70 Candles

I have a big birthday coming up in several days, and it’s taken me the better part of the past year to deal with the fact that I am no longer in an age range that can be considered “middle age.”

In an article published on October 14, 2021, titled, What is middle age and what age is officially old?” by Amy Cuevas Schroeder, director of educational content for Unusual Ventures, and founder and CEO of Jumble & Flow (a new lifestyle brand that empowers women to thrive in midlife), she writes:

No one can avoid aging, but aging well and with purpose is something else—our raison d’être at Jumble & Flow. 

But first things first: Who gets to decide when you’re officially old? We’ve all heard that age is just a number—we’ll plus-one that but we’re also open-minded about medical research and data.

Not surprisingly, the answer to this age-old age question seems to be “it depends on who you ask.” A 2017 study by U.S. Trust reports that American millennials defined old starting at age 59. Gen Xers said old age begins at 65, while baby boomers and the silent generation agreed that you’re not really old until you hit age 73.

But that was several years go. According to a 2020 survey of 2,000 Americans conducted by Let’s Get Checked, 57 is commonly thought of as “officially old.”

Looking back, when I was 20 I probably would have agreed with the numbers in both of these studies. I realize this is cliche, but now that I’m in my 40s and 57 isn’t that far off, 57 seems like middle age to me….

Psychology Today defines midlife as “the central period of a person’s life, spanning from approximately age 40 to age 65.”

Britannica (yep, they’re still around) defines middle age like this: “Though the age period that defines middle age is somewhat arbitrary, differing greatly from person to person, it is generally defined as being between the ages of 40 and 60.”

HuffPost reports on a study that says “the average person believes youth ends at 35 and old age begins at 58. Therefore, the years in between—all 23 of them—constitute middle age.” (Quote source here.)

So there you have it…. According to the data above (and how old you happen to be right now), old age can begin anywhere between the ages of 57 at the low end and 73 at the high end. Since I am quickly approaching 70, I prefer the high end. That gives me three more years to bask in the land of “middle age.”

But what does it even matter? If one reaches this age it definitely means you are still alive and kicking, and that is certainly something worth celebrating. Many people have never reached this age, and my own mother was one of them (she died at the age of 54).

During my entire lifetime living here in America, our culture has been obsessed with staying young, looking young, acting young, and catering to the young. For example, look at this statistic:

According to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (ISAPS), the United States claims the highest total number of plastic surgery procedures in the world. There were 4.2 million plastic surgery procedures performed in the most recently survey (in 2016). This accounts for 17.9 percent of all plastic surgeries worldwide. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on November 9, 2018, titled, Why Are We Still Obsessed With Looking Young?” by Danielle Pender, contributor on Refinery29.com, the article opens with two younger women sitting in a café, and they are discussing an older woman they both know. As Pender notes, the comments start off innocuously and turn saltier, such as the fact that she was “pushing 40” and still “trying to get away with it”–(looking and acting younger). Pender states in response:

The thing is, I instantly knew what they meant because I’ve judged older women for doing things I have deemed to be age-inappropriate. We no longer feel the need to slut shame each other or gossip about another woman’s sexual past as a way to keep some kind of moral order, so why do we feel the need to do this about a woman’s age? Where does this policing of older women come from?

You don’t have to look very far to find answers. The skincare regimes we all buy into promise younger, dewier, plumper, more youthful skin. One brand claims their new powder will give you an “ethereal veil of youth”. The buzziest beauty products all promise to deliver a younger-looking you. Anti-ageing, anti-wrinkle serums, creams and elixirs flood the market and our consciousness.

Women over 50 rarely feature in mainstream media and if they do their faces are suspiciously line-free. If a woman does dare to bare her untouched face, she receives a vitriolic backlash. Look at the treatment of Sarah Jessica Parker after she took her 53-year-old face to the Met Gala this year. She was ridiculed and vilified for having the audacity to have (a) worn blue eyeshadow and (b) aged beyond people’s frozen-in-time memory of her as thirtysomething Carrie. (Quote source here.)

Pender later states, “By rejecting or disrespecting older women, we’re rejecting and disrespecting our future selves.” The irony should not be lost on any of us at any age.

My emotions have been mixed as I approach my 70th birthday. I’m well aware of the culture I have been raised in and lived in as a woman throughout my 70 years on this planet of ours. I was happy with the fact that my face remained pretty much wrinkle free throughout my 60’s until I lost 30 pounds back in 2019 and the “padding” in my face that kept those wrinkles hidden was no longer there. I suppose it is a plus that my hair has not turned gray, and it might not as my maternal grandmother, who lived to be 86, died with a full head of brown hair with only a sprinkle of gray hairs running through it.

Can you see in that one paragraph I’ve written above just how much our culture has influenced us as to the terror it can strike in us as we get older and we no longer look “young” or at least “younger” anymore? And it doesn’t help that ageism is alive and well in our culture, too.

In an article published on Barclay Friends on January 12, 2022, titled, Seniors are Alive and Well: Laying the Ageist Myths to Rest (author’s name not mentioned), the article states:

Almost as regretful as the recent death of the beloved entertainer Betty White was the fact that the active, whip-sharp senior was less than a month shy of her 100th birthday, an event she and her fans were excited to celebrate in grand style.

It is also an event that would have been unheard of 100 years ago.

The statistics on life expectancy today are staggering. Consider this:

    • One in four 65-year-olds today will live past the age of 90, and one in ten will live past 95.
    • The life expectancy for men today is 84.3 years; for women, it is 86.6 years.
    • 100 years ago, the average life expectancy was about 50 years old.
    • The number of Americans over the age of 85 is rising faster than any other age group.
    • The number of Americans 65 and older is projected to double by 2060, totaling 98 million.
    • As of this writing, the oldest person alive is 119, a woman named Kane Tanaka who has lived through over a century of history’s momentous events, including the Spanish Flu–the last global pandemic before Covid-19.

Key factors that contribute to increased life expectancy are better health care, improved hygiene, greater emphasis on a healthy lifestyle, adequate nutritious food, better medical care, and reduced child mortality.

Yet, even as people are living significantly longer than ever before, many of the age-old and ageist stereotypes about senior citizens are still alive and kicking. Let’s look at–and bust–some of the most common myths attributed to older age. (We might also look at Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Samuel L. Jackson, Cher, Jimmy Buffet, Jane Fonda, and Robert DeNiro, to name just a few popular icons defying ageist stereotypes.) (Quote source  here.)

The article continues with a section titled, Debunking 10 Myths About Senior Citizens.” I’ve listed the 10 myths below and you can click on this link to read more about each of them.

Myth #1: Seniors can’t learn new skills. (Click here to read more.)

Myth #2: Nothing can be done to reduce the risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. (Click here to read more.)

Myth #3: Most seniors are weak and frail and shouldn’t exercise to avoid injury. (Click here to read more.)

Myth #4: Most seniors are bound for a nursing home. (Click here to read more.)

Myth #5: Seniors are often depressed, grumpy and isolated. (Click here to read more.)

Myth #6: Genetics determine how well you age. (Click here to read more.)

Myth #7: Seniors don’t have sex anymore. (Click here to read more.)

Myth #8: Most seniors have trouble hearing or seeing, or both. (Click here to read more.)

Myth #9: Seniors should give up driving. (Click here to read more.)

Myth #10: All seniors talk about is their ailments. (Click here to read more and for quote source.)

Case in point: I mentioned above that my mother passed away at the age of 54 (from health issues brought on by diabetes); however, my father lived to be 95 (he was a month shy of his 96th birthday when he passed away in 2019), and besides the fact that he did wear hearing aids as he got older, he “blew out of the water” each of those myths listed above. He was healthy, vibrant, mentally alert and sharp as a tack right up until his death. He also drove his own car right up until his last year of life, and he rode motorcycles throughout his life, and he could still fly an airplane in his 90’s (he was a pilot in WW2). He was rarely ever grumpy or depressed, and he lived life to the full.

In one final article for this post, published on November 7, 2019, titled, Our World Wants to Transend Aging. Christians Should Embrace It,” by Jason Thacker, chair of research in technology ethics at The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, he writes:

My grandmother was one of the strongest people I ever knew. Growing up, we were almost inseparable. Right before she died, she clenched my hand as I sat with her—and it reminded me of what the Bible says about the glory of growing old:

Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. (Isa. 46:4)

It’s tempting in our technologically rich society to treat old age as a burden and nuisance rather than something to be embraced. Many of us dread going gray and not being able to do the things we did when we were younger. We seek to mask or overcome old age with anti-aging remedies and revolutionary medical breakthroughs. Yet as Proverbs 20:29 tells us, “The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair.” 

God casts a rich vision for growing old—one Christians should champion in a world that fears, fights, and attempts to hide aging.

Utopian Dreams

Generation after generation has sought to overcome aging with elixirs, medicine, and even by chasing the “fountain of youth.” In contemporary times we chase this elusive “fountain of youth” as we clamor to develop anti-aging solutions and to transcend, with technology, humanity’s natural limits.

Tech titans such as Larry Ellison, Peter Thiel and Elon Musk, as well as prominent futurists such as Yuval Noah Harari, are fascinated with these types of life-extending technologies, which in many ways perpetuate the transhumanist goals of upgrading humanity. Utopian dreams of overcoming aging and death have captured the attention of many, who believe old age is something to be avoided at all costs rather than humbly embraced.

Entire segments of medical technology research focus on anti-aging drugs and treatments. Biotech company “resTORbio has been conducting clinical trials of a drug called RTB101, which seeks to slow the age-related decline of the immune system. While the drug has successfully extended the lifespan of yeast, worms, and mice, it remains unclear if it will work on humans. The drug’s ultimate goal is to prolong our lives by keeping us healthier for longer.

Others deny that living a long life is worth it. Medical ethicist Ezekiel Emmanuel, who served as a chief architect of Obamacare, argues that life after 75 isn’t worth living, because you become more of a drain on society’s resources. He famously promised to refuse all heroic medical interventions, vaccinations, and antibiotics after the age of 75. Without an active and engaged contribution to society, our lives just aren’t worth living. True and fulfilling life, in his disturbingly arbitrary view, ends at 75 years.

But as dystopian as that idea may sound, the underlying utilitarian premise is widespread: your worth is based on what you can contribute. This worldview–increasingly pervasive in our technological society—is one Christians should completely reject. 

A utilitarian basis for the value of human life runs contrary to the vision of dignity found in Scripture—which situates our value on the fact that we are made in God’s image (Gen. 1:26–27). This means that even if you have nothing to offer society, you are still infinitely valuable, because God crafted you in his image. He alone determines your value and your days.

Embracing Gray

Even Christians can subtly buy into these utilitarian ideas. Too often we clamor for the same life-extending medical treatments and treat older people as burdens to be managed rather than image-bearers to be cherished. We downplay the elderly’s God-given talents and contributions to church life by preferring to highlight the gifts and preferences of the young. We over-prize youth by elevating untested leaders to prominent positions of authority, rather than seasoned leaders who have been tested and refined (1 Tim. 3:6; 5:22).

But Christians shouldn’t follow the world’s pathetically low view of aging. For Scripture calls us to a radically higher view instead (Lev. 19:32Ps. 71:18). 

Pursuing restorative uses of technology, such as artificial organs and limbs, can be a good thing—a way we promote the sanctity of life in a world ravaged by sin. Medical technologies that fight the effects of aging can express God’s common grace if they are developed and deployed in ways consistent with the biblical paradigm that all life is valuable and ultimately points back to our Creator. But as many evangelical leaders recently proclaimed in a statement of principles on artificial intelligence, we must emphatically deny “that death and disease—effects of the fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ.” 

If we live as if this life is all there is, we will naturally seek to extend it as long as possible. And if we live as if the value of human life is determined by contributions or strength, then we will seek to end it when their perceived worth to others is gone. But if we instead let Scripture guide life, we will see that old age is not something to avoid but rather to embrace, for to live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil 1:21).

And what is the gain? It’s better than any utopian, transhumanist dream. We will forever enjoy the One who created us and who himself determines our value and dignity. (Quote source here.)

And therein lies the truth about ageing. So as I contemplate turning 70 in a few days, I am reminded that it is God who numbers our days and “locks in” our time here on earth. King David wrote in Psalm 139:16, Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” And Job stated in Job 14:5, A person’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.” 

I’ll end this post with the words of Isaiah from Isaiah 40:31: Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary…

They will walk . . .

And not . . .

Be faint . . . .

YouTube Video: “Keep Me In The Moment” by Jeremy Camp:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Gospel Song

When I was out yesterday running a few errands, I heard this great song playing on the Christian radio station (the song was released in 2021), and I’ve heard it before but this time I made a mental note of the title. You can listen to the song on the YouTube link at the bottom of this post (it’s titled Gospel Song by Rhett Walker).

Here are the opening lyrics to the song (from azlyrics.com):

I could listen to my heart
I could listen to the world
I could listen to my problems
But what I think I need to hear
Nice and loud and crystal clear
Is about the One who’s gonna solve them

Isn’t that the truth? Too often we listen to everyone and everything going on around us or inside of us (our own thinking, feelings, emotions) when we just really need to put our focus where it belong–on “the One who’s gonna solve them.” And that would be Jesus.

Another section in the song states:

Let me stop and testify
I was dead and brought to life
By the power of my Savior
But if I’m being real with you
Sometimes I forget it’s true
I could use a reminder

How often in any given day could we use a reminder? I can’t speak for you, but I know enough about myself to know that I need daily reminders. And the song ends with this reminder:

Ain’t nothing like a gospel song
Makes me want to sing it all day long
Something ’bout that amazing grace sound of praise
Makes my troubles not seem so strong
Let me hear a heart set free
Holy Bible to a melody
Turn it up and then play it again, play it again, play it
On and on and on
Ain’t nothing like a gospel song (x2)
Like a gospel song…

A month ago I came across a book at Walmart published in 2019 titled, Everything You Need: 8 Essential Steps to a Life of Confidence in the Promises of God,” by Dr. David Jeremiah, founder of Turning Point Radio and Television Ministries and senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in San Diego, CA. In his opening paragraphs in the Prologue to the book, he writes:

People often ask me, “Pastor, what’s going on in the world today? What’s the biggest issue we face? I have many answers, and each contains the same overarching work–pressure.

Family pressure. Time pressure. Financial pressure. Unprecedented pressure to compete and succeed by society’s standards–at work, in school, in our communities, and maybe even in our churches. As Christians, we’re encountering pressures in our society we’ve never faced before. We’re living in unprecedented times, which brings unparalleled tension…. (Quote source and the rest of the prologue is available at this link. The quote source is also found on page IX in the hardcover copy of the book.)

Everything You Need was published in 2019 which was right before the Covid-19 pandemic rocked the entire world starting in March 2020, and it changed the way everyone lives with challenges that are still very much ongoing and not likely to disappear any time soon. It’s a storm unparalleled in it’s reach including worldwide supply chain disruptions and supply shortages taking place today, and adding in Russia’s war in the Ukraine that started in February 2022, we now have the highest rates of inflation since 1981. It brings to mind the story about Jesus calming the storm (one of his many miracles) reported in Matthew 8:23–27, Mark 4:35–41, and Luke 8:22–25. Here is the account from Luke 8:22-25:

One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out. As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.

The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”

He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples.

In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”

Jesus has the power to calm us during the storms as we are going through them, and the power to stop the storm in it’s tracks if that is what he chooses to do. Either way, the “calming” comes from him and it is not something we can fabricate on our own. When he asked his disciples “Where is your faith?” after he rebuked the wind and the raging waters and the storm subsided, he asks us this very same question in the midst of the storms of life that assail us. We need to turn to him and commit the storm to him, whether it ends right away or whether we have to keep going through it. It is his calm that he extends to us when we turn to him for help. It is that “peace that passes all understanding” that he gives us that Paul describes in Philipians 4:6-7:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Back to Dr. David Jeremiah’s book, Everything You Need–the scripture text that the book chapters cover are based on 2 Peter 3-11 which states:

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

If you read the prologue to Dr. Jeremiah’s book (available at this link), it will give you an idea of the topics you will find in each chapter of the book which covers each of the qualities listed above in 2 Peter 1:3-11. For the purposes of this blog post, the focus is on “perseverance,” which is covered in Chapter 6 titled, “Relentless Determination,” in Dr. Jeremiah’s book. He describes perseverance as “a never-give-up attitude, a commitment to move forward when everything is conspiring to hold you back. No matter what happens, you finish the job… [it’s] the ability to go through a severe time” (quote source is found on page 96 of the hardcover edition of Everything You Need). If you want to read more, you can order the book at this link and at other online bookstores.

Several of Jesus’ parables involve the topic of perseverance, and one of the best known parables on perseverance is found in Luke 18:1-8 titled, “The Parable of the Persistent Widow:

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

GotQuestions.org explains the meaning of this parable:

The parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge (Luke 18:1–8) is part of a series of illustrative lessons Jesus Christ used to teach His disciples about prayer. Luke introduces this lesson as a parable meant to show the disciples “that they should always pray and never give up” (verse 1, NLT).

The parable of the widow and the judge is set in an unnamed town. Over that town presides an unjust judge who has no fear of God and no compassion for the people under his jurisdiction. In the Jewish community, a judge was expected to be impartial, to judge righteously, and to recognize that judgment ultimately belongs to God (Deuteronomy 1:16–17). Thus, the judge in this story is incompetent and unqualified for the job. Justice was not being served.

A needy widow repeatedly comes before the judge to plead her case. According to Jewish law, widows deserve special protection under the justice system (Deuteronomy 10:1824:17–21James 1:27). But this unjust judge ignores her. Nevertheless, she refuses to give up.

Eventually, the judge says to himself, “I don’t fear God or care about people, but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!” (Luke 18:4–5, NLT). The widow gets the justice she was seeking. Then Jesus explains His point: if an uncaring, unfit, ungodly judge answers with justice in the end, how much more will a loving and holy Father give what is right to His children?

We do not always get immediate results when we pray. Our definition of swift justice is not the same as the Lord’s definition. The parable of the persistent widow demonstrates that effective prayer requires tenacity and faithfulness. A genuine disciple must learn that prayer never gives up and is based on absolute trust and faith in God. We can fully count on the Lord to answer when, where, and how He chooses. God expects us to keep on asking, seeking, knocking, and praying until the answers come (Matthew 7:7–8). Disciples of Jesus are people of persistent faith.

The parable of the persistent widow and unjust judge is similar to the parable of the persistent neighbor (Luke 11:5–10), another lesson in Jesus’ teachings on prayer. While both parables teach the importance of persistence in prayer, the story of the widow and the judge adds the message of continued faithfulness in prayer.

Jesus presents a final quiz on the matter at the end of the parable of the persistent widow and unjust judge. He asks, “But when the Son of Man returns, how many will He find on the earth who have faith?” (Luke 18:8, NLT). Just as Paul stresses in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, continual devotion to prayer should be a way of life. The Lord wants to know if He will find any faithful prayer warriors left on the earth when He returns. Will we be among God’s people still praying at Christ’s second coming, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done” (Matthew 6:10)?

Faithful, never-ceasing, persistent prayer is the permanent calling of every true disciple of Christ who is dedicated to living for the Kingdom of God. Like the persistent widow, we are needy, dependent sinners who trust in our gracious, loving, and merciful God alone to supply what we need. (Quote source here.)

Faithful, never-ceasing, persistent prayer…. Let it rise up from us daily in the middle of the storms in life. And as Rhett Walker’s song reminds us–I could listen to my heart, I could listen to the world, I could listen to my problems. But what I think I need to hear nice and loud and crystal clear…

Is about the One . . .

Who’s gonna . . .

Solve them . . . .

YouTube Video: “Gospel Song” by Rhett Walker:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Let Us Pray

Today, May 5, 2022, is the National Day of Prayer here in America. “According to Wikipedia Source, on April 17, 1952, President Harry Truman signed a bill proclaiming the National Day of Prayer into law in the United States. President Reagan amended the law in 1988, designating the first Thursday of May each year as the National Day of Prayer. We know the National Prayer Committee was formed in the United States in 1972.” (Quote source here.)

The following information is taken from Wikipedia:

The National Day of Prayer is an annual day of observance held on the first Thursday of May, designated by the United States Congress, when people are asked “to turn to God in prayer and meditation”. The president is required by law to sign a proclamation each year, encouraging all Americans to pray on this day. [Note: The 2022 Presidential Proclamation signed by President Joe Biden is available at this link.]

The modern law formalizing its annual observance was enacted in 1952, although earlier days of fasting and prayer had been established by the Second Continental Congress from 1775 until 1783, and by President John Adams in 1798 and 1799. Thomas Jefferson established a day of prayer and thanksgiving, but this occurred while he served as governor of Virginia.

The constitutionality of the National Day of Prayer was unsuccessfully challenged in court by the Freedom From Religion Foundation after their attempt was unanimously dismissed by a panel of a federal appellate court in April 2011. (Additional information and quote source are available at this link.)

While the National Day of Prayer is a day set aside for united, national prayer for our nation and our communities, praying is something we can do at any time, anywhere, 24/7, and we can even pray silently. So what is prayer? GotQuestions.org provides us with the following information:

The most basic definition of prayer is “talking to God.” Prayer is not meditation or passive reflection; it is direct address to God. It is the communication of the human soul with the Lord who created the soul. Prayer is the primary way for the believer in Jesus Christ to communicate his emotions and desires with God and to fellowship with God.

Prayer can be audible or silent, private or public, formal or informal. All prayer must be offered in faith (James 1:6), in the name of the Lord Jesus (John 16:23), and in the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26). As the “International Standard Bible Encyclopedia” puts it, “Christian prayer in its full New Testament meaning is prayer addressed to God as Father, in the name of Christ as Mediator, and through the enabling grace of the indwelling Spirit” (“Prayer” by J. C. Lambert). The wicked have no desire to pray (Psalm 10:4), but the children of God have a natural desire to pray (Luke 11:1).

Prayer is described in the Bible as seeking God’s favor (Exodus 32:11), pouring out one’s soul to the Lord (1 Samuel 1:15), crying out to heaven (2 Chronicles 32:20), drawing near to God (Psalm 73:28, KJV), and kneeling before the Father (Ephesians 3:14).

Paul wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6–7). Worry about nothing; pray about everything.

Everything? Yes, God wants us to talk with Him about everything. How often should we pray? The biblical answer is “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We should keep a running conversation going with God all day long. Some find the ACTS formula of prayer helpful, but there is really no special formula for how to pray in the Bible. We should just do it. We can pray under any and all circumstances. Prayer develops our relationship with God and demonstrates our trust and utter dependence upon Him.

Prayer is the Christian’s way of communicating with God. We pray to praise God and thank Him and tell Him how much we love Him. We pray to enjoy His presence and tell Him what is going on in our lives. We pray to make requests and seek guidance and ask for wisdom. God loves this exchange with His children, just as we love the exchange we have with our children. Fellowship with God is the heart of prayer. Too often we lose sight of how simple prayer is really supposed to be.

When we make petitions to God, we let God know exactly where we stand and what we would like to see happen. In our prayers, we must admit that God is greater than we are and ultimately knows what is best in any given situation (Romans 11:33–36). God is good and asks us to trust Him. In prayer, we say, essentially, “Not my will, but your will be done.” The key to answered prayer is praying according to the will of God and in accordance with His Word. Prayer is not seeking our own will but seeking to align ourselves with the will of God more fully (1 John 5:14–15James 4:3).

The Bible contains many examples of prayer and plenty of exhortations to pray (see Luke 18:1Romans 12:12; and Ephesians 6:18). God’s house is to be a house of prayer (Mark 11:17), and God’s people are to be people of prayer: “Dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love” (Jude 1:20–21).(Quote source here.)

This leads us to the next question, “What is the purpose of prayer?” GotQuestions.org states:

Prayer is an important part of the Christian life. It is the way we communicate with the Lord and praise Him. To understand the purpose of prayer, it is important to first understand what prayer is not. There are many wrong views in the world and culture about prayer, even among Christians, and these should be addressed first. Prayer is not:

• bargaining with God.
• making demands of God.
• only asking God for things.
• a therapeutic, meditation-type exercise.
• bothering God and taking up His time.
• a way to control the Lord.
• a way to show off one’s spirituality before others.

Many people believe that prayer is only about asking God for things. Although supplication is a part of prayer (Philippians 4:6), it is not the sole purpose of prayer. Praying for the needs of ourselves and others is needed and beneficial, but there is so much more to prayer. A. W. Tozer warned, “Prayer among evangelical Christians is always in danger of degenerating into a glorified ‘gold rush’” (“Mornings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings,” compiled by Gerald Smith, Moody Publishers, 2008, entry for Feb. 26). But God is not a magical genie who answers our every wish, nor is He a weak God who can be controlled by our prayers.

The best way to learn about the purpose of prayer is studying the example of Jesus during His earthly ministry. Jesus prayed for Himself and for others, and He prayed to commune with the Father. John 17 is a great place to see Jesus’ use of prayer. He not only prays that the Father be glorified but also prays for His disciples and “for those who will believe in me through their message” (John 17:20). Submitting to the Father’s will was another aspect to Jesus’ prayer life, highlighted in His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). With any request we have, we must submit to God’s will.

In addition to interceding for others, prayer is also a way to strengthen our relationship with God. Jesus set the example, as He prayed to the Father throughout His earthly ministry (Luke 6:12Matthew 14:23). Those in relationships will naturally seek to communicate with each other, and prayer is our communication with God. Other good examples in the Bible of those who spent time in prayer are DavidHezekiahand Paul.

Ultimately, the main purpose of prayer is worship. When we pray to the Lord, recognizing Him for who He is and what He has done, it is an act of worship. There are many examples of prayer being an act of worship in the Bible, including 2 Kings 19:151 Chronicles 17:20Psalm 86:12–13John 12:28, and Romans 11:33–36. How we pray should reflect this purpose; our focus should be on who God is, not on ourselves.

Interestingly, the model of prayer that Jesus gave the disciples in Matthew 6:9–13, known as the Lord’s Prayer, has all these elements. The first part includes praise and worship of God (Matthew 6:9), and then the second part moves on to praying for God’s will to be done (Matthew 6:10). After this, there is supplication for ourselves and others (Matthew 6:11–12), as well as asking for strength to deal with temptation (Matthew 6:13). Jesus modeled this prayer for His disciples, and it shows all the reasons for prayer with the central focus of worship.

Prayer is an important part of the Christian life, and one’s prayer life should be developed. Not only does prayer affect our lives and the lives of others, but it is also a way to communicate with the Lord and grow in our relationship with Him. At the heart of prayer is an act of worship to the Lord. God’s Word places an emphasis on the power and purpose of prayer, and, therefore, it should not be neglected.

Author Warren Wiersbe sums up the purpose of prayer well: “The immediate purpose of prayer is the accomplishing of God’s will on earth; the ultimate purpose of prayer is the eternal glory of God” (from “On Earth as It Is in Heaven: How the Lord’s Prayer Teaches Us to Pray More Effectively,” Baker Books, 2010, p. 78). (Quote source here.)

And this leads us to the final question in this post regarding prayer, “What are the different types of prayer?” Again, GotQuestions.org gives us this answer:

The Bible reveals many types of prayers and employs a variety of words to describe the practice. For example, 1 Timothy 2:1 says, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people.” Here, all four of the main Greek words used for prayer are mentioned in one verse.

Here are the main types of prayers in the Bible:

The prayer of faith: James 5:15 says, “And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” In this context, prayer is offered in faith for someone who is sick, asking God to heal. When we pray, we are to believe in the power and goodness of God (Mark 9:23).

The prayer of agreement (also known as corporate prayer): After Jesus’ ascension, the disciples “all joined together constantly in prayer” (Acts 1:14). Later, after Pentecost, the early church “devoted themselves” to prayer (Acts 2:42). Their example encourages us to pray with others.

The prayer of request (or supplication): We are to take our requests to God. Philippians 4:6 teaches, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Part of winning the spiritual battle is to be “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Ephesians 6:18).

The prayer of thanksgiving: We see another type of prayer in Philippians 4:6: thanksgiving or thanks to God. “With thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Many examples of thanksgiving prayers can be found in the Psalms.

The prayer of worship: The prayer of worship is similar to the prayer of thanksgiving. The difference is that worship focuses on who God is; thanksgiving focuses on what God has done. Church leaders in Antioch prayed in this manner with fasting: “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:2-3).

The prayer of consecration: Sometimes, prayer is a time of setting ourselves apart to follow God’s will. Jesus made such a prayer the night before His crucifixion: “And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will’ (Matthew 26:39).

The prayer of intercession: Many times, our prayers include requests for others as we intercede for them. We are told to make intercession “for everyone” in 1 Timothy 2:1. Jesus serves as our example in this area. The whole of John 17 is a prayer of Jesus on behalf of His disciples and all believers.

The prayer of imprecation: Imprecatory prayers are found in the Psalms (e.g., 7, 55, 69). They are used to invoke God’s judgment on the wicked and thereby avenge the righteous. The psalmists use this type of appeal to emphasize the holiness of God and the surety of His judgment. Jesus teaches us to pray for blessing on our enemies, not cursing (Matthew 5:44-48).

The Bible also speaks of praying in the Spirit (1 Corinthians 14:14-15) and prayers when we are unable to think of adequate words (Romans 8:26-27). In those times, the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us.

Prayer is conversation with God and should be made without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). As we grow in our love for Jesus Christ, we will naturally desire to talk to Him. (Quote source here.)

GotQuestion.org has answers to 119 specific questions on the topic of prayer, and all of those questions and links to the answers are available at this link. It is a great resource for any questions you have regarding prayer. Do check it out.

As we pray for our nation on this National Day of Prayer, let us not forget that God is always available 24/7, any day, anywhere, in any place or any situation or circumstance that we find ourselves in. Our help is only prayer away, so remember the words from Philippians 4:6-7 (NKJV) that I will end this post with–Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding…

Will guard your hearts . . .

And minds . . .

Through Christ Jesus . . . .

YouTube Video: “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” sung by Austin Stone Worship:

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The Power of God

Today is Easter Sunday (also known as Resurrection Sunday), and I’m reminded of what Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 1:18:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

In an article published on April 12, 2020, titled Resurrection Power,” by Jim and Janean Reish, published on their ministry blog, A Deeper Word: Going Beyond Surface Christianity,” they open their article with the following words:

That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection… Philippians 3:10 (KJV)

Jesus said that He is the resurrection and the life. To know Jesus is to know resurrection and life, because that is what He is. Because He is the resurrection and the life, He can raise us up and give us life. The resurrection of Jesus shows that there is no case that is hopeless and no problem that God cannot and will not fix…. (Click here for the quote source, along with the rest of the article.)

In an article published by Rick Renner Ministries titled, The Cross–Foolishness or the Power of God,” it opens with the following:

Since Jesus rose from the dead, different people have responded differently to the preaching of the Cross. Some reject it, while others receive the message by faith and thus experience the power of God. Paul referred to this dichotomy of response when he wrote, “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto we which are saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

The word “foolishness” in this verse is from the word “moria,” which means “foolish, stupid, or unintelligent” and describes “unacceptable behavior, thought, or speech.” From this word “moria,” we derive the word “moron.” To the Greek and Roman mind, to believe in Christ and in His Cross alone as the way to salvation was the belief of a moron. This kind of exclusive and “narrow” behavior, thought, or speech was simply unacceptable. When confronted with the message of the Gospel, a pagan of that time would have forthrightly exclaimed, “It is stupid, unintelligent, and unacceptable to believe that Jesus is the only way to God.”

Paul continued in First Corinthians 1:18, saying, “…Unto we which are saved it is the power of God.” The word “power” is the Greek word “dunamis,” which is most often used in ancient literature to depict “military might or the ability to conquer.” In fact, it is used 210 times in the New Testament to denote “strength and conquering ability.” For those who don’t believe in Jesus and have never experienced the delivering and conquering power of the Gospel, this message may seem to be foolishness. But those who have repented and have entered into covenant with Jesus Christ know the delivering, conquering power of these mighty words. It is no foolishness to the redeemed—it is the lifesaving power of God! (Click here for the quote source, along with the rest of the article.)

So what is “the power of God” and how can we rely on it? GotQuestions.org gives us the answer to that question:

We often hear about the power of God, and Scripture is full of examples of His power in action. He is “the great God, mighty and awesome” (Nehemiah 9:32). We are taught to rely on His great power to get us through trials such as a job loss, a sticky divorce, bankruptcy, hateful persecutions, a debilitating illness, or the loss of a loved one. Learning to rely on the power of God is part of living the Christian life.

The apostle Paul gives us a glimpse of the power of God when he writes of “his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority” (Ephesians 1:19–21). The Greek word translated “great” is “megethos,” which means “strong” or “great,” and it appears only here in the New Testament. This word obviously wasn’t sufficient for Paul to express God’s great power, so he adds the word “incomparably” or, in Greek, “hyperballon,” related to a verb that literally means to “throw beyond the usual mark” or to “excel or surpass.” So, the full idea of the expression “hyperballon megethos” is that of a power beyond measure, a super-abounding or surpassing power, power that is “more than enough.”

Greek authorities tell us that, because the term “megethos” is found only here in all the New Testament, this reflects the outreach of Paul’s mind when he sought to describe the power of God. Paul was “stretching at the seams” as he tried to describe the power of God and pour more meaning into his words. What Paul is really telling us is that God’s power exceeds or surpasses everything—it is unimaginable power. God spoke the universe into existence, raised Jesus from the dead, and “placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church” (Ephesians 1:22), and He has power far beyond any possibility of being measured. Paul simply could not say enough about the greatness and majesty of God, and he had difficulty finding the words to express his thoughts about the power of God.

How can we learn to rely on the enormous power of God? First of all, we choose to remember the things that God has done: “Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always. Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced” (Psalm 105:4–5). Every miracle recorded for us in the Bible should give us encouragement that His strength is more than enough for our need.

Also, to rely on the power of God, we must learn to cease trusting in our frail efforts and hand our resources over to the One who can do anything. God’s power is perfected in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). The disciples were at their wits’ end trying to figure out how to feed the 5,000; it was not until they brought the small amount of food they had to Christ that anyone was fed. Joshua stood helpless before the walls of Jericho, but he learned to trust the Lord’s battle plan. Zerubbabel faced the daunting task of rebuilding the temple, and God reminded him that the work would be done “not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit” (Zechariah 4:6).

Prayer is a vital part of relying on the power of God, as we pray,Thy will be done” (Luke 11:2, KJV). Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7–8). It was after a prayer meeting in the early church that “the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly” (Acts 4:31). It was during a prayer meeting that Peter was miraculously released from prison (Acts 12).

The resurrection of Jesus certainly demonstrates the great power of God and is the great hope of all believers. Because He lives, we will live also (John 14:19). Peter said we have been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away” (1 Peter 1:3–4, NASB). No matter what happens in this world, we have the power of God and Jesus’ resurrection; the Lord will grant us an inheritance and sustain us through eternity. We “through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (verse 5). As Martin Luther sang during the Protestant Reformation, “The body they may kill; / God’s truth abideth still.”

No matter how weak or ill-equipped we may at times feel, we can rely on the power of God. We have the assurance that God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). We have confidence that ultimately God will accomplish His good in our lives: “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). (Quote source here.)

Austen C. Ukachi, pastor and contributor at The Guardian/Nigeria, writes the following in his article published in their Sunday Magazine titled, The Power of His Resurrection,” on April 12, 2020:

Christianity was founded on power and has thrived thereafter through the display of God’s power (Gen.1:1-3). Hebrews 1:3 states that God upholds all things by the word of his power. On this Easter Sunday, it is very appropriate we reflect on the place of God’s power in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Timothy 2:8 enjoins us to remember that Jesus was raised from the dead. Why is this necessary that we remember that Jesus was raised from the dead?

One, remembrance strengthens our faith. At communion we remember his death (1 Cor.11:23-26). In Matthew 28:6, when Christ rose from the dead, an angel testified to the women who came to the tomb thus, “He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay” (Matthew 28:6 NKJV). This means there was evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. When we remember his resurrection we are celebrating the power that raised him from the dead.

Two, remembrance gives us hope. Remembrance reminds us of the victory of Calvary. 1 Corinthians 2:8 reads, “which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” (I Corinthians 2:8 NKJV). The death and resurrection of Jesus gave birth to the Church and its two billion adherents today. His resurrection brought unquantifiable blessings to the Church and the world.

Three, remembering the resurrection of Christ gives us hope that we shall be raised with him in future even after our death. Paul wrote, “knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you” (II Corinthians 4:14; 1 Cor.6:14; 1 Cor.15:20)

Four, his resurrection reminds us that he was raised by the Spirit of the Father, and that same Spirit dwell in us and would give life to our mortal bodies (Romans 8:11).

This Easter Sunday, we cannot but reflect on the mystery behind the power that raised Jesus from the dead. That power is the same today and forever, it has not lost its power. Let us consider some of the outworkings of this power over time.

God displayed his power at creation, and the whole of creation attest to the power of God (Gen. 1:1-3; Romans 1:20).

God challenged Abraham to believe in his power to give him a son from his wife Sarai. God eventually gave Abraham a son even when they had passed the age of child-bearing (Gen.18:13-14; Jer.32:17).

God delivered Israel from Egypt by his awesome power (Exodus 7:3-5; 14:31; Psalm 78:42-50).

God demonstrated his power to Israel in the wilderness through supernatural provisions (Num. 11:21-23).

God displayed his power at the conception of Jesus (Luke 1:34-35).

Jesus grew up demonstrating the power of God through signs and wonders (Acts 10:38; Matt.11:4-6).

The resurrection of Jesus was the greatest display of God’s power (Matt. 12:38-40; Rom. 1:4). The list of God’s power on display down the ages is endless…. (Quote source here.)

What wonderful reminders regarding the power of God and the resurrection of Jesus Christ on this Easter Sunday! I’ll end this post with the words of Paul found in Philippians 3:10

That I may know Him . . .

And the power . . .

Of His resurrection . . . .

YouTube Video: “Jesus is Coming Back” by Jordan Feliz ft. Jonathan Trailor & Mandisa:

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Easter is Coming

Easter Sunday is less than two weeks away, and the topic of forgiveness hangs heavy in the air. “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing,” Jesus said from the cross where he was crucified at Calvary (see Luke 23:34). And still even today, we often don’t know.

In my last blog post published on March 27, 2022, titled, Mere Christianity,” I mentioned a conference titled, Celebrating 70 Years of Mere Christianity,” that I attended the previous week. During one of the two “break out” sessions at the conference, I attended a session titled, “Forgiveness Beyond Platitudes,” as the titled piqued my interest. So many times in the movies that have come out over the past several decades, the themes of revenge and justice take center stage when someone has wronged the main character, but the subject of forgiveness is nowhere to be found.

The professor who presented that session titled, “Forgiveness Beyond Platitudes,” mentioned that she had undergone a very serious personal violation of sorts that had occurred in her life a dozen years ago, and how she struggled for a very long time regarding the issue of forgiveness towards those involved in the severe breach (she didn’t mention any details). She mentioned a book titled, Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve,” by Lewis B. Smedes, Ph.D., (1921-2002), professor emeritus of theology and ethics at Fuller Seminary, and a pioneer in forgiveness research; and she stated that it was instrumental to her understanding of extending forgiveness, and she highly recommended it. The book was originally published in 1984, and it is available for purchase at Amazon.com, Christianbook.com, Thriftbooks.com, and at other book sellers.

Before I get to that book which I ended up purchasing after the conference was over, see if you can relate to the opening paragraph of an article published on April 5, 2015, titled, Forgiveness and Platitudes,” by Rachel (no last name mentioned). She states:

Have you ever wrestled with the area of forgiveness? I have. I know it’s not always the most popular word. There have been two situations in my life where forgiveness was particularly challenging for me. Neither of those are stories that I intend to publish on the World Wide Web! Suffice to say that on both occasions, no apology had been offered, and the situations had enormous repercussions and caused me emotional turmoil that was long-lasting and not easy to let go of. I wrestled with the desire to forgive, and the attempt to do so while trying to process the anger and hurt… (Quote source and the entire article is available at this link.)

We’ve all been there… or at least I know I have been there. And also like Rachel, the details of my situation are not something I would publish on the Internet. But the struggle to find complete forgiveness has taken more then a decade, mostly because what happened back then changed the entire direction of my life in a way I never expected and that I didn’t want (and that’s putting it mildly).

When I received the book, Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve,” in the mail this past week, I read a brief opening section before the chapters in the book start that is titled, “An Invitation,” written by the author, Lewis Smedes. It is found on pp. xv-xvi and it states:

Somebody hurt you, maybe yesterday, maybe a lifetime ago, and you cannot forget it. You did not deserve the hurt. It went deep, deep enough to lodge itself in your memory. And it keeps on hurting you now.

You are not alone. We all muddle our way through a world where even well-meaning people hurt each other. When we invest ourselves in deep personal relationships, we open our souls to the wounds of another’s disloyalty or even betrayal.

There are some hurts that we can all ignore. Not every slight sticks with us, thank God. But some old pains do not wash out so easily; they remain like stubborn stains in the fabric of our own memory.

Deep hurts we never deserved flow from a dead past into our living present. A friend betrays us; a parent abuses us; a spouse leaves us in the cold–these hurts do not heal with the coming of the sun.

We’ve all wished at one time or other that we could reach back to a painful moment and cut it out of our lives. Some people are lucky; they seem to have gracious glands that secrete the juices of forgetfulness. They never hold a grudge; they do not remember old hurts. Their painful yesterdays die with the coming of tomorrow. But most of us find that the pains of our past keep rolling through our memories, and there’s nothing we can do to stop the flow.

Nothing?

The great Jewish philosopher Hanna Arendt, toward the end of her epochal study on “The Human Condition,” shared her discovery of the only power that can stop the inexorable stream of painful memories: the “faculty of forgiveness.” It is as simple as that.

Forgiveness is God’s invention for coming to terms with a world in which, despite their best intentions, people are unfair to each other and hurt each other deeply. He began by forgiving us. And he invites us all to forgive each other.

Virtually every newspaper in the Western world told the story of how, one January dawn in 1984, Pope John Paul walked into a dank cell of Rebibbia prison in Rome to meet Mehmet Ali Agca, the man who had tried to kill him. The Pope took the hand of the man who had fired a bullet at this heart, and forgave him.

But the Pope is a professional forgiver; and it may be easy for such a highly placed professional to forgive when he knows ahead of time that the whole world will be watching.

It is ten times harder for an ordinary person, whom nobody is watching, to forgive and forget.

Forgiving is love’s toughest work, and love’s biggest risk. If you twist it into something it was never meant to be, it can make you a doormat or an insufferable manipulator.

Forgiving seems almost unnatural. Our sense of fairness tells us people should pay for the wrong they do. But forgiving is love’s power to break nature’s rule.

Ask yourself these questions: What do I do when I forgive someone who has done me wrong?

Who is forgivable? Have some people gone beyond the forgiveness zone?

How do I do it?

Why should I even try? Is there a pay-off? Is it fair?

I invite you to come with me in search of the answers I have found along my own journey. (Quote source: “Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve,” 1984, 1996, HarperCollins, pp xv-xvi.)

This book is written in four parts. Part 1 is titled, “The Four Stages of Forgiving”; Part 2 is titled, “Forgiving People Who Are Hard to Forgive”; Part 3 is titled, “How People Forgive”; and Part 4 is titled, “Why Forgive?” It is a valuable resource for those who are struggling with forgiveness.

In an article published on April 14, 2014, titled, The Wardrobe of Easter–Forgiveness,” by Dale Cooper, Resource Specialist for Liturgical Spirituality at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, and chaplain emeritus and adjunct faculty in the department of Congregational and Ministry Studies at Calvin University, he writes:

Forgiving: it’s a challenging practice—perhaps no other command of Jesus is more difficult to obey. And it’s so counter-intuitive. Why give anyone a fresh start after he’s hurt you deeply? Why not just retaliate by knocking his block off?….

The act of forgiving involves letting the other person go free when she or he doesn’t deserve it.  Note that the Gospel of Jesus never calls one to do an end-run around justice when forgiving another. The Christian ethic calls for forgiveness to pass through justice and to go beyond it. That same Gospel does require Jesus’ followers to set their hearts toward not holding a grudge against another, not harboring ill-will, not desiring anything other—or less—than God’s best for the other.

So let’s be clear unequivocally clear: Jesus does require his followers to forgive their wrongdoers. When one of his disciples, Peter, asked Jesus about the proper limits of forgiving in the new kingdom—should we perhaps forgive up to more than twice as often as the standard three times recommended by the Jewish rabbis?—Jesus was adamantly and outrageously generous.

His reply: “I tell you, not seven times, but 77 times.” (Matthew 18:22). In other words: Don’t even think about how often to forgive. Forgive others always, and without limit.

No exceptions

Nor does Jesus allow any wiggle room about who’s worth forgiving and who’s not. He doesn’t wade into the murkiness of when and under what circumstances it’s warranted to forgive or not forgive.

He didn’t say, for example: “Usually it’s your moral duty—and prudent, too—to forgive. But not always. Some wrongs are so great and the hurts they cause so grievous that forgiveness isn’t called for. So weigh carefully when to forgive and when to revenge.” 

Jesus simply said in Matthew 6:14-15: “For if you forgive others when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Heavenly Father will not forgive your sins.”

Period.

No exceptions allowed. No extenuating circumstances considered.

Three reasons to forgive

Why would Jesus call us to do something as preposterous as to forgive another, the very opposite of what we feel like doing when we’ve been wronged and hurt badly? Why does he ask us—no, commands us—to let go of tightly held grudges, to, in mercy, turn toward others rather than away from them? The Gospel suggests at least three reasons. She who forgives:

1.  Imitates God.

Find a person—or even a community of persons—who has flushed away the last, foul-smelling trace of animosity and ill-will from their heart, and you’ll see one who looks a lot like Jesus. For Jesus, while enduring at the hands of enemies a brutality and aggression he didn’t deserve, prayed: “Father, forgive them.” (Luke 23:34) That person looks a lot like the Father of Jesus Christ, too, who, when humanity rebelled against him, resolutely chose still to call them his children, to show them his mercy, to continue to lavish his goodness upon them. (cf. Ephesians 1:7)

2. Shows Christ-like care for others.

When the act of forgiving takes place in human relationships, remembered hurts, though perhaps not forgotten, are treated as not counting any more. Thus, when a follower of Jesus, as the Lord himself did, determines to forgive another who has done him wrong, that act creates space for fellowship between the two to sprout and blossom again. It gives the wrongdoer a gift he doesn’t justly deserve.

3. Frees herself [or himself].

Three options—three only—are open to us when another has hurt us:

a. To hurt back, but harder. It’ll be our contribution to escalating the tension and lengthening the distance between us.

b. To give the other the dreaded “silent treatment.” It’ll become like a beachball shoved under the waters of our own heart. Eventually it’ll pop to the surface again and always with disastrous consequences.

c. To forgive the other. It’s the only route open to ridding ourselves of the ravenous anger and hate that otherwise keeps gnawing us from within and eventually devours us.

Rehearsing in the sanctuary

Our heart’s natural inclination being otherwise, again and again we need to hear our Lord’s call to forgive and then to set our heart’s intention toward doing so. Our Lord rehearses us in this life-giving pattern and drill every Sunday morning “in the sanctuary.” There we plead for him to forgive us, and there, in turn, we make our pledge to forgive others.

There, too, amid the thronging worshippers, we sing:

“Breathe on me, Breath of God. Fill me with life anew,
That I may love the way you love, and do what you would do.”

To obey Christ’s call to forgive is not easy. It’s nothing short of a miracle when a follower of Jesus does, in fact, forgive a fellow human being. But, with God’s Spirit to empower us and the Christian community to encourage us, we can forgive.

And when the miracle does happen, it’s a wonder to behold.

Theological Reflection

“Let us go to Calvary to learn how we may be forgiven. Let us linger there to learn how to forgive.” (Charles Spurgeon) (Quote source here.)

So, how do we recognize when we have extended forgiveness to those who have hurt us? That answer is found on page 29 in the book, Forgive and Forget,” and I will end this post with that quote: You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall…

Those who hurt you . . .

And feel the power . . .

To wish them well . . . .

YouTube Video: “Forgiveness” by Matthew West:

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Mere Christianity

This past week I attended a one-day conference titled, Celebrating 70 Years of Mere Christianity.” Mere Christianity is a theological book published in 1952 by C. S. Lewis, which was adapted from a series of BBC radio talks he made between 1941 and 1944, while Lewis was at the University of Oxford during World War II. Considered a classic of Christian apologetics, it is one of most popular books on the Christian faith ever written (quote source here). The following information is taken from CSLewis.com:

Clive Staples Lewis (1898–1963) was one of the intellectual giants of the twentieth century and arguably one of the most influential writers of his day. He was a Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Oxford University until 1954, when he was unanimously elected to the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University, a position he held until his retirement.

Lewis wrote more than thirty books, allowing him to reach a vast audience, and his works continue to attract thousands of new readers every year. C. S. Lewis’s most distinguished and popular accomplishments include Mere Christianity, Out of the Silent Planet, The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters, and the universally acknowledged classics in The Chronicles of Narnia. To date, the Narnia books have sold over 100 million copies and been transformed into three major motion pictures. (Quote source here.)

The inside front cover of the first HarperCollins paperback edition of “Mere Christianity” published in 2001 states:

One of the most popular introductions to Christian faith ever written, Mere Christianity has sold millions of copies worldwide. The book brings together C.S. Lewis’s legendary broadcast talks in which he set out simply to “explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.” Rejecting the boundaries that divide Christianity’s many denominations, Lewis provides an unequaled opportunity for believers and nonbelievers alike to hear a powerful, rational case for the Christian faith. It is a collection of scintillating brilliance that remains strikingly fresh for the modern reader and at the same time confirms C.S. Lewis’s reputation as one of the leading writers and thinkers of our age. (Quote source: Inside front cover of this edition.)

“Mere Christianity” is comprised of four books. Book 1 is titled, “Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe,” and it contains 5 chapters; Book 2 is titled, “What Christians Believe,” and it also contains 5 chapters; Book 3 is titled, “Christian Behaviour,” and it contains 12 chapters; and Book 4 is titled, “Beyond Personality: Or First Steps in The Doctrine of the Trinity,” and it contains 11 chapters. The individual chapter titles for each of the four books is available at this link, and an introductory study guide (a six-page pdf) is available at CSLewis.org at this link.

In an article published on July 30, 2021, titled, Mere Christianity: A Reader’s Guide to a Christian Classic,” by George Marsden, Ph.D., author of “C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity: A Biography,” and Professor Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame, he writes:

What is it that makes C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity so lastingly compelling? While most books fade in popularity, Lewis’s apologetic volume has sold even better in the twenty-first century than it did when it was first published. In English alone, it has reached something like four million copies since 2001. It is still the favorite go-to book for those considering Christianity or having doubts about their faith. New York Times columnist David Brooks quipped that when he was contemplating commitment to Christianity, acquaintances sent him about three hundred books, “only a hundred of which were different copies of C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity.”

Mere Christianity was not even originally written to be a book. It arose out of four sets of radio addresses that Lewis gave on the BBC during some very stressful years of World War II, from 1941 to 1944. Lewis had these published as separate little booklets soon after the broadcasts. But it was not until 1952 that he collected them into one volume with a new introduction as Mere Christianity.

Given the remarkable successes of this book, an edifying question to ask is, “What were the qualities of Lewis’s communication of the faith that made it so lastingly effective?” None of us is another C.S. Lewis, but each of us might learn from him how best to communicate our faith to others.

1. Lewis looked for timeless truths.

One of the strongest habits of thought both in Lewis’s day and in our own is to think that newer understandings of the most basic aspects of life and reality are better than older understandings. Lewis, as a student of history, recognized that many of the “latest ideas” of one’s own day will look quaint to future generations. When Lewis himself was on his journey to becoming a Christian, he came to realize that there was good reason to put one’s trust in ideas that had lasted a long time, rather than in the latest fads that would come and go.

He accordingly defined “mere Christianity” as “the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.. Rather than presenting the latest modern ideas about Christianity, he was presenting an essential Christianity that had been around “long before I was born and whether I like it or not.”

Grounding his presentation in history also meant that he carefully avoided presenting Christianity as a support for some currently fashionable social or political cause—as he put it, like “Christianity and Vegetarianism” or “Christianity and the New Order.” In The Screwtape Letters, the senior devil Screwtape advises the junior devil Wormwood to suggest to his “patient” (the young man who is in “danger” of becoming a true Christian) that Christianity is valuable chiefly for the excellent arguments it provides for the positions of his political party. Such partisanship, Screwtape suggests, would lead the young man away from considering the more essential issues.

Likewise, Lewis was careful to avoid efforts to improve Christianity with modern theological fads. These, he says, turn out to be versions of “Christianity and water” that dilute the essence of an essentially strong, life-changing drink. Unlike the liberal ecumenism that was so prominent in his day, which offered a largely demythologized Christianity, Lewis insisted on a robust appropriation of the central supernaturalist claims that have been the gospel message throughout the ages.

2. Lewis connected with perennial human nature.

Lewis’s lifelong quest for timeless truths led him not only to emphasize core Christian doctrines, but also to be able to reach wide audiences. As a student of the history of literature, he was alert to finding common traits of human nature, revealed in many guises in differing times and places. So when he was asked to speak on the BBC to quite literally every sort of person in England, he knew where to start—with common human experience.

He started by appealing to individuals’ own experiences of the perennial human conviction that there was a real right and wrong in the universe. Most people could recognize that other humans (the Nazis whom they were fighting, for instance) often egregiously failed to live up to proper standards of right and wrong. And if they were honest, they might see that they themselves did not always live up to those standards either. So, Lewis began by trying to cultivate a sense of guilt that was a necessary first step toward looking for a cure.

3. Lewis put reason in the context of the imagination.

One of the most striking features of Mere Christianity is its clarity of language—especially its effective uses of imagination, metaphor, and analogy. Sometimes people assume that Lewis was primarily a rationalistic apologist, and they dismiss him without much attention or even say that such rationality is out-of-date in the twenty-first century. But as many commentators have pointed out, while there are some conspicuous arguments in Mere Christianity, Lewis appeals more essentially to the imagination. As a literary person and writer, he understood reality through analogies and images. So, the Lewis of Narnia and his other imaginative works is also the Lewis of Mere Christianity.

Readers familiar with Mere Christianity may recall some of the many images that Lewis uses to describe becoming a Christian. It is like passing from death into life, or like laying down your rebel arms and surrendering, or like saying sorry, or like killing part of yourself, or like learning to walk or to write, or like buying God a present with his own money. Or it is like a drowning man clutching at a rescuer’s hand, or like a tin soldier or a statue becoming alive, or like a horse turning into a Pegasus, or like a compass needle swinging to north, or like a dark greenhouse transformed as the roof suddenly becomes bright in the sunlight. And many more.

4. “Mere” Christianity involved a demanding gospel message.

Lewis was not promoting “cheap grace”—to use the term that Dietrich Bonhoeffer coined in the same era. “Mere” Christianity is not minimal Christianity. It is not easy or safe. Rather, readers find that they are being drawn in to an understanding of Christianity that is going to be extraordinarily demanding on them personally.

They are being asked to give up their very “self” as a sovereign entity, and to experience Christ living in them. “To become new men means losing what we now call ‘ourselves.’ Out of our selves, into Christ, we must go.” Elsewhere he writes, “This is the whole of Christianity. There is nothing else…. The Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs.” We are being made into creatures who can obey the command, “Be ye perfect.” We are to be transformed “from being creatures of God to being Sons of God.” That is possible only by being “in Christ,” who is the first instance of this new humanity. So, there must be “a real giving up of the self.”

The demands of giving up the liberties of self-rule to be “in Christ” have sometimes been obscured in the popular revivalist traditions, where being “born again” may be presented as a sort of magical moment based on one’s “decision for Christ,” as though we are still in control. For Lewis the emphasis is more clearly on seeking to be open to being “surprised by joy,” as he puts it in the title of his spiritual autobiography. Recognition of the beauty that brings that joy leads to the otherwise impossible submission of the self. Being “in Christ” means a radical reordering of one’s loves, as in the Augustinian tradition. We find ourselves in the orbit of the sun of Christ’s love so that our own loves begin to be brought into their proper places. We seek to love what God loves.

5. Lewis pointed readers to the luminosity of the gospel message itself.

In 1939 Lewis published an essay onThe Personal Heresyin literary criticism. He argued that it was wrong to view a poem as about the poet’s state of mind. “The poet is not a man,” he wrote, “who asks me to look at him; he is a man who says ‘look at that’ and points; the more I follow the pointing of his finger the less I can possibly see of him.”

Lewis would have said the same for his work as an apologist. Had it drawn primary attention to himself, or have been just a reflection of his own peculiar views, it would have had little lasting impact. In fact, one of the greatest sources of the lasting vitality of the presentations is that Lewis deliberately points the listener or reader toward an object.

As others have observed, he does not simply present arguments; rather, he acts more like a friendly companion on a journey. To expand on that image, he is like a companion on a hike who is an expert naturalist and who points out all sorts of flora or tiny flowers or rock formations that you would have missed on your own. And if your guide leads you to see one of the most astonishing views of mountain peaks and distant lakes that you have ever seen, you will be duly grateful to him. Yet the most unforgettable part of the experience arises from the power of beauty that you have been led to see. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words from John 3:16-17 (NIV): For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son [Jesus Christ], that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world…

To condemn the world . . .

But to save the world . . .

Through him . . . .

YouTube Video: “Jesus is Coming Back” by Jordan Feliz:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Have I Told You Lately

This morning I listened to a song titled, Have I Told You Lately,” written and recorded in 1989 by Van Morrison. Wikipedia gives the following background information on the song:

Have I Told You Lately is a song written and recorded by Northern Irish singer and songwriter Van Morrison for his nineteenth studio album Avalon Sunset (1989). It is a romantic ballad that is often played at weddings, although it was originally written as a prayer.

It was released as the album’s lead single on 5 June 1989, and reached number 12 on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. It has become a popular cover song with many vocal and instrumental versions recorded by numerous artists and bands [including Rod Stewart in 1993]….

Composed as a love ballad and built on the framework of Someone Like You,” it is preceded on “Avalon Sunset” by the song, “I’d Love to Write Another Song” proclaiming “In poetry I’d carve it well/ I’d even make it rhyme.” Then, in the words of Brian Hinton what follows is:

One of the finest love songs of the century, which I remember devastated me when I first heard it, as it seemed both something never quite said before, and yet a song I felt I had known forever. Earthly love transmutes into that for God, just like in Dante, ‘there’s a love that’s divine and it’s yours and it’s mine.’ The morning sun has set by the end of the song, suggesting love shading into death, but subtly. (Quote source here.)

Here is a YouTube video of the song (lyrics are listed below the video):

“Have I Told You Lately”

Have I told you lately that I love you
Have I told you there’s no one above you
Fill my heart with gladness
Take away my sadness
Ease my troubles, that’s what you do

Oh the morning sun in all its glory
Greets the day with hope and comfort too
And you fill my life with laughter
You can make it better
Ease my troubles that’s what you do

There’s a love that’s divine
And it’s yours and it’s mine
Like the sun at the end of the day
We should give thanks and pray to the One

Have I told you lately that I love you
Have I told you there’s no one above you
Fill my heart with gladness
Take away my sadness
Ease my troubles, that’s what you do

There’s a love that’s divine
And it’s yours and it’s mine
And it shines like the sun
At the end of the day we will give thanks
And pray to the One

Have I told you lately that I love you
Have I told you there’s no one above you
Fill my heart with gladness
Take away my sadness
Ease my troubles, that’s what you do

Take away my sadness
Fill my life with gladness
Ease my troubles that’s what you do
Fill my life with gladness
Take away my sadness
Ease my troubles that’s what you do.
(Lyrics: AZLyrics.com)

You don’t have to have a “significant other” in your life to appreciate the words to this song. As the Wikipedia quote above states: “Earthly love transmutes into that for God, just like in Dante, ‘there’s a love that’s divine and it’s yours and it’s mine.'” In fact, in the comments section for this song on YouTube is a comment made by a man who stated, “This song led me to look up to the skies and say, ‘God, have I told You lately that I love You.'”  (Quote source here.)

That leads to the question, What does it mean to love God?” GotQuestions.org answers that question with the following:

First, loving God requires knowing Him, and that knowledge begins with His Word. It may sound glib, but to know Him is to love Him.

To love God is to worship and praise Him. “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only'” (Luke 4:8). The book of Psalms provides many beautiful examples of how to worship and praise our Creator (e.g., Psalms 81923246799117, and 150).

To love God is to put Him first. The number-one commandment is to love God “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). It’s an undivided love. God is our priority. If we love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength, then we won’t allow other things to crowd in. Our love for God is manifested by loving people (Mark 12:31), but we do not love the things of the world. “Earth has nothing I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25). We cannot love this present world and God at the same time (1 John 2:15); love for what the world offers can lead us astray (2 Timothy 4:10).

To love God is to desire Him, to yearn for His righteousness, His Word, and His grace. “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God” (Psalm 42:1). Once we have tasted and seen that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8), we want more of Him. If we love God, we will be like Mary of Bethany, “who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said” (Luke 10:39). If we love God, the psalmist’s description of the Word of God will resonate within us: “[it is] more precious than gold, than much pure gold; . . . sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb” (Psalm 19:10).

Suppose a man is separated from his sweetheart and receives a letter from her. His first action will be to eagerly open the letter and pore over its contents. His love for his beloved will naturally cause him to love her correspondence with him. The same is true with our love for God’s Word. Because we love the Author, we love His message to us. We read it avidly and often, we hold it close, and we hide its words in our hearts.

Finally, to love God is to obey Him. Jesus tells us, “If you love me you will obey what I command” (John 14:152315:101 John 5:3). However, this is not a matter of merely following rules and registering good deeds. It is about having God’s love written indelibly on our hearts. We naturally wish to please those we love. When we love God, we will want to please Him and obey His commands eagerly. “I delight to do your will” (Psalm 40:8). (Quote source here.)

This leads to a second question, How can I have God’s Word hidden in my heart?” GotQuestions.org give us the answer to this question, too:

The unparalleled importance and power of God’s Word in the life of those who love, honor, and obey it is the theme of Psalm 119. In verse 11, the psalmist acknowledges, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you,” stressing the purifying quality of the Word of God to keep believers from straying into sin. Outward obedience comes from having the Scriptures buried deep within our hearts like a priceless treasure.

How can we have God’s Word hidden in our hearts? Let’s start by gaining a better understanding of what the psalmist is saying. The word for “hidden” in the original Hebrew means “to treasure, to regard as highly valued, to hide, keep, save up, store.” Translations range from “I have treasured your word in my heart” (CSB), to “I have stored up your word in my heart” (ESV), to “I’ve banked your promises in the vault of my heart” (The Message).

God’s Word is the agent of His Spirit used to cleanse the hearts of all who believe in Christ and are saved (Ephesians 5:25–27). And it is through keeping God’s Word securely planted in our hearts and living according to what it says that believers continue to walk in holiness (Psalm 37:31119:9).

The Lord commanded Israel, “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 11:18–20). This passage mentions several of the ways we can hide, treasure, and store up God’s Word in our hearts. Let’s explore these in detail.

Read

One of the first steps in hiding God’s Word in our hearts is reading the Bible. We get to know God and understand His plan for our lives through the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16Hebrews 4:12Psalm 119:105). Every Christian ought to pursue a consistent method of reading through the Bible.

Listen

Proverbs 2:1–5 conveys the benefits of listening to the Word of God: “My child, listen to what I say, and treasure my commands. Tune your ears to wisdom, and concentrate on understanding. . . . Search for them as you would for silver; seek them like hidden treasures. Then you will understand what it means to fear the LORD, and you will gain knowledge of God” (NLT).

Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ” (NLT). The spoken Word of Christ—the peaching of the gospel message—has the power to produce faith and reveal Christ. In Jesus Christ’s day, Scripture was read aloud in the synagogues and recited in households. When we listen to the Scriptures, either in music or read out loud, we reinforce God’s Word in our hearts.

Write

Proverbs 7:1–3 states, “My son, keep my words and store up my commands within you. Keep my commands and you will live; guard my teachings as the apple of your eye. Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart.” Writing down our thoughts as we read and listen to the Bible will help clarify and strengthen those biblical truths in our hearts (Exodus 34:27Deuteronomy 6:68–9Habakkuk 2:2).

Talk About

Discussing God’s Word with our children, spouse, friends, and small group members will further strengthen, illuminate, and solidify its teachings in our hearts and minds (Deuteronomy 6:7).

Study

The Bible urges us to study the Scriptures for greater understanding (Acts 17:11). The apostle Paul told Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Use a study Bible and other resources to help you accurately apprehend what Scripture is saying, not superficially, but historically and in the proper context.

Meditate

The Bible also encourages us to “delight in the law of the LORD, meditating on it day and night” (Psalm 1:2, NLT). We are to think about God’s instructions and promises all day and night long (Psalm 119:97148). As we ponder God’s Word continually, treasuring, storing, and hiding it in our hearts, it will literally transform how we think and behave (Romans 12:2). (Quote source here.)

Perhaps that seems a bit daunting to accomplish but pray and ask God to show you what to do if you don’t know where to start. James 1:5-7 states, If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” So ask God for wisdom and believe that he will give it to you just as he has promised, and he will.

All of the commandments in the Law  and the prophets in the Old Testament are summarized in two primary commandments. A Pharisee asked Jesus, “What is the greatest commandment?” and Jesus’ response is found in this explanation provided by GotQuestions.org:

Jesus was asked this very question by a Pharisee who was considered to be “an expert in the law” (Matthew 22:34–36). Jesus answered by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important commandment. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37–40).

Jesus gives us two commandments that summarize all the laws and commands in Scripture. The Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 deal with our relationship with God and then our relationship with other people. One naturally flows out of the other. Without a right relationship with God, our relationships with others will not be right, either. The cause of the world’s problems is that man needs to be reconciled to God. We will never love our neighbor as ourselves if we do not first love God with all our heart, mind, and soul. All of man’s best efforts toward world peace will fail as long as men are living in rebellion against God.

When asked by another Pharisee how one could “inherit eternal life,” Jesus answered that it is by keeping these two commandments (Luke 10:25–37). Only two commandments to obey, yet how often do we, like this Pharisee, try to “justify” ourselves because saying we obey these commandments is much easier than really living according to them.

When carefully considered, Jesus’ answer was really a perfect response not only to the Pharisee of His day, but also to all modern-day “Pharisees” who try measure a person’s righteousness by how well he conforms outwardly to a series of laws or commandments. Both the Pharisees of Christ’s day and today’s many versions create a whole system of rules and regulations for people to live by and yet are guilty of breaking the most important commandments of all because they “cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but not the inside” (Matthew 23:25–26).

When we prayerfully consider Jesus’ words and the fact that all the laws and commands in Scripture can really be summarized by these two commandments, we understand just how impossible it is for us to keep God’s commandments and how often we fail to do so and can therefore never be righteous before God on our own accord. That only leaves us with one hope, and that is that God “justifies the ungodly” (Romans 4:5). God’s law and our failure to keep it “brings about wrath” (Romans 4:15), but “God demonstrates His own love toward us that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

While we will never keep God’s commandments or be righteous before Him by our own efforts, Christ did. It is His sacrificial death on the cross that causes our sins to be imputed to Him and His righteousness imputed to us (Romans 4—5). That is why “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:9–10). After all, the gospel of Christ “is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes,” for “the just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:16–17).

Because Jesus answered this very question and His answer is recorded in Scripture, we don’t have to wonder or search for the answer ourselves. The only question left for us to answer is do we live according to these commandments? Do we truly love God with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our minds, and do we really love our neighbor as ourselves? If we are truthful with ourselves, we know that we do not, but the good news is that the law and commandments were given as “a tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24). Only as we realize our sinfulness and hopelessness will we turn to Christ alone as the only hope of salvation.

As Christians, we strive to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and as our hearts and minds are transformed by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit we are able to begin to love others as ourselves. Yet we still fail to do so, which again drives us back to the cross of Christ and the hope of salvation that stems from the imputed righteousness of Christ and not from any merit of our own. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words Jesus said to the Pharisee who wanted to know the greatest commandment. In Matthew 22:37–40, Jesus responded, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important commandment. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.” So, remember to…

Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind . . .

And love your neighbor . . .

As yourself . . . .

YouTube Video: “Love God Love People” by Danny Gokey:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

 

Standing With Ukraine During Lent

On February 24, 2022, Russia launched a large-scale military invasion of Ukraine, a southwestern neighboring country, marking a steep escalation to a conflict that began in 2014. Several officials and analysts called the invasion the largest conventional military attack in Europe since World War II.” (Quote source Wikipedia.)

As of this morning, March 4, 2022, according to an article published in Reuters:

Russian forces in Ukraine seized Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant on Friday in an assault that caused alarm around the world and that Washington said had risked catastrophe, although officials said later that the facility was now safe.

Fighting also raged elsewhere in Ukraine as Russian forces besieged and bombarded several cities in the second week of an invasion launched by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The capital Kyiv, in the path of a Russian armored column that has been stalled on a road for days, came under renewed attack, with explosions audible from the city center… (quote source here–this page is continuously being updated by Reuters).

In an opinion piece published this morning, March 4, 2022, titled, Volodymyr Zelensky deserves the Nobel Peace Prize,” in the Washington Examiner by Jackson Richman, a journalist in Washington D.C., and contributor to the Washington Examiner, he wrote:

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has shown extraordinary leadership as his country faces Russia’s outrageous military invasion.

Referencing the heroic last stand of a Spartan-Greek contingent at the Battle of Thermopylae, Zelensky on Thursday declared, “I don’t want Ukraine’s history to be a legend about 300 Spartans.” He added, “I want peace.”

Recognizing his commitment to a just democratic peace, Zelensky should be given the Nobel Peace Prize.

Real peace cannot exist in a condition of external subjugation. Real peace instead entails the effort to negotiate a just peace and an end to war, but also to protect one’s home, family, and nation. That moral agenda is what Zelensky and his people are now serving.

In speech after speech, Zelensky has inspired the Ukrainian people to fight on for their country even amid the overwhelming military might of Russia. As Putin hides at his long table and waffles about nonexistent Nazis in Zelensky’s government—Zelensky is Jewish—Zelensky keeps up the good fight.

Addressing his people on Wednesday, Zelensky said, “We are on our native land. And for the war against us, there will be an international tribunal for them. My dears, the time will come when we will be able to sleep. But it will be after the war, after the victory in a peaceful country, as we need.”

Zelensky continued, “I ask all of you to take care of your loved ones. Take care of your brothers in arms. I admire you. The whole world admires you. Today, you, Ukrainians, are a symbol of invincibility. A symbol that people in any country can become the best people on Earth at any moment. Glory to Ukraine!”

Zelensky has also shown a commitment to doing whatever is realistically possible to prevent war.

Just before Russia’s invasion, Zelensky remarked, “The Ukrainian people want peace. The government in Ukraine wants peace and is doing everything it can to build it.” Zelensky emphasized his effort to get in touch with Putin and the failure of Putin to respond. The low-ranking Russian peace delegation sent to talk with Ukrainian officials at the Ukraine-Belarus border also emphasizes the outsize degree to which Zelensky, rather than Putin, is trying to end this terrible war.

There’s true prize-worthy leadership on display here. Indeed, historic leadership.

Leadership requires not running away from your people in a time of crisis. Since the invasion, Zelensky has stayed in Kyiv and has fought alongside his people in the hopes of maintaining Ukrainian sovereignty. He has also called on the world to take action. And it has worked. The U.S. and its allies have rallied by imposing significant sanctions on Russia and with escalating military and other assistance to Ukraine.

We now see a new Winston Churchill for the 21st century. This time it isn’t an experienced politician but rather a comedian-turned-president. Zelensky has shown resilience every step of the way. He deserves recognition. What better way than awarding him the Nobel Peace Prize? (Quote source here.)

The invasion of Ukraine occurred only a few days before the beginning of Lent which began two days ago on Ash Wednesday, and ends on Easter Sunday. For those unfamiliar with Lent, Christopher Reese, a guest blogger on Bible Gateway Blog, has written a post on Lent titled, What is the Meaning of Lent,” published on March 3, 2022:

Lent is a 40-day period of devotion and preparation for Easter. It technically covers 46 days, but Sundays are considered feast days not included in the count. The number 40 reflects the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness prior to his public ministry (Mark 1:12-13). All three major branches of Christianity—Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox—observe Lent, though many Protestant denominations do not.

Lent is a time for repentance, reflection, and spiritual rededication in light of Jesus’ sacrificial death for our salvation, and for many Christians this involves fasting, refraining from things or activities that one enjoys, and/or devoting time to spiritual activities like studying Scripture, praying, giving to charity, or reading devotional works….

For both Catholics and Protestants, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. Church services held on this day typically involve placing ashes on the foreheads of participants, often in the shape of a cross, or sprinkling ashes on their heads. In Scripture, ashes are associated with repentance (e.g., Jeremiah 6:26), and clergy will sometimes quote Mark 1:15 while applying the ashes: “Repent and believe the good news.” This also marks the first day of fasting or giving something up (this varies by person and tradition). Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate Great Lent, which begins on Clean Monday—a day similar to Ash Wednesday in that it focuses on turning away from sin.

For Catholics, Lent formally ends on Maundy Thursday evening, the Thursday that immediately precedes Good Friday, although fasting lasts until the Saturday before Easter (Holy Saturday). Maundy Thursday commemorates the original Lord’s Supper, the Passover Meal that Jesus shared with his disciples (Matthew 26:17-30). The word “maundy” comes from the Latin word meaning “command,” which refers to the command Jesus gave his disciples while they were gathered for the meal: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). Protestants also observe Lent until the evening of Holy Saturday. For Eastern Orthodox, observance doesn’t conclude until Easter Sunday morning. (Quote source here.)

Reese also states:

The tradition of fasting during Lent comes from the practice of the early church in which only one meal a day was eaten, and meat (including fish and eggs, along with dairy) was forbidden. In the centuries that followed, the number of fasting days was shortened and restrictions on what foods could be eaten were relaxed (though abstinence from meat and dairy is still widely practiced in Eastern Orthodox churches).

Fasting is not a widespread practice in our culture but has deep roots in Judaism and early Christianity. It’s natural for people today to wonder why Christians fast at all. As the notable pastor and author Andrew Murray explained, “Fasting helps to express, to deepen, and confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, to sacrifice ourselves to attain what we seek for the kingdom of God.” Similarly, pastor and author Jeffrey E. Miller writes, “Fasting reveals our physical needs and reminds us of our spiritual needs. When we give up something we depend on, we remember our dependence on God.” (Quote source here.)

A complete guide to fasting and Lent is available online from the editorial staff at Christianity.com, titled, Fasting for Lent: How to Fast and Why Christians Do It.” Click here to access this guide.

As stated above, Lent is a period of devotion and preparation leading up to Easter Sunday which is when we celebrate of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The invasion of Ukraine began a few days before the start of Lent, and it gives us an opportunity to pray on behalf of the citizens of Ukraine every day during this time of Lent. In an article published by the National Association of Evangelicals titled, Pray for Peace and Freedom in Ukraine and Russia,” there is a list of specific prayer points. The article states:

Evangelicals are committed to promoting peace and restraining violence, and we believe prayer can change the course of history. A war between Russia and Ukraine would have catastrophic consequences for both countries, with tragic loss of life, mass displacement of civilians and further curtailment of religious freedom and human rights.

We are grateful to Amy Richey, director of global equipping for ReachGlobal, a ministry of the Evangelical Free Church of America, for these specific prayer points that can help guide our prayers:

  1. Ask to see God’s glory amid great struggle. God often uses very serious situations to draw people to himself. Pray that he would be glorified through the people of Ukraine who are following him.
  2. Pray for God’s peace to be a source of strength. Pray for the workers there — both expat and Ukrainians to be comforted by God’s shalom peace. Pray that they would have opportunities to share with others because they do not trust in governments, but in God.
  3. Pray for God’s protection. Pray for the safety of people on both sides of this border. Ask God for their physical protection but also their spiritual protection — ask him to help people seek the truth during the conflict.
  4. Ask God for comfort. As the war continues from the 2014 Russian invasion of the Crimea region [and now in 2022 with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine], the thought of more intense war seems overwhelming to the many families who have already lost fathers and sons.
  5. Ask God to intervene. Pray for wisdom as world leaders maneuver, strategize and speak out. Pray that God would move in their hearts and guide their steps and plans.
  6. Pray that Ukraine and Russia would be places without corruption. Pray for leaders of both countries to know God’s truth and peace and be transformed by his Holy Spirit, that they would seek to lead their countries in the way of peace.
  7. Ask for repentance, grace, forgiveness and reconciliation throughout Ukraine and Russia. Pray not only for the leaders of these countries, but for the people — that they would not have animosity between them but be united in reconciliation.
  8. Ask that this would open doors of opportunities for the gospel. God has a way of showing up when things are difficult. Pray that he would make his name known across Ukraine and Russia as the result of this conflict. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words from Isaiah 40:28-31 (NKJV): Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength…

They shall mount up with wings like eagles . . .

They shall run and not be weary . . .

They shall walk and not faint. . . .

YouTube Video: “Wonderful, Merciful Savior” sung by Selah:

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Spiritual Transformation

In my last blog post titled, A Higher Purpose,” I mentioned that I started a 40-day sugar fast on February 1st after being inspired to try it from a book titled, The 40-Day Sugar Fast: Where Physical Detox Meets Spiritual Transformation,” by Wendy Speake. Detoxing from sugar has been no fun–headaches, lethargy, irritability, mood swings, cravings–see this article titled, What is a Sugar Detox? Effects and How to Avoid Sugar,” for a list of symptoms at this link.

I am now at the half way point of the 40-day sugar fast, and I happy to announce that I’m through the detox phase, which lasted for up to two weeks in my case, and once I got through it, I started to immediately feel better again (all of the detox symptoms disappeared), and I could feel a big difference that cutting out refined sugar made on me physically, mentally, and emotionally, too. In fact, one of the things I have discovered is that I don’t think about food as much as I did before the fast began. Well, I don’t think about particular foods, like those I shouldn’t be eating anyway as they are often loaded with too much sugar and fat.

Now that I’m through the physical detox phase of the sugar fast, I still have the second half of the fast to get through (and no, once the fast is over that does not mean I’m going back to eating refined sugar because that defeats the purpose, and it is bad for my health, too). However, the emphasis of the book is not only on the physical fast from sugar, but also on our spiritual transformation throughout the book starting from Day 1. This will be a harder part of the fast to try to describe as I tend to believe that a person’s spiritual transformation is a highly personal thing not necessarily to be described in words. Genuine transformation is not displayed so much in words, but rather in actions and heart attitudes.

The apostle Paul’s conversion in the New Testament is an example of spiritual transformation. He literally went from hating and killing Christians one day (as a Pharisee named Saul–his name later became Paul) to becoming a Christian after his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road. The transformation was a 180 degree turn from his previous life as a Pharisee. GotQuestions.org describes Paul’s encounter as follows:

The events that happened on the road to Damascus relate not only to the apostle Paul, whose dramatic conversion occurred there, but they also provide a clear picture of the conversion of all people. While some have an extraordinarily dramatic conversion known as a “Damascus Road experience,” the conversion of all believers follows a similar pattern of Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus, described in Paul’s own words in Acts 9:1–9Acts 22:6–11; and Acts 26:9–20.

Putting the three accounts together, the details of this amazing experience come together. Paul, who went by the name of Saul at that time, was on his way to Damascus with a letter from the high priest of the temple in Jerusalem giving him authority to arrest any who belonged to “the Way,” meaning those who followed Christ. So intent was he on “opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 26:9) that in “raging fury,” he breathed “threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” Here was a man who truly hated Christ and all who were associated with Him.

Suddenly a bright light shone on Saul, causing his entire party to fall to the ground. Then Jesus spoke to Saul, asking him, “Why are you persecuting me?” in a voice understood only by him. Saul recognized that this was a deity of some sort because he called Him “Lord” and asked who He was. When Jesus identified Himself as the very One Saul had been persecuting, one can only imagine the terror that filled Saul’s heart. Saul was speechless, no doubt thinking to himself, “I’m a dead man.” The Acts 22 version of the story indicates that Saul’s response was to ask what Jesus wanted him to do. The Acts 9 and Acts 22 retellings of the story have Saul saying Jesus told him to rise and go to Damascus where he would be told what to do.

In the Acts 26 story, which is longer and more detailed, Saul describes Jesus’ commission of him as His messenger to the Gentiles (which must have amazed Saul, the ultimate Gentile-hating Pharisee), to turn many from darkness to the light and from the power of Satan to God. His message of forgiveness of sins and “a place among those who are sanctified by faith” must have also astonished Saul because the Jews were convinced they alone had the place of honor in God’s eyes.

There is no discrepancy or contradiction among these three accounts. Even though Saul received his commission from Jesus on the road, he still had to go into Damascus and be told what to do—meet with Ananias who laid hands on him, receive the Holy Spirit, be baptized, and be received by the disciples there (Acts 9:15–161922:12–16). At Damascus, he also went for three days without eating or drinking, and then received his sight, which had been taken from him on the road.

The phrase “Damascus Road experience” is used to describe a conversion which is dramatic and startling. Many people receive Christ in a life-changing, instantaneous experience, although many others describe their conversion as more of a gradual understanding of the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. But both types of experiences have several things in common. First, salvation is of the Lord, by His will and according to His plan and purpose (Acts 22:14). As He does one way or another to each of us, Jesus made it clear to Saul that he had gone his own way for long enough. Now he was to become an instrument in the hands of the Master to do His will as He had foreordained it.

Second, the response of both Saul and all those who are redeemed by Christ is the same: “What do you want me to do?” Like Saul, we do not bargain, negotiate, question, or come halfway. The response of the redeemed is obedience. When God truly touches our hearts, our only response can be, “Lord, may your will be done and may you use me to do it.” Such was the experience of Saul on the Damascus Road.

Saul’s dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus was the beginning of an incredible journey. And while not all conversions are as startling as Saul’s, each of us is commissioned by Jesus to live in obedience to Him (John 14:15), love one another in His name (1 John 2:23), “know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,” (Philippians 3:10), and tell the world of the wonderful riches in Christ. (Quote source here.)

So what does the Bible say about spiritual transformation? GotQuestions.org states:

In the Bible transformation means “change or renewal from a life that no longer conforms to the ways of the world to one that pleases God” (Romans 12:2). This is accomplished by the renewing of our minds, an inward spiritual transformation that will manifest itself in outward actions. The Bible presents the transformed life in Christ as demonstrated through our “bearing fruit in every good work [and] growing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10). Transformation involves those who were once far from God being “drawn near” to Him through the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:13).

Moreover, evidence of transformation within us is seen in the way we increasingly reflect the likeness and glory of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). For as the apostle Paul said, “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ” (Romans 8:9). To be considered as children of God, we must be led by the Spirit of God. And it is through the power of God’s Spirit that Christ lives within us. The transformed life mirrors the attitude of the apostle Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

This power of transformation comes from one source. Paul said, “For the message of the cross [the gospel] is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). In speaking of Jesus, the apostle Peter, empowered by the Holy Spirit, boldly declared this truth: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Transformed lives begin with the gospel message of Christ, for in it is the power of God. It is the gospel that brings us salvation: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Romans 1:16-17).

Through the gospel message of Christ, we learn “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). “For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Romans 8:13-14).

Just before he died, the apostle Peter provided us specific instructions on how we are to live out our transformed lives: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness… for if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:3-11). (Quote source here.)

Spiritual transformation changes a person from the inside out. I’ll end this post with Paul’s words regarding spiritual transformation found in Romans 12:1-2 (NIV): Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is…

His good . . .

Pleasing and . . .

Perfect will . . . .

YouTube Video: “You Raise Me Up” by Selah:

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A Higher Purpose

I am not a fan of making New Year’s resolutions, so I didn’t make any, once again, for this year. Now that we are into our second month of 2022, I feel like I might have more success at doing some of the things I might have considered as New Year’s resolutions if I had been so inclined to make them, and, hopefully, without the failure rate of most New Year’s resolutions that are made each year (e.g., 80% according to this article in Forbes).

One of the things I know I absolutely need to do is to cut back on the amount of refined sugar I eat. I have a sweet tooth, and I admit to being a carb addict, too, but I’ve let both get out of control over the past several months starting back in September, and it’s time to reign them back in again. I just feel so much better when I control what I eat and not let excess sugar and carbs rule my days and my moods, not to mention the other very real risks that come from eating too much sugar.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS):

Two hundred years ago, the average American ate only 2 pounds of sugar a year. In 1970, we ate 123 pounds of sugar per year. Today, the average American consumes almost 152 pounds of sugar in one year. This is equal to 3 pounds (or 6 cups) of sugar consumed in one week!

Nutritionists suggest that Americans should get only 10% of their calories from sugar. This equals 13.3 teaspoons of sugar per day (based on 2,000 calories per day). The current average is 42.5 teaspoons of sugar per day! (Quote source here.)

According to Medical News Today, some of the risks of eating too much sugar includes the following:

Tooth decay

Sugar feeds bacteria that live in the mouth. When bacteria digest the sugar, they create acid as a waste product. This acid can erode tooth enamel, leading to holes or cavities in the teeth.

People who frequently eat sugary foods, particularly in between mealtimes as snacks or in sweetened drinks, are more likely to develop tooth decay, according to Action on Sugar, part of the Wolfson Institute in Preventive Medicine in the United Kingdom.

Acne

A 2018 study of university students in China showed that those who drank sweetened drinks seven times per week or more were more likely to develop moderate or severe acne.

Additionally, a 2019 study suggests that lowering sugar consumption may decrease insulin-like growth factors, androgens, and sebum, all of which may contribute to acne.

Weight gain and obesity

Sugar can affect the hormones in the body that control a person’s weight. The hormone leptin tells the brain a person has had enough to eat. However, according to a 2008 animal study, a diet high in sugar may cause leptin resistance.

This may mean, that over time, a high sugar diet prevents the brain from knowing when a person has eaten enough. However, researchers have yet to test this in humans.

Diabetes and insulin resistance

A 2013 article in PLOS ONE, indicated that high sugar levels in the diet might cause type 2 diabetes over time.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) add that other risk factors, such as obesity and insulin resistance, can also lead to type 2 diabetes.

Cardiovascular disease

A large prospective study in 2014 found that people who got 17–21% of their daily calories from added sugar had a 38% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease (CVD) than those who consumed 8% added sugars. For those who consumed 21% or more of their energy from added sugars, their risk for CVD doubled.

High blood pressure

In a 2011 study, researchers found a link between sugar-sweetened beverages and high blood pressure, or hypertension. A review in Pharmacological Research states that hypertension is a risk factor for CVD. This may mean that sugar exacerbates both conditions.

Cancer

Excess sugar consumption can cause inflammation, oxidative stress, and obesity. These factors influence a person’s risk of developing cancer.

A review of studies in the Annual Review of Nutrition found a 23–200% increased cancer risk with sugary drink consumption. Another study found a 59% increased risk of some cancers in people who consumed sugary drinks and carried weight around their abdomen.

Aging skin

Excess sugar in the diet leads to the formation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which play a role in diabetes. However, they also affect collagen formation in the skin.

According to Skin Therapy Letter, there is some evidence to suggest that a high number of AGEs may lead to faster visible aging. However, scientists need to study this in humans more thoroughly to understand the impact of sugar in the aging process. (Quote source here.)

While that list is a bit daunting as to the damage eating too much sugar can do to us physically, this post is about more then just cutting back on sugar (and carbs). This past week I went in search of not just another diet book to cut back on sugar and carbs (I do know what I should be eating for proper nutrition, but I let my cravings get the better of me), but to put a real purpose behind controlling what I allow myself to consume.

I was shopping in a Hobby Lobby earlier this week and I looked over the selection of Christian books that they sell that are usually located near the check out aisles. One of the books had a titled that caught my eye, The 40-Day Sugar Fast: Where Physical Detox Meets Spiritual Transformation,” by Wendy Speake, a trained actress, Bible teacher, speaker and writer. Several years ago I told myself I was never going to buy another diet book again, but this book is different. It has a spiritual component that goes beyond breaking a sugar addiction.

Amazon.com published the following blurb on it’s order page for The 40-Day Sugar Fastwhich actually comes from Wendy’s website at this link:

What would you be willing to give up to experience the presence of God in your life again?

Many of us sign up for a physical detox program, thinking that if our bodies are healthier, then we’re healthier. But a healthy body doesn’t do us a lot of good if we are spiritually malnourished.

Welcome to the 40-Day Sugar Fast, a fast that begins with us giving Jesus our sugar and ends with Jesus giving us more of himself–the only thing that can ever truly satisfy our soul’s deep hunger. On this 40-day journey you’ll learn how to stop fixating on food and other things you use to fill the voids in life and instead fix your eyes on Christ.

Anyone who runs to sugar for comfort or a reward, who eats mindlessly or out of boredom, who feels physically and spiritually lethargic, or who struggles with self-control will discover here not only freedom from their cravings but an entirely new appetite for the good things God has for us. (Quote source here.)

As Christians, the spiritual side of our lives should take high priority yet too often in our fast-paced and technology-savvy society we run on our own fumes moving at a frantic pace just to keep up with everything, including the constant flow of text messages, emails, and scheduled events and other activities. Grabbing fast food or sweets and any number of the zillions of options we have when it comes to food here in America can obliterate any sense of our spiritual obligation to take care of the only body we get in this lifetime. And many of our chronic health issues come from the choices we’ve made about food over the years, but we rarely think about it as we drive through another fast food restaurant lane one more time.

I also know that I can personally get into the cycle of “mindless eating” usually when I’m bored or frustrated about something, and the last thing I think about when I’m eating that chocolate chip cookie (even if it’s gluten-free!) is the effect it is having, long term, on my spiritual life and my physical health. How often do we connect the dots between what we eat and how it might be affecting our relationship with God except when offering up a prayer of thanks before we eat it? And how often do we even do that (pray before eating)? I’ll be the first to admit that I rarely think about it except in a formal eating setting.

Back in early 2019, I put myself on a healthy diet and kept a journal of every morsel that entered my mouth as I needed to do that to be accountable to myself and to not overeat, of which most of the time I was successful (I’d say 80% of the time). Within two months I had lost 20 pounds and I went on to lose a total of 30 pounds, and I stayed pretty much within the parameters of what I could eat (mostly healthy stuff, no fast food, and following this eating plan). That took about five months total, and to this day with an occasional fluctuation of a few pounds up or down (like 2 or 3), I have maintained that weight loss (even as of this morning). While I still wanted to lose another 20 pounds or so in 2019 (which I have not yet lost), I am happy that I have been able to maintain that weight loss over time. My sugar and carb cravings were mostly gone, and I felt great emotionally and physically (I also exercise regularly and I have for the past eleven years).

While I’ve had my challenges like most people do just living life one day at a time, by eating right I discovered I didn’t get as upset over things that weren’t working out, or regarding situations that were not getting resolved in the way I wanted them to get resolved, and my faith walk was strong as well as my resilience despite things not going the way I had hoped they would go. I also noticed that when I gave into my “emotional eating” tendency and the pull to eat sweets that I felt just the opposite–irritable and tired. So that kept me eating the right foods (even if I ate too much) and steering clear of the wrong types of foods (including fast foods).

So I’ve coasted along since 2019 with my 30-pound weight loss and eating mostly what I am suppose to eat, and then this past fall I signed up to attend a class for women new to living in this area that I moved to over a year ago, and suddenly I was facing all kinds of “goodies” that were available to eat at these once-a-week classes. Because I had stopped eating anything with gluten in it back in 2019, most of the stuff available to eat had gluten in it and/or it was really sweet (and I had weaned myself off of sugar as much as possible). Long story short, over the course of the three months that this class lasted, I found myself giving in to eating the very foods I had stopped eating, and eating that stuff spilled over into poorer eating habits with other meals beyond that class setting.

In other words, I was going downhill in my sugar addiction during the fall and into the Christmas season by eating the wrong stuff that I had previously given up, and I could feel the pull both physically and emotionally that it was having on me (eating or drinking too much sugar really can affect the mind with things like brain fog (read this short article titled, 4 Ways Sugar Can Be Harming to Your Mental Health,” in Psychology Today). In fact, the “negative side effects of eating too much sugar include everything from brain fog and trouble concentrating to anxiety and depression. While sugar in small amounts from natural sources is not a major concern, most people are eating too much of the sweet stuff and could benefit from cutting back.” (Quote source here.)

By the time January arrived, I was eating more food items with sugar in them then I had eaten in years, and my sweet tooth was back and demanding more. I realized as I went through January that I had to do something to get back on track, but my sweet tooth was hard to control (sugar is addictive–read this article titled, Why is Sugar Addiction a Problem?”).

When I spotted that book I mentioned above this past Monday titled, The 40-Day Sugar Fast: Where Physical Detox Meets Spiritual Transformation,” I decided to buy it and to also get back to the way I was eating before I started eating the “bad stuff” this fall when I was attending that class, and I decided February 1st was my starting date. I thought about waiting until Lent (which starts on March 2nd) as that would be a good time to give up sugar, but I knew that was giving myself too much leeway to keep indulging in sugary type foods during February, so I decided to start now.

So this is Day #4 that I have gone without eating any refined sugar, and I can already feel the clarity of thought that not having a sugar-addicted brain gives you. We really are what we eat–and that’s not just a saying but reality. Of course, we are a lot more then what we eat, but what we eat is crucial to our physical well being, and to our spiritual health and our relationship with God.

Day #3 in The 40-Day Sugar Fast is titled, “When Sugar Walls Crumble,” and it opens with the following:

Sugar is a stronghold for many people. Does it hold you back from the good life that God has planned for you? Perhaps over time your sweet tooth has turned into a full-fledged addition, dictating your days, driving you from one sugary fix to the next. Unfortunately, no sugar fix can fix you. In fact, when you give sugar that job, you’ll end up more broken than before because sugar weakens our physical bodies and clouds our minds. If only you could break free from this sweet, strangling stronghold, but you feel powerless. The walls are too thick and to wide, the habits too ingrained, the enemy too big and too strong, and you are too addicted.

However, all throughout the Scriptures, God demonstrates that He has the power to open prison gates and set captives free. Today I encourage you to shout God’s victory over your life even before He helps you tear down the stranglehold of sugar…. (Quote source: “The 40-Day Sugar Fast,” pp.37-38.)

John 4:34 states, “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work.” May our food be more than just food, too. I’ll end this post with the words of Paul in Philippians 4:13

I can do all things . . .

Through Christ . . .

Who strengthens me . . . .

YouTube Video: “Not My Will” by Kim Walker-Smith:

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