Discerning the Times

Merriam-Webster defines discernment as “the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure; skill in discerning; an act of perceiving or discerning something” (quote source here).

2020 has certainly been an interesting year so far–a year unlike any other in recent history thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic and everything else that has come from it. While pandemics are nothing new in the history of the World (see this link for the 20 top pandemics in history), most of us have never experienced a pandemic on the level of this particular pandemic known as Coronavirus or Covid-19.

And, in a few short days, another presidential election is taking place here in the USA, and it is one of the most fiercely contentious elections of our time, capable of fracturing friendships, relationships (social, church, familial, and work/business related), and every other social unit in our society. As volatile as it has been you might even be convinced that Armageddon (and no, not the 1998 movie starring Bruce Willis) is right around the corner.

However, in the midst of all of this “stuff” that 2020 has thrown our way, the good news is this: Stop watching the news on TV (I can almost guarantee that you’ll start feeling better), and wear a mask when around others at a close distance (whether you believe wearing a mask helps or not), and things will start looking brighter… I say that tongue in cheek as recently I went without a TV for almost three weeks after I moved from a hotel room that supplied a 42″ wall mounted TV in the room to an unfurnished apartment where I needed to buy my own TV, and it took almost three weeks before I got to the point where I bought a small 32″ flatscreen TV. And during those “no TV” three weeks I discovered a tranquility of sorts that I had not felt in a long time because I was no longer getting a daily dose of “news” from the TV.

The title of this post (it is not meant to sound ominous) has more to do with discerning the times in our own personal lives then in world events, so scratch off “Armageddon” as the main theme. It’s hard enough discerning our own place and time in history without taking it to a global level. What made me think about it is due to how suddenly my life changed back at the beginning of October when I found this apartment to rent after six years of hotel room living while trying to find an affordable income based senior apartment in a senior apartment complex. None ever opened up to me in all that time, and when I decided in late September that I was done searching for it, I found this apartment (not in a senior complex) practically “overnight.” I’m still shocked at just how fast it happened. I’m very happy about it, too. However, it has been an adjustment going from living in a hotel room to living back in an apartment after six plus years.

It also reminds me of something stated in James 4:13-14:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

None of us knows what tomorrow will bring, even with all of our plans and assumptions. As I look back on my six years of hotel room living that I never thought would last so long, I’ve lost count of the number of times I prayed for God to open another door and provide me with an apartment in an income-based senior apartment complex, but it never happened. However, I never had a clue that I would end up finding an apartment where I am now living as it seemed out of the realm of possibility. It wasn’t even on my radar screen, but it feels exactly like this is where I am supposed to live for now. And after six very long years of looking, suddenly this opportunity opened up to me.

I’ve written previous blog posts on the topic of the bigger picture that is always going on all around us on a daily basis, and in God’s economy that “bigger picture” that He sees and orchestrates that we do not see is always at work (see Isaiah 55:8-9). He sees the entire tapestry of history in the making, and we are all pieces in it but we cannot see the whole picture.

In my last blog post published 12 days ago titled, Never Too Late,” in an article titled, God’s Waiting Room,” by Dr. Duane Durst, he stated, “Waiting on God requires us to put aside our way of doing things and trust His timing and plan.” While God is always working on the “bigger picture,” He is also always working on us individually and especially during prolonged times of waiting.

As I look back on my six years of hotel room living and even previous to that going back to when I lost my last job in my career field over 11 years ago that started me down this path I have taken for the past dozen years, I can look back on that time and see some major changes in my life that evolved over time–positive changes–and my whole world opened up in ways I never would have experienced or understood had my life kept going down the “status quo” career path it had been taking. I became aware of a lot of things going on in our society and around the world that I never would have known had it not been for these past 11 plus years. And in the process I’ve learned a lot about myself that has widened my world and given me some life experiences I never would have had, and yes, that includes hotel living. You’d be amazed at how many people in our society have no other housing option other then living in hotel rooms.

In an article titled, 5 Ways God Shapes You,” by Dr. Saundra Dalton, a Board Certified internal medicine physician, she writes:

Clay is not easy to work with. One day my son returned from school with a white substance on his clothes. When I asked about it he replied, “Sorry mom, my clay was too wet.” His class was attempting to make cups as gifts, but someone put too much water in the clay mixture. Instead of a firm sturdy, pliable clay that could molded, what they had to work with was a sticky, gooey, weak mixture that refused to conform to the desired shape.

Before clay can be put upon the wheel, it has to be properly prepared. It has to be supple enough to adapt to change, yet firm enough to not collapse under pressure. Just like clay, before God can begin remaking and changing us, there are some preparations that have to occur.

“Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was making something at the wheel. Yet the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make it” (Jer. 18:3-4).

God sent Jeremiah down to the potter’s house to reveal more of Himself in a very tangible way. God still uses life as a classroom, guiding us into His truths. Every event, hardship, failure, sin, and success is a part of our personalized lesson plan. Learning the lesson will require being able to see the situation through God’s eyes. His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 58:8). Seeing life through a heavenly lens puts it in a new perspective. Spending time in His presence can open the door to God revealing to you what type of vessel He wants to make you into. Once you get a glimpse of God’s vision for your life, you have to then be willing to go through His process for change. No vessel is so flawed that it cannot be made new. Each can be reworked into a useful vessel in the hands of the Potter.

The 5 Stages of Godly Change

Broken

Brokenness is a prerequisite for a life change. It is a state of complete yielding to doing things God’s way. You no longer desire for there to be any distance between you and God. You can feel the disconnection that comes from unconfessed sin in your life. Your desire is to turn away from whatever has marred you. You want nothing more than to be restored. I love how the Scripture states it “marred in the hand of the potter.” Even when you mess up the worst you can imagine, He still has not left you alone. Your life and destiny were always in the palm of His hands.

Crushed

Ironically, the journey to being remade, restored and renewed starts with being crushed. The NLT states, “But the jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped, so he crushed it into a lump of clay again and started over.” Isaiah 53:5 (NLT) says, “He was crushed for our sins.” Jesus shows us that being crushed is not a sign of defeat, but a part of God’s plan for redemption. Accept God’s invitation to take all past sins to the cross, nail them there and leave them. Then allow him to place you on the potter’s wheel.

Molded

Once reduced to the point of wanting nothing more than the potter’s touch, you are ready to be molded. You have come to the end of yourself and what you feel you can do to change your situation. You now know that only His touch can mend the broken and crushed places in your life. “Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” (Isaiah 64:8) He knows the right amount of pressure to apply to your life and when to loosen His grasp, as He molds you into a useable vessel.

Refined

Once your new characteristics begin to take form, you are moved into a season of intense heat. God’s loving fire comes to strengthen you leading to permanent change. This fire may not feel loving during the process, but as impurities are pushed out you are drawn closer and closer to God. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) It is during this stage that God adorns you with the glaze of His glory, and you become a living reflection of Christ.

Filled

Once taken off the potter’s wheel, you are never alone. Rather than simply sending you off to fulfill your purpose, the potter deposits a part of Himself inside of you. “Be filled with the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18) He fills you with Living Water so that you may pour out His love and truth into the lives of others. It is not something that you can do on your own, but is a gift from the potter. It is a sign that He is ready for you to be put into service. It does not suggest that you have reached perfection, but rather that you are now useable for the purpose for which He created you. He has never been interested in perfect vessels, only usable vessels. Do not be afraid of failure. If you become marred, He can make you over again. (Quote source here.)

While my living situation dramatically and totally changed three weeks ago, I still take life one day at a time. There are new people to meet and encounter, and new things to learn, and I’m looking forward to seeing what each new day brings in my new surroundings.

I’ll end this post with the words from Proverbs 3:5-6 that have played a key role in my life (and they still do, too): Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him…

And He . . .

Shall direct . . .

Your paths . . . .

YouTube Video: “Canvas and Clay (Live)” by Pat Barrett ft. Ben Smith:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

The Power of Persistence

I don’t need to tell you that 2020 has been a challenging year so far here in America, and to top off everything else that has already occurred and is still ongoing, a very heated and divisive Presidential Election is only 62 days away.

Three words keep coming to mind when I think about all that has already transpired this year. Those three words have very similar meanings, and they are: (1) resilience (the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back and grow despite life’s downturns); (2) perseverance (continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition); and (3) persistence (the act or fact of stubbornly continuing to do something; the act or fact of continuing to exist longer than usual).

In a word search on Google using these three words, one of the first links I came across was this short devotion published on December 28, 2017 titled, Faith Produces Persistence,” by Rick Warren, founder and senior pastor of Saddleback Church, an evangelical megachurch affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention that is the sixth-largest megachurch in the United States (source here). Here is that devotion (note: all three of those words stated above show up in this devotion):

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9 NLT).

Faith unlocks the promises of God, it shows us the power of God, it turns dreams into reality, and it gives us the power to hold on in tough times.

God doesn’t always take you out of the problem. He stretches your faith by taking you through the problem. He doesn’t always take away the pain. He gives you faith-filled ability to handle the pain. And God doesn’t always take you out of the storm because he wants you to trust him in the midst of the storm.

I remember reading the stories of Corrie ten Boom, a young Dutch Christian who helped many Jews escape the Holocaust before being sent to Nazi concentration camps. After World War II ended, she said that the people who lived through those camps were those who had the deepest faith. Why? Because faith gives you the power to hold on in tough times. It produces persistence.

Study after study has shown that probably the most important characteristic you could teach a child (and that you need in your own life) is resilience. It’s the ability to bounce back. It’s the ability to keep going. Nobody goes through life with an unbroken chain of successes. Everybody has failures and mistakes. We all embarrass ourselves. We all have pain. We all have problems. We all have pressures. The people who make it in life have resilience.

Do you know how many times I’ve wanted to resign as pastor at Saddleback Church? Just about every Monday morning! I say, “God, it’s too big. It’s too many people, too much responsibility. I’m not smart enough. What am I supposed to say to that many people? Get somebody else who can do a better job than this.”

Yet God says, “Keep going.”

Where do you get the resilience to keep going? Faith. It’s believing God could do something at any moment that could change the direction of your life, and you don’t want to miss it, so you keep moving forward. It’s believing that God will give you exactly what you need when you need it as you learn to rely on him to accomplish his purpose in you.

This is the testimony of Paul, a great man of faith: “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:8-9 NLT).

What is God’s purpose of adversity in your life?

How has faith helped you persevere through a difficult time in your life?

Faith doesn’t always take you out of the problem. Faith often takes you through the problem. How will this truth shape the way you respond to the problems you face right now? (Quote source here.)

In Luke 18:1-8, Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should “always pray and never give up” in the form of a parable titled, The Parable of the Persistent Widow.” Here is that parable from the NLT:

One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. “There was a judge in a certain city,” he said, “who neither feared God nor cared about people. A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, saying, ‘Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy.’ The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or care about people, but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’”

Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?”

GotQuestion.org states the following regarding this parable:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In an article published on June 26, 2020, titled, The Power of Persistent Prayer,” on apastorsview.org by Dr. Jim Denison, co-founder and the CVO of Denison Forum, he writes:

2020 has been a year like no other in living memory.

It started as 1973, with the impeachment proceedings. Then it became 1918 with the coronavirus pandemic. It added 2008 (and maybe 1929) with the recession. Then it added 1968 with racial issues. None of the last three will end any time soon, and we can add the election this fall.

Psychologists distinguish between acute stress, something we experience in the face of immediate but short-term challenges, and chronic stress, which is ongoing and debilitating. Of the two, chronic stress can especially lead to depression and other physical and psychological challenges.

If you’re like me, the chronic nature of our challenges is becoming discouraging and worse. Your congregation probably feels the same way.

In this context, I wanted to share a reminder that has been encouraging me in recent days, one drawn from what is perhaps Jesus’ most misunderstood parable.

A rude neighbor

You know his story in Luke 11 about the persistent neighbor who knocks at a friend’s door at midnight to ask for bread he can serve a guest. The man’s reluctance is understandable: Common homes in Jesus’ day were one room, with one window and a door. The first two-thirds of the room was a dirt floor where the animals slept for the night. The back one-third was a raised wooden platform with a charcoal stove around which the entire family slept. For this man to get up at midnight he must awaken his family and then his animals just to get to the door.

In Jesus’ story, the neighbor gets up despite all this—the rudeness, the inconvenience, the breach of social custom—because of the man’s “impudence.” The Greek word means “shameless refusal to quit.” He simply will not go away until the man gives him what he wants. And so he does.

So Jesus concludes: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (v. 9). The Greek could be translated literally, “ask and keep on asking, seek and keep on seeking, knock and keep on knocking.” Practice persistence with God.

A loving father

Now, what does Jesus’ parable mean for us? First, let’s dismiss what it doesn’t mean.

Jesus is not teaching that we can wear God out if we ask for something enough. That God is the man inside the house asleep, but if we come and bang on his door loud enough and long enough, he will give us what we want. Even if he doesn’t want to, if we keep asking, eventually we’ll receive what we want.

Unfortunately, I’ve heard that very theology preached: if you have enough faith, God will give you whatever you ask for. Whether you want to be healed, or be wealthy, or anything at all, just ask in enough faith and it’s yours.

That is absolutely not the point here. Jesus is using a very common rabbinic teaching technique known in the Hebrew as theqal wahomer.” Literally, “from the light to the heavy.” Applied here, the point is this: if a neighbor at midnight would give you what you ask if you ask him, how much more will God answer our requests when we bring them to him.

They must be in his will, for his purposes and glory. This is no guarantee that enough faith will ever obligate God. It is a promise that if this man would hear his neighbor, how much more does God wish to do the same.

Why persistent prayer is so powerful

How does Jesus’ story relate to our need for persistent prayer in these challenging days?

Let’s admit that persistence in prayer is difficult for our fallen culture. Many in our secularized society are convinced that the spiritual is superstitious fiction. To them, praying to God is like praying to Zeus. If it makes you feel better, go ahead. But don’t persist in your prayers as though they make any real difference.

Our materialistic culture is also convinced that the material is what matters. Seeing is believing. You cannot see beyond the immediate, so why would you persist in doing something that doesn’t bring immediate results? If God doesn’t answer your prayer now, why keep praying it?

In the face of such skepticism, why do what Jesus taught us to do? Because persistent prayer positions us to experience God’s best.

Praying to God does not inform him of our need or change his character. Rather, it positions us to receive what his grace intends to give.

Persistent prayer does something else as well: it keeps us connected to God so his Spirit can mold us into the image of Christ. When we pray, the Holy Spirit is able to work in our lives in ways he cannot otherwise. The more we pray, continuing to trust our problems and needs to the Lord, the more he makes us the people he intends us to be and empowers us for the challenges we face.

An invitation from God

Jesus’ story invites us to define our greatest challenge as a pastor in these days. Name it before your Father. Continue to pray about it, knowing that persistent prayer connects you with his power and wisdom. Know that as you knock, the door will be opened, by the grace of God.

I walk in our Dallas neighborhood early each morning. This week, I came across a yard sign that impressed me greatly. It proclaimed: “Hope is alive. Jesus is alive!” The first is true because the second is true.

There is hope for our past because Jesus died for us (Romans 5:8) and then rose from our grave. There is hope for our present because the living Christ is praying for us right now (Romans 8:34). There is hope for our future because Jesus will come for us one day and is building our home in paradise right now (John 14:1–3).

Hope is alive because Jesus is alive. Why do you need to practice persistent prayer to him today?

It is always too soon to give up on God. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words that Jesus spoke to his disciples (and that includes his followers today) in Luke 18:1

Always pray . . .

And . . .

Never give up . . . .

YouTube Video: “Good Fight” by Unspoken:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Rivers of Living Water

Last week I came across a book published in 2017 titled, Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World,” by Archbishop of Philadelphia Charles J. Chaput, who is the first Native American archbishop in the United States (he recently retired). A brief description of this book on Amazon.com states the following:

A vivid critique of American life today and a guide to how Christians–and particularly Catholics–can live their faith vigorously, and even with hope, in a post-Christian public square.

From Charles J. Chaput, author of Living the Catholic Faith and Render unto Caesar comes Strangers in a Strange Land, a fresh, urgent, and ultimately hopeful treatise on the state of Catholicism and Christianity in the United States. America today is different in kind, not just in degree, from the past. And this new reality is unlikely to be reversed. The reasons include, but aren’t limited to, economic changes that widen the gulf between rich and poor; problems in the content and execution of the education system; the decline of traditional religious belief among young people; the shift from organized religion among adults to unbelief or individualized spiritualities; changes in legal theory and erosion in respect for civil and natural law; significant demographic shifts; profound new patterns in sexual behavior and identity; the growth of federal power and its disregard for religious rights; the growing isolation and elitism of the leadership classes; and the decline of a sustaining sense of family and community. (Quote source here.)

I was raised in a non-denominational church in the Midwest most closely aligned with Baptists, so my knowledge of the Catholic Church is minimal. However, as I looked through this book, the information it contains is clearly relevant to all Christians regarding the seismic changes going on in our society today and how they have unfolded over the past several decades since the 1950’s and 1960’s. In Chapter 1 titled, “Resident Aliens,” he writes the following on page 7:

Judges 2:6-15 is the story of what happens after the Exodus and after Joshua wins the Promised Land for God’s people. Verse 10 says that Joshua “and all that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them, who did not know the Lord or the work which he had done for Israel.”

It’s a Bible passage worth pondering. Every generation leaves a legacy of achievement and failure. In my lifetime, many good men and women have made the world better by the gift of their lives to others. But the biggest failure of so many people of my–baby boomer–generation, including parents, teachers, and leaders in the Church, has been our failure to pass along our faith in a compelling way to the generation now taking our place.

The reason the Christian faith doesn’t matter to so many of our young people is that–too often–it didn’t really matter to us. Not enough to shape our lives. Not enough for us to suffer for it. As Catholic Christians, we may have come to a point today where we feel like foreigners in our own country–“strangers in a strange land,” in the beautiful English of the King James Bible (Exodus 2:22). But the deeper problem in America isn’t that we believers are “foreigners.” It’s that our children and grandchildren aren’t. (Quote source: “Strangers in a Strange Land,” page 7.)

In an article published on September 6, 2016, titled, Why is Christianity Declining?” by David P. Gushee, author at ReligionNews.com, he writes:

The number of Christians and cultural strength of Christianity are both declining in the United States. This decline is noticeable and is affecting church life, culture, and politics. It is also deeply disturbing to most Christians, including me.

These descriptive claims are found in my new book, A Letter to My Anxious Christian Friends, just out with Westminster John Knox Press. I will be reflecting on themes from that new book in my blog posts over the next few weeks. This is the first, exploring Christian decline in the United States.

I could now spend several paragraphs inviting a debate over whether and in what sense Christianity really can be said to be in decline in the U.S. But I won’t. Suffice it to say that when one percent fewer Americans each year claim a Christian affiliation, that marks decline. When most denominations and congregations report declining membership and attendance, that marks decline. When more and more congregations close their doors forever, that marks decline. And when the youngest generation shows the greatest disaffiliation trend, that marks a decline likely to have lasting impact.

No, the more interesting question at this point is why. Why this disaffiliation trend? What are its causes?

An interesting problem in recent conversations about Christian decline is that many who weigh in appear to be defending their side in internal Christian conflicts and controversies. Undoubtedly there is some truth to their respective claims, but their polemic purposes must be considered.

For example, many conservative evangelicals have for a long time pinned Christian decline on the mainline liberals, stating that if they had held firmly to a more robust and orthodox Christianity, they would have done better.

On the other hand, many mainliners, not to mention disaffected evangelicals and ex-evangelicals, have made quite the opposite claim. For them, Christian decline is due to the excesses and rigidities of conservative religion.

Having experienced both kinds of churches, I have witnessed both kinds of disaffiliation: ex-mainliners leaving because their churches were so insipid, and ex-evangelicals leaving because they could not reconcile conservative faith with science, critical thinking, or the contemporary world.

So let’s count both of those as reasons why some are disaffiliating. Here is my very tentative proposal for eight other reasons:

–Prosperity and affluence distract people from regular church attendance and reduce a strong sense of need to be in church, gradually eroding not just church attendance but Christian identity.

–The pre-modern claims of traditional Christian faith appear increasingly incredible to postmodern Americans. It has been a very long time since a majority of cultural elites found Christianity’s supernatural claims, for example, to be credible. These elites dominate our culture.

–Hypocrisies and conflicts in church, when they (inevitably) erupt, don’t just drive people to other churches, as in the past, but sometimes take them out of Christianity altogether.

–The fading of cultural Christianity means that fewer and fewer Americans feel any cultural or familial expectation to be in church or practice Christianity. “It was good enough for grandpa” just doesn’t cut it anymore.

–American Christianity is not producing many compelling leaders, and thus the average church (as well as the Church writ large) is not especially inspiring or visionary. Many ministers play it safe in order to keep their jobs, or are simply not that talented.

–The collapse of any protection of Sunday from recreation and work, together with the gig economy, means many people are working or otherwise engaged on Sunday.

–It is harder for parents to pass the faith onto their children in a wired world in which parental influence is in decline.

–Evangelism is dead. No one really knows how to “share the Christian faith” any more in a way that connects with people, and many Christians have stopped trying.

So that’s ten proposed reasons why Christianity is declining in the United States. I invite you to add your own reasons for this significant trend. In a later post I will reflect on what might be done to redress the problems the churches now face. (Quote source here.)

One has to wonder, too, if part of the reason Christianity is declining in America is because it was just something many of us especially in the Baby Boomer generation grew up doing because our parents did–attending church services and being involved in church activities–and as the culture around us became more secular, we didn’t really have any “roots” that kept us in church other then maybe feeling an obligation to go as it was “expected” for us to go. Or, it is mainly just a part of something we did or still do every Sunday (attending church), but the faith that is required to believe in God and Jesus Christ wasn’t or isn’t really there or it has no depth. Hebrews 11:6 states, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

So, what are the signs of genuine saving faith? GotQuestions.org answers that question as follows:

This is one of the most important questions in the Christian life. Many believers doubt their salvation because they don’t see signs of genuine faith in their lives. There are those who say we should never doubt our decision to follow Christ, but the Bible encourages us to examine ourselves to see if we are truly “in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5). Thankfully, God has given us ample instruction for how we can know for sure that we have eternal life. The first epistle of John was actually written for that purpose, as it states in 1 John 5:13, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”

There is a series of tests in 1 John that we can use to examine ourselves and our faith. As we look at them, remember that no one will perfectly fulfill all of them all the time, but they should reveal a consistent trend that characterizes our lives as we grow in grace.

1. Do you enjoy having fellowship with Christ and His redeemed people? (1 John 1:3)
2. Would people say you walk in the light, or walk in the darkness? (1 John 1:6-7)
3. Do you admit and confess your sin? (1 John 1:8)
4. Are you obedient to God’s Word? (1 John 2:3-5)
5. Does your life indicate you love God rather than the world? (1 John 2:15)
6. Is your life characterized by “doing what is right”? (1 John 2:29)
7. Do you seek to maintain a pure life? (1 John 3:3)
8. Do you see a decreasing pattern of sin in your life? (1 John 3:5-6) [Note: this refers to not continuing in sin as a way of life, not a total absence of sin.]
9. Do you demonstrate love for other Christians? (1 John 3:14)
10. Do you “walk the walk,” versus just “talking the talk”? (1 John 3:18-19)
11. Do you maintain a clear conscience? (1 John 3:21)
12. Do you experience victory in your Christian walk? (1 John 5:4)

If you are able to truthfully answer “Yes” to these questions (or a majority of them, and are working on the others), then your life is bearing the fruit of true salvation. Jesus said that it is by our fruits that we are known as His disciples (Matthew 7:20). Fruitless branches—professing believers who do not display the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) are cut off and thrown into the fire (John 15:6). A genuine faith is one that not only believes in God (the demons themselves do that – James 2:19), but leads to open confession of sin and obedience to Christ’s commands. Remember, we are saved by grace through faith, not by our works (Ephesians 2:8-9), but our works should display the reality of our salvation (James 2:17-18). Genuine saving faith will always produce works; a faith that is perpetually without works is no faith at all and saves no one.

In addition to these confirmations, we need to remember God’s promises and the reality of the war we are in. Satan is just as real as Jesus Christ, and he is a formidable enemy of our souls. When we turn to Christ, Satan will look for every opportunity to deceive and defeat us. He will try to convince us that we are unworthy failures or that God has given up on us. When we are in Christ, we have the assurance that we are kept by Him. Jesus Himself prayed for us in John 17:11 that the Father would “protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one.” Again in verse 15, He prayed, “keep them from the evil one.”

In John 10:27-29, Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” If you hear and obey the voice of Jesus, then you are one of His sheep, and He will never let you go. Jesus gave a wonderful word picture here of Christians securely held within His loving hands and the Father’s almighty hands wrapping themselves around His, giving us a double assurance of eternal security. (Quote source here.)

In John 7:37-39, Jesus is attending the Feast of Tabernacles, and he refers to the “rivers of living water” that would flow from within those who believe in him. Here are those three verses:

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

GotQuestions.org explains what Jesus meant by “living water”:

Jesus uses the phrase “living water” in two instances in the Bible. The first instance is found in John chapter 4. Jesus was tired and sat at a well while His disciples went into town to buy food. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus asked her for a drink. The Samaritan woman was quite shocked because Jesus was a Jew, and Jews simply hated the Samaritans. Of course, she had no idea who Jesus was and asked Him how He could ask her for water since He was a Jew.

Jesus ignored the question and went right to the point, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10). Notice that He does not say that He is the living water, but that He would give living water to her, and when she received it, she would never thirst again. Of course, that does not tell us what the living water is! For that, we must go to another passage of Scripture. In this case, Jesus is in the temple surrounded by a throng of worshipers. He suddenly cried out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scriptures said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’ But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:37–39).

Here Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as the living water. External influence of the Spirit had always been given in the conversion and sanctification of the Old Testament saints and prophets, but the gift of the Spirit who would indwell believers had not yet been received (Acts 10:44–45). So, though many people say that Jesus is the living water, Jesus Himself intended the phrase to mean the Holy Spirit who dwells in believers and seals them for salvation (Ephesians 1:13–14). It is the ministry of the Spirit, flowing out of a heart redeemed by God, that blesses believers and, through them, brings life and light to the world. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words of Jesus from John 7:37b-38Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said…

Rivers of living water . . .

Will flow . . .

From within them . . . .

YouTube Video: “Rivers of Living Water” by Karen Marrolli:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

A Clear Conscience

We live in an “anything goes” society today. Postmodernism has given way to post-postmodernism. Some of the “salient features of postmodernism are normally thought to include the ironic play with styles, citations and narrative levels, a metaphysical skepticism or nihilism towards a grand narrative of Western culture, a preference for the virtual at the expense of the real (or more accurately, a fundamental questioning of what ‘the real’ constitutes) and a ‘waning of affect’ on the part of the subject, who is caught up in the free interplay of virtual, endlessly reproducible signs inducing a state of consciousness similar to schizophrenia.” (Quote source here.)

Another term for post-postmodernism has been coined as metamodernism.” “Metamodernism is the literary movement that is defined by being in a constant state of flux between modernist and postmodernist ideals. This essentially means holding both states of hopelessness and hope, sincerity and irony, knowingness and naivete, deconstruction and reconstruction in one’s head and then producing something out that liminal, fluctuating space. It’s all about being in a state where you know you’re on the edge, but could be saved. You just don’t know. Critics say that metamodernism bloomed out of a reaction to climate change—the idea that we are destroying our planet, that we are doing this to ourselves, and the idea that maybe this is a good thing. Humans are essentially a bad influence on this planet. So we’re simultaneously rooting for our demise but at the same time, want to live. This is the state of flux metamodernism puts us in. With this kind of mindset, how do you think you would act?…” (Quote source here.)

That’s a very good question. I realize I am now an official member of the older generation, but when we anchor our lives on nothing more solid then what is written above, where will it lead to and where will it all end? It’s like building a house on shifting sand. When truth becomes relative (which started with postmodernism), does that now mean we can destroy in some way (as in character, reputation, career and/or livelihood) our neighbor or a stranger without any consequences whatsoever? Does it mean we think we should get a paycheck regardless of whether we do the work our employer hired us to do or not? Does it mean that it is really no big deal to cheat on our spouse, or abuse a friendship, or hurt someone behind their back? Does it mean we can be callous to anyone we don’t like? And hiding any of these behaviors behind a “nice” facade and lies doesn’t change what we are actually doing even if the recipient is not aware of it. Do we believe there are never any consequences to our actions?

This is where conscience comes into play. Conscience is that built-in part of us that really does know right from wrong. Dictionary.com defines conscience as “the inner sense of what is right or wrong in one’s conduct or motives, impelling one toward right action” (quote source here).

If we keep intentionally making wrong choices long enough, we end up with a seared conscience.” In an article published on June 27, 2013, titled, A Seared Conscience No Longer Accuses You,” by Dan Delzell, contributor at The Christian Post, Delzell describes a seared conscience from a biblical perspective as follows:

When God made you, He gave you a built-in “firewall” to protect you from making destructive decisions. Without this firewall, man is prone to destroy his life and the lives of others by choices that go against God’s will. This firewall is known as the human conscience.

Your conscience is a gift from your Creator. He gave it to you because He loves you and He wants to help you do the right things. He wants you to feel guilty about your sin, and to feel good about His love and forgiveness. When there is no guilt over sin, there is no awareness of the danger you are facing and the harm you are causing.

You can thank God whenever you sense your built-in firewall working for you. Whenever you refuse to do what is wrong, you can be reminded of how God made you. Whenever you resist hurting someone else by your words or actions, you can thank God He made you to sense that preferable path. Whenever you choose not to lie or cheat or steal, you can thank God for giving you a conscience.

Your conscience acts in a way as your “prosecuting attorney.” Whenever you go against what is good, your conscience will accuse you and seek to convict you of your “crime.” It is a blessing to sense that corrective conviction. We all need that in our lives. Young people need it and so do adults. Without it, we are operating a highly advanced “computer” of sorts without any firewall and without any protection against destructive behavior.

When you first go against your conscience in some area of your life, you feel it. It is a nagging feeling that what you did was wrong. At that point, you will either submit to your conscience and do the right thing, or you will resist your conscience and prepare once again to go against it. That is a critical mistake. By going against our conscience, we risk losing our bearings and reaping a whirlwind of consequences due to wrong choices.

A person who continually goes against his conscience is in danger of “searing” his conscience. This dulls the work of your conscience and its ability to help you make good decisions. A seared conscience is a very dangerous thing. It provides its owner with a false sense of comfort over wrong behavior, and an unhealthy outlook which will continue to cause major problems.

The Bible explains how a person’s conscience can actually go from being your prosecuting attorney to your defense attorney. That progression is lethal. Paul writes, “The requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.” (Romans 2:15) This describes the process whereby man’s conscience stops accusing him, and actually begins defending his bad behavior. That my friend is a seared conscience.

To be seared means to make callous or unfeeling. This is exactly what happens to the human conscience when it gets repeatedly and deliberately violated. It stops working, at least in a helpful manner. It begins to justify the bad behavior and even comes up with excuses. After all, it has now become your defense attorney. (Quote source here.)

As Delzell stated, defending our bad behavior to the point where we don’t even care anymore–that is a seared conscience. In another article published on August 20, 2016, titled A Seared Conscience,” by Ally Portee, contributor at seelemag.com, she writes:

The Bible talks about the conscience in good terms and bad terms. I believe, one of the worst things that can happen to a person is to have a seared conscience, or as Paul calls it in his letter to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:2a dead conscience. When the heart becomes calloused, each and every ungodly thing a person does will get easier, until that person feels no remorse or their ungodly actions become normal to them. In this situation there is a problem. It’s best to not be around people with calloused, seared, or dead consciousness.

Dictators, embezzlers, mass murderers, and those who have carried out some of the worst atrocities in life would fit into this category. As we have seen from history and from experiences in our own personal lives, some people are so far gone into themselves, where it is as if their consciences are broken, and they feel no conviction for how they treat others or how they act/react in situations.

But we can’t control other people. And all we can do is make sure our hearts and actions are right before God, and that our consciousness are clean before Him. When our consciousness are seared then it means we have become insensitive to Godly living; perhaps insensitive to knowing how to treat our fellow man; and perhaps insensitive to moral pangs. Lying, stealing, cheating, adultery, idolatry, mistreatment of others are all okay–in some shape or form–to people like this. But one who has a good conscience and who is upright doesn’t have that calloused heart where they’ve become so insensitive to wrongdoing. These types of people can tell right from wrong, they are free from guilt and they maintain their integrity. And these people don’t get entangled in the lies of the devil, but rather they “fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience” (1 Timothy 1:18-19). (Quote source here.)

This brings us to the other side of the coin on the topic of conscience–a clear conscience. The following information is taken from a biblical perspective from an article titled, How Can I Get a Clear Conscience?” written by the staff at GotQuestions.org:

Humans have tried a variety of things to clear their consciences, from charity work to self-mutilation. History is replete with examples of mankind’s efforts to appease his conscience, but nothing works. So he often turns to other means of drowning out that inner voice that declares him guilty. Addictions, immorality, violence, and greed are often deeply rooted in the fertile soil of a guilty conscience.

However, since all sin is ultimately a sin against God, only God can redeem a violated conscience. Just as He did in the Garden of Eden, God provides us a covering through the sacrifice of something perfect and blameless (Exodus 12:5Leviticus 9:31 Peter 1:18–19). God sent His own Son, Jesus, into the world for the purpose of being the final, perfect sacrifice for the sins of the whole world (John 3:161 John 2:2). When Jesus went to the cross, He took upon Himself every sin we would ever commit. Every violated conscience, every sinful thought, and every evil act was placed upon Him (1 Peter 2:24). All the righteous wrath that God has for our sin was poured out on His own Son (Isaiah 53:6John 3:36). Just as an innocent animal was sacrificed to cover Adam’s sin, so the perfect Son was sacrificed to cover ours. God Himself chooses to make us right with Him and pronounce us forgiven.

We can have our consciences cleansed when we bring our sin, our failures, and our miserable attempts to appease God to the foot of the cross. The atonement of Christ forgives our sin and cleanses our conscience (Hebrews 10:22). We acknowledge our inability to cleanse our own hearts and ask Him to do it for us. We trust that Jesus’ death and resurrection are sufficient to pay the price we owe God. When we accept Jesus’ payment for our personal sin, God promises to cast our sins away from us “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12; cf. Hebrews 8:12).

In Christ, we are freed from the stranglehold of sin. We are set free to pursue righteousness and purity and become the men and women God created us to be (Romans 6:18). As followers of Christ, we will still commit occasional sin. But, even then, God provides a way for us to have our consciences cleared. First John 1:9 says that, “if we confess our sin, he is faithful and just to forgive our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Often, with that confession comes the knowledge that we must make things right with the ones we have offended. We can take that step with the people we have hurt, knowing that God has already forgiven us.

Our consciences can remain clear as we continually confess our sin to God and trust that the blood of Jesus is sufficient to make us right with Him. We continue to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). We trust that, in spite of our imperfections, God delights in us and in His transforming work in our lives (Philippians 2:13Romans 8:29). Jesus said, “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). We live with a clear conscience by refusing to wallow in the failures that God has forgiven. We stand confident in His promise that, “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). (Quote source here.)

In an article with an intriguing title, The Weapon of a Clear Conscience,” by Dr. Scott Rodin, President of The Steward’s Journey, Kingdom Life Publishing, and Rodin Consulting, Inc., he writes:

Today we will look at the disarming power of a clear conscience. Webster’s Dictionary defines conscience as, “the sense of the moral goodness or blameworthiness of one’s own conduct, intentions, or character together with a feeling of obligation to do right or be good.” I like Dictionary.coms version, “the inner sense of what is right or wrong in one’s conduct or motives, impelling one toward right action, the complex of ethical and moral principles that controls or inhibits the actions or thoughts of an individual.”

God created us with a conscience and, under the control of the Holy Spirit, He can use it to guide us as we make the decisions that mark our path and define our character. This ‘complex of ethical and moral principles’ can be instructed by Scripture and empowered by prayer to provide us with a reliable resource for the choices that confront us daily. For the Apostle Paul, speaking truth comes from the conscience that is under the control of the Holy Spirit,

“I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 9:1)

It is not surprising that Paul would state,

“I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.” (Acts 24:16)

God values a clear conscience. When Abram lied to the king, telling him Sarah was his sister, the King took her as his wife. When he found out about Abram’s deception he cried out to God, and, “God said to him in the dream,Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her’” (Genesis 20:6). God spared the King because his actions were done with a clear conscience.

The danger we face is that our conscience can also be numbed, muted and silenced. Paul charges that some followers of Jesus will abandon the faith and follow deceptive teachings.

“Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.” (I Timothy 4:2)

He warns that idolatry is a sign that our conscience is compromised.

“Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled.” (1 Corinthians 8:7)

The enemy delights in weakening and searing our conscience. The weapons he uses are unholy attitudes, unresolved conflict, and unconfessed sin. He has victory in our lives whenever we hold grudges, harbor resentment, withhold forgiveness, justify sin or wallow in cynicism. The fruit of a seared conscience include prejudice, greed, divisiveness, anger, malice and arrogance. The amazing truth is that, with our consciences becoming weak and calcified, we will not recognize that these cancers have taken root in our souls. We become both self-deceived and self-righteous. And we wonder why we never experience God’s abundant life–the life of contentment and joy in Him. Such is the power of a compromised conscience.

So how is your conscience? Is it clear or conflicted? Is it Holy Spirit guided or weak… even seared?

There are signs that can help you with this answer. When you lay on your pillow tonight and look up into the darkness, examine your heart. Listen to your inner voice as you survey the terrain of your life. Bring to mind images of the people and relationships that surround you. What does your heart say? Pray to God to make you sensitive to what you hear and feel. Is your heart at rest? Is your spirit at peace? This is not about being sinless, or living without conflict or dysfunction or disappointment or frustration. This is not a measure of whether or not you are experiencing the storms of life, but whether your heart testifies that God is your captain and you are seeking to be faithful as He guides you through. It does not require perfect relationships, but only the assurance that you are seeking peace and healing in the midst of strife.

If your conscience is not clear, take heart. A clear conscience is the fruit of repentance, humility and faithfulness. They are yours through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Claim them in His name. Submit to His authority and be willing to be made clean under the scouring power of His hand. Let Him create in you a clean heart and put a right spirit within you. He can put to death in you those things that disturb your spirit and eat away at your peace. Let Him demolish those strongholds and replace them with a humble and faithful heart. In their presence, the enemy is powerless. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words from 1 Peter 3:16 (MSG): Keep a clear conscience before God so that when people…

Throw mud at you . . .

None of it . . .

Will stick . . . .

YouTube Video: “Speak Life” by TobyMac:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Agents of Mercy

In the midst of a Covid-19 pandemic that has already gone on way too long along with the outrage and rioting mentioned in my last blog post published two days ago titled, In the Age of Outrage,” most of us have viewed the protesters and the riot scenes from our TV screens or social media accounts, and many of us have managed to evade the specter of Covid-19 whenever we step outside while donning our face masks and practicing social distancing for yet another day.

During this time, conflicts have erupted around the country whether it’s dealing with pandemic issues or the #cancelculture#defundthepolice , #blacklivesmatter, and #whitewokeness sectors as well as the continuing riots. In the midst of this we are also in an election year here in America, and in less than 90 days we will be voting for President and other elected officials, and it seems as if our country has never been more divided then it is right now.

If there is one ingredient that is sorely missing that we could use a very large dose of in the midst of everything that is going on, it is mercy. Dictionary.com defines mercy as “compassionate or kindly forbearance shown toward an offender, an enemy, or other person in one’s power; compassion, pity, or benevolence” (quote source here).

A devotion I read in Our Daily Bread three days ago titled, God’s Mercy at Work,” by Xochitl Dixon, author, speaker, and blogger at xedixon.com, brings the topic of mercy closer to home in a way that we can personally relate to it:

My anger percolated when a woman mistreated me, blamed me, and gossiped about me. I wanted everyone to know what she’d done—wanted her to suffer as I’d suffered because of her behavior. I steamed with resentment until a headache pierced my temples. But as I began praying for my pain to go away, the Holy Spirit convicted me. How could I plot revenge while begging God for relief? If I believed He would care for me, why wouldn’t I trust Him to handle this situation? Knowing that people who are hurting often hurt other people, I asked God to help me forgive the woman and work toward reconciliation.

The psalmist David understood the difficulty of trusting God while enduring unfair treatment. Though David did his best to be a loving servant, King Saul succumbed to jealousy and wanted to murder him (1 Samuel 24:1–2). David suffered while God worked things out and prepared him to take the throne, but still he chose to honor God instead of seeking revenge (vv. 3–7). He did his part to reconcile with Saul and left the results in God’s hands (vv. 8–22).

When it seems others are getting away with wrongdoing, we struggle with the injustice. But with God’s mercy at work in our hearts and the hearts of others, we can forgive as He’s forgiven us and receive the blessings He’s prepared for us. (Quote source here.)

We live in a culture that seeks revenge instead of reconciliation when we are unfairly treated or perceive that an injustice has been done to us or those we care about. The propensity for us to want to hurt others who have hurt us is great, as the author mentioned in the devotion above. However, for those of us who consider ourselves to be Christians, revenge is not an option–ever.

An article published on June 15, 2009 titled, A Clean Slate: How to Forgive Someone Who Has Hurt You,” by Insight for Living staff members (no specific author is mentioned) states the following:

Walking closely with the Lord means we must come to terms with forgiving others.  Yes, must. We can’t avoid or deny the fact that relationships often bring hurt and the need to forgive. Whether we have been wronged by another or the responsibility is ours, Ephesians 4:31-32 beautifully summarizes how we can have a clear conscience and be free to love and serve God with all our heart:

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (NIV)

In different stages in our life, we may be confronted with the difficult task of forgiveness. The following steps help us get started toward a choice of obedience and godly love.

Cultivate a Heart of Forgiveness

  1. Deepen your understanding of God’s forgiveness through Bible study and meditation. God has been astoundingly, absurdly generous to us. Let that grace prompt humility and gratitude. See Romans 5:8.
  2. Learn to recognize the signs of a forgiving heart: letting go of the need for punishment, looking at the offender with pity and compassion, and choosing to reach out in love.
  3. Learn to respond well when old feelings come back. Rely upon the Shepherd’s help to change your heart. Turn (repent), tune in to the Shepherd’s voice (depend), and travel His path for us (obey).

Steps to Forgiveness

  1. First, realize that forgiveness is risky. Even a repentant offender is likely to fail again, perhaps in the same area.
  2. Second, rely on God. Cry out, “Lord, I lean on You for the grace and strength to love this one who has hurt me and to work for what is best for him [her/them].”
  3. Third, actually cancel the debt. Through prayer, express to God that you relinquish the right to collect debt on any level and to release your bitterness.
  4. Fourth, evaluate whether you should tell the offender what you have done before God.
  5. Fifth, if appropriate, verbally offer them forgiveness. If they repent, your relationship can resume. If not, the relationship cannot be resumed; but with forgiveness offered, good can be returned for evil (Romans 12:21).

What If Forgiveness Can’t Be Had?

If you want to make things right with someone you’ve hurt [or who has hurt you], but they are unavailable, allow God’s forgiveness to suffice. Trust Him to intervene on your behalf to ease any heartache you have caused. It may help to confess your sin to a trusted friend.

If the person is available but refuses to forgive you, ask yourself, Does their refusal indicate that I haven’t genuinely repented? Test yourself by the standards found in 2 Corinthians 7:8-11. If genuine, then God’s forgiveness is sufficient. Realize, too, that forgiveness can be a process. They may need time to be willing to forgive. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on December 20, 2017, titled, 4 Reasons to Show Mercy to Others,” by Rick Warren, Founder and Senior Pastor of Saddleback Church, he writes:

God wants you to be an agent of mercy in the world.

Everyone needs mercy because everyone has messed up. We’ve all hurt other people and made mistakes. We’ve all sinned and we all have hurts, habits, and hang-ups as a result of the mistakes we’ve made.

Mercy changes the lives of people who have made mistakes, and we who have received mercy freely can change the world around us by showing mercy to others.

Here are four reasons to keep showing mercy to others.

1. Show mercy to others because God has been merciful to you.

The Bible says that God is merciful. It is emphasized all throughout the Bible. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of verses that talk about God’s mercy and his love, his compassion, and his grace.

Ephesians 2:4-5 says, “God’s mercy is so abundant, and his love for us is so great, that while we were spiritually dead in our disobedience he brought us to life with Christ. It is by God’s grace you have been saved” (GNT).

The point of that Scripture is this: God wants me to act in the same way to other people.

2. Show mercy to others because God commands you.

In Micah 6:8, God speaks through the prophet to give us three big instructions for our lives. “The LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (NLT).

God says if you want a summary of what life’s all about, and if you’re going to be in his family, this is what’s required of you: You need to do what is right with others, to love being merciful to others, and to live humbly in fellowship with God.

One third of God’s requirement for you on this planet is to learn mercy. Why? Because God is merciful.

3. Show mercy because you’re going to need more mercy in the future.

You’re not going to be perfect between now and when you get to Heaven. The Bible tells us we cannot receive what we are unwilling to give.

James 2:13 says, “You must show mercy to others, or God won’t show mercy to you . . . But the person who shows mercy can stand without fear at the judgment” (NCV).

Don’t you want to be able to do that on judgment day? To be able to stand without fear on judgment day? It says the person who shows mercy can stand without fear on the judgment day.

It isn’t the people who have kept more rules than anyone else who get to face their eternity with the greatest confidence. It is believers who have shown mercy to other people.

4. Show mercy because it produces happiness.

Showing mercy brings happiness. The Bible teaches over and over that the more merciful I am, the happier I’m going to be.

Proverbs 14:21 says, “If you want to be happy, be kind to the poor; it is a sin to despise anyone” (GNT).

Being kind to other people actually blesses you and makes you happier in life. And mercy certainly produces greater joy in those to whom you’ve shown it.

Would you rather live in a world that is harsh or a world where the people around you value mercy?

You get to help shape a world of mercy around you and allow more people to find freedom from their past when you’re willing to show mercy. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on October 15, 2017, titled, Being Agents of Mercy, by Steve Williams, Co-Senior Pastor at Northpointe Community Church, he gives us several passages from the Bible to bring home the message of how we can be “agents of mercy” in our world today:

2 Corinthians 5:18-20 (TLB) God has given us the privilege of urging everyone to come into his favor and be reconciled to him. For God was in Christ, restoring the world to himself, no longer counting men’s sins against them but blotting them out. This is the wonderful message he has given us to tell others. We are Christ’s ambassadors. God is using us to speak to you: we beg you, as though Christ himself were here pleading with you, receive the love he offers you — be reconciled to God.

Increasing your ‘mercy quotient’

James 5:11 (NLT) The Lord is full of tenderness and mercy.

1. Consciously turn the focus away from yourself.

Philippians 2:4 (TEV) Look out for one another’s interests, not just for your own.

2. Don’t be put off by others’ wrong choices.

Jude 1:22-23 (TLB) Try to help those who argue against you. Be merciful to those who doubt. Save some by snatching them as from the very flames of hell itself. And as for others, help them to find the Lord by being kind to them, but be careful that you yourselves aren’t pulled along into their sins. Hate every trace of their sin while being merciful to them as sinners.

1 Peter 4:8 (ICB) Most importantly, love each other deeply. Love has a way of not looking at others’ sins.

Matthew 9:10-13 (NLT) Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

3. Be sure you respect your word power!

Colossians 4:6 (CEV) Be pleasant and hold their interest when you speak the message. Choose your words carefully and be ready to give answers to anyone who asks questions.

James 3:17 (TLB) The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure and full of quiet gentleness. Then it is peace-loving and courteous. It allows discussion and is willing to yield to others; it is full of mercy…

4. Value caring for persons above pious practices in your faith journey.

Matthew 23:23 (NLT) “…You teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income …but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.”

Staying on the lookout with Jesus

Matthew 9:36 (NIV) When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Persons caught up in crisis.

Galatians 6:2 (GW) Help carry each other’s burdens. In this way you will follow Christ’s teachings.

Those with unmet needs we can help.

Romans 15:1-3 (MSG) Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?” That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out.

People in grief we can comfort.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NLT) God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.

Persons needing friendly hospitality.

Romans 12:13 (NJB) Look for opportunities to be hospitable.

Matthew 25:36 (Phi) “…I was lonely and you made me welcome…”

Someone needing a second chance.

2 Corinthians 2:7 (CEV) When people sin, you should forgive and comfort them, so they won’t give up in despair.

Those especially rude & difficult.

1 Peter 3:9 (CEV) Don’t be hateful and insult people just because they are hateful and insult you. Instead, treat everyone with kindness. You are God’s chosen ones, and he will bless you. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words of Jesus from his Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5:7 (GNT): Happy are those who are merciful to others…

God . . .

Will be merciful . . .

To them . . . .

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

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

In the Age of Outrage

We are currently several months into the Covid Chronicles,” (the Covid-19 pandemic) here in America from when the first “stay-at-home” orders and lock downs started back in mid-March 2020. Wearing a face mask has become a regular part of our attire when dressing and going out for the day as well as social distancing (a term that will be forever etched into our collective memories).

Of course, there are other significant issues going on in America right now, too, caused by racial unrest and rioting that has been occurring since May 25, 2020, when George Floyd was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis. And all of this (the pandemic, the killing of George Floyd and the following rioting, racial tensions, and outrage) is occurring during an extremely heated Presidential election year (see this link to an article published on August 4, 2020, titled, 2020: The Thelma and Louise Election,” by John Zmirak, Senior Editor of The Stream, to get his perspective on what is going on during this election cycle).

In an article published today, August 5, 2020, titled, Don’t Let Your Love Grow Cold in These Hateful Times, by J. Lee Grady, author, journalist, ordained minister, contributing editor for Charisma Magazine, and director of The Mordecai Project, he writes:

The year 2020 will go down in history as the year of national outrage. While a virus is spreading across the United States, peaceful protests for racial justice morphed into vandalism, arson and anarchy. Angry marchers in Seattle took over several city blocks while protesters in Portland tried to burn down a federal courthouse. I’ve never known my country to be so hateful.

Anger has reached a boiling point. Passengers are being removed from planes because they started fistfights over leg room. Store customers are going ballistic because other customers aren’t wearing masks. Entitled Americans, always ready to record a cellphone video, are ready to blow the whistle on each other.

We don’t care how our words hurt people anymore. We have become a vicious culture. Jesus warned this would happen when He said that in the last days, “Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold” (Matt. 24:12, NASB).

We are naïve if we don’t recognize this cold-hearted hatefulness affecting Christians. I’ve noticed that people today get offended more easily and are much quicker to storm out of a church when something goes wrong.

The world tells us that ending a relationship is as easy as hitting the unfriend button. But when I read the Bible, I don’t see any room for outrage, resentment, intolerance or “unfriending.” Jesus calls us to love—and He gives us the supernatural power to do it.

Have you considered ending a relationship recently because of politics? Did you already walk out of a church or break a close friendship because of a disagreement? If so, examine your heart and ask these probing questions first:

    1. Am I giving up too soon? The apostle Paul told the Ephesians they should “always demonstrate gentleness and generous love toward one another, especially toward those who try your patience” (Eph. 4:2b, TPT). Your love will never grow unless it is stretched—and the best way to stretch your love is to show kindness when you feel like slamming a door in a person’s face.

The truth is that we often give up on relationships because we just don’t want to exert the energy to improve them. Relationships require a lot of work. When you unfriend someone just because they hurt you, you are missing an opportunity to become more like Christ.

Show some patience. Choose to love even when you don’t get anything in return.

Ephesians 4:3 (NLT) says we must “make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” The Greek word for “make every effort” means “to be diligent; to use speed; to be prompt or earnest; to labor.” That means you shouldn’t let wounds fester. Act quickly to repair the relationship before it gets worse!

    1. Would Jesus end this relationship? When you end a friendship because of an offense, you are doing the exact opposite of what Jesus did for you. Ephesians 4:32 says “be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” You will never understand God’s merciful love if you don’t show it to others.

Jesus doesn’t flippantly write people off. He loved us even when we were sinners, and He patiently drew us to Himself using “ropes of kindness and love” (Hosea 11:4b). Before you end a friendship, judge a pastor, storm out of a church or give someone the cold shoulder, remember how aggressively Jesus pursued a relationship with you. Let His ropes of kindness pull you out of your bad attitude.

When Peter asked Jesus how many times we are required to forgive a person, Jesus answered “seventy times seven” (see Matt. 18:22b). Taken literally, that means 490 times—but Jesus wasn’t putting a limit on forgiveness. He was using the number seven to imply infinity. Stop counting how many times you have been offended and instead thank God for all the times He has overlooked your mistakes.

    1. Am I nursing a grudge? Our divisive political climate encourages people to get up mad in the morning, fuel their anger with hot political rhetoric throughout the day and then go to bed after listening to more arguments on news broadcasts. We are literally poisoning ourselves.

Many Christians have allowed similar poison in their lives because of church drama. They are mad that a pastor slighted them. They are jealous of someone who took a position they wanted. They are angry because a Christian did something hypocritical.

Resentment is deadly. It actually makes people sick. It also makes us ugly and unpleasant. Unforgiveness puts a frown on your face, wrinkles around your eyes and a sour tone in your voice.

Don’t let today’s culture of outrage infect you. Go against the flow of toxic hate. Make a decision today to work harder at maintaining your relationships. Forgive those who hurt you so your love doesn’t grow cold. (Quote source here.)

In an opinion piece published in The RecordHearld.com on October 1, 2019, Bill Tinsley, columnist, author, pastor, and missions leader, writes the following in his post titled, Age of Outrage”:

Ours has been called the “age of outrage.” Perhaps it began with news anchor Howard Beale throwing open his window in the 1975 movieNetworkand screaming into the crowded streets, “I’m mad as h— and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Whatever Beale was mad about seemed to simmer for decades until the 2016 election. Name calling, finger pointing, screaming and yelling soared to new heights and hasn’t seemed to diminish since.

Now that we are approaching 2020, the noise is escalating. With the advent of social media all accountability seems to be thrown to the wind. In this age of outrage, people say things they shouldn’t say including prejudicial bullying, ridicule and false accusations.

Even Christians seem to be outraged. It seems that Christians are primarily outraged because they sense they are losing control of their “Christian” culture. Step by step over my lifetime the cultural advantages for Christians have been curtailed. There is a sense that Christians are losing the battle as America becomes increasingly secular.

Last year Ed Stetzer wrote a book entitled,Christians in the Age of Outrage.” In his introduction, he writes, “Terrorism, sex trafficking and exploitation, systemic racism, illegal immigration, child poverty, opioid addiction… the list goes on. These issues deserve a measure of outrage, don’t they? They certainly deserve our anger. And this is part of the problem. What do we do when the anger becomes too much? When our righteous indignation at injustice morphs into something completely different? How do we know when righteous anger has made the turn into unbridled outrage?”

In March of this year he wrote, “The comments sections on YouTube are a greater testament to human depravity than all the reformers’ doctrines combined. Arguments, bullying, conspiracy theories, vitriol and irrational cesspools of misinformation and misdirection abound in our digital communication and marketplace. There is outrage everywhere–sometimes targeting Christians, but unfortunately, often coming from Christians.” [Quote source for this paragraph is located here.]

Outrage has never been the means by which the Christian faith has flourished at any time. In fact, the Bible outlines a very different path if we want to influence the culture in which we live.

Jesus said, “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28). The Apostle Paul echoed these instructions, “Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse” (Romans 12:14).

The Psalmist writes, “Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:13-14). “I said, ’Lord I will guard my ways that I may not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth as with a muzzle” (Psalm 39:1).

Does this mean Christians should never speak up? Of course not. Paul clearly spoke up and defended himself when he was falsely accused at Philippi, Jerusalem, Caesarea and Rome. But, for the Christian, there is no place for name calling, ridicule, misinformation and outrage. (Quote source here.)

In Bill Tinsley’s post above, he quoted Ed Stetzer from an article Stetzer published on April 24, 2019, titled Staying on Mission in the Age of Outrage.” The following excerpt is taken from that article:

We live in a world where our beliefs are increasingly odd and even offensive. But, as Christians, we must allow the Holy Spirit to guide our response. You see, Christians are indeed on the receiving end of this outrage machine. However, I also see churchgoers contributing to and participating in much of the online hostility and misinformation. Our digital outrage damages our witness to the world daily. It seems like people who claim to be Christians are often the worst at spreading false or inaccurate information.

There is indeed much to be concerned about in our world, and some issues deserve our indignation, even anger. Christ followers should grieve and mourn over suffering and injustice, even as we advocate and strive for change in the world.

But when is Christian anger warranted? And when does outrage defame the name of Jesus and undermine our witness? When are we righteously overturning the tables of the money changers, and when are we just wreaking havoc concerning our pet peeves? These questions do not have easy answers, but they deserve our consideration if we want to be faithful disciples of Christ.

Much of our world seems awash in division and hostility. Outrage surrounds us, and we must decide how to navigate these new and often-dangerous waters. We don’t get to pick the time we are born or the issues we face in our day. While conflict is universal to all generations, we live and minister in a unique time. Outrage spreads like a disease across our digital platforms, and Christians are not immune. How do we respond in a way that honors Jesus? We can begin by acknowledging three realities.

Drawn to Outrage

First, people have a natural inclination toward outrage. Christians are no exception; in fact, we often contribute to it.

In “Christians in the Age of Outrage,” I highlight the story of Caleb Kaltenbach, who in 2013 tweeted a picture of a Bible displayed at a Costco store. He found it funny and ironic that the Bible was apparently mistakenly displayed in the store’s fiction section. After the photo received hundreds of retweets, major news sources picked up the story. As I explain in the book:

Leading with the headline “Costco—The Bible Is Fiction,” Fox News promoted the idea that Kaltenbach had uncovered a conspiracy against Christians and the Bible. Kaltenbach was even quoted as characterizing the store’s decision to group the Bible with fiction as “bizarre.”

In minutes, “The Drudge Report” picked up the story and Christians worked themselves into an outrage over the perception of this insult with cries of boycott in the air. Suddenly, a labeling error that listed Bibles as fiction had become a covert theological statement on the very nature of Scripture. What likely happens hundreds of times in bookstores every day had become an insidious spark that unleashed Christian outrage against Costco.

Kaltenbach was not outraged. He believed, and Costco confirmed, it was a shelving error. But his story—caught up in an outrage cycle—is much more complex. You see, Kaltenbach was raised by a same-sex couple. He became a Christian, changed his views, was eventually disowned, and years later saw his biological father and mother eventually come to Christ. I’ve had Kaltenbach in my home, and found him far from being an outraged Christian. He is generous, caring and kind. His book, “Messy Grace: How a Pastor With Gay Parents Learned to Love Others Without Sacrificing Conviction,” is filled with wisdom and—you guessed it—grace!

Nevertheless, Kaltenbach’s conversion and family did not make the news. His Costco tweet did, because people are drawn to outrage. It was primarily Christians who drove that outrage—outrage based on misinformation. But who cares about facts when you can have outrage? We like the fire.

It seems someone is always fanning the flames of outrage somewhere. Why? Because offense attracts our interest. It’s human nature. We like to think of ourselves as the offended party in need of receiving forgiveness or the party able to exact an apology on behalf of someone else.

A Better Way

Second, most outrage is not righteous anger. Many people harbor outrage they think is righteous anger, because our culture often confuses the two. This is harmful for Christians and the world alike.

My wife and daughter recently became stranded in an airport parking garage at 2 A.M. when a car rental staff refused to acknowledge their reservation or offer even a modicum of accommodation. My anxiety rose as I tried, from hundreds of miles away, to get someone to help my family. I wanted to blast my outrage across the web to my quarter of a million Twitter followers.

But the Holy Spirit helped me focus on what would be productive rather than instantly gratifying. The car rental agency’s poor customer service was frustrating, rude and inexplicable. Yet I had to admit that it didn’t warrant righteous anger. So, I politely reached out online, and the folks at their Twitter account helped—perhaps in part because I did so rationally.

Righteous anger is directing our emotions and our passion of angst toward the things that make God angry. God is completely perfect, holy and separate from sin and brokenness. In short, God is righteous by his very nature and character. Whoever God is, and whatever God does, is right. What goes against the nature and character of God is unrighteous. And anger over those things that violate the nature and character of God is righteous, because it longs for the things God longs for in His righteousness.

While remaining perfectly in control, Jesus addressed brokenness, suffering and injustice with boldness, always with a righteous indignation and anger against sin. Being the perfect Son of God, he hates anything that goes against his character and the character of his Father. This is the same Jesus who cleansed the temple: “He made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts” (John 2:14).

Often, we trade this God-focused anger for a self-focused or other-focused outrage. We may direct it toward a political candidate, a pastor or even an individual we encounter in an online comments space. Angst and aggression toward a person are cheap, quick, and sinful knockoffs of righteous anger.

Righteous anger is humble and aware of our own propensity toward sin. As we focus on the nature and character of God, it changes the way we see ourselves and others. Consider Jesus’ powerful words in Matthew 7:5: “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Jesus instructs us to look inward first and see our own gaping and overt deficiencies. As we work on these, we will have a clearer view and personal experience of the righteousness of God. Then we’ll be in a better place to help others in a loving and Christlike manner. One is dependent on the other.

Conversely, outrage arises from pride, arrogance and a lack of self-awareness that always cries, “But what about … ?” There’s nothing wrong with taking the speck out of someone’s eye—and the Bible is clear that we should do it—but only after seeing to ourselves. Outrage silences the voice of nuance and self-reflection with the cries of hate and vehement reaction. Attempting to address the sin in other people’s lives without first addressing our own is hypocrisy.

God’s anger is always in the context of His kindness, drawing others toward repentance and faith. Outrage forgets or ignores this grace of Jesus. It seeks to drown out the possibility of mercy or grace, demanding retribution instead. It’s unapologetic, quick and severe. It is a shame Christians often follow this cultural pattern of reacting vengefully instead of mercifully.

Building Bridges

Third, outrage divides, but mission engages. “Culture war” is not a term I like to use, because it is hard to war with a people and love them at the same time. But it is demonstrably true that the culture has turned against many Christian values. In other words, in many ways, this came to us. We did not always create it. There is the redefinition of marriage, the denial of universal truth and the false accusation that Christianity has made the world worse instead of better. The fact is, Christians are right to reject such ideas. But we can stand up for truth without reacting hatefully toward those with whom we disagree.

How we respond when someone triggers us can help or hurt our Christian testimony. Jesus calls us to demonstrate his love and kindness, even when others unjustly accuse or malign us. I’m concerned that in this age of outrage—an age in which a personal response to an offense does not require a personal interaction—our character often reflects the world, not Jesus.

Our response matters. You see, we have a better way. Christians have the gospel, the best news ever. And the gospel brings us somber joy—the joy that comes from knowing we have salvation through Christ, and a sense of somberness because we see the wages of sin and know that many people still reject the only means of redemption. And how can we ever expect or hope that an unbelieving world will trust that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life if we treat them with disdain?

So, the question is this: How should we respond now? Of course, the answer is multifaceted. Some will, and must, defend religious liberty. Some will work to create a culture that draws others to the beauty of the gospel. Most of us will engage culture on a person-by-person basis rather than waging a culture war.

To accomplish the mission to which God is calling us, we need to stop contributing to the outrage and start engaging the outrage of others with the good news of Jesus. If Christians concentrated on loving others instead expressing outrage at our differences with them, if we showed people mercy instead of condemnation, they would see Jesus in a different light. I’m convinced this is, indeed, one of the greatest challenges of our day.

Now to be fair, our challenges are less threatening than those many faced in previous centuries. Most of us aren’t worried about impalement on stakes. But the stakes we face are still high. We must engage this moment well for the cause of Christ and his kingdom.

Salt and Light

It’s time to let go of outrage and find another way, a better way. Modeling Christ’s love isn’t just for pastors and church leaders. It’s what the Holy Spirit empowers every Christ follower to do. Jesus calls his followers to be the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.” In the Sermon on the Mount, he says, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).

Most people love darkness rather than light. As Christians, we need a steady diet of Jesus and the gospel to resist the pull toward darkness. Unfortunately, many of our churches lack biblical engagement outside of Sunday morning, and have no plan for discipling members. And many pastors are hesitant to address the inappropriate online interactions of congregants.

But Jesus does not shy away from these things. Where he sees a gap, he fills it. Where there is a problem, he lovingly tends to it. He rolls up his sleeves and gets to work in the hard and dark places of our hearts to bring wholeness, healing, redemption, and grace.

Jesus provides the ultimate example of how to live righteously in a hostile world. As Peter describes it, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).

While we humbly work on this in our own lives, we can also point other believers toward kindness instead of rage. The same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead lives in us (Rom. 8:11). He will empower us to rise above outrage and respond with temperance.

Kaltenbach has received some pushback for promoting a message of respectful dialogue. But he doesn’t worry about the naysayers. After all, changing hearts is God’s job; ours is to share his truth boldly and graciously.

Scripture reminds us that those who cause division “do not have the Spirit” (Jude 1:19). Those who walk in step with the Spirit produce his fruit: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22–23). Noticeably absent from the apostle Paul’s list is outrage. So let us be filled with the Spirit and walk in step with him, instead of spewing vitriol through our keyboards and smartphones.

Jesus calls us to build bridges, not unnecessarily burn them. (Quote source here.)

After reading what the three authors wrote above, I’m starting to feel the weight of weariness drop off from everything going on in our culture right now. After all, the burden is too heavy for any one person to carry, and Jesus never intended for us to carry that burden anyway. After all, he told us in Matthew 11:28-30:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

I hope the words by the authors above will be of comfort to all of us who struggle to get through these particularly challenging days right now. I’ll end this post with these words from the apostle Paul found in Phil. 4:6-7: Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding…

Will guard your hearts . . .

And your minds . . .

In Christ Jesus . . . .

YouTube Video: “I Will Fear No More” by The Afters:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit
here

A Fork in the Road

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it” is a quote attributed to Baseball Hall-of-Famer, Yogi Berra (1925-2015), who was a brilliant baseball player and manager widely regarded as one of the greatest catchers in baseball history. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972. (Quote source here and here).

Who among us hasn’t had to face a fork in the road when making a decision that could totally alter the direction of our lives? Nobody can see into the future, yet a decision still needs to be made.

In an article published on June 21, 2016, titled, A Fork in the Road,” by Lisa Merlo-Booth, relationship coach at lisamerlobooth.com, she writes:

Life is a series of forks in the road. Some of those forks are big decisions regarding positive moments (e.g. should I marry, move, have a child), while others face us in our darkest times. In those dark times, we have to remember that what feels horrible and insurmountable today will not be there forever. Whether that “horrible” is an unhappy marriage, a feeling of loneliness, the pain of an injustice, a tragic loss or a seemingly unforgivable mistake—recognize that there are many options to choose from in terms of making things better. Do not blindly, impulsively or unconsciously go down the wrong path. The consequences of any fork in the road can be monumental, so take the time to choose the path that honors, rather than harms, humanity—your own or others. (Quote source here.)

For those of us who are Christians, we know that this life is not just about what we want, and that our beliefs impact our decisions. In an article published on February 22, 2011, in Insights for Living Canada titled, When You Come to a Fork in the Road,” by Robyn Roste, writer, editor, and broadcast producer, she writes:

“I don’t know what to do with my life!”

How many times have you said or heard this?

These words were cried in frustration most memorably when I was moving home, after several years away. While in the midst of adventuring, discovering, and exploring, I rarely thought about what was next. But once it was over I found I was unprepared to deal with the choices in front of me.

Questions gnawed at my mind, making me wonder if I had missed God’s plan for my life. Did I get it wrong? Where was I supposed to be? What was I meant to do? Why didn’t anything make sense anymore?

In reality I wasn’t failing at life, I was at a crossroads. Along the bumpy path of life’s road we all inevitably encounter forks, and deciding which direction to turn is a part of life. But how do you decide which way to go? Without knowing the big picture or where the road will take you, how do you know which direction is right?

Sometimes the choices and options keep us up at night. And rightly so! Major life decisions like where to go to school, whether to marry, or what career path to follow should be taken seriously. However, losing sleep and anxious thoughts will only make things worse.

As Christians, we believe this world is temporary and Christ’s return is imminent. Our life choices, then, become that much more important—we want to live lives of meaning, yet know there’s so much more to come. It can be difficult to balance the here and now with what’s to come but the good news is God has already given us the tools we need to make wise decisions.

Here are some ways I’ve learned to focus on what really matters when decisions threaten to keep me up at night:

  1. Relax. Sometimes we get so focused on “the plan” and fearful of missing out on God’s best that we miss the point. Instead of stressing over the plan, focus on developing your relationship with Him. Trust that God will let you know what to do in His time. “Though the Lord gave you adversity for food and suffering for drink, he will still be with you to teach you. You will see your teacher with your own eyes. Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, ‘This is the way you should go,’ whether to the right or to the left.” (Isaiah 30:20-21).
  2. Remember. When a big decision is looming it’s easy to become overwhelmed to the point of paralysis. To break this cycle, remember God’s faithfulness to you in your life, and of His unchanging trustworthiness throughout history. He will remain faithful even if it’s difficult to see His hand in your current situation. “He guards the paths of the just and protects those who are faithful to him. Then you will understand what is right, just, and fair, and you will find the right way to go.” (Proverbs 2:8-9).
  3. Rest. When we’re struggling, this is no easy task. Give God your burden and believe He will give you what you need. Find His promises in the Bible and choose to hope in them. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

My story at this particular crossroad has an interesting conclusion. At one point I wrote down my interests, dreams, and hopes. After listing everything I could think of, I put them in order of importance. Then I glued them to a poster board and started drawing circles and lines to connect related topics. After a while all I could see was a giant, sticky mess and I cried in desperation, “Lord you are the only one who can make sense of this! I need you to take over!”

Three years later I look back and can clearly see the Lord’s hand on my life, although at the time it just seemed like chaos. Step-by-step He has proven to be faithful and has shown me, in His perfect timing, how my seemingly random hopes and dreams connect in a way that makes me uniquely capable of serving Him in this time and place, with the ever-present hope of what’s to come. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on September 14, 2018, titled, The Proverbial Fork in the Road,” by Michael Griego, Silicon Valley businessman, consultant, author and speaker, he offers the following six steps when facing a fork in the road:

This week I advised my laid-off friend to take the following 6 steps over the coming months. [Note: the complete article is available at this link for the background story.] I believe this advice applies to any believer facing that proverbial fork in the road:

  1. Thank God–We’re told to be grateful in all things (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Thank God for your circumstances, even when painful. Acknowledge and invite God into your situation.
  2. Determine your Choice Options–Take wise consideration of your options. Include what makes sense, what may be a dream, and what may even not be reasonable. Reduce these alternatives into a few broad categories.
  3. Surrender them to GodIf you believe that God is God Almighty, then why hold onto anything? Take your job/career alternatives and humbly lay them before God to take them and turn them inside out or blossom them as He desires.
  4. Conduct your Due DiligenceDo the work it takes to pray, study, research, consult others, etc., in order to best evaluate all of your options. (Incidentally, this is when I discovered that not all advice is God-led or inspired, even from well-intended Christians.) With discernment, seek wise, Holy Spirit-led counsel.
  5. Take Forward StepsYou can’t expect the solution to merely drop in your lap. It could, but don’t bet on it. Take proactive action steps in response to opportunities and leads. The good news here is that with God’s full invitation into your life/process, He will open and shut doors in uncanny ways.
  6. Repeat Steps 1-6 DailyThis whole plan of action is actually for daily practice. Come to God in thankful prayer every day with new highs and lows and adjusted opportunities. Surrender them all to God and continue your appropriate homework and action steps.

The epiphany for me, and hopefully for my friend, is in the realization that it’s a daily process. It drives us to our knees in submission and allows God to draw us closer to Him. Is God the Lord of your decision-making? (Quote source here.)

Meredith Hodges, freelance writer, copy editor, and communications professional, offers the following advice from her June 19, 2017 blog post titled, Praying at the Fork in the Road”:

I have encountered many forks in the road throughout my years of struggling to conceive a child. One way tells me to wait, one way tells me to move forward in treatment. One way points to parenthood no matter the method, one way points to contentment in childlessness. The list can go on and on. Some days the pressure of choosing the “right” way is overwhelming, and the burden of these decisions can cloud my vision.

When these decisions tempt me to despair, I do nothing else but pray and seek the Lord in his Word. So friend, no matter what decision you are facing today, seek the Lord above all else and pray scripture fervently. May these prayers lead and bless you. [Meredith offers five very specific prayers at this link which is also the source for the above information].

She also offers the following Prayer for the Directionless,” posted on September 12, 2016:

Are you in a season of feeling that you are directionless, lost, or stuck? Perhaps you need direction for today, or maybe you need direction for grander decisions. My hope for you is that this Scripture-led prayer will guide you as you seek the Lord for direction.

My Father and my God,

It’s unclear to me where I am to be going, but my desire is for you to lead me in your truths. Remind me not to lean on my own limited understanding; make my paths straight, Lord (Prov. 3:5-6).

Father, protect my mind from distraction and confusion as I determine what my next steps are. I admit that I cannot do life within my own strength, Lord; I need you. Please give me godly direction for my life. Grant me peace, contentment, and clarity through this process. I ask that you direct my steps by your word, and that no iniquity I’m experiencing would have power over me (Psalm 119:133).

My hope is in you all day long, Lord. Thank you for your divine provision over my life. Amen. (Quote source here.)

In an article dated June 5, 2014, titled, Forks in the Road,” by Billy Graham (1918-2018), international Christian evangelist, ordained Southern Baptist minister, and considered to be “among the most influential Christian leaders” of the 20th Century (source here), he wrote:

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.”Psalm 32:8

We can’t change the past, but we can change the future.

Tragically, many people spend their lives trapped in an endless cycle of bad choices–and bad choices always have bad results. The Bible is right: “A man reaps what he sows” (Galatians 6:7). It also warns, “He who sows wickedness reaps trouble” (Proverbs 22:8). Even Christians aren’t immune from making wrong choices.

The journey God has set before us isn’t a freeway; we are constantly encountering forks and junctions and crossroads. Which way will we go when we meet them? Life is filled with decisions, and we can’t avoid them. But others are major (even if we don’t realize it at the time) and can literally change our lives.

How can we discover God’s will when we face a major decision? Let me give you six guidelines I have found helpful.

First, commit your decision to God. Make it a matter of regular prayer, asking God to guide you and make His will known to you.

Second, read the Scriptures. Does the Bible give any direct guidance about the decision you are facing? Does any principle in the Bible apply to your situation? Did anyone in the Bible ever face a similar decision, and, if so, how did they deal with it? (We can even learn from the wrong decisions some of them made.)

Third, understand your circumstances. God isn’t only working in us; He also is working around us. Often God guides us through our circumstances.

Fourth, seek godly advice. God has given some people a special gift of wisdom, and when we face a decision, it’s often helpful to seek their counsel.

Fifth, trust the Holy Spirit’s guidance. When we honestly seek His will, God often gives us an inner conviction or prompting to confirm which way He wants us to go. The Bible says, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear the voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21).

Finally, trust God for the outcome. Once God leads you to make a decision, don’t draw back. Instead, trust His leading, and believe He goes before you – for He does. The Bible says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Remember: God loves you, and He wants you to know His will. Seek it . . . discover it . . . and then do it. His way is always best. (Quote source here.)

The year 2020 has presented us with many challenges so far, and if you happen to be at a fork in the road whether the decision you need to make is big or small, the above advice is a very good place to start. I’ll end this post with the words from Psalm 19:21 (NLT)…

You can make many plans . . .

But the Lord’s purpose . . .

Will prevail . . .

YouTube Video: “Which Way the Wind Blows” (1974) by The 2nd Chapter of Acts:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Smiling Faces

A smile can mean a lot of things. Dictionary.com defines smile as: (1) to assume a facial expression indicating pleasure, favor, or amusement, but sometimes derision or scorn, characterized by an upturning of the corners of the mouth, and (2) to regard with favor (quote source here). A smile can be a genuine show of happiness, gratefulness, approval or sincerity; or it can be sarcastic, sardonic, mean spirited or totally fake (as in the “smiling faces” mentioned in a 1972 song by The Staple Singers–YouTube Video is below).

In a devotion published on July 2, 2020, in Our Daily Bread titled, Talking Bananas,” by Jennifer Benson Schuldt, writer, blogger, and a contributor to Our Daily Bread, she writes about the encouraging side of a smile:

Never give up. Be the reason someone smiles. You’re amazing. It isn’t where you came from—it’s where you’re going that counts. Some school children in Virginia Beach, Virginia, found these messages and more written on bananas in their lunchroom. Cafeteria manager Stacey Truman took the time to write the encouraging notes on the fruit, which the kids dubbed “talking bananas.”

This caring outreach reminds me of Barnabas’ heart for the “spiritual youngsters” in the ancient city of Antioch (Acts 11:22–24). Barnabas was famous for his ability to inspire people. Known as a good man, full of faith and the Holy Spirit, he prompted the new believers to “remain true to the Lord with all their hearts” (v. 23). I imagine he spent time with those he wanted to help, saying things like: Keep praying. Trust the Lord. Stay close to God when life is hard.

New believers, like children, need loads of encouragement. They’re full of potential. They’re discovering what they’re good at. They may not fully realize what God wants to do in and through them, and often the enemy works overtime to prevent their faith from flourishing.

Those of us who’ve walked with Jesus for a while understand how hard living for Jesus can be. May all of us be able to give and receive encouragement as God’s Spirit guides us and reminds us of spiritual truth. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on August 22, 2019, titled, Beyond Real and Fake: 10 Main Types of Smiles and What They Mean,” by Rebecca Joy Stanborough, MFA, she writes:

Human beings smile for a number of reasons. You may smile when you spot your long-lost bestie in baggage claim, when you engage your co-workers during a presentation, or when you imagine your ex’s lawyer tripping on the way into the courthouse.

People are fascinated by smiles—all of them. From Mona Lisa to the Grinch, we’re captivated by those both genuine and fake. This enigmatic facial expression has been the subject of hundreds of studies.

Here’s what we know about the 10 different types of smiles, what they look like, and what they mean.

The social functions of smiling

One of the most useful ways to categorize smiles is according to their social function, or the purposes they serve in groups of people.

Broadly speaking, there are three kinds of smiles: smiles of reward, smiles of affiliation, and smiles of dominance.

A smile may be among the most instinctive and simple of expressions—just the hoisting of a couple of facial muscles. But as a form of social interaction and communication, a smile is complex, dynamic, and powerful.

Studies have shown that people are incredibly perceptive when it comes to reading and recognizing these smiles in social situations.

Many people are able to correctly identify which kind of smile they’re witnessing, and seeing certain kinds of smiles can have powerful psychological and physical effects on people.

The 10 types of smiles

Here are the 10 most common types of smiles:

1. Reward smiles

Many smiles arise from a positive feeling — contentment, approval, or even happiness in the midst of sorrow. Researchers describe these as “reward” smiles because we use them to motivate ourselves or other people.

Reward smiles involve a lot of sensory stimuli. Muscles in the mouth and cheeks are both activated, as are muscles in the eye and brow areas. More positive input from the senses increases the good feelings and leads to better reinforcement of the behavior.

For example, when a baby unexpectedly smiles at their mother, it triggers the dopamine reward centers in the mother’s brain. (Dopamine is a feel-good chemical.) The mother is thus rewarded for her baby’s apparent happiness.

2. Affiliative smiles

People also use smiles to reassure others, to be polite, and to communicate trustworthiness, belonging, and good intentions. Smiles like these have been characterized as “affiliation” smiles because they function as social connectors.

A gentle smile is often perceived as a sign of compassion, for example.

These smiles involve the upward pull of the lips, and according to researchers, often trigger dimpling in the cheeks.

According to research, affiliative smiles can also include a lip presser, where the lips remain closed during the smile. Keeping the teeth hidden might be a subtle reversal of the primitive tooth-baring aggression signal.

3. Dominance smiles

“Think” by Aretha Franklin in Blues Brothers Movie (1980) (see YouTube Video below).

People sometimes smile to show their superiority, to communicate contempt or derision, and to make others feel less powerful. You might call it a sneer. The mechanics of a dominance smile are different than reward or affiliative smiles.

A dominance smile is more likely to be asymmetrical: One side of the mouth rises, and the other side remains in place or pulls downward.

In addition to these movements, dominance smiles may also include a lip curl and the raising of an eyebrow to expose more of the white part of the eye, both of which are powerful signals of disgust and anger.

Studies show that the dominance smile works.

Researchers tested the saliva of people on the receiving end of a dominance smile and found higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, for up to 30 minutes after the negative encounter.

The study also found that the sneer raised heart rates among the participants. This kind of smile is a nonverbal threat, and the body responds accordingly.

4. The lying smile

If you’re looking for a foolproof lie detector, the face isn’t it. According to research, even the most experienced law enforcement officials only spot liars about half the time.

Nevertheless, there have been studies that revealed smile patterns among people who were actively trying to deceive others in high-stakes situations.

A 2012 study conducted a frame-by-frame analysis of people filmed while publicly pleading for the return of a missing family member. Half of those individuals were later convicted of killing the relative.

Among the deceivers, the zygomaticus major muscle—the one that pulls your lips into a smile—repeatedly fired. Not so with those who were genuinely grief-stricken.

5. The wistful smile

Anyone who has seen the 1989 movie classic “Steel Magnolias” will recall the cemetery scene when M’Lynn, played by Sally Fields, finds herself laughing raucously on the day she buries her daughter.

The sheer dexterity of human emotion is astonishing. So, we’re able to smile in the midst of both emotional and physical pain.

Experts at the National Institutes of Health think that the ability to smile and laugh during the grieving process protects you while you recover. Interestingly, scientists think we might smile during physical pain for protective purposes, too.

Researchers monitored the facial expressions of people who were undergoing painful procedures and found that they smiled more when loved ones were present than when they were alone. They concluded that people were using smiles to reassure others.

6. The polite smile

You dispense a polite smile surprisingly often: when you first meet someone, when you’re about to deliver bad news, and when you’re concealing a response you believe someone else won’t like. The list of social situations requiring a pleasant expression is a long one.

Most of the time, a polite smile involves the zygomaticus major muscle, but not the orbicularis oculi muscle. In other words, your mouth smiles, but your eyes don’t.

Polite smiles help us maintain a kind of discreet distance between people. Whereas warm smiles sparked by genuine feeling tend to draw us closer to others, that closeness isn’t always appropriate.

Lots of social situations call for trustworthy friendliness but not emotional intimacy. In those situations, researchers have found the polite smile is as effective as a heartfelt one.

7. The flirtatious smile

Dating, psychology, and even dental websites offer advice on how to use your smile to flirt with someone.

Some tips are subtle: Keep your lips together and lift an eyebrow. Some are coy: Smile while tipping your head down slightly. Some are downright comical: Smile with a little whipped cream or coffee froth on your lips.

While there’s a lot of cultural influence on these tips and comparatively little evidence to back their effectiveness, there’s proof that smiling makes you more attractive.

One study found that attractiveness is heavily influenced by smiling, and that a happy, intense smile can “compensate for relative unattractiveness.”

8. The embarrassed smile

An oft-quoted 1995 study found that a smile provoked by embarrassment is often accompanied by a downward tilt of the head and a shifting of the gaze to the left.

If you’re embarrassed, you’ll probably touch your face more often, too.

A 2009 study on embarrassed smiles did confirm the head movements. However, it didn’t confirm that people who are embarrassed usually smile with their mouths closed. Their smiles tend to not last as long as amused or polite smiles.

9. The Pan Am smile

This smile gets its name from the Pan Am flight attendants who were required to keep smiling, even when customers and circumstances made them want to throw peanut packets across the cabin.

Widely regarded as forced and fake, the Pan Am smile might have appeared extreme.

Studies show that when people are posing, they use extra effort to yank on their zygomaticus major muscle.

As a result, the corners of the mouth are extra high, and more of the teeth are exposed. If a posed smile is asymmetrical, the left side of the mouth will be higher than the right side.

If you’re one of the nearly 2.8 million people employed in the customer service industry, or if your job requires you to interact regularly with the public, you might want to reconsider relentlessly deploying the Pan Am smile, as it could affect your health.

A recent study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology found that people who have to fake happiness regularly at work often end up drinking off the stress after they clock out.

10. The Duchenne smile

This one is the gold standard. The Duchenne smile is also known as the smile of genuine enjoyment. It’s the one that involves the mouth, the cheeks, and the eyes simultaneously. It’s the one where your whole face seems to light up suddenly.

Authentic Duchenne smiles make you seem trustworthy, authentic, and friendly. They’ve been found to generate better customer service experiences and better tips. And they’ve been linked to longer life and healthier relationships.

In a 2009 study, researchers looked at the intensity of smiles in college yearbook photos and found that women who had Duchenne smiles in their photos were more likely to be happily married much later.

In another study published in 2010, researchers examined baseball cards from 1952. They found that players whose photos showed intense, authentic smiles had lived much longer than those whose smiles looked less intense.

The takeaway

Smiles vary. Whether they express genuine bursts of feeling or they’re intentionally created to suit a specific purpose, smiles serve important functions in systems of human interaction.

They may reward behavior, inspire social bonding, or exert dominance and subservience. They can be used to deceive, to flirt, to maintain social norms, to signal embarrassment, to cope with pain, and to express rushes of sentiment.

In all their ambiguity and variety, smiles are one of the most powerful means we have of communicating who we are and what we intend in social contexts. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on February 2, 2020, titled Top Ten Reasons You Should Smile Everyday,” by Mark Stibich, Ph.D., Founder and Chief Scientific Officer, Xenex Healthcare Services, he writes:

Many see smiling simply as an involuntary response to things that bring you joy or laughter. While this observation is certainly true, what most people overlook is that smiling can be just as much a voluntary response as a conscious and powerful choice.

Countless scientific studies have confirmed that a genuine smile is generally considered attractive to others around us. Other studies have shed light on how the act of smiling can elevate your mood and the mood of those around you.

A strong link has been found between good health, longevity, and smiling. Most importantly, studies have shown​ that just the act of smiling (making the physical facial shapes and movements), whether the result of real joy or an act, can have both short- and long-term benefits on people’s health and well being.

Still not convinced? Here are the top 10 reasons you should make a conscious effort to smile every day. [Note: the 10 reasons listed below have more detailed information that can be read at this link.]

    1. Smiling makes us attractive.
    2. Smiling releases stress.
    3. Smiling elevates our mood.
    4. Smiling is contagious.
    5. Smiling boosts your immune system.
    6. Smiling lowers your blood pressure.
    7. Smiling makes us feel good.
    8. Smiling makes you look younger.
    9. Smiling makes you seems successful.
    10. Smiling helps you stay positive.

Try this test: Smile. Now try to think of something negative without losing the smile. It’s hard, isn’t it?

Even when a smile feels unnatural or forced, it still sends the brain and ultimately the rest of our body the message that “Life is Good!” Stay away from depression, stress, and worry by smiling. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on June 6, 2020, titled, Smiling (Bible verses on smiling), by Fritz Chery at BibleReasons.com, he opens with the following:

Always put a smile on your face because it’s a very powerful weapon. I’m not talking about a cheesy fake one. I’m talking about a genuine smile of happiness. Instead of putting on a frown when in hard times which will only make you feel worse, turn that frown upside down.

I guarantee you if you do this, you will feel so much better. Remember God is always faithful. He will hold you up. Rejoice because all things work together for good. Uplift your life and think about all the great things God has done for you. Here are reasons why you should always be thankful.

Think about things that are honorable. Give God thanks and always smile, which shows strength. Bless someone’s life today by just giving them a smile and that alone can indeed uplift them. [Note: 16 Bible verses are listed in the article and can be read at this link.] (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with one of those 16 Bible verses mentioned in the above article: Proverbs 15:30a (NLT)…

A cheerful look . . .

Brings joy . . .

To the heart . . . .

YouTube Video: “I’ll Take You There” (1972) by The Staple Singers:

YouTube Video: “Think” (1980) by Aretha Franklin feat. The Blues Brothers:

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

Pray Without Ceasing

As the coronavirus pandemic and racial unrest going on all across America continues, we find ourselves living in highly stressful times. One only needs to turn on the TV or go on any social media site to find plenty of reasons for our stress. In fact, a look at an article published on June 2, 2020 titled, Pandemic, Recession, Unrest: 2020 and the Confluence of Crises,” by Susan Milligan, Senior Political Writer at U.S. New and World Report is just one of a plethora of articles related to the current crises going on around America.

I find myself not wanting to turn on the news on TV very often anymore as I don’t want to add more stressful news to what I’ve already heard is going on out there; yet, a head in the sandapproach accomplishes nothing.

For Christians, our first avenue of defense is prayer. There is a lot of power in prayer, and it is not a static activity. Paul wrote in Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV), Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” 

“Anything” can be, well, anything… coronavirus, the unrest that is going on around the country, a job loss, a death in the family, uncertainty in any given situation. In fact, it can be any kind of upheaval big or small–the list of things that can cause us stress is endless.

In an article published on January 29, 2019 on Medium.com and titled, Living Words: Philippians 4:6-7,” by Lucas Quagliata, Marketing Strategist, he writes:

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.” (Phil. 4:6-7, NLT)

This verse is special not only because of what it reveals about God, but also for how it empowers us in difficult times. We are told that speaking with God, telling Him what we need and praising Him for what He’s done, will allow us to experience a peace that goes beyond our own understanding, outside of what we can even imagine.

When we face hardship, this is a verse we can look to. When life overwhelms, this verse reminds us to turn to God, ask Him to help us, and think about the positives. The last of those may seem like an odd thing to do in times of trouble. Praising God in times of calamity isn’t our reflexive response.

I don’t believe that Paul, the author, tells us here to think about the positives because then our situation won’t seem that bad, or because it will take our minds off of the trouble, or anything like that. I think it’s more likely that it helps us to view things in a different light and begin to plot a way forward. What can we do to bring good into a negative situation? In a time of scarcity or lacking, what do we have to build with?

While this verse can bring comfort out of context, it can be understood more completely as part of the larger chapter. Paul goes on:

His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

Paul reiterates that we should focus on the good, focus on building towards what is right. Even when our hearts are in the right place, it’s all too easy to begin with the negative. Paul says here to flip that on its head, to fix our thoughts on what is lovely, pure, and admirable, and to put those things into practice. Won’t that, in turn, crowd out and eliminate what ails us? By doing this, we add light to the darkness and we show ourselves and others the best way forward.

He then writes of how God has shown him how to live when times are great, and when they’re not. Whether he has a full stomach or is starving, when he has plenty or little. It’s worth reading the whole chapter. This ties in well with the idea that God provides us with a peace that goes beyond what we’re able to understand. After all, shouldn’t we feel more anxious when we’re feeling insecure? When we’re not healthy, or we’re experiencing financial hardship, or having problems with our relationships?

Human wisdom would tell us that we should be worried in those situations. But God tells us to spend time in prayer, to think of what we have, and to take action from a higher, enlightened perspective. By taking time to think things through and pray, we receive a calming guidance about where we are and what to do next. This allows us to center ourselves and face our troubles with confidence—a confidence that we ourselves may not even comprehend. This removes the power that the world claims to hold over us and gives that power to its rightful owner, The Lord above. (Quote source here.)

We tend to want to understand (and try to control) everything that is going on around us, and we don’t want to be kept in the dark about anything. However, life is full of complex, convoluted, and larger-than-our-own-lives situations that all too often we don’t understand and we can’t understand. Our understanding is finite. However, God’s understanding in infinite.

In an article published on June 2, 2016, titled, 9 Bible verses to help us understand how unlimited God is,” by Patrick Mabilog, contributor on ChristianToday.com, he writes:

In our own limited human understanding, we often find ourselves putting God in a box and limiting Him, but the Word of God tells us that we serve a God who is unlimited in power, capacity, knowledge, being, compassion, grace and holiness.

It’s been said that trying to understand the fullness of God is like trying to put the whole pacific ocean into a glass of water. It can never happen and it will never be possible. We will never truly understand God fully. How is He three Persons at once? How is He without beginning and end? How could He have created the world in just a few days?

We try to understand God, but there just comes a point where we leave the books on the table, put our hands up in worship and say, “Lord, how majestically unlimited you are.” Yes, it is indeed hard to imagine and basically impossible to truly fathom God’s whole being and person.  Yet we can trust that God is indeed limitless both in power and in His love for us.  When we really get a hold of that, we will realize how much we should never be afraid of anything in our lives.

Here are nine scriptures that will help you to stop putting God in a box and remember just how mighty and great He is.

1 Corinthians 2:9“But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’—”

Isaiah 55:9. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Ephesians 1:18-19. “I ask that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know the hope of His calling, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and the surpassing greatness of His power to us who believe. He displayed this power in the working of His mighty strength.”

Colossians 1:17. “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” 

Job 36:22-24. “God’s power is unlimited. He needs no teachers to guide or correct him. Others have praised God for what he has done, so join with them.”

Ephesians 3:19. “May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.”

1 Kings 8:27. “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this house which I have built!”

1 Timothy 6:16. “…who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.”

Psalm 147:5. “Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite.” (Quote source here.)

Back to the subject of prayer–prayer can take place anywhere, in any location, at any time, in any situation, and it does not have to be formal or even spoken out loud. I often pray silently. In answer to the question, What is prayer?” GotQuestions.org answers with the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When stress tries to overwhelm us, the best and most immediate solution is to pray. In fact, we should pray even when we aren’t feeling stressful. We should pray when everything appears to be going right. We should pray no matter what our circumstances might be. And even if you have no clue what to pray or even the right words to pray, Jesus taught his disciples how to pray in Matthew 6:9-13 (NASB):

“Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’]

I also find myself praying Psalm 23 often and even in silence in my bed at night, and I personalize it:

Lord, You are my Shepherd,
I shall not want.
You makes me lie down in green pastures;
You leads me beside quiet waters,
and You restore my soul;
You guide me in the paths of righteousness
For Your name’s sake.
Even though I walk through
the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;

You anoint my head with oil;
And my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy
will follow me all the days of my life,

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.

While 2020 has certainly given us a lot of challenges so far in the first six months, nothing is too hard for God. So if you’re feeling stressed out, take time to pray right now. God is always available. I’ll end this post with these words from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV): Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances….

For this is God’s will . . .

For you . . .

In Christ Jesus . . . .

YouTube Video: “I Will Fear No More” by The Afters:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

A Virtual Memorial Day Celebration

Today is Memorial Day here in America. As stated on AARP’s website: “The COVID-19 pandemic has upended life as we know it, forcing us to alter our behavior for the sake of public health. Memorial Day is no exception. Although most parades and public events have been cancelled for this year’s Memorial Day, there are still ways to honor service members who lost their lives. We compiled a list of events and services that can help you observe the holiday from home or within your community.” (Quote source and their list of activities can be found at this link.)

I watched the National Memorial Day Concert on television yesterday that was broadcast on PBS, and it was excellent. It is available to watch on their website at this link, and it is one hour and 25 minutes in length. One of the songs performed during this concert is titled “Still a Soldier” and it is sung by Trace Adkins (YouTube video is at the bottom of this blog post).

There are several veterans in my family including myself, but I don’t count what I did as anything even remotely close to my other family members who served in the military. My dad and stepmother served in the U.S. Navy during World War 2 (and my dad remained in the Naval Reserve for 20 years after his active duty ended); my older brother served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War and he was stationed in Saigon; and my stepbrother served in the U.S. Army for several years including being stationed in Germany. I served in the U.S. Army on a two-year enlistment they had at the time, and I was stationed in South Korea at the tail end of the Vietnam War. Three of them have passed on–my stepbrother died in 2008, my stepmother died in 2011, and my dad died a year ago in June 2019. While none of them died in active service, they were veterans at the time of their death, so I remember them on this day as well as on Veteran’s Day.

In an article titled, Memorial Day Meaning,” published on AllAboutHistory.org is the transcript of a speech given by President Ronald Reagan at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day in 1986. Here is that article and the transcript of President Reagan’s speech:

Memorial Day Meaning – The History

Each May, the United States celebrates a day called Memorial Day. Does Memorial Day have meaning? What is the history of Memorial Day?

Memorial Day was first widely observed in May 1868. The celebration commemorated the sacrifices of the Civil War and the proclamation was made by General John A Logan. Following the proclamation, participants decorated graves of more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers.

In years since World War 1, the day has become a celebration of honor for those who died in all America’s wars, as well as those who are Veterans and current members of the US military.

In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday. The United States celebrates this holiday the last Monday of May.

Memorial Day Meaning – Reagan’s Speech

President Ronald Reagan is credited with reviving the practice of honoring Memorial Day and its meaning. One of his famous speeches was given at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day in 1986:

“Today is the day we put aside to remember fallen heroes and to pray that no heroes will ever have to die for us again. It’s a day of thanks for the valor of others, a day to remember the splendor of America and those of her children who rest in this cemetery and others. It’s a day to be with the family and remember.

“I was thinking this morning that across the country children and their parents will be going to the town parade and the young ones will sit on the sidewalks and wave their flags as the band goes by. Later, maybe, they’ll have a cookout or a day at the beach. And that’s good, because today is a day to be with the family and to remember.

“Arlington, this place of so many memories, is a fitting place for some remembering. So many wonderful men and women rest here, men and women who led colorful, vivid, and passionate lives. There are the greats of the military: Bull Halsey and the Admirals Leahy, father and son; Black Jack Pershing; and the GI’s general, Omar Bradley. Great men all, military men. But there are others here known for other things.

“Here in Arlington rests a sharecropper’s son who became a hero to a lonely people. Joe Louis came from nowhere, but he knew how to fight. And he galvanized a nation in the days after Pearl Harbor when he put on the uniform of his country and said, ‘I know we’ll win because we’re on God’s side.’ Audie Murphy is here, Audie Murphy of the wild, wild courage. For what else would you call it when a man bounds to the top of a disabled tank, stops an enemy advance, saves lives, and rallies his men, and all of it single-handedly. When he radioed for artillery support and was asked how close the enemy was to his position, he said, ‘Wait a minute and I’ll let you speak to them.’ [Laughter]

“Michael Smith is here, and Dick Scobee, both of the space shuttle Challenger. Their courage wasn’t wild, but thoughtful, the mature and measured courage of career professionals who took prudent risks for great reward—in their case, to advance the sum total of knowledge in the world. They’re only the latest to rest here; they join other great explorers with names like Grissom and Chaffee.

“Oliver Wendell Holmes is here, the great jurist and fighter for the right. A poet searching for an image of true majesty could not rest until he seized on ‘Holmes dissenting in a sordid age.’ Young Holmes served in the Civil War. He might have been thinking of the crosses and stars of Arlington when he wrote: ‘At the grave of a hero we end, not with sorrow at the inevitable loss, but with the contagion of his courage; and with a kind of desperate joy we go back to the fight.’

“All of these men were different, but they shared this in common: They loved America very much. There was nothing they wouldn’t do for her. And they loved with the sureness of the young. It’s hard not to think of the young in a place like this, for it’s the young who do the fighting and dying when a peace fails and a war begins. Not far from here is the statue of the three servicemen—the three fighting boys of Vietnam. It, too, has majesty and more. Perhaps you’ve seen it—three rough boys walking together, looking ahead with a steady gaze. There’s something wounded about them, a kind of resigned toughness. But there’s an unexpected tenderness, too. At first you don’t really notice, but then you see it. The three are touching each other, as if they’re supporting each other, helping each other on.

“I know that many veterans of Vietnam will gather today, some of them perhaps by the wall. And they’re still helping each other on. They were quite a group, the boys of Vietnam—boys who fought a terrible and vicious war without enough support from home, boys who were dodging bullets while we debated the efficacy of the battle. It was often our poor who fought in that war; it was the unpampered boys of the working class who picked up the rifles and went on the march. They learned not to rely on us; they learned to rely on each other. And they were special in another way: They chose to be faithful. They chose to reject the fashionable skepticism of their time. They chose to believe and answer the call of duty. They had the wild, wild courage of youth. They seized certainty from the heart of an ambivalent age; they stood for something.

“And we owe them something, those boys. We owe them first a promise: That just as they did not forget their missing comrades, neither, ever, will we. And there are other promises. We must always remember that peace is a fragile thing that needs constant vigilance. We owe them a promise to look at the world with a steady gaze and, perhaps, a resigned toughness, knowing that we have adversaries in the world and challenges and the only way to meet them and maintain the peace is by staying strong.

“That, of course, is the lesson of this century, a lesson learned in the Sudetenland, in Poland, in Hungary, in Czechoslovakia, in Cambodia. If we really care about peace, we must stay strong. If we really care about peace, we must, through our strength, demonstrate our unwillingness to accept an ending of the peace. We must be strong enough to create peace where it does not exist and strong enough to protect it where it does. That’s the lesson of this century and, I think, of this day. And that’s all I wanted to say. The rest of my contribution is to leave this great place to its peace, a peace it has earned.

“Thank all of you, and God bless you, and have a day full of memories.” (Quote source here.) (YouTube video of Reagan’s speech is below.)

This Memorial Day is quieter then most due to the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing restrictions that are in place right now and many of the ceremonies have been held online. As we remember those service men and women who have died in service for our country or later on in life, and as we honor those veterans who are still alive; let us pray for God’s blessing on America, and ask for God’s protection over those who are servicing in all branches of our military. And may we never forget . . .

Freedom . . .

Isn’t . . .

Free . . . .

YouTube Video: Reagan’s Remarks at a Memorial Day Ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia — 5/26/86:

YouTube Video: Trace Adkins Performing “Still a Soldier” at the 2020 National Memorial Day Concert:

YouTube Video: Moment of Remembrance (Taps) – Memorial Day 2020:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here