Faith Deconstructed

The Faith Deconstructed category offers a occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.

Fear Not! Defeating What Impedes a Generous Heart

This essay is torn from the pages of the Fall 2018 issue of The Flame, a quarterly devotional magazine.

This essay is torn from the pages of the Fall 2018 issue of The Flame, a quarterly devotional magazine.

I may or may not have stopped a man from doing a good turn daily. Watching over a group of young scouts as they carefully ran band saw blades through their blocks of wood – with their dads also hovering close by – I turned to the owner of the woodshop with this casual, well-intended remark:

“I think it’s great that you open your shop to all these scouts to work on their derby cars. In this modern age of people so eager to sue one another, it’s an incredible risk you’re taking on. But it sure is appreciated!”

That was the last year that my friend generously opened up his woodshop to our scouts. I never learned whether my comment was at the root of his decision, but I can only imagine that I placed a fear in his heart: that he could lose everything he had worked his adult life to create, should an accident befall a child or parent on his property.

When we receive a “ping” in our hearts to help another, any reluctance to act that follows is often Devil-whispered fear. His aim is to intimidate us into passivity; after all, the inaction of not doing something good can’t be nearly as wrong as the act of doing something not good, can it?

But when we hear God’s call upon us to be generous, we can also hear His teachings on how to overcome our lie-informed reluctance. Here are some strategies to break through fear and widen our capacity for generosity:

  • We can think past the fear: God gave us a keen intellect, to puzzle our way past our irrational fear to find a true perspective on what we experience. Think through to the root cause of the matter and your fear. With that new, more accurate understanding of reality, you can then think through how you should act in accordance with God’s will. “… but test everything; hold fast to what is good.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:21

Worried that the street-corner beggar will just drink away the cash that you would give to him? Maybe so, but think past that fear. First, understand that just like you, that man is an image-bearer of God, with inherent dignity. Second, instead of giving cash – which is corruptible – consider crafting a plan to always have a bottle of water, a granola bar, or a pair of new socks, in order to help and not harm.

  • We should pray past the fear: Jesus so dreaded the imminent torture, hatred, scorn, and betrayal that He would soon receive during His passion, that He shed blood as sweat during His Garden of Gethsemane prayers. Yet it was only through that prayer that He found the strength to take on all of the sins of our fallen world and sacrifice Himself that we might live.

When the Bible tells us to “fear not!”, it’s hardly ever to tell us to not fear evil or harmful things; rather, sometimes it is God or His angels telling us to not fear their presence. More often, it is counsel to follow His direction – despite our fears, because of His abiding presence. Just as Jesus was mortally afraid of the cup that He was called to bear – but prayed through it – so, too, should we pray past our fears of whatever lesser cup of generosity we are asked to bear.

  • We must act past the fear: Joseph of Arimathea had much to lose in removing Jesus from the cross, shrouding Him in linen cloths, and foregoing his own tomb for his King. As a wealthy member of society and a supposed leader in the Jewish temple, his risks were financial, positional, cultural – and in the face of a riot-busting Roman empire, perhaps even existential. And yet he is depicted as a man of action in his generosity toward the slain Savior. Some pings that call upon us to be generous might require time in contemplation; many just require a compassionate response, promptly.

When I reflect on my own generosity – more often, on the limits on it – I’m struck by how often my own personal fears have been a factor in decisions that I did, or didn’t make … on actions that I did or did not take. As a work in progress, I humbly look to think and to pray whenever I feel called to help and to give, so that increasingly I will act more, and with more good cheer, than I have ever imagined I could.

Copyright 2018


The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.

Redeeming Our ‘Thoughts and Prayers’

Hands resting on a Bible, folded in prayer

Prayer is that sole action that is most likely to affect change in the current events afflicting our society.

Pointed reactions following a recent tragedy temporarily put me on the defensive.

I was defending against criticisms of “thoughts and prayers;” that is, an inclination to hear those words as hollow and toothless in the face of tragedy. The nature of the event doesn’t matter, because increasingly, these attacks, usually railed from a secular worldview, follow every tragedy where this sentiment is expressed.

Setting “thoughts” aside, I was called to defend the act of prayer: ostensibly a religious expression by free people of faith. More pointedly, I was compelled to explain to a non-tolerant and self-misinformed audience that prayer is that sole action that is most likely to affect change in the current events afflicting our society. Not in the laws of our land, perhaps, but the power of prayer is in its unique capacity to move and improve the sin-stained hearts of a fallen humankind – a people inclined by their lesser nature to hurt, not love, others.

Prayer is that sole action that is most likely to affect change in the current events afflicting our society.

As I said in my response to these attacks: as believers, our prayers are the least we can do … and they are the most we can do.

However, as God would have it, with time, further reflection, and further prayer, I’ve come to appreciate that there is more going on with the issue at hand. Certainly there is deep and justified fear, concern, and frustration in the hearts of those taking gratuitous social media swipes at my well-placed prayers. But there is also a bit more to be considered in respect to how believers like me should think – and act – in these too-common, terrible situations where our thoughts and prayers are most urgently needed.

It’s possible / likely / probable / certain (circle your selection) that “thoughts and prayers” has been co-opted – by politicians and public figures who in fact may not believe in anything at all except themselves, and thus are too proud to deign to drop to their knees to pray to anyone, for anything. To the extent that this is true, then the expression indeed is the platitude that our philosophical opponents claim it to be. To the extent that this is true, such a platitude is a lie, of which believers should not want to be associated.

Unfortunately, this platitude has also become harmful faith speech. There is a whole catalog of well-intended Christian-ish idioms and catch phrases that believers tell themselves and others that simply are not wholly or even partially true – or can be less than helpful when delivered in the wrong context. Examples include, “God helps those who help themselves;” “whatever happened must be in God’s plan;” and “this certainly is God’s judgment for our (their) sins.”

Only recently has “thoughts and prayers” become hurtful, in part by our overuse of it, since suddenly there are so many incidents that compel our leaders to trot it out. Certainly also at root is the recent redefinition and politicization of the phrase by these others, such that in short order, it has become a comment that does more harm than good.

Instead of pledging “our thoughts and prayers,” our leaders might instead strive to be more precise, intentional, sincere, and sympathetic with what they say. For instance, what would the impact of our leaders’ testimony look like if they instead told hurting people, “I have prayed to God and I will continue to pray, for you and for everyone affected by this horrible tragedy, and for the evil person who perpetrated it upon good and innocent people.“

Would you think that doing so next time, every time, might be a game-changer for our culture? Better yet, what if these leaders were to simply pray, on the spot?:

“God Almighty in Heaven, an evil deed has been done against your will for this world, and too many good people are hurting right now – those directly affected, and those who knew and loved the victims well. But everyone who has learned of this tragedy is heartbroken – about the vile act, and for the unfairness of it all. Let your comfort and understanding fill your peoples and all of humankind in the days to come, and let us all strive together to bring this fallen world into your will, until your Kingdom comes. In the mighty name of our eternal Savior Jesus Christ. Amen!“

Prayer is the least we can do … and the most we can do.

Prayer doesn’t start and end with our leaders at a podium or a press conference. While we can do more no more than pray – because there’s no greater power available to us for the asking – prayer is also the least we can do – taking only seconds for us to utter in a quiet, private moment. Yet how many times will we tell someone, “I’m praying for you!,” but we don’t ever get around to doing it?

We must pray often – but we must also believe in the power of these prayers individually and collectively submitted to the Lord. If we don’t believe this as believers, then how can we fume and stomp our feet when nonbelievers also don’t, and mock us accordingly?

But then, as James taught us, faith without works is dead (2:20). Granted, believers understand prayer to be an action verb – when we pray, stuff happens! But we are not a monastic order secluded in a mountaintop abbey, to commune with our Lord in isolation from a hurting humanity. Instead, we are God’s hands and feet. As such, when we pray, we should ask the Lord to show us his will; we must remain in prayer long enough to listen for his response; then we must heed that call: to rise from our knees, roll up our sleeves, and get busy getting his work done!

With prayer, if we don’t believe as believers, how can we fume and stomp our feet
when nonbelievers also don’t, and mock us accordingly?

For all people in creation, prayers remain the best way to align action with God’s will. By engaging God sincerely, humbly, vocally, and often – then listening to discern his voice – we can better fulfill his will. And more effectively than a defensive rant, we can better answer critics who would again attack prayer – bolstered by the power for change that it truly holds.

Copyright 2018


The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.

Three God-Honoring Reasons to Avoid the Lottery

I wrote this article Jan. 14, 2016 — shortly after that most recent historic Powerball lottery win was announced.

The hubbub is over. At least three someones bought winning tickets to the historic $1.6 billion Powerball lottery.  Congratulations!

For those with the other 371 million tickets that were in play, can we stop to reflect on what just happened? Only in the afterglow of such an exciting time of fantastical imaginings about how those many pretty millions might be spent in leisure and in helping others can we get our rational brains to remember why we usually don’t – and really shouldn’t – play the lottery.

In the run-up over the past two weeks, lots of other experts weighed in on various reasons why we shouldn’t play the lottery. Many of these experts are from the Church, but somehow, most of the reasons have been secular: it’s a regressive tax on the poor; or the odds of winning are astronomically low; and history shows us that lottery winners are disproportionately unhappy – and destitute – within a few short years of winning, etc.

Clearly those are solid warrants to ditch the odds-playing, but there are a number of compelling God-honoring reasons to not roll the metaphorical dice on the lottery that maybe haven’t yet been unpacked:

1) There are better God-honoring returns on that investment. Odds are, you’re not going to win.  Indeed, the losing ticket in your hand sort of bears that out. Those who didn’t win literally threw away $2 – or for some players, large multiples of $2.

Lots of players try to justify their gambling – and perhaps also seek to persuade God to let them win – with expressions of all the good they would do with their winnings: tithing, paying off their church’s debt, alleviating poverty and homelessness in their communities and the like. They would surely give out of their abundance, if they were only thusly blessed. But that’s man’s way of thinking, not in keeping with God’s economy (see the story of the widow’s mites, Mark 12:41-44).

With those odds, it will never work out the way you’d wish and hope and pray. Instead, what if the 1.55 billion lottery tickets sold since the run-up started in November was given to such causes?  Imagine what an incredible return on investment $3 billion dollars would have for our Kingdom work (Luke 12:33)?

So you’re a casual player who just bought a single $2 ticket – it’s harmless fun, right? You might have spent that $2 on a coffee at Starbucks.  But $2 would also fund a couple meals at the homeless shelter; would buy a live chicken for hundreds of eggs for a family in Africa; or would smuggle a Bible into North Korea. Go for the biggest return on every dollar.

2) God doesn’t want us to get rich quick. God tells us this in His Word, in a number of places:

  • “A faithful person will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished.” – Proverbs 28:20
  • “Dishonest money dwindles away,  but whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow.” – Proverbs 13:11
  • “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’” – Hebrews 13:5 (all verses New International Version)

Indeed, our original sin means that instead, we’re to work hard to eke out our living, until the end of our days here (Genesis 3:17). Gaining quick riches is in direct opposition to God’s will for His people – which means playing lotteries or gambling is, too.

3) We’re poor stewards of God’s talents when we gamble. Meager or flush, the treasure in our wallets and in our bank accounts is His, not ours.

In the parable of the talents, Jesus tells how each of us has been put into stewardship with varying amounts of God’s treasure (Matthew 25:14-13). He advises that we’re to be good stewards of that treasure – to invest it wisely and to seek a strong return on it – and he warns of dire consequences to those who don’t obey this wisdom.

With the odds stacked so high against any return on gambling “investments,” playing the odds in the lottery is worst than burying our money in the ground. At least that man in the parable was able to return to his Master the principle amount. Lottery spendings are lost to the Kingdom forever.

With the ubiquity of lotteries in almost every state and gambling halls on riverfronts, Reservations and enclaves across America, gambling somehow seems to have been absolved by the culture as sin to Christ-followers and to all others in these United States. But God’s edicts; His will and His wishes for goodness and blessings for each of us – are eternal for each of His good and faithful servants.

Copyright 2016


The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.

Representing your Faith Life With a ‘Life Verse’

Wall plaque with Joshua 24:15 engraved on it.

What’s your life verse?

For many Christians, whether they happen upon one, one happens upon them, or they intentionally scour their Bibles to find the “just right” expression, a life verse is the faith-driven equivalent to selecting a song lyric, a poetry verse or a pithy quote that deeply and uniquely represents you.

Similarly then, a life verse is often used in an email signature, put in vinyl letters on a wall at home, or, more permanently, tattooed onto a shoulder, arm, leg or back – and in that respect, sharing the verse is part of the experience of having one.

As I reflect on my Christian faith, I’ve come to realize that I’ve relied upon not one, but a number of life verses, in keeping with life’s transitions – a series of life verses that speak to my walk with Christ. Mile markers along my journey deeper into my faith.

An early life verse that resonated with me was found in Joshua 24:15: “But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” This affirmation of faith, spoken by a patriarch to cover the entirety of his family and of his home, spoke to me when my wife and I were first establishing our home and starting our family.  Not unlike the “Give us today our daily bread,” carved wood platters adorning our parents’ walls (Matthew 6:9-13), we christened our home with a cherry wood plaque, laser-etched with Joshua’s words – and the wisdom. It was important and meaningful for me to overtly establish this value and direction for our family; to put into words a solid faith-based guide for our forward motion together.

At a much later stage of my life, we were compelled to contemplate a rather difficult decision: whether or not to leave the Air Force after 12 years of active service. There were many positive and negative factors on each side of the scale, and the decision seemed to hinge mostly on our family’s economic security in unsure times. For the first time, we were tested to put our faith in our finances fully in the hands of the Lord our father, and not also in those of a seemingly maternal Air Force. We weighed and prayed our decision a lot – for months – and in doing so, soon enough had a God-honoring decision, and with it a profound sense of calm and faith and peace in a new life verse:

“ … Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? … do not worry, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well,” (Matthew 6:25-34).

It was more than coincidence – indeed, it was Providence! – that I was able to find a good job here in St. Louis; a job that started the Monday after my military service ended, providing me with continuous employment across the transition that I’ve been blessed to have ever since.

There’s nothing in the Bible that says a person has to find a life verse.  But unless one tries to encapsulate their entire faith experience into 5-7 words, there’s no harm in it either.  On balance, choosing one is probably good.  Indeed, for many contemporary Christians, having a life verse might be the sole scripture they ever commit to memory, providing an ever-present help needed in hard times – or that a friend or loved one needs to hear in witness.

While the passing of time through life is bittersweet, it’s humbling to look back at what I’ve gone through.  With the benefit of hindsight, it’s cheering to look ahead, knowing there will be more, different milestones ahead. And knowing that my Lord – and His Word – will be there with me, to guide and comfort along the way.

All scripture from The Holy Bible, New International Version

Copyright 2016


The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.

Tattooed Shame: Indelible Ink Redeemed

Color photo of the author's tattoo that brings him shame as it represents his distance from God.

You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms His covenant, which He swore to your ancestors, as it is today.
Deuteronomy 8:17-18

I have a tattoo – only one – and it’s a source of shame to me.

A tattoo doesn’t seem to be such a big deal, especially among my generation. Although I got mine in the early 1990s, they are all the more common in today’s twenty-teens.

Even most Christ-followers seem ok with them, despite Old Testament prohibitions lumping tattoos with prostitution and black magic (Leviticus 19:26-31). A post-modern seal of approval perhaps stems from Jesus’ teaching – normally attributed to food – that, “nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them” (Mark 7:15). Our tattoos can even be a part of our testimony.

While earnest followers argue for or against tattoos, my shame isn’t for sake of having skin art. It’s not because a friend of a friend of my sister’s did the work – clearly, it must have been his second or third tat ever. It’s not because 25 years later, on my middle-aged shoulder, this “art” is sagging and fading and blurring, just like wiser people back in the day told me it would. And it’s not even because the design bears an unanticipated resemblance to the Body Glove logo, and the suggested commercialization of my body – without the proceeds of an endorsement deal – embarrasses me.

Rather, this is the source of my shame: I got the tattoo at the height of my self-reliance, my pride and my rebellion, in my late teens. To be clear: I wasn’t rebelling against my parents or society. Indeed, my immediate circles of loved ones, friends, and acquaintances were what you’d call freethinkers, and if they weren’t outright supportive of something like a tattoo on a young man, they were at least “to each his own” about it. Instead, my rebellion was against a God that I didn’t yet believe existed.

In that respect, the art that I selected – that I designed, I should admit – suited such a worldview perfectly: It is of my hand print, set inside a machine gear.  To my adolescent understanding, my intellect, creativity, craftsmanship, and hard work is what made me who I am; they were my means to success and to meaning. Me. My. Mine. Instead of a Holy God, I was the sole agent of my life – god of me, if you will – over something like Johnny Cash’s empire of dirt, as I’d figure out later in life.

Today, a born-again follower of a sacrificed, risen Christ, I hate my body art. As described, the depravity of my thinking “B.C.” – Before Christ – is pretty self-evident. It clearly represents my sin, even in its muddy image.

By my research, getting rid of an unwanted tattoo is futile and vain. It’s a time-honored trick to put a new tattoo over the old one; to cover up the old stain with a new stain. But even if no one else knows what’s underneath, I always will. There are some pretty fancy lasers that can blast away the pigment of a regretted tat. But the raised welts of the skin give away the mark.

Metaphorically, if not also metaphysically, the indelible mark of a tattoo represents the stain of sin on every one of us. There’s nothing on Earth or in man’s power that can forever remove the permanence of a tattoo. And likewise, there’s nothing that a fallen man like me can do to rid himself of the stain of his sin.

And yet, there’s hope.

Our hope is in the Lord, who promises to wash away all sins, with the blood of His sacrifice. New. Clean. Pure. Saved. These words, throughout the Bible, and especially in context of the saving grace of Jesus, tell us that the worst juice-sin stain on the white carpet of our souls will be Oxi-Clean with Jesus.

Arguably the most hope-filled line of the Bible is where we’re told that, “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). God also promises us a new body – a body made perfect and without the blemish of sin (1 Corinthians 15:42-49).

On these promises, I’m content to shoulder my stain for the rest of my time here, as a bitter reminder that in the place of that once-proud, rebellious young man is a new creation, filled with hope in redemption for eternal perfection. All because of Jesus.

All scripture from The Holy Bible, New International Version

Copyright 2016

This essay is torn from the pages of "The Flame," a quarterly devotional magazine published by Christ Church.

This essay is torn from the pages of “The Flame,” a quarterly devotional magazine published by Christ Church.


The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.

Conviction: The Fuel that Drives Commitment Successes

agile-safari-pig-and-chicken-part2_panel1You may recall the conversation between the barnyard pig and his sister the hen: “You, my dear, are interested in the cause of breakfast;” said the pig, “while I, on the other hand, am committed.”

The old joke makes crystal clear the difference in meaning between two similar ideas; when you’ve committed to something, you’ve made a pledge that you will see it through to the end.  At least, that’s what Noah Webster tells us.

A concept closely related to commitment is conviction. At the other end of the spectrum from mere interest, conviction is a firmly held belief. The things that we are convicted of follow hard-won struggles on both intellectual and emotional fronts.

In that respect, our basic Christian beliefs are perhaps our most strongly held convictions. Most of us are permanently convicted of our faith because we each did the hard work to critically assess our Christian beliefs – or former lack thereof – to arrive at intellectual and emotional conclusions that convicted us of our need for the Grace-offering presence of an eternal and supernatural all-powerful, all-knowing, all- loving Triune God.

In turn, a Biblical worldview makes arriving at other convictions pretty easy. I know a guy who uses profanity too often when he speaks; particularly when he’s passionate about an idea, or when he’s around family or friends who don’t seem to mind (or, truth be told, who merely tolerate) such talk. Of late, however, people that I care a great deal about have asked me to address this social shortcoming, and I’ve taken up the cause with great zeal – and good results thus far.

Committing to curb the cursing is great – and I have on more than one occasion made such a resolution, particularly at the first of any given year.  But it wasn’t until recently that I was convicted of the dreadful sin.  The source of that conviction was a few dozen Bible verses, not least among them Colossians 3:8, “But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” Gaining a clear understanding that God despises “filthy language from our lips” has given supernatural fuel to my more temporal interest.

Without conviction to fuel the drive, we sometimes fail to see our commitments through. So what commitment actions derive from our convictions?

1) First, moral matters demand conviction. You don’t have to be convicted about everything – indeed, some of our convictions are really mere snap judgments or even strongly held opinions. Don’t care for provel on your pizza?  Fine, skip it; let others eat it. But, for every moral matter, you MUST take a side.

2) Be on the right side of right. Accordingly, when you do take a side, choose wisely. For moral matters, there is a single correct answer. This is your chance to separate what looks to be all grey into clear black tones and white tones – again, using intellect and emotion. Completely unpack an issue to the best of your ability with good research into all sides of a matter, and with the Bible as the ultimate arbiter. Then decide.

3) Once convicted, grow in it. Learn. Reinforce your belief. Find community to help you grow. You’ll notice that that’s exactly what church is all about.

4) Act. You are now accountable to something bigger than you: your God-ordained convictions. You don’t necessarily have to be an activist – but you must take personal action. For amoral matters, your actions are at the personal level. But for moral matters, you must go outside yourself; you must share your convictions, proselytize them and seek to compel powers and principalities to veer in the direction of your convictions. When said that way, it’s pretty heady stuff – but day to day, it’s as simple as talking to friends, boycotting a business or writing a letter.

Taking action on our convictions – making commitments and seeing them through – is tough stuff.  It takes guts, and it can be lonely, difficult work. But a final word of hope: as Jesus promised in John 16, we also have an ever-present helper – the Holy Spirit – who guides us in the convictions that undergird our commitments.  And that, I’ve found, is more than enough for any conviction I might have.

Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version

Copyright 2016


The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.


It’s a God Thing — Do You Understand?

Open Bible showing Joshua 8 -- the passage referenced in the blog postIt’s a God thing …

For 2016, I’d like to succeed in working completely through the Bible. I’d ripped my “Inspired By … ” NIV Bible CDs and loaded them onto an old MP3 player to listen in the car: when driving home from work or when driving to or from drill each month. Progress, then, is infrequent — but comes in large draughts, which works well with my attention span, frankly.

On a lark, tonight I decided to see how my progress through the Bible compared to a Genesis-Revelation one-year reading plan. According to such a plan, I should be at Joshua 8 today. Wouldn’t you know that I am on Joshua 6 right now, and can read for 5 more minutes to be perfectly apace of this plan? His plan, no doubt?!

Every Christ-follower gets reminded every so often in a supernatural way that our Lord is with us … ask any of us to share and we’ll each have any number of instances that you might discount as Coincidence, but we correctly attribute to Providence.

God is good!

Copyright 2016


The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.

The Fruit of the Spirit: Waiting on the Harvest‏

Fruit tree with all 9 Biblical Fruits of the Holy Spirity

As a self-described “mature” Christian, I’ve nonetheless taken to skipping over Paul’s description of the fruit of the Holy Spirit whenever my Bible readings take me to it.

If you don’t recall, the verse goes like this:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”Galatians 5:22-23

Reading this list is an indictment on my soul-life; it’s like reading the quizzes in the men’s fitness magazines, but instead of asking about my exercise or sleep habits, this quiz asks: “How full of the Fruit of the Spirit are you? Take our quiz to find out!”

Using a scoring system from 5 = “Always” to 0 = “Never,” here’s how I self-assess:

Love: 4
Joy: 3
Peace: 3
Forbearance (What the Forbearance?!): 3
Kindness: 4
Goodness: 4
Faithfulness: 5
Gentleness: 2
Self-Control: 3

With about a 3.5 score, I’d probably rate as “Full of Life” – somewhere between “Full of the Spirit” and “Full of Crap.” Certainly I’m no barren fig tree (Matthew 21:18-20), right? But it’s enough to make me question my only 5 on the scoresheet. Why am I not bearing more fruit?

To cope with my spiritual insecurity, I’ve oscillated between over-obsessing about it and simply pretending the verse is apocryphally non-canonical – and thus does not apply to me or to anyone. Thankfully, I recently had an epiphany about it all (epiphany being a Greek word meaning “the Spirit smacked me silly straight”).

Here’s the gist of the breakthrough I had: In circa 2016, when I think of fruits, I think of the rainbow cornucopia of large, fresh, in-season selections at my local mega-grocer. All kinds, always available, abundant for picking … from a display.

In Paul’s day, however, fruit came to us in a much different fashion. It took time to grow, and it took close tending and hard work and a learned and respected agricultural process to grow it. Conditions had to be ideal, problems had to be caught early and headed off, and steady sustenance of good stuff needed to be fed throughout the seasons of growth.

And so it is with our Spiritual fruit; my first-world, modern expectations of large and abundant fresh consumer fruit – instantly available at the point of my salvation – was not in keeping with the metaphorical spiritual fruit Paul described: fruit that has seasons; fruit that takes growth and development and time and nurturing and learning to produce . Via a process performed by the patient, steady hand of its grower.

Tending to my spiritual life has happened, and has been necessary for any of the growth, blossoming and good fruit bearing that I’ve attained over the years – though as the quiz scores show, it all seems so modest. I’ve arguably provided a good plot for the seed of faith, the first necessity; but I also on the daily need to tend to the many fast-growing weeds of worldliness and worry that easily sprout up in my garden, lest they take over my faith life (Matthew 13:1-23).

What I learned after my smack aside my head is this: If we have sown well, and if we keep fertilizing, pruning and watering our growing faith, then assuredly the abundant fruit of the Holy Spirit will continue to show – and increase – in each of us. Amen.

All scripture from The Holy Bible, New International Version.

Copyright 2016


The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.

Resolving to Read the Bible Through — Part I

Baby New Year quipping about the challenge of reading the Bible all the way through in a year.

It’s January 5 — do you know where your New Year’s resolution is? Only 75 percent of you will by the end of the week!

If your New Year’s resolution is to read the Bible through in 2015, you’re in good company.

It’s not in the top 10 resolutions list for 2015.  Nonetheless more than 500,000 around the world have resolved to take part in just one organized read-through — Episcopalian minister the Rev. Marek P. Zabriski’s annual The Bible Challenge — with many multiples of that participating in church-size, small group, family or personal journeys (with that, I humbly say, “Stuff it!” to all of the post-Christianity, religion-is-dead” myth-mongers).

The numbers of people who have attained that goal, whether as a New Year’s resolution; all within a year; or simply ever, is respectable — 61 percent of evangelicals report having done so. So they say.

I’m skeptical — that number is way too high for the reality I’ve encountered. Maybe it was a study done in the 1940s when parochial schools and Sunday Schools were more ubiquitous and rigorous — when Bible reading was more compulsory (y’know, back in the the good ol’ days when people knew what words like ubiquitous and rigorous and compulsory meant). Heck, only 71 percent of today’s ‘Merican population possesses more than a “basic” reading level, and wholly 14 percent of us are illiterate — although the CIA Factbook credits our Great Nation with a 99 percent literacy rate.

I think maybe the 61 percent mean the bible, not THE Bible:

Pollster: “Have you ever read the Bible?”

Man on the Street’s Thoughts:Fisherman’s Bible of Sport Trophy and Game — that’s gotta count!”

Man on the Street: “Oh yeah. Sure I’ve read it!”

Or, maybe the response is aspirational. Recent studies have found that when asked how often they attend church in polls, people tend to heavily skew up their responses when compared to actual attendance counts — anywhere from double up to five times over. Researchers attribute this to aspirational bias — the desire to be the kind of person one wants to be, versus the kind of person one really is.  Whereas according to the study It’s likely that Bible read-through respondents are similar in this respect — and the real number is likely lower, and possibly much lower.

If you’re amongst the “39 percent” who presumably wants to but who hasn’t got it done yet, please set aside the Dan Brown self-flagellation kit and put the task in perspective:

  • The modest completion numbers speak to the difficulty of the task — if it was easy, more people would have done it already.
  • Reading all 807,361 words of the Bible is on par with reading the entire Harry Potter series. (Well, leave The Deathly Hallows‘ 198,227 words out of the total of 1,084,170 to get closer parity). How long did it take you to do that?  Excluding, of course, time spent waiting for the next book in the series to be published.
  • Alternatively, it’s really more like reading the 37 collected plays of William Shakespeare (at 835,997 words, also similar in length to the Bible) given the differences in language, setting, culture contexts between then and now, etc. Like Shakespeare, while the Bible also has mystery, drama, intrigue, supernatural happenings, suspense, sex and betrayal, even the best translations aren’t highly readable.

So with those encouraging comparisons, set yourself up for success against the formidable task.  Come back soon for Part II, which offers links to reading plans and tips for keeping this resolution!

Copyright 2015


The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.

‘Been Couraged’


I might have misunderstood the assignment …

Our associate pastor recently said for many of us what we’d all been thinking and feeling: the rancor and overexposure and pettiness of social media — heavier than ever, and as often from Christ followers as from others — was getting him down.  The message certainly resonated with me, as I’d been sucked into exchanges with friends, family members and distant associates alike over the recent Supreme Court decision for Hobby Lobby.  Confused, bitter and hurt, I wanted to withdraw, lick my wounds and perhaps never return …

Also tempted to quit, Rev. Troy instead challenged himself, and the congregation, to turn up the dimmer switch on our lights instead of retreating from the darkness.  The rules of his challenge are simple: At least once a day, use a social network to be humorous-but-tactful; to encourage others; to share scripture about God’s goodness; or to share the Gospel.

So at risk of explaining the joke, here’s a go at what tickled me as funny that will maybe encourage you: when I first read the instruction to mark each post with the hashtag #cc-beencouraged, I read it as “been couraged”” instead of “be encouraged!”  On reflection, though, I think there’s every bit as powerful a Gospel message in the mis-read as there is in the original.  My faith has driven fear far away, replacing it with courage that comes from the confidence of being in His eternal care.

While I’ll have to work harder on being encouraged this summer, I’m pretty blitzed to simply have been couraged right now.

Watch for the hashtag #cc-beencouraged for more, and feel free to give the challenge a try yourself!

Copyright 2014


The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.