I.D., please…

The older I get the more amused I become about the world’s attempts to confine me to various boxes.  Who I should hang-out with, what I should eat, where I should live, when I should be happy, why I spend my money the way I do, how come I hate golf.  The list goes on and on.  And as if that weren’t claustrophobic enough, most of these have a negative side as well (the most painful being “what I should not eat”).  Sometimes I wonder if I resemble the shape of a box, and that the cartoon character Sponge Bob might be a distant relative or that I might be the human manifestation of the proverbial square peg.

Amusement shifts quickly to annoyance, however, when the subject becomes Christianity.  People of faith are this way, not that way; and since some believe this, others must find it acceptable – right?  At first blush it appears that only those living outside Christ are the ones who suffer from these cases of mistaken identity.  Curiously, though, Christians are also plagued by the same identity crisis, perhaps explaining in part why we question who we really are in the world order and succumb to the travesty of allowing internal and external divisions to prevent us from fully uniting under Christ’s authority.

Of course, oversimplification is a risk here, but I am a firm believer that we make life far more difficult than God ever intended it to be.  So, though it may be a bit naïve and almost certainly incomplete, I offer the following points, grouped as simple statements of being and belief, about Christians in general as an attempt to dispel the boxy notions about our faith.

I am part of the wondrous demographic diversity God always intended.  I am a member of all rungs of the socio-economic ladder: poor, middle-income and wealthy.  I am tall and short, fat and skinny, male and female, old and young, black and white and every shade between.  I am educated: GED to Ivy League, street-smart to multiple PhDs, blue collar to white collar.  I am a resident of all towns, tribes, cities, states and nations in this beautiful world.

I am interested in more than just religion.  I am a concerned citizen who reads the newspaper, votes regularly and gets involved in community affairs.  I am worried about the environment and want to do my part to leave our children a healthy planet.  I am someone who struggles to be a good spouse, parent, grandparent, child, employee and friend.  I take seriously God’s mission for my stage in life.

I am honest about who I am.  I am a sinner.  I am someone who desperately needs God’s grace and mercy and who wants to be held accountable.

I believe in the one and only true God, creator of all.  I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s own son and my savior.  I believe the Holy Spirit is alive and well convicting the world of its sins.  I believe in the Bible as the inerrant word of God.  I believe there is only one path to eternal life with God.  I believe only one human being has ever lived a perfect life, and the rest of humanity is equally imperfect.

I believe in the sanctity of life from the moment of conception to death.  I believe in marriage as the sacred union between one man and one woman.

I believe the cross of Christ transcends any party or side of the political spectrum and trumps the self-serving rhetoric of mass media commentators.

I believe a church’s name or parent organization is far less important than what it actually stands for or against.

I believe that holding a Biblical opinion gives me needed direction and the confidence to handle what life throws my way.

I believe fame, power and wealth cannot compare to forgiveness, grace and mercy – just ask anyone who has fallen from the limelight, been pushed from office or rendered penniless.

I believe few things (if any) are more open-minded and less judgmental than a savior who accepts anyone as long as they accept Him.

I believe religion has often been misused throughout history, and that Christ will sort things out when He returns.

I believe in freedom of religion, speech and the press, but I also believe these freedoms are regularly abused.  I believe censure is wrong, but many forms of expression are nothing more than blatant profanity worthy of nothing more than the garbage heap.

I believe that Christianity and fun are not mutually exclusive.  Just pay a visit to any thriving youth group to witness the proof.

I believe it is God’s privilege to determine what is right and wrong, despite human laws that may say otherwise.

I believe that if science wants everyone to believe it is strictly fact-based, then all scientists need to consider every possibility instead of indiscriminately throwing some out.

I believe that my faith is an integral part of who I am and everything I do, so asking me to set any portion of it aside for any reason keeps me from being my best as an employee, spouse, friend or family member.

In the end, it all comes down to a struggle for consistency: are we really honest about who we are and what we believe, and do those statements of being and belief play-out in our everyday lives in such a way that we cannot help but package ourselves into a gift-wrapped box for presentation to our Lord?  If so, then we can leave all pretense behind and state with full confidence: “I am a Christian.”

Don’t discount “Numbers”

I admit it.  There are some books of the Bible I enjoy reading and studying more than others.  Yes, I play favorites with God’s Word.

In a general sense, I enjoy the books that read like a story more than their “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not” relatives.  That goes for both the Old and New Testaments.

The Book of Numbers is no exception.  To the uninitiated, the title seems foreboding – a warning that dusty census records, cumbersome rules and step-by-step job descriptions await – certainly that is true to some point.  But those who patiently wade into the text and persevere through 36 chapters will find memorable treasures and interesting tidbits that make it one of my favorites.

Here are some highlights:

  • Chapters 2&3 recount how God arranged the tribes of Israel when camping and traveling.  This was not some unorganized mob!
  • Chapter 5 includes the test for an adulterous wife.
  • In chapter 12, Miriam and Aaron conspire against their brother, Moses.
  • Chapters 13 & 14 include the well-known story of the 12 spies in the Promised Land and how Joshua and Caleb were the only ones who remained faithful.  This is also where God declares 40 years of wandering in the desert as punishment.
  • In 15:32-36 we learn just how serious God is about keeping the Sabbath.
  • Could the earth actually swallow people or fire consume them?  Check-out chapter 16.
  • Chapter 17: God doesn’t just chooses a leader.  He does it with style!
  • Why couldn’t Moses enter the Promised Land?  Find out in chapter 20.
  • Medical personnel and hospitals are often adorned with an image of two snakes wrapped around a winged staff.  This is called a “caduceus,” introduced in chapter 21.
  • A talking donkey is featured in chapter 22.
  • Chapter 27: God appoints Joshua to succeed Moses.
  • God establishes the rules around vows and the circumstances under which they can be broken in chapter 30.
  • Chapter 32: Some of the Israelites settled on the east side of the Jordan River.
  • Have you ever tried to track progress on a long car trip using a map?  Chapter 33 traces each step of the Israelites’ 40 year journey to the Promised Land!
  • The Promised Land’s boundary lines are established in chapter 34.
  • Chapter 35 establishes cities of refuge where someone who kills another person accidentally can expect a fair trial and protection from revenge.

Make it a point to study this gem – the Book of Numbers!