Category Archives: Religion

Behave Like a Christian: Philia and Agape

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.

Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore

 “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
 If he is thirsty, give him a drink;
 For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

—Romans 12:9-21

This is the second part of my continuing series about the message contained within Romans 12:9–21, often labeled “Behave Like a Christian.” Last week, we looked at how to love without hypocrisy. This week, we will be looking at brotherly love, or philia and unconditional love, or agape, two of the four ancient Greek words for love. The others are storge (familial love) and eros (sensual, passionate, romantic love).

The New Testament discusses the universal principle of philia in several of its books. One of those passages is Romans 12:10-13 (the underlined verses above). Philia, or brotherly love, conveys the kind of love expressed towards other people as a fellow-human, our neighbors. Brotherly affection can mean the cozy feeling of belongingness. As a gay man, I have often found this belongingness in LGBTQ+ gatherings. I can be very socially awkward around people I do not know, but even the social awkwardness cannot take away the feeling of being among people like me in these settings. I grew up knowing few, if any, LGBTQ+ individuals, so when we gather together, it presents a calm atmosphere of serenity like kinship or friendship.

In the Biblical context, philia is a love seeking the best interest of all men, women, and children and counting them as more significant than oneself. Philippians 2:3 says, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” God loves the flawed and sinful, which we all are. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” We make sacrifices in our lives, ask for forgiveness, and do good deeds in an effort to atone for our sins and be of service to God. We know this because we know of the love God gave to us. In 1 John 4:19, John writes, “We love Him because He first loved us.” We can only love because we are loved. God shows us the way. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6) Love is not about that we have loved God but that He loved us. Our ability to show love is due to the love He has shown us. 

When asked, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The parable tells of a traveler who is stripped, beaten, and left half dead alongside the road. First, a Jewish priest and then a Levite passed by, but both avoided the man. Finally, a Samaritan happened upon the traveler. Although Samaritans and Jews despised each other, the Samaritan helped the injured man. The conclusion is that the neighbor figure in the parable is the one who showed mercy to the injured fellow man—that is, the Samaritan. Jesus shows that brotherly love is to be shown to all men and women who need help. Everyone needs assistance from time to time, and we are commanded to help in anyway we can. Paul wrote in Hebrews 13:1, “Let brotherly love continue.” In Romans 12:10, we are commanded to  “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another.”

Romans 12:11-13 describes who we should show brotherly love. We cannot take a pause or delay our diligence. This means we have to show love at all times. Hate is the enemy of God, and it is one of our greatest sins. We may not like someone, but we should never genuinely hate. This is one of the hardest things to do, but we must love with a fervent, zealous, and passionate spirit. This is the way we need to show we are serving the Lord. We have to rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, and continue steadfastly in prayer. Hebrews 11:1 tells us that, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” If we rejoice in hope, then we are strengthening our faith. 

Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, And a brother is born for adversity.” A friend isn’t afraid to tell us the truth and doesn’t worry about offending us when we are wrong because Proverbs 27:6 tells us, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” The most brotherly thing we can do for a friend is to be honest and tell them the truth when they are wrong so we can all grow and learn something. Insincere flattery gets us nowhere, which is why Solomon wrote in Proverbs 28:23, “He who rebukes a man will find more favor afterward than he who flatters with the tongue” for it is far better to “Let the righteous strike me; it shall be a kindness. And let him rebuke me; it shall be as excellent oil; let my head not refuse it. For still my prayer is against the deeds of the wicked.” (Psalm 141:5). 

In 1 John 4, John uses the Greek word “agape” (as a noun) or as a verb “agapaō,” and this is the highest level of all loves mentioned in the Bible. It is much higher than brotherly love. It is the same love that Jesus showed on the cross and spoke of that God loved the world so much that “He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) The word used for love is “agapaō,” and it is a love that someone has where they are willing to die not only for our loved ones but also for those who hate them and are unworthy. John understood this love because he was there with Jesus during His earthly ministry and observed Him dying on the cross. This must have been what John was thinking about when he wrote in 1 John 4:7-10:

Beloved, let us love (agapaō) one another, for love (agape) is of God; and everyone who loves (agapaō) is born of God and knows God. He who does not love (agapaō) does not know God, for God is love (agape). In this the love (agape) of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love (agape), not that we loved (agapaō) God, but that He loved (agapaō) us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

Here we see that God loved us first. God made the first move, and so we should love our fellow humans in a self-sacrificing way, and even if it costs us, we must love.

Behave Like a Christian: Love Without Hypocrisy

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.

Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore

 “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
 If he is thirsty, give him a drink;
 For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

—Romans 12:9-21

I want to do a series of posts about the message in Romans 12:9–21, often labeled “Behave Like a Christian.” I want to explore what Paul says about living a Christian life. In Romans 12:9–21, Paul lists numerous brief, bullet-pointed commands, which, taken together, paint a picture of what a Christ-centered life should look like. Romans 12:9–21 is a beautiful passage that describes what it means to live our lives as Christians. Too many Christians throughout history have ignored these simple commands, and I want to examine these commands and look at what they mean.

Paul begins describing how the behave like a Christian by telling us how to love. Romans 12:9 (the underlined verse above) commands us to love without hypocrisy. In my opinion, hypocrisy is one of the worst sins humanity commits because it brings shame upon God and often leads to driving people away from religion. Religious leaders often commit this sin by condemning the actions of others while committing the same actions in private and sometimes in public. 

In ancient Greek theatre (remember Paul was a Greek Jew), actors commonly played multiple roles. To portray different characters in a play required them to wear various masks. So, to “play the hypocrite” in Greek theatre meant to wear more than one mask. The word hypocrisy comes from the Greek ὑπόκρισις (hypokrisis), which means “jealous,” “play-acting,” “acting out,” “coward” or “dissembling.” The word hypocrite is from the Greek word ὑποκριτής (hypokritēs), the agentive noun associated with ὑποκρίνομαι (hypokrinomai κρίση, “judgment” »κριτική (kritikē), “critics”) presumably because the performance of a dramatic text by an actor was to involve a degree of interpretation, or assessment. Over the centuries, the word hypocrite has become synonymous with being “two-faced.” With this in mind, Paul writes, “Let love be without hypocrisy.” In other words, “Love should not be two-faced.” The masks that many wear in public cover what is happening in private.

We know that many LGBTQ+ individuals have fled from organized religion. Many are leaving churches not because they reject Jesus or spirituality, but because of the hatred and hypocrisy Christianity and other religions have come to represent to them. The LGBTQ+ community has witnessed the hypocrisy in religious leaders and others who claim to be Christian. For the majority of people leaving organized religion, including members of the LGBTQ+ community, the religious lives of many Christians appear to be irrelevant and pointless as they pick and choose what they want to use for their oppressive purposes over the actual words that guide Christianity. Therefore, many people have chosen simply to walk away from the Church. This trend will continue until we begin to love without hypocrisy.

The masks people wear to church and use to oppress and damn others do not often match the masks they wear privately at home. They profess one thing, but then do another. Remember what Jesus told the Pharisees in John 8:7, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” We saw the hypocrisy of evangelical Christians very clearly during the last presidential administration. Religious leaders flocked to follow a man who represented everything they claimed to be against. Yet, with an ecstatic religious fervor, they held him up as a paragon of virtue and Christianity. 

A key to living and loving without hypocrisy can be found in Paul’s admonition, “Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.” Think about the last time conflict arose between you and another person. Was it not easier to cling to what that person did or said wrong than to dwell on what they did or said right? In conflict, it is in our nature to hold onto what is evil and abhor what is good. We tend to have a long memory reserved for those who have wronged us, and it often clouds our judgment about everything that person has done in the past and does in the future. To love without hypocrisy, we must do the exact opposite, “Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.” We cannot dwell on the evil but must try to find the good. We may want to push back on this principle, but let’s remember that even a broken clock is right twice a day. So, regardless of what the other person has said or done to you, there are sometimes still things they have done right. Focus on those things as you seek to bring resolution to those things that are wrong.

What Is Faith?

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

—John 11:25-26

The expression “just have faith, it will work out” is used by people to encourage and comfort someone facing serious problems or stressful situations. But just what is faith as described in the Bible, and does it really work? Faith is one of those words that is commonly used but not always understood. Some of that confusion comes from the many different ways the word faith is used in everyday conversation. The standard definition is: 

Faith: (noun) complete trust or confidence in someone or something; a strong belief in God or the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.

One common way people use the word faith is to refer to belief in something despite lacking evidence. But that is not what the Bible means by faith. The closest that the Bible comes to offering an exact definition is Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Here we see that the central feature of faith—confidence or trust. In the Bible, the object of faith is God and his promises. Faith means putting your trust in God and having confidence that he will fulfill his promises.

The Franciscan friar and teacher Richard Rohr said, “My scientist friends have come up with things like ‘principles of uncertainty’ and dark holes. They’re willing to live inside imagined hypotheses and theories, but many religious folks insist on answers that are always true. We love closure, resolution, and clarity, while thinking that we are people of ‘faith’! How strange that the very word ‘faith’ has come to mean its exact opposite.”

Faith is more than intellectual agreement. Genuine biblical faith expresses itself in everyday life. James writes in James 2:17 that “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Faith works through love to produce tangible evidence of its existence in a person’s life. James is telling us that we can claim to have faith, but if we do not act in a way faithful to Jesus’ teachings, then we do not really have faith. Galatians 5:6 says, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.” We often hear from the religious right, “Hate the sin, love the sinner,” when they refer to the LGBTQ+ community; however, are they genuinely loving the sinner if they are at the same time damning them to Hell? No, of course, they aren’t. It is a phrase they want to use to give themselves peace of mind for encouraging and propagating hate.

Put another way, the obedience that pleases God comes from faith, and that obedience is love. In 1 Corinthians 13:1-2, Paul says, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”  God’s “Greatest Gift” is described in 1 Corinthians 13, which is one of the most beautiful chapters of the Bible. The chapter ends with 1 Corinthians 13:13 saying, “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

Romans 1:5 tells us, “Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name.” It is more than a mere sense of duty or obligation. There is all the difference in the world between helping someone out of the pleasure of doing so and one who buys them simply out of duty. It is also more than just mere words. A person must truly have love in your heart for all types of people. A person’s race, religion, gender identity, or sexuality cannot be a prerequisite for someone’s love. We must fight every day for those less fortunate. We cannot let those who are evil win just because they do awful things in the name of faith. We also cannot lose our faith because people do things in God’s name that are not in accordance with the teachings of Jesus Christ. We must keep our faith and love God and our fellow humans.

Faith is so important because it is how we have a relationship with God. Ephesians 2:8 states, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” Faith is how we receive the benefits of what Jesus has done for us. He lived a life of perfect obedience to God, died to pay the penalty for our sinful rebellion against God, and rose from the dead to defeat sin, death, and the devil. By putting our faith in him, we receive forgiveness for our sins and the gift of eternal life. Ephesians 3:16-17 says, “That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love.”

Faith means relying completely on who Jesus is and what he has done to be made right with God. Genuine faith is more than just believing in God alone. It includes acting on that faith in one’s life by serving God and obeying His commandments. Remember that the lawyer/scribe asked Jesus in Matthew 22:36, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” And Jesus answered:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 22:37-40)

Politics and the Destruction of Faith

But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.

—2 Peter 2:1–3

Conservative Christians are engaged in a desperate political effort to keep America the religious and traditional nation they believe it was decades ago. These very efforts are what are actually accelerating the changes that they are fighting against. Their divisive and hateful politics are driving people away from religion. According to a recent poll from Gallup, the proportion of Americans who consider themselves members of a church, synagogue, or mosque has dropped below 50 percent. It is the first time the number has fallen below 50 percent since Gallup first asked the question in 1937 when church membership was 73 percent.

In recent years, research data has shown a profound shift in the U.S. population away from religious institutions and toward general disaffiliation, a trend that analysts say could have significant implications for politics, business, and how Americans group themselves. In 2020, 47 percent of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue, or mosque. The polling firm also found that the number of people who said religion was very important to them has fallen to 48 percent, a new low point in the polling since 2000. For some Americans, religious membership is seen as a relic of an older generation. Gallup’s data finds that church membership is strongly correlated with age: 66 percent of American adults born before 1946 belong to a church, compared with 58 percent of Baby Boomers, 50 percent of Generation X, and 36 percent of Millennials.

Tara Isabella Burton, author of Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World, attributes the national decline in religious affiliation to two major trends among younger Americans. First, she points to broader shifts suggesting a greater distrust of institutions, including police and pharmaceutical companies. Some Americans are disillusioned by the behavior of religious leaders, including the Roman Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal and the strong White evangelical alignment with the former twice impeached president. The other major trend Burton describes is how people are mixing and matching various religious traditions to create their own. Many people who don’t identify with a particular religious institution still say they believe in God, pray, or do things that tend to be associated with faith. Burton said younger generations that grew up with the Internet have a different kind of relationship with information, texts, and hierarchy.

Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, argued in a recent essay for the Atlantic that what was once religious belief has been replaced by political belief in many communities. On the political right, conservative Christians focus on Trump as a political savior rather than focusing on traditional questions of morality. Christians in the Republican Party are being less defined by their faith than by a set of more narrow concerns. In a new book Secular Surge: A New Fault Line in American Politics, political scientists David Campbell and Geoffrey Layman of the University of Notre Dame and John C. Green of the University of Akron argue that the religious right’s tight embrace of politics is essentially driving people away from religious affiliation into the arms of secularism.

Over the past several decades, Americans are increasingly likely to identify as having no particular religion. Pollsters call these people “nones,” and they have been growing at a phenomenal rate. According to the Pew Forum, more than a quarter of American adults say they have no religious affiliation. Thirty years ago, that number was about five percent. The trend seems to be for the “nones” to keep growing. The number of white evangelicals is also shrinking. The Pew Forum puts their size at about 16 percent of the population, down from 19 percent a decade ago, which seems to be the reason why white evangelicals were so enamored of Donald Trump. They felt he was protecting them from being overwhelmed by modern life. From their perspective, Trump being a bully was a feature, not a problem.

Campbell and Layman tested the thesis that the right’s willingness to conflate religion and politics was driving people away from faith in general. After asking people about their religious identity, they presented them with a single story where religion and politics were closely linked. Republicans had no problem with talking about God and politics in the same breath. But for Democrats, it was a major issue. When asked again about their religious affiliation, they were found to be 13 percentage points more likely to say they had no religious affiliation. In short, the very people who are pushing religion in politics the most are ensuring that more people are hostile toward religion. That’s a high price to pay for getting three Supreme Court justices.

The Republican Party and Evangelical Christians are choosing a form of Christianity that does not follow the teachings of Christ. They have wholly rejected the characteristics of a Christian that Jesus laid out for us in the Beatitudes. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” but Republicans and Evangelical Christians have repeatedly rejected social welfare programs to help the poor (the Gospel of Matthew refers to the downtrodden, while the Gospel of Matthew refers to those in poverty). Jesus also declared, “Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.” Yet, during the COVID-19 pandemic, they have denied the reality of the virus and therefore have dismissed those who mourned the loss of over half a million Americans. They have derided those who wore masks and advocated for measures to mitigate the spread of the virus, rejecting Jesus’ words, “Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy.” 

Republicans and Evangelicals embraced a bully for president, disregarding Jesus’ teaching that, “Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth.” They have rejected time and again assistance to those in need, denying them Jesus’ promise, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.” The religious right rejects those who believe in the actual teachings of Jesus that honor love and acceptance. Look at the comments on any progressive Christian’s TikTok, and you’ll the hatred of those who advocate love, who Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.” Republicans and Evangelicals preach divisiveness, ignoring the warnings of Jesus, “Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God.” They feel that they are the persecuted when they are the persecutors, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus warns us against people like the Republican Party and Evangelical Christians who teach hate disguised as religion. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:15–20), Jesus warns of false prophets:

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.

The Gospels address the same point of a false prophet predicting correctly the rise of people who will use religion against others. Jesus predicted the future appearance of false Christs and false prophets, affirming that they can perform great signs and miracles, for example, in the Olivet Discourse (Mark 13:5–7, 13:21–23) given on the Mount of Olives:

And Jesus, answering them, began to say: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and will deceive many. But when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be troubled; for such things must happen, but the end is not yet…Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Look, He is there!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. But take heed; see, I have told you all things beforehand.

Many Democrats have been driven away from religion because of how conservatives have used against them. However, an aversion to religion is not solely a positive thing for Democrats. A significant block of Democratic voters, especially Black Democrats, are much more likely to be religious than white Democrats, 40 percent of whom are “nones.” If secular Democrats disparage religion generally, they also risk alienating believers who otherwise agree with them. There are Democrats well positioned to handle that problem. Chief among them is President Biden, a Catholic who attends Mass weekly. Another is Pete Buttigieg, who has made a point of talking about his faith. Biden and Buttigieg prove that progressives don’t have to cede religion to the Republican Party. However, we must remember what Peter said in 2 Peter 2:1–3:

But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.

For many Americans, right-wing Christians have given Christianity a bad name, enough to drive them from religion altogether. A strong counterbalance from progressive believers would show that the right doesn’t own religion enough to destroy it. We must follow what John said in the First Epistle of John. In 1 John 4:1–3, John warns those of the Christian faith to test every spirit because of these false prophets:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world. 

We cannot allow the religious right to destroy Christ’s teachings. We must fight to reclaim Christianity as it was in the earliest days of the religion. The earliest Christians believed in fellowship and equality among all members. I will always believe that Jesus would have and probably did accept people of the LGBTQ+ community. Many parts of the Bible never made it into the version we see today, and through many translations, the Bible has been used as a tool of hatred and not love. This has driven so many away from their faith when the teachings of Christ should draw people into the faith, not be used to exclude those who don’t fit the narrowminded beliefs of those who use the Bible as a weapon instead of a tool.

There has always been a battle between good and evil, but Republicans, Evangelicals, and the religious right are blurring those lines. I believe that the battle today is a battle between love and hate, between acceptance and rejection, between inclusion and exclusion, and between equality and inequality. Let us fight for LOVE, ACCEPTANCE, INCLUSION, and EQUALITY of all. It is the only way to reclaim religion for God and keep it away from politicians and those who wish us harm.

Enjoy the Little Things

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.”

— Matthew 13:31-32

Canadian politician William Hamilton Merritt had a visualized for a bridge over the Niagara River. The result was the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge which stood from 1855 to 1897 across the Niagara River and was the world’s first working railway suspension bridge. Merritt gained permission from the governments of Upper Canada and the State of New York to build the bridge, and two bridge companies were formed to build and jointly own the bridge. In autumn of 1847, the companies commissioned Charles Ellet Jr. to construct a bridge at a location, selected by the companies, along the Niagara River. They selected the narrowest point from shoreline to shoreline. The first obstacle was to create a line of communication, followed by a solid line in order to establish a link to the American side, since establishing a link by water was very dangerous. The width of the area of the gorge was 800 feet apart.

One idea was to fly a kite across the river to begin to lay the cable. A contest was held, with a five-dollar prize, to see who could fly a kite across the Niagara Gorge. A 16-year-old American boy named Homan Walsh won the contest on the second day of the competition flying his kite from the Canadian shoreline. All of the other boys tried from the American shore. On January 30, 1848, Homan flew a kite he named Union from one side of the gorge to the other. Someone on the opposite side caught the kite and tied a stronger string to the end of the kite string, and Holman pulled the new, thicker string back across the gorge. The process was repeated with an even stronger string, then a cord, then a thin rope, then a thicker rope, and eventually a steel cable, which crossed the expanse and was strong enough to support workers, tools, and materials. Finally, a sturdy bridge, over which trains and trucks could easily pass, was completed. And it all began with a 16-year-old boy and a string.

In Luke 16:10, Jesus says, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” Therefore, the little things you have are there to prepare you for bigger things. The key is to trust God while possessing the little things. Jesus told us the little things can make a significant impact on the big picture. For instance, in the parable of the mustard seed in Matthew 13:31–32, He explains, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.” As you probably know, the mustard seed is one of the smallest seeds planted in the Middle East. But nurtured in the right conditions, it can grow into something resembling a small tree—even providing a haven for birds. Like the string that was the first building block for a mighty bridge, the tiny mustard seed can become an amazing plant.

In another parable found in Matthew 10:29-31, Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Mahalia Jackson sang “His Eye Is On The Sparrow.” She chose that particular bird for a reason. She did not choose a great owl, the woodpecker, or even the robin. She chose one of the smallest birds to prove that if God could watch over something that small, surely, He would watch over us who are so much bigger. 

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26) Do not dismiss the small things in your life. Small things will develop into a harvest of blessings when you allow God to use them for His glory. Faith is like that. Don’t underestimate the power of little things. Jesus took a little lunch from a little boy and fed thousands. With a little jawbone, Samson slew an army. David took a little stone and brought down a giant. With just a little faith, great things can be accomplished.

Reflections on Easter ✝️

Christ and St Mary Magdalen at the Tomb
Rembrandt (1638)

Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”

—John 20:1-2

Growing up, I was always taught that Easter was the most important celebration in all of Christianity. The death and resurrection of Jesus are the most important events and a foundation of the Christian faith. Whether Jesus rose from the dead is the most critical question regarding the Christian faith. The resurrection of Jesus was part of the plan of salvation and redemption by atonement for man’s sin.

When I think of the arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus, I always think of how terrified his disciples must have been. Rome was the greatest authority in the known world for them, and Jesus had been arrested by the Temple guards of the Sanhedrin, the representatives of Imperial Rome’s authority in Judaea. They had to be asking themselves: would they be next? would they be tried and crucified? what would become of them? how could they go on without their leader and Savior?

They had seen their Lord and Savior die in the most brutal form of execution in the Roman Empire. The crucifixion had been a frightening experience according to Luke 23:44-45, which says, “Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two. Following the world around them literally turning to darkness as their Savior died, Luke 23:46 tells us that, “And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.’ ” Having said this, He breathed His last.” Their Savior had died. I would have felt like my life was over. 

Even though Jesus had told them he would be resurrected, the disciples did not understand. In John 2:19, Jesus “said to them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’” The disciples thought he was speaking literally of the Temple, just John 2:21 tells us, “But He was speaking of the temple of His body.” Even if they believed that Jesus would rise from the dead, they thought he was speaking of living in eternity in Heaven with his Father or of a literal rebuilding of the Temple. It was not until they saw him in the flesh that they believed in a literal resurrection. So, the fear of his death was real. They were in a heightened state of fear during this time.

Their fear is evident in the discovery that Jesus’s body was missing from the tomb. Matthew 28:1-7 describes the scene:

Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from Heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it.  His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.”

Even after Mary Magdalene told the others that she had seen the risen Lord and that he had spoken to her, they were still afraid: John 20:19-20 tells us about this continued fear:

Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.

The sight of the risen Jesus must have been a wondrous sight for the disciples. Not all would believe it was Him. Matthew 28:17 says, “When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted.” The Apostle Thomas (Doubting Thomas) refused to believe that the resurrected Jesus had appeared to the ten other apostles. When Jesus appeared to him as related in John 20:24–29, he still did not believe until he could see and feel the wounds received by Jesus on the cross.

The joy that the disciples must have felt when they realized that Jesus had risen from the dead must have been ecstatic. Jesus then gave them the Great Commission. Matthew 28:18-20 says:

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in Heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

This Easter and every day, we should remember what Jesus commands of us. We should not forget the love and sacrifice that Jesus brought to this world as our Savior. Jesus is with us always, and as corny as it may be these days, all our actions should be influenced by asking ourselves, “What would Jesus do?” Jesus showed partiality to the downtrodden, the oppressed, and those who society cast aside. We can’t hide in fear but live proudly in a Christ-like manner. Jesus taught that all are accepted and loved by God, not just those who follow the narrow-minded beliefs of fundamentalist Christians, who have lost what it means to be followers of Christ. Jesus died and suffered for us to love and accept our fellow humans and to live by His example. If we hate, show prejudice, or reject those who do not believe as we think they should believe, we are not following the example given to us by Jesus.



On a happier note, below you will find the cutest Easter card that I received from my friend Susan. It just made me laugh. As the card says on the inside:

Hope you find lots of fun this Easter!

Palm Sunday

The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out: “Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ The King of Israel!”

— John 12:12-13

Today is Palm Sunday, the Christian holiday that occurs on the Sunday before Easter. The holiday commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, mentioned in each of the four Gospels. Jesus entered the city knowing He would be tried and crucified and welcomed His fate to rise from the grave and save us from our sins. Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week, which is a remembrance of Jesus’ last days before being crucified and rising from the dead on the third day.

Jesus’ entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey to the celebration and praise of the gathered crowd. Jesus’ triumphal entry fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies of Jesus as King and Messiah. Isaiah 62:11 calls for “Daughter of Zion” to watch for the Messiah, and Zechariah 9:9 depicts the King as “Lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey.”

While most royal processions feature incredible extravagance, Jesus humbly entered the town on a simple donkey. While kings rode horses during times of war, rulers rode donkeys during times of peace as a sign of humility toward the people (1 Kings 1:38-40). Here, Jesus exemplified the peaceful return of a king to Jerusalem. By riding on a donkey, He showed that He came to bring grace and not judgment. Also, it is significant that Jesus rode a colt, which is a young and untrained donkey. Typically, it would be challenging for someone to ride an unbroken animal through a crowded and jubilant scene with an unfamiliar rider on its back, but Jesus was able to ride the colt easily.

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was meant to resemble a peaceful royal procession (2 Kings 9:13), yet up until this point, Jesus had consistently avoided anything resembling royal displays (Matthew 8:4, Matthew 9:30, Matthew 12:16). However, He was now ready to present Himself publicly as the Messiah and King. This was Jesus’ last trip to Jerusalem, and He chose to enter in such a way as to leave no doubt that He was the promised Messiah who had come to save the nation. No one in the city could miss the procession or the prophecy-fulfilling reference Jesus’ entry conveyed.

On Palm Sunday, parishioners are given palm fronds to represent the fronds that worshippers waved as Christ returned to Jerusalem for the final time before His death. Churches usually keep the palm fronds throughout the following year, burning them the day before Ash Wednesday. So, Palm Sunday does more than celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the beginning of Holy Week. It has a further significance that happens nearly a year later on Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of Lent, the solemn 40-day period of repentance and fasting that precedes Easter. The ashes used to make crosses on believers’ foreheads for Ash Wednesday come from burning the palms from the preceding year’s Palm Sunday. 

Palm Sunday began in the Jerusalem Church during the late third century. Observances consisted of hymns, prayers, and Bible readings as people traveled through the many holy places within the city. At the final place, the site of Jesus’ ascent into heaven, the ministry would recite the biblical passage of Jesus’ victorious entrance into Jerusalem. Then as dusk neared, the people would return to the city, declaring: “Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord” (Matthew 21:9). This tradition continued until the sixth and seventh centuries when the ceremonial blessing of the palms was included. By the eighth century, a morning procession substituted the evening one, and the Western Church was celebrating what we now know as “Palm Sunday.”

Take Back the Conversation

He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

—1 John 4:8

When I began accepting my sexuality, I did what I think many of those raised in a strict Christian environment did; I read everything I could about homosexuality in the Bible. I soon began to look at the deeper analyses of the original text of the Bible and the context surrounding the texts used to condemn homosexuality. I learned that the New Testament had nothing in it that condemned being gay and that there were many mistranslations of the Bible. As I historian, I began to study the Old Testament passages such as Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13. Why were those passages in the Old Testament? Historically, civilizations, such as the Ancient Hebrews who were most concerned about population growth, condemned homosexuality. The laws of Leviticus mainly pertain to issues to promote health and population growth. Per-Christian civilizations, such as Ancient Greece who had a greater acceptance of homosexual practices, did not worry as much about population growth, and often had people to spare and colonized surrounding lands.

I studied all of these issues because I wanted to be able to explain, backward and forward, how I could “justify” being gay with the Bible, especially to my mother. I wanted to be able to answer every question and accusation. I wanted to be confident and secure. I wanted there to be no question in my mind and to be able to erase every question in my mother’s mind. I believed the Bible was my shield, my protection, to be used to defend myself from those like my mother who would use the Bible as a weapon. I wanted to protect myself.

I did not face the real issue (my own acceptance of myself) because I was too worried about what others would think of me. The perception of others caused a great deal of fear, depression, and hiding, and it took me years to change my thinking about that. I let other people lock me in a closet. Eventually, it took moving 1,400 miles from my family to a state where I made friends who accepted me unconditionally, before I could accept myself and stop worrying so much about what others thought. I realized that I shouldn’t have let other people set the rules of my sexuality and life. Not only that, I would never be able to change the minds of people like my mother, even if I possessed the perfect argument. Maybe one day, if I find a partner, my family will change their mind and accept me for the way God created me. But, I doubt it.

I no longer have to ask myself: “How do I explain my faith and my sexuality to people?” “How do I justify being gay?” I was raised in the Church of Christ, a church that believed their way was the ONLY way. All others who were not members of the Church of Christ were destined for Hell. The issue I had with that is I knew people who were very good people, like my maternal grandfather, who was not a member of the Church of Christ but a Baptist. I could never believe that he was going to Hell just because he did not belong to a particular congregation. It was more about if you were a good person, not the church you belonged to. Also, billions of people live on this earth who are not Christian but are good people, and billions have lived through history that never even heard of Christianity. Surely God did not mean that all of them went to Hell. I realized that there isn’t just one way to be a Christian, nor is Christianity the only path to salvation. The Bible does not have a monopoly on morality, and there are many different interpretations of the Bible. Throughout the centuries, in other countries, and in all of the various churches, there is a diversity of beliefs, thoughts, and practices that fall under Christianity’s very large banner.

We don’t have to defend ourselves against the hatred of those who pervert the meaning of the Bible. They are making the best argument against their own beliefs when they show their hatred, ignorance, and disgust because at the same time they ignore 1 John 4:8, “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” He who does not love does not know God: nine essential words that hold the essence of all the 783,137 that comprise the Bible. We don’t have to allow other people to set the limits of conversation or define acceptable discourse. We can simply walk away when the conversation makes us uncomfortable knowing our righteousness. We can prioritize our emotional and mental health over and above answering every question asked of us. “God is love, and your hate-filled beliefs go against God” is an acceptable answer in my book. It’s all that needs to be said, if you choose to say anything at all.

We also have the option to change the conversation to one about love and acceptance. Instead of letting someone else define how the conversation goes, we can tell them how our faith makes us feel, how it gives us life, and how it changes the way we live. Tell a story of how God has deepened your faith because of being gay. I know I understand my faith a lot more since I began studying the scriptures instead of just listening to a preacher every Sunday. The story of the Bible is our story, too. No one gets to define our faith for us. Our relationship with God is a personal relationship that no one can define for us. Religious leaders want to define that relationship because that gives them power over you and others. They are just men. They don’t have any relationship with God that is more special than your relationship with God.

Most anti-LGBTQ+ religious leaders will likely never understand or change, even if God appeared in a giant glowing light and told them they were wrong. Recently, the Family Research Council, an anti-LGBTQ+ hate group that serves as the lobbying arm of the religious right, describes LGBTQ+ people as “unnatural” and “immoral” in a message to supporters. They reminded recipients at the beginning of the message of a Bible verse that commands followers to kill gay people. David Closson, FRC’s Director of Christian Ethics and Biblical Worldview said, “The apostle Paul explains that humanity has rejected God, exchanging the truth about Him and the things He created for a lie.” Sadly, he is likely never to realize that Paul spoke of people like him who have rejected God’s unconditional love. Groups like the FRC and others like them are likely to ramp up their hateful rhetoric as the Equality Act is discussed more. They will become apoplectic if it passes. However, it’s time we stop allowing these people to control the conversation. It’s time we start telling our own stories in our own way.

We have to quit separating ourselves from religion and instead change the conversation. We have to oppose their hate-filled use of Christianity with the truth of God’s love. It is the only way we can take back the conversation. The religious right has strayed so far from God’s message that we cannot create the world Jesus was brought to this earth to save until we take back the conversation. 

Excuses, Excuses

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

—Matthew 7:21-23

On Wednesday, I wrote a post about my “Graduate School Trauma.” I wasn’t trying to make excuses for not finishing my Ph.D., but I wanted to tell my story so that others would be encouraged to stand up for themselves and not bend to the pressures often put upon us. Florence Nightingale said, “I attribute my success to this—I never gave or took any excuse.” Within that post was an unwritten lesson: God has a plan for us, and we shouldn’t make excuses for our failures, especially when it was probably not in God’s plan for us in the first place. Getting my Ph.D. was not in the cards for me. I believe that my current career is part of God’s plan for me. It took a long and winding road to get here, but I enjoy my current job. Of course, some things aggravate me about my job, but doesn’t everybody have something that irritates them about their job?

Benjamin Franklin said, “The man who is good for excuses is good for little else.” The New Merriam Webster’s Dictionary says that an excuse is a reason for your conduct, a justification of what you have done. It is different from the reason for your action. As the case may be, a legitimate cause for doing something, or for not doing it, is a reason. But an excuse is something you give when you have no real reason for your action. It is a camouflage, an attempt to save face and salvage your self-esteem.

We make excuses because we do not want to take on responsibilities, be embarrassed, or face the consequences. Similarly, afraid of punishment, Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent after disobeying God’s command. By doing so, their relationship with God changed. The formerly close relationship of walking with God changed into one of hiding and deceiving. Isaiah 59:2 says, “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He will not hear.” Whether dealing with God or with people, the best and only way to live is to admit our failures and not hide behind excuses, no matter how carefully crafted they are.

On one occasion, Jesus told a story about a man who planned a large dinner and invited many guests, but they all begged off before the meal and decided not to come. Luke 14:16-24 tells the story:

He said to him, “A certain man gave a great supper and invited many, and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, ‘Come, for all things are now ready.’ But they all with one accord began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused.’ Still another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So that servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.’ And the servant said, ‘Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.’ Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.’”

All three excuses given by the men are valid in themselves. You would expect a man to look at a piece of property before he bought it, not afterward, since it might be underwater, and there is nothing wrong with buying property. There is also nothing wrong with buying a team of oxen, or an automobile today, and a prudent individual would test drive something before he bought it. There is certainly nothing wrong with getting married. The problem was that each had a misplaced sense of priorities. An excuse is generally satisfactory to only the person who gives it. The story that Jesus told was a parable of a God who loves us and invites us to receive eternal life through the invitation of Jesus Christ. Jesus says in Matthew 11:28, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” That invitation is personal, and it is for us. Don’t make excuses, but trust in the Lord.

What a Friend We Have in Jesus

You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. These things I command you, that you love one another.

 John 15: 14-17

What a Friend We Have in Jesus

What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged,
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness,
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy-laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge—
Take it to the Lord in prayer;
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer;
In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,
Thou wilt find a solace there.

“What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” written by Joseph Scriven, is one of my all-time favorite hymns. It has always brought me comfort, and I can remember my mother practicing it on the piano, which is how I learned the tune. Back when I was the song leader at my church, we sang this song quite often, though I always had trouble getting the tempo just right. I had no problem with the melody, but my church tended to sing a bit slower than other churches, so this is one that I would often start and then have to slow it down. I still love the song though.

Joseph Scriven was born in Ireland in 1820. He was educated at Trinity College in Dublin and was engage to be married. The evening before their wedding, Scriven’s fiancé drowned. This tragedy coupled with difficult family relationships, caused Scriven to begin following the practices and teachings of the Plymouth Brethren, an evangelical Christian movement whose history can be traced back to Dublin, Ireland, in the late 1820s. In 1845, at the age of 25, left his native country and migrated to Canada to become a teacher. His reasons for leaving Ireland seemed to be two-fold: the religious influence of the Plymouth Brethren and the estrangement from his family this caused. He only remained in Canada briefly after becoming ill but returned in 1847. 

In 1855, while staying with James Sackville in Bewdley, Ontario, north of Port Hope, he received news from Ireland of his mother being terribly ill. He wrote a poem to comfort his mother called “Pray Without Ceasing.” It was later set to music and renamed by Charles Crozat Converse, becoming the hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” Scriven did not have any intentions of his poem would be for publication in the newspaper and later becoming a favorite hymn among the millions of Christians around the world.

In 1857, Scriven became engaged to Eliza Roche. Tragedy struck again and Eliza passed away from pneumonia shortly before marriage. He then devoted the rest of his life to tutoring, preaching, and helping others. Scriven used the tragedies and hardships in life to empathize with the elderly and poor. He used his time to saw wood for the stoves of those who were handicapped or elderly. Scriven himself began to experience poor health, financial struggles, and depression in his last years of life. 

Scriven drowned in 1886 at age 66. No one knows for sure if his death was an accident or suicide. He was in a serious depression at the time. A friend reported, “We left him about midnight. I withdrew to an adjoining room, not to sleep, but to watch and wait. You may imagine my surprise and dismay when on visiting the room I found it empty. All search failed to find a trace of the missing man, until a little after noon the body was discovered in the water nearby, lifeless and cold in death.” He was buried next to his second fiancée in Bewdley.

If you don’t know the hymn or you just want to hear a beautiful rendition of it, check out this family singing inside of a silo on their family farm. The acoustics are amazing. 

P.S. Tomorrow, I am going down to the Headache Clinic to get my next set of Botox injections. I have a lot to discuss with my neurologist. Even with the new treatment, I am still experiencing headaches off and on throughout the day. Hopefully, we can make a new plan to help improve these headaches. I’d appreciate it if you’d keep me in your thoughts tomorrow.