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> What Are You Asking? -February 2005

Tom Ehrich
Tom Ehrich


What are You asking?

Pastor, Author and Speaker Tom Ehrich responds to
your questions about God, faith and
living spiritually

Send us your questions



Is humor a way to practice the Christian faith?

I once saw a wonderful drawing of Jesus laughing. It didn’t reflect any passage in the Gospels, but it did ring true. If Jesus was indeed fully human, then he surely shared humankind’s need for laughter. The Gospels tend to be serious, sometimes tragic. Christian community, on the other hand, tends to include humor of all sorts. That seems appropriate and necessary, as long as we don’t resort to mockery of others or escapist laughter than cannot bear the pain.

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I am looking for employment, and had an interview for a job I’ve been wanting forever. I had my interview two weeks ago, and I’ve been persistent in calling back to check the status of my application. All they say, “We are still evaluating things.” I’ve prayed my heart out for this job. Do you think God will give it to me?

A: Jobs are offered by people, not by God. Prayer doesn’t cause God to intervene so that you get the job and someone else does not. Why would God hurt someone else in order to help you? God is more concerned with you as a person. I think God would ask, “Did you communicate your capabilities and interest well? Were you honest? If you got the job, would you perform it in a way that honored larger commitments such as family and service to others? If you didn’t get it, would you doubt yourself or seek to punish someone?”

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I need some advice on my life. I have some sort of target on what I want; I just don't have the ability to do it. You see, I can't get the one thing I need to start my life. I know what I need to do, I just can't seem to do it. I believe that I have all the tools, and most of the answers, I just don't have that one thing that will start it in motion.

St. Paul the Apostle had the same problem. He knew what he needed to do; he just couldn’t do it. He asked God to be merciful. In the end, his hope lay in Jesus Christ, not in his abilities to achieve. That would be a good starting point for you, too.

Next step, it seems to me, is to reflect on the obstacle that you have identified as standing in your way. If it is fear, you can pray for courage. If it is self-doubt, you can pray for confidence. If it is inadequate skills, you can ask God to show you the right path, perhaps enhanced skills, perhaps lowering your sights. If it is some form of prejudice such as racism or sexism, you can seek out allies for seeking justice.

Some obstacles are artificial or temporary and can be surmounted by honesty and effort. Some obstacles, however, are intrinsic to who we are, and we would be wise to understand why an unobtainable goal matters so much. (I shouldn’t aspire to be a track star, for example, although I can enjoy brisk walking.)

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How did Cain find his wife, and who was she?

The book of Genesis doesn’t say. Genesis 4.17 simply says that “Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch.” By tracing the line of Enoch, the author of Genesis identifies Cain as the founder of such settled pursuits as shepherding, music and tool-making. Through this line also came blood revenge.
None of this should be considered historical record. Rather, as throughout the so-called “pre-history” of Genesis, the authors were using metaphor to explain how things came to be, such as the tension between farmers and semi-nomads (Cain and Abel), blood revenge (Lamech) and knowledge of Yahweh (via Seth, third son of Adam and Eve.)

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I want to know how to be born again, and how to understand the Bible, and how to remove sin from my life. I am seeing a married man at this time. But I am not married. And I want be real for God. Help!!!

First things first. Adultery is wrong. It violates a couple’s marriage, and it distorts one’s relationship with God. While you certainly can seek an authentic relationship with God, it is difficult to imagine that relationship thriving as long as you are engaged in violating the trust between husband and wife. Getting right with God needs to come first.

Being born again means two things: taking on a new identity as a child of God, and living in a new way as a follower of God. It isn’t a magical moment. It is a reorientation of the will, stirred no doubt by experiences like grace and forgiveness, but leading always to new decisions about self and life. You see, then, why adultery must end. How can you seek new identity and new being when part of you is clinging to the oldness of sin?

Removing sin from your life – or at least taking critical first steps – will require the support of a healthy faith community, where you will be loved and not judged, encouraged to study, given opportunities to serve God, and drawn into lively worship. I encourage you to find such a faith community. You might start by asking around among people whose lives you respect, and by looking to see who is feeding the hungry and providing shelter and clothing for the needy.

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I was always told that B.C. meant Before Christ, and A.D. meant
After Death. But I noticed in my Bible there is a Timeline that indicates that Jesus was born in 65 B.C. and died in 30 A.D.,which would mean he was born before he was born and died after he died. I am confused.

BC does mean “Before Christ,” but AD means Anno Domini, Latin for “Year of the Lord.” It refers to early conclusions (in the Sixth Century) as to the year Jesus was born. Later scholarship, based on the life and reign of Herod the Great, determined that Jesus probably was born between 7 BC and 4 BC, or possibly as late as 6 AD. In other words, no one knows for sure when Jesus was born. BC and AD, thus, are conventions for marking time, not for tracking the historical life of Jesus. Because of Christianity’s spread through Europe and the Americas, those conventions for marking time became widespread, although not universal.

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How does one rely on faith when one works hard, struggles and
strives to get ahead, and nothing seems to change? How does one
keep the faith when nothing in her life goes right? I am single,
lonely, and broke. How I should keep faith in my heart?

Faith is about a relationship with God, not about personal improvement, success in life, or solutions to problems. It is my understanding that we are born in that relationship, lose touch with it in growing up, and spend the rest of our lives trying to get back in touch with God. Difficulties in life might encourage us to work harder in that quest; so might joys and delights. The quest itself contains no guarantees of loneliness being alleviated, finances being improved, or health being restored. We seek God because God is seeking us, and because life is meaningless without God.

Troubles can get in our way. It is difficult to imagine God’s love when one is being beaten down by life. And yet travail can draw us closer to God, as long as we don’t blame God for our problems, and as long as we don’t think ourselves unworthy of God because we aren’t successful or pretty or rich or young. In tough times, therefore, faith bears two critical messages: God is faithful, and you are worthy.

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There are laws in the Old Testament and New. How do I know
which ones to do and which ones have changed?

The issue isn’t which laws have “changed,” for the wording of both Old and New Testaments was locked into place many centuries ago. The issue is what we make of the several hundred laws, commandments and statutes found in the Hebrew Bible, as well as the less overtly legal words of the New Testament.
According to modern Biblical scholarship, the authors of the Old Testament – many authors, writing over a period of several hundred years – put into writing a complex legal code that was developed over time to guide the Hebrew people in settling Canaan and forming a nation. Many of the laws were presented as coming directly from Moses, or from God to Moses, but we are wise to see that as a literary convention, not a specific act of dictation. These were Israel’s words about God, based on its experience of God, not words that God wrote.

Israel understood itself to be a holy nation, unique among all people. The Law of Moses established what made them holy. Thus, they were to eat certain foods but not others; they were to have certain attitudes toward debt and money that were different from other nations’. The Law also reflected the boundaries of their understanding. They were frightened by menstrual blood, for example, so they developed specific rules for menstruation. They were dealing, as well, with the challenge of melding twelve tribes into a single nation, regulating their semi-nomadic life, and transitioning into a more urban culture. The Law addressed those challenges.

As you can see, the specific laws dealt with specific situations, which might not pertain today. The Law’s value to us – as Jesus made clear – isn’t as a legal code, but as a lens for understanding God.

Jesus specifically resisted attempts to make his ministry legalistic. The early Church, therefore, turned to Paul for legal language, even though Paul’s letters were written to address specific questions and not to establish universal codes.

In making the decisions of your life, I urge you to examine deeply the ethics that emerge from the ministry of Moses, the words of the prophets, the teachings and life of Jesus, and the teachings of the apostles. There you will find God’s standards: fairness, compassion, justice, love, community, generosity, self-sacrifice, steadfastness. Living into those standards is more difficult than obeying certain laws, but it also draws you closer to God.

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I ask God to grant me the wisdom to lead others towards enlightenment.

By your e-mail address I gather that you are a church musician. If so, you are in a unique position to do exactly what you seek: to lead others to enlightenment. From ancient times, music has been humanity’s stairway to God. What could never be said fully in written or spoken word becomes possible in song. Music taps emotions, uses the power of metaphor (“The Lord is my shepherd”) to get beyond the literal, draws the many into one, and opens both heart and mind to God. As a church musician, you are charged with using music wisely and faithfully.

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How do you know the right decision to make about something when you keep praying and asking God to help you?

I doubt that we ever know for sure. I remember once needing to make an important decision about accepting a job offer. I prayed, talked, struggled. In the end, I had to make the best decision I could. I then sat in a chair, exhausted, and said to God, “I have tried my best. If I made the wrong decision, I ask your forgiveness.”

In other words, certainty is beyond us, but forgiveness isn’t beyond God.

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I am “shell-shocked” by how mean people can be. How in the world can I ever learn to trust people and God again?

Mean people aren’t a sign that God is untrustworthy. You can trust God at all times, no matter how poorly people are behaving. God allows people to live freely – and in their freedom to abuse others – but God also promises to love us and to stand with us. When confronted with people’s meanness, you can turn to God in full confidence.

As to trusting people, that is a dilemma. History suggests that cruelty is ever with us. It is unlikely that you can ever fully separate yourself from humanity’s frailty, including your own. What you can do, first, is to live your life as decently as possible, and then learn to trust yourself. Second, you can gravitate toward people who live decently and treat others well, and learn to trust them. Third, you can remain wary of those who willfully hurt others.
The key here is discernment.

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What does it mean to be a person of faith?

Faith agrees to follow God out of bondage. Faith braves the wilderness, trusting God to lead the way and to provide daily bread. Faith crosses into new land, and stops along the way to give thanks to God. Faith shares the harvest with God. Faith accepts the prophet’s difficult word as necessary to hear. Faith remembers God even in exile. Faith finds comfort in God’s promise of redemption. Faith agrees to be taught, even though the Messiah’s teachings are hard to hear; agrees to serve, even though the served often rebel and resent; agrees to love even one’s enemy; agrees to stand with Jesus even as he dies; agrees to die to self, even as others live to self. Faith sees and hears what the powerful despise. Faith knows that love is its superior. Faith sees a multitude, hungry and needy, and decides to feed and clothe without concern for the opinions of others. Faith bows its head in prayer and raises its head in joy.
To be a person of faith means giving yourself over to all of that, even as the world sets another course.

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I am unsure of what religion to practice or believe in?

As a Christian, I invite you to explore the Good News of God in Christ. That can take many different forms, as Christianity wears hundreds of different garments. But learning more about Jesus – how he lived, what he said, how he gave up his life for others, and how God raised him to new life – can start in any healthy congregation. As you set about seeking a starting-point, I encourage you to ask around: Where do people whom you respect seem to be experiencing God? Doctrine matters little, liturgical practice matters little. What matters is a healthy, lively congregation of people willing to take the journey of faith (see Q & A above) and to share it with strangers. Remember that Jesus created circles of friends, not an institution of rules and hierarchy.

Wherever you start – a neighborhood church is often a good place – be prepared for a journey with surprises. I don’t know of any serious Christian who has ended up where he or she started. Faith transforms.

Christianity is the path that has brought me close to God. It has changed my life and might well change yours. Other paths exist, as well, and each has its own integrity. Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and others all have rich ways of introducing you to the God of all creation. Be wary of any tradition that insists that its way is the only way.

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What does religion mean? Is it what you believe in
at church or what? Please help.

Religion usually has to do with structure and expectations. It is the organizational dimension of faith. At its most gracious and humble, religion can be a thing of great beauty, performing acts of charity that resemble the way Jesus lived. At its worst, religion often seeks to be an end in itself, demanding that participants give slavish devotion to certain leaders, practices, assertions or rules. In that pursuit, religion ends up being no different from any other institution.

When religion truly serves God, however, its practices point the way to God, its words call people to deeper engagement with the Holy, its leaders are servants, and its people pursue lives of prayer and service. In my experience, such goodness happens at the local level. Every denomination has congregations that exemplify God. I urge you to seek out such a community of faith.

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To learn more about Tom Ehrich’s writings, visit www.onajourney.org.


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