Category: Faith


Narrow the Road

“But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:14

The road leading to life is narrow and found by only a few. I suppose this could make Christianity sound like some goofy, exclusive club with unnecessary barriers to entry. A small gate could be considered hidden. I’ve also heard this explained that, compared to the wide gate and broad, destruction bound road in the previous verse, Christianity just isn’t as attractive or well advertised. I have this glimmer of memory of a picture of two gates. One was huge, glitzy, and definitely designed to get attention. The other was small and rather plain. It wasn’t drawing much of a crowd. One more idea (I think) I’ve heard associated with this verse is that only a few find life because, being narrow, the road is treacherously easy to lose. If it’s not actually lost, you might just fall off of it.

I suppose all of those interpretations have some validity, and I’ll bet there’s a bunch more out there I’ve not even considered. But… “narrow the road.”

“Narrow the road.”

Ever been near a stream on a hot, dusty day? Maybe there’s a little breeze stirring the pine needles and rustling the dried grasses. The stream is babbling happily away. A grasshopper startles and leaps, wings buzzing against the quiet. There’s not much going on. It’s a sleepy afternoon, a dreamy afternoon, a time to be lost in thought, to ponder. A smooth, round stone comes to hand. It’s perfect to roll over one’s fingers, to idly toss in time to a thought. Up and down the stone goes, its texture catching the sunlight, shadows deepening and shifting as it twists in the air, making a soft slapping noise as its caught. It has rhythm.

Up.
Down.
Up.
Down.
Breathing in.
Out.
In.
Out.

“Narrow the road.”

Life slows to a contemplative crawl.

Breathe in. Another toss. “Hmm… ‘narrow the road.” It reminds me, in this deep and quiet place, of this:

“…Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus.” Hebrews 12:1b-2a

Maybe the road being narrow has little to do with leaving people out, a lack of advertising, or a slippery slope. Maybe it’s got more to do with focus and dedication. What do you have room for in your life? What takes up space? What’s keeping your eyes busy? Can you fit that through a small gate and travel with it along a narrow road? I can’t. When my life is too busy, too full, all I hear is noise, and I need space for my life to spread out and let me breathe. I’m hindered. I’ve lost my focus. My eyes aren’t fixed on Jesus at that point, and if I’m moving, it’s probably like a ping pong ball. I’m bouncing between all the clutter in my life.

“Small is the gate…narrow the road” – not everything will fit. Sometimes I just need to let go of things and keep running.

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Why Do We Need Religion?

“So,” a friend wondered, “why do we need religion?” Great question! Really, that’s a great question, especially considering that she believes that she doesn’t need it. She’s not religious. She doesn’t believe in God, either, but does say that there are things out that defy explanation. That’s my paraphrase, and I may be misrepresenting her views somewhat. Don’t quote me! I know I’m not quoting her!

Anyway, it’s a great question. We’d been talking about all kinds of things – politics, religion, counseling, abuse, life, death – and she popped that one into the mix. For her, she wasn’t raised with much religion, and I’d guess that plays a part in shaping her opinion. She also mentioned religion has sometimes very negative effects. That’s true. Even if a religion claims to be good and beneficial, it’s not always angelic, saintlike, and completely positive. The Spanish Inquisition, Catholic priests molesting children left in their care, and the Salem witch trials spring immediately to mind. History is awash with examples of religions that, either thanks to core beliefs, misbeliefs, or being warped to serve dark lusts, cause harm to those in its vicinity.

The harm caused by religion need not even be that dramatic. Harm can be something as simple as burdensome guilt.

What good does religion do? Why do we need it? I think religion, particularly Christianity, because that’s the one I know best, can be very good for people. Let me share a few thoughts.

  • It has helped keep people healthy. I could be wrong about this, but I’d guess religion has been around longer than science has. In the Old Testament, lots of religious laws were given to the people of Israel. Those poor, overworked Jews weren’t allowed to do things like poop in their camps. They had to go outside and make sure it was buried because God thought it “indecent.” Any more, most people would call that sanitation and be completely grossed out by a pile of human excrement collecting flies within a campsite (“ew! ew! bad smell! disease! WTB toilet!”), but humanity hasn’t always had flush toilets and knowledge of disease vectors. Jews weren’t allowed to eat pork or shellfish, meat that sometimes came with illness causing friends. I could talk about it more, but I don’t want to take that much space. This article, Bible Health Laws, from Tomorrow’s World, focuses on the health benefits of ancient Judaism. Knock yourself out!
  • Religion ought to be helping to meet social need. James tells us that worthwhile religion involves activities like taking care of distressed widows and orphans.
  • For myself, I learned a lot about how to become the kind of person I wanted to be. My dad wasn’t exactly the greatest example of virtue, integrity, or how to treat others. No father is. They’re all heroes, I think, to their children and are emulated by their children. Then the children get a little older, realize that Dad does have some flaws, and must grow beyond that childhood ambition of being just like Dad. There are all sorts of ways a kid can go. I picked the Bible, God, and Christianity, and I learned a lot about how to treat myself and others better. Take a look at Matthew 18. It promotes humility, advocates good treatment of children, gives advice about how to handle conflict or sin, and advises mercy and forgiveness. I Corinthians 13 talks about the necessity of love and explains what love is actually supposed to be. Proverbs is chock full of pithy nuggets promoting wisdom, illustrating folly, and other valuable insights. Reading through Psalms and even some of the OT prophets like Isaiah or Jeremiah helped me to reach my heart and feel the emotions I was packing around with me.

In some ways, religion has been great for me. I’m sure there are lots of other reasons why it can be beneficial, but I’m out of time and brainpower today. How about you? Got any ideas?

Will You Forgive Me, Please?

I’m going to tell you a story. This story involves one of my sisters, but it’s not about her. It’s really about me. Because I’m the one telling it, and she’s not here to share her side of the story (which undoubtedly differs from mine), please remember that I’m talking from my perspective and how things affected me. I’d leave her out altogether if I could, but I haven’t been able to come up with a clever way to do that while still communicating effectively about what became a profound experience in my life.

I am a pretty competent person. It’s not that I know everything or have some super power that makes me capable of succeeding at whatever I try. It’s has more to do with my dislike of turning out work of poor quality. As Yoda said, “Do or do not. There is no try,” and I’d add that if I’m going to do it, I might as well bother to do it well. I don’t even have to like whatever it is to do a good job of it, and I don’t have to know how to do it. I’ll learn, teaching myself if necessary. I’ve been like this as long as I can remember.

I tend to be right. Some of that is merely accuracy combined with a habit of choosing my words with care. Some of that is conscience. I need to be morally right and try to keep from wrongdoing.  I care about justice in general. Been like that all of my life, too.

I’m not always the most humble or self-effacing person you’ll ever meet, either.  I’d like to think that I’m less arrogant than I used to be, but the truth is that I wasn’t particularly aware of how my pride was affecting me then, and it’s entirely possible I have blind spots aplenty still.

Throw all of that together – competency, conscience, a strong sense of justice coupled with outrage over injustice, and pride – in me, and you get a driven, stubborn, very pigheaded person who would rather drown than give up the ball to the other team. Playing water basketball as a freshman at summer camp did nearly get me drowned. One of the other team felt sorry for me and opted to try picking me up and shaking me. She didn’t get the ball, either. Anyway, get me to the point where I’m convinced I’m right, and I can become intransigent.  I won’t bend, buckle, or back down.

And proud of it.

I suppose you can imagine that this habit of mine occasionally caused problems. My relationship with my sister, who I’ll call P in this post, is a good illustration. P is a little younger than me, so the poor kid got to “enjoy” the same sort of home life I did. It was tough. It was really tough. We all dealt with it differently. I was quite the prig. My dad once called me something like the Pious with all the dark and twisted religious shades to it, and the comment was not completely wrong. P dealt with it in other ways. We butted heads a lot, starting young and continuing into adulthood. My dad leaving the family didn’t magically make everything better. We had all learned bad habits and lessons, and we had to learn new things and norms after he left. Learning, the process of it, is rife with mistakes, yes?

P and I had many, many differences of opinion. There was a lot of conflict, and it frustrated and hurt me. I felt like she was being very unfair to me. It didn’t seem to matter how hard I tried – it was not enough. I couldn’t make her happy with me or what I was doing no matter how nice, tactful, fillintheblank I tried to be. It didn’t improve my attitude or hurt feelings that I thought some of what she did was wrong and/or unlikely to help her get what she’d told me she wanted. I felt as though she twisted my words to use them against me and heard poison where I’d meant only and striven mightily to infuse kindness. I didn’t feel like I could trust her to look out for me. Things were getting pretty sour, and I was getting very tired of what I perceived to be me doing a lot of bending over backwards to avoid giving further offense. I was angry about that.

I had done everything I knew. I had tried to the best of my ability to work things out and improve the relationship. I had failed. It sucked. It was miserable. We were kinda, sorta not really speaking to each other, and I felt grief. She’s my sister. I love her. My guts were twisting into a knot to be on such bad terms with her.

So, in the middle of this confusion of feeling and attitude, I hear something from God that I don’t like . He tells me to show up at her house, ask her for her side of the story, listen humbly, receive, and then ask for her forgiveness. That was actually frightening. It was vulnerable. P hadn’t exactly been the safest person in my life. Her words weren’t safe. I didn’t want to go.

I did, though. I showed up, she was home, and I listened to what she had to say for maybe a couple of hours. I can’t remember for sure. It was a lengthy conversation, though. Somewhere in there, I gave her a simple apology. “I’m sorry. Would you forgive me, please?” No defensiveness, no excuses, no guardedness hidden in justifications, no feedback from me toward her – nothing self-protective. I simply and unreservedly owned the truth that I had hurt her (even if I didn’t mean to do it, even if only through ignorance, I had still caused her pain) and asked her to forgive me.

We parted ways on somewhat better terms, having expressed a desire to have a better relationship with each other. It hasn’t happened yet. Within a year, things had broken down completely, and at her request, I have not spoken to her since.

What was the point? Why did I have to go through all of that? Every once in a while, I roll it over again, and now seems to be the latest once in a while.

Why? What good did that do? I can’t answer that for her. I have no idea if that conversation and my request for forgiveness did anything for her.

I guess the why has a lot to do with why I went. I didn’t go for me. I didn’t go thinking it would make any difference in how my sister and I related. I didn’t even do it for her to “help” her or anything. I went because I believed that was what God was asking me to do. I obeyed and trusted Him with everything I had invested and everything I feared. It may not have helped my relationship with my sister, but it did change some things in how I related to God. It changed me. I might talk about that more in another post, but for now – have a good night.

Asking For His Blessing

I am tired today. The last few days have been busy. In fact, the summer has been busy. It’s generously provided me with a limited time opportunity to accomplish a lot outside, and I’ve seized that chance. It’s made for long days, short nights, and sore muscles, which would be why I woke up this morning with a sore shoulder, a developing headache, an abundance of yawning, and no phone call from work telling me that I could just stay home in bed.

I don’t know about you, but these are perfect conditions for a good case of the grumps, the cranks, the snarls, and good, old-fashioned crankiness. I am tired. I hurt some. I have things beeping and ringing and otherwise annoying me, and I have to be nice? Or at least put up a decent pretense? Bleah.

Fortunately, I do have options. I don’t have to assume the guise of Grouchy Malouchy, and fortunately I remembered that options are available this morning when my alarm went off. It’s always best to nip the grumps early. I can ask for God’s blessing.

It’s pretty simple. In some ways, it’s a lot like asking a blessing before a meal. We do that as an expression of gratitude, as an acknowledgement of of God’s provision, and as an opportunity to make requests, such as nourishment. Why not carry that practice into other areas of our lives? I figure that a God who does “immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine” probably does more than simply give us food. I think that a God who can turn water into wine, feed a guy using ravens, keep a supply of flour and oil refreshed until the rain comes, feed five thousand from a seed of 2 fish and five loaves, make bread and quail appear to sustain the desert dwelling Israelites, and an old man into a great nation is probably a pretty good provider. He sounds like He’s good at meeting needs.

He sounds like He excels at taking inadequacy and making it into an abundance, so that’s what I asked Him for this morning when I woke up and realized how tired I felt.

God, I’m really tired. You know I’ve been busy, and that it was hard to get to sleep last night. Thank you for the sleep that I did get. I know every bit helps, but I also know that it’s not enough, and I have a long day ahead. Please bless the rest I did get. Take it and make it somehow enough to get me through my day safely. Help me to have a good day. Thanks.

This isn’t the first time I’ve asked for His blessing on getting me through a day. He always gets me through, though I never know what to expect. Sometimes I just feel better (and can’t give caffeine all the credit), sometimes I have an unexpectedly easy day (which seems to be today so far), sometimes I get to experience the sufficiency of grace through a hard day, and so on. Easy or hard, He always seems to work it out so that the day has value. I don’t usually get stuck gritting my teeth while trying endure on my own yet another horrible, stressful day. If nothing else, simply having an open door to ask for His help relieves some of my stress. Remembering that I have a choice helps alleviate some stress, too.

We’ll see how today goes. Personally, I’m expecting good things!

—–

Yep, it was a good day, and now it’s bedtime. Have a great one!

Links for This Week

This last week, I’ve been pretty busy working outside, playing with my sisters, and painting hope onto my wall. In other words, I’ve slacked off and not written a post, but it’s all good. I’ve been meaning to put up a post recommending another blog. In the last week, Kari provided some great posts, and I definitely think her work is worth reading.

For a little background, I found her blog on Facebook. Half my lifetime ago, Kari and I went to the same rural church. Since it was small and relationally oriented, everybody knew everybody. We were a community. The church attended services together, ate together, worshiped together, worked together, had retreats and Family Camps and weddings and all kinds of stuff. It was really a great church in a lot of ways, so for me, it was fun, 10 or 15 years later, to see that Kari had been keeping a blog. It was even better to read it and see that she definitely still loves God. I always love to see that! She writes about faith a lot, and when she’s not writing about that, she often writes about some practical ways to keep a house and live more frugally.

This week, she wrote a series of posts dealing with the dreadful “d” of disappointment. The first is called “When the road is long.” Kari shares some thoughts about disappointments which last a long time. The second is called “When no one understands.” It’s an interesting thought. I hadn’t considered how disappointing it can be to not be understood. The third is “When you must be silent,” and she talks about the difficulty imposed by silence. That’s one I do understand. Not being able to talk about things can just swell your throat shut so that the time comes that it would be okay to talk, you can’t. Come to think of it, that right there is pretty disappointing.

One thing I would mention about disappointment is that it can be quite the thief. It will steal hope from your heart if you let it.

Following those three posts identifying some types of disappointment, Kari wrote a great post about expectations titled “What to expect when you’re expecting…” I love this one. There’s truth in it, truth that can help point a person to God and make them aware of their need for Him. Look at this!

So what should we expect?

Opposition. Persecution. Obstacles. Suffering. Trials. Conflict. Hardship. Storms. But most of all …

Except to see and encounter Him in the midst of it all.

He is found in the midst of the storm, the suffering, the obstacle. When we run from those things,  we run from Him. He is there.

I expect to face these things, and I expect to see His face there.

That’s what I can expect.

I love this, not because the idea of being used as a punching bag sounds like fun, but because God doesn’t leave me. Because God is there. Because God works things out for good. Because even death can’t beat Him. Life is not a soft, fluffy, sweet teddy bear on which we can land without the least concern. Bad things, hard things, painful things – they all happen, and they happen without regard for my wickedness or righteousness, my foolishness or my wisdom, my poverty or my wealth, or any number of other things. We can’t control much of what happens. In the middle of it all, in the good and the bad, God is there. I sleep better at night because of that.

Have a good one!