Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Importance of Knowing Your Religion

A Muslim Friend once told me that it is very rare for a Muslim to convert to another religion. That did surprise me, but after reading Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A devout Muslim Encounters Christianity by Nabeel Qureshi, I understood why.

Like a majority of professed Christians who have never read the Bible in its entirety, I learned the same is true for followers of Islam. But unlike Jesus, who indisputedly lived a very just existence and life of love, the author cites some interesting things about Muhammad’s life that weren’t compatible with what he and his fellow Muslims were taught by Imams and other teachers of Islam. There were also some surprising statements that the author found in the Quran and hadith (a revered reference for Islamic law and history) which was compiled by Sahih Bukhari who is considered a reliable and scholarly source by most Muslims.  

It is not for me to judge the choice of others’ religions, but the book provided an insight that I had never before known. It also made me appreciate the sacrifices that some must still make to follow Jesus.  And it brought home the importance of knowing all that one can about the path one chooses to find God.

The Bible can be difficult to interpret and I’ve discovered many times from my pastor, who is a Biblical scholar, that translations can play a big part in changing what I once thought. Even without the same background to interpret correctly, I understand the importance to still read it because I discover something new each time I read it in its entirety.

So how did I manage to read the entire Bible several times? I bought one of those “read the Bible in a year” Bibles. It was the New International Version (NIV), which I also have on my Kindle. Additionally, I have a hardcopy of the New Revised Standard Version (NSRV) which some of us ELCA Lutherans tend to utilize most.

Now, back to: What did I learn after reading the aforementioned book? Lots! Not only did I learn about Islam from a formerly devout Muslim, but the importance of knowing about one’s own religion. I’m confident that I have chosen for myself the correct path to God via Christianity, and I will never stop learning. But, the journey is one which each of us must determine and independently travel.  

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Thoughts on Getting Older

Since my birthday is approaching, I've begun to contemplate getting older. My late husband used to joke that "any day above ground is a good day," but that was sorely tested when his cancer turned terminal. It's difficult to watch someone you love suffer so that pretty much negates what he once said.

As we age, I think we are all a bit concerned about our longevity and the quality of life. We all agree that the second aspect is as important or even more so than the first. I've learned to live my life more as a one-day-at-a-time journey and not procrastinate as much as I did when I was younger. (I've already bought several Christmas presents!) We don't know what tomorrow holds and what quality of life we will have.

I've also learned such life altering lessons as a bad hair day doesn't ruin your existence. I'm not as focused on possessions as I once was, but that could also be due to my deepening faith. I don't sweat "keeping up with the Kardashians," spend time preening, or waste time on movies or other past times that aren't entertaining or fulfilling. I'm now more concerned with following what Jesus taught.

Happiness doesn't come from things; it comes from focusing on what's really important - and that is pertinent to any age. I still find the Bible to be the best guide for living our lives. So no matter how I age, I'm going to concentrate on the quality of life I have today, and be thankful every step of the way.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Knowing When to Say and What

I read a lot, and as a writer, I am often asked to give reviews. Because I understand how important those can be, I won’t write one unless it’s worthy of 4 or 5 stars.  Often (not surprisingly) my choice of books to read are faith-based, but I’m open to most genres.

When I wrote Simple Things to Make This World a Better Place, the Biblical annotations were unobtrusive and it was written not to be preachy. This wasn’t done to hide my faith, but to reach audiences beyond those who are Christian because I think we all have a part in making this world a better place. So why “preach” just to the choir? The addendum containing the referenced Biblical verses can be viewed by broader audiences, and that just might encourage others to explore a little more.

I’ve often said I’m not a zealot, but I have a deep faith so it’s a bit disconcerting to me when I read a well-intentioned, but too over-the-top, in-your-face, contrived “religious” novel. If I found it to be too preachy and sanctimonious, what must others think? I also believe that such methods do more harm than good in trying to gain others to your way of believing. Besides, actions really do speak louder than words.

So here is the dilemma – do I write a review as a possible warning to others? From an author’s standpoint, I can appreciate what it takes to write a book, but when the work is simply too “out there,” should that just be a discovery for someone else? Then again, not everybody likes the same thing, so maybe there are some who will respond positively to what they read in this book. After all, not everyone likes what I write, but my words do occasionally touch something in others.

After finishing the book in question, I checked to see if this was the author’s first book and it is not. I’m not inclined to read the others because of my negative response to the one I’ve read. Part of me would like to encourage and offer a few suggestions, but it’s uncertain how that would be received - a lot like other dilemmas we have in life.

So maybe I shouldn’t be so critical or judgmental, although I think my dislike of the book is really because it is geared toward the latter of those two.  I certainly don’t have all the answers, and therefore, it bothers me when others presume to know what God wants or is thinking. Personally, my belief is the best way to know that is to seek answers through prayer, and try to do the one thing we know God wants us to do – love one another.

Taking my own advice, I guess I’ll pray for the author and hope God sends him a little more wisdom on how to “tone it down a notch” for his next book. After all, if you can’t say something good…you know the rest.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What's Your Favorite?

I recently recalled a question not often asked, but was put forth in my Stephen Ministry training – “What’s your favorite part of the Lord’s Prayer?” That is one that most of us have to think about. And then there is the sometimes asked, “What is your favorite Bible verse?”

Strangely, I have no problem answering either one of those questions.

My favorite part of the Lord’s Prayer is “thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” Wow! Can you imagine how much better the world would be if God were totally in charge? I imagine there would be justice; there would only be good things. Heaven is supposed to be ideal so what could be better than for things to work the same on earth as in Heaven?

Now, do I think that is possible? Not in this currently broken world, but I do think we can and do have an obligation to work toward making this world a better place. It’s not unfathomable that we could do God’s will by trying to exercise a little less judgment of our fellow man. And certainly, we could all probably be a little more charitable just to name a few things.

As to my favorite Bible verse, I love Hebrews 10:24, “Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.” Just as bad things can influence us to do other bad things, the same is true for good things. In fact, the feeling is so great when we do something that we know is good that there is a desire to do more. It fits well with my favorite part of the Lord’s prayer and doing what I believe is God’s will.

So what are your favorites? Even if you aren't Christian, I know that you have books of worship and prayer from which to choose. People of faith know there is something better than what we now have. My only question is whether we ourselves are trying to do God's will or merely repeating words.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Idle (not idol) Worship

We’ve all the heard negative things about idleness. Ecclesiastes 10:18 states: “Through laziness, the rafters sag; because of idle hands, the house leaks.” And who hasn’t heard that idle hands do the work of the devil? We even have a law again against it …loitering. So what happens when we are just quiet?

Most of us have experienced times when we simply “veg” out. There were times after losing my husband to cancer when I sat on the edge of the bed and stared straight ahead. Thoughts were impossible to form and I couldn’t get past the pain of emptiness. But then finally, I came to understand Psalm 46:10 : “He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God;’”

I think it’s in those moments when we don’t know what to say or do that idleness can become something more. It can be because of sadness, lost hope, or even thanksgiving and gratitude. For me, such a moment occurred recently.

An evening thunderstorm brought the darkness a little sooner than expected. As I sat in my chair, I decided it would be enjoyable to turn out the lights, turn off the TV, and just sit in my leather recliner chair and "be." As lightning flashed against my walls and patio doors, it was a time to just kickback and simply bask in the present. It also evoked memories of a similar night last winter when I decided to light the gas fireplace, open the blinds and draperies to my windows, and watch the falling snow. 

Those quiet moments of idleness are the ones that bring serenity and gratitude to my soul. It’s then that I know that God truly "is."

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Real Word of God

My congregation is very fortunate. Last year we lost our long-time pastor and shortly after, our associate pastor, but in their place, we acquired an interim pastor who is a Biblical scholar.

I have taken advantage of his knowledge to ask a few very tough questions. Some were expected answers and others were quite provocative. Some answers, he suggested, are better left to non-speculation because we really have no specific direction. I'm okay with that. Someday, I'll know.

But one thing stood out for me in one of his recent sermons - the word of God. Many people believe  it's the Bible, but our Biblical scholar supports that it is Jesus Christ himself. So much of the Old Testament was contradicted by Jesus (no animal sacrifices, no profound rituals, no cursing of generations for the sins of the parent, etc.), and a new introduction to God was given - one of love and compassion.

Our previous pastor had mentioned there is one big difference between Christianity and other religions. It is relationship. Of the major religions in the world, only one offers a true relationship with God, and one which parallels that of child and parent. It's Christianity.

While all religions purport to teach love, Christianity resonates with me. I love the enlightenment of what Jesus brought to humanity. You won't find hate in the New Testament, and it drives me crazy when other Christians try to speak for God and cite the OT to support their tunnel views on various matters. Besides, I don't think being zealous and shouting words at people will gain the converts they hope to acquire. Examples of outward peace and light, however, "speaks" volumes.

Although I have read the Bible through several times, this will most likely be the last time for the OT which I'm currently reading. I think it's important to know what was taught when Jesus came into this world, but now I want to focus on what he brought with him in thought and deed. There are many good things in the OT (I know because I cited some of them in my book, Simple Things to Make This World a Better Place), but I want to now attend only to what I believe is the updated word of God.

I'm personally glad that there are different religions because we each need and seek something different on a path to finding and allowing God in our lives. For me, it's Christianity because Jesus introduced and provided a way to a God of love, and one to whom I can have a personal relationship. For non-Christians who also love God but seek another path, well that is one of those things about which our Biblical scholar has suggested might be best not to speculate. And I'm okay with that, too.