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Why Being Vegetarian is Like Being a Christian

Recently I came to a tipping point. I could no longer ignore the people I had met, the arguments I had heard, and what I had learned. It was time to make a decision.

And it’s a decision I’ve had to remake every day since.

Every meal in fact.

I choose to eat vegetarian.

picnic (2)In some ways, this choice is easy. I’ve accepted seafood (technically making me pescatarian), which allows me to splurge when beans and salads don’t cut it. Three of my housemates have chosen the same diet, so I can depend on them for support and accountability. Hardly any meat enters the house (seafood is too expensive). We enjoy an abundance of delicious, home-cooked meals without meat. And ice cream is meatless.

But then I go to a restaurant and salivate for a chicken sandwich or mushroom swiss burger. I envy the non-vegetarians at my table. Or then I’m packing my lunch for work and eyeing the leftover pasta with ground beef sitting in the fridge at home. Or then someone suggests buying pizza, and I mourn that I won’t get any pepperoni or Hawaiian.

Now there are many things that do not tempt me, but food is one of my weaknesses. Last spring I decided to fast from sweets for one month. The idea was one month would break my sugar addiction and create healthier eating habits. Before the end of the first week, I started making “exceptions.” I decided Fridays could be splurge days. And sugar in coffee or fruit pastries didn’t count.

It was a downward spiral. One “exception” led to more. Pretty soon, I gave up altogether. I felt surrounded by sweets. There was no way to escape, and I couldn’t endure the temptation.

So now when I face a menu, the question is always, “Which will I choose this time?” Each meal presents an opportunity to either follow my temptation or follow my conviction. Will it be the eggs and bacon or cinnamon muffin and power smoothie? Juicy all-beef burger or the avocado salad sans chicken? Teriyaki pork or Cajun rice and beans? Each meal is a choice.

A day can sometimes feel like only a series of meals, a series of choices. Like a vegetarian, every Christian faces a series of choices, from the moment they wake until the moment they drift to sleep.

vineyardI’ve heard it said that being a Christian means each day waking up to die again. If a Christian truly wants to live up to the name of Christ, it means giving up himself, emptying himself, and taking on the likeness of Christ (Matt. 16:24). It means to live for Christ and not for himself.

This isn’t something that’s done with a prayer one night when it feels like nothing can be truer than that you are a sinner and Jesus loves you anyway. It isn’t done by asking Jesus to save you, getting baptized in water, or receiving the communion bread and wine. It’s never done. If a Christian, you are not done.

Being a Christian is a daily lifestyle, a series of choices. Each moment the question is, “Which will I choose this time?” Will it be my new self or my old self (Eph. 4:20-24)? Christ or Satan? Heaven or this world? Holiness or sin? Life or death? Each step towards Christ gets easier, and each “exception” makes it harder to turn around again. Christianity isn’t about being “in” or “out.” Rather, it tells the direction you are moving. Are you following Christ or moving away from him?

You see, I couldn’t have decided to become a vegetarian and gone on as I was. It required making a choice the next time I ate. And the time after that. And the time after that. For every meal onwards. The Christian life is the same, whether the vegetarian or Christian chooses their lifestyle because of moral conviction or personal health.

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Posted by on September 6, 2014 in Other thoughts

 

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Why Customer Service is a Virtue

Credit: Laura Weis, Creative Commons (https://flic.kr/p/2U6gt9)

Credit: Laura Weis, Creative Commons (https://flic.kr/p/2U6gt9)

At my retail job, my name tag labels me as a “Customer Service Associate.” My training included watching video scenarios of good and bad customer service, which analyzed even body language and tone of voice to use with customers. Out on the sales floor, it became quickly obvious why good customer service is important.

When customers see my name tag and blue employee shirt, I am not just an individual person anymore. I am the literal face of the company. By my words and actions, customers immediately begin to judge whether they like the store as a whole and if they want to shop there again.

The company hopes sincere, beyond expectations service will keep customers coming back, therefore all of the employees have to embody that customer service day to day, from opening to closing. My managers remind us to welcome every customer, proactively offer them help, ask if they have questions, and do everything possible to serve the needs of customers–because what we do is what the company does. With that name tag and blue shirt, I represent all of the retail chain. The store is manifest in me.

One day at work, I realized being a “Customer Service Associate” is a lot like being a Christian. When I associate myself with Christ, I no longer stand for only myself; I represent Christ. Customer impressions of me will affect their impressions of the store, and how people view me will affect how they view Christ.

It’s tempting to argue, “But I’m only human! Don’t they get that? It’s unreasonable for people to make wrong assumptions of Jesus because of my screw-ups and my faults. My weaknesses have no reflection on who Jesus is.”

Oh but they do.

Paul wrote to the Colossian church, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17). Personally, Paul considered himself an ambassador of the gospel (Eph. 6:20). And what does a royal ambassador do? He speaks for the king. This is what Christians do. And when someone doesn’t know Jesus personally, can we really expect them to tell the difference between our words, our actions, and our King’s?

The night before he died, Jesus told his first disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

In other words, Jesus wants his disciples to be known for extraordinary service. We should love others as he loved us so that people will see Jesus through us and keep coming back until they know him for themselves.

Are you representing Jesus well? Or is your service poor?

 

 

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2014 in Other thoughts

 

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“Find Rest for Your Souls”

When you are unemployed and meeting new people, the hardest question to answer is: “So what do you do?” You know what they are expecting to hear: “I’m a teacher/doctor/lawyer/zookeeper.” But a stigma seems to exist against outright stating your unemployment. It’s as if your new acquaintance who knows nothing about you will hear instead: “I do nothing. I’m a lazy bum who can’t keep a job. I am utterly worthless for productivity and am, in fact, a leech upon society.” You are demoted to joining The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything.

Being unemployed doesn’t mean I sit on the couch staring at the ceiling every day. I have used the “unexpected vacation” to finally pick up that mental list of things I had wanted to do but had not made time for. The tally continues to grow from invitations I would have declined, opportunities I would have passed up, friends I would have missed seeing, experiences I would have refused–if I still had a full-time job. My time “out of work” has not been wasted.

I have been working, though, even if it isn’t sustainable pay just yet. Every Tuesday morning, I babysit two-year-olds during the women’s Bible study at my church. Caring for small children is a learning experience more valuable for me than the monetary compensation. I’ve also been hired to do freelance work through a couple websites. These jobs are mostly suited for people wanting extra spending money, not anyone who plans on actually living off what they earn. Again, I’m gaining experience more than anything else.

Besides the side jobs, I’ve also decided to pursue my old goal of becoming a published author. I want to write a book and have it read. Up until high school or so, I was convinced that this was my life destiny. J. K. Rowling was my role model. But reality has a habit of destroying dreams. The chances are slim of ever making it on the bestsellers lists, the literary big leagues. Even if I could write eloquent, page-turning books, I had to admit that I lack the stamina and focus to be a full-time author. Talent alone won’t get you far. But with my new free time, I’m giving it a shot, anyway. I’m “living the dream.” NaNoWriMo started yesterday, and with a bit of grace and perseverance, I will have a first draft by the end of the month. It’ll be messy, but it’s a step forward.

“So what do you do?” For now, I’m a freelance writer and editor (even if it doesn’t pay). You could say I’m self-employed and work from home. And the surprising thing is … I like it. You see, it feels like a break. The pressure is off. I don’t have to commute anywhere or spend eight hours in an office. I can focus on other things besides earning a paycheck, things that I would argue are more important.

In professional terms, I am taking a sabbatical. More than anything, I have an insatiable thirst to simply be with God and rest from all the normal concerns of the world. I want to fall into his arms and lie there like a child on her father’s lap. I’ve never been in the habit of having daily time to pray and study the Bible, but the past weeks have helped me start. When I close my bedroom door and have quality time alone with God, I wish I could stay there and ignore the rest of the world. I don’t have to say a word, and neither does he. We just enjoy each other’s company.

Credit: www.pi-e-t.com

I feel a little guilty to admit this desire. I can imagine a jury of peers accusing me of idleness. “Get a real job like the rest of us!” they criticize. If they require scriptural support, Proverbs features plenty of harsh condemnations to “inspire” the slothful.

Yet even Jesus knew the importance of rest. He told his own disciples, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). To the greater masses, he made the famous declaration: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:28-29). God formerly disciplined the Israelites when they wouldn’t listen to him and rest. He told them, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Isa. 30:15). Psalm 127:2 says, “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” And, of course, there’s the well-known Psalm 23, which says of God, “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.”

This is all straightforward. God wants us to rest. If we don’t, he will make us. Work is good and necessary, but rest is a gift we’d be ridiculous to refuse. Without physical rest, our bodies crumble. It’s easy to see the effects. Our minds and spirits need rest as well, and God tells us to find it in him.

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2013 in Publishers

 

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Who Can Pray ALL THE TIME?

“Pray without ceasing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17

When I hear this verse quoted in Christian circles, it seems people commonly suggest that this is an important principle for Christians to follow and, at the same time, that it’s one of the hardest for us to strive towards. We get lost considering how someone could feasibly pray nonstop and if that is what these words even tell us to do. So without getting into the nitty-gritty, quoting famous pastors and analyzing the words in the original language, I want to simply add a few thoughts to the stew.

I’ll start with some word pictures. That’s what Jesus would do, right? I think he called them parables.

There’s a young woman who is hopelessly in love with Mr. Right, Prince Charming, her true love–take your pick. She goes around to all of her friends and annoys them to no end because she cannot stop talking about her special guy. She tells them about all the ways that he is perfect and has no equal. She tells them that she would give her life for him. She tells her friends that they will have a beautiful wedding with a seven-tiered cake. Her friends stop answering her calls and tape her mouth shut whenever she comes to visit. They think she must talk about her beau even when she is in a room alone, because nothing can get her to stop thinking about him.

Bella-Twilight

Bella Swan in “Twilight.” Can a girl get more consumed by her love?

Then there’s a young man who has a constant companion to go with him everywhere. The two friends are inseparable. Elbow to elbow in everything, they talk all day, every day. It never crosses the young man’s mind to not say something to his friend. A day doesn’t go by in which the young man stays silent to his friend. If they were apart, they might get too busy to call or visit. If they didn’t spend every moment together, they might not keep in contact. But because of his friend’s physical presence, the man cannot help but remember the friend right next to him. There is hardly a moment when the man is not aware of his friend’s presence.

sam-and-frodo

Sam and Frodo in “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.” From the Shire to Mordor, Sam rarely leaves Frodo’s side.

Now put yourself in the position of the young man and woman. You have someone you desperately love and who is always with you. With both of these cases being true, can you imagine not talking to the person? Or would the two of you be talking incessantly? It would be almost impossible for me to avoid conversation, and I know this is true because I’ve experienced it. If you love God and believe he never leaves you, then you know what I mean.

Seeing God in these terms makes it easier for me to “pray without ceasing.” Obviously, I can’t devote every moment to conscious interaction with God. No human could. But for me, praying without ceasing means having God on my mind throughout the day. I might notice the rare sunshine on a January morning and whisper a quick thanks to God for giving a bright moment at the start of my day. A friend might mention she feels a cold coming on, and I will quietly ask God to boost her health and strength. God talks back, too. It could be that a friend will cheer me up when I’m down, and I hear God tell me that he loves me and will always lift me up.

If you truly thought of God as your greatest love, would you struggle to remember him throughout the day? If you wholeheartedly knew that God is your best friend, always by your side and listening, would you forget to give him attention? If you fail these tests, perhaps you should reevaluate how you treat your relationships, because God deserves more thought and more attention than your dearest love or closest friend. Why wouldn’t you talk with him constantly?

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2013 in Other thoughts

 

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The One-Year Anniversary

Happy anniversary!

Dear readers, what started out as a three-week, required class project has turned into a one-year old blog. Thank you if you are one of the few who have been with me from the beginning. Knowing that you were there to see each new post motivated me to keep sharing my thoughts with you and the rest of the world. More importantly, this blog has spurred me on in studying the Bible, reading Christian-themed books, and reflecting on my faith.

The last year impacted me in many ways, and as a friend recently told me, the coming months look to hold more “formative” moments. I feel as if I stand on the brink of a freefall. When I lose my balance and tip over the edge, I will have to trust that God will either bless me with wings or be there at the bottom to catch me. The changes, as well as challenges, ahead resonate in my bones like the sense animals feel of a coming storm. I tense for the impact without knowing what to expect.

One of my favorite books of the Bible is Ecclesiastes because of its strangely contrasting tone of voice next to other books of the Bible. Most of the book sounds like the author, King Solomon, is depressed. He talks about how everything in life is useless, because everyone dies eventually and everything is destroyed. He leaves little hope. Yet, one passage from chapter 3 is well-known and often quoted:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,

a time for war and a time for peace.

What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

There’s no divining the future. All we can do is wait to see what the present brings. It’s ridiculous to think we could do anything better. Who can comprehend the thoughts and plans of God? The finite cannot hold the infinite. So we must trust and listen.

My own plans can fall at any moment like a pyramid of cards, because my “times” do not always match God’s. I may think it is the time or season for something, but planning is best left to God’s omniscience. I do not know what God has planned for me. I do not know where he may lead me next or what he may tell me to do. The best I can do is be ready and listening when he calls. 

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Posted by on January 10, 2013 in Other thoughts

 

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Spurgeon and Reading Context

Spurgeon near the end of his life.

Spurgeon near the end of his life. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lately, I’ve been doing some reading of Charles Spurgeon. Actually, I’m currently spending most of every day working at Olive Tree Bible Software on a long-term project that requires reading a devotional by Spurgeon. Once I finish the devotional, I will then proceed to read his other books and sermons. This may take a while.

For those who don’t know, because I certainly didn’t, Spurgeon was a preacher from nineteenth-century England, whose printed works and collected sermons are expansive to say the least. He started preaching in a church at just 20 years old and grew so popular that he later spoke to congregations of thousands at a time. becoming known as the “Prince of Preachers.”

Perhaps his vast popularity had to do with his talent for creating perfectly suited metaphors and allegories to explain or emphasize his points. His writing is understandably powerful and moving if you can get past the archaic language of “thee”s and “thou”s.

English: From Spurgeon's Sermons Fifth Series;...

Spurgeon preaching at Surrey Music Hall, Kennington, 1858. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even more impressive than his eloquent writing is his pure ability to take any verse of the Bible and connect it to the central themes of Christ, the Gospel, and our salvation.On October 6 in the devotional, for instance, Spurgeon writes on Numbers 12:1, where it says, “Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite.” Most people would take this verse at face value and simply understand that Moses’ sister and brother-in-law had issues accepting their sister-in-law. But Spurgeon goes further. He uses this verse as a parable of how, greater than Moses irrationally marrying a woman outside of his own people and disapproved by his family, the Lord chooses to love us, even us undeserving and worthless people. Spurgeon explains:

“Knowing as we do our secret guiltiness, unfaithfulness, and black-heartedness, we are dissolved in grateful admiration of the matchless freeness and sovereignty of grace. Jesus must have found the cause of His love in His own heart, He could not have found it in us, for it is not there.”

He seems to have a special affinity in the devotional for taking passages from Song of Solomon. He always sees the betrothed, bride, or wife as we individual Christians and the Church; meanwhile, her lover or husband represents Christ. This is one interpretation of Song of Solomon’s deeper symbolism, however, other interpretations read the book as merely a collection of poetry about either one couple through their relationship’s stages or else reflections from several different couples in love. Whatever the original intent of the book or its ultimate meaning, Spurgeon shows how even the passionate refrains of the longing bride may be applied to our own relationships with God.

Spurgeon’s interpretations can be much more problematic and debatable, though, when he bases an argument on a verse obviously out of context. On October 19, he addresses 1 Corinthians 3:1, which reads, “Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit, but as people who are still worldly–mere infants in Christ.” As you continue to read the passage, it is clear that being an infant in Christ means to still remain worldly, jealous and arguing with other Christians. Paul does not speak kindly of baby Christians, but Spurgeon hangs onto that phrase, “babes in Christ,” and encourages those weak in faith to “cheer up” because they are equal in grace to “full-grown” Christians. He says if he were poor in faith, he should still “rejoice in the Lord and glory in the God of my salvation.”

Now, I agree that young Christians are as justified as any other child of God, but this was not Paul’s point. This particular verse is the introduction to a scolding of such infants. Instead of merely rejoicing that they are saved, they should continue to grow in faith and leave behind their worldly baby binkies. But I cannot criticize Spurgeon too much, because the truth is I often do the same. I want to make a point, or perhaps find the perfect verse describing my mood to post on my Facebook wall, so I look up something that sounds good and ignore the surrounding context.

Admit it; you do the same. And if you happen to read the whole passage of your chosen verse, you feel disappointed when you realize you can’t fit that verse into your box. It doesn’t actually mean what you first thought. It doesn’t prove your argument for or against predestination. It doesn’t say anything like your feelings towards your opponents or enemies. In fact, it might mean just the opposite of what you want it to confirm.

It’s no wonder that, in a lifetime career of preaching, Charles Spurgeon would succumb to this temptation of taking verses out of context. It makes your arguments so much simpler when you can make the Scriptures back up any side you choose. Except they never do. They refuse. I imagine God must feel indignant when we try to make his Word our own. The real challenge is found in reading the Scriptures as he gave them to us, as a whole, and devoting yourself to discovering what God really wants you to know, not what you would rather he say.

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2012 in Authors, Other thoughts

 

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Reading Update: Time to Confess

Bus trips do offer many advantages. One of my current favorites is long, uninterrupted time to catch up on my reading. Another trip this weekend allowed me to finally finish 19 Gifts of the Spirit by Leslie B. Flynn and then devote my whole reader’s attention on Too Busy Not to Pray by Bill Hybels. While I didn’t ride the bus quite far enough to wrap up the book, I did get a good start and plenty to think about.

Too Busy Not to Pray, included on the suggested summer reading list, seems to cover every question you could have on prayer, as well as every excuse you have to not pray more often. Over 20 years after its first publication, this book is still popular among Christians and relevant to today. I felt challenged as I read it to devote more of my time and focus to thoughtful prayer.

The stories Hybels shares are inspiring to the point of making me want to stop mid-chapter and fall on my knees. These are not only encouraging anecdotes on the blessings God bestows to people who diligently pray with faith. One section caught my attention in particular, and it had nothing to do with making requests of God. In chapter six, Hybels provides a basic pattern to help develop good praying habits. He says following the pattern as you pray is like using a fitness routine that balances your all-around strength and endurance. A good fitness routine will work out your core and leg muscles along with building up impressive biceps. Instead of only lifting weights, you also add various types of cardio to the mix.

In the same way, Hybels argues that beneficial and effective praying means more than presenting God with your wish list. To practice more balanced praying, he uses the ACTS pattern: adoration of God’s nature and character, confession of personal sins, thanksgiving for God’s blessings and answered prayers, and finally, supplication for help and intervention from God. Visit this blog post I found for more details on how Hybels explains the ACTS pattern.

What caught my attention, though, was what Hybels had to say about confession. Personally, I rarely hear Christians talk about confessing their sins or weaknesses. They usually tend to ignore them altogether, or at least won’t talk about their personal faults to other Christians. I think we Christians have too much difficulty admitting to other Christians (or even non-Christians) that we are still sinners. We think everyone else in our church is doing just great striving for holiness and would never slip up, let alone foster certain darling sins. Well, it’s about time we all admit we suck at obeying God. Please excuse the colloquial speech.

I’ll start the confessions and say I have trouble spotting my own faults. I don’t think this is unusual among people, but when I try to evaluate my sins, my mind goes blank. Don’t think I would ever call myself perfect, though. I know that I am a sinner and that God’s grace and Christ’s price gives me my only hope to live with God for eternity. As a young child, I used to ask God to forgive me for the sins I didn’t know about because I was terrified of forgetting to confess something I had done wrong. Now that I’m older, I’m still ignorant of the specifics on my rap sheet. My self-image is distorted and warped, like an imperfect mirror that fails to show an accurate reflection (1 Cor. 13:12).

Every once in a while, God gives me a nudge in the ribs so I will look away from the bad reflection. He often uses my close family members, the people who know me best and are not afraid to say where I come up short. Recently, one of these wake up calls told me that ignorance of my sins gave me a sense of humility and holiness, which really just masked the pride lurking underneath. Sometimes I struggle to stifle the pride, other times, I leave it be and neglect to name it for what it is.

So how do we fight pride? My strategy: confession. We ask the Holy Spirit to give us a better image of how we really are. We listen to those closest to us about the faults they see. We refuse to live ignorant of our faults, and then we admit the true nature of our mistakes and weaknesses. We say, “I am not a good person.” Compared to Jesus, such a person does not exist. We all come short. We all are sinners. Only then will we have the humility to see our true human state.

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2012 in Books

 

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