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Blogs I Follow

The Presidents Club

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The Surest Defense Against Evil

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The Triumph of Grace

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Contemplating God’s Sovereignty

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How Should We Then Live?

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Not a Timid Christianity

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Finishing the Race

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Because the Time is Near

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Revelation Song (YouTube)

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Where The Wind Blows

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Doing Great Things

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Recognizing a False Prophet

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The Power of Forgiveness

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Created for Relationships

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The Only Way I Know

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Faith: The Misunderstood Doctrine

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Our True Home Address

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‘Tis the Season . . . for L-O-V-E

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The Paris Terrorist Attack and the Problem of Evil

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Cherry Picking 101

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Love Sweet Love

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So Goes The Culture

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Idols of the Heart

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Divisions Are Not Always Bad

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The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

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The Last Word

I just read an interesting article published yesterday (October 13, 2018) in the New York Times titled, It’s Getting Harder to Talk About God: The decline in our spiritual vocabulary has many real world consequences,” by Jonathan Merritt, award-winning writer on religion, culture, and politics; contributing writer for The Atlantic, and contributing editor for The Week.

Merritt opens his article with the following statement:

More than 70 percent of Americans identify as Christian, but you wouldn’t know it from listening to them. An overwhelming majority of people say that they don’t feel comfortable speaking about faith, most of the time.

During the Great Depression, the playwright Thornton Wilder remarked, “The revival in religion will be a rhetorical problem—new persuasive words for defaced or degraded ones.” Wilder knew that during times of rapid social change, God-talk is often difficult to muster.

We may have traded 1930s-level poverty and hunger for a resurgence in racism, sexism and environmental cataclysm, but our problems are no less serious—or spiritually disorienting. While many of our most visible leaders claim to be religious, their moral frameworks seem unrecognizable to masses of other believers. How do we speak about God in times like these when God is hard to spot? (Quote source here.)

I have noticed a difference especially in the past decade which has also been, as Merritt notes above, a time of rapid social change. Stray too far from traditional Christian settings (mainly church and church type activities or hanging out with other Christians) and it’s as if we are entering foreign territory right here in America. It’s not that we don’t see Christian stuff everywhere in America (after all, it is a billion-dollar business), but we’ve become too absorbed in the culture and there isn’t a lot of difference between our actions and the actions of most of the rest of society.

Merritt goes on to state:

As a student of American Christianity and the son of a prominent megachurch pastor, I’ve been sensing for some time that sacred speech and spiritual conversation are in decline. But this was only a hunch I had formed in response to anecdotal evidence and personal experience. I lacked the quantitative data needed to say for sure.

So last year, I enlisted the Barna Group, a social research firm focused on religion and public life, to conduct a survey of 1,000 American adults. This study revealed that most Americans—more than three-quarters, actually—do not often have spiritual or religious conversations.

More than one-fifth of respondents admit they have not had a spiritual conversation at all in the past year. Six in 10 say they had a spiritual conversation only on rare occasions—either “once or twice” (29 percent) or “several times” (29 percent) in the past year. A paltry 7 percent of Americans say they talk about spiritual matters regularly.

But here’s the real shocker: Practicing Christians who attend church regularly aren’t faring much better. A mere 13 percent had a spiritual conversation around once a week.

For those who practice Christianity, such trends are confounding. It is a religion that has always produced progeny through the combination of spiritual speech and good deeds. Nearly every New Testament author speaks about the power of spiritual speech, and Jesus’ final command to his disciples was to go into the world and spread his teachings. You cannot be a Christian in a vacuum.

And yet even someone like me who has spent his entire life using God-talk knows how hard it has become. Five years ago, I moved from the Bible Belt to New York City and ran headfirst into an unexpected language barrier. Sure, I could still speak English as well as I always had. But I could no longer “speak God.” (Quote source here.)

When I look at the results of the Barna Group survey stated above, I’m not actually surprised by the finding that a large percentage of Christians don’t actively engage in “spiritual conversations” in general. I don’t mind a dialogue, but I’m not looking to get into arguments which can occur even among Christians. And in our society people do have a right to live however they want to live as long as they aren’t breaking any laws or harming other people, and our Constitution gives them that right. It’s a part of what our democracy is all about, and it is what sets America apart from much of the rest of the world.

One this issue of spiritual speech, I had an interesting encounter this past week when I saw an ad on Craigslist for a senior apartment complex advertising one-bedroom apartments. I decided to go take a look, and as I drove through an area that is heavily traveled I was stopped at a red light and what looked like a homeless guy with very long hair walked up to the window on the passenger’s side of my car. I rolled down that window to briefly talk with him, but he wasn’t seeking money. Instead, he asked me if I was a Christian and I said yes. At that point he unleashed a soliloquy of sorts about how America was going to hell because of its acceptance of homosexuality and he asked me if I was familiar with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Bible. I said yes. As I listened to his speech he reminded me of what an angry Old Testament prophet might have sounded like (he sort of looked like one, too), and he was absolutely not interested in engaging in a dialogue. His eyes actually flashed with anger as he talked (but he wasn’t aggressive at all–just very passionate about what he was talking about).

Fortunately, the light turned green and his soliloquy came to an end. He was apparently a “one issue prophet” of sorts as his only message was about homosexuality and the city government (specifically a previous mayor who was female and a lesbian) here in this city. Apparently, he was not aware that she was no longer mayor, but I don’t think that would have mattered to him. He was speaking “hell, fire, and brimstone” regarding homosexuality.

As I pulled away from my brief exchange with him, I found myself feeling a bit guilty but I didn’t know why. Some folks might write him off as some crazy guy spouting nonsense. I felt more verbally badgered by him then I felt guilty. He talked as if he expected me to resolve the issue and “save America from it’s doom and gloom,” yet he would not allow me to contribute to the conversation.

I tend to be the type of person who is open to conversation with anyone who is also open to conversation, and it can be about anything and not just “religious” stuff. In fact, it is rarely about religious stuff unless the person I am conversing with brings it up first. One would be hard pressed, living in America, to not encounter elements of Christianity everywhere in our society. I’m not sure how much influence that “one issue prophet” might have on others, but, and I say this for the benefit of everyone living in America, he has a right to do and say what he wants to do and say as long as he isn’t breaking any laws. That he might not help the conversation of being “Christian” in America, he may or may not have a negative effect on those he speaks with towards Christianity in general.

Merritt is right in noting that our society is rapidly changing. And he’s also right when he says it’s getting hard to talk about God at all especially in settings outside of the church or other Christian settings. And while his emphasis is on the issue of “speech,” it is also about “actions.” While most people probably don’t hear us speak or express our opinions on issues going on in our society, but they do pay attention to our actions when we are around them or out in public. And our actions sometimes betray what we say we believe.

On this issue, Merritt states:

That toothy televangelist keeps using spiritual language to call for donations to buy a second jet. The politician keeps using spiritual language to push unjust legislation. The street preacher keeps using spiritual language to peddle the fear of a fiery hell. They can dominate the conversation because we’ve stopped speaking God. In our effort to avoid contributing to the problem, we can actually worsen it. (Quote source here.)

First and foremost, the way that we as Christians should live in a rapidly changing culture is to make sure that love is a part of our actions that we send out to every person we encounter. We can’t change the toothy televangelist who wants a second jet, or the politician who is trying to push through unjust legislation, or the street preacher (like that one-issue prophet I ran into at the red light) peddling the fear of a fiery hell, but we can change how we respond to a culture that is rapidly changing.

Merritt makes a very valid point when it comes to speech, but we also need to consider our actions. Nonverbal communication often speaks louder than any words we can say. However, as for our speech, Colossians 4:6 has the final answer, and I’ll end this post with this verse: Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt . . .

That you may know . . .

How you ought to answer . . .

Each one . . . .

YouTube Video: “The Message is Love” by Arthur Baker & The Backbeat Disciples (ft. Rev. Al Green):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

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Real Power

 

It seems appropriate at this time of the year when the month of Halloween begins and Halloween movies are out in full force that we think about another kind of Power that is out there. What brought this to mind this morning was an article I ran across written by A.W. Tozer (1897-1963), who was a pastor, author, magazine editor, and spiritual mentor, in a small volume of his writings published in 1988 titled, We Travel An Appointed Way: Making Spiritual Progress,” compiled and edited by Harry Verploegh (1909-1999).

As I read this particular article which is Chapter 33 in the book titled “Religion of the Intellect versus Religion of the Spirit,” it gave me cause for reflection considering that it was written by Tozer probably years before he died in May 1963. Keep in mind while you are reading it that it was most likely written approximately 70+ years ago. Here is what Tozer wrote (pp. 99-102):

There is a deeply spiritual and thoroughly mystical quality in New Testament religion that we cannot afford to ignore if we would be Christians in fact as well as in name.

I think it well to let our worshiping hearts decide our theological questions. After the purity of the text has been established and the mind assured that the translation is trustworthy, the best source of true light is always the Spirit-illuminated heart. A praying heart, aglow with love for God, will intuit truth, will pass behind the veil and see and hear that which is not lawful to be uttered, which indeed cannot be uttered or even intellectually understood.

It is my opinion that the real battle line in theological war today is not the line the separates fundamentalism from liberalism. That war has been fought and won. No one need be in any wise confused on the question of Bible theology versus man-conceived liberalism. Both sides have said their say boldly. Everyone can know where he stands on such matters as the inspiration of the Scriptures, the deity of Jesus Christ, salvation through the blood of atonement, death and judgment, heaven and hell. The true battle line is elsewhere.

Always the decisive conflict in religion will be where important concepts are joined in opposition, concepts so vital that they are capable of saving or wrecking the Christian faith in any given generation. At this critical juncture in church history, the real conflict is between those who hold to an objective Christian capable of being grasped in its entirety by the human intellect and those who believe that there are far-in areas of religious experience so highly spiritual, so removed from and exalted about mere reason, that it takes a special anointing of the Holy Spirit to make them understood by the human heart. The difference is not academic merely. Should the advocates of religious intellectualism succeed in setting the direction for the church in this generation, the next generation of Christians will be come helpless victims of dead orthodoxy.

In conversation with one of the better known devotees of neo-intellectualism in evangelical circles, I asked the question bluntly, “Do you actually believe that everything essential in the Christian faith may be grasped by the human intellect?” The answer was immediate–“If I did not, I would be on my way toward agnosticism.” I did not say, but might properly have said, “And if you do, you are on your way toward rationalism.” For such indeed is the truth.

One of the heaviest problems the inquiring Christian faces today is why so many good and apparently sincere religious leaders are going so far astray from the plain teachings and practices of the New Testament. Destructive elements are being innocently introduced into present-day worship and service by Bible-loving evangelicals, elements so opposed to the true genius of Christianity that the two are mutually exclusive. One or the other must go. Either these new parasitic growths must be destroyed, or they will in a short time destroy the Christian faith. Yet these deadly things are encouraged in the churches by some of the most zealous orthodox leaders. Why?

The answer is simpler than we might suppose. These leaders are depending on their brain to guide them in their religious practices. They conceive the truth to be a doctrinal deposit, a kind of a theological road map to lead them to heaven. They check the map to make sure they are going the right direction, and after that they are on their own. No Unseen Guide is necessary. If they should be attacked by doubts, they need only stop under a lamppost and reassure themselves that they have indeed “accepted” Christ. Then they get underway again with complete confidence that they are on the same road as the apostles and prophets.

The question being discussed by many these days–why religion is increasing and morality slipping, all at the same time–finds its answer in this very error, the error of religious intellectualism. Men have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof. The text alone will not elevate the moral life. To become morally effective, the truth must be accompanied by a mystic element, the very element supplied by the Spirit of truth. The Holy Spirit will no be banished to a footnote without taking terrible vengeance against His banishers. The That vengeance may be seen today in the nervous, giggling, worldly-minded and thoroughly carnal fundamentalism that is spreading over the land. Doctrinally, it wears the robes of scriptural belief, but beyond that it resembles the religions of Christ and his apostles not at all.

The mysterious presence of the Spirit is vitally necessary if we are to avoid the pitfalls of religion. As the fiery pillar led Israel through the wilderness, so the Spirit of truth must lead us all our journey through. One text alone could improve things mightily for us if we would but obey it: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5 KJV). (Quote source: “We Travel An Appointed Way,” pp. 99-102.)

The emphasis of Tozer’s article was and is on the power of the Holy Spirit, and the next generation that Tozer refers to has already arrived on the scene (e.g., it’s my generation known as the Baby Boomers–born between 1946-1964) and now includes three younger generations along with it (Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z).

With another Halloween quickly approaching, today we think nothing about all of the Halloween stuff going on all around us or even, on a larger scale, the incredible amount of evil and violence that fill so many movies in theaters and on TV, and in social media, and not just at Halloween but throughout the year. However, in today’s society if one should bring up the subject of the Holy Spirit especially in secular quarters or even among nominal Christians today, the smirks and laughter will be readily apparent, and at the very least you might be thought of as being a little “mentally unhinged.” Apparently, evil is okay, but the Holy Spirit? Seriously? That’s how far we have come in the 70+ years since Tozer penned those words above.

In a short article published in 2016 titled, The Dynamic Power of the Holy Spirit,” by Dr. Michael Youssef, Senior Pastor (Rector) of the Church of the Apostles, and the Executive President of Leading the Way, he describes the power of the Holy Spirit:

When we speak of the power of the Holy Spirit, many people–even Christians–misunderstand the meaning of “power.” They tend to define power as the world defines it.

In the world’s view, power conveys the ability to control people, events, and circumstances for our own advantage. In the world, power brings independence and self-sufficiency, with no need for God’s help or the assurance of others.

While many devote their lives to achieving this goal, this type of power can never satisfy the soul or bring joy or peace. The world’s power is temporary, leaving a person always wanting more.

In describing the power of the Holy Spirit, the Bible paints quite a different picture (see Luke 24:49Acts 1:82 Corinthians 12:9). The word translated as “power” in the English Bible is the Greek word “dynamis,” from which we get the word “dynamite.” In Acts 1:8, Jesus told His disciples that before they would be able to evangelize the world, they must receive the “dynamis” of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit possesses a dynamite-like power that works within a believer to blast out anything that is unlike God. It is not a power that exalts one person above others. It does not manipulate or control others. Instead, the Holy Spirit uses His power to break us so that He might remake us. The more we get self out of the way and yield our will to His, the more powerfully He is able to pour Himself out through us to others, and the more powerfully He is able to transform our lives. We are merely the conduits, the channels through which God’s power moves.

The Holy Spirit empowers us to be witnesses of God’s love, to live in a way that pleases God, to meet fully the demands and pressures of life, and to resist temptation. The power of the Holy Spirit is the only power that is sufficient to win spiritual battles against our own selfish desires and the wiles of Satan.

Set aside some time today to ask God to free you from the desire to control others and to lead you to become a clean vessel that can be used to transmit His power. Ask Him to do the same for your spouse, your children, your coworkers, and your friends.

Prayer: Lord, teach me about the true power of Your Spirit and grant me the willingness to submit to Your power. I confess that You alone are God. Please display Your power in and through my life today. Make me a clean and willing vessel. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen. (Quote source here.)

And consider this article written at Halloween on October 23, 2013, titled, Come, Holy Spirit,” by Neal Bowes, Director of Youth Ministries at Jesse Lee Memorial UMC:

This Thursday evening, doorbells will be ringing, and Americans will be distributing about 600 million pounds of candy while answering the call of “trick or treat” from their costume-clad, plastic-pumpkin toting neighborhood children. Today Halloween is regarded by most as simply a fun time to dress up, go out with some friends, collect candy, and maybe play a good-natured prank. The name Halloween actually comes from “All Hallows Eve,” meaning the eve of All Hallows Day, or All Saints’ Day. Christians celebrate All Saints’ Day on November 1 to remember our brothers and sisters in Christ who have died. But Halloween also corresponds to the ancient Gaelic festival of Samhain (SOW-in). The ancient people of Ireland believed that spiritual beings entered our world on Samhain and began the tradition of carving lanterns into vegetables and wearing masks to ward off or confuse evil spirits.

The idea of scaring away evil spirits may seem foolish to our twenty-first century sensibilities, but as Christians we cannot simply brush off the idea that spirits are active among us. Jesus frequently encountered evil spirits during his ministry, and many people came to Jesus asking him to deliver them from such evil spiritual forces. The apostle Paul reminds us that we are in an ongoing struggle against “forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil” (Ephesians 6:12). On the other hand, we have a greater spiritual presence—the Holy Spirit—on our side, equipping and protecting us.

Who Is the Holy Spirit?

The Holy Spirit is, like God the Father (or Creator) and Jesus Christ, one person of the Holy Trinity. Christians recognize God in three different manifestations. We know God as the Creator of all things, who reigns from heaven. We see God most clearly in the person of Jesus, the human incarnation of God, who lived with us, taught us, and sacrificed his life for us. And we experience God through the Holy Spirit, who prepares us to do God’s work and blesses us with a growing faith and an ever-increasing understanding of God.

Youth may be confused about who the Holy Spirit is and what the Spirit does. No doubt many adults are, too. It might be because the work of the Holy Spirit occurs on such a personal level that it is nearly impossible to come up with a description of the Spirit that applies to everyone. For instance, the Holy Spirit reveals God’s truth to us, convicts us of our sins, and offers us guidance and comfort. But these revelations come to us individually and we receive them differently, depending on where we are in our faith journey and what we need to hear at a particular time.

Many Gifts, One Spirit

The Spirit not only reveals God’s will but also equips us with spiritual gifts. The Spirit’s gifts are unique to each person. Some people are very comfortable talking about their faith with a complete stranger, while others are not. But those other people may have the ability to bring life to a Bible story for a group of three- and four-year-olds. Still others might be especially good at making people who are new to a Christian community feel welcome or at caring for those are sick. Some have an amazing command of Scripture; some can preach; some can organize mission and outreach projects.

Every person has a particular and personal relationship with the Holy Spirit. Despite the differences, the Spirit works in all persons for the glory of God and for the good of all people. We are incredibly blessed when we learn to recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit, come to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit, and open up our lives to God’s continual presence. (Quote source here.)

So, as we move through the month of October with all of the Halloween festivities and movies, let’s not forget about where the real source of power for the Christian comes from–the power of the Holy Spirit. For further understanding of who the Holy Spirit is, read this article titled, Who is the Holy Spirit?–5 Things You Need to Know,” at BibleStudyTools.com.

I’ll end this post with the words of Jesus found in Acts 1:8: But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses . . .

In Jerusalem . . .

And in all Judea and Samaria . . .

And to the ends of the earth . . . .

YouTube Video: “Here I Am Send Me” by Darlene Zschech:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

 

Unconditional Love

Which side do you take on the debate of whether or not unconditional love is humanly possible? In an article titled, The True Meaning of Unconditional Love,” by a blogger named A Conscious Rethink,” this blogger states the following:

Some people regard unconditional love as pure fantasy, a myth that has been shared and searched for throughout human history. Others believe that it is not only real, but the most real thing there is.

This article will suggest that it is absolutely possible to love unconditionally, but that many people simply misunderstand what it means to do so.

We’ll explore the themes and weigh up the points of debate to try and give a clear explanation of love in its unconditional form.

Unconditional = Selfless

The literal meaning of the word unconditional is without conditions, but how does this translate into reality? To answer this, you have to first consider what conditional love is.

Conditional love is an attachment to and feeling for someone that depends on them behaving in a certain way. At its heart is the premise that the person giving the love (the lover) does so because they get something back in return – namely a response from the person receiving the love (the beloved) that meets their, often unrealistic, expectations.

More accurately, it is the love that relies upon the beloved NOT acting in a way that the lover finds unacceptable or intolerable.

Unconditional love, on the other hand, exists in the absence of any benefit for the lover. It transcends all behavior and is in no way reliant upon any form of reciprocation.

It is completely and utterly selfless. It cannot be given in as much as it flows without effort from one’s heart rather than coming consciously from one’s mind. There is nothing that can stand in the way of unconditional love.

Wishing The Best For The Beloved

With selflessness comes the ultimate desire to see the beloved flourish and find contentment. It doesn’t have to involve any actions on the part of the lover, but it often does. Sometimes it even involves a level of personal sacrifice.

It is the driving force that spurs you on to do whatever you can to help your beloved become the best version of themselves.

It First Requires Self-love

In order to love someone unconditionally, you must start by loving yourself the same way. You must learn to accept who you are without seeking to change. If you insist that change is necessary, you are putting conditions on the love you have for yourself. This is not to say that change will not take place, but it will be natural, unforced, and unlooked for.

Only when you stop chasing changes in yourself can you begin to love others without their needing to change. It is then that love can be deemed unconditional.

Believing In The Good That One Possesses

When love is given without condition, it is a sign that you are able to see the very worst in someone and yet still believe that they are worthy of your compassion. It is the part of you that forgives the seemingly unforgivable when no one else is able to.

Unconditional love does not judge and it does not give up on those whom society may deem as immoral or evil. It is the conviction to see beyond a person’s outward flaws to focus, instead, on the inner being that some may call a soul.

It Can’t Be Said, Only Felt

The first misconception about unconditional love is that you can declare it to someone. There is a chance that you are experiencing it, but you may also be feeling something very close to it, but in some way lacking.

There is no way to predict how you may react to a person in a given set of circumstances. You may find that there are limits to your love that you were simply unaware of previously.

Because of the innate uncertainty of the future, unconditional love can exist only as a feeling and not as a mental or verbal concept (this article itself can by no means describe the very essence of it).

You will never know for sure whether what you feel is unconditional love, but this in no way disproves its existence.

A Relationship Does Not Have To Be Unconditional Too

Another common misunderstanding is the belief that unconditional love requires you to accept whatever your beloved does to you. It is, however, possible for the relationship to have various conditions upon it–certain boundaries–but for the love to have none. You can make a choice to end a relationship because it involves abuse or because your beloved has acted in a way that you cannot stomach. This does not have to mean the end of your love for them.

It is quite possible to still wish the best for them, see the good in them, and accept them as they are – the properties of unconditional love described above. It may be that you will love them from a distance rather than get caught up in a situation that could be self-destructive.

Relationships are mere partnerships between two people. A relationship is not a feeling – it is not love of any kind – it is merely the vessel in which love can be housed. Should the partnership become unsustainable, the vessel can break, but the love does not always cease to be; it can be moved outside of the relationship and exist by itself.

This is because unconditional love has no basis in the actions and behaviors of the beloved. Your lives may end up taking utterly different paths to the point where a relationship becomes impossible, but your love for them does not diminish.

You Can Experience Negative Emotions At The Same Time

Unconditional love does not mean that you feel warmth and affection towards your beloved at all times; you are human after all. You can be angry at them, frustrated with them, and hurt by them while still loving them.

Having arguments does not diminish the love that comes truly free of conditions. Just as the waves atop an ocean do not impact the depths below, the natural highs and lows of a relationship cannot penetrate deep enough to affect the underlying feeling.

Unconditional Love From A Spiritual Perspective

Many religions and spiritual practices involve the concept of non-duality and this can be another source of unconditional love. When you feel separate from others, you have a choice as to whether or not you love them, but if you look upon your neighbor as you would look upon yourself, love is almost inevitable.

If you live free from the mental barriers that exist in the majority of people and experience the universe and everything in it as being of you, why would you choose anything other than love? While rare, this type of unconditional love does exist in some people.

There Should Be No Guilt Where It Is Lacking

You may feel it towards another or you may not, but the absence of unconditional love is not something to feel guilty about.

As much as you may wish to feel this way and rationally see reasons for doing so, it cannot be willed into being. This type of love cannot be wished for, chased, or accumulated; it can only be.

It may hurt to realize that your love for another has conditions, but this is not something you can control. So do not beat yourself up when your love for someone fades, if it was meant to keep burning, it would have done. (Quote source here.)

Now let’s take a look an the topic of unconditional love from a Biblical perspective. On a blog post titled, Love in the Journey, that I just published on my other blog, I quoted the following article written by Omar C. Garcia, who is the Missions Pastor at Kingsland Baptist Church, in his blog, BibleTeachingNotes.com, on the best known chapter in the Bible on the topic of unconditional love, which is found in 1 Corinthians 13:

Who has defined the word “love” for you? There is a lot being said about love these days and you have to be careful who you listen to or you might get the wrong idea about the meaning of love. While musicians and poets attempt to describe and define love in its many splendored forms, no writer deals with the matter of love as musically and poetically as the Apostle Paul. Nowhere else in all of literature, either sacred or secular, will you find the meaning of love more beautifully expressed than in 1 Corinthians 13The 13th Chapter of 1 Corinthians is like a prism. When a beam of light is passed through a prism, it comes out on the opposite side broken up into its component colors…red, yellow, violet, orange, and all the colors of the rainbow. So it is in 1 Corinthians 13.

We must keep in mind two very important things as we look at this chapter:

First, remember that Scripture was not written in a vacuum. We find this great chapter on love included in a serious letter by Paul to the church in Corinth…a church with very serious problems. In this letter, Paul painted for the Corinthians a picture of themselves…in their factions, their jealousies, their vanity, their carnality, their misuse of Christian liberty, and their bragging about their spiritual gifts. In the thirteenth chapter of this letter, Paul momentarily turned aside from his direct counsels and rebukes to show the Corinthians an ideal Christian life, which was pretty much everything theirs was not.

Second, we must remember that, unlike our language, the Greeks had several words for love. The word “eros” was used to refer to love of deep desire, passionate and sensuous longing. It had a physical and sexual connotation and is nowhere used in the New Testament. The word “storge” referred to the kind of affection found in a family. The word “philia” was used to refer to brotherly love. Finally, the word “agape” was used to express the unconditional kind of love that God expressed toward us through Christ. It implies loving when there is nothing worthy to evoke love. This is the word Paul used in this chapter. [Garcia breaks down the chapter as follows]:

Love is Indispensable or All-Important: 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (full explanation is available here).

Love is Invincible or All-Enduring: 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (full explanation is available here).

Love is Immortal or All-Outlasting: 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 (full explanation is available here).

Garcia then states the following practical considerations:

We should evaluate our understanding of love in the light of Scripture.

In view of the many things that we hear about love in our world today, we should evaluate our understanding of love in the light of Scripture. Love is certainly not what many of the songs and movies of our day make it to be.

Ministry, miracles, and martyrdom are meaningless without love.

We must be certain that our actions are motivated by love. We must guard against doing things for selfish and self-glorifying ends.

There is a difference between love and lust.

It would be profitable to read 1 Corinthians 13 in the following light: Lust is impatient, lust is unkind, and is jealous; lust brags and is arrogant, it acts unbecomingly; it seeks its own, is provoked, takes into account a wrong suffered, rejoices in unrighteousness, but does not rejoice with the truth; exposes all things, doubts all things, gives up on all things, does not endure all things. Lust always fails.

Love is characterized by forgiveness.

Love does not keep ledgers or accounts of wrongdoings. Love will not allow the sun to go down on its anger (Ephesians 4:26), but works to extend and receive forgiveness. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words from 1 Corinthians 13 (NIV) written by Paul:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (Quote source here.)

Without love . . .

Everything else . . .

Is meaningless . . . .

YouTube Video: “Whole Heart” by Brandon Heath:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Life is Short

After publishing a blog post titled, Our Journey Through Time,” on my other blog, I decided to post it also on this blog since the readership is bigger and it’s a good topic for all of us to think about. However, there is no need to dread the topic as it’s not going to add any burden to your life when contemplating just how short life really is. You’ll see. Read on…

All of us on this planet of ours are bound by the same thing–time. King Solomon, who was King David’s and Bathsheba’s son, wrote the following in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

The Byrds’ song, Turn, Turn, Turn made some of these words of King Solomon’s famous back in 1965 (YouTube Video below). And we’ve all heard that expression, “Life is short.” While the young among us have no concept of just how fast life goes by, those of us who are much older are all too aware of just how fast it passes–in the blink of an eye.

We’ve all been admonished at some point in life to “not waste our life,” but what, exactly, does that mean? I ran across an article published on February 25, 2011, titled, Life is Short–So Don’t Waste It? by Dr. David A. “Gunner” Gundersen, lead pastor at BridgePoint Bible Church in Houston, TX, and here is what he has to say on the subject:

“Life is short.”

You hear it all the time.

You hear it all the time despite all our western attempts to look young, stay young, and never grow up, and despite our over-realized sense of national invincibility. The ticking clock, the graying hair, the growing children, and the changing times all remind us that our lives are blinkingly brief. One mention of your favorite high school CD around a group of middle schoolers reveals just how much the times have changed, and not because they don’t know the band but because they don’t know what a CD was. As a new friend told me several weeks ago as we were talking about making the most of our time with our young children: “The days are long but the years are short.”

Now, the contemporary church has no shortage of books, sermons, and mottos declaring exactly this lesson, because Scripture teaches its truth, experience echoes its veracity, and urgency requires its recognition. It serves as the grounding indicative for all kinds of urgent imperatives:

The general encouragement: “Life is short — make it count.”

The pleasant reminder: “Life is short — enjoy every minute.”

The negative warning: “Life is short — don’t waste it.”

The ministry exhortation: “Life is short — serve the Lord.”

The missional admonition: “Life is short — reach the nations.”

I have a problem with this.

My problem is not that any of the preceding urgings are wrongheaded or unscriptural. My problem is not that Christians (especially young ones) are constantly being told not to waste their lives. And my problem is not with the connection we typically make between the brevity of life and the call to urgency, purpose, focus, and diligence. They are scriptural. And they are needed.

My problem is that when Scripture talks explicitly about the brevity of life, it often emphasizes the opposite of our calls to ambitious action.

Take this morbid salvo from James: “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:15).

How would you expect James to follow up that statement?

I believe the contemporary church has already answered that question (see above).

We are a people who can’t help but do. We hear something like, “Life is short,” and our immediate application is “Do better,” “Work harder,” “Sacrifice more.” Whether pleasure or service or mission, we remember that life is short and we instantly think: Act.

Now, this is all fine and good and (sometimes) scriptural. But it’s worth reminding that in James 4:13-16, James is rebuking presumptuous businessmen who are declaring precisely what we usually begin to declare in our hearts when we’re hit with the “Life is short” reminder.

“Life is short… I better start doing ____.” “Life is short… I better not waste my opportunity to ____.” “Life is short… I’m going to step it up and ____.”

But what does James actually say? “Your life is a vapor. Therefore, you should stop making ambitious declarations about what you’re going to do and instead acknowledge that God is the one in control. Wake up from your arrogance and remember — only with his explicit blessing are you going to do anything, much less do what you’re so confidently planning to do. You don’t even control tomorrow.”

Even the declaration that I’m not going to waste my life can be arrogant boasting (4:16). Why? Because “you do not know what tomorrow will bring” (4:14). My noble resolution that I’m going to maximize my life could actually be an ignoble presumption that I will have a life to maximize. “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (4:15).

My point is simply this: The presumptuous declaration of what a man will ambitiously do with his own life is the exact mentality that God is rebuking when he says through James, “Your life is short.”

So how did a similar kind of declaration become our application anthem for the exact same phrase?

That question probably has more than a couple answers, all of them worth pondering.

Meanwhile, what is James’ exhortation?

“Your life is short. Make the most of it”?

No.

“Your life is short. Humble yourself.” (Quote source here.)

Life IS short. But sometimes we get it all wrong thinking that “doing” more is the answer. The briefest answer in the Bible as to how to live our lives from beginning to end is found in Micah 6:8:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

And it doesn’t get any simpler than that . . . .

Act justly . . .

Love mercy . . .

Walk humbly . . . .

YouTube Video: “Turn, Turn, Turn” (1965) by the Byrds:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Childlike Faith

From 1955 to 1999, “The Marlboro Man [stood out] worldwide as the ultimate American cowboy and masculine trademark, helping establish Marlboro as the best-selling cigarette in the world” (quote source here). Rugged and fiercely independent, the Marlboro Man became an icon of Americana, and his image sold billions of dollars of Marlboro cigarettes around the world (not that cigarette smoking is a good thing since it can severely damage one’s health over time).

As Americans, we love to see ourselves as fiercely independent as the Marlboro Man image that was represented in advertising during those years. We don’t like to have anyone telling us what to do or how to live. And that independent streak follows into everything we do in America. We like to be the Captain of our own ship, even if it eventually shipwrecks (but we certainly hope that it doesn’t).

While our independent streak is part of what has made America great, there is also another side to it. In a July 2015 article titled, Independence… Is It Really A Good Thing? by Cindi McMenamin, speaker and author, she opens her article with the following:

In a day and age when independence is praised, I wonder if it’s really a good thing when it comes to our relationship with God.

“God helps those who help themselves,” we say, as if quoting Scripture. Oh really? I believe Scripture implies God helps those who admit they can’t help themselves. The Apostle Paul, who probably considered himself quite independent before he met Christ, claimed the strength that comes through a total dependence on God when he said God’s “power is perfected in weakness.  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). (Quote source and entire article available at this link).

Power perfected in weakness isn’t something we often think about especially when it comes to acquiring any kind of power, yet it is at the core of what it means to be Christian–e.g., total dependence on God and not in ourselves. It is having a “childlike faith” that Jesus described in Matthew 18:1-7 and again in Matthew 19:13-14:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!” ~Matthew 18:1-7

Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” ~Matthew 19:13-14

In a 2016 article titled, 5 Characteristics of Childlike Faith,” by Barnabas Piper, author, speaker, and blogger at BarnabasPiper.com, he states:

Childish and childlike are similar words with vastly different meanings. The former encapsulates all the worst things about children – petulance, immaturity, obnoxiousness, selfishness, and so on. It is antithetical to faith.

The latter, though, describes all the beautiful things about children – trust, joy, innocence, curiosity, wonder, forgiveness, and so much more. This word, childlike, is the flavor our faith in God ought to have. What follows are five characteristics of childlike faith that make faith robust, rich, and full of life–like a child:

  1. Children ask honest questions
  2. Children ask openly
  3. Children ask with vulnerability
  4. Children don’t know what’s best but trust their parents
  5. Children trust and find satisfaction with parents

1) Children ask honest questions

By honest questions I mean questions that do not challenge or subvert or undermine. They simply want to know the truth. Yes, children are sinful and do challenge authority, but think of their curious questions, their eager questions, their innocent question. Each one has a single motive: teach me.

We forget this as adults because we encounter (or ask) so many loaded questions – questions with ulterior motives, meant to challenge, designed to undermine or embarrass. We become passive aggressive with our questions or just confrontational.

Children are not like this. They are just eager to know truth.

Childlike faith asks honest questions.

2) Children ask openly

Unlike adults, children do not fear for their reputation or image and do not care who is around when they ask a question. This can create some awkward situations when they wonder “why is that lady wearing that” or get curious in the feminine care aisle at Target.

But they simply want to know and think nothing at all of who knows they have a question. There is no shame and no embarrassment until we teach them to be embarrassed.

Children also focus only on the one they are asking with complete trust that an answer will be forthcoming. This is part of the reason they ask so openly; they are only thinking of one person, the one who can provide their answer.

Imagine if we prayed like this and were so singly focused on God that what others thought or who else might know of our questions, ignorance, worries, or doubts would be of no consequence.

Childlike faith asks openly.

3) Children ask from a place of vulnerability with the expectation of an answer

When they are little children see parents as omniscient. They expect parents to know everything, but over time are forced to come to grips with all the things parents don’t know.

Children instinctively know that their knowledge is limited, even if they can’t articulate it; that’s why they ask so many blasted questions. So to find out Dad and mom can’t answer all their questions takes a position of vulnerability and makes it feel uncertain and tenuous.

They start with total trust then grow out of it.

We don’t have to grow out of vulnerability and total trust in God, though. We can grow in it. Unlike parents, God does know everything, including so much that is beyond our capacity to ask or understand.

We can be utterly dependent, or rather admit our dependence. We can be completely vulnerable, honest, and open with our questions and we can expect that God will answer us with precisely what we need. Childlike faith is that which knows we don’t know, knows He does, and asks with the expectation that the answer He gives will be the right one.

We can be confident that even in our weakness, God’s grace is sufficient.

4) Children do not know what is best for them most of the time, but they trust their parents.

Parents generally know what is best for kids, or at least they know better than kids do. No candy for breakfast, don’t play in the street, don’t eat that glue, don’t poke the cat, eat your veggies, do your homework, don’t hit your sister.

Children get frustrated with these commands even though they are for their good just like we get frustrated with how God knows what is best for us and commands us accordingly.

Children don’t always understand why parents say “no” or “do this.” Often the reason is simply beyond their maturity or capacity for understanding. And despite griping and moaning, if parents are loving and generally stable, kids trust them. Kids have an incredible capacity for trust.

We understand even less about God’s reasons because of the depth and breadth of His wisdom and in the infinity of His mind. And we certainly gripe and moan and outright rebel against Him and occasionally throw a tantrum too. But because of His Word, His character, His promises, and all the ways He has shown His love we can absolutely trust Him.

Childlike faith trusts the parents.

5) Children trust and find satisfaction with parents.

Even if children are frustrated or confused by parents, so long as the parents show love the children will trust them deeply and take pleasure in their presence. Kids are home with parents.

Three years ago my family moved from Illinois to Tennessee. At the time my daughters were seven and four, and the move was pretty smooth for them. They were happy throughout the process with just a couple exceptions. That’s because they were with their parents. They were safe and loved and secure.

Imagine if we had handed them each a duffel bag and a bus ticket and sent them to Tennessee. It would have killed them, maybe literally.

How much more should we take pleasure in God’s presence even when we cannot understand His reasons and the future seems terribly uncertain.

We know His love, shown for us in Jesus that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. We know His promises: I will never leave you or forsake you, I will be with you always, nothing can separate you from the love of Christ, fear not for I am with you.

God is the answer to our questions and doubts and the soothing for our anxieties. His presence and love is what we need, always.

Children get this. They understand so little yet they are so much more right than we are. We have grown out of faith in so ways.

Childlike faith finds satisfaction with parents. (Quote source here.)

And, of course, God is our spiritual parent, but He’s so much more than that, too. In another article published in 2016 titled,Childlike Faith Is Not Childish,” by Rusty Osborne, Ph.D., assistant professor of biblical and theological studies at College of the Ozarks, he states:

Faith Like a Child?

“Childlike” isn’t a new term to anyone familiar with Christian thinking and practice. We’re often directed to passages like Mark 10:14: “Let the children come to me,” Jesus says. “Do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” The point: we should be childlike in our faith, trusting our heavenly Father the way a kid trusts his earthly parents.

The notion of childlike faith, though, is often morphed into something more troubling. I’ve often heard Christians rebut tough questions to the faith flippantly: “I don’t know; I mean, aren’t we supposed to have faith like a child? No one can know everything; we just need to leap like a child into our Father’s arms.” Or something like that. 

Sadly, in this context, “childlike faith” becomes like tar slapped on the pruned tree branch to prevent further growth. If there’s a problem in our understanding, or if we venture into uncharted theological waters, we can always retreat to the Neverland of childlike faith.

Childlike Faith vs. Childish Faith 

But childlike faith is not childish faith. The first resonates with and embraces the neediness, dependency, and smallness of those who understand their place in the kingdom of God. The second simply refuses to grow up. 

Over and over again in the New Testament we see the apostles exhort Christians to mature as Christians—to grow up in the gospel. Paul exhorts the church in Corinth toward Christian maturity, insisting that the apostolic wisdom he imparts will be grasped by the “mature [teleiois]” (1 Cor. 2:6). Later he writes: “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature [teleioi]” (1 Cor. 14:20).

Paul isn’t contradicting Jesus’s teaching about becoming like a child in order to inherit God’s kingdom. He’s simply recognizing that having childlike faith doesn’t mean celebrating childish thinking. In fact, he informs the Colossians that the focus and aim of his ministry is maturity:

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature [teleion] in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Col. 1:28–29)

Embracing childlike faith means we accept that Christ’s call to kingdom greatness looks like service and not harsh ruling, meekness and not selfish ambition, and continual dependence on God’s grace. Anyone who has pursued service, meekness, and dependence will tell you these characteristics don’t come easily to sinners. In fact, true childlike faith sees the necessity of growth in these areas and turns to the One source of life and strength for help…. (Quote source here.)

In a 2012 article titled, 7 Qualities of Childlike Faith,” by Tom Stuart, leader of Ignited2Pray Ministries, and founder of Bridgewood Community Church and Interactive Church Resources, he lists these seven qualities of childlike faith, and explanations of each one are available at this link:

[God] wants us to be ever childlike in our faith relationship with Him while continually putting aside our childish self-centered ways. 

Here then is a list of 7 qualities of childlike faith to which every Christian should aspire and seek to nurture, no matter what their age:

  1. Trusting
  2. Transparent
  3. Carefree
  4. Insistent
  5. Spontaneous
  6. Imaginative
  7. Joyful

As mentioned above, you can read explanations for each of those qualities at this link.

By now you know the difference between “childish” and “childlike.” Those seven attributes are very childlike, and that is what we should strive to be like all of the time. In fact, it could even save your life. Read what King David had to say in Psalm 116:6 (NLT)…

The Lord protects those of childlike faith . . .

I was facing death . . .

And He saved me . . . .

YouTube Video: “Giants Fall” by Francesca Battistelli:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Fuzzy Faith Fails (Revisited)

When I woke up this morning I knew I wanted to write a blog post on the subject of faith. I’ve written a number of blog posts on faith over the years, so I started going through my past blog posts on faith, and the very first one I wrote back on July 8, 2011, was titled, Fuzzy Faith Fails.” As I read it again this morning over seven years later, I decided it was a good way to open this blog post.

Do remember as you are reading it that I wrote it back when I had only been unemployed for two years and two months, and now I’ve been unemployed for 9 1/2 years, and a lot has happened between then and now. Also, I had not yet started putting YouTube videos at the end of my blog posts back then. Given that context, here is that blog post titled, Fuzzy Faith Fails,” from 2011:

Fuzzy Faith Fails

(published July 8, 2011)

Back in early April 2011 I wrote a blog post with this same title (Fuzzy Faith Fails) which I’ve since deleted but as I looked back and reread it three months later I realized something. I realized that I was becoming very cynical about what has been happening in Christianity here in America over the past few decades. While I am certainly not alone in my observations about the decline of Christianity both within the church and in the broader culture, the one thing I was not aware of was how it had jaded me. I must confess that for some time now it has been hard to find a church (well, mostly I stopped looking) because I didn’t want a church that followed church growth gurus or were trying to be relevant to the culture or hide behind a shallow “positive thinking” approach. And, I wasn’t looking for a rock concert before the sermon, or treating God like a good ole boy or magic genie waiting to fulfill my prayers if I just learned to pray right or be positive enough. But I also discovered that it was my own “fuzzy faith” that had failed as well.

I must confess that over the years my book collection went from solid Christian authors to the more dubious but prolific “Christian” authors whose books took over so much of the bookshelf space in Christian bookstores. And the focus of most of these books was and still is clearly on us and what we should be doing in order to get something from God. Oh, the titles aren’t as obvious as that and are couched in language to “sell” to our own fleshly needs and desires. And I read a lot of them. Talk about confusion! But I came to realize that I was looking for a magic bullet just like everybody else, and the one book I kept ignoring over and over again was the Bible.

My first realization of this was after I had lost my job in Houston in April 2009 and was still living there. The “positive attitude” messages I heard weekly from the pulpit of the megachurch I had been attending since I arrived in Houston in September 2008 suddenly rang shallow. The “smile and be positive and God will come to your rescue” messages fell flat. I had lost my job through some very adverse circumstances and I was getting “cotton candy” sermons that didn’t deal with the hard realities of life.

When I first moved to Houston I felt a very strong impression that I needed to start waking up a couple of hours earlier then I had been before work to read the Bible and pray, so I started doing this immediately even though I must confess it felt odd to me. This was definitely something I had never done on a regular basis before, even though I professed to being a Christian for years. It’s not that I didn’t read the Bible (I did, sporadically) or pray (also sporadically) but I absolutely had no clue about the reality of spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:10-18). The circumstances of my life for the past many years indicated an erosion I was totally unaware of because the focus of so many churches or televangelists was not on understanding what true discipleship requires but on being “relevant” to the culture and learning how to get what we want from God. The vacuum was huge.

Within a very short time after starting my daily devotional time in the mornings before work I discovered a hunger that I had not experienced since I was a very young Christian. Hebrews 4:12-13 states “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” What I discovered was that my own very shallow faith was being built up, day by day, on the very sound principles of Scripture and I was learning to build a relationship with Jesus Christ that surpassed anything I had known in the past. It is the very thing that helped me survive the unfortunate work situation I found myself in as I knew there would be no “happy ending” as the sermons I heard on Sunday morning promised if I was just positive enough. No, there is real evil in the world and sermons on “being positive” don’t prepare anyone for that kind of battle.

After rereading my first version of “Fuzzy Faith Fails,” I realized that the fight I was picking was big and that there are too many churches out there that have fallen away from the principles of the Bible and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I realize now that my anger was misdirected and that I still have issues to deal with in this area and that anger is not the way to address them. As a Christian, I am responsible for my own learning and should not be dependent solely on any church to build my relationship with Jesus Christ. That is not to say that the church isn’t important as the church is very important to the health of any believer, but in today’s society one must be careful of the church one chooses to be a part of, and that it is Biblical and not just trying to be relevant to the culture or serving our own desires.

I am so very aware of how much we are all just flawed human beings. I have always known that but I keep expecting people in churches to be different–to be kinder to each other; to not play games; to not gossip; to actually care about each other and not just their particular clique or group. There is no perfect church as all churches are made up of flawed human beings who aren’t always kind, who do play games at times, who do gossip (this one is prolific in most churches), and who only care about people “like them.” And I don’t have any answers to help remedy the situation (I’m so glad I’m not a pastor or a pastor’s wife).

I still struggle with all of this, but there is one thing that clearly stands out in my almost three years now since I moved to Houston to take the worst job of my life that has left me unemployed now for the past two years and two months: If I had not started to have a daily devotional time first thing every morning upon my arrival in Houston in September 2008 to really get to know Jesus Christ and the Bible, I would have never survived this whole ordeal. It was just way too big for me, and I was way too small. God has been my Protector and Provider through it all because I let go of myself and turned to Him when I didn’t even realize how far I had fallen into such an empty, fuzzy faith until then.

So, if you’re reading this and you want out of your own “fuzzy faith” and you’re wondering how to get started with a daily devotional time that really means something and isn’t just a ritual but a real building up of your faith and relationship with Jesus Christ that will stand the test of any trial you may be facing, let me make a suggestion. Lay aside your own wants or needs and start reading the Bible with Jesus in mind. The Gospel of John is a great place to start and then you might want to follow up with the book of Romans (written to a Christian audience where you will find both the very bad–keep reading–and the very good news). And, if you read with an open heart, you’ll find your way out of the fuzzy faith that has infected so many Christians today.  But don’t believe me, read it for yourself.

The title for this blog post came from a subtitle in the book, “Hard to Believe: The High Cost and Infinite Value of Following Jesus” (p. 187) by Dr. John MacArthur (Thomas Nelson, 2008). (Quote source here.)

I have literally (through my travels) covered a whole lot of ground in the seven years and two months since I wrote that blog post. And during this time while I’ve been building up my own faith, my knowledge of world affairs has grown exponentially, and things going on in our world today that were not even on my radar screen back in 2011 have come front and center.” The entire process has been like peeling an onion as each layer that has been removed has given me more knowledge, insight, and awareness of our current state of affairs over this time period. And knowledge is power even if the only thing you can do with it is change yourself.

What is going on in our world today is far, far bigger than anything I gave any thought to when I was just one of millions going off to work everyday and being consumed with things going on in my own small world. A movie titled, Closed Circuit (2013), recently reminded me of that fact–e.g., that there is a whole lot more going on “out there” then any of us have the power to control. And for those of us who call ourselves Christians, that battle isn’t ours to fight anyway at least in our own power (see 2 Chronicles 20:15).

However, in 1 Timothy 6:12, Paul reminds his protege, Timothy, that there is one battle that is ours to fight: “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (Read the verse in context in 1 Timothy 6:11-14).

In an article titled, Fight the Good Fight of Faith,” published on February 19, 2018, by Rick Renner, senior pastor of the Moscow Good News Church in Russia, author, and founder of Media Mir, the first Christian television network established in the former USSR (Russia), he states:

Many believers have the misconception that walking “by faith” means they should be able to effortlessly glide all the way to God’s destination for their lives with no hiccups or struggles along the way. But the Bible teaches quite the opposite in 1 Timothy 6:12. In that verse, the apostle Paul wrote, “Fight the good faith of faith….” According to this verse, the path of faith often requires a fight to see it through to completion.

The word “fight” is the Greek word “agonidzo,” which refers to “a struggle, a fight, great exertion, or effort.” It is where we get the word “agony”–a word often used in the New Testament to convey the ideas of “anguish, pain, distress, and conflict.” The word “agonidzo” itself comes from the word “agon,” which is the word that depicted the “athletic conflicts and competitions” that were so famous in the ancient world. It frequently pictured wrestlers in a wrestling match, with each wrestler struggling with all his might to overcome his opponent in an effort to hurl him to the ground in a fight to the finish.

The very fact that Paul would use this word, a word that was very well known in the world of his time, alerts us emphatically that when we step out to do something by faith, it often pushes us into a previously unknown fight. It throws us into some type of agony–anguish, conflict, pain, distress, or a struggle. It isn’t that God wants us to struggle. Instead, this is a fight that results from:

  • The flesh that resists the will of God.
  • The mind that struggles to understand what God has told us to do.
  • Circumstances that seem to stand in the way.
  • People who oppose us.
  • The devil himself who throws his weight against each step of faith we take.

The point you must see is that Paul recognized when we step out in faith, we don’t just effortlessly glide to the destination God is directing us toward. We must fight the good fight of faith to reach the victorious position that allows us to one day hear those cherished words, “Well done!” from our Commander-in-Chief. But rather than shrink from the match that is before us, the apostle Paul urges us to give this fight our best effort! He tells us, “Fight the good fight of faith…” The word “good” is from the Greek word “kalos,” which denotes something “exceptional, of the highest quality, outstanding, or superb.” In the context of a “fight,” it pictures one who has given his “best effort” to the struggle in which he is engaged; hence, he is one who is doing a “first-rate or first-class” job at resisting his opponents.

Then Paul repeated the word “fight” a second time in this verse. He wrote,Fight the good fight of faith….” This second usage of the word “fight” is also from the Greek word “agon”–the same word he used when he referred to a “fight” at the first of the verse. It conveys the idea of one who is giving his “complete concentration” to the conflict and is “totally focused on engaging the conflict” at hand and achieving victory, regardless how long it takes or how much agonizing effort is required. It is the picture of “total commitment to victory.”

This is a far cry from simply gliding to God’s destination for your life with no hiccups or headaches along the way! As Paul told us in this verse, anything that is done by faith will require a fight of some sort in order to win. So if you are experiencing a struggle along the path to your personal victory–if you’ve been fighting off some very real mental or spiritual assaults along the way–don’t be taken off guard or by surprise. The Holy Spirit warned in advance through the apostle Paul that you must commit yourself to giving the pursuit of God’s will for your life your very best effort and to doing whatever is necessary to finish the goal set before you!

God is calling upon you to stand up and fight–giving your concentrated efforts to “stand firm” for what you believe. Fight in a manner that is noble, admirable, and worthy of the reward that awaits you. And remember–the greater reward usually requires a greater fight. Keep this in mind as you press forward to be first-class in your determination to overcome every obstacle and resistance along the way. Stay in the fight until you can shout, “The fight is finished and victory obtained!” (Quote source here.)

And that’s the only kind of faith there is–a fighting faith that doesn’t give up. I’ll end this post with a few words from 1 Corinthians 15:58 that admonish us to . . .

Stand firm . . . .

And let nothing . . .

Move you . . . .

YouTube Video: “Good Fight” by Unspoken:

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Love Does

The Most Reverend Doctor Foley Beach, Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America, and Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of the South, headquartered in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia, opened his article titled, Loving One Another Like Jesus,” with the following words: “One of the distinguishing marks of a follower of Jesus is supposed to be our love for one another. Jesus said this love for one another would be how people would know that we are his people” (John 13:35). He went on to state:

On the night before he was crucified, he exhorted his disciples: “A new commandment I give to you: Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34). The commandment to love was not new as Leviticus 19:18 taught God’s people to love their neighbors as they love themselves. What is new is that Jesus adds that God’s people are to love one another as “he” loved. This begs the question: How did Jesus love?

Jesus loved by sharing his life and entering into our world. He left the glory, power, and majesty of heaven and entered our world (John 1:14). He was born as a baby and shared life with us. To love as Jesus loved means to leave the comfort and security of our own world and enter into another’s world by sharing one’s life. This could mean going to another culture and loving people, or this could simply mean entering into the world of those people you live with every day.

Jesus loved by serving humanity. He taught, healed people of their diseases, performed miracles, walked many miles, and washed feet. He said: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” (Mark 10:45). To love as Jesus loved means that it is not about me. It is about how I can help the other person. It is about how I can make their life better by serving them.

Jesus loved by sacrificing his life. His death on the cross made atonement for sin which humanity couldn’t make. Its power brings about forgiveness of sins and allows humans to have a personal relationship with God: “But God demonstrates His own love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). To love as Jesus loved means sacrificing selfish desires and ambitions for the sake of another. It means taking up one’s cross daily and dying to my selfish ways so that others may be blessed.

Many of us have bought into the “love is a feeling” concept, which is popular in our culture. If I feel love, I love you. If I don’t feel love, I don’t love you. Jesus has modeled for us that real love is about what I do and say, not just about what I feel. It is about sharing oneself. It is about service to the other. It is about sacrifice for the sake of the other person.

What would happen if followers of Jesus began to take seriously his new commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you”? (Quote source here.)

The world “love” is tossed around so casually today that it doesn’t have much meaning beyond a feeling, which is not always actually love (for example, as in lust). We say things like “I love my car,” or “I love my friends,” or “I love my job” (that one might not be as popular), but it’s not really, at it’s core, what genuine love is all about. Love is an action word. It requires that we do something beyond just saying, “I love you.”

The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 12:9-21:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Paul goes on to state in 1 Corinthians 13:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient,
love is kind.
It does not envy,
it does not boast,
it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others,
it is not self-seeking,
it is not easily angered,
it keeps no record of wrongs.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

That pretty much says what needs to be said about love. It’s up to us to put it into action. I’ll end this post with the words from the chorus to the song, The Message is Love (YouTube video below). which states: Love is the message and the message is love, From the streets to the mountains to the heavens above. Tell everybody what you’re dreaming of . . .

That love is the message . . .

And the message . . .

Is LOVE . . . .

YouTube Video: “The Message is Love” (1990) by Arthur Baker & The Backbeat Disciples (ft. Rev. Al Green):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Faith vs. Doubt

There’s a story in Mark 9 about a father who has a child who is possessed by an evil spirit that has robbed his child of his speech; and it seizes him and throws him to the ground, and causes him to foam at the mouth and become rigid. It’s a story that is not often referenced in many pulpits today because it doesn’t fit in with the genre of Christianity most often heard today. We don’t like to talk about evil spirits or the supernatural (better yet, we tend to think folks who believe in them might be a bit, well, crazy); yet the Bible is quite clear that they exist, and Jesus often dealt with evil spirits who inhabited people. Let’s look at the story mentioned above in Mark 9:14-29 (NIV):

Jesus Heals a Boy Possessed by an Impure Spirit

When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.

“What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.

A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

“You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer and fasting.”

First off, this blog post is not about the subject of evil spirits. It is about the subject of faith versus doubt. But if a reading of the above passage makes anyone uncomfortable, it most likely speaks to the matter of just how uncomfortable we are in dealing with the supernatural. However, God operates in the world of the supernatural; and so does evil. Ephesians 6:10-18 is quite clear on this matter:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

In my last blog post, Unshakable Hope,” which is the title of Max Lucado’s newest book, he devotes a chapter (Chapter 12) to the subject of the Holy Spirit’s power in our (believers) lives. That chapter is titled, You Will Have Power” (an excerpt from that chapter is available at this link). Here are a few sentences from this excerpt:

Many believers settle for a two-thirds God. They rely on the Father and the Son but overlook the Holy Spirit. You wouldn’t make that mistake with a tripod, trike, or prism. You certainly don’t want to make that mistake with the Trinity. Your Bible refers more than a hundred times to the Holy Spirit. Jesus says more about the Holy Spirit than He does about the church or marriage. In fact, on the eve of His death, as He prepared His followers to face the future without Him, He made this great and precious promise:

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you. — Acts 1:8

Imagine all the promises Jesus could have made to the disciples but didn’t. He didn’t promise immediate success. He didn’t promise the absence of disease or struggles. He never guaranteed a level of income or popularity. But He did promise the perpetual, empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is central to the life of the Christian. Everything that happens from the book of Acts to the end of the book of Revelation is a result of the work of the Holy Spirit of Christ. The Spirit came alongside the disciples, indwelled them, and gave the early church the push they needed to face the challenges ahead. (Quote source here.)

So why is it that we (Christians) are often embarrassed to address, or comes to grips with, the supernatural world when the Bible makes quite clear that it exists and that, in fact, it is more real then the physical world we live in? We may acknowledge the Holy Spirit (some denominations do more than others), but we shy clear away from dealing with evil spirits or, as they like to refer to evil in movies, “the Dark Side.” Hollywood has made a killing off of movies that focus entirely on this “dark side,” yet many Christians find it hard to deal with the subject or perhaps even call anyone who might actually believe in evil spirits as being a bit on the crazy side. Well, was Jesus crazy? No, he was not, even though his family thought he was out of his mind (see Mark 3:20-21, and this article titled, Jesus and His Family,” at Ligonier Ministries).

In looking at the story in Mark 9 of–well, yes–the child possessed by an evil spirit that the disciples were unsuccessful at getting rid of from the boy, what was Jesus response? At first, it was a hard response:

“You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

Unbelief–doubt–was at the core of why the disciples were unsuccessful in their attempt to rid the boy of the evil spirit. And what did Jesus do?

[Jesus] rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.”But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer and fasting.”

The issue at stake is this–are we an “unbelieving generation” who claims to believe, or do we really possess the faith to believe in all kinds of circumstances and situations–a faith that sometimes requires both prayer and fasting? And it’s not just about this story of the evil spirit who was ruining that young boy’s life and the inability of Jesus’ disciples to help the boy. Read on . . . 

In a book titled, Lord Change My Attitude Before It’s Too Late (2001, 2008, 2015) by James MacDonald, DMin, founding and senior pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel and Bible teacher for his broadcast ministry, Walk in the Word, he covers five negative attitudes (e.g., complaining, covetous, critical, doubting, and rebellious) and their attitudinal solutions (being thankful, contentment, love, faith, and submission). Specifically, Chapter 7, “Replacing a Doubting Attitude…” and Chapter 8, “…With an Attitude of Faith” deal with the topic of this blog post.

Dr. MacDonald uses Number 13:1-14:11 as the context for Chapter 7 (when the Israelites rebelled at God’s command and listened, instead, to the “majority report” of the spies); and Hebrews 11 (the “Hall of Faith” chapter in the Bible) as the context for Chapter 8. Regarding Chapter 7 (pp. 167-187) MacDonald states:

Doubt is the mindset that keeps saying, “Well, I just don’t know if God will keep His promises….” Doubt involves a settled and persistent choice to live with uncertainty. It’s not the stubborn “show me” of Thomas [a disciple of Jesus who doubted Jesus’ resurrection until he could actually touch Jesus after he was resurrected], that went looking for answers, but the steady unresolved attitude of Jonah that said, in effect, “I don’t know and I don’t care. I don’t believe and nobody can change that.”

Such doubt is dangerous. It’s destructive and completely detrimental to any kind of relationship with God. I mean, if you don’t have confidence that God will keep His promises, what do you have? (Quote source: “Lord, Change My Attitude,” p. 168).

In this chapter MacDonald gives us five principles that God uses to test our faith (as well as our doubt). I will briefly state each one here and then you can get a copy of the book for further reading.

Principle One: God places regular tests of faith before His children (pp. 169-172): “Faith is so important and doubt is so detrimental that God places regular tests of faith in front of his children, These are not intended for our failure but for our success” (p. 169).

Principle Two: The circumstances of life will either shrink or stretch your faith (pp. 172-176): MacDonald describes over the next few pages an harrowing experience that happened to his middle son, Landon, right after he was born. The result was that Landon was miraculously healed. As MacDonald states, “I know very well that the medical crisis could have gone a different way. I could tell you other stories about when I trusted God just as much, but things didn’t turn out the way I thought they should. All that to say this: God places regular tests of faith in front of us” (pp. 175-176).

Principle Three: Doubt sees the obstacles; faith sees the opportunities (pp. 176-180): “Two people can look at the same situation and see the exact opposite. One heart filled with doubt focuses only on the obstacles. Another person, looking at the same situation, not filled with doubt but filled with faith, can only see the opportunity” (p. 176).

Principle Four: When surrounded by doubters, doubting comes easy (pp. 180-183): “Doubting comes easy when all my best friends, my coworkers, and my neighbors… are not filled with faith, and I’m continually surrounded by doubters…. Here are four reasons doubts come so easily: (1) Doubting is contagious; (2) doubting is passive–faith requires action, doubting does not; (3) Doubting satisfies our tendency towards self-protection–nobody likes to be wrong; and (4) Doubters are easier to find than friends of faith” (pp. 181-183).

Principle Five: It’s a short journey from doubt to despair (pp. 183-184): Doubt never stands still. It’s always sliding somewhere worse. It’s a short journey from doubt to despair. It’s not weeks, nor months; it’s just a matter of a few days. A crisis can make the trip very short. In the case of the children of Israel, who were really good at doubting, reaching despair was a matter of only a few hours (see Number 14:2-4)” (p. 183).

Now it’s time for some positive reinforcement found in Chapter 8 with an attitude of faith (pp. 190-211):

The Christian life is a life of faith. Genuine believers trust God and exercise active confidence in God. They believe the Word of God [the Bible], and act upon it no matter how they feel, because God promises a good result. When I’m doing that, I’m going forward in a phenomenal way spiritually. When I’m not doing that, I’m backing up and losing ground and falling away from Him. (Quote source: “Lord, Change My Attitude,” p. 202).

MacDonald starts off by stating what faith is not on page 190:

  • Faith is not an ostrich, head-in-the-sand and denying the obvious or the inevitable. It’s not pretending that something is real when deep down you really don’t believe it. That’s fear, not faith.
  • Faith is not anti-intellectual, either. Faith is not a warm feeling that requires you to check your intellect at the door. That’s feeling, not faith.
  • Faith is not a stained-glass and dreamy sort of “Little-House-on-the-Prairie” escapism. I cannot stay in church again, hiding from reality, ignoring the world around me. That’s fluff, not faith.
  • Faith is not some motivational seminar, with some high-powered guru calling for breathing exercises or self-relaxation and self-confidence, telling you to picture a better future. That’s fad, not faith.
  • It’s not some stupid positive mental attitude, a you-have-to-keep-believing thing. It’s not ignoring the pain and embracing optimism regardless of the evidence in front of you. That’s foolishness, not faith (p. 190).

Genuine faith is as follows (on pp. 191-211):

Faith is rooted in a God who is real! Faith finds itself founded on a person–the creator God of the universe. The One who created the universe is with you this moment! He loves you. Faith is active confidence in the God who has revealed Himself, not some presumptuous uncertainty about someone, somewhere out is space. God has proven Himself real again and again, and if you’ve not experienced His reality, you can (p. 191).

Faith has substance (read Hebrews 11). “I take a need before God in prayer. My faith, my active confidence in God, in the thing that I hold on to while I wait to see how the Lord is going to answer what I’ve brought before Him. If I have a painful circumstance in my life and I’m asking God to change that or to change me, my faith is the substance that I hold while I wait upon God to do the things that I’ve asked Him to do. So faith is substance” (p. 192).

Faith is also evidence.Psalm 90:1 says, ‘Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.’ People have been trusting God for thousands of years. This is not a foolish thing to do. The faithfulness of God–not just in generations past, but in my own life–provides me with evidence” (p. 192).

Faith is believing the Word of God. “Faith is so integral to the Christian life that over the years we’ve boiled it down to a very practical definition: ‘Faith is believing the Word of God and acting upon it, no matter how I feel, because God promises a good result.'”Believing is “I have all my eggs is that basket. I’ve got all my dreams in that place. I’m 100 percent in, and I don’t have an escape route.” That’s faith (p. 193).

One final note on faith (there is so much more in the book). “Acting upon our faith (e.g., faith without works is dead, see James 2:14-26) will impact every area of life, including our families, our finances, and even our sense of fulfillment” (quote p. 195; see pp. 195-211). On page 201 is this statement:

Faith is not part of the Christian life. It’s not like patience or kindness or other character traits. It’s not one part among many other assorted components that may or may not be lacking in our lives at any one time. It’s not like teaching or showing compassion or ministering or other Christian activities. It’s not like worship or prayer or meditation or other actions that we take toward God. Those are all parts.

Faith… is not a part of the Christian life; it’s the whole thing (p. 201).

Yes, it IS the whole thing! I’ll end this post with Hebrews 11:6But without faith it is impossible to please Him [God] for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder…

Of those . . .

Who diligently . . .

Seek Him . . . .

YouTube Video: “Everything” by TobyMac:

Photo #1 credit here
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Unshakable Hope

The title of this blog post comes from the latest book hot off the press written by Max Lucado titled, appropriately, Unshakable Hope (2018). Max Lucado is a best-selling Christian author and senior pastor at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas. He “has spent the last 40 years telling the story of God’s grace in books, in pulpits, on broadcasts, on music tours…every chance he gets” (quote source here).

This book is Max Lucado’s fortieth book. As he states in his “Acknowledgments” page at the opening of the book:

Forty.

Noah floated for 40 days in the flood.

Moses spent 40 years in the desert.

The Hebrews wandered 40 years in the wilderness.

Jesus endured 40 days of temptation.

There’s something significant about the number 40.

So if you’ll allow me to mention the fact, this is my fortieth book. No one could be more grateful than I am. To think that God would let a converted drunk prone to self-promotion and self-centeredness, write one page, much less forty books’ worth, is yet another testimony to his goodness and grace.

Thank you, Father. (Quote source: “Unshakable Hope,” page XIII.) [He then goes on to thank an “invaluable team of colleagues and friends” for their help and assistance.]

Forty books . . . I can’t imagine writing one. And while I haven’t read all forty of Max Lucado’s books, they are always inspirational, and the same goes for his latest offering. On the inside front cover of his latest book, it states:

What is shaking in your world?

Possibly your future, your faith, your family, or finances? It’s a shaky world out there. Could you use some unshakable hope?

If so, you are not alone. Hope in hard to come by these days. Many people believe this world is as good as it gets, and let’s face it, it’s not that good.

Though we’ve never been more educated, entertained, and connected, the suicide rate in America has increased 24 percent since 1999–24 percent. How can this be?

One of the reasons must be this: people are dying from lack of hope.

But what if we filtered our lives and our challenges through the promises of God? God’s promises are pine trees in the Rocky Mountains of Scripture: abundant, unending, and perennial.

Because life is filled with problems. God’s Word is filled with promises. In “Unshakable Hope,” Max Lucado unpacks a dozen of the Bible’s most significant promises, equipping us to overcome difficult circumstances, experience lasting security, and make wise decisions.

These promises work. They can secure you in the midst of horrific storms. They can buoy you in the day-to-day difficulties. When the winds and waves of life rage, God’s promises are like lights on the shoreline, guiding us home.

And since his Word is unbreakable, our hope is unshakable. (Quote course: “Unshakable Hope,” inside front cover.)

A description on Amazon.com for the book includes the following:

After forty years of counseling and ministry, Max Lucado has learned that nothing lifts the desperate, weary heart like the promises of God. In a world full of despair, depression, anxiety, and instability, we do not need more opinions or hunches; we need the definitive declarations of our mighty and loving God. 

“Unshakable Hope” examines twelve of God’s promises that Max has turned to over the years to encourage himself and others. Each chapter explores one significant promise and reveals how it will equip you to:

  • Overcome challenging circumstances
  • Live through sadness and renew hope
  • Experience lasting security
  • Make wise decisions 

What is your life built on—the circumstances of life or the promises of God? The answer to that question changes everything. For every problem in life, God has given you a promise. Join Max as he takes a closer look at Scripture’s unbreakable promises and shows you how to live with an unshakable hope. (Quote source here.)

An excerpt from Chapter 11 in the book titled, Joy is Soon Coming,” is available online at this link. Here are a few sentences from that excerpt:

Joy comes. Watch for it. Expect it as you would the morning sunrise or the evening twilight. It came to Mary Magdalene. And it will come to you, my friend.

Keep coming to Jesus. Even though the trail is dark. Even though the sun seems to sleep. Even though everyone else is silent, walk to Jesus. Mary Magdalene did this. No, she didn’t comprehend the promise of Jesus. She came looking for a dead Jesus, not a living one. But at least she came. And because she came to Him, He came to her.

And you? You’ll be tempted to give up and walk away. But don’t. Even when you don’t feel like it, keep walking the trail to the empty tomb. Open your Bible. Meditate on Scripture. Sing hymns. Talk to other believers. Place yourself in a position to be found by Jesus, and listen carefully. That gardener very well might be your Redeemer.

Weeping comes. It comes to all of us. Heartaches leave us with tear-streaked faces and heavy hearts. Weeping comes. But so does joy. Darkness comes, but so does the morning. Sadness comes, but so does hope. Sorrow may have the night, but it cannot have our lives. (Quote source here.)

Another excerpt from Chapter 12 titled, You Will Have Power,” is also available online at this link. This chapter is on the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us. Here are a few sentences from this excerpt:

Many believers settle for a two-thirds God. They rely on the Father and the Son but overlook the Holy Spirit. You wouldn’t make that mistake with a tripod, trike, or prism. You certainly don’t want to make that mistake with the Trinity. Your Bible refers more than a hundred times to the Holy Spirit. Jesus says more about the Holy Spirit than He does about the church or marriage. In fact, on the eve of His death, as He prepared His followers to face the future without Him, He made this great and precious promise:

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you. — Acts 1:8

Imagine all the promises Jesus could have made to the disciples but didn’t. He didn’t promise immediate success. He didn’t promise the absence of disease or struggles. He never guaranteed a level of income or popularity. But He did promise the perpetual, empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is central to the life of the Christian. Everything that happens from the book of Acts to the end of the book of Revelation is a result of the work of the Holy Spirit of Christ. The Spirit came alongside the disciples, indwelled them, and gave the early church the push they needed to face the challenges ahead.

Perhaps you could use a push.

Several years ago when my legs were stronger, my belly was flatter, and my ego was bigger, I let my friend Pat convince me to enter a bike race. Not just any bike race, mind you, but a race that included a one and a half mile climb up a steep hill with a gradient of 12 percent. In other words it was a tough, climb-out-of-the-saddle, set-your-thighs-on-fire, and prepare-to-suck-air-for-ten-minutes section of the race. Appropriately called the Killer Diller, it lived up to the hype.

I knew its reputation. Still, I signed up because Pat, my riding buddy, told me I could make it. Easy for Pat to say. He is fifteen years my junior and has competed since his elementary school days. He was riding in pelotons before most of us knew what they were. When I balked at the idea of completing the race, he assured me, “Believe me, Max. You will make it.”

I almost didn’t.

In quick fashion the riders who belonged there left those of us who didn’t far behind. We, the barrel-bellied laggards, made jokes about the upcoming ascent. But we didn’t joke for long. It takes wind to talk. We soon needed all the wind we could muster to climb. I pushed and huffed and puffed, and about that point the ascent began. By the time I was halfway to the top, my thighs were on fire, and I was having less-than-pleasant thoughts about my friend Patrick.

That is when I felt the push. A hand was pressing against the small of my back. I turned and looked. It was Pat! He had already completed the race. Anticipating my utter exhaustion, he had hurried back up the hill, dismounted his bike, and scurried to give me a hand. Literally. He began pushing me up the hill! (The fact that he could keep up with me tells you how slowly I was pedaling.) “I told you that you would make it,” he shouted. “I came to make sure you did.”

The Holy Spirit promises to do the same. After Jesus ascended into Heaven, the Holy Spirit became the primary agent of the Trinity on earth. He will complete what was begun by the Father and the Son. Though all three expressions of the Godhead are active, the Spirit is taking the lead in this, the final age.

The Spirit promises to give us power, unity, supervision, and holiness: P-U-S-H. Need a push?

He promises power to the saint. He is the animating force behind creation.

All creatures look to Youto give them their food at the proper time. When You give it to them, they gather it up; when You open your hand, they are satisfied with good things. When You hide Your face, they are terrified;when You take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. When You send your Spirit, they are created,and you renew the face of the ground. — Psalm 104:27-30

Every unfolding flower is a fingerprint of God’s Spirit.

If God were to withdraw His Spirit, all life would disappear and mankind would turn again to dust.— Job 34:14-15 TLB

The Spirit of God is a life-giving force to creation and, more significantly, a midwife of new birth for the believer. Jesus told Nicodemus:

Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.” The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.— John 3:5-8

The Holy Spirit enters the believer upon confession of faith (Ephesians 1:13). From that point forward the Christian has access to the very power and personality of God. As the Spirit has His way in the lives of believers, a transformation occurs. They begin to think the way God thinks, love the way God loves, and see the way God sees. They minister in power and pray in power and walk in power.

This power includes the gifts of the Spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.— Galatians 5:22-23

These attributes appear in the life of the saint in the same way an apple appears on the branch of an apple tree. Fruit happens as a result of relationship. Sever the branch from the tree, and forget the fruit. Yet if the branch is secured to the trunk, nutrients flow, and fruit results.

So it is with the fruit of the Holy Spirit. As our relationship with God is secured and unmarred by rebellion, sin, or stubborn behavior, we can expect a harvest of fruit. We needn’t force it. But we can expect it. It simply falls to us to stay connected.

Want to see [the Holy Spirit’s] to-do list?

The list of his activities is varied, wonderful, and incomplete without this word: holy. The Spirit of God also makes us holy. After all, is He not the Holy Spirit? One of His primary activities is to cleanse us from sin and to sanctify us for holy work. Paul reminded the Corinthians:

But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. — 1 Corinthians 6:11

Make it your aim to sense, see, and hear the Spirit of God. Would you use a two-legged tripod? Two-wheeled trike? Two-sided prism? Of course not. Avail yourself of all God has to offer. Fix your heart on this promise: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you” (Acts 1:8). (Quote source here.)

I hope these two excerpts have whet your appetite for more. Max Lucado’s latest book is available at most bookstores and online as well. If you’re needing some encouragement today (and who isn’t), let this book full of God’s promises encourage you (as well, of course, as the Bible). And when you think you’re reaching a point of giving up and throwing in the towel, remember that it is not your power, but God’s power, that will sustain you. Just ask…. 

You will receive power . . .

When the Holy Spirit . . .

Comes on you . . . .

YouTube Video: “Don’t Give Up” by Calling Glory:

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The Journey to Joy

I just finished a blog post on my new blog, Reflections,” and I decided I would share it on this blog since the readership is much higher, and the topic is on “joy” in whatever circumstances we may happen to find ourselves in right now (or any other time, too). Here it is . . . .

This past Sunday I heard a sermon on TV by Joel Osteen, senior pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, titled Keep Your Joy (click here for YouTube Video of the sermon). It was a very good reminder of just how important it is for us to keep our joy in the midst of trying circumstances, whether it’s the daily hassle of dealing with rush hour traffic or something more long term such as losing a job and whole lot more that can come along with it, or coming to terms with the death of a significant other– a parent, sibling, friend, etc.

I tend to believe that joy is difference from happiness. Joy doesn’t depend on the immediate external circumstances but comes from within and has deep roots if we’ve learned how to cultivate joy in our lives. Happiness, on the other hand, is a more immediate feeling that comes from something good (usually external) that has happened in our lives, such as listening to a favorite song on the radio that we haven’t heard in years; or a sunny day after days of dreary weather, or a job promotion… it’s any number of things that bring a smile to our face.

Joy has more depth. Happiness is flighty–here today and gone tomorrow. Joy sticks around when happiness is long gone. Joy is in it for the long haul. Joy is still there when the job is lost, or the divorce is final, or the parent dies.

An article titled, What is the Difference between Joy and Happiness?” found on CompellingTruth.org states the difference between the two:

Happiness is based on an experience or other external stimulus. For instance, getting engaged to be married may result in happiness. Happiness also tends to disappear when the situation changes. If, shortly after becoming engaged, a person wrecks his/her car, the happiness generated by the pleasurable experience of becoming engaged will most likely disappear because of the terrible experience of wrecking the car. The Greek word translated “happy” in the New Testament appears approximately fifty times in the New Testament. Five times it is translated “happy” and forty-five times it is translated “blessed” (numbers vary in different translations).

On the other hand, joy is based on internal well-being or the anticipation of well-being. To follow the above example, an engaged couple is often not happy. Circumstances in their lives—disagreements, for example—are not pleasurable and generate unhappiness rather than happiness. But, at the same time, most engaged couples would say they have joy almost all the time because of their anticipated marriage. The joy they have is independent of the current circumstances. The New Testament has several words that are translated “joy” or “rejoice” in the New Testament, and they appear several hundred times. 

One of the most striking places is in James 1:2, where the Scripture says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” Having “trials of various kinds” will definitely not lead to happiness, but Christians are told that it is reason for joy. The reason for joy is found in the following two verses, “for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4). Joy here is based on the anticipated results of the trials, not the trials themselves. 

Another place in Scripture that emphasizes joy is the entire book of Philippians. Paul wrote this book from prison in Rome, which was not a happy place. He begins with a profession of joy in chapter 1, verses 3 through 6, when he says “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” He didn’t say that he was happy—indeed, circumstances fought against that—but he prayed with joy because of the confidence he had in the anticipated results of God’s work. He admits that some were preaching the gospel thinking it would cause trouble for Paul, but he goes on to say, “… what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (Philippians 1:18 NIV). Paul goes on to exhort the Philippians to seek a relationship with God that will bring them joy.

It is evident in the Scriptures that joy because of our relationship with God is to be desired more than happiness in our circumstances. Happiness may be good, but joy is much better. Happiness is often fleeting because circumstances change, but joy in Christ is eternal. (Quote source here.)

In an article titled, Is there a Relationship Between Happiness and Joy?” by Dr. Cheryl A. MacDonald, clinical psychologist, RN, writer, and business owner, she states:

Happiness is subjective. What matters is someone’s perception of happiness. Scientists say this emotion can be studied and measured because people can reliably and honestly self-report their increases and decreases in happiness levels. Joy is a state of mind, a combination of emotions, and in the spiritual context is localized in our heart. Joy contains elements of contentment, confidence and hope….

Happiness is a blurred emotion. It can mean different things to many people, and part of a psychologist’s quest is to identify all of the distinctive applications of the word. Most of us will agree that happiness is an emotional state of well-being defined by positive feelings ranging from contentment to intense joy. Those who believe in positive psychology strive to apply research methods to answer questions about what happiness is and how it can be attained. It is well known that happy people are physically and emotionally healthier than unhappy ones. There is evidence suggesting that individuals can increase their level happiness with actions like exercising to release endorphins. It is also well known that various practices have been associated with happiness, such as eating well…. 

Being joyful requires feeling connected to other people in life, with nature, by appreciating the arts, and it requires an acceptance of life, as it is, in the present. Sometimes life does not treat us well, financial devastation, becoming ill, a divorce, developing a chronic illness, becoming disabled, death of a loved one, or adapting to growing older. These transitions or challenges are all aspects of life, and we all will experience them in varying degrees until the day we die. Some believe that joy is a conscious commitment to be happy, to have a sense of contentment for the moment, despite life’s challenges. Joy is an internal lasting emotional condition…. 

Joy is an attitude or a belief, which soothes even in the most sorrowful of situations. Joy comes from within; it is an internal view.  Joy in the Biblical context, is not an emotion. It is not based on something positive happening in life, but is an attitude of the heart or spirit….

Is there a relationship between happiness and joy? Yes and No. Joy is something that lasts. Happiness is something that is temporary. Joy is an inner, conscious belief. Happiness is external. Something people may feel for a short time, for example, when they buy something that they desire. Joy brings with it a feeling of contentment when someone is in the middle of a life storm. Happiness is not present in a life storm….

[So] strive to feel the consistency of joy, and, of course have a little happiness in your life today! (Quote source here.)

Need more joy in your life (regardless of your circumstances)? Ask for it. Jesus stated in John 16:24Until now you have asked nothing in My name…

Ask, and you will receive . . .

That your joy . . .

May be full . . . .

YouTube Video: “Joy” by for KING & COUNTRY:

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