Religion As A Spectrum

When I first sat down to write this blog post I had come to the realization that regardless of what you believe, belief often exists on a spectrum that can actually tie people of different faiths closer together than those of the same spiritual background. But as I explored this idea more I came to the realization that as much as I’d like to believe that religion is a spectrum, scripture tells me the unpopular message that I should be totally sold out to God or not believe in him all. 

While talking with a friend who is Muslim, I discussed the idea that in many ways, though I am Christian, I might feel closer to a Muslim who is religious than a Christian who isn’t that religious. At my current stage of life I am growing in my personal walk with God but have encountered countless people who have told me that religion is good, but not if it becomes too important in our lives.

I’m reminded of the guy from a dating app who warned me of his aunt who never got married because she was so religious and spent all her life serving God. Or well-meaning friends who see completely following God as a loss of sorts because of what could be understood to be rigid rules within Christianity.

The idea that I could connect with a Muslim more than a less religious Christian was crazy to me at the time because for a long time I held schemas in my head of what it meant to be a Christian versus believing a different faith. And to me, there was no way that I could really connect with others of different religious backgrounds.

The idea of connecting with someone of a different faith was first planted in my head years ago. I was hosting a GIG or Group Investigating God with a college friend and most weeks our group consisted of the executive team from the Atheist/Agnostic club at our college. During our last meeting I invited a Muslim friend and was surprised by how my Muslim friend and I defended faith and the existence of a God, though to us this God was different. Because to believe at all is to share something beautiful in common, compared to a person who does not believe in the existence of anything.

But before we can really look at the intersection of faiths, let’s look at how I personally define what it means to be a Christian vs. a Muslim.

Defining a ‘Christian’ 

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First, we encounter the argument of how you choose to define what it means to be Christian. For the purposes of this post- I’ve indicated how I categorize someone as almost a “baseline” Christian. I realize that you the reader may have a different definition of what being a Christian means.

And even as I tried to define a “baseline” Christian I wondered if it was fair to say that they tithe because I’ve heard that very few people actually do this. Then there are people who love God but regularly miss church.

Defining a ‘Muslim’ 

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I asked a friend how she defines a Muslim and she indicated the above and clarified that she also considered that recognizing one God, the day of judgement, and believing Mohammed is a prophet is enough.

The Intersection 

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You can see above how the intersection between how “close” you can feel to someone who also holds faith, even if they believe in a different God. That is compared to someone who is a different faith but isn’t as religious.

I was honestly super proud of this realization until I realized that I was missing one important fact.

God Doesn’t Want Christians On a Spectrum 

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To follow and listen to God’s word instructs me of the fact that God doesn’t want Christians on a spectrum. Thus negating the entire that a spectrum could even exist. 

Revelation 3:15-16 New International Version (NIV)
15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

The reality is that Christianity cannot exist on a spectrum because scripture instructs that you must either you are completely sold out for God or you should not believe in him at all.

The danger of our society is a culture in which people decide that they are kinda sorta Christian. This is a topic that was spoken about this past Sunday at my church.

It also begins to become easy to think that giving 10% is a lot if you surround yourself with other people who don’t give at all. But God’s standards for serving him are radically not in relation to those in our lives and instead is revealed in his word.

As I grow as a person and in my walk with God I am also learning to respect the journeys of others and realize that though scripture is clear, we might still be on a spectrum of belief. But while on this spectrum, I think we cannot deny the command from scripture to avoid at all costs, lukewarm Christianity.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Can Christianity exist on a spectrum? Is my definition of following Christ too rigid? 

Thoughts on Keeping Up with The Joneses

 

To this day, I am shamed by my brother because of a letter I wrote back in high school. My Sunday School teacher at the time had challenged our class to write letters to God asking for things we really want. Sit back and watch how God provides.

I wrote a letter to God asking for Ugg boots and I got them.  But that isn’t the point. My middle/high-school self really struggled with keeping up the Joneses, a concept to read more about here. As an adult I need to remind myself that there is beauty to living in God’s unique provisions for our lives and living our lives for ourself, not impressing others.

There will never be enough “stuff” 

You would think that after my mom surprised me with Ugg boots that I would be thrilled and stop asking for such expensive items, and I was excited but just for some time. What kinda makes me laugh today is the fact that before seeing those boots on practically every girl at my school, I never thought they were pretty. I have my own adult version of that with Louis Vuitton bags. I used to cringe when I saw them but now look to them was adoration.

The ugg boots were great for a moment but then I wanted so low pants and a Juicy couture suit and an Ed Hardy shirt and the list goes on. I would drag my mom to the mall and try to find the cheapest shirt with Aeropostale written across the chest. I kept wanting and asking for things hoping these items would somehow buy me social acceptance. Luckily my mom never indulged any of my other requests. I couldn’t understand why other people could afford these things that I so badly wanted and didn’t understand that my parents were investing in other things that I couldn’t see. They gave money to our church, family members in need and visiting ministers. They could see that  the things I wanted weren’t necessary but I couldn’t at the time.

We can miss out on what’s better 

There is nothing wrong with material belongings but we can miss out on God’s unique provisions for our lives. If we stretch our budgets so thin to buy that purse that make us look a certain way- are we happy? I’m all for spending money on quality items but that decisions should be motivated by other reasons. Like buying from companies that are ethical or present high quality goods. Or because we like to express our own unique style, not because we want to present a certain image.

So if you’re like me and struggle with the need to keep with the Joneses, I challenge you and myself to look at our unique desires and ask ourselves why we really want an item. Is it self expression or is it self promotion? With that being said, I still have a pretty long Pinterest Wishlist board! But I hope that overtime it becomes more and more of what I personally desire.

How I Payed Off my Private Loan

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The most amazing screen to see.

 

It happened this year. I finally payed off my private student loan. I still have a government loan with a $20,000 balance looming over my head, but after 5 years of teaching done (currently in year 2/5), it will be forgiven, God willing.

This Discover loan loomed over my head for far too long. Back on February 8, 2017, I wrote to my accountability partner for my Financial Peace University course about how long I thought it would take to pay off my loan. I couldn’t imagine paying it off in a year. I owed $10,001.65 at the time and wrote to my friend that in 2.5 years I could pay back to $10,000 dollars. I was paying $400 a month at time. Somehow I managed to pay back my loan at a rate of almost $1000 a month, a substantial part of my income, especially considering my expenses (rent, groceries, government loan payments, tithe).

Here’s how I did it:

Lots and lots of extra work 

I didn’t intentionally work extra, but I ended up doing a lot more hourly work this past year. I have a per session rate of almost $40 an hour as a teacher. Almost every time I got an extra check from doing this work, it went to my loan. I said yes to a lot of extra work that I normally would never agree to. I went on extra trainings and took opportunities because I knew that the extra money would inch me closer to my goal.

Just put a little extra 

Every time I would make a monthly loan payment, my mom challenged me to put a little extra. For example, if I was paying $400 for the month and the loan balance was $5,500, my mom would tell me to pay $501 to see the balance drop a little bit more into the $4,000 range. It became so much fun to push myself a little more each month and to pay off more and more.

Budget! 

I never budgeted effectively before last year. I have my own weird system that works for me. I use Everydollar.com but at the beginning of the month I only vaguely put my money into categories. As I spend money, I keep receipts and adjust my budget to my actual spending. If I buy something and don’t get a receipt, I log it right away on my Everydollar app. I challenge myself to “feel” every purchase. I want to get better with this because often my money goes to things that aren’t important to me and I want to tell my money where to go.

Closing Thoughts

The truth is that I’m still learning how to manage money. Now I’m working on my rainy day fund. My goal is $6000. I’m following Dave Ramsey’s steps by avoiding debt and spending somewhat wisely. I still buy things I don’t need and make mistakes but I am so proud to now be one step closer to financial freedom.

Should Christian Women Dress Modestly?

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I first found out about Girl Defined‘s ministry because a guy friend of mine shared a video that they made on Christian modesty. He wrote something along the lines of how as a man, he appreciated when his Christian sisters dressed modestly for their Christian brothers. At the time, I replied that it wasn’t a woman’s responsibility to dress modestly for men, that they made their own decisions and such a mentality leads to victim blaming and other unhealthy patterns of thinking.

We later spoke and clarified what we each meant, a lot of which was misunderstood, but the topic of modesty and whether Christian women should dress modestly has always left me feeling confused and became something I really struggled to understand. I now follow and value Girl Defined’s ministry but I initially found their video and view on modesty unsettling. Ultimately, modesty is an issue of the heart and we should be careful to make “black and white” rules regarding how women and/or men should dress. 

I’ve mentioned my conservative Christian upbringing before on this blog. I’m grateful for how I was raised but I believe one mistake of the church as a whole was stressing modesty without explaining why because the reason why we do something can be just as important as what we choose to do.

Modesty begins at the heart 

I remember going clothing shopping with my mother and just hoping she would be okay with a cute pencil skirt that went just above the knee. I knew that any tank top purchased would require a cardigan. I spent summers in sweltering heat in capris because shorts were seen as way too revealing.

But because I learned that certain things were not allowed without much rationale as for why, I went into college kinda reckless in terms of what I thought was appropriate attire. I use the word reckless loosely. Not only did I show a lot of skin at times, but I didn’t even dress for the weather. I wore spaghetti strap dresses in the winter if it was the fastest thing I could find before heading to class. I didn’t think or care much about what I wore and later on in life enjoyed receiving attention for stylish outfits. I reveled in the freedom of wearing whatever I wanted but wasn’t all too modest in the sense of not drawing attention to myself.

We are quick to recite 1 Timothy 2:9, “I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes,”, forgetting the other plea to not draw attention to ourselves with “luxurious” items. The heart of modesty directs us in vs. 10 to instead, “but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.” Meaning, we shouldn’t be known but we do, not how we look. 

There are no hard and fast “rules” 

It can feel natural to make rules. Growing up, not wearing sleeves was considered scandalous. I always needed to cover my knees. But beyond that, it didn’t really matter what I wore. It took me a long time to realize that I could be completely covered but possibly revealing too much if my clothing was too tight and losing the entire point of “covering up”.

If you look at Genesis 2 & 3, you are shown the story of Adam and Eve. Genesis 2:25 reveals that, “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” It was only after sinning that they desired to cover themselves in Genesis 3:7,  “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.”

Adam and Eve in their sinlessness, were naked. It can be tempting to assign certain rules for how to dress for ourselves and others- but ultimately we must individually weigh our decisions.
 
How we dress is just one part of who we are, an important for me as someone who enjoys dressing up and expressing myself through fashion. But how we dress can also be a way of showing our honor and respect to God while also drawing others to look at who we are rather than what we look like.

 

Do we give up too easily? | Being a Woman in the Indian Church

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I was watching a video of Aimee Mullens’ Ted Talk, for maybe the eighth time. I had already watched her talk several times before deciding to teach my students about about her speech or more so the power of her passion and how that elevated her speaking. She was poised, put together, passionate and was standing on prosthetic legs. She challenged society’s notion of what a “disabled” person should be and I looked at her and thought that if I were her, I wouldn’t have dared to stand on that stage. I wouldn’t have become a runner like her. But she, with her disability, was doing things I could only dream of accomplishing. 

Watching Aimee Mullens made me think- she trusts her legs. She trusts her prosthetics, probably more than I trust my flesh and bones. If she doesn’t give up, why do I? There are many times in life when we may face seemingly insurmountable challenges. Some of these hurdles have presented themselves in my experiences as a woman in the Indian church. In the moment we believe that things cannot and will not get better, that we are limited in some way. But looking at Mullens I am reminded that our definitions and perceptions of situations can be challenged and that maybe- we give up too easily. 

There are two ways people can respond to set backs. There are the Cains of the world and the Davids.

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Characteristics of Cains 

  • Jealous
  • Cynical

Cain and Abel are the children of Adam and Eve. Cain grew jealous of Abel’s sacrifice to God and this ultimately led to his demise:

…Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. Genesis 4:3-5

Cain’s jealousy of what his brother had and what he lacked led him to ultimately killing his brother. Instead of trying to offer something better to God, to be something more- he turned to sin. How many times do we feel like we just cannot do or be more? I believe we all know that feeling all too well. We fail in some way or form and instead of trying again, we give up. A friend of mine told me that before getting the job he now has at a big financial company, he applied to 99 jobs at the same firm. He now worked in hiring and can see all applications that come in for the company and noted how most people apply maybe once or twice. While hearing his story, most of my friends admitted that we would do the same. If a company rejected us after a couple of applications, that was it for us. But my friend didn’t give up on the company he wanted to work at until he finally got a position.

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Characteristics of Davids 

  • Resourceful
  • Hopeful

David was the youngest of his brothers and naturally passed by for opportunities. But David didn’t let his background hold him back. In fact, David leveraged the very qualities that would make others think he was weak. In the classic bible story of David and Goliath, David used the unusual tool of a slingshot to defeat a giant.

 49 Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.

50 So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.(1 Samuel 17:49-50)

In a situation in which others would have given up, David remained hopeful. He trusted in everything that God had provided and in the end was triumph. Growing up as a female in the Indian church, it was hard to have an older brother in some ways.

Being a Woman in the Indian Church

I frequently spoke at church and was very open about how I loved public speaking but no speech I ever gave seemed to measure up to the sermons my brother spoke. He rarely spoke publicly and didn’t care for it, but the few times he spoke were admittedly spectacular. There were many times I wanted to give up on my love of speaking. Why try to have a voice in a society that would rather hear from a man, especially when others could speak better? There were many times when I felt as though the opportunities given to me in the Indian church would be so much grander if I were a man. How could I not think that way when even in one of our most prominent organization, Pentecostal Youth Fellowship of America (PYFA), I have only once seen a female leader in an organization founded in 1981.

My parents and grandparents would pray every night for my brother to be a minister of God, but I never once heard them pray for me to minister God’s word. My grandfather was a prominent pastor and my brother was the only grandson born with the last name “Thomas”, the default heir. My mom recounted that a prophesying preacher once spoke to my parents and told them that they had prayed and hoped for ministry to come from their family from their son, but it would come from their daughter. My mom shared what was said to me but reminded me that she still hoped for my brother to one day minister.

If Aimee Mullens doesn’t give up even when she was prosthetic legs, why would I give up because I’m a woman? Everyday we choose whether we give up or keep going. Giving up can happen in small ways. We stop working towards that goal we really had set in our heart. Or maybe we stop moving forward in acquiring a new skill we long to have. It could even mean underestimating ourselves because of whatever our “disability” may be. There are days that can feel so dark and times in which all hope is lost but I pray that if you cling to hope, you too can do the seemingly impossible.

 

 

 

 

How my Pride Led to Insecurity

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As a Corporate Communications undergraduate major, I gave a ton of speeches back in college and naturally grew tired of a once intimidating task. On one occasion I gave a better speech than usual and upon leaving class two classmates ran up to me and asked, “How were you so confident?” I don’t remember what I answered but the truth was that the secret to my perceived confidence was that I didn’t care about the opinions of anyone in that class I gave a speech to. In a college of 17,000 people, it was easy to be in a class with a bunch of people I never met before and I didn’t care for the opinions of people I didn’t know.

I began to adopt an odd pattern of feeling a sense of pride around people I grew comfortable around or who I felt better than or didn’t care for because I didn’t know them. That is until one day I realized how my pride was the seed from which fruits of my insecurity sprout. But luckily, in learning this lesson, I was also presented with the incredible hope that comes from understanding that humbleness can lead to a God centered sense of security in who God created us to be.

These realizations around my pride all started two weeks ago after  I taught my sunday school students a lesson on a pride- pretty logical progression, right? We explored how pride distorts things meant to be good.

Beauty can become vanity.

Instead of feeling joy in the accomplishments of others, we wonder why we didn’t get what they have.

When criticized, we are defensive, never assessing the validity of the others claim.

I taught that lesson and admitted to my students that I failed “The Pride Test”. I looked at myself with a sudden awareness of how Pride was ruining what was meant to be good in my life. I realized that Pride had led to my feelings of insecurity.

The lies of Pride become smaller next to God

I became prideful in small ways, in comfortable circumstances. My mom would always joke about my cavalier attitude around family members and my church family. I would take up as much space as I liked and probably said some things I shouldn’t have without thinking much about it. I felt confident of myself because I saw others as less. That person doesn’t have a job, at least I have one. I could only feel secure if I could imagine myself as better than someone else. I hate that I thought that. I hate that I’m writing this paragraph and that I’m admitting something so disgusting about myself. I feel ashamed to admit that I treated others so poorly and in turn hurt myself.

How would God look at my heart? I think he must have felt so disappointed. This is the same God who came to earth and didn’t look for any of the things we look for in others. Does the bible talk about how he chose a disciple because of his PhD from an Ivy league? Did he befriend the stylish woman at the well? Sure the bible will give merit to beauty and wisdom, but those factors never stopped God from loving or helping someone. God chose the lowly and despised of the world to shame the wise.

One lesson I taught my students and continually remind myself to remember is that we can begin to feel humble when we remind ourselves of how great our God is. You’re proud of your beauty or intellect? Have you heard of the almighty God? He’s so majestic and beautiful that our eyes cannot even see him and live. When we change our perspective to see ourselves in light of who God is, how can we not be humbled?

How Pride breeds insecurity

In the same way that I would feel better than certain people, I felt worse than others. Pride lied to me and told me that because of my looks or education or my background, I was inherently worth less than someone else. Seeing the success of others made me fear failure.

Did I deserve to work at my job? Was I worthy to be that person’s friend? All of the things I built my worth on crumpled because my pride was built on such an insecure foundation.

 

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Without Pride, we see ourselves and others and God intended

God offers us a unique freedom and privilege to gracefully accept our limits as humans. We are beautiful but not the most beautiful. We are given wisdom, but only because God allows it. We may have accomplished a lot by worldly standards, but how small are our feats in light of eternity? How different would our lives be in a different place or circumstance?

Just as pride brings forth fruits of insecurity, I believe that humbleness can lead to fruits of security in who we are and who it is that God longs for us to be.

Why I Continually Choose Gratefulness

Today’s blog post was inspired by a sermon my uncle gave this past Sunday. Remember, our thoughts shape our lives.  

Proverbs 4:23 Be careful what you think, because your thoughts run your life.”

 

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After graduating from college, nearly three years ago, I found myself in a pattern that was really unusual for me. I would complain a lot. Nothing in life seemed to go as I would have liked. Ugh, why do my days start so early? Why don’t I get paid enough? There was always something wrong, even in the most ideal of circumstances. I started to complain more and more until my mom spoke to me. Do you realize how much you’ve been complaining? I was unaware. Do you realize how complaining hurt the Israelites? That too, I was unaware of.

Growing up in a Christian home, the story of Moses and the Israelites was one of the first stories I ever learned. Moses, an Israelite man, was chosen by God to deliver the Israelites out of Egypt into a promise land. Great idea, right? Except almost all of the original people who left Egypt never did actually make it to that promise land. On their journey from Egypt, after being given victory over Pharoh, the Israelites began to complain. Though they hated their lives in Egypt they began to say that their life was better before they left. They complained of the food God gave them and never trusted that God would provide enough for each day.

In my own personal life, like the Israelites, the complaining didn’t stop. It didn’t stop after my mom chastised me. But, luckily, despite my incessant complaints at the time, I consider myself a positive person. At my very core I hope and dream big dreams. I realize that the moments I choose gratefulness over criticism fill my life with such incredible joy as I look to everything God has given me, rather than what he has not.

I realize that gratefulness gives me hope and joy, while discontentment leads to sadness and pain in my own life.

We see what we expect to see.

 

 

There are some a couple reasons why gratefulness really works, why even research supports the idea that it works. Have you heard of the law of attraction? It sounds like a bunch of hippy love stories until you see it work in your own life. We attract the energy that we send out.

How many times do you see a Prius out on the road? Now that I’ve mentioned this, you’re likely to see them all over. When we focus on something, whether good or bad, we see it more and more.

We can practice contentment in living within God’s provisions for us 

 

 

I remember reading a book on personal finance and God entitled Free. The ideas were revolutionary to me. In a world that praises sacrificing everything in an effort to make more money, the book offers a countercultural idea. Buy that smaller more expensive house closer to work if that means you have more time with your family. Spend less so that you can work less and use your time differently as as you would like. And the biggest of all takeaways for me was the idea of living within the provision God has given me. For me that meant to stop trying to buy clothes and brands that I couldn’t afford and would leave my budget extremely tight. I could feel myself breathe a sigh of relief. I don’t need to buy that $500 wallet if that $50 one looks just as cute. Granted, you can choose the $500 one if you would like, but I realize that there was incredible freedom in living well within our own means. Keep in mind, for a person making millions of dollars, a $500 purse isn’t that expensive. I, on the other hand, don’t make that kind of money. 

So many times we can question the things God has given us. Why were we born into certain families or why are we from a certain country? Why were we inclined to work in a certain field and not another? Our bank accounts and salaries may change, but that doesn’t mean that our joy and contentment in whatever it is God has given us should change as well.  

Gratitude changes the way you think and even feel

 

 

We constantly build habits in our lives, both good and bad. Whichever habits were are used to become easier to repeat again and again. When we train our brains to think positively and to think gratefully we can in turn change how we feel.

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As a Special Education teacher I’ve learned a lot about de-escalating potentially volatile situations. We learn to nip problems in the bud. Cognitive behaviour therapy also follows a similar idea. Our thoughts can lead us to feel unnecessarily anxious or even depressed. In the midst of a spiral of negative thoughts, it’s hard to stop. But instead of allowing thoughts to escalate so fast, we can try to stop negative thinking right when we start to feel it beginning.

One of my favorite ways to practice gratitude is by using the ideas behind The Five Minute Journal. I try to stop and thank God for different things in my life, even things that may seem stupid. I affirm myself and think of what I long to accomplish for the day.

Thank you, whoever you are, for taking the time to read this blog post.

Thank you Lord for giving me fingers to type and a mind to think.

Praise God for another beautiful day.

Have you intentionally tried to practice gratitude in your day to day life?

 

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