Is It Wrong To Want Things?

Sometimes you just have to scrap an entire blog. My original title for this was “Happiness As a Goal”. But I’ve renamed it and rewritten it. And then rewrote it again. And then renamed it again.

So here it is, after a ton of editing:

I have struggled with the concept of wants and needs for a while. God gives us everything we need, so everything we don’t have we don’t need, right? And if God doesn’t give it to us and we don’t need it, it’s sinful to want it, right?

For a long time I felt that contentment meant being completely satisfied with what you have. This means that any desire for something one doesn’t have is discontentment and therefore sinful.

This was my train of thought: It is a sin to be discontent, to be content means you don’t want anything, you are satisfied with what you have. Therefore to want is to be discontent, therefore to want is to sin. Furthermore, God gives us everything we need, if we don’t have it we don’t need it. If we don’t need it we just want it, and wanting anything is a sin.

From the last three paragraphs you can see why my life has become kind of messy. I have shoved down a lot of desires and drives mistaking them for sin. This has made me a bit of a limp noodle. If wants and desires are inherently sinful what’s the point of trying? After all, you’re going to get what you need.

But then I realized that the Bible clearly talks about wants.

“You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” James 4:2b-3

James does not condemn his audience for asking for things.

In 1 John we read this:
“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.”

One only asks for things if one wants something. Since asking is not condemned, wanting is not condemned. I was wrong to think merely having wants was sinful. God clearly wants us to want things that are in accordance with His will and to ask Him for them. Asking is encouraged, and we are to do it with confidence.

Ultimately I don’t have to feel shame or guilt for wanting things (or experiences, or good feelings). But I do have to ask the question “is this in accordance with God’s will?”

Probably the easiest way to determine this is to ask the questions “Do I want this purely for selfish gain? Does my desire ultimately serve others and/or bring glory to God?” If the answer to the first is no and the answer to the second is yes then I am free to ask and to pursue what I want.

This whole train of thought has further implications, obviously. This is me after all. I can’t keep anything too simple. Keep checking back and I will try to further expound on these thoughts in other posts as I get to them.

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Killing Ourselves

“Except for rare, cult-related occasions, suicide is something done in private, outside of community, outside of immediate counsel… aside from rare situations, suicide is something that causes the actor to feel shame, regret, and sometimes anger, and to express hopelessness or helplessness.”

About a week ago, a pastor known for speaking about mental health issues committed suicide the very day he led a funeral for another suicide victim.

Of course my Facebook lit up with all sorts of polls and opinions about this topic. The quote above struck me pretty hard.

He went on to say:

“The body of Christ has to redefine what it means to live in community. My personal opinion is that community needs to be invasive. We don’t meet in homes anymore. Most protestant denominations don’t follow the example of post-reformation parish priests who spent all their daylight hours visiting everyone. The task could take weeks, and when everyone had been visited, he started over. Instead, we have church life and home life playing “hide and go seek” until someone gets volunteered for home group host…. we now face mental illnesses that could not have thrived 100 years ago, perhaps even 50 years ago. That calls for a newer, more intense level of care from the entire church community, and it calls for more genuine and invasive fellowship that cuts shame, regret, and anger off at the ankles.”

This comment got me thinking about the time I admitted having suicidal thoughts to my pastor. There wasn’t a lot of investigation into why I had these thoughts. It was just “you know you shouldn’t.” While it felt good to have someone to tell, and it slightly lessened the feelings, the thoughts never fully went away. The underlying problems were not taken care of.

There was no invasive fellowship. There were no investigations into underlying sin issues or other triggers in my life. Just an attitude of “let’s pray about it. Keep in touch.”

Community is something that I strongly long for. I believe part of the reason it is so hard to consider my home of twelve years to be “home” is that it has been difficult to find real community. Sure, it’s fairly easy to find acquaintances in such a large city. But real friends? People who will be that invasive into your life?

Pastors don’t make circuits anymore. Neither do elders or deacons for that matter. How many lay people do you have in your home any given week or month? Who do you know well enough to share your deepest darkest fears and shames?

That is the troubling thing. Suicide occurs alone, in the dark. It is an act of shame. And rightfully so, it is a tremendous act of selfishness. The times when I felt most alone in this world (and when I was behaving the most selfishly otherwise) were the times the temptation was strongest.

But reaching out is hard. Largely because it seems that no one wants to hear about your struggles. But also because it is shameful to be attacked by such temptations. Many Christians who have never experienced mental illness will just chalk it up to “not enough faith”. Or they will be like Job’s friend and assume your struggles are because of some unrepented sin in your life.

That is why we need people who know us. Really know us. People who aren’t afraid to point out sin but are also slow to blame every trouble of life on it. We need friends who will hear the good and the bad and offer love and care in both.

We are supposed to bear one another’s burdens. We are supposed to confess our sins to one another. How can we accomplish that without community? How can we accomplish that without seeing each other more than once a week, and in a more intimate environment than a large gathering?

I have yet to figure out this community thing, but at least I know what’s lacking now.

Lies, Pernicious Lies

Lies are ugly. Lies are literally everywhere around and in us. Our own hearts are deceitful. The world feeds us half truths and outright fabrications all day long. It gets so thick that it’s nearly impossible to distinguish falsehoods from reality.

I was saddened to hear about the death of Rachel Held Evans. I disagreed with her on so much, and her style was highly grating to me. But every death is a sad event, and every death should give us pause. I saw people celebrating, calling her a heretic, saying she spread lies and her young death is a judgment of God. Perhaps she did say some false things and promote some outright sinful things, perhaps she wasn’t the most orthodox of Christians, but how many of us are free of lies?

I don’t know the state of her soul. I do know she has now met the God whom she wrestled with for so long in her short time here on Earth. I hope that meeting was a good one. I know her glaring errors, but who would make it to Glory if we had to have perfect doctrine? Who would be saved if we had to know perfectly every jot and tittle of the Scriptures and exactly what each meant?

She led a lot of people astray, and I hope she repented of that before meeting her maker. But she did claim the name of Christ, there is reason to hold out hope for her eternal soul.

There are loads of false Gospels out there, and many false laws as well. The pitfalls of man’s depravity are too numerous to count. But can unorthodoxy on secondary and tertiary matters be elevated to heresy status?

If we believe in Christ crucified, buried, and risen, and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness on the elect then we are not believing a false Gospel.

However, if we add to it extra commands and laws and expectations of perfect sinlessness on the part of the elect, we are believing a false gospel. Modern day Judiazers are everywhere. Christians should be careful to avoid them and avoid becoming them.

I don’t know if I can judge the state of anyone’s soul based purely on how well they hold to certain laws or matters of conscience. I do know that if perfect knowledge and adherence to the Law was the only way to Heaven, I would be damned indeed.

I am grateful for a Savior who is patient and forgiving.

Not Shocked

Is man basically good? This question seems to come up a lot, particularly on job applications. The expected answer is undoubtedly “yes”. But is he really? Despite all the evidence to the contrary, why do so many people want to cling to this idea of man’s inherent goodness?

One of the most telling signs that people believe that humans are basically good is that they’re shocked when people do bad things. A lot of people seemed surprised when they hear stories on the news of people doing horrific things. They seem to think that people would never do such a thing.

I feel immune to this response because I don’t believe man is basically good. It’s totally reasonable to expect people to do horrible things. Man is totally depraved. Man is capable of doing any sort of evil imaginable.

I’m never shocked when I hear that someone did something awful. Whether it’s murder, sex trafficking, child abuse, rape, or other heinous crimes, none of it is shocking to me.

Honestly, I’m not shocked, I’m saddened. I’m saddened for the victims and their families foremost, but I’m also saddened for the perpetrator himself. I’m saddened (and frankly terrified) for the soul of the person who fell so far. I’m also well aware that I myself am capable of doing such things but for the grace of God.

Does this mean that I think that man is utterly deprived and we must live in fear of all people?

No, men are not as bad as they could be. There are even some good men on a human level. But compared to a holy God man is far from good. In fact, even the “good” things that men do are often tainted by selfish motivations. Men on their own do not do things to please God, men do things to please themselves and others. Men do things to make themselves look better, not necessarily to bring glory to God.

Even with the help of the Holy Spirit some temptations are just too hard for a man to resist. This is a terrible thought. Even I might fall into those sins. I would hate to stand before God knowing that I had done those things. This is one reason why I say that I feel sadness for the perpetrator. How scary must it be knowing that one has done something so terrible and that he will have to answer to God for it!

But with Christ all things are possible. Resistance is possible. Repentance is possible. No one is irredeemable, no matter how significant their sin. It is to Him that I cling, praying that I do not fall to temptations that others have. It is to Him that I cling, knowing that he forgives me even when I do fall to temptation, however bad they may be.

This is the hope of the Christian. Not the false hope that men can be good on their own, but the hope that they can be redeemed, repentant, and revived to a new life in which they can pursue true goodness.

Music and Art Monday, March 18, 2019: Christians And Art

Colors Chosen By A Two Year Old, Acrylic on Paper

I’ve been around a long enough time to read various Christian perspectives on art. They range from the benign to the downright vicious, especially when it comes to Modern Art.

Many Christians believe that art should be representative of the world. They believe art should copy the world and tell a story, usually moral in nature. They seem to believe that the only true art is classical art and anything that reeks of modernity is uncivilized and probably anti-Christian. Many think that art says a lot about worldview. Somehow, if you see the world as an abstract you must see the world in a nihilistic way.

Why does art have to tell a story? Why does it have to “mean” something? Why does it have to perfectly represent the subject as the subject is? If one wants a perfect copy of an object why not take a photograph?

To me, art should capture the emotion of something. Form is important, I definitely need to work on capturing form, but emotion is equally important. It is important to capture the essence of the subject, whether your medium is paint or film or clay.

Perhaps this is why I have a difficult time with seated poses. How much emotion can be conveyed by a sitting body? Maybe the emotion comes not from the subject but from the artist. The artist must project his emotions onto a subject as he would a light, and then capture the reflection, without losing the form in the process. Or maybe the reflection comes back in pieces and is copied in the abstract.

Queen, Oil on Canvas, 2018

Either way, is that capture “immoral”? Is is immoral to disassemble reality and put it back together in an imperfect way? Disassembled emotions are not nihilistic. Breaking down objects into their various parts and reassembling them in ways which do not reflect reality is not denying reality.

In fact, I would argue that perhaps it reflects reality far better than some hyper-realistic painting of an idealized subject. Reality is messy, reality is emotional, reality is imperfect. We do not live in Eden anymore. To capture our world as it really is is to show the blemishes and the oddities and at times the harshness of it all.

Sure, there is a time for capturing idealized images of beauty. There is definitely a place for “realism” and capturing form exactly as it is. I respect and admire the painter who can perfectly copy the world as it is. But without emotion is it really art?

Even playing with the reality of a photo can put a bit more emotion into it.

Christians should be the best at capturing both the world as it is and the world as it should be. We should not be shunning the opportunity to show the world reality through the lense of the Law and the Gospel. We should not fear our emotions and feelings about the world around us, instead we should embrace them and capture them with art to display them to the world. Our art should, like all of our activities, inspire people to ask us about the hope that is within us.

Christians should embrace the visual arts, and all arts, both to share the Gospel and to make this world a bit more beautiful in the process.

What’s Up With Marie Kondo?


There’s a new craze going on. People are going “KonMari” on their homes and tidying them up. Lives are changing, with every cymbal flourish and Marie Kondo Coo, rooms are being magically transformed from dumps to habitable spaces.

I knew nothing of this show until it started appearing in my newsfeed. Then my wife watched it…

My wife has spent literally the last ten years trying to KonMari our house without knowing she was doing it. She has emptied her closet onto the bed several times and whittled down the clothes to a manageable number. She has sought to create spaces for the objects that she loves to be on display to bring joy to her house. She emptied and rearranged kitchen cabinets, she disposed of piles of things that no longer meant anything to anyone (and a lot that she still loved).

But because of me, this labor was in vain. I am a hoarder, or at least a recovering one. I have held onto papers and books and random objects from my youth for odd and unhealthy reasons. It’s been a process, slow and painful (yet cathartic), to get rid of my stuff and only keep what really makes me happy.

So seeing the craze, and hearing my wife’s reviews, I decided I should watch a few episodes myself and see what it was all about.

First off, skip the first episode unless you want to know why the rest of the world dislikes Americans. Stereotypes exist for a reason, sadly. The one upside to the episode is that it normalizes breastfeeding.

But episode three was great (we accidentally skipped episode two), especially for us, because we live in a smallish house with seven people in it. Seeing another family downsize from a huge space to a tiny space was uplifting and gave me some hope for this household. Plus they were just so dern wholesome. The kids were polite and the parents well spoken. They seemed like normal people trying to get by, just like most of us.

There was another episode with a couple just like us, the wife (in our case, me) just couldn’t bear to get rid of her clothes, books, and miscellaneous items. We had to laugh because if we didn’t laugh we would cry. This woman said many of the things I do. It was humbling to see someone else do it. She kept things for  various reasons, usually utilitarian in her mind. I completely understood what she was saying. And her husband? The words he spoke could have been stolen from my wife’s mouth.

So what do I think of Marie Kondo?

Well, first off, she seems like an absolute sweetheart. She doesn’t come into her client’s home like a wrecking ball, deriding them for having stuff. Instead, she sweetly reminds them of some pretty common sense stuff like you’re all in this household together, so you have to work as a team to keep it tidy and only keep what brings you joy. Common sense frequently escapes me, so her reminders were well needed.

Other shows of this genre show you “horrible” people and build up drama around their horrible addiction to materials. They literally guilt you into cleaning up your house, because only “horrible” people live in messy houses. Not “Tidying Up”, this show shows you average people who are just trying to get themselves out from a completely relate-able situation. It’s feel good TV.

People will mock Marie because of her Shinto beliefs, saying she does odd things like “waking up books” and greeting the house. Sure, there is a bit of superstition involved, but that doesn’t make everything she does incorrect. Watching her talk about her beliefs got me to thinking, what is the correct way for Christians to think about the objects in their house?

So many Christians in America just go along with the materialism of our culture. We buy stuff we don’t need, we collect things with no intrinsic value, we hoard and take pride in our displays of wealth and blessings. Most of us are able to keep our material possessions manageable, but there are more than just a few of us that are drowning in them.

Wealth is not bad. Having material possessions isn’t sinful. Buying stuff you don’t need or having collections are not intrinsically bad behaviors. But, like all things we do, we should examine our motives and the effects the behaviors have on our lives and the lives of those around us.

Watching the show encouraged me to ask myself a few questions:

Does my home or the objects in it hinder my ability to share the Gospel?

I can’t share the Gospel when I can’t invite anyone in to my home. My home is an extension of my life, and the best way to spread the Gospel is to let others into it. But I am too embarrassed by my chaos to let others in.

Does my home reveal a lack of self-control, a Fruit of the Spirit?

My home definitely reveals some lack of self-control. There are places for things, but things are not put away. Clothes are not put in hampers, dishes are lost in far corners, the tables are used as catch-alls. Habits are not maintained.

Is there peace in my home, or is it chaos?

There is no peace. While training to be a bus driver I was told that having a clean bus actually encourages good student behavior. This is obvious even in my home. My kids aren’t bad, but clutter stresses them out and can lead to grumpiness, sloppiness, and laziness. How much more relaxed would they be if they knew where their stuff was? How much more willing would they be to keep up with their chores if they didn’t have to shift around mounds of stuff?

What does my mountain of stuff and my inability to get rid of it say about what me and what’s important to me?

What’s more important to me: this stuff that I’ve been dragging around for years, or the health and well being of my family? Stuff, or my ability to have friends over to share my life? Stuff, or my ability to do the things I love instead of wasting my time moving sand dunes of clothes and papers around?

Do these objects rob me or members of my family of joy, also one of the Fruits of the Spirit?

Joy is the one thing that Marie brings up more often than her love of tidying. Objects can rob us of our joy. Mountains of material possessions can drag us into depressing and awful places.


We should only keep what brings us joy. We should not hold on to the stuff that robs us of joy or inhibits our ability to share the Gospel. We should use our home to bring joy to others. Keeping a house full of clutter often means keeping a home empty of friends.

Go check out the show, then go KonMari on your house, you won’t be disappointed.

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Check, Arminians

As I mentioned the other day, Calvinism is one of the managery of topics that has been pinballing around my head the past few days or so. This is probably the shortest stream of thought, so it’s going to be the first topic I cover.

Now, if you aren’t familiar with a lot of theology this will probably not make much sense, I’m writing to an audience that I assume knows the subject matter. If that isn’t the case I would recommend you do some research before boring yourself with me.

I was going to post a screenshot of the conversations I had over the weekend with some very angry anti-Calvinists that sparked the whole thing, but for some reason the guy with the original post has disappeared. Kinda suspicious methinks.

Anyway, the post was basically something along the lines of “Calvinism makes God into a monster!”

I of course took exception to this. The Doctrines of Grace do not make God a monster. Quite the contrary, they put particular emphasis on the grace of God. The fact that God saves anyone should humble us.

What really got my blood boiling though was the accusation that Calvinists are preaching a false gospel. We are, I was told, “demonic” and “leading millions to Hell.”

There is a temptation in rhetoric to tell people that they simply don’t understand your position. I see it all the time and I have definitely been guilty of it. But I see it as a cop out. If your opponent doesn’t understand you, it’s probably because you (or your compatriots) have not adequately stated your position. So I avoided that strategy and instead inquired about what the true Gospel is.

For his credit he did state the answer correctly. But when pressed to tell me how Calvinism is preaching a false gospel he throws down the John 3:16 trump card.

It’s always funny to me when Arminians throw down John 3:16. Like Calvinists disagree with it or something. Apparently because we believe salvation is limited to the Elect, we must think that Jesus was lying when he said “whosoever believes will have eternal life.”

I do believe that “whosoever believes” will be saved. I just believe that only the Elect will be that “whosoever”.

“For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”

Is not incongruous with:

“whosoever believes in Him shall be saved.”

Those who He foreknew and predestined are precisely the same people who believe. Check, Arminians.

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Persistence

“Jesus said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Luke 18:2-8

Persistence pays off.

Giving up is easier, waaaay easier. But when you give up you gain nothing. Persisting, though painful, usually pays off in dividends greater than the sacrifice you made.

Think about some of the things where persistence is vital. Diets, working out, blogging, painting, relationships, and on and on. You make sacrifices for these things and after a bit of time and sacrifice you end up with returns far greater than the sacrifice.

At least usually. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how much you put in, you don’t always get everything or even anything back. Persistence in this world sometimes means you are beating your head against a wall. Of course that’s no reason to quit.

But in prayer, we have a guarantee that our persistence will pay off. There is no such thing as “unanswered prayer”, Christ assures us that justice will always be done when we are persistent in prayer. Even if we don’t get exactly what we want, we will always get what is just.

It may be easy to give up on diets or exercise, because they frequently fail us, it should never be easy to give up on prayer.

Fatherhood Is Not Babysitting

This was in a Facebook group I’m in. Most people got the joke. One guy commented:

“What exactly is this meme saying?

Why is the woman abandoning her God given role as mother “for the next few days”?

Why is the father being regarded by both women almost as a boyfriend?”

My response was “you gotta be trolling.”

But looking at his timeline I really don’t think he was. His posts show that his worldview assumes men and women were created exclusively for distinct “roles”, women to pump out babies and stay with them constantly until they are capable of pumping out their own, and men to go out of the house most of the time to till the fields and provide the means to buy food (which definitely falls into the woman’s role). These roles are rigid and unbending.

I’m not completely opposed to the idea of roles. In any organization, such as a family, division of labor is helpful to ensure that all jobs are taken care of.

But implicit in this guy’s worldview is the idea that men are incapable of raising children. The fact that a woman would “abandon her God given role” and leave her children in the incompetent hands of their father is appalling. We all know men don’t have the capacity to nurture. We know their attention spans are way too limited to ensure the kids get all that they need to survive.

Implicit in this worldview is the concept that fathers are nothing more than babysitters when they take responsibility for the care of their children. If this guy had his way, the mother would never be out of the child’s presence. The father would will never be left out of his league watching the kids for a few days, let alone a few hours.

Maybe I am being uncharitable. Maybe this guy is a great father. Maybe he lets his wife “abandon her role” and go out occasionally. I don’t know.

All I know is I take exception to the idea that men are useless for raising children. I reject the notion that fathers are babysitters and the jokes about them needing “rescue” and being incompetent.

This guy may not have understood the meme, but I think most of us got the point loud and clear.

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Daily Thoughts #45

There is a reason God gave us a day to worship Him. There is great refreshment in meeting with the Saints and raising your voices together in worship. Not to mention the wisdom that comes from those who have been living this life for a lot longer than you have. I need those consistent reminders that I am not sovereign and that despite my feelings to the contrary I am well taken of.

I lied. I like how yesterday’s painting came out. But it’s oil, so it takes forever to dry. And it’s too big for my scanner. So no one will ever see it.

This week is going to drag on forever. I know I have said before that absence isn’t a big deal. Well. This time it definitely has been.

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