balance and order in the "traffic" of billions of human individuals throughout the globe, through all time and in every circumstance.  The level of complexity required to write a set of laws like that is phenomenal!

Take a moment to think about this. God thought ahead to every circumstance and event that will ever happen, and invented ways to not only prevent trouble, but to also be fair to all parties.

His law is tough and restrictive at times, and people don't like what it says about them.  People get frustrated and run God's "red lights" and cut ahead in the flow of traffic, trying to cut corners on their way to their goals.  However, the law wasn't written to inconvenience us.  It was just meant to keep us from endangering ourselves and others, and shepherd us safely to our destination.  It shows that the Author of those spiritual traffic laws actually cares about us, and just wants us to arrive safely home with Him.

Plus, as an undeserved bonus, God is still willing to help us out of trouble, even when we have ignored the laws and driven ourselves into it, if we'll only ask. However, when He's helping us, we have to follow instructions.

Here's the verse of the day, on Bible Gateway, which I thought was fully appropriate for the situation:
“All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal.” -- Psalm 119: 160 NIV

Friday, August 3, 2012

Tu Quoque and Other Arguments This Week

I've always tried to make a point of getting at the root of arguments on this blog, rather than jumping in with both feet into debates that are fraught with illogical arguments and other things that defeat them from the start.  So, rather than just jumping in, I want to lay a groundwork today, and try to get to the root of the arguments I've been hearing this week.

First, let me explain my intentions for this. While I do have an opinion, and I do side with a group of people quite often, I am also willing to stand apart from a thousand if that is what God would have me do.  The truth is more important than being liked, and it is much mightier than the largest armies in the world. Truth is personified in Jesus (John 14:6), and it informs every word that He spoke about Himself and His intentions. I want to stand for the Truth, and that is just the kind of bravery that I'd like to inspire in others.

Vain Arguments Damage the Truth

Now, then, speaking of the truth, I'd like to say that I've heard a massive number of illogical arguments this week concerning the whole Chick-fil-A hoopla. In fact, I think I've heard more illogical arguments than logical ones, and I'm just talking about the Christian side of the debate.  I've heard them coming from pastors and church leaders, professors, extended relatives, and friends.  All put together, they have made me cringe, and groan in agony, and weep, and cry out to God.  The truth is logical and true, so it by nature cannot be defended by illogical statements and lies.

Now, it is true that well-meaning speakers can stumble into illogical arguments.  It is also possible (and therefore true in a few cases) that some people using illogical arguments are well-aware that they are illogical, and they are relying on the ignorance of their audience to get away with it.  Either way, it is a problem that will set back any debate about truth. It won't kill truth, mind you, but it may put it out of the grasp of those who need it most. This is why I think it's so crucial to watch our words (James 3: 1-12).

I have written about this before, in a series that spanned several months, and I beg and plead with you to go read those short blog posts, and share them with others, even if you don't credit the source. I don't care. I'm more interested in the truth than I am with growing my circle of friends, remember?

Calling Out Illogical Talk as I Have Heard It

Now that I have voiced my zeal for the truth and my hatred for lies, I want to tell you some of the biggest ones I've been hearing.  What I've got to say is going to make some people mad. I don't know how to get around that. If I say I care about the truth, but then shy away from actually talking about it, then I must not really care. So, I'll try to be gentle and clear. Here goes...
  • Christians should not make a big deal about homosexuality, because the rates of fornication, adultery, divorce, pornography, etc. among churchgoers are extremely high; in fact, they are just as high as the world.  This is a triad of truths that don't belong together, creating a logical fallacy called Tu Quoque ("you also").  It is true that the rates of sexual immorality within the "Christian community" are equal to the rates outside the church.  It is also true and correct to surmise from this that there are a large percentage of people who call themselves Christians, but have hypocritically disobeyed the very teachings they say they support. However, it is a tu quoque argument to say that just because the speaker (a self-proclaimed Christian) is guilty of sexual sin, the statements he makes about sexual sin are no longer true.  Truth is truth, even when it cuts both ways. People who say this are right about one thing: The hypocrites need to get the plank out of their eye if they want to be taken seriously (Matthew 7: 3-5).  However, that is a different topic for a different discussion.
  • All the time you were eating "Chikin," you were not making sure the poor got to eat chicken, too.  This is an illogical statement called a Red Herring.  It is meant to get you completely off the original topic, and in this case, it also packs a masterful wallop of guilt and condemnation.  I think it means to say, "the topic of sexual sin, however you choose to debate it, is not as important to me as the subject of feeding the hungry."  While it is true that feeding the hungry is important, it is off-topic in the debate of sexual sin. If this statement caused guilt in its listeners, then it actually proved that listeners think charity is important, too. That doesn't mean that sexual sin is an invalid topic for Christians to discuss. One thing at a time, okay? We will get to this topic, too.
  • Let's go show the homosexuals that there are still a lot of us who don't agree with them. This is a blatant example of the Bandwagon approach (us versus them).  It also has a dangerous undertone of revenge.  I've already said that I believe that the truth is mightier than the biggest army out there (1 John 4: 4). I imagine there are many Christians who would readily say to that, "Yes, amen."  So, if we really believe that, we don't measure the rightness of our belief in numbers of people or the strength of our "push back."  This basic confidence sets us apart from those who have staged a response--a kiss-in--today (Friday).  Now, Christians are commanded not to shy away from the truth, so coming forward and saying, "Yes, I believe in this," can be a simple way to stand with the truth.  Doing it in front of other Christians is good, because it can strengthen the faith of those who are doubting God's power to support them.  However, when it comes to the Bandwagon approach here, it is critical to note that this situation is not Christians versus non-Christians, us versus them. It has always been sin versus truth. By that standard, there is no distinction between Christians and non-Christians except the line God has drawn. In fact, there is no legal or justifiable rejection except the precedent that Christ set (at least, this far in history), and He has presently been focused on rejecting sins and spreading a challenging and reforming gospel. The right to judge people and take revenge is reserved for Christ alone (Isaiah 63: 1-6), because He is the only one without sin, and the only one with an untainted grasp of justice and equality.  If we are making judgements, we can only go as far as Christ has gone.
  • Christians should not have eaten at Chick-fil-A on Wednesday, because it sent a message of hate to homosexuals and defeated all of our attempts to witness to them.  This is a much more sophisticated piece of illogical speech, so I saved it for last. I count several logical fallacies wrapped up in one, including Rationalization, Ad Populum, and Slippery Slope. Rationalization comes in when the speaker means to imply, "I didn't want to look like a hater, so I didn't go." Now, it's totally fine to have not gone (there is no place in the Bible that says you have to eat at Chick-fil-A), but be careful not to use other people's perceived approval as an excuse to not express your own beliefs, especially in a country that gives you the freedom to do so.  In the end, that just means other people's approval was more important to you than your belief. Ad Populum arguments classify groups of people by emotion-filled language.  In this case, there is a subtle duality: Chick-fil-A eaters are haters, while non-Chick-fil-A eaters are kind and loving. I also see the extreme word "defeated," which implies attack.  Slippery Slope, the last one I can clearly identify, argues that by taking an action, you have set off a chain reaction that will lead to some sort of doomed result.  This particular argument assumes that stating an opinion, even symbolically, will destroy the acceptability of that opinion, leading to a total rejection of it. That doesn't make sense, really.  An opinion, particularly one this polarizing, will be rejected if the individual chooses to reject it, even if it's said in the kindest, sweetest way possible. Gentleness is praiseworthy here (and I didn't hear about any non-peaceful crowds eating at Chick-fil-A on Wednesday), but when we call something a sin, it's going to make some people mad.  That doesn't mean the point should never be made.

The Christian Response

 All illogical arguments aside, I think this situation revealed some problems I have only barely touched upon.
  1. Christians need to clean up their own households.  There is a sexual sin problem in the US today, and many in the Christian community are part of it.  I've heard preachers preaching about sexual immorality in the church, and now I've heard homosexuals preaching about it.  They were both absolutely right to call it out, and yet the blatant unrepentance marches on. It is truly unbelievable.  Reform and revival are needed, or God's judgment will come; in fact, I think we are just beginning to see the front edge of it (Joel 1: 13-20).
  2. Christians need to do more than just show up on August 1. The demonstration at Chick-fil-A really had some political meanings, and only one valid Christian meaning (at least that I can work out).  So, for the sake of clarity, Christians need to define their own beliefs (not politicians), and they need to "show up" and express them when called upon. And I'll say it again--express them without logical fallacies! This topic is a lot older than Chick-fil-A, and it didn't end with Chick-fil-A.
  3. Christians need to pray for friends, their families, their opponents in this debate, and their nation.  If we really believe that God is supreme, then we understand our own limitations by comparison. The kind of reform that is needed in this country cannot be brought about by limited human effort or human wisdom. It must come from God. We should be asking God for help, wisdom, gentleness, strength, patience, boldness, perseverance, and so forth. Without His help, we're just wasting our time.
Now, for something I wrote on Facebook on Wednesday, encapsulating my general thoughts on Wednesday, Friday, and the whole Chick-fil-A debate, without going into another round of logical analysis:
 Today, at Chick-fil-A, there was a man with a bunch of signs. They all had hateful, profanity-laced messages on them, the worst of which included the F word. I watched as he waved them at the cars leaving and those pulling in, including a woman with a van full of children.
So, if you asked me why I went, I would say it was for the van full of children, not the man with the sign. I want to send the message to those kids that it's okay (Jesus called it "blessed") to believe something, even if you get cursed out for it. I wanted to tell them that God is mightier than neon green handmade signs or even lines of people buying sandwiches, and I wanted to challenge them to pray for their nation, since the moral situation has shifted so much that sandwiches have become a point of political and moral contention. This was about showing support for fellow believers, and cheering them on for taking a stand for the truth (even if it's unpopular).

Now, I think I will rest my case for today.