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Blogs I Follow

The Presidents Club

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The Surest Defense Against Evil

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The Triumph of Grace

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Contemplating God’s Sovereignty

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How Should We Then Live?

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Not a Timid Christianity

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Finishing the Race

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Because the Time is Near

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Revelation Song (YouTube)

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Where The Wind Blows

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Doing Great Things

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Recognizing a False Prophet

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The Power of Forgiveness

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Created for Relationships

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The Only Way I Know

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Faith: The Misunderstood Doctrine

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Our True Home Address

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‘Tis the Season . . . for L-O-V-E

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The Paris Terrorist Attack and the Problem of Evil

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Cherry Picking 101

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Love Sweet Love

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So Goes The Culture

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Idols of the Heart

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Divisions Are Not Always Bad

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The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

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A Heart Like His

The war really is bigger than us. . . . The passage quoted in the above picture is taken from the words of the apostle Paul found in Ephesians 6:10-20 which states the following:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.

To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. (Ephesians 6:10-20, ESV).

It reminds me of something I read in Sun Tzu‘s treatise titled, The Art of War,” in a section titled Maneuvering.”  Sun Tzu opened that section with the following statement: “In war, the general receives his commands from the sovereign” (quote source here). Sun Tzu (544-496 BC) “was a Chinese general, military strategist, and philosopher who lived in ancient China. Sun Tzu is traditionally credited as the author of The Art of War, a widely influential work of military strategy that has affected both Western and Eastern philosophy” (quote source here). The entire text of The Art of War can be read online at this link.

While there is nothing that indicates Sun Tzu believed in the God of the Bible (and indeed, he lived centuries before the Bible was in print), his statement, “In war, the general receives his commands from the sovereign,” is quite an apted one. There is an Old Testament figure, King David, who was born in Bethlehem and died in 962 BC (four centuries before the arrival of Sun Tzu in ancient China) who also lived centuries before the entire Bible was in print (including most of the Old Testament and all of the New Testament), and he was known as a man after God’s own heart (see I Samuel 13:14 and Acts 13:22–David was installed as King after God rejected Israel’s first king, King Saul).

As stated in an article titled, King David–A Man After God’s Own Heart,” on Christianity.about.com, the life of King David is a study in contrasts, yet God always viewed David as a man after his own heart because of his single minded commitment and devotion to God. The article opens with the following statement:

King David was a man of contrasts. He was singlemindedly committed to God, yet guilty of some of the most serious sins recorded in the Old Testament.

David lived a frustrating life, first in the shadow of his brothers, then constantly on the run from vengeful King Saul. Even after he became king of Israel, David was engaged in almost constant warfare to defend the kingdom. King David was a great military conqueror, but he could not conquer himself. He allowed one night of lust with Bathsheba, and it had disastrous consequences in his life.

Although King David fathered Solomon, one of Israel’s greatest kings, he was also the father of Absalom, whose rebellion brought bloodshed and grief.

King David’s life was a roller coaster of emotional highs and lows. He left us an example of passionate love of God and dozens of psalms, some of the most touching, beautiful poetry ever written. (Quote source here.)

While that description tends to focus on the negative side of David’s life, the much larger picture is his great devotion to God in spite of his shortcomings that indicates a trust and devotion that went to the very core of his being and stayed with him throughout his lifetime. Many of the psalms written by King David (before and after he became king) echo down through the centuries of his great devotion and total dependence on God and God’s protection over his life (and yes, he had to live through the consequences of his sins, such as the death of his first child with Bathsheba; and yet their next child, Solomon, became one of Israel’s greatest kings). One of David’s psalms, found in Psalm 59, shows his great devotion to God at a time of his greatest need for protection from King Saul, who was trying to kill him.  Here is Psalm 59 (NIV):

Psalm 59

When Saul had sent men to watch David’s house in order to kill him.

Deliver me from my enemies, O God;
    be my fortress against those who are attacking me.
Deliver me from evildoers
    and save me from those who are after my blood.

See how they lie in wait for me!
    Fierce men conspire against me
    for no offense or sin of mine, Lord.
I have done no wrong, yet they are ready to attack me.
    Arise to help me; look on my plight!
You, Lord God Almighty,
    you who are the God of Israel,
    rouse yourself to punish all the nations;
    show no mercy to wicked traitors.

They return at evening,
    snarling like dogs,
    and prowl about the city.
See what they spew from their mouths—
    the words from their lips are sharp as swords,
    and they think, “Who can hear us?”
But you laugh at them, Lord;
    you scoff at all those nations.

You are my strength, I watch for you;
    you, God, are my fortress,
10 my God on whom I can rely.

God will go before me
    and will let me gloat over those who slander me.
11 But do not kill them, Lord our shield,
    or my people will forget.
In your might uproot them
    and bring them down.
12 For the sins of their mouths,
    for the words of their lips,
    let them be caught in their pride.
For the curses and lies they utter,
13 consume them in your wrath,
    consume them till they are no more.
Then it will be known to the ends of the earth
    that God rules over Jacob.

14 They return at evening,
    snarling like dogs,
    and prowl about the city.
15 They wander about for food
    and howl if not satisfied.
16 But I will sing of your strength,
    in the morning I will sing of your love;
    for you are my fortress,
    my refuge in times of trouble.

17 You are my strength, I sing praise to you;
    you, God, are my fortress,
    my God on whom I can rely.

gods-mercy-is-biggerAs we see from the psalm quoted above, David trusted in God totally to protect him from his enemies, and he did this throughout his life and not just at the time King Saul was pursuing him with the intent to kill him (which had to be terrifying in and of itself). David knew that God was his refuge in all times of trouble. This psalm is also quoted in the book, A Heart Like His (1999, 2003, 2012) by Beth Moore, an author, speaker, Bible teacher, and founder of Living Proof Ministries, in the opening to Part II titled, “A Friendship Made in Heaven,” (see pp. 57-58). A brief description of the book on LifeWay.com states the following:

We all go through times when we feel insignificant or times when we feel certain that we have experienced a degree of failure from which there is no return. This is not a reality we experience alone, but is one that a man after God’s heart experienced as well. From shepherd, to refugee, to king of Israel, David exhibited the purest virtues and the most heinous sinfulness, but through it all his relationship with the Lord continued to grow.

“A Heart Like His” looks at this bond of mutual love and admiration between a man who was not unlike any of us and the one true God who is all good and all powerful. Beth Moore walks us through an exploration of David’s incredible life, drawing spiritual insights from a man who boldly fulfilled his divine destiny not merely by what he did, but who he loved and served. Bringing lessons from David’s life to bear on your own, this picture of a man who loved and followed God will help you to serve with a heart focused on Him no matter the circumstance (quote source here).

A Heart Like His is an in-depth Bible study on the life of David. In the introduction to the book, Beth Moore states:

All you need to relate to David is a membership to the human race. No matter how familiar you are with the biblical account of his life, I believe you’ll be stirred, shocked, amazed, and forced to think a few hard thoughts all over again. His story is proof once again that truth is far more intriguing than fiction.

Why study David? I believe he is extremely important for several reasons.

First, he was a man with a tremendous relationship with God–called a man after God’s own heart. His songs and poetry inspire us to worship. Since we believe that an intimate love relationship with God is the highest blessing possible in this life or the next, David is a worthy subject for our study.

Second, David simply merits our attention. He was a wondrously complex man. A musician and a warrior. He was capable of both the highest loyalty and the most base sin. In David we see the very best and the very worst in the human species. Getting to know David allows us to get to know ourselves.

A third reason to study David involves his relationship to Jesus Christ, the Messiah. In many ways, David prefigures Christ. As we study David, we will come both to understand to to appreciate our Savior in new ways.

I believe strongly in a fourth reason to study David. Simply stated, he’s in the Bible. You see, Bible study saved my life. I believe studying God’s Word has enormous life-enhancing value. In many different ways I have benefitted from spending time in God’s Word. As you read, “A Heart Like His,” you will accomplish a detailed study of the books of 1 and 2 Samuel. You will also read portions of Psalms, 1 and 2 Chronicles, and many verses from other Old and New Testament books. I have written this book so that you can read it by itself, but I would encourage you to read the Scripture passages from your own Bible. The Scripture references for reading appear at the beginning of each chapter. (Quote source: Introduction, pp. 2-3). The book is available at this link (Lifeway.com–$5.00 for a limited time only).

Since I love reading books on the life of David, I couldn’t resist buying A Heart Like His,” which is on sale for $5.00 right now at Lifeway Bookstoresand I’m looking forward to reading this one with much anticipation.

Perhaps the greatest message to be found in the life of David is his singular devotion to God even in the midst of his worst sins that had some pretty devastating consequences in his life; consequences allowed by God to bring him to utter dependence on God. God is always very aware of our weaknesses and our sin, but it is in our weaknesses and sin that God can use, if we do not turn away from him in the midst of the very difficult times, to conform us to become men and women after his own heart. And it is our own reaction to those consequences that speaks volumes about who we really trust and believe in . . . whether it is in God, or whether is it in ourselves or in anyone or anything else. In the case of David, sometimes it took a long time before he realized his grave error (as with his affair with Bathsheba, or his failure to discipline his own children), but always he repented and came back to God.

In the article mentioned at the beginning of this blog post titled, King David–A Man After God’s Own Heart,” on Christianity.about.com, here’s a quick rundown on David’s accomplishments, weaknesses, and strengths, and their life lessons for us today:

King David’s Accomplishments:

David killed Goliath, champion of the Philistines, when David was only a youth and Goliath a giant and veteran warrior.

David was victorious because he trusted in God for the victory, not himself.

He killed many of Israel’s enemies in battle.

Despite several opportunities, David refused to kill King Saul, God’s first anointed king, who was pursuing David out of mad jealousy.

He became friends, like brothers, with Saul’s son Jonathan, setting a model of friendship that everyone can learn from.

King David is included in theFaith Hall of Famein Hebrews 11.

David was an ancestor of Jesus Christ. Jesus was often calledSon of David.”

God called David a man after his own heart.

King David’s Strengths:

David was courageous and strong in battle, trusting in God for protection.

He was loyal to Saul, despite Saul’s crazed pursuit of him.

David loved God deeply throughout his entire life.

King David’s Weaknesses:

King David committed adultery with Bathsheba. He then tried to cover up her pregnancy, and when he failed with that, he had her husband Uriah the Hittite killed.

He took a census of the people, willfully violating God’s command not to do that.

King David was sometimes lax, or absent as a father, not disciplining his children when they needed it.

Life Lessons:

Honest self-examination is necessary to recognize our own sin, then we must repent of it. We may try to fool ourselves or others, but we cannot hide our sin from God.

God always offers forgiveness for our sins, but we cannot escape the consequences.

God highly values our faith in him. Despite life’s ups and downs, God is ever-present to give us comfort and help. (Quote source here.)

paid-in-fullPerhaps one of the most difficult lessons we can learn is concerning our sin that is most hidden. In fact, it is often so well hidden that we don’t even recognize it for what it is–like envy, jealousy, being judgmental, showing a lack of love for others, loving money and possessions, thoughts that go nowhere good; and even in the midst of doing something we think is the right thing to do but we actually have no business doing it. And, and it can be hard to tell if it is something we shouldn’t doing it, like differentiating between seeking justice in the form of revenge instead of showing mercy. And sometimes it is hard to differentiate between seeking justice or wanting revenge. The best thing we can do in times like that is to completely trust God for justice in any situation, and to always show mercy (which is definitely our part in the equation). We must never confuse our own seeking after justice with God’s justice. God said vengeance is his and he means it, too (see Romans 12:19). The apostle Paul stated in that verse, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

Most battles that come our way are far bigger than we can handle on our own, even when we try to take matters into our own hands and think by doing so we are helping God out. Often, we are only harming ourselves. It goes back to the verses in Ephesians stated at the beginning of this post found in Ephesians 6:10-20. Standing firm in peace, truth, faith, God’s righteousness, salvation, prayer, the Word of God–those are our weapons. Anything else does not come from God . . . .

A few years back Phillips Craig and Dean sang a song titled, Mercy Came Running (YouTube Video below). I’d like to end this post with a few words from their song as a great reminder to us that it is mercy that should always prevail:

Looking down with longing eyes
Mercy must have realized
That once His blood was sacrificed
Freedom would prevail

And as the sky grew dark
And the earth began to shake
With justice no longer in the way

Mercy came running
Like a prisoner set free
Past all my failures
To the point of my need
When the sin that I carried
Was all I could see
And when I could not reach mercy
Mercy came running to me

Mercy came running like a prisoner set free . . .

When I could not reach mercy . . .

Mercy came running to me . . . . 

YouTube Video: “Mercy Came Running,” by Phillips Craig and Dean:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

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God Is Always Hiring

now-hiring-1-neon

God is always hiring–what a concept, eh? It happens to be the title of Regina Brett‘s latest book, God Is Always Hiring: 50 Lessons for Finding Fulfilling Work(2015). And it’s great news for someone in my shoes who has been unemployed for longer than I care to think about at this point in time. The back cover states that “this book relates tales of discouragement turning into hope, and persistence paying big dividends.” Well, I’m all about persistence that I never knew I had before this long and unending period of unemployment came along to change the direction of my life.

The title of Brett’s book also reminded me of a parable that Jesus taught to a crowd that seems to indicate that God is “always hiring” those who seek him, regardless of whether they come to him early in life or later, even much later. He can use anyone who makes themselves available to him (and he’ll even use those who don’t, but that’s topic for another time). The parable is found in Matthew 20:1-16, and here’s the story taken from The Message Bible:

“God’s kingdom is like an estate manager who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. They agreed on a wage of a dollar a day, and went to work.

“Later, about nine o’clock, the manager saw some other men hanging around the town square unemployed. He told them to go to work in his vineyard and he would pay them a fair wage. They went.

“He did the same thing at noon, and again at three o’clock. At five o’clock he went back and found still others standing around. He said, ‘Why are you standing around all day doing nothing?’

“They said, ‘Because no one hired us.’

“He told them to go to work in his vineyard.

“When the day’s work was over, the owner of the vineyard instructed his foreman, ‘Call the workers in and pay them their wages. Start with the last hired and go on to the first.’

“Those hired at five o’clock came up and were each given a dollar. When those who were hired first saw that, they assumed they would get far more. But they got the same, each of them one dollar. Taking the dollar, they groused angrily to the manager, ‘These last workers put in only one easy hour, and you just made them equal to us, who slaved all day under a scorching sun.’

“He replied to the one speaking for the rest, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair. We agreed on the wage of a dollar, didn’t we? So take it and go. I decided to give to the one who came last the same as you. Can’t I do what I want with my own money? Are you going to get stingy because I am generous?’

“Here it is again, the Great Reversal: many of the first ending up last, and the last first.” (Matthew 20:1-16 MSG)

God’s kingdom is always a “great reversal” of the system we find operating in the world, such as in the statement, “The first will be last, and the last first.” Another example is Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (Luke 6:27-28; see also Matthew 5:43-48). In fact, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5-7) is about some of the great reversals that make up the kingdom of God here on earth regarding such topics as anger, lust, divorce, worry, hypocrisy, loving our enemies, giving to the needy, as well as other timely topics.

For those who might not be familiar with the term “kingdom of God,” GotQuestions.org gives us the following definition:

The kingdom of God is referenced often in the gospels (e.g., Mark 1:15; 10:15; 15:43; Luke 17:20) and other places in the New Testament (e.g., Acts 28:31; Romans 14:17; 1 Corinthians 15:50). The kingdom of God is synonymous with the kingdom of heaven. The concept of the kingdom of God takes on various shades of meaning in different passages of Scripture.

Broadly speaking, the kingdom of God is the rule of an eternal, sovereign God over all the universe. Several passages of Scripture show that God is the undeniable Monarch of all creation: “The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103:19). And, as King Nebuchadnezzar declared, “His kingdom is an eternal kingdom” (Daniel 4:3). Every authority that exists has been established by God (Romans 13:1). So, in one sense, the kingdom of God incorporates everything that is.

More narrowly, the kingdom of God is a spiritual rule over the hearts and lives of those who willingly submit to God’s authority. Those who defy God’s authority and refuse to submit to Him are not part of the kingdom of God; in contrast, those who acknowledge the lordship of Christ and gladly surrender to God’s rule in their hearts are part of the kingdom of God. In this sense, the kingdom of God is spiritual—Jesus said His kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36), and He preached that repentance is necessary to be a part of the kingdom of God (Matthew 4:17). That the kingdom of God can be equated with the sphere of salvation is evident in John 3:5–7, where Jesus says the kingdom of God must be entered into by being born again. See also 1 Corinthians 6:9. (Quote source here.)

The apostle Paul give us a great example of this way of living in Philippians 2:1-16 (and Paul was writing from prison at the time he penned these words). Here is Paul’s advice taken from The Message Bible

If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care—then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.

What I’m getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you’ve done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I’m separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.

Do everything readily and cheerfully—no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night so I’ll have good cause to be proud of you on the day that Christ returns. You’ll be living proof that I didn’t go to all this work for nothing. (Philippians 2:1-16 MSG). 

god-is-an-on-time-godA breath of fresh air . . . . The kingdom of God is very good news, and anyone is welcome regardless of their status, situation, or circumstances. It only requires a willing heart and a belief in God through Jesus Christ. And the requirement is stated in John 3:16-18 (MSG):

This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son [Jesus Christ]. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him (John 3:16-18 MSG).

However, back to Regina Brett‘s latest book titled, God Is Always Hiring: 50 Lessons for Finding Fulfilling Work.”  Lesson #17 caught my eye with the title, “When things fall apart, they could actually be falling into place.” The lesson opens with the following story on pp. 85-87:

There’s an old saying: “Some years ask questions, some years answer them.” Most of us would rather be living in a year with answers.

Sometimes you go through months or years of uncertainty, where everything on the outside looks stagnant. You’re stuck in a winter where you can’t see the growth. When you look back on those periods of time, you were growing roots.

Some years you see the fruits of your labor, you flower, you bloom, you strut your stuff, and the world sees a bouquet and celebrates. Root years aren’t so attractive. There’s not much to show for them until much later in your life when you realize that those were the most vital years of all.

I thought of that when I heard about Mary Ann Corrigan-Davis. She had a dream job, then lost it and found a more perfect dream. She graduated from college with a degree in French and planned to go into international business. She got her MBA from Case Western Reserve University and expected to get the perfect job in international business as soon as she graduated. 

It took a year of interviews to find a job, and when she did, it was in sales at American Greetings, the card company. She planned to stay briefly and then move on to pursue her dream job. She stayed for 27 years. She ended up as president of the Retail Division in charge of 440 stores across 40 states, worked in Australia, and climbed the ladder all the way to the rung called Senior Vice President of Business Innovation. Then it all came to a screeching halt.

She got downsized. Then her dad died. Then she got breast cancer.

All in one year.

She said, “Lord, You have my attention. What it is You would like me to do?”

It looked muddy and messy at the time, but looking back, it’s clear what that time was for.

She got to be with her dad in his final days.

She got to heal and make getting well her full-time job.

She got to strengthen her faith when she went through chemotherapy and radiation, a faith that was deepened by her years at Saint Joseph Academy, an all-girls Catholic high school.

After Mary Ann survived the storm, she found a huge rainbow. She ended up in the job of her dreams, one that didn’t exist until she got downsized. She’s now president of Saint Joseph Academy, the school she always loved. She likes being in a workplace driven by a sense of mission, not profit.

“Life is like a roller coaster,” she told me. “Sometimes you do want to throw up. You just have to believe it will get better.”

How do you keep believing?

You make denial work for you. You believe in spite of the statistics. You believe past your doubts. You believe anyway. (Quote source: “God Is Always Hiring,” pp. 85-87.)

In an example from Brett’s own life, she describes a time of transition for her (in Lesson #40) when she took a trip with a friend in 2007 to the Wright Brothers National Memorial (in memory of Orville and Wilbur Wright who invented the first airplane and took it on its maiden flight in 1903) in North Carolina. The memorial is a 60-foot monument inscribed with the words, “Dauntless Resolution. Unconquerable Faith”words that transformed her thinking about her own life. And it was that trip that inspired her to write down her dreams of becoming an author when she got back home (pp. 214-215):

Once home, I taped the brochure from the Wright Memorial with the black-and-white photo of that plane on my vision board. I made the covers to all the books I wanted to write and posted them there. Then I wrote at the top: “This or something better.”

Was it okay to tell God what I wanted? Should I seek my heart’s desire or God’s will? Then I remembered what Beth told me: God’s will is your heart’s purest desire. They are one and the same.

Was it okay to post it there in the open? I knew it was when Beth sent me this quote from Habakkuk, a chapter of the Bible that I had never even heard of:

Then the Lord answered me and said, Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets, so that one can read it readily. For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint. If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late.

Wait and it will surely come.

God is rarely early, but God is never late. (Quote source: “God Is Always Hiring,” pp. 214-215.)

Since that time, Brett has authored three New York Times best selling books, including this latest book titled, God Is Always Hiring.” Her story is a great example of how God puts dreams and desires in our hearts, but the timing of it’s fulfillment is up to him. And the words Brett used to end her own story ring out to the rest of us who are still waiting . . . .

Wait and it will surely come . . .

God is rarely early . . . 

But God is never late . . . . 

YouTube Video: “What Faith Can Do” by Kutless:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Time to Move Forward

quotation-martin-luther-king-jr-if-you-can-t-fly-then-run-if-you-canThe election is over here in America, and we have a new President-Elect. Donald J. Trump will take the oath of the Office of the President on January 20, 2017. It came as a huge surprise early Wednesday morning when it was announced he had won. Half of the population is elated, and the other half… well, not so much (and they are making their feelings known around the nation). To the protesters (especially those causing riots), I’m reminded of a song John Lennon and Yoko Ono sang back in 1969… “All we are saying is give peace a chance” (YouTube video at this link).

In every election somebody wins and somebody loses. And after every election, it’s time to move forward, regardless of whether our candidate won or not. I’m not exactly sure when we became such a “feelings oriented” society that lends itself to the rioting that has occurred in the past couple of days (or the cancelling of classes on some campuses due to the “distress” of the students who are unhappy with the outcome of the election). In an article published in September 2014 titled, A Feeling of Control: How America Can Finally Learn to Deal With Its Impulses by David Desteno in the Pacific Standard, Desteno states:

More than three centuries ago, the Dutch philosopher Spinoza pretty well encapsulated what is still the conventional wisdom about emotions in human affairs: that “in their desires and judgments of what is beneficial, [people] are carried away by their passions, which take no account of the future or anything else.”

While emotions are a very normal part of life, when did we as a nation start letting our passions rule in the public square in acts of rioting and other disruptions? Yes, we can disagree, but passions run amok can cause a lot of destruction and, as stated above, “take no account of the future or anything else.” It becomes a matter of “we want what we want and we want it now” and they let their feelings and emotions rule their lives (of course, the rioting might have another agenda going on). We may have “come a long way, baby,” but it’s definitely heading in the wrong direction if emotions are going to rule the land someday.

However, this post is not specifically about the election or who won and who lost, but since it made news around the world and there have been some riots here in America from the result, it’s a bit hard to ignore the impact. However, this post is about moving forward. Change starts with us as individuals, and I want to focus on the positive side of change.

Circumstances are what they are, whether good, bad or indifferent. We often like to think that we can control them (and perhaps for a time we can), but that is rarely the case in the long term. For example, I have tried my hardest over the past several years to find employment–to no avail. Same with the housing issue that is still ongoing. As much as we like to talk here in America about how much we can control our own destiny, the reality check is–not so much. Yes, we can pick careers or spouses or any number of things, but we can’t always control them. I certainly never expected to lose my profession after 20 years, and a decade before I planned to retire, too.

I have a friend who, on a regular basis, tells me I could change my circumstances if I wanted to change them, but that I must have some sort of “internal hidden agenda” that keeps me from doing it. Say what? We’ve allowed that kind of psychobabble to control us for far too long over the past several decades. I sometimes feel bad for the younger generations who don’t know anything different as that kind of thinking is ingrained in our society now. What will happen to people who truly think they can control their circumstances when something really awful happens that they can’t control? We are not God. God is God. And whether one believes in God or not (and I do), there is an unseen hand at work in this world of ours, and that hand is never thwarted.

all_things_possible_mark_10_27My life took a totally unplanned detour seven and a half years ago when I lost my job in Houston. My best laid plans got thrown into an ash heap. And my best attempts at finding another job never produces another job, and the search for affordable housing has been ongoing for two and a half years now, too. There is no “internal hidden agenda” of my own that is keeping me in this place of no employment and no housing options except for living in hotels I can’t afford on my own. There may be some “external hidden agendas” from external forces involved, but nothing on my side of that fence is causing it to continue. And I can’t “make” someone hire me anymore than I can “make” someone give me affordable housing (and I’ve undertaken a massive search in both areas over the past several years looking for it, too).

We’ve been sold a bill of goods thinking we can control everything in our lives and that it’s all “up to us” or else we must be doing something wrong that is causing it to not happen. There are others who can be causing it to not happen, too. Never disallow the external forces caused by others that may be at work in any set of circumstances. Too often, this component isn’t even included in the conversation. So be aware of them, but also understand that God is still the One who is in ultimate control. And we can keep on doing what we need to do, too.

So let’s take a look at this dilemma from God’s perspective (not saying I can possibly know what God is up to but I can attest to His leading in my life during this time). Perhaps the biggest lesson I have learned is that God’s ways are definitely not our ways (see Isaiah 55:8-9). He allowed the life that I knew to be taken away and replaced it, over time, with a much broader scope and perspective of what is going on in this world. And I would have never started this blog had I not been unemployed all this time, either.

With that being said, I don’t want to give the impression that we can’t have dreams and move towards seeing those dreams become a reality. Of course we can. What I am saying is that God can intervene and send us in a different direction. I believe with God’s help we can make the impossible possible, but we need to get a perspective that goes beyond what we want and the focus of it all being “up to us” as my friend likes to indicate when it comes to my own particular set of circumstances. There are some things I can definitely do (and I have done), but others things I have to leave up to God to “move the immovable” as nothing I have done has put a dent in it. However, that does not preclude me from moving forward while leaving the “immovable” stuff up to God (in fact, leaving all of the stuff up to God, even the stuff I do on a daily basis).

Perhaps the best example I can give of what I’m trying to say (perhaps not very successfully) is found in an illustration from Neil Armstrong‘s life that I read in the book, God Is Always Hiring: 50 Lessons for Finding Fulfilling Work (2015) by Regina Brett, a New York Times bestselling author and newspaper columnist. In Lesson #40, Brett describes how Orville and Wilbur Wright built the first airplane and took it on it’s first flight in 1903. They opened the era of aviation and, as Brett states (pp. 211-212):

They opened the door for Neil Armstrong (1930-2012) who got his pilot’s license at 15 before he learned to drive. He was born in Wapakoneta, Ohio, population 9,843. The quiet, humble man was an engineer and a Navy fighter pilot who flew 78 combat missions in the Korean War. He was in college when someone else broke the sound barrier. He was disappointed to miss out on what he thought was the greatest adventure in flight. Little did he know what was ahead of him.

In 1969, he took us all to the moon with him on Apollo 11. I’ll never forget those words when he landed the lunar craft: “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” Or when he took that first step and said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” On that flight, he carried with him a piece of the original plane the Wright Brothers flew.

Armstrong was a reluctant hero who hid from the media spotlight and rarely talked to reporters. He became a professor, bought a farm in Ohio, and disappeared back into his life. He knew he had completed his mission in life.

How do you know what yours is?

I once saw a poster at church and knew instantly it was my job assignment for life: “Inspire the world. Live your vocation.”

Inspire the world. That was it.

I keep a tiny plague on my desk that bears this definition of inspire: “To affect, guide, or arouse by divine influence. To fill with enlivening or exalting emotion. To stimulate action; motivate. To affect or touch.”

Underneath it is my personal mission statement: “To inspire men and women to find and use their Inner Power, to find and complete their Sacred Mission, to create a greater life for themselves and others.”

If the word “mission” scares you away, call it something else. Søren Kierkegaard described it this way: “God has given each of us our ‘marching orders.’ Our purpose here on earth is to find those orders and carry them out.”(Quote source: God Is Always Hiring,” pp. 211-212.)

proverbs-3-5-6I prefer Kierkegaard’s statement, “God has given each of us our ‘marching orders'” as opposed to referring to an “Inner Power” or “Sacred Mission” (that’s a bit too New Age for me as I believe in God and His power to work in us). The point is that walking on the moon wasn’t even on Armstrong’s radar screen when he was younger and “dreaming his dreams” until the opportunity presented itself further down the road in his life. And that’s the kind of thing I’m talking about when I mentioned God intervening in our lives. He does some amazing things when He intervenes.

Regarding the “external forces” that play out in our lives (and we all have them whether we notice them or are aware of their influence or not), I’ve learned there isn’t much we can do about them, and it is best to leave them up to God, too. The best advice we can take is what Jesus told us to do in Matthew 5:43-48 (MSG):

“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

“In a word, what I’m saying is, ‘Grow up.’ You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” (Click here for NIV version).

Live generously and graciously toward others . . . even those others who are not particularly generous or gracious towards us. I read a comment in Joel Osteen‘s new book, Think Better, Live Better (2016) that applies to the external forces at work in our lives. In Chapter Nine titled, “Keep Your Crown,” (the crown in the title refers to James 1:12) he states the following:

Jesus said in the book of Revelation (3:11), “Hold fast to what you have so that no one will take your crown.” Throughout your life, there will always be someone or something trying to take your crown. People will talk about you, trying to make you look bad, to push you down. . . . Do yourself a favor. Don’t let them have it. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.” Nobody can take your crown. You have to let go of what was said or done to you. . . (p. 168).

The enemy’s main tool is deception. . . . (p. 170).

The definition of deception is (1) the act of making someone believe something that is not true: the act of deceiving someone; (2) an act or statement intended to make people believe something that is not true (quote source here). Deception is lurking everywhere today–just look at the recent political election process if you don’t think that is true, or just turn on the TV. And the source can come from any direction. As Dr. John MacArthur states in his Bible study on James 1:2-18 titled, Benefiting from Life’s Trials,” troubles and trials are a natural part of life:

[The Apostle] Paul said he was “troubled on every side” (2 Corinthians 4:8). So it is reasonable to expect trouble in our lives as well. We experience it in our families, from our friends, on our jobs, at school, and with our nation. It comes in the form of criticism, persecution, illness, death of loved ones, personality conflicts, or inflation. Trouble is a way of life, so don’t think you’re alone if you’re experiencing it. (Quote source here.)

What the above statements make quite clear is that what my friend keeps telling me about my own set of circumstances (e.g., being something I can totally control if I wanted to change my circumstances bad enough) is not the complete picture of my situation. And most likely it is not the complete picture in your current circumstances, either, especially if you are in the midst of trying times. There are always external elements, forces, and most likely people involved.

Always . . . .

It’s not up to us . . . it’s up to God. He is the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2). He will guide and direct us around the landmines we don’t even know are waiting for us if we stay close to Him and depend totally on Him to guide us through life. Proverbs 3:5-6 states:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,

And He shall direct your paths.

So as we move forward, in our own lives and in the life of our nation under a newly elected President and administration, let’s remember to pray and trust God with every second . . .

Every minute . . .

And every hour . . .

Of every day . . . .

YouTube Video: “Moving Forward” featuring Israel Houghton and Lakewood Church Worship Team:

Photo #1 credit here
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The Times They Are A Changin’

I was a child of ten when A.W. Tozeran American Christian pastor, preacher, author, magazine editor, and spiritual mentor, died in 1963 at the age of 66. And it was the very next year in 1964 that Bob Dylan, an American songwriter, singer, artist, and writer who has been influential in popular music and culture for more then five decades, composed his famous song, The Times They Are A Changin’”. Back then I was too young to know who either of them were, but decades later when I stumbled upon some of Tozer’s writings, I could see just how much the times have changed since his day. And, of course, Bob Dylan, born in 1941 and who is now 75, is a cultural icon who has just recently been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature (see article at this link.) And who doesn’t like a good Bob Dylan song where the message transcends the music?

And how the times have changed since then, too . . . .

Life is ever changing regardless of how we may perceive it to be on a daily basis. And we live in such a fast paced time with all of it’s technological wonders that it is all we can do to keep up with today, but the winds of change still blow. And there are some things that never change–like death, taxes, gravity, the laws of thermodynamics, the love of a good man or woman (my preference is for a man), and real friends who stick around when times are rough. But most things, over time, change.

I was reminded again this morning just how much things change when I read a devotional that I get in my email from BibleGateway.com by A.W. Tozer (1897-1963). However, the devotion is on a spiritual principle that never changes, even if it isn’t a topic that is addressed much anymore:

Irreconcilable Hostility

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.Ephesians 6:12

In the early days, when Christianity exercised a dominant influence over American thinking, men and women conceived the world to be a battleground. Our fathers believed in sin and the devil and hell as constituting one force, and they believed in God and righteousness and heaven as the other. By their very nature, these forces were opposed to each other forever in deep, grave, irreconcilable hostility. Humans, our fathers held, had to choose sides-they could not be neutral. For them it must be life or death, heaven or hell, and if they chose to come out on God’s side they could expect open war with God’s enemies. The fight would be real and deadly and would last as long as life continued here below. People looked forward to heaven as a return from the wars, a laying down of the sword to enjoy in peace the home prepared for them….

How different today. The fact remains the same, but the interpretation has changed completely. People think of the world, not as a battleground, but as a playground. We are not here to fight; we are here to frolic. We are not in a foreign land; we are at home. We are not getting ready to live, but we are already living, and the best we can do is rid ourselves of our inhibitions and our frustrations and live this life to the full. This World: Playground or Battleground?, 4-5. (Quote source here.) The rest of the chapter from which this devotion was taken can be read at this link.

Today the subjects of “sin and the devil and hell” are relegated to Halloween lore or scary movies, but in our day to day lives we mostly scoff at such topics. It’s shows just how much our culture has changed in the past fifty or so years from back when those topics were taken quite seriously. I suppose one might say we’ve been illuminated from such quackery. But have we really been illuminated?

As a child attending church, I remember singing hymns with titles like Onward Christian Soldier,” but most of today’s Christian music centers around emotions or feelings, and the idea of being a soldier in some sort of spiritual war has been totally lost to the younger generations. And, the wizardry of Harry Potter along with all the techie wonders is far more appealing. And nobody is telling them anything different, and maybe that’s because the parents don’t know anything different, either.

Back in 1979, even Bob Dylan knew there was a spiritual war going on, and he recorded an album titled Slow Train Coming,” which expressed his strong personal faith. Here’s a statement from Wikipedia regarding this album:

“Slow Train Coming” is the nineteenth studio album by American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, released on August 20, 1979 by Columbia Records. It was the artist’s first effort since becoming a born-again Christian, and all of the songs either express his strong personal faith, or stress the importance of Christian teachings and philosophy. The evangelical nature of the record alienated many of Dylan’s existing fans; at the same time, many Christians were drawn into his fan base. “Slow Train Coming” was listed at #16 in the 2001 book “CCM Presents: The 100 Greatest Albums in Christian Music.”

The album was generally well-reviewed in the secular press, and the single “Gotta Serve Somebody” became his first hit in three years, winning Dylan the Grammy for best rock vocal performance by a male in 1980. The album peaked at #2 on the charts in the UK and went platinum in the US, where it reached #3. (Quote source here.)

The spiritual war going on is clearly stated in the lyrics of the song, Gotta Serve Somebody” (YouTube video available at this link). Let’s take a look:

“Gotta Serve Somebody”

You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls.

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
It may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

Might be a rock’n’ roll addict prancing on the stage
Might have money and drugs at your commands, women in a cage
You may be a businessman or some high degree thief
They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief.

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

You may be a state trooper, you might be an young turk
You may be the head of some big TV network
You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame
You may be living in another country under another name.

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

You may be a construction worker working on a home
You may be living in a mansion, or you might live in a dome
You might own guns, and you might even own tanks
You might be somebody’s landlord, you might even own banks.

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride
You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side
You may be working in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair
You may be somebody’s mistress, may be somebody’s heir.

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

Might like to wear cotton, might like to wear silk
Might like to drink whiskey, might like to drink milk
You might like to eat caviar, you might like to eat bread
You may be sleeping on the floor, sleeping in a king-sized bed.

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
It may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

You may call me Terry, you may call me Jimmy
You may call me Bobby, you may call me Zimmy
You may call me R.J., you may call me Ray
You may call me anything, but no matter what you say.

You’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

(Lyrics compliments of AZLyrics.com)

stand-firmAnd that spiritual war hasn’t changed over the centuries, either. It still rages on today (see Ephesians 6:10-18). We just like to gloss over it or totally ignore it. And that’s a choice we all make on an individual basis every single day. So who are we going to serve today?

In a newly published book by Moody Publishers that includes twenty-four sections of Tozer writings titled, Culture” (2016), the publisher’s note at the beginning of the book states the following:

Like the men of Issachar, A.W. Tozer was a man who understood his time and who knew what to do. The twenty-four selections that follow are a small sampling of Tozer’s writings on what it means to be a Christian in a world that is largely uninterested in Christ.

He covers topics like truth, the meaning of the church, the veracity of Scripture, and how Christians should live in this world while maintaining their identities as citizens of another.

Tozer wrote with conviction and purpose. He held nothing back in his challenge to his fellow Christians on how to live as Christ did:

We who call ourselves Christians are supposed to be a people apart. We claim to have repudiated the wisdom of this world and adopted the wisdom of the cross as the guide of our lives. We have thrown in our lot with that One who while He lived on earth was the most unadjusted of the sons of men. He would not be integrated into society. He stood above it and condemned it by withdrawing from it even while dying for it. Die for it He would, but surrender to it He would not. (Excerpted from Chapter 7.)

While these are merely words of one servant of the Lord from many decades ago, they also represent timeless truths that ought to be heeded in our day. The context may change and the specific battles may vary, but the truth remains the same. (Quote source “Culture,” p. 7-8.)

The following comes from Section #18 titled, “Resisting the Enemy” (pp. 139-142):

Someday the Church can relax her guard, call her watchmen down from the wall, and live in safety and peace; but not yet, not yet.

All that is good in the world stands as a target for all that is evil and manages to stay alive only by constant watchfulness and the providential protection of the Almighty God. As a man or a nation may be in deepest trouble when unaware of any trouble at all and in the gravest danger when ignorant that any danger exists, so the church may be in greatest peril by not recognizing the presence of peril or the source from which it comes.

The church at Laodicea has stood for nineteen hundred years as a serious warning to the whole Church of Christ to be most watchful when no enemy is in sight and to remain poor in spirit when earthly wealth increases, yet we appear to have learned nothing from her. We expound the seven letters to the churches of Asia [Revelation 1-3] and then return to our own company to live like the Laodicean church. There is a bent to backsliding that is all but impossible to cure.

The healthiest man has enough lethal bacteria in him to kill him within twenty-four hours except for one thing— the amazing power of the human organism to resist bacterial attack. Every mortal body must fight its internal enemies day and night. Once it surrenders its hours are numbered. Quite literally it must fight or die. 

The reason for this is that the human race inhabits a fallen world which is in many ways hostile to it. Nature as well as man is fallen; and as sin is normal human powers gone astray, so disease results from microscopic creatures once meant to be useful to men but now out of hand and perverted. To live, the body must resist these invisible enemies successfully, and considering our high vulnerability and the number of our enemies it is wonderful that any of us manages to live beyond his childhood. 

The Church lives in a hostile world. Within and around her are enemies that not only could destroy her, but are meant to and will unless she resists force with yet greater force. The Christian would collapse from sheer external pressure were there not within him a counter pressure sufficiently great to prevent it. The power of the Holy Spirit is, therefore, not optional but necessary. Without it the children of God simply cannot live the life of heaven on earth. The hindrances are too many and too effective. 

A Church is a living organism and is subject to attack from such enemies as prey on living things. Yet the figure of the human body to stand for the church is not adequate, for the life of the body is non-intelligent, whereas the church is composed of moral beings having intelligence to recognize their enemies and a will to enable them to resist. The human body can fight its enemies even while it is asleep, but the church cannot. She must be awake and determined or she cannot win. 

One enemy we must resist is unbelief. The temptation is strong to reject what we cannot explain, or at least to withhold belief till we have investigated further. This attitude is proper, even commendable, for the scientist, but wholly wrong for the Christian. Here is the reason: 

The faith of the Christian rests down squarely upon the Man Christ Jesus who declares that He is both God and Lord. This claim must be received by pure faith or rejected outright; it can never be proved by investigation. That is why Christ’s appeal is directed to faith alone. The believer thinks, it is true; but he thinks because he believes, not in order that he may. Faith secures from the indwelling Spirit confirmation exquisitely perfect, but only after it is there without other support than Christ Himself. 

Another enemy is complacency “Woe to them that are at ease in Zion.” The contented Christian is not in danger of attack, he has already been attacked. He is sick and does not know it. To escape this we must stir up the gift of God which is in us. We must declare war on contentment and press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. 

Again there is self-righteousness. The temptation to feel morally pleased with ourselves will be all the greater as our lives become better. The only sure defense against this is to cultivate a quiet state of continual penitence. A sweet but sobering memory of our past guilt and a knowledge of our present imperfections are not incompatible with the joy of the Lord; and they are of inestimable aid in resisting the enemy. 

The fear of man brings a snare, said the prophet, and this enemy, too, must be defeated. Our whole modern world is geared to destroy individual independence and bring all of us into conformity to all the rest of us. Any deviation from the pattern, whatever that pattern may be at the time, will not be forgiven by society, and since the Christian must deviate radically from the world he naturally comes in for the world’s displeasure. If he surrenders to fear he has been conquered, and he dare not let this happen. 

Other enemies may be identified, such as love of luxury, secret sympathy with the world, self-confidence, pride and unholy thoughts. These we must resist with every power within us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. (Quote source “Culture,” pp. 139-142; originally published in “That Incredible Christian,” pp. 101-104.)

As Christians, the moment we let our guard down and fail to recognize that is exactly what we are doing, we have lost the battle. And somehow that message has been lost today, and it is to our detriment. As Tozer stated above, “There is a bent to backsliding that is all but impossible to cure.”

Tozer’s words can be hard to take, but sometimes that is exactly what we need. We cannot afford to just coast along. So let his words be a gentle reminder of who we are as Christians. And with those words, I will end this post with the benediction from 2 Thessalonians 3:16:

Now may the Lord of peace Himself . . .

Give you peace always in every way . . .

The Lord be with you all . . . .

YouTube Video: “The Times They Are A Changin'” (1964) composed by Bob Dylan and sung by Phil Collins:

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A MINIATURE CLAY POT

"We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives" 2 Corinthians 4:7 The Message

gracefully50

On your birthday: count your candles, count your years, count your blessings.

lilies, sparrows and grass

"That I may publish with the voice of thanksgiving, and tell of all thy wondrous works." Psalm 26:7

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