The Substance of Faith

The Substance of Faith

You can scroll the shelf using and keys

Two Thoughts on Debt

Thoughts on debt might seem odd for a former pastor.  If you know me well, you are aware of my interest in budgeting, finance, and the appropriate place of money in our lives.  

I’m not a Dave Ramsey disciple, but I do see the dangers of debt.  In the past year, I’ve read two important insights on the subject.  

In an article on, I read:  Debt makes you feel richer, while actually making you poorer.  Think about it.  You finance a new car and you feel richer because you are in a new car.  Calculate how much financing adds to cost of the car and you realize you are poorer.  Multiply that factor times everything you purchase with debt. Finance charges make everything more expensive.  

I don’t remember where I encountered the second thought.  I wish I could give the author credit:  Debt allows you to buy yesterday’s standard of living  with tomorrow’s income.  Again, this is worth thinking about. If you finance a car for 72 months  (not uncommon), six years from now you will finish paying for today’s standard of living.  



Send to Kindle

A Quote for Today

Half of the harm that is done in this world

Is due to people who want to feel important.

They don’t mean to do harm — but the harm does not interest them.

Or they do not see it, or they justify it

Because they are absorbed in the endless struggle To think well of themselves. 

T.S. Eliot in The Cocktail Party

Perhaps helpful to read during the impeachment hearings.


Send to Kindle

A Primer for Parents on YouTube Videos for Children

What could be more harmless than occupying your child with Children’s YouTube while driving or as you try to performs a few chores around the house?  They are pre-screened and age-appropriate, right?

Many children have their own device, or most parents (grandparents, too) have downloaded YouTube for Children to their own devices as an easy safe way to keep them busy while in the a waiting room.  

Not so fast.

Watch this TED Talk by James Bridle and you won’t think of Children’s YouTube the same.

Send to Kindle

Seven Conversations – Part 2

Best Parenting Books

I recently taught the Seven Conversations approach at my home church.  I promised a list of the parenting books I find most helpful.   So here they are.  Each one has played a part in developing Seven Conversations.

Privilege = Danger

First is Madeline Levine’s The Price of Privilege.   Levine explains clearly how families can be over involved in the wrong areas of a child’s life, while simultaneously being under involved in critical areas.  Most parents confuse the the two.   This book first pointed me to research on the importance of families sharing meals.



How Children Succeed

The second book is Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed.  You can follow the link to my initial review of the book.  Tough showed me the importance of delayed gratification as a critical component of a child’s development.

The Best Business School Book for Parents

The next book is a business book.  Yet, writing as a professor at Harvard’s business school doesn’t stop Clayton Christensen from pointing out the power of conversations with our children.  He also makes it clear how important it is  to do things on our own and to be a person of integrity.   How Will You Measure Your Life is the only “parenting” book I’ve given both my daughters.  

Another Book on the Danger of Privilege

A book that is out of print, but very helpful, is Lee Hausner’s Children of Paradise.  Like Levine’s book, it is about raising healthy, responsible children in upper middle class families.   An important note:  in Levine’s work, she defined wealthy families as those with a household income of more than $75,000.  Before you dismiss Levine or Hausner as not applicable to your life, consider that fact for a few moments.  Hausner reminds us children have to do things for themselves to develop healthy self-esteem.  

For Healthy Sportsmanship

For anything about healthy sportsmanship, the guru is Bruce Eamon Brown.  His books are typically short and readable.  He writes for parents of athletes and for coaches.   Don’t put a child in sports or take on a team to coach until you read one of his books.  The book to the left is $5.00 on Kindle.  It’s a small investment, considering all the time our children participate in sports.


There are other good parenting books out there, but these provide a solid background for the type of parenting that produces character.   And, as participants in Seven Conversations can attest, the right kind of character produces the quality of life we pray our children will have.  







Send to Kindle

Quotes on God and Justice

Here is a sampling of quotations on God and Justice from my old sermon research notes.

For many people, justice is whatever they personally consider fair. It can be as arbitrary and changeable as stock market value, at the whim of circumstances and history, worth one thing one day and altogether another the next day. For others, it can be explained by such catch phrases as “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” And it all too easily can slide into vengeance, self-righteous demands, racism, or revenge and retaliation on an emotional level. But religiously in the Judeo-Christian tradition, justice always looks more like mercy than anything we would label justice.  — Megan McKenna in Send My Roots Rain, p. 8

Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.  — Augustine

Scripture and Christ’s explicit teaching make the call to justice just as non-negotiable as the call to prayer and private morality.   — Ronald  Rolheiser, in Against an Infinite Horizon, p. 124

If Jesus had only been a mystic, healer, and wisdom teacher, he almost certainly would not have been executed. Rather, he was killed because of his politics—because of his passion for God’s justice.  — Marcus Borg, in The Heart of Christianity, p. 92

Another reason is the common misunderstanding of “God’s justice.” Theologically, we have often seen its opposite as “God’s mercy.” “God’s justice” is understood as God’s deserved punishment of us for our sins, “God’s mercy” as God’s loving forgiveness of us in spite of our guilt. Given this choice, we would all prefer God’s mercy and hope to escape God’s justice. But seeing the opposite of justice as mercy distorts what the Bible means by justice. Most often in the Bible, the opposite of God’s justice is not God’s mercy, but human injustice.  —  Marcus Borg, in The Heart of Christianit, p. 127

Do I want social justice for the oppressed, or do I just want to be known as a socially active person?   —  Donald Miller in Blue Like Jazz, p. 20

Consider a harder, but more excellent, way. A group of lively Christians gets together to pray, eat breakfast, and discuss strategy for demonstrating the lordship of Christ in their business practices that day. They ask: “How, today, can we write a policy, sell a house, lobby for a law, advertise a product, in a way that honors Christ and makes God’s name more respected? How can we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God as members of our profession? How can we keep our jobs and still do what is right? How can we avoid being conformed to this world and yet work effectively in it as transformers of culture for Christ’s sake?”   —  Cornelius Plantinga in Beyond Doubt, p. 71

One might go as far to say that perhaps justice fails to be done only if the concept we entertain of justice is retributive justice, whose chief goal is to be punitive so that the wronged party is really the state, something impersonal, which has little consideration for the real victims and almost none for the perpetrator. We contend that there is another kind of justice, restorative justice, which was characteristic of traditional African jurisprudence.   —  Desmond Tutu, in No Future Without Forgiveness p. 54

Christ died to save us, not from suffering, but from ourselves; not from injustice, far less from justice, but from being unjust. He died that we might live—but live as He lives, by dying as He died who died to Himself.  —  George MacDonald: An Anthology – 365 Readings (Edited by C. S. Lewis), p. 103


Send to Kindle

Seven Deadly Sins – Lust

Half-truths are often the worst lies. It’s hard to think of an innocent half-truth.  Their whole purpose is to deceive.   They hide lies behind a portion of truth.  Like a magician’s slight-of-hand, a half-truth directs our attention away from what we aren’t intended to see.

Among the seven deadly sins, lust is the most obvious half-truth and therefore, the greatest deception.   It represents sin’s slight of hand.

To see my point, we have to understand the proper connection between sex and love.  Our society conflates the two.  We use the expressions “having sex” and “making love” in the same way.  To society at large, their meanings are close enough to be used interchangeably.  In a biblical world view, sex and love are related, but not identical.

Love is patient and kind.  It is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way. It’s not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  It never fails.  (Of course you recognize the teachings of Paul in I Corinthians 13.)

When a couple loves each other this way and commits to each other for a lifetime, sex is the physical communication of their commitment in its highest form.  Despite some flawed “Christian” views of sex, in this context, the context of marriage, sex is good.

Lust’s slight of hand tries to convince people that sex is always good, even when divorced from love, commitment, and marriage. It’s half-truth says that we can divorce the physical from the personal. From the biblical point of view, however, “casual sex” is an oxymoron.  In this regard lust always fails.  It can’t deliver the fulfillment it promises because it has come unmoored from it’s natural and necessary anchor, which is commitment.  It becomes, what Eric Fromm calls, a “joyless pleasure.”  (Think about that expression for a few minutes.  It can describe binge eating, substance abuse, pornography addiction, and the hollowness of sex for the sake of sex. I find it revealing and haunting. See Fromm’s To Have or to Be, p. 100)

This is why lust always fails.

Here are some insightful quotes on lust.

Quoting Malcolm Muggeridge:  “Christianity…does not say that, in spite of appearances, we are all murderers or burglars or crooks or sexual perverts at heart; it does not say that we are totally depraved, in the sense that we are incapable of feeling or responding to any good impulses whatever.  The truth is much deeper and more subtle than that.  It is precisely when you consider the best in man that you see there is in each of us a hard core of pride or self-centeredness which corrupts our best achievements and blights our best experiences.  It comes out in all sorts of ways—in the jealousy which spoils our friendships, in the vanity we feel when we have done something pretty good, in the easy conversion of love into lust, in the meanness which makes us depreciate the efforts of other people, in the distortion of our own judgment by our own self-interest, in our fondness for flattery and our resentment of blame, in our self-assertive profession of fine ideals which we never begin to practice.     Philip Yancey in Rumors of Another World, pp.123 ff

“When you have indulged a lust, your wing drops off;
you become lame, abandoned by a fantasy.
…People fancy they are enjoying themselves,
but they are really tearing out their wings
for the sake of an illusion.”      Rumi

“There is no dignity when the human dimension is eliminated from the person. In short, the problem with pornography is not that it shows too much of the person, but that it shows far too little.”  John Paul II

Lust and disgust keep close company.   John Updike


See Also:

Seven Deadly Sins: Introduction

Seven Deadly Sins:Envy

Seven Deadly Sins: Anger

Seven Deadly Sins: Greed

Seven Deadly Sins: Sloth

Seven Deadly Sins: Pride




Send to Kindle

Seven Deadly Sins – Anger

Many of the Seven Deadly Sins seem outdated. Take Sloth, for instance.  Many millennials  don’t want a lane in the rat race.  Their life-work balance is skewed significantly in favor of life over productivity.  Their parents see it as sloth; the millennials do not.   Of course that is a misunderstanding of sloth, but the important point is that sloth as a traditional “deadly sin”  doesn’t communicate well today.  It, and others of the seven, feel like the character defects of a bygone era.   Anyone preaching about these sins has to find ways to overcome the psychological resistance of the listener.

Not so with anger. This is anger’s hour to shine.  It trends every day.  It is one of the most defining characteristics of the society in which we live.

We see anger in the many rages we confront (or exhibit!) ever day: Road rage, air rage, office rage, desk rage, work rage, bike rage, commuter rage, sports rage, grammar rage, sports rage, technology rage, and the one about to drive our country into pieces – political rage.

The anger of our era doesn’t simply show in newsworthy moments of rage, such as the rise of shooting incidents in schools and in the workplace. It happens in thousands of other, less volatile moments as well.  Anger is behind the rudeness you encounter (or express) in line at the grocery store.  It’s the motivation behind a significant percentage of office theft.  Disgruntled employees who feel they’ve been treated unfairly filch items as perceived compensation for the way they were treated.

Anger stokes talk radio, sets the scene for video games, and lurks behind the psyche of every bully.  Perhaps anger has never been more destructive to individuals, families, and society than it is today.   Anger is the spiritual carcinogen of our time.  Never have Christians had greater need to confess and repent of their own anger.  Pastors have no greater preaching challenge than confronting the anger that eats at the souls of their members.

Be forewarned: Sloth may seem outdated, but today anger is loved.  Like many toxic, physical behaviors, people are addicted to their anger.  What will they do at night if they can’t rail at an opposing team or political party on social media?  Like substance abuse, it gives a big high.  It feels like power.   But it never, never – NEVER – satisfies a life.  It never restores the soul. Even though anger kills, your parishioners may not like to have it taken away from them.  Repentance of Anger comes at a high price.

Here are some quotations that might help those who step into the pulpit.

If it is true that the Holy Spirit is peace of soul, and if anger is disturbance of the heart, then there is no greater obstacle to the presence of the spirit in us, than anger.  John Climacus

Honest anger obeys three rules.  It does not distort; it is not rage; and it has a time limit.  Ronald Rolheiser in Against an Infinite Horizon,  See pages 168-170 about honest anger.

Anyone can become angry.  That is easy.  But to be angry with the right person to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and the right way, this is not easy.  Aristotle

Anger is never without a reason, but seldom a good one.  Benjamin Franklin

Angry people are not always wise. – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

A man can’t eat anger for breakfast and sleep with it at night and not suffer damage to his soul. – Garrison Keillor

There is no psychological reward for anger…. Anger is debilitating. In the physiological realm, it can produce hypertension, ulcers, rashes, heart palpitations, insomnia, fatigue and even heart disease. In the phsychological sense, anger breaks down love relationships, interferes with communication, leads to guilt and depression and generally just gets in your way. You may be skeptical, since you’ve always heard that expressing your anger is healthier than keeping it bottled up inside of you. Yes, the expression of anger is indeed a healthier alternative than suppressing it. But there is an even healthier alternative than suppressing it–not having the anger at all. In this case you won’t be confronted with the dilemma of whether to let it out or keep it in.   WAYNE W. DYER, Your Erroneous Zones

Some of these quotes and ideas are expanded in a previous post Living in The Age of Rage

Send to Kindle

A New Digital Covenant

During the past year I have served as a consultant in two churches involved in conflict.  In both cases, misunderstood or inappropriate communication by email or on FaceBook increased the conflict.  Out of those experiences, I wrote the following piece for the Center for healthy Churches.  It originally appeared on the CHC website

By Joel Snider
CHC CoachHave you ever:

  • Sent a text that the recipient misinterpreted?
  • Wondered how to decipher an angry sounding email you received?
  • Congratulated someone on Facebook for an accomplishment, only to discover the news was still confidential?

If you haven’t had one of these experiences, you’ve had one similar.  We can all share stories of digital communication gone wrong.

Members of faith communities today often ask, “How will we relate to each other as Christians in a digital world?  How will we treat our brothers and sisters in Christ in the ever-changing cyber-world?”  Many assume they know the answers, only to discover that not all members of the fellowship share the same convictions.

How do we come to a common understanding of appropriate digital communication?  A church may adopt an official policy on the subject, but policies are only enforceable with employees.  How does the broader membership agree on principles of internet conduct?

While exploring this idea, I discovered the concept of a digital covenant between members – a common commitment to how we treat each other in the virtual world as part of Christ’s church. I don’t have a finished product, but here are some suggested principles.

  • Use digital communication for information, but not for emotions.    Seven percent of interpersonal communication is verbal – the remainder is non-verbal. The recipient can’t see your facial expressions, hear your tone of voice, or read your body language in an email or text.  Ninety-three percent of your digital communication is hidden and, therefore, easy to misinterpret.  If your message has emotion behind it, go see the person or pick up the phone and call.
  • CC Wisely.   Copying someone on an email is for information, not leverage.  Do not copy someone in order to pressure the primary recipient.  Consider using this practice at work, as well.
  • Do not share another person’s information digitally until they do.   I know an instance where a person posted a prayer request on Facebook, “Pray for my neighbor whose father died tonight.  She dreads calling her children at college to tell them their grandfather is gone.”  It seemed innocent enough until the Facebook user’s daughter saw her mother’s post, made the connection and texted one of the grandchildren,  “I was sorry to hear about your grandfather.”  It was an unfortunate way to hear about a death.   Therefore, be respectful.  Either ask directly if you can share the information or wait until they post before you do.
  • Ask for permission to post pictures of children.  A couple shared a video of a funny moment in their child’s life.  One of the recipients posted it to YouTube.  The parents asked them to take it down, and they refused.  They were addicted to the number of hits they were getting.  The parents found that even though their child was the subject, they had no legal standing to have the video removed from the internet.   Get permission to post pictures or information about another parent’s child.  If a friend asks you to remove a photo or information about them, respond in Christian charity and comply.
  • Remember that the world is your audience.  Randi Zuckerberg says when you share information digitally, think “Who among the recipients do I trust the least?”  The question sounds cynical, but contains much wisdom.  Don’t say anything in an email that would embarrass you if it were forwarded.
  • Remember the permanence of the digital.  Digital communication is quick, convenient, and allows us to stay in touch with more people we could never see or call. The ease of writing and deleting lulls us into thinking messages come and go.  Google’s search ability is quick and its memory is permanent.  A tweet or post that may seem funny in the moment can have lasting embarrassment.

Remember Colossians 3:17 – “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus….”    We don’t have permission to stray from the mind of Christ just because we are angry, or participating in sports – or because we are on the internet.  Paul mentions no exclusions to “everything.”

These are starting points for a covenant about how we treat each other in the digital age.Consider having a church discussion about the idea. Develop your own principles and then pledge together to treat others on the internet in a way that honors Christ.


Send to Kindle

Seven Conversations


I’ve never been on Facebook.  I’m one of the few Ludites left who is concerned about privacy.  Therefore, I’ve not seen firsthand the interest in one of my sermons on parenting that has resurfaced.  I appreciate the kind words that have been forwarded about it

Based on that sermon, several  parents have asked, “What are the questions to ask our children?”   Since I entered retirement, I’ve been working on a book about this idea.  The current title is Seven Conversations.  I won’t try to preview the whole book here but in response to texts and emails, here are the basics:

How can we wait? Teaches delayed gratification.

How can you do that yourself?  Teaches independence.

What shall we eat? Invites the family to a common table.

What are we thankful for?  Teaches gratitude.

What shall we give? Teaches generosity.

What shall we pray for?  Instills faith.

I’ll save the seventh as a tease.  I’ll get to another post soon to explain why these questions and qualities are important.

If you are interested in more about parenting, scroll right and read my post “The Lottery,” if you dare.


Send to Kindle

Easter South of the Equator

I read about a woman in New York City who was interviewed as she departed church one Sunday. A reporter asked, “What is Easter?” The woman said, “Easter is when we throw off the robes of winter.” A critic of Christianity said, “Easter is a spring ritual celebrating the ancient myths of the Mediterranean mind.”

Christians and nonchristians alike tend to join Easter with the arrival of spring. Between now and April 1, we will see countless pointers to new blooms, the end of winter’s grayness, and the reemergence of green in our yards. Spring is our dominant metaphor for Easter.

I want to raise the question: is spring an appropriate analogy for Easter?  Perhaps not. I came to this conclusion several years ago when I traveled to the Southern Hemisphere for the first time. One of the things that I really wanted to see while there was the Southern Cross, that constellation that can only be viewed south of the equator. One night in Kenya, I asked a resident of the country to help me find it in the night sky. There it was.

That experience started me thinking about the differences in the hemispheres. I paid attention in social studies as a child, so I knew the seasons are opposite. I wondered, “What do they do about Easter down here, when nothing is blooming and everything is dying?” How do have Easter if you can’t point to green grass, flowers in bloom, or the death of winter passing away? How do you celebrate Easter south of the equator, without the metaphor of spring? I goggled sermons in every English-speaking country south of the equator that I could think of. I discovered they do quite well without spring.

A couple of years later, I found these statements by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Mediations on the Cross:

Good Friday is not about the darkness that necessarily must give way to light. Nor is it the winter sleep or hibernation that stores and nurtures the germ of life. Rather, it is the day when the incarnate God, incarnate love, is killed by human beings who want to become gods themselves. It is the day when the holy One of God, that is, God himself, dies, really dies—of his own will and yet as a result of human guilt. p. 71

Easter does not celebrate a struggle between darkness and light….It does not celebrate a struggle between winter and spring, between ice and sunshine. Rather, it remembers the struggle of guilty humankind against divine love, or better: of divine love against guilty humankind. p. 70-71

In the beginning chapters of Paul’s First Letter to the Church at Corinth, Paul is speaks to the Corinthians about earthly wisdom, worldly wisdom, and how there is nothing in it that would make you think about how God saves us. Paul says, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the Gospel, not with words of human wisdom lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”

Skip ahead to chapter 2 and we read, “And the things we speak of, we were not taught by human wisdom, but we were taught by the spirit who expressed spiritual truths and spiritual words.” His point is you could look at spring all your life and never come up with the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. The cross is foolishness.

Too often we ask nature to do our preaching for us. We ask questions such as, “How could you look at the beauty of spring and not believe in God?” As if that experience tells all a person needs to know about God and Christ. Can we look at blooming azaleas and deduce, “Love your neighbor as yourself”? Is there anything in a dogwood that says, “Love your enemy”? Is there anything in grass turning green that says, “If you would be my disciple, deny yourself and pick up your cross daily and follow me”? In all of nature is there anything that says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, and his son came into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him”?

We need to remember that Easter is not simply a time of general renewal but this is a time when we come to worship because Christ has redeemed us by his cross — and the last enemy has been destroyed.

Send to Kindle