Israel – it is a country that only covers about 21,000 square kilometers (not even in the top 150 countries – about the size of New Jersey) and houses about 8.3 million people (which figures to be about .11% of the world’s population). Yet for its insignificance, this land is always in the news and always seems to be in trouble. Why are there so many questions about and issues with this tiny nation? Are they really occupying land that is not theirs? Is Israel really mean and over-the-top harsh with their neighbors, or are there important details about the constant conflicts that we are always missing? Should we just be fed up with what they do and what they stand for, or should we be respectfully looking up to Israel for what they do and what they stand for?
“Just be yourself, no can ask any more of you than that.” This is such free and easy advice – someone has probably said it to you, and you have probably said it to someone else. But what does it mean? Is being yourself just reacting to whatever comes your way with a knee-jerk impulse? Does being yourself mean that your personal preferences and feelings should be stated and followed? Do each of us have different selves that we can be? And what about Christians? Are we even supposed to be ourselves? Is our call to Christ a “leave it all behind” call with sacrifice or a “take it with you and we’ll build on it” call? How do we better understand and apply our best selves to our Christian walk?
It is called Hellfire. For many centuries the churches have taught that when sinners die they face a punishment of eternal torment and torture in hell. Reading some of the descriptions of how this intense and endless torture works will make your skin crawl and your stomach turn. Yet, those who adhere to such teaching are firm in their belief that it is thoroughly biblical, and therefore entirely in line with God and His plan. But is it? Could God have contrived such a diabolical and heinous place, where screams of agony and relentless pain are the order of the day, now and forever? What if this teaching is NOT of God but rather of Satan? What if, by understanding well-established facts and by keeping Bible scriptures in context it could be proven that what many churches have taught for centuries is one of the greatest misrepresentations of God that the world has ever seen?
If you have doubts that means you must not have faith. So goes the typical thinking of many Christians. If we adhere to this thought then each and every one of us will need to brace for our next crisis of faith, because the fact is we ALL doubt. We all question. We all wonder and at times we all second guess. So, what of it? Is there a way to look at our questions and insecurities in a different light? Can those nagging thoughts that swirl about in our minds actually be a benefit? Yes! Yes they can, and I am saying this without a doubt! Once we understand doubt and its different forms, we can begin to piece together the process that can actually take those insecurities that silently and incessantly gnaw away at us and use them as tools to feed and increase our faith. Admittedly, this is not easy and it may not even be fun – but it is an answer to the debilitating experience of having doubts. Faith can win!
MERCY or JUSTICE? We often see them as opposites. When someone does something particularly bad we want justice in its harshest and most direct form to be there waiting for them. We tend to see justice as hard but righteous punishment reserved for those who we feel deserve it. Mercy is perceived differently. Often when we think of being merciful, there is a sense of pity or compassion, because we want it applied to those who we feel deserve “a break.” The problem? Too often our thinking and actions regarding justice and mercy are based on our emotional reaction to the situation at hand. Too often we misrepresent what justice really means and how mercy really works. The good news is that God has given us all of the necessary guidelines to not only define but to live by just thinking and merciful response.
It is so easy to talk about following Jesus. After all, he came as our savior, voluntarily sacrificed his life and opened up the way to heaven for us. Why wouldn’t you want to align yourself with someone who wipes away your sins and can give you eternity in the process? It’s a no brainer, right? Um, not exactly! Turns out, being a disciple of Jesus is hard work that requires thought, action and results. It is a conscious decision to be different, to driven by a higher calling than you would naturally follow. Following Jesus in a selfie world is akin to being a nerdy kid on a football team. You have plenty to offer but those around you just don’t see your value. Can a Christian thrive in a world that rewards evil? How do we know what to think, do and become to be sure we are truly following Jesus? Now that’s easy! Jesus himself told us…
Christian support. One of the hallmark characteristics of being a Christian is compassion. Jesus was the epitome of acting in a way that helped and cared for others, and we are called to walk in his footsteps. Simple enough – or is it? In our world there are a myriad of causes we can be kindhearted towards – the poor, the under-educated, the abused, the oppressed, the homeless, the disabled, the unborn. Then there is the wider scope of life – endangered species, abused and homeless animals and the environment. What about the social and political issues that rage across our media 24 hours a day, seven days a week? All of these and more can easily demand our attention, money and time! What do we do? What causes are support-worthy for a Christian? Where do we invest our time, effort and resources to be truly God-honoring followers of Jesus?
We all want to be successful at whatever it is we are focusing on. Our Christian life is no exception, though the words we use to describe "success" are entirely different than with other endeavors. We want to be faithful – we want to live lives of sacrifice – we want to walk in Jesus’ footsteps. All of these things equate to the Christian version of experiencing victory in life. So, regardless of the words or the effort, how do we attain such an end? How do we “arrive”? One short phrase will get us started – Be single-minded. Have your vision clear and your energy directed. This is no easy task for most of us struggle with these very disciplines. It is far too easy to end up distracted and double-minded. It is far too easy to start and not finish. It is far too easy rationalize our way out of triumph. How do we do it? How do we put habitual double-minded thinking behind us and instead reach forward towards true achievement?
Love your enemies. Once you dig down to the deepest meaning of this phrase it is perhaps one of the most daunting tasks ever put upon anyone. Jesus not only taught us in detail how to love our enemies, he showed us in living color how to profoundly care for them. He literally "walked the walk" – all the way to Calvary. As we look back upon the death and resurrection of Jesus, we will pause and consider his applying the principle of selfless, sacrificial love and then transforming it into a timeless reality. How did Jesus show devotion to those who were devious and hostile, attachment to those who antagonized him and affection for those who became his adversaries? Why should we love our enemies?
“When I grow up I want to get married and be a mom or be a dad!” For many of us there are simple dreams in life that germinate in childhood. As we grow they blossom into clear and exciting expectations. This expectation of growing up and getting married is so basic and so obvious that we rarely entertain the thought of it NOT happening. What if as you grow through life and come to the time when this simple and expected event is supposed to happen...and it doesn’t? What if you spend your life being single? There are those who say that remaining unmarried can be amazing and awesome, and that’s great. It can also be a turbulent, discouraging and derailing experience that overshadows and overwhelms adulthood. How do single Christians find their way to not only coping with this “single” challenge but living their lives with contentment, clarity and conviction?