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> What Are You Asking? -March 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


MARCH 2005

Why can’t we love ourselves unconditionally as God loves us?

Love of self, love of neighbor and love of God seem to depend on one another. If I cannot love myself – see myself as a child of God, see myself as worthy, feel good in my own presence, orient my will to do what is right for myself – then I will be unable to love the other person and to love God. Or it can start in love of the other: if I cannot love another, I will be unable to love myself. Or start in love of God.

All three expressions of healthy love need to be in balance. Otherwise, what feels like love might just be emotionalism or fawning or idolatry. For example, I can focus too much on loving my neighbor while holding on to an attitude of self-loathing with regard to myself. When that happens, love of the other tends to become a way to compensate for self-loathing and, thus, not real love. It can become controlling, not liberating.

Or I can lose myself in religiosity, and mistake it for love of God, while holding on to arrogant attitudes toward “lesser” peoples or unrealistic standards for myself.

God’s love for us is freely given, not dependent on certain performance or belief. God’s love is liberating, not controlling. God’s love is universal, not restrictive. God’s love comes first, not as a consequence of prior conditions being met. God gives without expectation or payback.

God can do that because God isn’t burdened with self-loathing or with a need to build himself up by making another small or un-free. For us to love that way, we would need to start by setting aside the boundaries and restrictions that we have been taught were essential. If we aren’t prepared to love all, then our restrictions and rules will prevent us from loving any.

I suspect there is more than one way to get our love in balance. But my impression is that self-love comes last, after we have made a good-faith effort to love God and to love our neighbor.

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I can't seem to find any direction in my life. I don't how to ask God.

Two of life’s most difficult challenges are to find an overall sense of purpose for one’s life and to make specific decisions about what comes next. I won’t try to make it artificially simple.

We tend to deal with that challenge by making decisions about identity: I am a writer, or I am a parent, or I am a musician. That rarely seems enough. A healthy life has more than one component, and the need is for balance, not exclusive focus. Moreover, we are always changing, so today’s self-perception might not be relevant tomorrow. Finally, situations make identity-shifting demands on us.

A better way to envision purpose would be to examine God’s dreams for humankind in general and then to imagine how those dreams apply to oneself. For example, Scripture conveys that God wants people to be free. Applied to myself, I might ask in what ways my life remains un-free, and what, if anything, can I do about it. Jesus brought people together in circles. In what ways am I open to and resistant to such gathering? How could I do my job, for example, in a way that promotes community? Scripture calls for self-denial and self-sacrifice, that is, an orientation of self for the good of the other. In my work, or friendships, or recreation, or community life, do I get outside myself and consider the needs of others?

When you approach life-purpose in that way, you will learn, first, that God does have desires for you – such as freedom, love, community, forgiveness -- and, second, that understanding God’s desires for you as the foundation for specific decisions will make those decisions more natural and effective.

The sobering reality, of course, is that most people don’t face unlimited options. We are all constrained by circumstance and systems, especially by oppressive systems. The challenge there is to apply God’s desires to the limited range of options before you.

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When a person prays, should they be consistent and constantly
pray for whatever their situation is? Or should they pray for
the situation once and “let go and let God”? I have been
taught both ways and am confused on which way to go.
Can you shed some light on this for me?

Remember, God already knows your needs. Praying doesn’t give God information that God doesn’t already have. Nor does prayer improve God’s disposition toward you. We cannot earn grace.

The audience for prayer is yourself. You pray to God, but it is in hearing yourself pray to God that you realize what matters, what hurts, what is missing, what needs to be done, and so on. Hence the need to “pray unceasingly.” The obstacles are within yourself. To recognize God’s love for you, you will need to get out of your own way. If that were easy, you would already have done it. Thus, you pray again and again, and the attitudes, behaviors and self-destructive behaviors that obstruct your path come into focus and, in time, seem less important to sustain.

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How can I find a religion most suitable for my beliefs?

I take your question to mean that you have certain beliefs and now you want to find a denomination and/or congregation that fits your beliefs. You might start by examining how you came to those beliefs. If it was through a certain church during your childhood, then that church (or its local affiliate) might be a good place to start. Our beliefs change as we mature and experience more of life. It could be that you have moved away from, or even outgrown, the church of your childhood. But knowing where you were formed can be a helpful first step.

It could be your beliefs were formed by exposure to preaching or reading in a way other than Sunday worship. Such ways – pamphlets, articles, books, television, and other – usually have a sponsoring denomination, congregation or organization. If your beliefs were shaped by a certain preacher on television, for example, you could seek out a local congregation of his or her denomination.

Your beliefs might have been formed by exposure to a certain missionary work, such as Habitat for Humanity or feeding the hungry. You can look for congregations that support those same missions. Watch for articles in the newspaper.

Whatever your first step, be prepared for a time of wandering. Every congregation is different, and a healthy congregation is always changing. If your beliefs are lively, then they are changing, too. In the end, a faith community is about people, not doctrine. Finding a perfect doctrinal match won’t matter as much as being among believers whom you respect and to whom you are bound in mutual affection.

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I would like to participate in our Care Committee monthly meeting.
Could you help me in describing a Mission and Vision Statement
for my Church? My town has little more then 3,000 people,
most have a church. What I would like to present to the committee
is how the church can reach the ones who do not know Jesus.
So I thought Mission and Vision is what it would take.
Can you help me please?

In my opinion, the doing of mission matters more than a statement about mission. If your congregation is engaged in serving God and loving other people, the word will go around. In the absence of servanthood and love, what would a statement matter?

A healthy congregation tends to be a messy affair: always changing, diverse in its personalities, responsive to the world, open to new ideas and new missions. In my experience, mission statements and vision statements tend to assume too much orderliness, and they get out of date quickly.

Rather than stating who you are as a congregation, I would suggest that you listen to the world around you, especially to the unchurched. That is where care will occur, and listening will build better bridges than talking.

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I saw Hotel Rwanda last night. It has me wondering if there isn't some aspect of human nature that seems drawn to choosing sides, even if for completely illogical, arbitrary reasons. We do it in virtually every human endeavor. I know this can't be what God wants from us. Why do we choose such destructive behavior?

A: We are social creatures. We like to belong. One way to belong is to pick sides, to identify with one group, perhaps in opposition to another.

We tend to place a high value on control – too high a value, some would say, verging on an addiction. One way to exercise control is to draw boundaries and to declare oneself as inside and others outside. Another is to be “right.” And one way to assert rightness is to choose the winning team.

We tend to project our self-loathing, shortcomings and unresolved issues onto others. Scapegoating another person or group helps us feel better about ourselves. Not for long, of course, since the underlying issues remain. We then ratchet up the scapegoating.

Why do we do all of this? We are human, and we are weak. This is the way weak people behave. We can’t stop being human, but we can strive for the inner strength that would enable us to find true belonging and self-worth in God.

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What does the Bible say about a Christian marrying a non-Christian?

The only reference of which I am aware is Paul’s discussion in 1 Corinthians 7:12ff. Paul concludes that it is fine for believers to marry non-believers.

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


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