The Joy of Laughter

Barbara Johnson (1927-2007) was known as the “Geranium Lady” after her book Stick a Geranium in Your Hat and Be Happy,” was published in 1990 (her author page including all of her books are listed on Amazon.com). Barbara won the hearts of millions with her trademark wit and humor formed in the fire of adversity. One of Barbara’s favorite humorists to emulate was Erma Bombeck. She was also known in many literary circles as the “Christian Erma Bombeck.” Barbara’s books include: “Stick A Geranium In Your Hat and Be Happy,” “Splashes of Joy in the Cesspools of Life,” “Pack Up Your Gloomies in a Great Big Box then Sit on the Lid and Laugh!,” “Mama Get the Hammer,” “There’s A Fly On Papa’s Head,” “I’m So Glad You Told Me What I Didn’t Want to Hear,” “Living Somewhere Between Estrogen and Death,” “He’s Gonna Toot and I’m Gonna Scoot,” “Daily Splashes of Joy,” “Humor Me — I’m Your Mother,” “Laughter From Heaven,” “Stick A Geranium in Your Cranium,” “Leaking Laffs Between Pampers and Depends,” “God’s Most Precious Jewels are Crystalized Tears” and many others. Most of her books have hit the Christian Book Association’s paperback bestseller list, and more than five million copies of her books are available worldwide in 44 editions and have been translated into 10 foreign languages. (Quote source here.)

In a blog post on the Women of Faith website is a brief history on Barbara:

Barbara Johnson: A Look Back

She was one of the first—if not the first—person asked to speak at the brand-new event that would become Women of Faith. By that time Barbara Johnson had already blessed millions of women through her books with eye-catching titles like Splashes of Joy in the Cesspools of Life and Stick a Geranium in Your Hat and Be Happy (which led to her becoming known as “The Geranium Lady”).

But it was her first book, Where Does a Mother Go to Resign? that told her personal story and broke an unwritten code of silence. Barbara’s husband suffered a debilitating accident, one son died in Vietnam, and a second son was killed in an auto accident. Then a third son announced he was gay. “I thought this couldn’t happen in Christian families…” Barbara said. “I didn’t know anybody who had a homosexual child.” Barbara, by her own admission, did not take the news well—with the result that her son disowned his family, changed his name, and disappeared.

Still reeling, Barbara founded Spatula Ministries for parents of homosexual children to “peel [them] off the ceiling with a spatula of love and begin them on the road to recovery.” And eleven years after Barbara’s son disappeared he was reunited with his family, the relationship restored.

Although she was a wildly best-selling author, “She would stand at a podium and read her message.” Mary Graham recalls. It didn’t matter: women loved her honesty, her humor, and her courage to speak out about things that, at the time, were only whispered in many church circles.

Even though she was on the Women of Faith tour for just six years before being sidelined by a brain tumor, there are many “Barbara stories” to be told… like the time she met a homeless woman hiding in the arena where a Women of Faith event was being held. “She sent somebody to get clean clothes and put the woman in the shower,” Luci Swindoll remembers, “then she asked ‘Is there anybody anywhere who loves you?’ When the woman told her about an aunt in another state, Barbara bought her a bus ticket to get there.”

In an interview not long before Barbara’s death in 2007, Mary Graham asked her, “If you suddenly found yourself back on the platform at Women of Faith, what would you say to the audience now?” Her response still carries great advice for us today:

“I would encourage them that no matter how bad things get, there is always a way through.  Someone said the other day: pray for a miracle and paddle like heck to get to the shore… I want to encourage people that if they’re going through a hurting time, they need to get out and help somebody else… as you do that it will lift your spirits.   

I would tell people to look for places to find joy.  If your husband is not much fun, well, don’t get rid of him, but find some friends that will give you some joy.  Or join a support group.  So many women say, ’My husband is so boring, he’s this or that.’  You can’t depend on him to bring you the joy.  God has to send the joy into your life.  You get down and ask the Lord to bring you the bubble of joy you need.” (Quote source here.)

NOTE: I accidentally hit publish when I started this post. Please check back later for the completed post. I’m having issues keeping my laptop running right now. Something keeps knocking off the power to it.

Photo #1 credit here

Perceptions

David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons published a book in 2016 titled, Good Faith: Being A Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme (2016). The title is very clear about the subject matter of the book. The inside front cover includes the following statement:

It is easy to feel overwhelmed as we try to live faithfully in a culture that seems increasingly hostile to the Christian faith. With a growing backlash against religion and people of faith, it’s harder than ever to hold on to our convictions while treating friends, neighbors, co-workers, and even family members who disagree with respect and compassion.

Based on groundbreaking research, this timely book by the bestselling authors of “unChristian explores politics, sexuality, race, gender, and religious freedom, helping you:

  • respond with compassion, clarity, and confidence to the most toxic issues of our day
  • discover the most significant cultural trends that are creating both obstacles and opportunities for Christians
  • know what you believe and why it doesn’t make you a judgmental or extreme person
  • stop being afraid to talk about what you believe and start having meaningful conversations about tough issues
  • understand the heart behind opposing views and learn how to stay friends across differences (Source: inside front cover of “Good Faith.”)

David Kinnaman is the president of Barna Group, a leading research and communications company that works with churches, nonprofits, and businesses ranging from film studios to financial services. Since 1995, Kinnaman has directed interviews with nearly one million individuals and overseen hundreds of US and global research studies. He is also the author of unChristian and You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving the Church and Rethinking Faith.” (Source: Inside back cover of Good Faith.”)

Gabe Lyons is the founder of Q (Q Ideas), a learning community that educates and mobilizes Christians to think well and advance “good” in society. Called “sophisticated and orthodox” by The New York Times, “Q” represents the perspective of a new generation of Christians. Lyons speaks on cultural issues where faith intersects public life. He is the author of unChristian and The Next Christians.” (Source: Inside back cover of Good Faith.”)

I presented several parts of this book back on January, 1, 2017, in a blog post titled, Seizing the New Year.” In this current post I want to look at what the authors found from their research and experiences regarding those who hold to Christian beliefs who are being viewed as “irrelevant and extreme” by an ever growing segment of today’s society. The specific chapters are titled, “Irrelevant” (Chapter 2), and “Extreme” (Chapter 3):

Chapter 2: Irrelevant (pp. 25-37). The following quotes are taken directly from this chapter:

Irrelevance happens when your interests and someone else’s don’t overlap–like trying to share with someone the joy of playing your favorite game when to them boards games are joyless, soul-sucking instruments of torture. The other person may admire your passion but cannot relate to it.

For increasing millions of people in the wider culture, Christianity feels like a long list of rules that matter “to someone else.” Some try to hang in there out of a sense of duty or obligation. They might make a sincere effort to participate in church, maybe because it’s important to people they care about. But Christianity just doesn’t stick.

They never roll for the galaxy, much less search out their salvation. They can’t understand how or why faith relates to them, so they look for an excuse to leave the table.

Through our research, we have sorted out clear ways to distinguish those who see faith as background noise from those actively engaged in the game. We call the latter group “practicing Christians,” people who say their Christian faith is very important in their lives and attend church as least once a month. These are folks for whom Christianity is a way of life, not just a cultural identifier. Three out of ten Americans are practicing Christians.

For many millions of people who might be considered “legacy Christians,” however, Christianity is background noise that can safely be ignored. They have the muscle memory of being a Christian but exercise little faith in their lives today. They used to be active or grew up as a Christian, but now the tenets and practices of the faith are just part of the landscape, not guiding lights for their priorities and lifestyle.

We could count this group of people–legacy or nominal Christians–as the largest faith group in America today. Three out of four US adults have some Christian background, but about three in five American Christians are mostly inactive in their faith.

You might think of legacy Christians as people who learned the rules of the game years ago, but at some point the rules, and participating in the competition itself, became almost entirely irrelevant. When we interview them about why they don’t prioritize their faith or participate in faith related activities, legacy Christians tell us they are just too busy or they find God elsewhere–in nature or art, for instance. To them, church is boring. Christianity has faded into the background. It’s a way of life that matters to somebody else. (Source: “Good Faith,” pp. 26-28.)

The authors state several perceptions that drive the “irrelevant” factor. On page 28 they state, “Most legacy Christians think Jesus-followers who prioritize faith are irrelevant and maybe annoying but also largely benign. But others, usually the religiously unaffiliated, think Christianity is bad for society. We are not seen as people of good faith.” Several of these perceptions are as follows:

Perception: Christian Leaders Aren’t Credible Guides for Life. On the whole, pastors and priests are well liked–two-thirds of Americans say their presence is a benefit to a community–but their insights are not considered relevant to living real life. You might say that Christian leaders are viewed like a smiling greeter at Walmart: they might point you in the right direction, but after that you’re on your own (pp. 28-29).

Perception: Faith-Driven Organizations Are Irrelevant to a Charitable Society. Millions of adults are oblivious to how charity happens . . . . Up to half of Americans believe a majority of the charitable work in the nation–including providing food, clothing, shelter, counseling, and disaster relief, for example, would still happen if there were no religious people or organization to do the work . . . . shockingly, 17 percent of practicing Christians believe the same . . . . Although their view is far from reality (explained in detail on pp. 30-31), perception matters. NOTE: See article titled, Christians Provide More Aid To Hurricane Victims Than FEMA, published September 10, 2017 at this link.

Perception: Christianity Is Irrelevant to the “Real Stuff” of Life and Culture. Most people think Jesus was a pretty good guy, but they don’t believe his teaching has made much of an impact on modern society. Large proportions of the population, even Christians, believe our faith has had little or no impact on art, culture, personal well-being, politics, community cohesion, charitable behavior, and provision of community services. Among non-Christians, the perceived line dividing the Christian faith and societal impact is even more distinct.

Furthermore, many people dramatically underestimate the number of practicing Christians in sectors that power our economy and create a healthy society. Public education is just one example. According to Barna estimates, two out of every five public school teachers and administrators in the United States are practicing Christians…. And this is just one sector of society; practicing Christians do good work and meaningfully contribute across a wide spectrum of industries (pp. 31-32).

Perception: People Can Live a “Good Life” without Christianity. For many people, life seems pretty good without faith. They can play the “game of life” without using the Christian rule book and still experience what feels like “winning.” Christians also believe this is true–to a certain extent… and it’s certainly possible to live a decent and productive life without being a Christian. We see this all the time….

The fact that people can live meaningful, fulfilling lives without Jesus does not invalidate the claims of Christianity. . . . But we should acknowledge that the “good life” feels attainable to many people–75 percent of US adults agree “a person can live a pretty good and decent life without being a Christian”–and this keeps them feeling like Christianity is a board game that isn’t worth learning.

Part of this problem is that too many in the Christian community have bought into unbiblical notions about what it means to live a “good life,” so it doesn’t look to outsiders like we’re doing anything special. Rather than living as a counter-cultural community that bears witness to the coming kingdom of God, many of us go with the cultural flow, thoughtlessly consuming the products, ideas, and aspirations streamed for us in an unending deluge of retweets and Facebook likes. It’s so hard, in this screen age, to keep our attention focused on anything for very long, much less a way of life introduced to Middle Eastern peasants two thousand years ago. Talk about irrelevant! Christianity’s rootedness in past events and future hope seems, to many, out of step with the ‘now’ orientation of the hyperlinked life (pp. 32-22).

Chapter 3: Extreme (pp. 39-17). The following quotes are taken directly from this chapter:

If the past decade and a half [e.g., since 9/11] has taught Americans anything, it’s that religious extremism is a real thing. Bombarded by images of terrorism, gun violence, perpetual religious wars, and unthinkable atrocities, we are justifiably wary of people who use their faith as an excuse to do violence and incite terror….

Most people believe being religiously extreme is a threat to society. Three-quarters of all Americans–and nine out of ten Americans with no faith affiliation–agree. But what actions and beliefs, exactly, come to mind when people think about religious extremism?

We asked Americans 18 and older their views on more than a dozen ways people of faith might express or observe the convictions of their religion. We found, as you might expect, that using religion to justify violence against other is almost universally condemned as extremist: more than nine out of ten adults agree doing so is “very” or at least “somewhat” extreme.

But we also discovered that, nowadays,  you don’t have to hijack a plane, blow up a subway train, or cut off somebody’s head to be considered an extremist. The perceptions of extremism hit close to home for most Christians, as you’ll see on the table on the next page [not available to put in this post]. Many historic Christian beliefs and practices are considered to be extreme by large proportions of Americans–especially among non-Christians. For example, two out of five adults believe it is extremist to try to convert others to their faith; 60 percent of all adults in America and 83 percent of atheists and agnostics believe evangelism–one of the central actions of Christian conviction–is extremist. A slim majority says that holding the belief that same-sex relationships are morally wrong is extremist. Two out of five adults believe it’s extreme to quit a good-paying job to pursue mission work in another country.

Even at the bottom of the list, many essential Christian practices are now perceived to be extremist. While not majority opinions, millions of adults contend that behaviors such as donating money to religious causes, reading the Bible silently in public, and even attending church or volunteering are examples of religious extremism.

What most concerns people about extremism is the public expression of religion–when beliefs and practices enter the public square. For the most part, people think you can do whatever you want on Sunday mornings, in your churches, just so long as matters of faith don’t spill out into society.

Beyond the specific religious activities we assessed, broadly speaking, the perceptions of extremism is firmly entrenched among the nation’s non-Christians. Forty-five percent of atheists, agnostics, and religiously unaffiliated in America agree with the statement “Christianity is extremist.”

That’s just shy of half.

Almost as troubling is the fact that only 14 percent of these “nones” (a term used to describe the religiously unaffiliated) strongly disagree that Christianity is extremist; 41 percent disagree somewhat. You might say disagreeing somewhat or disagreeing strongly is the difference between “I guess not” and “Of course not!” So even among non-Christians who reject the idea that Christianity is extremist, there is a lot of ambivalence.

What happened? And what’s behind this growing perception that public expression of religious conviction is extreme?

North America is becoming more religiously plural. There are more faith groups represented among the population than there were fifty years ago, and more faith “tribes” have a significant voice in our cultural dialogue…. Muslims now comprise a significant proportion of the population of several US cities and are an even larger proportion of Europe’s population. And don’t forget the recent advance of atheists and their philosophical cousins, the religiously unaffiliated.

Meanwhile, the Christian share of the population has shrunk. The voice of evangelicals, for many years among the most politically and culturally resonant, sounds less persuasive to an increasing number of ears–especially to those who think religion should be private, never public. Evangelicals’ fundamental belief in the importance of sharing the gospel (a public act, if ever there was one) is seen as extreme by a majority of adults in a society trying to come to grips with religious diversity.

But it’s not only evangelicals. We asked US adults about several minority groups, religious and otherwise. How difficult would it be for them to have a natural and normal conversation with a person from that group…. A majority of Americans would struggle to have a conversation with a Muslim (73 percent), a Mormon (60 percent), and atheist (56 percent), an evangelical (55 percent), or someone from the LGBT community (52 percent)….

In broad strokes, many people think it would be difficult to have a conversation with anyone who is not a part of “their” group. Many of us, in other words, find it challenging to connect and have meaningful conversations with others.

The state of our union is one of dis-union.

The conversational health of our society is in bad shape.

As a culture, we are trying to figure out how to make sense of the widening religious and ideological differences we experience every day. Sometimes it feels like we’re all in an epic tug-of-war to decide who gets to narrate reality and determine what is true and good. And, by default, the mushy middle seems to be winning. Many people are gravitating to a contrived centrist position that says everything will be okay if none of us holds too tightly to any particular belief. Ironically, this contrived center is itself becoming an ideology, as people grip it more and more tightly and call the people tugging on the ends extremists (pp. 41-45).

Given this backdrop, we can see how Christians who do talk about their faith threaten a fragile cultural consensus. And, make no mistake, that faith is a threat. Christians believe God reveals what is true and good–and are willing to keep on tugging even if everyone else disagrees (p. 46).

There is more information in both chapters that is not stated above, but this information will give anyone who tends to be insulated within Christian communities an idea of what is going on in the broader culture when it comes to how many in the broader culture feel about Christians and Christianity in general. The book includes a wealth of information that has been well documented and researched, and also includes a lot of information on how to navigate . . .

These rising waters . . .

We find ourselves . . .

Swimming in . . . .

YouTube Video: “Speak Life” by TobyMac:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

That Thing Called Love

Over a year ago (July 9, 2016 to be specific), I published a blog post titled, What’s Love Got To Do With It?” I’d like to revisit a major portion of that blog post today. After all, we could all use a little more love if it’s the right kind of love. We tend to casually throw that word around a lot, so first we need to define what real love is and what real love is not. First Corinthians 13:4-8 gives us the description of genuine love (which also happens to include what love is not):

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

From these verses we find what love is. Love is patient, kind, rejoices with the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all thing; and it never, ever ends.

From these verses we also find what love is not. Love is not envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, selfish, irritable, resentful, and does not rejoice in wrongdoing (e.g., doing evil). Love is also not to be confused with desire or lust.

The following is taken from my blog post, What’s Love Got To Do With It?” published in July 2016 with some minor editing:

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Back in 1984 Tina Turner sang a song titled, What’s Love Got To Do With It?” (YouTube video at this link). . . . In the chorus of the song she asks (quote source here):

What’s love got to do, got to do with it
What’s love but a second hand emotion
What’s love got to do, got to do with it
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken

While genuine love is anything but a “second hand emotion,” nobody likes dealing with a broken heart. And it is genuine love that can heal the brokenhearted. What the world needs now, more than anything else, is large doses of compassion, and understanding, and, yes, love (genuine love).

Five years ago I wrote a blog post titled, What The World Needs Now” (published on August 21, 2012). In that blog post I quoted a short devotion I found in a book of devotional readings titled Day by Day (2000, 2005) by Dr. Charles Swindollformer President and current Chancellor at Dallas Theological Seminary, and he also serves in leadership at Insight for Living Ministries and at Stonebriar Community Church. The title of this particular devotion is “Compassion.”

Compassion

Colossians 3:12-14James 5:11

It was one of those backhanded compliments. The guy had listened to me talk during several sessions at a pastors’ conference. All he knew about me was what he’d heard in the past few days: ex-marine… schooled in an independent seminary… committed to biblical exposition… noncharismatic… premil… pretrib… pro this… anti that.

Toward the end of the week, he decided to drink a cup of coffee with me and risk saying it straight. It went something like this: “You don’t fit. You’ve got the roots of a fundamentalist, but you don’t sound like it. Your theology is narrow, but you’re not rigid. You take God seriously, but you laugh like there’s no tomorrow. You have definite convictions, but you aren’t legalistic and demanding.” Then he added: “Even though you’re a firm believer in the Bible, you’re still having fun, still enjoying life. You’ve even got some compassion!”

“You’ve even got some compassion!” Like, if you’re committed to the truth of Scripture, you shouldn’t get that concerned about people stuff–heartaches, hunger, illness, fractured lives, insecurities, failures, and grief–because those are only temporal problems. Mere horizontal hassles. Leave that to the liberals. Our main job is to give ’em the gospel. Get ’em saved!

Be honest now. Isn’t that the way it usually is? Isn’t it a fact that the more conservative one becomes, the less compassionate?

I want to know why. Why either–or? Why not both–and?

I’d also like to know when we departed from the biblical model. When did we begin to ignore Christ’s care for the needy?

Maybe when we realized that one is much easier than the other. It’s also faster. When you don’t concern yourself with being your brother’s keeper, you don’t have to get dirty or take risks or lose your objectivity or run up against the thorny side of an issue that lacks easy answers.

And what will happen when we traffic in such compassion. The Living Bible says, Then the Lord will be your delight, and I will see to it that you ride high, and get your full share of the blessings I promised to Jacob, your father” (Isaiah 58:14).

If you really want to “ride high, and get your full share of the blessings,” prefer compassion to information. We need both, but in the right order.

Come on, let’s break the mold and surprise ’em. That’s exactly what Jesus did with you and me and a whole bunch of other sinners who deserved and expected a full dose of condemnation, but got compassion instead.

Others won’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.

Source: Day by Day by Dr. Charles Swindoll, p. 258
Word Publishing, Thomas Nelson, 2000

We may talk a lot about “compassion” in our churches, but what do we do with it on an hour-by-hour basis in our own personal lives with the folks we run into every single day? How do we conduct our business with others? Are we honest in our dealings with them? Do we actually care about what they might be going through (if we know their circumstances–for example, the homeless)? If we do anything at all, do we give out McDonald’s food coupons in an effort to appease our guilt and/or rationalize that if we actually gave them money they’d just spend it on less savory indulgences? It’s not that food coupons are wrong to give out, but it’s the attitude behind why we are giving them food coupons in the first place. For the most part we have no idea what it is like to walk in their shoes, and we tend to assume way too much about others we don’t know that is often erroneous at best.

Getting back to the original question: “What’s love got to do with it?” Love has everything to do with it, and it starts with how we treat others–and that includes the person right in front of us whether in a parking lot or in an aisle at a grocery store, or someone who might be yelling obscenities within earshot that we don’t appreciate, or treating us with disdain. Or it might be someone who is a Christian who doesn’t view things exactly as we do on certain topics (and that’s been going on for centuries). . . .

With that being said, I’m not implying that an initial reaction to a bad experience isn’t legitimate, such as anger or frustration or heartache. What I am saying is that there is real evil in this world and there are real enemies out there in society. Within the Christian community today we focus so much on internal “enemies” (fear, guilt, shame, etc.) that we totally forget that we have real enemies (as in the human kind) out there in society, too. Turning on the news on any given day clearly shows that fact. And often they are hiding in plain sight. I read a quote that Joyce Meyer, one of the world’s best known practical Bible teachers and a New York Times bestselling author, shared in her book titled, Let God Fight Your Battles (2015) regarding our real enemy on pages 108-109:

A good friend who is a Greek scholar once shared with me a paraphrase of John 10:10It gives us a clear idea of just how determined the enemy is to kill, steal, and destroy, but it also shows us that Jesus has something else altogether in mind.

The thief wants to get his hands into every good thing in your life. In fact, this pickpocket is looking for any opportunity to wiggle his way so deeply into your personal affairs that he can walk off with everything you hold precious and dear. And that’s not all–when he’s finished stealing all your goods and possessions, he’ll take his plan to rob you blind to the next level. He’ll create conditions and situations so horrible that you’ll see no way to solve the problem except to sacrifice everything that remains from his previous attacks. The goal of this thief is to totally waste and devastate your life. If nothing stops him, he’ll leave you insolvent, flat broke, and cleaned out in every area of your life. You’ll end up feeling as if you are finished and out of business! Make no mistake–the enemy’s ultimate aim is to obliterate you!

But I [Jesus] came that they might have, keep, and constantly retain a vitality, gusto, vigor, and zest for living that springs up from deep down inside. I [Jesus] came that they might embrace this unrivaled, unequaled, matchless, incomparable, richly-loaded and overflowing life to the ultimate maximum! (Quote from Rick Renner, “Sparkling Gems,” 2003, as quoted on pp. 108-109 in Let God Fight Your Battles,” 2015)

There are definitely people out there living among us who are like the description given above, and their agenda is clearly stated in the quote above, too; and those enemies don’t even have to know us personally to show up in our lives and try to take us down. However, when we fight among ourselves and disparage each other (or treat others with total disrespect), and disdain those we don’t know or like, we give our enemies a stronghold on us. And when we judge others or gossip about them, we are actually setting ourselves up for a possible future confrontation with those enemies. As the apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 12:18:

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you,
live at peace with everyone.”

What it boils down to is that expressing and showing love even for our enemies really isn’t “just an option” for a Christian. Genuine love keeps us right with God and right with others, even if those “others” (e.g., terrorists and assorted others) couldn’t care less. Jesus stated in Matthew 5:43-48 (MSG):

“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

“In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”

Also, I Corinthians 13:4-8 (previously stated above) gives us a clear picture of what genuine love really looks and acts like:

Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking,
It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts,
Always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.

We often have no idea of the harm we do when we disdain, disrespect, and discredit others, especially those we don’t know or don’t like for whatever reason. However, for the Christian, evil is fought on God’s battleground (Exodus 14:14), and not in the games we play with others. We can’t win this battle against the unforeseen forces of evil around us (see Ephesians 6:10-18) on our own–only God can win it. But we do have an obligation to do what Jesus has told us to do in living as His disciples, and that is to love God, love others . . . no exceptions.

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That ends the portion taken from the blog post from July 2016. I must confess that I get weary of trying to fight battles that are beyond my power to fight, and I’ll be the first to admit that this reminder from my blog post from a year ago is a reminder for me, too. It’s a reminder that we can easily get off course in this life, and if life throws enough bad stuff at us (and life is just that way sometimes) that we can react in the wrong ways even when we don’t mean to. Having grown up in Christian circles and spent a lot of my life in the church I got so weary of all the books and sermons that focused on “us” and our “internal enemies” all the time–“guilt, fear, worry, and shame, etc.” that is so common today. We don’t read about that kind of stuff in the Book of Acts. Those first Christians in the New Testament (and Jesus, too) had real human enemies, and they weren’t the “internal enemies” we spend so much time focusing on today while ignoring the real enemies in our world. Jesus already gave us the answer to our “guilt, fear, worry, shame, etc.” He is the answer! Today we’d rather fight and quarrel with each other (James discusses this very issue in James 4) and buy the latest book on how to get rid of our “guilt, fear, worry, and shame, etc.”

I’m much older now, and I’ve got decades of experience from my own church experiences to attest to what I’ve stated above from being a part of the church since I was a little girl. We often spend too much time majoring on the minors and ignoring the enemy that is comfortably sitting in our midst and patting us on our backs. Back in the New Testament those early Christians knew that enemy and knew that it lived in their very midst and threatened their lives. Today, we think we’re safe when we walk inside the doors of a church, but the battle rages on as intensely there as it does anywhere else. The history of Christianity down through the ages and today all around the world proves that to be true, too. And the apostle Paul made that battle very clear in Ephesians 6:10-18:

“. . .be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints. . .”

As Christians, all of our battles in this life belong to God. Only He can see the whole picture of what is really going on, and we don’t have the power to fight it on our own anyway (no matter how hard we try). What the world needs a whole lot more of is “that thing called love” . . . .

And it starts . . .

With us . . .

No exceptions . . . .

YouTube Video: “Testify To Love” by Avalon:

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Why Theology Matters

The most concise definition of theology is “the study of God.” To add to that definition, GotQuestions.org defines theology as follows:

The word “theology” comes from two Greek words that combined mean “the study of God.” Christian theology is simply an attempt to understand God as He is revealed in the Bible. No theology will ever fully explain God and His ways because God is infinitely and eternally higher than we are. Therefore, any attempt to describe Him will fall short (Romans 11:33-36). However, God does want us to know Him insofar as we are able, and theology is the art and science of knowing what we can know and understand about God in an organized and understandable manner. Some people try to avoid theology because they believe it is divisive. Properly understood, though, theology is uniting. Proper, biblical theology is a good thing; it is the teaching of God’s Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

The study of theology, then, is nothing more than digging into God’s Word to discover what He has revealed about Himself. When we do this, we come to know Him as Creator of all things, Sustainer of all things, and Judge of all things. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end of all things. When Moses asked who was sending him to Pharaoh, God replied “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14). The name I AM indicates personality. God has a name, even as He has given names to others. The name I AM stands for a free, purposeful, self-sufficient personality. God is not an ethereal force or a cosmic energy. He is the almighty, self-existing, self-determining Being with a mind and a will—the “personal” God who has revealed Himself to humanity through His Word, and through His Son, Jesus Christ.

To study theology is to get to know God in order that we may glorify Him through our love and obedience. Notice the progression here: we must get to know Him before we can love Him, and we must love Him before we can desire to obey Him. As a byproduct, our lives are immeasurably enriched by the comfort and hope He imparts to those who know, love, and obey Him. Poor theology and a superficial, inaccurate understanding of God will only make our lives worse instead of bringing the comfort and hope we long for. Knowing about God is crucially important. We are cruel to ourselves if we try to live in this world without knowing about God. The world is a painful place, and life in it is disappointing and unpleasant. Reject theology and you doom yourself to life with no sense of direction. Without theology, we waste our lives and lose our souls.

All Christians should be consumed with theology—the intense, personal study of God—in order to know, love, and obey the One with whom we will joyfully spend eternity. (Quote source here.)

In an article titled What Exactly is Theology? on ReasonableTheology.org, the author (no name appears on the article) states:

For many Christians, theology is something that is consigned for seminaries, books over 3 inches thick, and Europe during the Reformation. However, every believer should consider themselves a theologian, as we all seek to know and understand God.

Strictly defined, theology is simply the study of the nature of God. Whenever we attempt to deepen our knowledge about God and His attributes, we are studying theology. We should never think that this is a realm reserved for academics and those whose LinkedIn profiles include “Theologian” as their job title.

It is not uncommon to hear someone state that because they already believe in God and the saving work of Jesus, they don’t have the need for studying theology. Such a statement reveals two issues; first, they are assuming that studying theology is a dry and difficult task best left to the professionals. Secondly, they don’t realize that they are already a theologian to some degree. A classical description of theology is “faith seeking understanding.” Every Bible study, Sunday school class, church service, and personal quiet time in the Word is dedicated to just that. When we devote our attention to knowing God better we are engaged in theology. . . .

For the purposes of this article, it is enough for us to realize that we don’t need to don powdered wigs and black robes before sitting down to “do theology.” Instead we must understand that when we search the Scriptures for answers about life, Jesus, God, and an endless number of other topics we are actively studying theology. (Quote source here.)

In a follow-up to this article on ReasonableTheology.org titled, Good Ways to Develop Bad Theology,” the author states:

As C.S. Lewis put it, “If you do not listen to theology, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones.”

What this quote and our article series on everyday theology for the everyday Christian shows is that all believers are theologians to some extent. It is our responsibility to ensure that we are putting our best effort towards becoming good ones. For those uninterested in developing an accurate understanding of God, here are three good ways to end up with bad theology.

Ignore Difficult Bible Passages

The surest way to develop an incomplete picture of Biblical revelation is to skip over and ignore verses and passages that are confusing or conflict with what you previously thought.

When reading Scripture it is important to remember that not a single verse was included by accident.

Rather than merely passing over a verse or passage that presents difficulty, we should compare it to other verses, consult commentaries, and keep digging deeper. Just as muscles become weak when not exercised, our theology is weakened when we avoid being challenged.

Only Read Authors that Agree with You

If you avoid reading or listening to pastors and authors that do not completely subscribe to your exact theology, you’re unlikely to grow beyond your current level of knowledge and spiritual maturity. It is important to gain at least a basic understanding of the ideas of those who believe differently than you.

However, this does not mean that we should spend time submerging ourselves in flawed theology or entertaining heresy for the sake of being open-minded. Rather it is recommended that we acknowledge that in many areas there are a variety of view points represented in the Christian faith.

Even our favorite pastors and teachers are not likely to be correct in every facet of theology. If we allow ourselves to explore other viewpoints we will do one of two things: strengthen our own positions by finding that alternative ideas lack Biblical credibility or, when appropriate, realize we must better conform our understanding to the truth of Scripture.

Compromise to Avoid Confrontation

The opposite of the error above is to simply abandon essential truths in search of harmony among conflicting beliefs. Those who are quick to alter their theology merely to accommodate the shifting opinions of the world are unlikely to develop or maintain solid theology.

There are an unfortunate number of examples where believers are abandoning or downplaying truth in order to satisfy those around them. Areas of creation, sin, and the exclusivity of Christ are often disregarded in order to avoid offending others with truth.

Rather than stand firm on the teachings of Scripture, many compromise their beliefs in order to maintain a level of comfort and political correctness. May our confidence in the essential truths of our faith allow us to stand firm in upholding them, even when facing difficult conversations and situations.

Conclusion

Every Christian is a theologian. The question is not whether we have an understanding of God, but if we have a correct understanding of Him. We should be striving to have a more complete understanding of God and seek spiritual growth.

Avoiding the three errors above can help us to maintain a proper focus on becoming better theologians and better equipped believers. (Quote source here.) The entire series of articles titled,Everyday Theology for the Everyday Christian,” can be found at this link.

In one last article published October 27, 2016 in Christianity Today titled, Ten Reasons Why Theology Matters,” by David W. Congdon, associate editor at IVP Academic, and W. Travis McMaken, associate professor of religion at Lindenwood University, the authors give us those ten reasons why theology matters:

With recent polls showing a declining awareness and interest in theology among evangelicals, we thought of ten reasons why theology matters to every evangelical beyond simply avoiding heresy.

Theology matters…

1. Because even evangelicals need evangelizing.

There is much handwringing today over what it means to be evangelical, and the temptation is strong to define an essential evangelicalism—to pin it down to one particular form. Theologically, the problem with this response is that “taking every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5) is not a once-and-done proposition. It is a task that has to be taken up anew again and again. Just like God’s grace, this fundamentally theological undertaking is “new every morning” (Lam. 3:23).

Evangelicalism is not a fixed and secure religious form or doctrinal system. It is not a confessional tradition or a denomination. Instead, evangelicalism is a way of relating to God and the world, one which emphasizes the good news of Jesus Christ and its importance for how we live our lives. There is no single right way to be an evangelical. In truth, evangelicalism is always ‘in via,’ always “on the way.” Evangelicals thus always need to be evangelized.

2. Because we can’t feel our way toward knowledge of God.

Experience has always been an important part of evangelicalism. From Jonathan Edwards and Charles Finney to Henry Blackaby and Dallas Willard, evangelicals have long understood that the gospel demands a response of the will and a conversion of the heart. Such an emphasis often gives the impression that we can “find” God in experience. Chuck Colsons assessment here is right: The belief “that doctrines must be extracted from inward experience—that is, personal feelings” is “a version of Gnosticism.” The problem is there is no guarantee that one’s experiences do in fact point to God. We need a more certain way to know God.

Thankfully, God has provided just such a way: “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known [exegesato]” (John 1:18). In Jesus we have the exegesis of God and a firm foundation for our faith.

3. Because the Bible is not a grab bag of facts about God.

In an effort to avoid the pitfall of improperly enlisting experience as a foundation for our knowledge of God, some have turned to Scripture as their infallible guide to faith and practice. But often this turn is made without giving enough thought to the difficulties involved in biblical interpretation—and not only the difficulty of learning strange languages! Appeals to this or that text have been used over the years to justify any number of ethical positions, from slavery and apartheid to the subjugation of women and anti-Semitic ‘pogroms.’ Furthermore, all the so-called “heretics” in Christian history knew their Bible very well and could find ample support for their positions within its pages.

In order to address this problem, the church from the outset developed two rules of interpretation: the “rule of faith” and the “rule of love.” The rule of love stipulates that one must read Scripture in a way that promotes the love of God and neighbor, and the rule of faith offers the church’s shared theological affirmations as a similar guide for reading. Jesus Christ stands behind each of these rules: He is the one who both enacts perfect love for God and neighbor, and he makes the Father known, as already mentioned. We must read Scripture with one eye fixed on Jesus Christ, and with a constant effort to see how each portion of Scripture points us back to him. This is the burden of Luther’s claim that “whatever promotes Christ is the Word of God to be sought and found in Holy Scripture” (Luther’s Works 35:396).

4. Because God likes highways, not cul-de-sacs.

The point here is not that God despises the suburbs and prefers the open road. As a metaphor, however, it is hard not to see that God prefers to be—to borrow C. S. Lewis’s language in describing Aslan—“on the move.” But this theological insight is easily forgotten under the pressure within our pluralistic society of defining what “we” believe as opposed to “them.” The result is what Roger Olson has described as “a certain militancy in defense of perceived evangelical doctrinal tradition” and “a tendency to fill up the ‘essentials’ (dogmas) category of Christian beliefs with non-essentials.” This desire to stabilize the tradition and protect against perceived deviations can easily lead to a sort of theological ossification. If the Word of God is indeed “living and active” (Heb. 4:12), then a militant defense of the past can result in the silencing of God in the present. Those who follow such a living God must also be on the move, bearing dynamic witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ in our own place and time.

5. Because the New Jerusalem will be more urban than suburban.

Christians often labor under the false assumption that the cultural forms we have inherited from our ancestors in the faith are distinctively “Christian.” Our cultural blinders lead us to misread the biblical text, to find rules and guidelines that just aren’t there. Cultural norms about money, gender, race, work, and family seep into our subconscious and percolate into our daily life. They appear in television ads, on magazine covers, in playground chitchat, on highway billboards, in church-sponsored parenting seminars, and even in sermons.

Behind all of this is the assumption that there is only ‘one’ way to be truly human and live a truly human life—and, of course, that one way happens to be ‘our’ way. But when we look at the Bible, we see a manifold diversity of human identities and social structures. The “law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2) is not a blueprint but a command to follow Christ in the diversity of our local contexts and the unity of God’s coming reign. When Jesus rejects the prevailing family values of both his day and our own (Matt. 10:35–36), he is not telling us to hate our families. He is proclaiming a vision of fidelity to God’s kingdom that is bigger than a single culture’s social norms.

We are dealing, after all, with the God of Pentecost, a God whose kingdom embraces the full panoply of cultural diversity. We witness in the story of the gospel a God who does not have a “one size fits all” vision for human life, a God who rejects a monochrome creation, a God who prefers the vibrant messiness to spiritless homogeneity.

6. Because God isn’t just a good self-help instructor.

American culture surrounds us with the notion that we possess within ourselves all the resources necessary for success and happiness. Indeed, the United States was founded on the notion that we possess certain “inalienable rights” of self-actualization: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Unfortunately, this mode of thinking has found its way into Christian faith, preaching, and worship. One hears sermons for spiritual—or even material!—fulfillment, sings worship songs that seem more concerned with the singer’s needs and emotions than with Christ, and finds titles on bookstore shelves that promise to give you a fulfilling life now. We start to view God in terms of ourselves: We are weak, so God becomes strong; we are lonely, so God becomes our friend; we lack knowledge, so God becomes the cosmic answer.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us that theology is not in the business of “exploiting human weakness and human limitations.” Rather than understanding God in terms of human life, human life should be defined by the power of God in Jesus Christ. Christian faith acknowledges a God who discloses to us our true weakness—sin—and sovereignly acts in Christ to reconcile us to God and to each other. As the community of this God, the church is not a community of self-help instruction but a place of missionary self-giving. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).

7. Because God isn’t a cosmic dictator.

Many people find comfort in the belief that God is in complete control of our lives. Knowing that God has a “perfect plan” not only provides certainty of salvation, but it also offers solace in times of great suffering. Perhaps it is no surprise that, in an age of political chaos fueled by an inability to find common ground, we find assurance in a Cosmic Decider that makes such clear and final decisions.

Viewed abstractly, we have here another version of the self-help deity—one who seemingly meets our needs and solves all our problems. But as Donald Bloesch observes, “Biblical Christians do not affirm the God of absolute power, the one who can do anything.” God’s sovereignty is not the arbitrary power to make the circle square or evil good. Naked sovereignty leaves us with no confidence in ‘who’ this God really is and whether God loves us and will be faithful to us. Thankfully, the Bible teaches that “God’s power is manifested not in arbitrary decrees but in sacrificial, other-serving love” (Bloesch), namely, in Jesus Christ.

8. Because God’s will for your life isn’t really about “your” life.

The question, “What is God’s will for my life?” is a vexing one for many believers. But, the attempt to “find” God’s will presupposes a separation between God’s “hidden” and “revealed” wills. According to the Reformers, God providentially rules over the world according to God’s hidden or eternal will, while Jesus only provided access to God’s revealed will concerning salvation. We are therefore left searching for clues in Scripture and experience, treating God’s hidden will like a murder mystery to be solved by a prayerful sleuth.

A second look at the New Testament calls into question the notion of two wills in God. According to the apostle Paul, “He [God the Father] predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will. . . . With all wisdom and understanding, he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and things on earth under Christ” (Eph. 1:5, 8–10).

The “mystery” of God’s will is not confined to the dark recesses of eternity but is “made known to us . . . in Christ.” The question about God’s will is never first and foremost about our own lives, but about his life. God’s will is therefore not a riddle to be solved but a reality to be praised and proclaimed.

9. Because the Christian life isn’t all about eating.

If there’s one thing Christians know how to do, it’s eat! Potlucks, coffee hours, picnics—if you can load up a table with food, you can count on church-folk showing up for times of “fellowship” and “spiritual refreshment.” Maybe that’s why the Lord’s Supper so easily becomes a focal point of our communal lives together: It just makes sense. Indeed, it has become increasingly central in recent years even among traditionally “low church” communities, who find the emphasis on communion helpful as an aid to focus on the divine Shepherd rather than on the human pastor.

But here’s the thing about eating: do too much of it without exercise and you get fat. While eating is a restorative and often pleasurable experience, it is finally aimed at a purpose beyond itself. We eat in order to live. The same holds true in the Christian life. We come to the Lord’s table to eat in order to live a certain kind of life. The Great Commission, found in Matthew 28:19–20, describes the sort of life for which Christians are nourished at the table: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” This is the church’s mission, the exercise that it must perform to keep from growing fat and indolent, the life for which it is nourished by word and sacrament. Christians are never fed simply for their own benefit but always on behalf of others.

10. Because it’s not just “what” you believe that matters, but “why” you believe it and “how.”

We are convinced that engaging in careful theological thought is an essential task of the Christian life. We can no more abandon theology than we can abandon God, since theology is involved in some fashion whenever we think or speak about God. Consequently, every person is a theologian. The only question is whether we will be thoughtful, responsible theologians or irresponsible ones. The journey of Christian discipleship is a matter of learning why we believe, and thinking hard and carefully about this belief, not so that we can bludgeon others with our knowledge but so that we can bear faithful witness to God in the totality of our life.

Theology is less about the ‘what’ and much more about the ‘how.’ We are called as Christians not to sign up to a certain doctrinal statement but to follow a certain way of life. To be a thoughtful believer is to be commissioned for a life of disciplined reflection in conversation with the prophets, apostles, and the theologians who have reflected on God in the past and whose legacy we have inherited. The goal is not simply to repeat the words that they used to proclaim the gospel in their time and place, but to think under their tutelage about what words we must use today.

Theology is inherently an act of prayer, insofar as we offer up our words and thoughts in service to God in the expectant hope—by the grace of the Holy Spirit—that they will build up the body of Christ. And this prayerful task of theology is never done. Like God’s mercies, it is new every morning. (Quote source here.)

And that is why theology matters . . . .

God’s mercies . . .

Are new . . .

Every morning . . . .

YouTube Video: “New Every Morning” by Audrey Assad:

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