Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Does God Heal All Wounds?

His Healing Heart
God’s provision of health reveals much about his nurturing character.

May/June 2012 | Today's Christian Woman

“God doesn’t always heal.”

I think these words are meant to convey that Christians should seek the will of God, as we don’t know if he’s allowing illness for some purpose that’s ultimately for the believer’s good. Or perhaps these words are meant to remind us that we aren’t entitled to blessings or in any position to demand them from God.

A similar, well-intentioned statement is: “Our greatest spiritual growth comes through trials.” This is probably meant to remind us that trials cause us to run to God and may reveal a complacent heart.

Indeed, these are important lessons for the believer to reflect on when life is going well. But such statements may be deeply harmful when made to those who are struggling through an illness or difficult life circumstances.

That’s because even strong Christians may be tempted to doubt God’s love at times when they’re overwhelmed by physical or emotional pain. Hearing “God doesn’t always heal” might cause a person to focus on the idea that she’s the exception—and then question, Why doesn’t God want to heal me? Am I less important to God, or less worthy than others?

In this way, these statements may paint an ugly picture of God as preferential, or indifferent, or harsh—like a drill sergeant who uses only extreme methods to whip us into shape, and who favors the strong.

There’s a truer statement to be made that reflects God’s love for us: God always heals. Whether it’s through temporary healing provided in this present life, or in the complete physical and emotional healing that he will provide in eternity (Revelation 21:4), God heals all wounds.

God’s Daily Care

Consider how God heals us physically, in this present life, the vast majority of the time. Think about all the times you’ve had colds, headaches, back pain, an upset stomach, and cuts and bruises. These didn’t just go away—each time the illness or pain passed because God provided healing, both through his design of the body and by his hand (James 1:17). God’s design of our physical body tells us something profound about God: He cares so deeply about our pain that he built in a system of healing.

Further, most of us are relatively healthy, most of the time. Although it may be easy to recall lengthy or painful illnesses, it’s impossible for most folks to count the number of days they’ve been well—there are just too many. This should remind us that God is caring for us on a daily basis.

I’ve observed a surprising trait among Christians who suffer from chronic illness or disability: They overflow with joy and demonstrate faith in a measure that isn’t typically found among the healthy. How is this possible? Pain certainly isn’t the impetus for rejoicing. This is surely a result of a felt abundant provision from God.

With this in mind, it seems our greatest spiritual growth isn’t from a trial itself—it’s not pain that makes us spiritually stronger. Rather, our growth comes through God’s provision when we’re experiencing trials. When we witness his love, comfort, and healing, we learn experientially and relationally about who God is.

Health and healing show us that God is relational, aware of our needs, and that he’s the provider of every good thing. These blessings testify to us about God’s character—and remind us that we are known and loved.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Everyday Matters Bible for Women

Some of my pieces were published in the Everyday Matters Bible for Women, which was released in Sept. 2012. Today I discovered that you can read a few of them for FREE in Google books--just search for my name and it will pull up the pages.

You can view more information on this Bible at Amazon or Christianbook.com

Monday, January 23, 2012

"I Believe: What Every Kid Needs to Know About the Christian Faith"

The curriculum I wrote, "I Believe: What Every Kid Needs to Know About the Christian Faith," is now available on BuildingChurchLeaders.com. It answers the question, "What do Christians believe?" using concepts from the Apostles' Creed. It includes 10 lessons along with a Leader's Guide with teaching ideas and activities. Some of the specific topics addressed include:
  • What does it mean to believe in God?
  • Why do Christians call God their “Father”?
  • Is there anything God can't do? 
  • Why did Jesus have to die?
  • Did Jesus really come back to life?
  • Does Jesus have authority over me?
  • Why will I be judged? What have I done?
  • Why didn’t Jesus stay on earth?
  • Who is the Holy Spirit?
  • Why do Christians call each other “brother” and “sister”?
  • What do I need to do to be forgiven?
  • Could I really live forever?
  • How do I know if I’ll go to heaven?  
If you have kids, work with youth, or would just like a quick refresher in how to explain Christian beliefs, check out this PDF download. It's selling for $19.95 and you can make up to 1,000 copies for your church or organization.

More info:

Sample of the curriculum:

Thursday, August 18, 2011

"How to Read the Bible" on BuildingChurchLeaders.com

"How to Read the Bible" is now available on BuildingChurchLeaders.com.

As a curriculum for middle school students, "How to Read the Bible" clearly explains the different genres of God's Word so kids can better understand what they're reading and how to apply it to their daily lives. With examples and anecdotes all middle school students can relate to, this kid-friendly hermeneutics will help the ancient Scriptures come alive in new and exciting ways. And hands-on Bible studies flesh out and reinforce the principles being explored and taught. While this flexible curriculum can be given to highly motivated students for personal study, it's perfect for use in a small or large group setting. "How to Read the Bible" can also be a helpful supplement for your current catechism or Sunday school materials.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Downtime (12/14/10)

Could God have a sanctifying purpose for the sadness I feel?

12/14/2010 | Kyria.com
Earlier this week, I realized I've been really depressed. I had no appetite. I couldn't sleep at night—though I did manage to sleep all day a few times. It felt like my greatest accomplishment was to get out of bed, take a shower, and dress in something other than my bathrobe.

I realized it was Week Six of feeling like this. And I figured it was time to start thinking about my feelings.

Of course, I've known all along that I was down. But there was always a reason. Exhaustion from working non-stop. Stress. Seasonal changes. The daylight-savings time change. Hormone fluctuations. The way my hair and skin get simultaneously oily and dry in the winter and make me feel yucky looking. I rationalized: This is situational depression. Things will change.

But after six weeks, I was starting to wonder, Will things change?

I was about to make an appointment with a therapist when it hit me: I hadn't told God about my sadness. Not once during my prayers of the past six weeks.

Clinical depression and other mental illnesses are real—I have several friends and family members who've benefited from counseling and medication. But I knew this probably wasn't my case: I don't have a history of depression or the symptoms that indicate something physical needs to be treated.

So I prayed. I immediately realized that I've come to expect the occasional blue day that everyone experiences at times. Yet I wondered, Should I totally ignore my feelings just because everybody's sad sometimes? I began to pray, confessing to God that I doubted whether he had plans for me. Or perhaps I'd misunderstood his plan? Maybe I hadn't done well enough lately, so he'd put me on the bench?

Praying about my feelings comforted me, though I still felt sad. But oddly enough, I didn't want to feel instantaneously happy. I didn't want to create some kind of feel-better system, where a specific prayer—or reading a certain Scripture passage, or doing a devotional exercise, or fasting, or singing a worship song, or asking Christian friends to pray—made everything all better. (Yes, I've actually tried all those things before, hoping for happiness! It doesn't work.) I realized that downtime was exactly what I needed.

Reading through my recent e-mails, I noticed a lot of my Christian friends are experiencing spiritual "downtime" right now. Their ministries aren't functioning as well as they once did. They feel susceptible to temptation. They feel distant from God. And many sound just like me: questioning whether God has a purpose for their lives. They speak of overwhelming circumstances and unanswered prayers.

I suspect that many of them, like me, desperately want to feel better. Admittedly, I'd love to feel the flutters of happiness, knowing that my eyes are authentically sparkling as the corners of my mouth curl into an easy smile. But I need sadness much more right now: It's necessary for what God is teaching me.

In the past six weeks, God has been showing me that my prayers don't heal people. My words and actions don't comfort, and I can't personally bless others. God has allowed me to become frustrated and to feel I've failed so I would get it: I don't have the power to fix anyone or anything. He heals. He comforts. He blesses. When I open my mouth or extend a helping hand, it's merely an acknowledgement that I trust in God's power to transform the heart and mind.

And he does things in different ways than I would. Sometimes, he lets people sit in their pain—for a purpose (James 1:2-4 , 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, Philippians 1:12, 1 Peter 1:6-7). In these weeks of questioning and sadness, I never felt despair because I was certain God was still present, glorious, and good.

I came across this quote, from Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest, which a friend had posted on her Facebook page: "God by His providence brings you into certain circumstances that you can't understand at all, but the Spirit of God understands. God brings you to places, among people, and into certain conditions to accomplish a definite purpose through the intercession of the Spirit in you."

Some of those places are surely dark. Some of those people are broken. And some of those conditions will feel unbearable. In those circumstances, perhaps our prayers need to go beyond, "God, take this pain away and make it all better." Perhaps we need to pray for the real blessing: that God's purpose would be accomplished. After all, the fulfillment of God's perfect and holy will is the one and only way anything will truly get better.

Monday, July 05, 2010

How to Read the Bible (and Understand it, Too!)

The curriculum Holly wrote for Christianity Today International, "How to Read the Bible (and Understand it, Too!)" is now available online. If you have kids, work with youth, have friends who've asked, "What's the Bible about?" or you'd just like to read a quick overview of the Bible, check out this PDF download. It's selling for $14.95 (worth every penny!) and you can make up to 1,000 copies for your church or organization.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Too Sexy for Church? (July 29, 2009)

Too Sexy for Church?
By Holly Vicente Robaina
Struggling with the "appropriateness" of my outfits

July 29, 2009 | Today's Christian Woman
Ever have one of those days where you open your closet, and there isn't one appropriate outfit to wear? That's been my experience every Sunday morning for the past month. Suddenly, I can't seem to find anything to wear to church. Skirts that I've worn for months or years now seem too short, too tight, too thin, or too flashy. Every top seems either to show too much skin, or have too much detail around the neckline, or just to fit me a little too nicely. And in my mind, my shoes are either too high, too strappy, or too revealing, what with my heel being exposed and all. I've also eschewed wearing anything with sequins, beading, lace, bows, ruffles, or elaborate stitching - because in my mind, these trims now scream, "Look at me! I'm excessive and flamboyant!"

In short, I'd concluded I didn't have any "appropriate" worship-wear. Just as I planned to run out and buy a whole new wardrobe, a thought hit me: What has happened that's made me now perceive my clothes as too showy and sexy?

For starters, my husband and I recently moved, and I'm now attending a new church. It's tough to be the new gal who's longing to fit in and be accepted. I used to attend a church in Los Angeles, full of 20- and 30-somethings who wore everything from upscale trends to t-shirts and flip-flops. In others words, a gal could blend in whether she came casual or dressy. My new home is in a conservative suburban area, and my new church consists largely of senior citizens. I've been observing other church members, trying to figure out the "rules" for attire here.

And it seems I haven't quite figured out their "dress code" yet. Despite the soaring summer temperatures in Southern California, there have been a couple Sundays where I've been the only gal in the sanctuary who's sporting bare shoulders. Suddenly, my sleeveless tops from Ann Taylor Loft - which I'd once considered ultra conservative - now make me feel like a harlot.

No one at my new church has criticized my appearance. Yet I've felt I've perhaps dressed inappropriately. To get to the bottom of my skewed perception, I asked several of my Christian girlfriends if they ever worry about what to wear to church - and they all answered in the affirmative.

One curvy friend explained that she tends to buy loose shirts to de-emphasize her bust. Another, who is tall, told how she'd been mortified when her knee-length skirt rode up a bit on sitting down, exposing her leg a couple inches above the knee. And another told about the tacit rule of dressing up for church that had been built into her: As a teen, her then youth pastor instructed, "Dress for church like you're going on a date." (Presumably, a date is associated with looking one's best in the teen-age mind.)

My friend's story made me wonder: What's the Scriptural basis for wearing our "Sunday best" to service? Does the Bible anywhere mention that God will be upset if we look too frumpy when we come together for corporate worship? Or too flashy? I've heard some church leaders use the Apostle Paul's words to Timothy to suggest that women shouldn't get their hair done or wear jewelry, lest they sin by drawing the wrong kind of attention to themselves.

But consider Paul's words in context: "Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension. Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness" (1 Timothy 2:8-10, NASB).

Is Paul's objective to establish a rule banning hairdos and shiny accessories? Or is he making the point that all believers need to cease being self-focused, and to instead keep our attention on worshiping God? Eugene Petersen offers this paraphrase of the passage in The Message: "Since prayer is at the bottom of all this, what I want mostly is for men to pray - not shaking angry fists at enemies but raising holy hands to God. And I want women to get in there with the men in humility before God, not primping before a mirror or chasing the latest fashions but doing something beautiful for God and becoming beautiful doing it."

This made me realize: I can't focus on God if I'm constantly worrying that others are judging me. Sadly, my outfit anxiety has kept me from worshiping fully during the past several Sundays. Instead of worrying, I need to ask God to provide friends at my new church, to share my fears with him about being rejected, and to let him comfort me when I feel lonely.

But I'm not going to dismiss my concerns about modesty, either. This has been a reminder to pray for discernment about my future clothing purchases. And when in doubt, I'll take a Christian gal pal to the store with me to get a second perspective.


What causes you to fret over your appearance? In what ways does clothing distract you from focusing on God?

A Christian Sense of Humor (July 1, 2009)

A Christian Sense of Humor
by Holly Vicente Robaina
When others insult Christianity, should we laugh, be silent, or get mad?

July 1, 2009 | Today's Christian Woman
Did you hear about the so-called Christian group that's protesting the upcoming video game "Dante's Inferno"? Claiming they were from a church in Ventura County, California, about 20 members of S.A.V.E.D. (an acronym for "Salvationists Against Virtual and Eternal Damnation") handed out pamphlets outside of the Los Angeles Convention Center during the Electronic Entertainment Expo last month and held picket signs that read, "Hell is not a game" and "Trade in your PlayStation for a PrayStation." The group also posted a website and YouTube videos.

I should tell you right now: The whole thing is a publicity stunt for the video game company Electronic Arts. Yet two reputable newspapers, the Los Angeles Times and the San Jose Mercury-News, initially reported this "protest" as actual, factual news. Online posts and blogs on the topic indicate a number of folks are taking it seriously. Regardless of whether they're in on the joke or not, many are offering the same comment: "Can't Christians take a joke?"

Once again, Christianity's been portrayed as laughable. Most Christians will get an earful of jokes, pokes, and even some outright insults in our lives. When this happens, should we laugh it off, express our hurt, or get angry?

I think different slights call for different responses. Generally, we should respond with our honest reaction. If we think a joke about Christians or the church is funny, we should laugh about it. In my opinion, there are some hilarious jokes about Christians. (One website I enjoy is Stuff Christians Like; I'm told the blogger is a Christian.)

But we shouldn't limit these positive responses only to other Christians. I've heard atheists slam bad behavior by Christians, and I had to nod and agree they were right. Such snubs are actually helpful: I receive insight into how others view the church, and I'm able to surprise them by admitting Christians aren't perfect--individually and collectively, Christians do some loony things.

But if we're hurt by a statement, we should say this and explain the reason - namely, that our faith is important to us. Others can understand your emotional state if you explain by using examples to which they'll relate. For example, tell the one who's offended you, "When you insult my faith, it's like if I insulted your spouse or your parents; I love God just as strongly as you love your family. I know you may not understand why I love God, but as my friend who cares about my feelings, I need you to acknowledge the depth of my relationship with God."

There's a big difference between jabs at Christians, and insults about God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit. Such statements are unacceptable: This is where we need to draw the line and diplomatically express our anger. It's a matter of standing up for our God. We need to correct any lies or misconceptions about God's character, and warn the offending friend that the most high God won't tolerate those insults forever. Any actions we take - such as disconnecting from the friendship if the insults toward God continue - are done so that we're not associated with the blasphemy.

The one thing we must avoid is holding our tongues. If we're silent when someone speaks ill, it might cause them to think the insults are appropriate and acceptable - that we don't really care about our faith. So whether it's acknowledging, "Yeah, Christians can do some awful stuff sometimes. I hope you don't think the misguided actions of some Christians represent God's character"; or pressing, "You know I'm a Christian--do you feel that way about me?"; or being blunt, "What you said is completely inappropriate. (Or intolerant. Or crass.) Why would you say something like that?"--speaking up shows others that our relationship with God is important to us.

I have mixed feelings about the Electronic Arts publicity stunt. Portraying Christians as people who sometimes protest in corny ways isn't inaccurate. The fact that this publicity stunt worked should cause us all to evaluate, Are there ways I'm fulfilling the stereotype that Christians are hypersensitive hotheads?

But I'm not about to laugh this one off, either. I'm troubled by the flippant use of images of Jesus and of the cross to hawk a video game. I'm still chewing on how I might express my disapproval to the company. In the meantime, I'll offer this comment posted on the Los Angeles Times website by "Thom Olson," which is a great example of what I've discussed here:

"I am disappointed that EA is all right with usurping the voice of religious people to promote a game. Past viral/guerilla marketing campaigns have been more clearly divorced from reality, and I think this crosses a line. If EA had รข€˜protesters' who were of an ethnic group out there with literature and costuming that made them look foolish, I think the inappropriateness of this campaign would be more clear. In a world suffering because business seems to feel that the ends justify the means, I hope we see the return of basic ethics to business soon."


When others make jokes or insult Christianity, how do you respond?

Ultimatum to the GOP (June 3, 2009)

Ultimatum to the GOP
by Holly Vicente Robaina
Liberty University boots Democratic club; inspires Holly to take a stand.

June 3, 2009 | Today's Christian Woman
I’m publically issuing this ultimatum to the Republican Party: Take a pro-life stand in a big, visible way, or I’m leaving.

TCW readers will recall that just two months ago, I suggested Christians reserve discussion on abortion for the right time and place. I’m seizing the opportunity presented by a Gallup poll conducted this May, which found 51 percent of surveyed Americans identify as “pro-life,” while 42 percent identify as pro-choice. Get this: It’s the first time there’s been a pro-life majority since Gallup began conducting the poll in 1995.

Additionally, I’ve been inspired by a bit of controversy at Liberty University, the private university in Lynchburg, Va., that was founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell. In May, Liberty officials notified the student Democratic club that their status as a University-sponsored organization was being revoked. The reason: the club’s charter stated that members would support the Democratic Party’s platform and candidates.

“To blindly support any candidate solely because of party affiliation irrespective of their moral views is wrong,” Jerry Falwell, Jr., the chancellor and president of Liberty University, wrote in a statement. He explains: “The 2008 Democratic platform has taken an extreme turn to the left on social issues. For the first time it supports federal funding of abortion and repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, a law passed overwhelmingly by a bi-partisan Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton.”

Basically, Liberty officials don’t want to give students money and use of the school’s name to support political candidates who push a pro-choice agenda. While much of the media is crying foul, Falwell’s reasoning makes sense to me, and it seems the university is under no legal obligation to support a College Democrats club. (Still, my advice to Liberty would be to either: (1) get rid of all political party organizations, as Brigham Young University-Idaho did last month, and encourage students to start a pro-life political action club, or (2) recognize that your pro-life, Democratic students are engaged in an uphill battle with their party and should be supported.)

I’d pose this question to Liberty’s College Democrats: Why dedicate your support to candidates just because of their party affiliation? Similarly, I’m asking pro-life, Republican voters: Why support a party just because of its platform? Every voter should be supporting the candidates and party whose actions align with the issues that are most important to us. Why support mere rhetoric?

And I’m wondering, has the “Pro-life Party” been active enough on this major component of its platform? Here’s what I’m thinking: The Republican Party has benefited from its platform position on abortion by drawing in Christians who might not otherwise agree with Republican political positions. Some folks have gritted their teeth and voted for Republican candidates they never would have picked, save for their pro-life stance. It’s time for the Republicans to make good on those promises that George W. Bush made as the Party’s top representative.

But why am I spouting about this now, when the presidency and Congress are both controlled by the Democratic Party? What can the Republicans do?

For starters, Republican leaders have nothing to lose if they push pro-life legislation now—the presidency isn’t up for grabs any time soon. And they have everything to lose if they don’t. A number of my Christian friends are disillusioned with both parties: The Democratic Party doesn’t recognize its pro-life voices, and the Republican Party seems more focused on holding on to the Christian vote than moving on pro-life issues. Some Christians who are Republicans have voiced that they feel used. Some of my friends have even re-registered with no party affiliation.

Gallup’s poll last month also found that 70 percent of Republicans identify as pro-life—an increase of 10 percent in the past year. On the Democratic side, there’s been no change. To the Democratic Party, I’d like to say, “You can’t afford to lose your pro-life voters— perhaps you should throw more recognition to pro-life voices.” But I suppose they’re not interested in the rants of a life-long Republican like me. So I’ll say to my own party, “The Republican Party has all it needs to make headway on the abortion issue: a majority in the American public, and a voter base that unites when it’s happy. Get to it, or you’re gonna lose more of your party faithful.”

If registered Republican voters are focused on making abortion illegal, or at least less accessible, then they need to push—hard—on their representatives to make this a priority. And then, if nothing happens, they need to recognize that their party can’t or won’t do it for them.

I’m giving the GOP a deadline of December 31, 2009. If I don’t see major headlines about a pro-life push from the Republican Party, it pains me to say I’ll be registering as partyless on January 1, 2010. In light of the Republican Party’s current opportunity to act, if they don’t make a concerted effort to do so soon, then there really isn’t a political party that has a true pro-life position.

A Time to Mourn (April 22, 2009)

A Time to Mourn
by Holly Vicente Robaina
We laugh together, play together, and celebrate together. Why is it so difficult to cry together?

April 22, 2009 | Today's Christian Woman
Within the past week, I lost two friends. One was a Christian, a member of my church. She committed suicide. The other was an atheist, a high-school buddy. I found out that she died of a drug overdose.

Mourning is a struggle for me, primarily because it's difficult to tell others I'm sad. I'm afraid they won't understand or won't care. So I've been walking around with a pleasant expression on my face, telling people "I'm fine" when they ask, "How are you doing?"

I'm not fine. I'm angry with my friends who took their lives. Why did they give up? I'm angry with myself. Was there something more I could have done? I'm angry with God. Why, God, did you allow their pain to become unbearable? Why didn't you send more help? Why didn't you intervene?

My Christian friend (I'll call her "Elaine") had an incurable illness that caused chronic pain. My atheist friend (I'll call her "Nora") was, I just found out, being abused by a family member when we were in high school. I wonder why Nora never told me. And I wonder what I might have said if she did.

When friends are hurting, my first response is to try to alleviate that pain. Seems lots of folks do this. You've probably heard many Christians say, "I'll pray for you," and then talk of God's love and pray he'll bring peace and comfort. This is exactly what I did with Elaine. Just a few months ago, I held her hand and prayed, "Father, please heal your daughter Elaine's body. You know she can't handle this constant pain; please take it away. Please hear her cries and comfort her." I told Elaine how much I loved her, how much God loved her, and how her Father wanted to hold her in his arms.

In some cases, God heals and restores. Sometimes, he eases pain immediately. But sometimes, there's no miracle, or even any relief. There's only profound sadness. In A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis wrote about losing his wife, Joy, to cancer: "Where is God? ? Go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is in vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that silence. You may as well turn away."

I don't think C.S. Lewis would have been comforted by the words, "God loves you, and so do I. I'll pray for you." And I now wonder if Elaine was sitting there in pain as I prayed, thinking, God loves me? Then why doesn't he do something? And you--do you have any clue what it's like to be in constant, physical agony?

Sadly, I never contemplated Elaine's pain. And it's not the first time I've made that mistake.

Two years ago, I sent an e-mail to former Los Angeles Times religion reporter Bill Lobdell. Once a devout Christian, Bill became an atheist after concluding that a good God wouldn't allow something as horrific as widespread child abuse perpetrated by Catholic priests. (Bill wrote about his loss of faith in his book, Losing My Religion, released in February.) I'd read about his faith crisis, then typed up some encouraging words and promised to pray for him.

But I didn't reflect on how Bill was feeling. In hindsight, I wonder: Should I also have offered to mourn with him? Should I have read about the sex-scandal victims and allowed myself to feel the despair that Bill was experiencing? You know what they say about hindsight. How I deeply wish I'd told Elaine, "I don't know why God hasn't healed you. It hurts my heart so much to see you continue to suffer. Let's tell God what we're feeling right now."

I wish I'd mourned with Elaine and Bill. Too often in my life, I've expressed an overabundance of "Christian optimism": I encourage others in hopes of counteracting their pain. While it's great to exhort--kind words usually do help--we must consider: Is encouragement what my friend needs most right now?

We should honestly evaluate our words before we speak:

Am I using encouragement as a way to ignore my friend's pain because I don't want to make the time or effort to deal with her hurts?

Do I really mean what I'm saying to my friend, or am I just rattling off polite cliches?

Do I expect my words will fix everything - am I acting like I can do a better job than the Comforter?

If I make promises to my friend, such as praying for her or checking on her later, am I going to keep them?

Years ago, an agnostic friend called with some sad news: Our college classmate had committed suicide. We spent time on the phone verbalizing our sorrow and confusion. He said kind things to me, but didn't try to cheer me up. Later, he called again to ask how I was doing. I felt very close to my friend and grateful we'd shared the burden.

I've noticed that some friends who aren't believers have a better grasp of mourning than I do. Perhaps they're more willing to cry with others because they don't have the option of asking God for comfort. I'm grateful I've got a loving Father to turn to in tough times, but sometimes, I exercise that option a bit too vigorously. I ask God to shelter me from all physical and emotional pain - essentially, to keep me perpetually happy. Additionally, I've suppressed and ignored my pain, telling myself, This, too, shall pass. God will eventually set everything right.

And God will. But God does allow suffering in this life because humans need to experience it. Pain reminds us there's something wrong with the world: It's broken due to sin. Pain calls us to action: We're reminded that the only true hope is found in relationship with God.

Pain can draw us to God and into community. It forces us to admit we're not self-sufficient. And when we mourn with others, we recognize we're not alone. Ever wondered why Jesus wept as he stood outside of Lazarus' tomb? He could have encouraged the mourners--"Everything's OK, folks. God loves you. Peace be with you"--and then raised Lazarus. Instead, he took time to show love for his friends by crying with them.

Right now, I'm going to go cry with my Father. And tomorrow, I need to tell a few good friends how I'm really feeling.


Do you sometimes find it difficult to tell people that you're hurting? What prevents you from mourning with others? When friends are suffering, how do you support them?

A Church Without Issues (March 25, 2009)

A Church Without Issues
by Holly Vicente Robaina
Which political or social issue should we rally around? Maybe none.

March 25, 2009 | Today's Christian Woman
If you could pick one issue for the Christian church to represent, what would it be? Abortion or same-sex marriage? Environmental stewardship or poverty? Morality?

Some evangelicals are tossing this question around in light of the passing of the old guard: Jerry Falwell died last May, and many other prominent Christian leaders including Billy Graham, Pat Robertson, and Tim LaHaye have retired or handed over the reins of their ministries. Earlier this month, James Dobson resigned as board chairman of Focus on the Family.

The mere mention of these men elicits either a warm smile or a cold shoulder because they all were vocal on some issue. For good or bad, their words have shaped the image of the Christian church in America - both the way we see ourselves, and the way non-Christians view us. As we await new representatives who will become spokespeople for the church, one thing is highly probable: We'll identify these leaders as proponents or opponents of some issue.

And which issue will that be? John Whitehead, founder of the Rutherford Institute, told the Washington Times that evangelicals currently don't have an issue to rally around. "It used to be the pro-life movement, but I am not sure there is an issue now," he said. "The issue evangelicals key on is the gay movement, but they have lost that issue. There is no cause for a leader to emerge in now."

Say what? We don't have a "cause"?

My friend Brooke offered this profound response to Whitehead's words: "Shouldn't the cause for evangelicals forever and always be evangelism? I wonder if the fact that we have become a political constituency and force has caused us to lose sight of the main thing. I also wonder if the strong public moral stands that evangelicals have taken in the political arena have undermined our ability and effectiveness in presenting the gospel."

Brooke's words really got me thinking: Perhaps the church has wrongly defined itself as an organization that's only interested in backing particular political and social issues. Perhaps we instead need to be defined by the prime directive Jesus gave us: to make disciples.

Yet it appears the church has been losing disciples. According to the American Religious Identification Survey, released by Trinity College earlier this month, the number of Americans who identify as "Christian" has dropped 10 percent in the last two decades, from 86 percent in 1990 to 76 percent in 2008. Mark Silk of Trinity College suggested one factor for this drop: "In the 1990s, it really sunk in on the American public generally that there was a long-lasting ?religious right' connected to a political party, and that turned a lot of people the other way," he told CNN, noting the connection of Christian groups such as the Moral Majority and Focus on the Family to the Republican Party.

There's tremendous danger in defining Christianity solely as a social justice group or a morality enforcement agency. If we end world hunger or make abortion illegal, we'll save lives. But if we lose the gospel message in the process, we'll lose souls.

I'm not suggesting that Christians completely give up political and social activism. Rather, we need to analyze our conversations. Ask yourself: How frequently am I sharing my faith? Do I tend to discuss political or social issues more often than spiritual matters? Could my neighbor or co-worker identify 10 things about me that have nothing to do with my political leanings?

There's a time and a place for us to be passionate about political and social issues. In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, the late Christian apologist C.S. Lewis refused to moralize on the homosexual activity he'd witnessed in boarding school. Why? For one, he was sticking to the purpose of the book, which was to discuss his journey to faith. I deeply admire that Lewis kept his focus on evangelism, and suspect he received some criticism for it. Second, Lewis recognized that others were better equipped to discuss homosexuality, since he'd never personally struggled with it.

So here's my first radical proposal: Christians should reserve discussion about abortion and homosexuality solely for these situations: (1) if you're at the forefront of a campaign on one of these issues that involves petitioning the government; (2) if one of these issues comes up for a vote; (3) if someone who is struggling with one of these things asks for your help; or (4) if someone asks for your opinion. I'd add this caveat to the fourth situation: You shouldn't offer your opinion until you've researched the issue and can articulate your stance in a diplomatic manner.

My second radical proposal is associated with the first: Christians should focus on making disciples. Let's get our cause back in line with the one Christ gave the church. And let's demand that our church leaders focus on the same mission that our Founder gave us.


Divided, We Fall (February 25, 2009)

Divided, We Fall
by Holly Vicente Robaina
Republicans need to get over their loss and support our new president.

February 25, 2009 | Today's Christian Woman
Several months ago I wrote about the presidential elections, but wouldn't reveal the candidate I was backing. Now that we have a new president in office - and the fight is obviously over - I figure it's OK to tell you this: My guy didn't win.

I'm what you'd call one of the Republican "party faithful": I've done phone banks, canvassing, rallies, and fund-raisers. I've visited the RNC headquarters in Washington, D.C., and met several Republican leaders. Perhaps my most impressive GOP credential: I once shook hands with Mr. NRA, Charlton Heston. Yes, I'm a Republican through and through. And yet, I'm optimistic about our new commander-in-chief, who happens to be a member of the Democratic Party.

It saddens me that some Republicans are acting as if President Barack Obama's inauguration never happened. Salon.com writer Thomas F. Schaller noticed that the RNC still portrayed George W. Bush as president on its website even 10 days into the Obama administration.

Indeed, if all Republicans were like the ones portrayed in the documentary Right America: Feeling Wronged, which aired on HBO last week, the American population should have decreased 50 percent by now. In her documentary, filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi interviewed Republicans on the campaign trail who'd vowed to leave the country if John McCain didn't win the presidency. The documentary included footage of grown men and women bawling as they declared their allegiance to McCain - and their disgust toward Obama. Some interviewees proudly proclaimed they'd continue wearing their "Obama sucks" t-shirts regardless of the election results. When Pelosi asked one McCain supporter how he would "feel about America" if his candidate lost, the man tearfully replied, "It's going to sour me. I'll do what I can. I'll keep my head up."

As I watched, I initially was offended that Pelosi would stereotype Republicans as crybabies who'd turn our backs on our country if we lost political control. Then I realized: This does reflect how a percentage of the American population truly feels. I've heard folks say they'll be in mourning for the next four years - some have even dressed entirely in black. Personally, I think their expressions of distaste are in poor taste.

Don't get me wrong: I'm proud to be a Republican. (I'll surely be voting for the GOP candidate in 2012.) But first and foremost, I'm proud to be an American. My commitment to my country transcends party lines and ideologies.

So I respect the decision of the American people, and have been looking for common ground with my new president by listening to his speeches on YouTube. I've discovered President Obama believes (just like me!) that a great nation is formed through the efforts of hard-working individuals. Yet we cannot be great, he says, unless we work hard together.

He backed up this sentiment by launching a non-partisan website, USAService.org, which lists community service projects within local neighborhoods. I did a search on the site using my zip code and found numerous volunteer opportunities: planting trees, beach clean-ups, mentoring programs, food drives, cancer research fundraisers, even shelving books for local schools.

President Obama's focus on unity and community - and his rallying words, "Yes we can!" - is just what America needs right now. For too long, our focus has been entirely on the individual: Each person values her own work, her efforts, and her rights above everything else. This me-centered attitude causes individuals to leave community - and to break commitments - whenever things don't go their way. Americans do this with increasing frequency in marriages. (Do I feel satisfied with my spouse? Would I be happier with someone else? Is this marriage working for me?)

The American church, too, has been infected with an overemphasis on the individual. (Am I tired of the music? Do I feel the pastor has lost his charisma? Did someone at church offend me?) Any bit of personal discomfort becomes sufficient reason to look for a new church. Even worship and spiritual growth become individual endeavors: We focus on a personal savior, and personal relationship with God solely through individual prayer and study. In reading the Bible, our focus becomes, What does this passage mean to me? It's a tragedy when we completely ignore the importance of the body of Christ. (Check out my blog from last month, where I discussed how Christian community is necessary for an individual's spiritual growth.)

A couple years ago, when my friend Ed Gilbreath's book Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical's Inside View of White Christianity (IVP) was published, critics thanked him for exposing a major problem in the church - racial division - which has been largely unaddressed. However, some said his book fell short because it didn't offer a complete solution to the problem! Heaven help us when we think it's acceptable to place the burdens of the church on the shoulders of individual members.

The same holds true for our new president; one man isn't going to save America. President Obama is wise to recognize this - that's why he's called on all Americans to roll up our sleeves and get to work, together. I hope this communal effort will meet with success, and that the Christian church will be the first to model it. After all, we're in this together. Divided, we will fall.


Spiritual Resolutions (January 28, 2009)

Spiritual Resolutions
by Holly Vicente Robaina
Do you stick to your spiritual goals?

January 28, 2009 | Today's Christian Woman
Have you broken your New Year's resolutions yet?

I'm admittedly cynical about making lists of goals because I've seen so many people try this and fail. Year after year, I see my gym fill to capacity during the first week of January, then empty out before the end of the month. I've noticed the same pattern at my church. There are plenty of people who attend a service or two, and they seem enthusiastic to get closer to God and develop relationships with other Christians. Yet they don't come back.

I used to think people - including me - broke resolutions because we weren't truly committed to our goals. Then I noticed that I've often failed at things I deeply wanted to achieve. For instance, I've long held the goal of spending quality, daily time with God. While my devotional time is sometimes wonderful, warm, and intimate, there are many days when my mind wanders. My prayers are interrupted by thoughts such as, We're out of milk - need to buy some today. . . . And what are we having for dinner? . . . Ugh, do I have any clean underpants to wear to the grocery store? I end up repeatedly apologizing to God for the lack of quality in our time together.

Setting spiritual goals can be tremendously frustrating. I often hear Christian friends express defeat: "How can I be like Jesus when I'm so not like Jesus?" "How am I supposed to love my enemies when I don't even love my best friends consistently?" "Love AND joy, peace AND patience? As if. My best day is one I can get through without having a bad attitude!"

Here are a few mistakes I've made in striving for spiritual growth:

1) Trying to achieve spiritual goals solely as an individual. One definition of "resolution" is an "expression of consensus" - a group decides to uphold a decision or standard. The Christian church has many such resolutions: We resolve to work together and bring the Gospel to the world, to worship God together, and to grow spiritually together as the body of Christ.

Yet many of us instead focus on do-it-yourself personal improvement. Why don't we ask other Christians to support our own spiritual goals? Perhaps we're ashamed of our weaknesses, or perhaps we're convinced that going it alone helps us rely on God. While we do need to spend time alone with God, we equally need the accountability and spiritual gifts of other Christians for spiritual growth.

When I began losing the sight in my left eye a couple years ago, I initially didn't tell anyone at church. I figured God wanted me to learn to trust and rely on him more. My vision got worse, to the point that reading was extremely difficult and I couldn't drive at night. I broke down one Sunday morning and told two friends about my pain. They immediately prayed for healing - something I never would have prayed for myself. When my eyesight did return a few weeks later, I realized God had illustrated how much I need other Christians: I needed encouragement from my friends, and their faith and prayers.

2) Missing the lessons of failure. Earlier this month, German billionaire Adolf Merckle took his life by lying on the tracks in front of an oncoming train. He'd made some financial decisions that resulted in the downfall of the business empire he'd spent his life building. Still, his suicide baffled many because Merckle, an evangelical Christian, wasn't one to be fazed by the loss of money. He was a man of modest means who lived in a flat rather than a mansion, he didn't have bodyguards or even a security camera, and he bicycled to work every day. Rather, The Telegraph reported, Merckle's loved ones "blame his demise on a complex combination of pride, guilt over what he saw as failing his family, and, perhaps most importantly, loss of control."

We've all experienced those devastating lows that come from personal failings. Failure is especially jarring when we're trying to do the right thing. Some years ago, a pastor friend saw one of her ministry projects fail. It's one of her most painful memories, but in retrospect, she's glad that God let her plans crumble. She realized that she'd been focused on attaining her own goals rather than on letting God shape her and her ministry. The loss taught her to put God's will before good intentions.

The apostle Paul recognized that one of his personal struggles was spiritually helpful: He said it kept him from becoming conceited. And while Paul initially asked God to take away this "thorn in the flesh" - he reasoned that the problem hampered his ministry efforts - God's reply was, "'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness'" (2 Corinthians 12:9). Perhaps we need our own thorn to keep us from prideful self-sufficiency.

Another friend recently expressed frustration that she's still grappling with the same issues she's surrendered to God a zillion times. It's tough when God asks us to grow in an area where we've already done so much painful work. But failure is key to spiritual growth: When we fail, we run to God in acknowledgement that we need his strength and mercy.

3) Not striving for the highest moral standard. My small group leader posed the question, "What would the perfect Christian look like?" After arguing extensively that no Christian can be perfect, I finally got his point: We need to prepare for the day when we'll live and rule in God's kingdom.

Too often, we get frustrated that we can't keep God's laws, and so we give up trying. Or, we set minimal goals, patting ourselves on the back when we refrain from cursing out loud, or when we're civil to someone we can't stand. Such minimal goals are inadequate preparation for meeting our Creator.

Or, we attempt to be good because we think God's top priority for us is moral excellence. Here's the shocker: Our No. 1 goal isn't to reach moral perfection - it's to love God (Deuteronomy 6:5, Mark 12:28-33). With this in mind, we should strive for the highest moral standard because our efforts (and failings) teach us that sin is low, ugly, stupid, and futile. In other words, we're learning to hate sin (to hate everything that's in opposition to God), and thus, to love God.

4) Not setting specific spiritual goals. In his article "Radical Discipleship," Doug Newton suggests that the church must become more specific in its resolve for spiritual excellence. He asserts that merely rattling off the fruit of the Spirit doesn't cut it: "Every other world religion and philosophy prizes and advocates most, if not all, of those traits. What New Ager is not hanging a crystal or two to draw more love in and out of his life? What Eastern yoga practitioner is not bending and breathing her way toward inner peace? People as diverse as Dr. Phil and the local imam probably talk as much about the virtues of patience or self-control as Dr. Dobson and the local pastor." Newton continues: "As long as the church is calling people to nothing more than those generic traits, her people will become only about as Christian as the local cashier who's reading the latest Stephen Covey self-improvement best seller."

I'm currently writing up my own long-term spiritual resolutions as I ponder the question, "What would the perfect Christian look like?" Want some inspiration for resolutions of your own? Check out the 70 resolutions of 18th century theologian Jonathan Edwards.


What are some mistakes you've made in setting goals for spiritual growth? What are some specific goals you have?

Scrooge Syndrome (December 30, 2008)

Scrooge Syndrome
by Holly Vicente Robaina
In rough economic times, are we cutting back on the wrong things?

December 30, 2008 | Today's Christian Woman
There's an old saying: Give 'til it hurts.

In these tumultuous economic times, it apparently hurts too much. The Wall Street Journal reports that Americans are "keeping their wallets closed" when it comes to charitable giving this holiday season. The Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program, one of the largest charities in the U.S., saw a huge drop in giving this October and November: They received nearly 40 percent less than during the same period last year. And The Barna Group notes that "Americans are now passing on their financial pain to churches." A recent Barna poll showed that 20 percent of surveyed households had reduced their church giving, with 22 percent of that group reporting they've stopped giving altogether.

It's understandable that some folks - particularly those who've lost jobs or homes this year - have had to make drastic cuts, including in their charitable giving. But for the majority of us, a moderate loss of money shouldn't mean that we start lagging in charity. We need to cut back on our Starbucks intake, not our tithe.

I'll be the first to admit that I don't give as much as I could, or should. I've been inspired - convicted, really - by a new reality show, Secret Millionaire. On the show, undercover millionaires visit low-income communities. Their mission: to find worthy folks and give them money. They meet extraordinarily generous people who have very little, yet they give generously and joyfully. There's the senior who uses her Social Security check to house and feed homeless moms and their kids. The woman who started a horse ranch in the projects to keep kids off the streets and out of gangs. The former inmate who now takes in other women who've been released from prison. The stories are enough to bring you to your knees, wailing, "God, I haven't done enough. I haven't loved enough."

Most of us can afford to give a lot more than we do: of our money, time, and energy. If you desire to give, but are short on money, here's a list of no-cost and low-cost ways to be charitable. (Many thanks to my friends who sent me this information!)

Got empty pockets? Some no-cost ways to donate:

From me:
Recycle for a cause. My church does this; we donate the money toward reforestation in Ethiopia.

From Christy:
Use http://www.goodsearch.com/, a free search engine, to look for information online; the charity of your choice benefits from every search you make.

From Dawn & Shawn:
Answer trivia questions at http://www.freerice.com/, and you can earn rice for the hungry. (A great site for families with kids!) More info: http://www.freerice.com/faq.html

From Sue:
Sponsored by Xerox, www.LetsSayThanks.com lets you send a free card to a soldier that is currently serving in Iraq.

From Joanna:
Donate old tennis shoes to Nike; the company grinds them up and uses the material to make running tracks for high schools. There are shoe collection bins in Nike retail stores: http://www.nikereuseashoe.com/

Donate old cell phones to soldiers overseas or to a domestic violence shelter for women: http://www.cellphonesforsoldiers.com/

Make a Wish Foundation (http://www.wish.org/help/donate) accepts non-cash donations including building supplies, computers, airline miles, and hotel loyalty points. (Some hotels, such as the Hyatt, will match your hotel loyalty points donation.)

Donate old eyeglasses to an African child through this Goodwill/Lions Club/Lenscrafters program: http://www.charityguide.org/volunteer/fifteen/eyeglasses-donation.htm

From Cheryle:
Donate old phones to Verizon's phone recycling program, which provides survivors of domestic violence with cell phones and airtime: http://aboutus.vzw.com/communityservice/hopeLine.html

From Leslie:
Visit the Breast Cancer Site to give free mammograms. Sponsors pay for the mammograms; their ads are on the website (you don't have to buy or do anything other than click a button, and no personal information is collected). http://www.thebreastcancersite.com/clickToGive/home.faces?siteId=2.

Another site, www.thehungersite.org, does something similar; you click to donate food. (Holly says: "I clicked and got the message, 'You have given the value of 1.1 cups of food to the hungry.' Very cool.")

(If you are in disbelief that clicking your mouse once could actually do some good in the world, check out this information on Snopes, provided by my friend Jennifer: http://www.snopes.com/inboxer/charity/mammogram.asp)

From Joe:
Some employers allow you to contribute to a sick-leave "bank," where you and other employees donate some of your unused sick days/hours. Employees who run out of paid sick leave due to prolonged medical disability can then receive hours from the bank. Joe says, "It's a good thing to do when you're young, healthy, and in a good job but not making a ton of money for donation purposes." Contact your Human Resources office and ask if your company offers this.

From Mike:
Starwood properties (Sheraton, W, etc.) lets you donate hotel points to charities including Special Olympics, American Red Cross, and UNICEF: http://www.starwoodhotels.com/preferredguest/account/starpoints/partners/index.html.

From Jennifer:
There are many ways to donate air miles: http://www.google.com/search?q=donate+your+air+miles&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a

In the San Francisco Bay Area, you can donate "tiny tickets" (the leftover part of your transit cards): http://ebcf.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=67&Itemid=154.

Got a little cash and want to see it go a long way? Some low-cost ways to donate:

From Peter:
Research charities at http://www.charitynavigator.org/. You can view information on an organization's revenue and expenses.

From Leslie:
Before you buy an item from your favorite online store, check to see if the store participates with "Clicks for Homeschooling" by visiting http://www.hslda.org/Clicks4HS/about.asp. A portion of your purchase will be donated to the Home School Foundation, which provides assistance to needy home-school families.

From Debra:
Donate a cow - or part of one. Your contribution to Heifer International (http://www.heifer.org/) is used to buy animals for people to set up their own farms so they can have food and make money to live.

From Amy:
Sell stuff on eBay with a little note saying that you're donating the money to a particular charity.

Get friends to donate products from their companies, then hold a raffle for a charity.

Finally, my friend Harlen writes, "There's always the old standby of donating your time. If you've been laid off, you might as well work with a charity between job interviews. Volunteer work looks good to prospective employers, and it makes you feel good, too."

So go out and do some good. You don't even have to dig deep into your pockets to do it.

Warm wishes for a blessed Christmas and New Year,

What's your favorite charity or charitable activity?

Taking a Stand for Marriage (November 26, 2008)

Taking a Stand for Marriage
by Holly Vicente Robaina
My vote on Proposition 8 was obvious, yet painfully difficult.

November 26, 2008 | Today's Christian Woman
Some years ago, a friend sent me a Christmas card thanking me for being "natural, accepting, [and] charming." I've lost touch with my friend, but he still holds a special place in my heart. I remember the many personal, transparent conversations we had. I remember his joy for me at my wedding, and his optimism that he and his partner would be able to marry one day, too.

His love for his partner was authentic and deep. He would joke about his partner's Pillsbury-Doughboy shape, then pat his own round belly and note how good cooking and their happiness together was making him fat. My husband and I had the privilege of sampling that good cooking in their home, and I afterward I could understand why my friend's midsection was getting bigger.

I thought about my dear friend - and other gay and lesbian friends - as I voted in favor of California's Proposition 8 earlier this month, which eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry in California. The measure passed with 52 percent of the vote.

It troubles me to think what my friend might say to me if he knew I'd supported the measure. I'm sure he would be confused and hurt. I'm sure he would ask why I'd want to create an obstacle to his happiness.

But I knew my vote wasn't on the question, "Holly, do you care about your gay friends or not?" Deep down, I hope they know I do. My vote, like everyone's vote, represented what I think is best for America. A country's laws reflect its moral values, and, as a Christian, I have specific thoughts on what those moral values should be. This doesn't mean all of my values are held by every Christian. Rather, it's an acknowledgment that my politics are affected by my understanding of the Bible. As I contemplate political issues, I prayerfully ask God to provide good information and clear thinking.

I often hear folks who aren't Christians comment: "It's wrong for Christians to impose their moral values on others," or "Christians shouldn't try to legislate morality." This used to trouble me; I didn't want people to feel I was trying to force my beliefs on them. Then one of my professors, Dr. Scott Rae, told me, "Every law is the imposition of someone's value." ThisNation.com, an educational resource on American government, further explains:

"When society deems something to be 'wrong,' it has cast a moral judgment. The political judgment that must then be made is whether such a judgment ought to become a matter of law. It is impossible, however, to create laws that have no moral dimension to them. The very act of coming together as a political society to establish rules of cooperation and societal order is based on fundamentally moral choices and preferences. Legislating morality is unavoidable."

So everyone has the right to have their thoughts factored in when it comes to developing our nation's values. I think the most important value Christians bring to the political discussion is: God is the ultimate authority.

In developing my political opinions, I first look to the Bible. We see the model God established for the marriage union in the Genesis account (Genesis 2:18-25), as God creates a suitable partner for Adam. Verse 24 says: "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh." The "one flesh" refers in part to sex, with "flesh" being an important term to show there's a physical aspect. The culmination of this relationship is procreation: The sexual union of the two results in one new life.

So God gave the first man a female partner, instructed that they should be united only to each other, and designed their union to be so close, they'd be able to create a child together. And the couple would become so inextricably tied together, they'd be like one person. To become like one person, there is surely a deeper spiritual union that goes beyond the physical act of sex.

God further provided guidelines in the Old Testament law to protect what he designed (Leviticus 20, Deuteronomy 22). Premarital sex, adultery, and homosexuality are all outside of God's plan for marriage: "Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers" (Hebrews 13:4, NRSV). In the Old Testament, death was the penalty for all sex outside of marriage.

We don't know how frequently this punishment was carried out, but it's interesting to consider: If death was the penalty for having any sex outside of marriage today, how many church-goers would be wiped out? (I'd submit that most churches would be completely emptied.) I say this to show that the church is in no position to judge the gay community. The only comparison to be made here is between God's holy model for marriage, and everything else that doesn't meet God's standard.

We all get our values from some authority. I recognize God as my authority, believing that his moral values are the ultimate. I want God's values for my country.

Still, I struggled over whether to vote on Proposition 8. I've long wondered, Why does God permit an attraction between members of the same sex, but sets heterosexual marriage as his standard? I don't have an answer for that question. (If I ever discover one, I'll be sure to share it.) For now, I trust that God's holiness, goodness, and justice are the ultimate best.


Do you ever struggle over how to combine your faith with your political opinions?

Conversation or Confrontation? (October 22, 2008)

Conversation or Confrontation?
by Holly Robaina
Thoughts about Bill Maher’s new movie, Religulous

October 22, 2008 | Today's Christian Woman
I recently saw Religulous, a film that's billed as the "No. 1 sacrilegious comedy in America." It's supposedly a documentary, in which comedian Bill Maher (of Real Time with Bill Maher and Politically Incorrect) travels the world asking religious practitioners questions about their faith. Though Maher makes fun of every world religion, as well as some minor ones, about two-thirds of the film focuses on Christianity.

At the beginning of the film, Maher says he's on a spiritual journey. But instead of interviewing well-known pastors or Christian academics, Maher poses complicated theological and philosophical questions to truck drivers, a Christian bookstore owner, and an actor who plays Jesus at The Holy Land Experience, an Orlando theme park.

Los Angeles Times movie critic Kenneth Turan said Maher's "reliance on skewering people who are no match for him in glibness, persuasiveness or even intelligence finally leaves a sour taste." Indeed.

Maher makes his view clear on the Religulous website: "There is nothing more ridiculous than the ancient mythological stories that live on as today's religions." Still, I hoped there might be a few moments in the movie when Maher got sincere about seeking. So I focused on how I might answer his questions. This was an exercise in futility: I could barely string together two thoughts before Maher changed the subject.

I soon realized it wouldn't matter if Maher was interviewing the most brilliant Christian debater on the planet. He wasn't interested in contemplating faith - just in mocking religion. Richard Corliss of Time magazine writes, "Maher seems interested less in conversation than in confrontation, so his movie is less essay than inquisition."

This got me thinking: With whom am I sharing my faith? Do they really want to converse, or just argue? I thought about how the Apostle Paul spent varying amounts of time in different cities as he spread the Gospel. One stop was Athens, a city full of philosophers, where people "spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas" (Acts 17:21). Some of the Athenians seemed to take Paul seriously: They brought him before the Areopagus, a powerful council, and asked him to speak.

But it doesn't seem many were open to what Paul had to say. We're told that only a few believed (whereas in some other cities, thousands became Christ-followers). Perhaps the people of Athens weren't really listening to Paul. Perhaps they were interested in educating themselves further, but not in contemplating Paul's words. In any case, Paul moved on.

I think there are times when I need to move on. Some years ago, I was contacted by The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, a news parody that airs on Comedy Central. A representative from the show wanted to discuss an article I'd written for Christianity Today. My first thought was, Woo hoo! What a great way to share my faith! But something inside gave me pause.

I decided to ask two trusted Christian friends whether I should return the call to the show. Both responded, "Absolutely not." They told me I'd get ripped to shreds, I'd be dismissed as a religious kook, and the message of faith I wanted to convey wouldn't be heard at all. While I wasn't concerned about being mocked, I realized it didn't make sense to take part in a show that had no interest in letting me talk about Jesus.

My time, effort, and energy are better utilized talking to people who are interested in conversations about faith. I have one friend who's been asking me questions about God for the past five years. I've shared my faith journey with her and listened to her doubts.

My friend often challenges my statements and she asks tough questions, yet I find it easy to talk to her. I know she's listening to me, and I'm listening to her - even when we don't agree. I don't know if she's any closer to believing in God than she was five years ago. But I'm thrilled that we both know each other better, and I feel privileged to participate in her spiritual journey. Every minute I've conversed with her is time well spent.

Honestly, if I tried to share my faith with someone like Bill Maher or Jon Stewart, I'd be doing so out of foolish vanity. I can't match wits with them. Perhaps the body of Christ is meant to share faith as a body. For example, I've referred friends who are struggling with addiction to a Christian addiction counselor. And I've asked a Christian friend who's a scientist to help me devise some "talking points" about science and faith. In conversations with seekers, the only thing better than an honest "I don't know" is being able to add, "... but I have a Christian friend who might be able to answer those questions."

I've added Bill Maher to my prayer list. I'm praying that God will give Maher every opportunity to recognize Him. (Maybe Maher will run into Lee Strobel, Alvin Plantinga, or William Lane Craig!) But if Maher happens to request an interview with me for Religulous 2, I'll have to pass until he's open to real conversations about faith.


Picking the President (September 24, 2008)

Picking the President
by Holly Vicente Robaina
My opinion on this one isn't worth fighting over.

September 24, 2008 | Today's Christian Woman
There's a major dispute going on among members of my church. You've probably heard people at your church arguing about it, too, as I seem to hear heated discussions everywhere I go: "McCain or Obama?"

My answer to this question has become, "I'm not telling." This is a recent development; it occurred after I received a lengthy e-mail from a friend who's my political opposite. In his e-mail, he questioned the decision-making ability of my presidential pick. My friend's arguments sounded a lot like the ones I'd heard on CNN from his party's pundits.

So I started to fire off a reply to his e-mail, telling him how wrong he is. As I typed out my thoughts, I suddenly realized: My arguments sounded a lot like the ones I'd heard on CNN from my party's pundits.

I deleted the e-mail without sending my reply. My friend has made his decision about his vote. I've decided, too. We've both given the presidential race considerable thought, based on what we think we know about the candidates. So it seems pointless to argue.

Voting's a great privilege, and I'd fight to defend the right to vote. As for who I'm voting for ? well, that's merely an opinion that's not worth fighting over.

A pastor who spoke at my seminary a few months back offered some perspective on the difference between opinions, beliefs, and convictions.

Opinions, he said, are ideas largely based on personal experiences and preferences. For example, it's my opinion that my presidential candidate of choice has the best plan for America. However, it's impossible to know how either candidate would perform if they became president; we can only make an educated guess.

Beliefs are ideas based on verifiable information, such as statistics, historical facts, ethical truisms, or other material that serves as proof for the belief. For example, most Americans believe democracy is right for America, and freedoms such as speech, religion, assembly, and due process are necessary and worth defending.

Convictions are the ideas at our core. Without them, we wouldn't be whole. It's my conviction that there's one God: the triune Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We should have innumerable opinions and numerous beliefs, but, this pastor said, there are only a handful of ideas that should be elevated to the status of conviction. Even if our beliefs are based on sound information or solid statistics, they shouldn't rank up there with our faith in God.

Unfortunately, we often hold our most unimportant ideas as sacred, investing a lot of emotional energy into our opinions, but not a lot of thought. Consider what happens when anyone utters the words "election" or "president" these days. Ears perk up, people gather 'round, and opinions - including some factually wrong ones - are generously expressed. It's a real tragedy that folks don't always treat their sacred convictions this way. If someone in your workplace lunchroom made a statement that there's no God, would there be an equally passionate discussion?

I've decided I'm not going to waste any more time praising the ardent supporters of my presidential candidate for their wisdom, or telling the ardent supporters of the other candidate that they're wrong. Instead, I'm using the upcoming presidential election as an opportunity to think about the value I give to my ideas. Do I put all my passion into mere opinions? Am I using my God-given brain to think deeply and research my beliefs to make sure they're worth the effort? Will I be ready and willing to stand up - and even die - for my deepest convictions? How much time and energy am I expending on ideas that don't matter - at the expense of the ones that do?

It's my opinion that my presidential pick has a slight edge. (But I've got nothing of substance to back that up.) It's my belief that - while I'll vote because it's a privilege - my vote is numerically insignificant. (The Electoral College decides this contest.)

And it's my conviction that our God is sovereign. He will continue on with his plans for America, regardless of who sits in the commander-in-chief's seat.


What are the ideas in which you invest most of your time? Are you passionate about your convictions?