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Blogs I Follow

The Presidents Club

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The Surest Defense Against Evil

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The Triumph of Grace

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Contemplating God’s Sovereignty

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How Should We Then Live?

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Not a Timid Christianity

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Finishing the Race

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Because the Time is Near

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Revelation Song (YouTube)

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Where The Wind Blows

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Doing Great Things

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Recognizing a False Prophet

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The Power of Forgiveness

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Created for Relationships

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The Only Way I Know

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Faith: The Misunderstood Doctrine

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Our True Home Address

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‘Tis the Season . . . for L-O-V-E

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The Paris Terrorist Attack and the Problem of Evil

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Cherry Picking 101

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Love Sweet Love

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So Goes The Culture

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Idols of the Heart

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Divisions Are Not Always Bad

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The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

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Be Bold For Change

I read a short article (actually, a devotion) on a blog last night and I said, “I must share it!” Not only is it short (most folks like short articles) but, as is the case with so many of my blog posts, it is written by someone who is famous and a lot more knowledgeable then I am, and he’s also a friend of mine. He was a pastor for 25 years, and he is a radio talk show host (among other things), and he’s written many books over the years, too. In fact, I’ve written about two of them previously on these two blog posts: Three Free Sins–Say What?” (published on August 5, 2012) on his book titled, Three Free Sins,” and True Colors (published on April 29, 2016) on his last book titled, Hidden Agendas: Dropping the Masks that Keep Us Apart.” And, he’s currently working on a new book, too.

His name is Dr. Steve Brown (but don’t call him doctor; call him Steve), and if you know him or have listened to him talk in a myriad of venues including his radio program, you know that he has a very deep voice and a delightful sense of humor. He’s also honest to the bone. And, he is, without a doubt, one of a kind. Steve is a former pastor and professor emeritus, founder of Key Life Networka Bible teacher, and he is a frequent and much sought-after speaker at conferences and in other settings.

Steve writes a regular devotional on his KeyLife website, and I want to share the devotion that was just published on March 27, 2017 as it speaks to an issue that is so prevalent in our society and world today. It is titled, The Problem with Religion,” and here is what Steve has to say on the topic (quote source: KeyLife):

The Problem with Religion

Do you sometimes grow tired of religious people? Do you ever want to just grunt, scream and spit? I know I do.

Sometimes I just want to say something shocking. And once that’s done, I’ll think, “There, I did it and I’m glad!” I try to stifle those feelings because, of course, no real Christian would even think such things. That is what I thought until I read Christ’s words in Matthew 6:1-8 and 16-18.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. . . . And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

The fact is, you can always tell when someone is religious . . . but you can’t always tell when someone is a Christian. One of the most dangerous things we do in the church is to confuse sanctimony with saintliness. That is the problem Jesus addresses in Matthew 6.

So we need to be careful.

Watch Out For Religious Exhibitionism.

Someone has said that true religion is what you do when no one sees.

Jesus makes the point that if you don’t do it privately, for God’s sake, don’t do it publicly. If you don’t believe it in your heart, for God’s sake, don’t do it in your life. If it isn’t real to you when you’re by yourself, for God’s sake, don’t say it is real when you’re with others. Sometimes the more the outward piety, the less the inward reality. That is why you have to watch those who say and do religious things.

Are you sometimes intimidated by the religious folks who do so much religious stuff? They are always faithful, they memorize Scripture all the time, they talk only about God and they know the creeds backwards.

Watch Out For Religious Words.

There is a direct correlation between the reality you know and the number of words you have to use to communicate that reality to others. The more words, the less the reality.

You should have heard all the religious clichés that surrounded my father on his deathbed. In contrast, the doctor who led him to Christ was very brief and very clear. He said, “Mr. Brown, you have cancer and three months to live. We’re going to have a prayer and then I’m going to tell you something more important than what I just told you.” They prayed and then in a very simple way that doctor led my father to Christ.

It takes many words to keep a sinking religious ship afloat. Most of us have a problem with keeping quiet . . . I know I do.

Are you sometimes intimidated by those who know so much and make it sound so complex?

Watch Out For Religious Condemnation.

You can tell how guilty a person is by asking how guilty you feel in that person’s presence.

How surprising of God to sanctify the tears of the thief and judge the silent condemnation of the religious judge. How surprising of God, in the midst of proper worship, correct theology and strict Sabbath keeping, to simply leave the building.

Do you sometimes wonder if you’re the real thing because you get so much wrong and they point it out?

Watch Out For Religious Solemnity.

Sometimes I get tickled at the seriousness of the church. If there weren’t a God, I would understand. But last time I checked, God was still there and had not, as yet, gone into a panic.

When Jesus is present, there is joy, freedom and release. Under the watchful eye of a sovereign God, we can rejoice in the laughter of the redeemed.

Do you ever get the giggles in the wrong place, are criticized and then question your salvation?

I’ve got some good news for you.

Jesus says twice, “They have their reward.” When people tell me that I’m spiritual, it often worries me. I would rather receive my reward from God than from them.

I have a friend who says that the difference between believers and unbelievers is that Christians know the rules and how to play the game. Therefore we can fake it better.

In Luke 18 Jesus told a story about a Pharisee who knew the rules. He went to the temple to pray and looked down on the tax collector who was also praying. The Pharisee rejoiced before God that he was not like the tax collector.

The Pharisee told God that he was not like other men. The Pharisee told God that he wasn’t an adulterer . . . and he wasn’t. The Pharisee told God that he wasn’t a tax collector who stole money from God’s people . . . and he wasn’t. The Pharisee told God that he fasted twice a week . . . and he did. The Pharisee told God that he tithed all of his possessions . . . and he did.

The tax collector, on the other hand, barely looked up. Instead, he pled for desperately needed mercy . . . and received it.

The rest of the story? When the Pharisee left the temple, the religious folks told him how much they appreciated his help in building the temple. After all, he was a benefactor. The religious folks went on to admire him for his fasting, praying, purity and commitment. As a result, the Pharisee felt good about himself.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t begrudge him.

According to Jesus, that’s all he got.

Time To Draw Away

Read Luke 18:9-14 Romans 8

Are you intimidated by religious folk . . . so much so that you begin to doubt your salvation? Don’t let that happen. You belong to God. So rest and relax in his love, mercy and grace. It’s already yours. (Quote source: “The Problem with Religion” on KeyLife).

I titled this blog post, Be Bold for Change,” as we who are part of the Church (see definition at this link) need to be far less religious and far more loving. We need to be far less self-righteous and far more genuine about our concerns for others (as in all others). We need to be far less concerned about materialism and far more concerned about those in need. We need to be far less judgmental and far more understanding of others. And we need be far less concerned about our “legacy” and far more concerned with trusting God and not ourselves and our own resources.

If we want to know just how “religious” we are at any given moment, just think about someone we don’t like very much. That’s all it takes. The example of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Jesus’s story quoted above in the devotion says it all. As Steve wrote:

He [the Pharisee] went to the temple to pray and looked down on the tax collector who was also praying. The Pharisee rejoiced before God that he was not like the tax collector.

The Pharisee told God that he was not like other men. The Pharisee told God that he wasn’t an adulterer . . . and he wasn’t. The Pharisee told God that he wasn’t a tax collector who stole money from God’s people . . . and he wasn’t. The Pharisee told God that he fasted twice a week . . . and he did. The Pharisee told God that he tithed all of his possessions . . . and he did.

The tax collector, on the other hand, barely looked up. Instead, he pled for desperately needed mercy . . . and received it.

And we all do it, too . . . judge others (and ourselves) according to our own measuring stick. That is why Jesus made it so clear that we should not judge others (and he knew our proclivity to do just that very thing, too) in Matthew 7:1-5 when he stated:

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 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.

The Pharisee paid no attention to “the plank in his own eye.” He thought he was righteous before God in the things that he did (or didn’t) do. He justified himself; whereas the tax collector humbled himself before God and acknowledged that he was a sinner, and asked for (and received) mercy. The difference between the two is huge.

It’s far too easy to play a religious game and miss the whole point of who Jesus really is. And it’s too easy to point fingers at others and mock or make fun of those we don’t know or understand–we do it all the time whether outwardly or in our thoughts (and God knows our thoughts even if others don’t). As Steve said about a friend he knew in the devotion above:

I have a friend who says that the difference between believers and unbelievers is that Christians know the rules and how to play the game. Therefore we can fake it better.

And we can fake it so well, too (or at least we think we fake it well). It’s often why some people leave the church and never come back. They can smell fake a mile away.

The answer? It’s found in Micah 6:8:

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

And that’s as simple as it gets . . . .

Act justly . . .

Love mercy . . .

And walk humbly . . .

YouTube Video: “Speak Life” by TobyMac:

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Chasing Lions

I come from the world of academia. For over twenty years I worked at colleges and universities, large and small, private and public, primarily secular but also Christian. I wasn’t a professor or faculty due to the fact that my master’s degree isn’t in a typical academic field (my M.S. is in Higher Education/Student Personnel Services). However, I was professional staff and I worked with a variety of students (primarily adult students) as well as having other responsibilities during those years. Given that fact, it’s hard for me to write anything that doesn’t try to help my readers (including myself) to think beyond our ordinary, day-to-day lives. We all have a tendency to get into a rut, and one of the great things about having spent my professional career working at colleges and universities is that if one does “get in a rut,” it’s by their own choice as there are many things on a continuing basis taking place on college campuses that invite participation.

When I lost my career eight years ago (regular readers of my blog know the story), I found that the longer I went without finding another job, the more I knew I needed to have some kind of creative outlet, and that is when this blog was born back in July 2010. Also, since I am a Christian, I knew it needed it’s core purpose firmly planted in a Christian worldview. At the beginning back in 2010 it was a bit shaky getting started as I was new to blogging at that time, and I spent the first year “experimenting” with it. I eventually deleted all the posts I had written up through April 2011 (very short posts and mostly in a diary format) as there was no consistency–no common theme holding them together. Three months later in July 2011, I fired my blog back up and this time it just took off. I mean it seriously took off and it has been going strong all this time. In fact, I’m close to a mile-marker as I will soon have 500 blog posts published on this blog at some point this year (this is blog post #481). I can honestly say that in all this time until I actually sat down and wrote each one, I had no idea what I would end up writing, or sometimes I only had a title that came to mind as I started to write. That’s true of this post I’m writing today, too.

I have always been an avid reader, mostly of nonfiction. And as my readers know, I quote heavily from other authors, mostly famous, as I’ve never been one to think I needed to “reinvent the wheel” with my own words on a topic that others have expressed far more eloquently (and in many cases with much more knowledge and experience) then I could do. I always give credit where credit is due, and the great thing about blog writing is one can instantly “link” to the author and source of the quotes and articles (e.g., and a mere click on the link will send the reader to the author/source). Had I not been living in the age of the internet (it got it’s start in the public arena when I was my mid-30’s with stand-alone computer “word-processors” using 5″ floppy disks), none of this would have been possible.

I mention this bit of personal background as I am aware that there are many different “thoughts” on Christian living outside of the realm of the essentials of the Christian faith (the “essentials” are the core of what one must believe to be Christian). And I am aware that some of what I post might unsettle some readers as they may not agree (however, I don’t write to unsettle anyone as I’m writing to provide information). Also, I am not into legalism and I never intend for anything I write to sound legalistic. My intent has always been to bring up topics as they come to me, and quote others more knowledgeable than myself when writing about them. More than anything, I want the posts to be thought-provoking as that comes from my academic background. That’s the primary reason behind anything that I write. Well . . . that, and the fact that since I’ve been unemployed since 2009, I’ve had time on my hands and needed a creative way to fill it.

With that in mind, yesterday I received a 40% off coupon from LifeWay in my email, so I went looking for a book to use it on. With only one coupon, it was hard to narrow it down to the book I wanted to buy (I had several in mind when I arrived at the store). Mark Batterson‘s latest book, Catch the Lion: If Your Dream Doesn’t Scare You, It’s Too Small,” (published in September 2016) is one of the books on my list, but I also realized it is sort of a “sequel” to his very first book that was published back in 2006 titled, In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day: How to Survive and Thrive When Opportunity Roars.” While Catch the Lion stands on it’s own without having to read the previous book first, after much thought on which one to spend my coupon on, I decided to go with In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day,” which has been republished in August 2016 with some additional bonus material.

Mark Batterson is the lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC, which also owns and operates the largest coffeehouse, Ebenezers Coffeehouse, on Capitol Hill. He holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from Regent University and he is also a New York Times bestselling author. The title of the book, In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day,” as Batterson states in his opening paragraph in Chapter 1 titled, “Locking Eyes with Your Lion,” comes from 2 Samuel 23:20-21 (NIV):

Benaiah son of Jehoiada, a valiant fighter from Kabzeel, performed great exploits. He struck down Moab’s two mightiest warriors. He also went down into a pit on a snowy day and killed a lion. And he struck down a huge Egyptian. Although the Egyptian had a spear in his hand, Benaiah went against him with a club. He snatched the spear from the Egyptian’s hand and killed him with his own spear.

Batterson gives the reader a movie script picture of Benaiah with the lion in the pit that he killed on a snowy day (which I will leave in the book for readers to read). To sum it up, Benaiah does what none of us would do if we came face-to-face with a lion. We’d run . . . . as far away as we could get; but Benaiah didn’t run. Batterson states the following on pp. 16-18:

Right at the outset, let me share one of my core convictions: God is in the business of strategically positioning us in the right place at the right time. A sense of destiny is our birthright as followers of Christ. God is awfully good at getting us where He wants us to go. But there’s the catch: The right place often seems like the wrong place.

Can I understate the obvious?

Encountering a lion in the wild is typically a bad thing. A really bad thing! Finding yourself in a pit with a lion on a snowy day generally qualifies as a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. That combination of circumstances usually spells one thing: death.

I don’t think anyone would have bet on Benaiah winning this fight–probably not even the riskiest of gamblers. He had to be at least a one-hundred-to-one underdog. And the snowy conditions on game day didn’t help his chances.

Scripture doesn’t give us a blow-by-blow description of what happened in that pit. All we know is that when the snow settled, the lion was dead and Benaiah was alive. . . .

Now fast-forward two verses and look at what happened in the next scene.

Second Samuel 23:23 says: “And [King] David put [Benaiah] in charge of his bodyguard.”

I can’t think of too many places I’d rather not be than in a pit with a lion on a snowy day. Can you? Getting stuck in a pit with a lion on a snowy day isn’t on anybody’s wish list. It’s a death wish. But you’ve got to admit something: “I killed a lion in a pit on a snowy day” looks pretty impressive on your résumé if you’re applying for a bodyguard position with the King of Israel! . . .

Most people would have seen the lion as a five-hundred-pound problem, but not Benaiah. For most people, finding yourself in a pit with a lion on a snowy day would qualify as bad luck. But can you see how God turned what could have been considered a bad break into a big break? Benaiah was chasing a position in David’s administration.

Here’s the point: God is in the résumé-building business. He is always using past experiences to prepare us for future opportunities. But those God-given opportunities often come disguised as man-eating lions. And how we react when we encounter those lions will determine our destiny. We can cower in fear and run away from our greatest challenges, or we can chase our God-ordained destiny by seizing the God-ordained opportunity. (Quote source: “In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day,” pp.16-18.)

And that is the basic premise of this book. As Batterson states on pp. 19-20:

There is an old aphorism: “No guts, no glory.” When we don’t have the guts to step out in faith and chase lions, then God is robbed of the glory that rightfully belongs to Him.

Is anybody else tired of reactive Christianity that is more known for what it’s against than what it’s for? We’ve become far too defensive. We’ve become far too passive. Lion chasers are proactive. They know that playing it safe is risky. Lion chasers are always on the lookout for God-ordained opportunities.

Maybe we’ve measured spiritual maturity the wrong way. Maybe following Christ isn’t supposed to be as safe or as civilized as we’ve been led to believe. Maybe Christ is more dangerous and uncivilized than our Sunday-school flannelgraphs portrayed. Maybe God is raising up a generation of lion chasers. (Quote source: “In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day,” pp.19-20.)

The book is filled with stories of “lion chasers” like a Georgetown lawyer who put his law practice on hold to shoot a documentary film about human trafficking in Uganda; and a tenured professor who gave up his chair to pursue a dot-com dream. There’s the man in an executive-level position at Microsoft with a six-figure salary and million-dollar stock options who gave it all up to plant a church; and a political neophyte who decided to run for Congress. Also, there’s a woman church member who lead a mission trip to Ethiopia despite her many fears, just to name a few of the many stories in this book. As Batterson states regarding these folks and others on page 20:

The lion chasers you’ll meet in this book are ordinary people. They put their pants on one leg at a time like everybody else. Most of them were scared to death when they bought the plane ticket or handed in their resignation. Weighing the pros and cons caused some ulcers along the way. And at times it felt like they were the ones cornered by the lion in the snowy pit.

I wish I could tell you that every lion chase ends with a lion skin hanging on the wall, but it doesn’t. The dot-com dreamer is successful beyond his wildest dreams, but the guy with the political aspirations lost the election. However, both of them are lion chasers in my book. What sets lion chasers apart isn’t the outcome. It’s the courage to chase God-sized dreams. Lion chasers don’t let their fears or doubts keep them from doing what God has called them to do. (Quote source: “In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day,” p. 20.)

Now let’s go back to the story about Benaiah (page 21):

Benaiah went on to have a brilliant military career. In fact, he climbed all the way up the chain of command to chief of Israel’s army. But it all started with what many would consider being in the wrong place at the wrong time. His genealogy of success can be traced all the way back to a life-or-death encounter with a man-eating lion. It was fight of flight. Benaiah was faced with a choice that would determine his destiny: run away or give chase.

Not much has changed in the past three thousand years. (Quote source: “In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day,” p. 21.)

One more quote from Chapter 5 titled, “Guaranteed Uncertainty,” and then you’ll have to get the book to read the rest! Regarding the story of Benaiah, Batterson states (pp. 83-86):

It is so easy to read about an incident that occurred three thousand years ago and fail to appreciate the element of surprise, because we know how the story ends. We read the story and think the outcome was inevitable. Psychologists call it “hindsight bias.” It is an exaggerated feeling of having been able to predict an event before it actually happened. We play the role of Monday-morning quarterback when we read Scripture. But to really appreciate the faith of Benaiah, you’ve got to feel what he felt before he killed the lion. . . .

There are a thousand variables, and they all add up to one thing: an uncertain outcome. It could have gone either way. Heads or tails.

I’m sure Benaiah had a sense of destiny. But that sense of destiny was coupled with a degree of uncertainty. Benaiah didn’t know if he’d win or lose, live or die. But he knew that God was with him.

Benaiah could have run away from the lion. And running away would have reduced uncertainty and increased security. But lion chasers are counterintuitive. They aren’t afraid of venturing off the map into terra incognita. The unknown doesn’t scare them. It beckons them like a long-lost love or childhood dream. In a sense, security scares lion chasers more than uncertainty. . . .

I know that different people have different callings. I know different people have different personalities. But I also know that embracing uncertainty is one dimension of faith. And regardless of your vocational calling or relationship status, you have to do something counterintuitive if you want to reach your God-given potential and fulfill your God-given destiny. Sometimes you have to run away from security and chase uncertainty.

Isn’t that what Jonathan did when he left the safety of the Israelite camp and climbed a cliff? The military stalemate was driving him crazy, so he decided to pick a fight with the Philistines. I love his modus operandi: “Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf” (I Samuel 14:6).

Isn’t that what Abraham did when he left his family and his country to pursue the promise of God? In a day and age when the average person never traveled outside a thirty-mile radius of their birthplace, Abraham embraced uncertainty and ventured into terra incognita. “He went without knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8).

Isn’t that what Noah did when he built the Ark? Noah was a laughingstock for 120 years, but he embraced the uncertainty of a divine weather forecast. “Noah did everything exactly as God had commanded  him” (Genesis 6:22).

Lion chasers challenge the status quo. They climb cliffs, move to foreign countries, and build boats in the desert. Lion chasers are often considered crazy, but they are able to do these things because they aren’t afraid of uncertainty. They don’t need to know what is coming next because they know that God knows. They don’t need explanations for every disappointment because they know God has a plan. Lion chasers refuse to settle down because they want to experience every divine twist and turn that God has in store for them. (Quote source: “In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day,” pp. 83-86.)

So how’s that for some encouragement if you are in need of it today? I’m glad I got this book first as it will make his latest offering (which is a continuation of In the Pit written ten years later) titled, Catch the Lion,” all the more enjoyable and meaningful, too. And who doesn’t like to read about inspiring people and their stories and the God who leads them onward!

I’ll end this post with the words of Jesus that I quoted in my last blog post found in Mark 11:22-24“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

Whether we are facing lions or mountains, there’s our answer. Have faith in God (and in His timing, too). . . .

And whatever we ask for . . .

Believing we have receive it . . .

It will be ours . . . . 

YouTube Video: “Feel It” by TobyMac ft. Mr. Talkbox:

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Photo #2 credit here

Game On

In the movie, Bridge of Spies (2015), based on a true story that started in 1957 during the Cold War (1947-1991–the Cold War ended when the Soviet Union collapsed in December 1991), an American lawyer, James B. Donovan (played by Tom Hanks) is recruited to defend an arrested Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel (played by Mark Rylance) in court, and then helps the CIA facilitate an exchange of the spy for the Soviet captured American U2 spy plane pilot, Francis Gary Powers (played by Austin Stowell). Abel is convicted and sentenced to 30 years in a Federal prison (much to the chagrin of the general public who wanted him executed; however, Donovan stated to the judge that he might be of use in a prisoner exchange in the foreseeable future if one of our spies was caught by the Soviet Union).

While Abel is in prison, Donovan visits Abel and brings him a letter that Donovan received from a woman in East Germany pretending to be Abel’s wife (she sent the letter thanking Donovan for his kind treatment of Abel)–East Berlin and East Germany were annexed by the Soviet Union in 1945 at the end of WWII. Donovan asks Abel if he should respond, and Abel indicates yes, and states, “What’s the next move when you don’t know what the game is?” 

At this point, an American spy pilot (Powers) was recently shot down over Soviet territory and captured by the Soviets and sentenced to 10 years in prison. The letter Donovan received from the woman pretending to be Abel’s wife in East Germany turns out to be the beginning point of the him helping the CIA facilitate a prisoner exchange of Abel for Powers and another young American graduate student named Frederic Pryor (played by Will Rogers) who was recently captured and being held by the East Germans. However, at the time Donovan received the letter, neither Donovan nor Abel knew that it would eventually result in a prisoner exchange involving Abel. That’s when Abel responded with the following question:

“What’s the next move when you don’t know what the game is?”

While situations vary, it is hard to know what to do when one doesn’t know what the game is that is being played. On the surface it might look to be quite different from what is actually going on beneath the surface and behind the scene.

Often when we encounter situations we don’t fully understand, we like to think that we are “in charge” of our situation and that all it takes is the right amount of “positive thinking” to get the results we want or to get back on track. I’m not quite sure where “positive thinking” as a “cure all” got it’s start (actually, I think it got it’s start in 1952 with the publication of Dr. Norman Vincent Peale‘s book, The Power of Positive Thinking) but we have been fed a line of thinking for several decades now that says we are pretty much the captain of our own ship, and we can have or change anything we want if we just “think positively” enough and acquire the right connections in the process. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a positive mental attitude, we have too often elevated “positive thinking” on a throne of it’s own and as a panacea for all difficulties or diseases.

In answer to the question, “Is there any power in positive thinking?” GotQuestions.org answers it by stating:

One definition for “positive thinking” is “the act of reviewing thought processes in order to identify areas that need improvement, and then using the appropriate tools to change those thoughts in a positive, goal-oriented way.” Of course, thinking positively is not wrong. The problem associated with “positive thinking” is in believing that there is some kind of supernatural power in positive thinking. In this age of rampant false doctrine and watered-down theology, the power of positive thinking has stood out as one of the more popular errors. False doctrines are similar in that they are human ideas masquerading as the truth. One such human idea is the power of positive thinking.

The idea of the power of positive thinking was popularized by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale in his book “The Power of Positive Thinking” (1952). According to Peale, people can change future outcomes and events by “thinking” them into existence. The power of positive thinking promotes self-confidence and faith in oneself; it leads naturally to a false belief in thelaw of attraction,” as Peale wrote, “When you expect the best, you release a magnetic force in your mind which by a law of attraction tends to bring the best to you.” Of course, there is nothing biblical about one’s mind emanating a “magnetic force” that pulls good things into one’s orbit. In fact, there is much unbiblical about such a notion.

In “The Power of Positive Thinking,” Peale used flawed religious concepts and subjective psychological theories to advance a false version of faith and hope. His theory is part of the “self-help” movement whereby a person tries to create his own reality with human effort, proper mental images, and willpower. But reality is truth, and the truth is found in the Bible. People cannot create their own reality by fantasizing or thinking it into existence. Peale’s theory is flawed because he did not base it on truth.

Proponents of the power of positive thinking claim their research supports the validity of the theory. However, the body of data is widely debated. Some of the findings suggest there is a positive correlation between a positive outlook and performance, but this is a far cry from positive thoughts ‘creating’ an outcome. The research suggests that people who have positive attitudes tend to have higher self-esteem and better experiences as compared to people who have pessimistic outlooks. On the other hand, there is no substantiated evidence to support the idea that thoughts can control outcomes. Positive thinking has no inherent power to change the future.

Every good gift is from God above (James 1:17), not from the power of positive thinking. The best gift of all is the indwelling Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13). The Bible says that man cannot be “good” on his own (Isaiah 64:6). The only good in us comes from the righteousness of Jesus Christ applied to our account (Ephesians 2:1–5; Philippians 3:9). Once the Holy Spirit indwells us, He begins the process of sanctification, in which the transformative power of the Holy Spirit makes us more like Jesus.

If we want to better ourselves and make positive changes, we need to have more than the power of positive thinking. True spirituality will always start and end with our relationship to Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who is the key to changing one’s life, not our thoughts, and not our effort alone. As we actively yield to the Spirit, He will transform us. Rather than seek help from psycho-babble, pseudo-religious books, or a self-generated power of positive thinking, we should rely on what God has already given us through His Spirit: “We have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). (Quote source here.)

Often we confuse positive thinking with faith. Genuine faith believes in God for the outcome, not in positive thinking for the outcome. GotQuestions.org describes faith as follows:

Hebrews 11:1 tells us that faith is “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Perhaps no other component of the Christian life is more important than faith. We cannot purchase it, sell it or give it to our friends. So what is faith and what role does faith play in the Christian life? The dictionary defines faith as “belief in, devotion to, or trust in somebody or something, especially without logical proof.” It also defines faith as “belief in and devotion to God.” The Bible has much more to say about faith and how important it is. In fact, it is so important that, without faith, we have no place with God, and it is impossible to please Him (Hebrews 11:6). According to the Bible, faith is belief in the one, true God without actually seeing Him.

Where does faith come from? Faith is not something we conjure up on our own, nor is it something we are born with, nor is faith a result of diligence in study or pursuit of the spiritual. Ephesians 2:8-9 makes it clear that faith is a gift from God, not because we deserve it, have earned it, or are worthy to have it. It is not from ourselves; it is from God. It is not obtained by our power or our free will. Faith is simply given to us by God, along with His grace and mercy, according to His holy plan and purpose, and because of that, He gets all the glory.

Why have faith? God designed a way to distinguish between those who belong to Him and those who don’t, and it is called faith. Very simply, we need faith to please God. God tells us that it pleases Him that we believe in Him even though we cannot see Him. A key part of Hebrews 11:6 tells us that “he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” This is not to say that we have faith in God just to get something from Him. However, God loves to bless those who are obedient and faithful. We see a perfect example of this in Luke 7:50. Jesus is engaged in dialog with a sinful woman when He gives us a glimpse of why faith is so rewarding. “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” The woman believed in Jesus Christ by faith, and He rewarded her for it. Finally, faith is what sustains us to the end, knowing that by faith we will be in heaven with God for all eternity. “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9).

Examples of faith. Hebrews Chapter 11 is known as the “faith chapter” because in it great deeds of faith are described. By faith Abel offered a pleasing sacrifice to the Lord (v. 4); by faith Noah prepared the ark in a time when rain was unknown (v. 7); by faith Abraham left his home and obeyed God’s command to go he knew not where, then willingly offered up his only son (vv. 8-10, 17); by faith Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt (vv. 23-29); by faith Rahab received the spies of Israel and saved her life (v. 31). Many more heroes of the faith are mentioned “who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies” (vv. 33-34). Clearly, the existence of faith is demonstrated by action.

According to the Bible, faith is essential to Christianity. Without demonstrating faith and trust in God, we have no place with Him. We believe in God’s existence by faith. Most people have a vague, disjointed notion of who God is but lack the reverence necessary for His exalted position in their lives. These people lack the true faith needed to have an eternal relationship with the God who loves them. Our faith can falter at times, but because it is the gift of God, given to His children, He provides times of trial and testing in order to prove that our faith is real and to sharpen and strengthen it. This is why James tells us to consider it “pure joy” when we fall into trials, because the testing of our faith produces perseverance and matures us, providing the evidence that our faith is real (James 1:2-4). (Quote source here.)

So let’s go back to Abel’s original question,“What’s the next move when you don’t know what the game is?” Again, while situations vary, it is hard to know what to do when one doesn’t know what the game is (or, worst yet, when one doesn’t even know there is a game until it’s too late–I think back to when I lost that job eight years ago as an example in my own life). And history is replete with examples large scale and small of “man’s inhumanity to man.” I think of all the innocent victims who have died in wars, or closer to home, people who have lost jobs through no fault of their own. And I think of the millions around the world and here in America who live in poverty and can’t just “positively think” their way out of it. It goes beyond us and our own “thoughts” to include the motives and hidden agendas of all the “others” out there, too (the good, the bad, and the ugly). Only God sees the whole picture. We barely see even a tiny fraction of it. So . . . .

“What’s the next move when you don’t know what the game is?”

Proverbs 3:5-6 holds the answer:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight. . . .

YouTube Video: “Revelation Song” by Phillips, Craig and Dean:

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Photo #2 credit here

Passing On Kindness

There’s a story in the Old Testament about a friendship that went beyond the grave. It is a story many of us are familiar with, but the lasting effects of that friendship might not be as well known. It is the friendship between David and Jonathan, who was the son of King Saul, the first King of Israel. The story is found in 1 Samuel 17-20, and opens with the story of David, as a teenage shepherd boy, slaying the Philistine giant known as Goliath. David’s popularity among the people after he slew Goliath created much jealousy in King Saul, who then tried to kill David over the next several years. In the midst of this situation is Jonathan, King Saul’s son, who became a very close friend with David.

In an article titled, Epics Friendships: David and Jonathan,” by Cecily Paterson, an author and editor, she gives us a brief description of the history of their friendship:

One of the most famous friendships of the Bible has to be that of David and Jonathan. When they met, David [a young shepherd boy] had been chosen by God to be the future king of the Israelites, but Jonathan’s father (Saul) who was the king at the time, wanted to kill David.

However, Jonathan took a real liking to David.  He made a promise to him, he loved him, he gave him presents and provided for him. He warned David about plots against him by his father, he spoke out for him to his father and he used his influence to keep him safe.

Friendship requires self-sacrifice.

It’s not surprising that Jonathan was the main player in the relationship at first, because as the son of the king, he was the one with the power in this relationship.

But it is a power that he used for the good of his friend – and at a cost to himself. Every time he kept David safe or promoted his interests, he was destroying his own chances of inheriting his father’s throne. Jonathan’s friendship with David was at the cost of his own career and reputation!

Friendship requires loyalty.

Jonathan was a friend with some pretty impressive qualities. His loyalty to David, and courage in the face of political pressure, and an angry, murderous father was unquestioned. He had the humility to say openly that he would never be king. He followed up his commitments, he was generous and he did it all ‘before the Lord’. He showed genuine affection, loyalty and openness. He was the friend everyone would love to have!

But David was not just a passive ‘taker’ in all of this either. As time went on their friendship grew so that by the end it was definitely a two-way relationship between equals.  When the pair had to part, the story says that David ‘wept the most’. At Jonathan’s death, David showed immense grief.

Friendship requires real commitment.

One of the particularly beautiful aspects of this friendship was the way David and Jonathan promised to do good to each other’s family and descendents. They knew that as technical rivals to the same throne, it was more than likely that their families and heirs could grow to hate each other and try to eliminate their opponents. They took steps to stop the cycle of rivalry and hate – and as time went on, it worked. . . .

Most of us today are unlikely to be in a situation where we become best friends with our greatest rivals, but we may stand to lose status, money, or power because of a friendship. Are we willing to put our friends first? (Quote source here.)

The story of King Saul’s jealousy of David starts from the time David slew Goliath (1 Samuel 17) when he was a teenager, and lasts until King Saul’s death by suicide in a battle that kills his sons, including Jonathan (see 1 Samuel 31). During those years from the time David was a teenager until he took the throne of Israel at the age of 30 (see 2 Samuel 5:4), King Saul had tried a number of times to kill David, and twice David had the chance to kill King Saul but he didn’t take it as David always viewed King Saul as “God’s anointed.” The entire story is found in 1 Samuel 17-31.

David laments the death of King Saul and Jonathan in 2 Samuel 1:17-27, and David is anointed King over the tribe of Judah at which time a war breaks out between the House of David and the House of Saul (see 2 Samuel 2-4). In 2 Samuel 5 David becomes King over Israel and conquers Jerusalem and defeats the Philistines.

At this point I want to bring the story back to the friendship between David and Jonathan. As noted in the story above, “One of the particularly beautiful aspects of this friendship was the way David and Jonathan promised to do good to each other’s family and descendents. They knew that as technical rivals to the same throne, it was more than likely that their families and heirs could grow to hate each other and try to eliminate their opponents. They took steps to stop the cycle of rivalry and hate – and as time went on, it worked.” That story is found in 2 Samuel 9.

In 2 Samuel 9:1, King David asks, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” Kevin Gerald, founder and lead pastor of Champions Centre in Tacoma, Washington, has written about the kindness of King David that extends beyond the graves of both Jonathan and King Saul in his book titled, Good Things: Seeing Your Life Through the Lens of God’s Favor,” (2015). In Chapter 14 titled, “Favor Forward,” he writes (pp. 115-117):

There’s an illustration of this kind of above-and-beyond caring for others in the life of the great King David.

The thoughts of David, once only a lowly shepherd boy, were swimming in pools of remembrance. The story seemed almost too good to be true–where he was now compared to where he was then–staggering! Somehow a dynasty reserved only for those in the bloodline of royalty had opened up to include him. He knew the events that had led up to his becoming the king of Judah [and Israel], but he was still incredibly fascinated by how it had all happened.

Obviously, God’s favor was on his life.

Perhaps that’s what he was thinking about on this day when waves of gratitude overwhelmed him and he suddenly blurted out a question, which caused all of those around him to scurry in search of an answer. It was an unexpected, spontaneous question prompted in a moment of reflection, and no one in his immediate airspace knew the answer. So they went looking for someone who did, and it wasn’t long until a man named Ziba came to stand before the king. David asked him the same question: “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” (2 Samuel 9:1).

We’ve all experienced some unsolicited kindness, when for some reason people wanted to show us kindness, to grace us with their favor–perhaps parents, mentors, teachers, coaches, relatives, neighbors, pastors, and friends who played significant role in helping us get to where we are today. They showed us favor we had not earned, and maybe now because we’ve lost touch with them, it’s impossible to thank them personally. Or maybe it’s just hard emotionally to express accurately the gratitude we feel.

So the greatest expression of gratitude we may have available to us now is to pay it forward–to pass on kindness to another person.

This is exactly the state of mind David was in as he remembered his friend Jonathan, the son of the previous king, Saul. Jonathan had been the heir apparent to the throne David now occupied. Their relationship had been cemented by an agreement to preserve and protect each other no matter what. This is what David was recalling that day when he asked his question. He was on a mission that no one in the palace could fully understand or comprehend.

I love the simplicity of David’s question. He did not ask, “Is there anyone who is deserving? Is there anyone who could help me in the business of the kingdom? Is there anyone with skills? Is there anyone who is qualified to lead our military?” No, he simply asked, “Is there anyone? Just anyone of the house of Saul?”

Ziba, the servant who had been summoned, knew about only one son of Jonathan–a young man who had suffered a severe fall that left him crippled for life. Ziba said, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is lame in both feet” (2 Samuel 9:3).

Why did Ziba add the information about the injured feet? Maybe he thought this deformity would eliminate that son as a candidate for the king’s kindness. Perhaps he thought the king would be embarrassed in some way by having a crippled man in his presence.

But the words were hardly out of Ziba’s mouth when King David quickly asked another question: “Where is he?”

“He is at the house of Makir son of Ammiel in Lo Debar,” Ziba answered (verse 4).

Lo Debar was a desolate place, known for its extreme poverty and barely survivable conditions. Now all the personal, unpleasant, and unappealing information that Ziba knew was out on the table. This son of Jonathan was definitely not the kind of person one would expect a king to be interested in. But David never showed an ounce of hesitation.

So King David had him brought from Lo Debar from the house of Makir son of Ammiel.

When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honor.

David said, “Mephibosheth!”

“At your service,” he replied.

“Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table” (verses 5-7).

The difference a day can make! The marginalized, disenfranchised, socially excluded Mephibosheth had been lifted out of Lo Debar by the extravagant kindness of the king. Typically, when we consider kindness, we think of offering greetings and smiles, opening doors, buying someone coffee. But when David said he wanted to show someone kindness, he was thinking way outside our normal box. To David kindness meant much more than a small act. To him it was a complete game-changing, life-altering demonstration of favor that would impact the recipient’s life continually from that day forward. (Quote source, Good Things,” pp. 115-117).

From this story we get a clear picture that one act of kindness can sometimes lead to some incredible places and life changes. However, I don’t want us to get our normal concept of “being nice” (which is way too common today and requires nothing from us personally including any real compassion on our part) as being confused with or as a substitute for “being kind.” The two concepts are diametrically opposed.

Here’s a second story taken from Harvard Business Review titled,Why Is it So Hard to Be Nice?” (2010) by William C. (Bill) Taylor, a writer, speaker, cofounder and founding editor of Fast Companythat speaks to the issue of kindness from a business perspective:

Every so often, you have a small experience in business that teaches big lessons about what really separates winners from losers. I had one of those experiences a few weeks ago, and I think the story is worth telling, not because it is so exciting or dramatic, but because it is so true to how the world really works — and because it underscores how those of us who think about business often make things more complicated than they are.

So here’s the story…

Two weeks ago, my father turned 75. I wanted to give him a special gift to mark the milestone, and I got an idea. How does a red-blooded American male do something nice for his Dad? Why, he buys him a Cadillac, of course! So I called my father, whose 2001 Cadillac was showing its age, and gave him the news: You visit the showroom, pick the model, negotiate the price (that’s half the fun, right?) and I’ll take care of the rest.

He was thrilled. So he drove his old Cadillac to the dealer, test-drove the new models, chose the options he wanted, and started talking price. Towards the end of those discussions, he reminded the dealer that he’d received a $1,000 customer-loyalty discount in the mail, which he planned to apply to the car. This was on a Friday afternoon. Turns out, the dealer told him, the loyalty discount had expired — on Thursday, less than 24 hours before the visit. “But I assume you’ll honor it anyway,” my father said. “I’m a loyal Cadillac customer.” Sorry, the dealer told him, but the terms are the terms.

Needless to say, that reaction stalled the conversation. My father drove away, a little confused and very disappointed, and decided to look around more — not at other Cadillac dealers, but at other brands. The next Friday, he drove by a Buick dealership and decided to stop in. A Buick Lacrosse — which, it turns out, is a super-popular model right now — caught his eye, and he struck up a conversation with the dealer. He told the story of his expired loyalty certificate. The dealer checked the computer and confirmed that the certificate had indeed expired. “But no problem,” he said, “we’ll honor it. We’ll knock a thousand bucks off whatever price we agree to.”

Impressed, my father decided to take the Lacrosse for a ride. He liked the experience, but he told the dealer he wished he had stopped by earlier in the day, so he could drive it longer. “Then take the car with you for the weekend,” the dealer said. “Bring it back on Monday and we’ll go from there.”

It was a great plan, until Monday rolled around and my father found himself being rushed not to the dealer but to the hospital, with what turned out to be a medical problem that required surgery (he’s doing great now, thanks.) As he was lying in his hospital bed, thinking about whatever it is we think about in these moments, he realized that the Buick Lacrosse was sitting in his garage! So he called the dealer from the hospital and asked how he could get the car back. “Don’t worry about the car,” he said. “Just get better.” And the next morning, what should arrive at the hospital but a lovely bouquet of flowers and a nice note from the Buick dealer!

So here’s the first question: Which car do you think my father bought? If you said the Buick Lacrosse, you would be correct. Here’s the second question: Since that purchase, what do you think one my father’s favorite topics of conversation with friends, associates, and me has been? If you said, the incredible treatment he received from the Buick dealer, you would be correct again.

Now here’s the third question: Why is it so rare for businesspeople to behave like the Buick dealer, and so common for businesspeople to behave like the Cadillac dealer? It’s a mystery to me, but there’s nothing mysterious about the results of those contrasting behaviors. Success today is about so much more than just price, quality, reliability — pure economic value. It is about passion, emotion, identity — sharing your values.

Nobody is opposed to a good bottom-line deal — “cold beer at a reasonable price,” in the immortal words of Bruce Springsteen, who prefers his Cadillacs pink. But what we remember and what we prize are small gestures of connection and compassion that introduce a touch of humanity into the dollars-and-cents world in which we spend most of our time. Translation: The ROI on that bouquet of flowers and the thought behind them was pretty darn high.

Last spring, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos gave the Baccalaureate address to Princeton University’s Class of 2010. He told a little story of his own, about how a 10-year-old Jeff Bezos showed his grandparents how smart he was, in a way that upset his grandmother. His grandfather pulled young Jeff aside. “My grandfather looked at me,” the now-billionaire CEO recalled, “and after a bit of silence, he gently and calmly said, ‘Jeff, one day you’ll understand that it’s harder to be kind than clever.’”

That sounds like a good takeaway from the story of my father’s new car. What is it about business that makes it so hard to be kind? And what kind of businesspeople have we become when small acts of kindness feel so rare? (Quote source here.)

As Jeff Bezos’ grandfather stated to him, “It’s harder to be kind than clever.” It’s also harder to be kind than nice. So why is it, as Bill Taylor stated at the end of his article, that “small acts of kindness feel so rare?” Is it because we just don’t care anymore? That can come with a pretty big price tag. “One act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted” ~Aesop.

And one act of kindness. . .

Can change. . .

The world. . . .

YouTube Video: “Speak Life” by TobyMac:

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

I Shall Not Want

possessionsThe above picture looks like many of our basements, storage units, spare rooms, or garages, doesn’t it? We accumulate, but instead of getting rid of what we no longer need, we just find a place to store it for that “rainy day” that never seems to arrive. And our obsession with our possessions over the past several decades created a whole new industry: the storage center industry–which makes millions (maybe billions) off of us so we can keep all that stuff we will probably never use again since we, obviously, aren’t using it now.

Who of us living in America does not recognize the following words that open the 23rd Psalm: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” The Lord, of course, is the God of the Bible. However, it seems as if our “wanter” has gotten a bit out of control. We might try to rationalize all that stuff we have by saying we “need” it; but the reality is that most of the time it is not a necessity of life–it is just stuff we “want,” so we buy it, and when we are done with it, we store it just in case we might need it again for that “rainy day.”

And our “wanter” isn’t just for physical possessions. Perhaps it is a job we want that someone else has, or someone’s husband or wife that is appealing to us, or something someone else has that we want, and we don’t much care how we get it. Or maybe we want fame, prestige, power, money . . . . Our list of “wants” is pretty much endless, isn’t it?

In a chapter titled “David–I Shall Not Want” in the book, 21 Seconds to Change Your World (2016), the author, Dr. Mark Rutland, addresses the primary difference between “want” and “need.”  Dr. Rutland is “a pastor, speaker, and New York Times bestselling author and columnist for Ministry Today magazine. He is president of both the National Institute of Christian Leadership and Global Servants, and he also serves on the preaching team at Jentezen Franklin’s Free Chapel Church. He is a frequent guest on The 700 Club, TBN, James Robison’s LIFE Today, Daystar, and 100 Huntley Street. His radio program is the number one Christian teaching broadcast in Atlanta.” (Quote source here). Dr Rutland is also the former president of two Christian universities from 1999-2013 (source here). Dr. Rutland states the following from his book (pp. 79-81):

There is a difference between want and need. Though it is translated “want,” in the first verse of Psalm 23, David is most probably dealing with the issue of “need.” St. Paul speaks to the same issue in Philippians 4:19: “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” The great apostle is reminding us that we can trust God to meet us at the point of our need. Some have refashioned this verse to mean that God will supply all they could ever want. That perverts the text and may lead to all kinds of error and excess.

One man even told me that God wanted him to leave his wife for his lover. He twisted two verses of Scripture in a most convenient way using Philippians 4:19 (above) and Psalm 37:4 to justify adultery, desertion, and remarriage. Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight thyself also in the Lord: and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart.”

“My wife is no longer the desire of my heart,” he said. “I need this woman. Not want, but need. God has put a desire for her in my heart and a need that He will meet.”

No amount of explanation or exposition on the real meaning of those two verses would dissuade him. He had the whole story and his own heart so twisted up that he was absolutely blinded to the truth. He intended to leave his wife for his lover and he eventually did, using Scripture to salve his conscience, that is, if he still had one.

It is not God’s perfect will for His children to languish in penurious deprivation. Poverty, hunger, and want in that sense are never the will of a loving and good God. He is a God of blessing. He enjoys blessing His children. Genesis 22:17 says, “In blessing I will bless thee.”

David’s declaration of faith [in Psalm 23] is therefore a good and pure statement of God’s dependability. David is simply finding another way of saying, “God will take care of me.”

But “I shall not want” in no way means I will never have to do without anything I want. I am made of earth, and that earth raises its ugly head every so often. I have, in my own life, wanted things, wrong things, things that could hurt me and others. I have proven to myself my seemingly inexhaustible capacity to lust for the baubles and pleasures of earth. There is something inside the earth of us that is bent toward a wrongful wanting. Putting that to death is not an event but a long and painful process. Which of us has not stumbled along the way? Why? Because we want stuff. David wanted stuff. Bathsheba, for example. She was not God’s will for David, nor was David God’s will for her. Their wanting was the cause of so much sin and suffering that the story is still a living cautionary tale after three thousand years. “I shall not want” cannot be construed to mean that God will give me everything my sinful heart could ever desire.

Furthermore, there are also things that are not, in themselves, bad for me, but the earth of me needs limitations. Have you ever walked through a store with your children and heard them tick off the items without which they simply could not live another day? There were times when my wife and I told our children no about things we could have afforded, things that were not even bad for them. We did this because it is not good for us to have everything we want immediately when we want it. Sometimes not having things, or not having them now, is good for us. A life without limits becomes a life without maturity, and that is never the will of God for me.

God is a good God. His will for me is good, and He does not will for me to live my life in grinding poverty. He does not will that my children suffer hunger. God is a God of abundance and mercy and generosity. He teaches me to live in contentment, but He does not oppress me with want. (Quote source: “21 Second to Change Your World,” pp. 79-81).

lord-is-my-shepherdHere is another take on “I shall not want,” from an online devotional titled, I Shall Not Want,” by Dr. James MacDonald, who is the founding senior pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel; leads the church planting ministry of Harvest Bible Fellowship; and teaches the practical application of God’s Word on the Walk in the Word radio broadcast, and who is also a gifted author and speaker. Dr. MacDonald has included a “Journal” section and “Pray” section for consideration at the end of his devotion:

When David wrote in his famous psalm, “I shall not want,” it was the summary of the result of having the Lord as his shepherd. What does it mean not to want? First, it means we will not lack the basic needs of life—the big three: food, shelter, clothing. You don’t need to be anxious about those things. God promises over and over He will meet those needs in our lives.

Our initial response to this promise is often skepticism. “What about those who are hungry and homeless? There seem to be a lot of them. How does God meet their needs?” The answer comes to us in His Word, “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way…” (2 Corinthians 9:11). When God supplies abundantly to us, He expects us to share with others. God uses His people to spread His blessings. You can probably think of occasions when God has helped others through you and when He has helped you through others.

And there is something deeper than the basic needs of life in the words, “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.” Make note of this: I shall not want another shepherd. I shall not seek another Master. The expert care of my Master Jesus is all I desire. I am completely content with His management of my life. Though my life is not perfect, He has never failed me. While there have been disappointments and difficulties, He has always kept His promises. When I have sought Him, I have found in Him all I need. The Lord is my shepherd, and I don’t want another.

“I shall not want” is also a statement about self-control. Think about all the pain in life that is caused by wanting: “I want this,” and “I want to go there,” and “I want to experience that.” Too many of life’s hurts come from wanting what we do not have.

Here is a personal example: I have always wanted to be a fisherman. I can’t begin to tell you the aggravation and heartache that have come into my life from wanting this! Oh, the stories of trips I’ve gone on and promises that were made. “You’re going to catch so many fish, you will be amazed!” Instead, I discovered there’s a reason it’s called fishing and not catching. All I caught was frustration—from wanting.

But the longer I live with the Lord as my Shepherd, the more I experience the profound ways the truth “I shall not want” can radically alter every day. 

Loved one, no matter what the circumstance, you and I already have everything we really need in Christ. “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). Lay hold of this powerful truth in your life today.


Journal

  • Based on today’s reading, does “not wanting” mean a change in what you “need” or does it mean seeing your “needs” in the light of God’s wise provision?
  • What has taken on the character of “wants” in your life and needs to be surrendered to the Shepherd for His timing and supply?

Pray

Lord, forgive me for the times I let the optional and incidental things from this world become unhealthy wants and needs in my life. When I stop long enough to consider all You have done for me, those earthly priorities vanish before Your glory. Help me today to be still and know You are God, my Shepherd, in whom I have everything I need. Thank You for summing up Your abundant supply in the person of Your Son, Jesus, in whose name I pray, Amen. (Quote source here.)

I’d like to include one more thought on the phrase, “I shall not want.” This one comes from a blog post on Living Proof Ministries which was founded by Beth Moore, and the post was written by Lindsee(a young woman who used to work at LPM) titled, I Shall Not Want.” Beth Moore is a widely recognized evangelist, prolific author, Bible teacher, and founder of Living Proof Ministries, a Bible-based organization for women based in Houston, Texas.

Every morning while I am getting ready for the day, I listen to either a podcast or music. I go in and out of seasons with podcasts and right now, they’re on the back-burner while my music has made a comeback. I typically put on a worship CD of some sort, but other times I press shuffle and let my iPod do the leading. That’s always an interesting mix, but it’s fun nonetheless.

This morning I put on my “Recently Played” playlist and let that shuffle. I think there are nearly 100 songs on that particular playlist, and since my taste in music is pretty eclectic, it’s a fairly random assortment and one that keeps me guessing as to what song will come on next.

Not to my surprise, Audrey Assad usually ends up on this playlist and this morning I was struck afresh with “I Shall Not Want,” a song from her most recent album and inspired from Psalm 23. It is my second favorite, next to “Good to Me,” which I actually wrote about here. (I’d just like to go ahead and apologize for every blog post that is birthed from a song. It’s how I roll.)

From the love of my own comfort
From the fear of having nothing
From a life of worldly passions
Deliver me O God

From the need to be understood
From the need to be accepted
From the fear of being lonely
Deliver me O God

And I shall not want, I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness I shall not want

From the fear of serving others
From the fear of death or trial
From the fear of humility
Deliver me O God

The reason it’s my second favorite is because it confronts me in my uncomfortable places and convicts me on issues I’d rather suppress and ignore. It’s one of those songs that just gets all up in your business, hence my love/hate relationship with it. I mean, from the need to be understood, accepted and fear of being lonely? Ouch. I’m telling you the truth when I say that so often her lyrics leave me speechless. Speechless or thankful because she has a gift in putting words to what I’m feeling. . . .

We started Bible study this past Tuesday and one thing that stuck out to me while I was reading earlier this week was the word “dependencies.” Our current and brand new series is called “Breath” and it is all about the Holy Spirit. We’re barely getting started but the word Beth brought to us on Tuesday was stunning to say the least. I’m not going to even try and recap for fear of obliterating the entire series, but I can say that we’re praying for miracles and salvations to blow through Bible study these next six weeks.

I think the reason the word dependencies jumped out at me is because, if I can be so honest, in my own personal life, I’ve noticed that the Lord has been removing all manner of dependencies from my life. Dependencies that distract me from Jesus himself. And while it’s not a fun process in the least, and even hurts most times, it’s a good thing. I said to a friend the other day that when we have no where to go but to Jesus, it’s a good place to be. Yes, I have the sweetest friends and the most caring family, but even when we have all of the above, there are just some things that only Jesus can tend to. There are some places that only He can fill because truly, there are intimate things that only He knows. Even in marriage our spouse wasn’t meant to be a God to us, but a helpmate. If some of us were honest, we’d could say that some of our dependencies are secrets only He knows about, but we’ve never spoken them aloud to anybody, let alone Him. But as a God who is intimately acquainted with you, He knows, He sees, He doesn’t require you to change before you come to Him and He still pursues you with His perfect and unconditional love.

Can we just all be real here and ask God to deliver us from our enemies? Our dependencies? And then all agree with each other in Jesus’ name? We can even speak it anonymously if need be. I know it’s Friday and Monday is the day for starting over (do you sense my sarcasm?), but let’s not wait until Monday, let it be today! After all, Jesus came “not to call the righteous ones to repentance, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17) That’s good news to those of us today who are erring on the side of sin. Erring on the side of dependency of the things that make us weak and sick. Erring on the church-lady taboo that we’re all strong and well. Jesus is good news, indeed. (Quote source here.)

These three different views by the three different authors on the phrase “I shall not want” should give us plenty of “food for thought” on the meaning of “I shall not want” in our own lives. Also, I’ve included the Audrey Assad song, I Shall Not Want,” referenced above in the blog post by Lindsee, as the YouTube Video for this blog post (see below). And I’ll end this post with those famous opening words from King David in Psalm 23. . .

The Lord. . .

Is my Shepherd. . .

I shall not want. . . .

YouTube Video: “I Shall Not Want” by Audrey Assad:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Divine Appointments

miracles“You go nowhere by accident.” Do you believe that statement? And what, exactly, does it mean? In my case it means that the past two and a half years that I’ve been living in hotels while trying to find low income housing on a Social Security income has been no mistake. It also means that losing that job eight years ago in Houston that has lead to the greatest and most challenging adventure in my life going through years of unemployment and now hotel living was no mistake, either. And, it also means that accepting that job in Houston in the first place was, also, no mistake. In God’s economy, there are no mistakes. Absolutely none. . . .

As Mark Batterson states in his book, The Grave Robber: How Jesus Can Make Your Impossible Possible (2014), regarding that statement above:

Accident? Or divine appointment?

It depends on your reaction. (Quote source: “The Grave Robber,” p. 69)

Mark Batterson is the lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC,  which also owns and operates the largest coffeehouse on Capitol Hill [as an aside, I must visit it the next time I’m in DC!]. He holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from Regent University and is a New York Times bestselling author of several books, including The Grave Robber.” Batterson continues with the following (pp. 69-70):

When I first moved to Washington D.C., I had the privilege of sharing a meal with Senate Chaplain Dr. Richard Halverson. (Part of what made it unforgettable is that the former heavyweight champion of the world, Muhammad Ali, was eating at the table right next to us in the Senate dining room.) Prior to serving the Senate, Dr. Halverson pastored Fourth Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Maryland, for twenty-three years. He did what pastors do–everything from preaching and counseling to marrying and burying. But he believed his most important function was pronouncing his carefully crafted benediction at the end of every service:

You go nowhere by accident.

Wherever you go, God is sending you.

Wherever you are, God has put you there; He has a purpose for you being there.

Christ who indwells you has something He wants to do through you where you are.

Believe this and go in His grace and love and power.

Dr. Halverson reminded his congregation of that simple truth week in and week out until his death on December 1, 1995. Then he reminded them one last time. At the conclusion of his funeral service, Dr. Halverson himself gave the benediction via recording. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place!

You go nowhere by accident.

You may not be right where you want to be, but God can use you right there. In fact, God may have you right where He wants you. Whether you’re taking a mission trip halfway around the world or a trip to the local grocery store, God is setting up divine appointments along the way. The challenge, of course, is that they are harder to recognize closer to home because we operate on autopilot. Don’t be in such a hurry to get where you’re going that you miss the miracles along the way–or the miracles that may be out of your way! (Quote source: “The Grave Robber,” p. 69-70.)

The Grave Robber is a book about miracles past and present. Amazon.com‘s page for the book states the following:

Do we believe that God still does miracles? Do we expect him to move in miraculous ways in our day-in, day-out lives? Maybe we’d like to see miracles, but it’s hard to see past our problems. All that is about to change, like changing water into wine.

“There are miracles all around us all the time,” says Mark Batterson, “but you won’t see them if you don’t know how to look for them.”

Now the bestselling author ofThe Circle Makerreveals the incredible power of the seven miraculous signs of Jesus found in the Gospel of John. Batterson shows how they were not simply something Jesus did in the past, but something he wants to do now, in the present. He shares true stories of people today who are experiencing miracles in their lives. And he brings to light countless miracles, big and small, that we take for granted every day that point us toward the One who healed the sick, calmed the storm, and yes, even raised the dead.

But this is more than a book about miracles. It’s a book about the only One who can perform them. Batterson cautions readers, “Don’t just seek miracles. Seek Jesus. And if you seek Jesus, miracles will find you.”

Nothing has changed since Jesus called Lazarus out of his tomb four days after his funeral. Our impossible situations still double as God’s greatest opportunity to reveal his glory. No matter how big the problem is, God is bigger still. Anyone who longs to see God work in miraculous ways today will love Batterson’s faith-building, life-giving message. (Quote source here.)

I love how Batterson opens his book in Chapter 1 titled, “The Day Water Blushed”:

For nearly thirty years, the One who had crafted the universe with His voice crafted furniture with His hands. And He was good at what He did–no crooked table legs ever came out of the carpenter’s shop in Nazareth. But Jesus was more than a master carpenter. He was also God incognito. His miraculous powers rank as history’s best-kept secret for nearly three decades, but all that changed the day water blushed in the face of its Creator.

That was the day the woodbender became a waterbender. Jesus manipulated the molecular structure of water and turned it into wine–757 bottles, no less. And nothing but the best. This wasn’t just wine, it was fine wine (see John 2:1-11).

Sometimes God shows up. Sometimes God shows off.

That’s what Jesus did on the third day of a wedding feast in Cana, and that was just the beginning. Thirty-four distinct miracles are recorded in the Gospels, while countless more went unrecorded. John’s Gospel spotlights seven miracles, unveiling seven dimensions of Jesus’ miraculous power. Like the sun rising in the east, each miracle reveals another ray of God’s glory until Lazarus steps out of the shadow of his tomb and into the light of the Grave Robber (see John 11).

The seven miracles are seven signs, and each sign points straight to Jesus. You may be reading this book because you need a miracle. Don’t we all at some point in our lives? And God wants to do now what He did then. But this is more than a course in miracles. It’s a book about the only One who can perform them. So let me offer a word of caution at the outset:

Don’t seek miracles.

Follow Jesus.

And if you follow Jesus long enough and far enough you’ll eventually find yourself in the middle of some miracles.

Everyone wants a miracle. But here’s the catch: no one wants to be in a situation that necessitates one! Of course, you can’t have one without the other. . . . 

He is the God who can make your impossible possible! (Quote source: “The Grave Robber,” p. 13-14.)

As I stated in my blog post titled, What If,” published one week ago regarding another book by Mark Batterson, there is much in this book that I can’t begin to touch on in a blog post, and I’m not going to try. But I want to whet your appetite. But first, let’s tackle, as Batterson puts it, “the invisible gorilla” in the room found in Chapter 2 titled, “Miraculous”:

Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons conducted an experiment at Harvard University more than a decade ago that became infamous in psychology circles. Their book,The Invisible Gorilla,” popularized it. And you may be one of the millions of viewers who made their Selective Attention Test one of YouTube’s most watched videos. [An video explaining the test and results is available here.]

The two researchers filmed students passing basketballs while moving in a circular fashion. In the middle of the short film, a woman dressed in a gorilla suit walks into the frame, beats her chest, and walks out of the frame. The sequence takes nine seconds in the minute-long video. Viewers are given specific instructions: “Count the number of passes by players wearing white shirts.” Of course, the researchers were not interested in their pass-counting ability. They wanted to see if the viewers would notice something they weren’t looking for, something as obvious as a gorilla. Amazingly, half of the test group did not.

How is that even possible?

How do you miss the gorilla in the room?

The short answer is “inattentional blindness.”

“Inattentional blindness” is the failure to notice something in your field of vision because you are focused on something else; in this case people in white shirts passing basketballs. But the first-century Pharisees make an even better case study. They were so focused on Sabbath law that they couldn’t see that miracles happening right in front of their eyes. Jesus healed an invalid who hadn’t walked in thirty-eight years, gave sight to a man born blind, and restored a man’s withered arm. But the Pharisees missed the miracle, and missed the Messiah, because they were blinded by their legalism. They couldn’t see past their religious assumptions.

Inattentional blindness can be as intentional as turning a blind eye to something you don’t want to see, like the Pharisees did. It can also be as unintentional as fading awareness of the constants in your life that you take for granted over time. Either way, it’s one of the greatest threats to spiritual vitality. One of the truest tests of spiritual maturity is seeing the miraculous in the monotonous. (Quote source: “The Grave Robber,” p. 13-14.)

faith-hope-loveIn Chapter 4 titled, “The Lost Miracles,” Batterson tells the story of how Thomas Jefferson, as a 16-year-old college student during the Enlightenment when reason and logic were king, Jefferson took scissors to his Bible and cut out all of the miracles that Jesus performed. He also deleted the virgin birth, the resurrection, and every supernatural event in between. He was, however, devoted to the teachings of Jesus. As Batterson states (p. 24), “In the words of historian Edwin Gaustad, ‘If a moral lesson was embedded in a miracle, the lesson survived in the Jeffersonian scripture, but the miracle did not’ . . . Jefferson’s version of the Gospels ends with the stone rolled in front of the tomb. Jesus died on the cross but never rose from the dead.”

As Batterson continues (p. 24):

Hard to imagine, isn’t it–taking scissors to the sacred text of Scripture? But don’t we do the very same thing? We wouldn’t dare use a razor, but we cut and paste nonetheless. We pick and choose our favorite verses while ignoring the texts we cannot comprehend or don’t’ particularly like. We rationalize the verses that are too radical. We scrub down the verses that are too supernatural. We put Scripture on the chopping block of human logic and end up with a neutered gospel. We commit intellectual idolatry, creating God in our image. So instead of living a life that resembles the supernatural standard set in Scripture, we follow an abridged version of the Bible that looks an awful lot like us.

When you subtract the miracles like Thomas Jefferson did, you’re left with a very wise yet weak Jesus. I’m afraid this is the Jesus many people follow. He’s kind and compassionate, but the raw power is missing in action. So we follow His teachings but never experience His miracles. And that doesn’t just fall short of the standard He set–it misses the point altogether.

One of the boldest statements in the Bible is found in John 14:12:

Whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these.

Greater things? It would sound like heresy if it didn’t come from the lips of Jesus. It’s one of those verses that we tend to rationalize, so let me tell you exactly what it means. If you follow Jesus, you’ll do what He did. You’ll seek to please the heavenly Father first and foremost. You’ll care for the poor, you’ll wash feet, and you’ll offend some Pharisees along the way. You’ll also traffic in the miraculous. And it won’t just be as an eyewitness. It’ll be as a catalyst. Please believe me when I say, you are someone else’s miracle!

Make no mistake about it: only God can perform miracles. So God gets all of the glory. But as you’ll see in the pages to follow, nearly every miracle has a human element. Sometimes you need to step into the Jordan River, like the priests of Israel, before God will part the waters [see Joshua 3]. And sometimes you need to wade into the Jordan seven times, like Naaman [see 2 Kings 5:14]. Only God could miraculously heal Naaman’s leprosy, but he would have forfeited the miracle if he hadn’t positioned himself for it by repeated obedience. So while some miracles take only a single step of faith, other require multiple attempts! But whether it’s ankle deep or waist deep, you’ve got to wade into the Jordan River. Sometimes you’ve got to do the natural before God will do the supernatural. (Quote source: “The Grave Robber,” p. 24-25.)

As Christians, we simply cannot choose what we want to believe and toss out the rest because it is inconvenient to our lifestyles or even our logic. And if we are looking for miracles we have to believe what we say and claim to believe regardless of our circumstances or what we want. Faith requires that we believe what we say we believe and not just when everything is going the way we want it to go.

In Chapter 12 titled, “The Rule Breaker,” the chapter opens with a verse from John 5:10 which was the Pharisees’ response when Jesus healed the invalid of his thirty-eight year ailment on the Sabbath, and told him to pick up his mat and walk (which the man did). The Pharisees then said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”  Batterson states (pp. 123-125):

Jesus could have healed the invalid on any day of the week [see John 5 for the story], but He chose to perform this miracle on the Sabbath. He knew it would rile up the religious establishment, and I wonder if that’s why He did it. Jesus offended the Pharisees with great intentionality and consistency. . . .

If you follow in the footsteps of Jesus, you will offend some Pharisees along the way. In fact, there are situations where you need to go out of your way to do so. That is not a license to break the law. It is permission to break man-made rules the don’t honor God. . . .

While Jesus told the invalid to take up his mat and walk, He didn’t tell him to hike to Timbuktu. So while the invalid probably hopped, skipped, and jumped all over Jerusalem that day, he did not go outside the parameters established by the mitzvot [a comprehensive list of  do and don’t rules the Pharisees came up with]. Of course, it wasn’t the invalid walking that caused the offense. It was the fact that he was carrying his mat–an activity strictly forbidden [on the Sabbath] by Pharisaical law. Of course, there was nothing in Scripture to substantiate that regulation. And Jesus knew it since He wrote it. The prohibition against carrying a mat was not divinely ordained law. It was nothing more than a man-made rule–and, I might add, an awfully silly rule if someone had just been healed of a thirty-eight-year-old ailment.

The great irony of this story is that while the Pharisees accused Jesus of breaking the law, they were the ones breaking the spirit of the law by trying to keep what they thought was the letter of the law. And while they thought Jesus was breaking the letter of the law, He was keeping the spirit of the law by healing the invalid.

There is a world of difference between following Jesus and following rules. If you follow Jesus, you won’t break the law of God, but you will break the rules of man. And you’ll offend some Pharisees by doing so.

The Pharisees couldn’t see the forest through the trees. They wanted to kill Jesus because He challenged their man-made rules. . . . The Pharisees missed the miracle that was right in front of their eyes because they couldn’t see past their human traditions and man-made rules. And that is precisely what keeps us from experiencing the miraculous as well. To experience the miraculous, sometimes you have to break the rules. (Quote source: “The Grave Robber,” p. 123-125.)

In the final chapter of the book, Chapter 25 titled, “One Little Yes,” it opens in the middle of the story about the death and resurrection of Lazarus by Jesus (see John 11):

After asserting His identity as the resurrection and the life (see John 11:25-27), Jesus pops a point-blank question that punctuates Martha’s life [Martha was one of the sisters of Lazarus]: “Do you believe this?” Remember: Jesus hadn’t called Lazarus out of the tomb quite yet, so Martha was still in the depths of despair. Hope was four days dead [when Lazarus died]. Yet Martha response with her simple profession of faith:

“Yes, Lord.”

One little yes can change your life.

One little yes can change your eternity.

The litmus test is the same now as it was then. The only question on God’s final exam is: “Do you believe this?” It’s not a multiple-choice question. It’s true or false. Ant it’s most important question you’ll ever answer. That one decision will determine your eternal destiny. The good news is that it’s an open-book exam, and God reveals the right answer in Romans 10:9:

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (ESV)

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the axis around which our faith revolves. When Jesus rose from the dead, it radically redefined reality. When He walked out of the tomb under His own power, the word “impossible” was removed from our vocabulary. The resurrection is the history-changer, the game-changer. But the trick is learning to live as if Jesus was crucified yesterday, rose from the dead today, and is come back tomorrow!” (Quote source:The Grave Robber, p. 24-25.)

Jesus Christ can make the impossible possible. . . .

Do you believe this? . . .

It requires one faith-filled yes . . .

YouTube Video: “Til The Day I Die (Live)” by TobyMac:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

God Is Good All The Time

violinist-in-subway-uncroppedThe following story isn’t fake news. It’s been verified on Snopes, and the following version of the story is taken from Snopes:

A Most Interesting Story

A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule. A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping continued to walk. A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.

Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats average $100.

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of an social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?

One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing? (Quote source here.)

Kevin Gerald, founder and pastor of Champions Centre in Tacoma, WA, opens Chapter 9 titled, “Good Eyes,” in his book titled, Good Things (2015), with a shortened version of the above story (see pp. 61-62). After the story, Gerald asks:

How could anyone miss this? The master violinist did a charity concert and over a thousand people walked by without noticing? How does that happen?

The fact is that the people who passed by that day represent a trait common to all of us: we don’t always see what’s right in front of us. But the fact that we don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Just what’s wrong with our eyes, anyway? (Quote source, “Good Things,” p. 62).

It’s true that we don’t often see what is right in front of us. Sometimes it has to do with our perception; sometimes it’s because, like the folks in the subway, we’re in a rush to get somewhere else. In the process of becoming adults we’ve lost our inquisitiveness that we had as children–the “stop and smell the roses” moments that we rarely take anymore. We assume things that are often not based in reality (e.g., gossip, or fake news that has recently entered our lexicon) that become our own perception of reality. We’ve all heard the saying, “perception is reality.” But is it really? (See article titled, “‘Perception is Reality’–Not Always True,” by Dr. Paul White at this link).

In Good Things,” Chapter 9, Gerald goes on to write:

Jesus told us, “The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore, when your eye is good, your whole body also is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your body also is full of darkness” (Luke 11:34, NKJV).

My eyesight is not as por as some people’s. But when I have my glasses on I can read with a lot more ease and catch details that I otherwise miss. Just as people go to an eye doctor to get glasses or have surgery to give them better eyesight, we’re not stuck with our current life paradigm. We can choose a better one!

The word “paradigm” comes from the Greek and is, in a general sense, a reference to a set pattern or way we see the world–not in terms of our physical eyes but in terms of our assumptions, beliefs, and overall perspective. Its’ what we might call our mind’s eye.

This is what Jesus was referring to as he explained the eye as the lamp of the body. He was saying that the eye can be good or the eye can be bad, and the condition of our eye affects what we see or don’t see, what we experience or miss out on. If our eyes are good, it’s like turning on a lap inside of us. We brighten up in our spirits because we’re living with a greater awareness of God’s goodness and blessings in our lives.

The opposite is true about bad eyes; they miss seeing the good. They may or may not take in darkness, but they definitely don’t take in light. What they don’t see is not what they are incapable of seeing but typically what they are not trained to see.

In a similar way, the only thing that’s different between a negative person and a positive person is what they “see.” Two people can grow up in the same house with similar life experiences, and one will be negative about life and the other will be positive. Even though they have been surrounded by the same environment and have the same parents, what they see and the way they see it is different.

Negative people are not bad. Pessimistic people are not ignorant. In fact, oftentimes negativity is a trait of people who are highly informed in what they call reality. When passing along their perspective, they will tell you, “I’m not being negative; I’m just being real!” And they are being real in what they are aware of and educated in, which is the “life is hard” reality. They have taken pages of notes and have the data to support the fact that life is not a gravy train!

When people are deeply educated in the “life is hard” reality but undereducated in the “God is good” reality, they lean toward the unfavorable possibility versus seeing the possibility of something good. The reason these persons can get stuck in their negativity is that they have accepted that the “life is hard” reality cancels out the “God is good” reality.

I’ve found that anyone, even people highly aware of the “life is hard” reality, will become authentically optimistic when they educate themselves in the “Good is good” reality. You don’t have to deny the realities associated with life being hard to see the realities associated with God being good! (Quote source, “Good Things,” p. 62-64).

god-is-goodAs Gerald notes, it’s not that life isn’t hard for all of us from time to time (and sometimes for a long time), but rather not forgetting that God is still good when life is hard. Gerald writes more on this topic in Chapter 9 and also devotes a chapter to it in Chapter 12 titled, “What About ‘If'”.

In the article titled, “‘Perception is Reality’–Not Always True,” by Dr. Paul White that I mentioned briefly above, Dr. White states the following:

In my work with people, I often deal with individuals’ reactions to situations as well as communication issues between co-workers and family members. As a result, in the process of working through these issues, people often say to me, “Well, you know, perception is reality.” Sometimes they say this to explain how miscommunication occurred with another person, or why they feel the way they do. . . .

The problem is — it is not true. At least, not always.

There is a verifiable reality that exists. And sometimes our perceptions (or beliefs about the world) do not match reality. In the physical realm, that is the basis for illusionists — they are able to make things appear different than they really are. Also, there are those tricks of nature that our senses can play on us that can lead us to misinterpret what is really happening (having a sense of your body being warm while you are in the beginning stages of hypothermia).

But in day to day life, I see the mismatch between perception and reality more practically. Here are some examples.

Miscommunication. The classic example is the scenario like this: “You said ….”  “I did not. I said ….” “Oh, but I thought you said ….” “No. What I said (or at least, thought I did) was …” “But I thought you said …” If we stick with the perception is reality proposition, this leads to major problems in communication. This is true for both parties. For the initial speaker, “what I thought” does not necessarily equal “what I said”. And “what I said” is not necessarily the same thing as “what I meant”.  Similarly, for the listener, “what I heard you say” may not be the equivalent to “what you said”.  So perception may be perception, but it may not be what actually occurred.

The mismatch between feeling reactions and reality. I often see the disconnect between reality and perception in the area of worrying. Being worried or anxious is essentially a smaller version of being afraid (there is a qualitative difference between being terrified or afraid for one’s safety and being worried or concerned). However, the realm of worry and anxiety have to do with potential events that may happen. They always have to do with the future. The challenge is — not everything people worry about is reality-based. Those who struggle significantly with anxiety can worry daily about their loved ones being killed in a car accident on the way to school or work. Or they can worry about the stock market crashing, losing all of their savings, and winding up being homeless.

[NOTE: One way we can manage our fears and worries is to do a “reality check” — what is the actual likelihood of x event happening today? Has x happened before? How many times? Even if x happens, does that necessarily mean y will happen? And even in the unlikely event that x happens and y also happens, what are all of the circumstances that need to be in place for z then to occur? The chances are incredibly slim. So, how much time and energy do you want to spend worrying about a series of incidents that will probably not happen?]

Misinterpretation of a situation. Some people make quick judgments. Sometimes this is to their benefit. But, in other cases, it can lead to misjudging what is going on in a situation. In working with kids and teens, I have often seen a scenario where a fairly impulsive student, who also views themselves as the ‘protector’ of others will come into a room and see a couple of guys “scuffling”. They have each other in headlocks and are throwing one another around the room. The self-appointed “hero” sees the guys “fighting” and promptly dives in, tackles one of the fighters, taking him to the ground, and yells, “Break it up!” (Frequently someone gets hurt in the process.) It is then that the hero finds out that the two boys were just “horsing around” and it was a good-natured tussle between two friends. The two “fighters” wind up being angry at the hero for interfering with their fun and over-reacting to the situation. Unfortunately, this happens in the adult world as well — where someone misinterprets a situation and reacts inappropriately because of their misperception. Truly, in these situations, perception is not reality.

Inaccurate beliefs about the way the world is. For instance, in doing career coaching with individuals, many people believe that finding a job that meets their needs and desires should be fairly easy and should happen within a matter of weeks. So they “dive in” looking and applying for jobs. After several weeks with no job, they begin to become discouraged (our feeling reactions are inter-related with our expectations) and begin to question if they are pursuing the right career direction. Self-doubt also sets in, wondering if they are capable of finding the type of job they want and whether they are really marketable. The reality is that finding a job which is a good fit for you takes a lot of time and energy. Usually three to six months, or longer. And this reality is demonstrated time and time again (one of the aspects of “reality” is that it can be verified empirically).

Misattribution of motive. Probably the most damaging form of misperception is the case of attributing a certain motive to someone else’s action, and being quite far off the mark. This happens in marriages a lot, it seems.  And it can be the result of either an overt action (that is, something you did) or the absence of an action (something you didn’t do but the other person thought you should have). Let me state something clearly — most of us aren’t fully clear why we do what we do, let alone being able to understand the motives of another.  It is always best to ask (and hopefully, believe) the other person, “Why did you …?” It can be helpful to start with the phrase, “I’m confused. Can you help me understand why you…?” (It seems to take the accusatory edge off of the interaction.)  There are tons of examples, more than I want to go into (and for fear of incriminating myself).  Let me just suggest: we often get “bent out of shape” with others because we attribute a reason for their action or inaction that is not accurate.

There are other examples of perception not equaling reality, but I think that is enough for now.  Maybe use these ideas to frame your own thoughts when you hear: “Well, you know, perception is reality.” Maybe. Maybe not. (Quote source here.)

We all can see ourselves in those paragraphs cited above. I have also noticed that one of the most common places where our communications can be easily misinterpreted is in our use of Social Media. A quick text, or a Facebook post, or a tweet on Twitter can unleash a firestorm of misunderstanding, and it also has the capability of circling our globe instantaneously. So can email (just ask WikiLeaks). In fact, the technology created since the beginning of the 21st Century could eventually be responsible for unleashing World War 3 at some point in time. I’m not sure how we solve the misunderstanding issues on Social Media or if we can solve them, but perhaps it would do us all some good if we turned off our technology once in awhile and really do stop and smell the roses occasionally and gain back some perspective.

We live in both a fragile and an oftentimes angry world where the very thought that “God is good” comes into question on a frequent basis. The concept seems almost alien in the midst of some very horrific stuff that goes on all around our globe. That’s because evil exists and we too often blame the evil on God (or at least blame God for allowing it). However, it is as Kevin Gerald stated (quoted above) when he said:

I’ve found that anyone, even people highly aware of the “life is hard” reality, will become authentically optimistic when they educate themselves in the “Good is good” reality. You don’t have to deny the realities associated with life being hard to see the realities associated with God being good! (Quote source, “Good Things,” p. 63-64).

For example, if you have survived some really horrific stuff today and you’re still alive, who has kept you alive? Or if you think you can’t make it through another day, who is it that keeps you going? God isn’t good just when times are good; God is good when times are horrific, too. He sees us through them if we will only stop blaming him for them and, instead, understand what Romans 8:28 is really saying to all of us:

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

“All things” not only includes the good things and good times, but the really horrific stuff, too–the very stuff we can’t handle on our own. Jesus said we are to always pray and never give up (Luke 18:1), and that is especially true in the horrific turns our lives sometimes take, too. Life is not alway easy, and perception is not always reality; however. . . 

God is good . . .

All the time . . . 

And all the time God is good . . . .

YouTube Video: “God Is Good All The Time” by Chester Baldwin:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

What If

what-ifA few weeks ago I was roaming around in one of my favorite bookstores when I took a seat to check my email on my smartphone. There were two seats in that area with a small table in between them, and a handsome middle-aged man with a week’s worth of beard growth that gave him an intellectually stimulating and rugged look was seated in the other chair. He was reading a Mark Batterson book titled, If: Trading Your If Only Regrets for God’s What If Possibilities (2015). While I was in the middle of writing a brief email on my smartphone, he asked me if I was familiar with Mark Batterson. I said “yes,” and he said he thought If was his favorite book by him so far. I acknowledged that I had not yet read it, then I finished my brief email, and we ended up having a delightful conversation on a variety of topics.

When I was in another bookstore this past week that is known for it’s great discounts on Christian books, I saw a copy of If by Mark Batterson, who is the lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington D.C., and a New York Times bestselling author of several books. Remembering my previous conversation with the ruggedly handsome middle-aged man regarding the book, I decided to purchase it (and I love it when I get a great book at a great price, too).

One of the stories Batterson opens his book with is about a fellow who decided back in 1987 to purchase a small chain of coffeehouses with a strange name. Can you guess the name? Starbucks. And the rest, as they say, is pretty much history. However, at the time, Howard Schultz, who purchased the chain of coffeehouses back then, paid a $3.8 million dollar price tag and gave up a salary of $75,000/yr to “purchase his passion for all things coffee.” It is, of course, one of the great American success stories, and Schultz, who was born a year after I was born, now has a net worth of $3 billion dollars, and is stepping down as CEO of the company on April 3, 2017, “to focus on turning Starbucks’ Reserve-branded coffee bars into destination restaurants” (quote source here). It was a huge risk for Schultz to purchase an unknown coffeehouse chain back in 1987, but as Batterson quoted from Schultz’s memoir, Pour Your Heart Into It,” on page 10 of If,” Schultz states the following:

“This is my moment,” I thought. “If I don’t seize the opportunity, if I don’t step out of my comfort zone and risk it all, if I let too much time tick on, my moment will pass.” I knew that if I didn’t take advantage of this opportunity, I would replay it in my mind for my whole life, wondering: “What if?” (Original quote source: “Pour Your Heart Into It,” p. 63.)

What If? And that’s the topic of Mark Batterson’s book. After the Starbucks story, Batterson writes (p. 11):

What’s your “what if?”

If you don’t know yet, keep reading.

I want you to know that I’ve been praying for  you. While I may not know your name or your circumstances, God does. And I’ve been asking Him to put this book in the right hands at the right time. That’s my prayer for every book I write. So when someone apologizes for having not read one of my books, apology accepted. I trust God’s timing.

Of course, the flip side is true. The fact that you hold this book in your hands is evidence that you’re ready for “what if.” I’m praying that God will reveal it as you read.

“If” is more than a book.

It’s your “what if.”

But first you have to get past, “if only.” (Quote source: “If,” page 11.)

There is a significant difference between “if only” and “what if.” “If only” speaks of regrets; whereas “what if” speaks of possibilities. In the next section in Chapter 1 titled, “The Power of If,” in his book, Batterson states:

Let me make a rather bold prediction.

At the end of your life, your greatest regret won’t be the things you did but wish you hadn’t. Your greatest regret will be the things you didn’t do but wish you had. It’s the “what if” dreams that we never act upon that turn into “if only” regrets.

That prediction is backed up by a study done by two social psychologists, Tom Gilovich and Vicki Medvec. According to their research, time is a key factor in what we regret. In the short term, we tend to regret actions more than inactions by a count of 53 to 47 percent. In other words, we feel acute regret over the mistakes we’ve made. But over the long haul, we regret inactions more than actions, 84 to 16 percent.

That doesn’t mean we won’t have some deep-seated regrets about things we wish we hadn’t said or done, but our longest lasting regrets will be the opportunities we left on the table. Those are the “if onlys” that haunt us to the grave and beyond.

Now let me translate that study into theological terms.

We fixate on sins of commission far too much. We practice holiness by subtraction–don’t do this, don’t do that, and you’re okay. The problem with that is this: you can do nothing wrong and still do nothing right.

Righteousness is more than doing nothing wrong–it’s doing something right. It’s not just resisting temptation–it’s going after God-ordained opportunities. Holiness by subtraction is playing not to lose. Righteousness is going all in with God. It’s playing to win. It’s living as if the victory has already been won at Calvary’s cross. And it has.

In my opinion, it’s the sins of omission that grieve the heart of our heavenly Father the most–the wouldas, couldas, and shouldas. Why? Because no one knows our God-given potential like the God who gave it to us in the first place!

Potential is God’s gift to us.

Making the most of it is our gift back to God.

Anything less results in regrets. (Quote source: “If,” page 12.)

At this point I can think of one example in my own life where I could apply both the “if only” and “what if” questions. The example, of course, goes back to September 2008 when I accepted that job in Houston which I lost seven months later in April 2009. I could state, “If only I had never accepted that job in the first place, I wouldn’t be living in a hotel now on a Social Security income and having such a difficult time finding low income housing.” That, of course, is a “regret” statement. However, the “what if” question given to that same situation–since it is a reality that I did take that job in Houston in 2008 and I am now living in a hotel room on a Social Security income, and I’m having a very difficult time finding low income housing–and turns the situation completely around. Enter Romans 8:28 which states:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

job-42v2Hence, using the words from Romans 8:28, the question now becomes, “What if God means to bring this very situation to work out for my own good because I do love him, and because I have been called according to his purpose.” His purpose, not mine (which we as Christians so often get confused about). That puts an entirely different spin on the situation. He never meant this situation for my ill will, but for His purpose, and that purpose is still unfolding. In other words, it’s not over until it serves God’s purpose, and it’s not just about what we want.

There is much in Batterson’s book that I can’t begin to touch on in a blog post, and I’m not going to try. However, there is a segment in Chapter 24 titled “Change Agents” that I want to quote (from pp. 221-225):

I have a few convictions when it comes to calling. They are keys to unlocking “what if.”

God doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called.

There is a high likelihood that God will call you to do something you’re not smart enough, good enough, or strong enough to pull off. By definition, a God-ordained dream will always be beyond your ability and beyond your resources. Why? So that you have to rely on God every single day!

I’m keenly aware of the fact that in my current state of spiritual maturity, I’m not capable of leading National Community Church two years from now. I need to keep growing, keep learning. And that’s the way it should be. Nothing keeps you on your knees in raw dependence upon God like God-sized dreams.

Criticize by creating.

In my opinion, criticism is a cop-out for those who are too lazy to solve the problem they are complaining about. Instead of criticizing movies or music, produce a film or an album that is better than whatever it is you’re complaining about. The most constructive criticism is called creativity.

At the end of the day, we should be more known for what we’re for than what we’re against. Anybody can point out problems. We’re called to solve them by writing better books, starting better schools, and drafting better legislation.

The anointing is for everyone.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer, or a barista. From the top of the organizational chart to the bottom, God wants to anoint you to do whatever it is you’re called to do.

If I need legal help, I certainly want an attorney who has been to law school. But I also want an attorney who is anointed by God. 

If I need surgery, I certainly want a doctor who has been to med school. But I want more than that; I want a doctor whose hands are anointed by God.

If I need dirty chai with two shots of expresso–well, you get the point. The anointing of God knows no limits when it comes to position or portfolio.

Live for the applause of nail-scarred hands.

Whatever it is that you feel called to do, do it as if your life depended on it. That’s 1 Corinthians 10:31 in a nutshell: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

The key word is “whatever.” It doesn’t matter what you’re doing; do it to the glory of God. “It is inbred in us that we have to do exceptional things for God,” said Oswald Chambers, “but we have not. We have been exceptional in the ordinary things.” And when we are, we put a smile on God’s face.

Richard Bolles, author of the classic bestseller [first published in 1970 and updated every year thereafter], “What Color Is Your Parachute?”, makes a profound observation. “The story in the Gospels of Jesus going up on the mount and being transfigured before the disciples is to me a picture of what calling is all about. Taking the mundane, offering it to God, and asking Him to transfigure it.”

“Taking mundane tasks and figuring out how to transfigure them.”

That’s what calling is all about.

More than a decade ago, I gave the eulogy at a memorial service in the Caucus Room of the Russell Senate Office Building. Some of the most important hearings in our nation’s history have been held in that room. If those walls could talk!

Yet here we were to honor the life of a woman with no rank. Jayonna Beal was the administrative assistant in charge of constituent correspondence for fourteen years. That isn’t a position people are fighting for on the hill, but Jayonna did it with grace. She didn’t have position or power, but that room was packed with the Who’s Who of Washington.

I spoke right after her boss, who would run for president in a few years. He, along with countless others, shared stories of how Jayonna’s small acts of kindness made a big difference in their lives. Jayonna baked cookies, sewed buttons, and showed interns the ropes. And she did it all in the name of Jesus. Jayonna practices the old adage, “Share the gospel every day; if necessary, use words.”

It’s the little “ifs” that change the world.

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:

If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven will pause to say, “Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

I know a great street sweeper. Her name is Val, and she is a custodian who cleans like it’s nobody’s business but God’s. She inscribed SDG on her mop handle, just like Johann Sebastian Bach did on his symphonies. It stands for “Soli Deo Gloria.” It’s a reminder that she cleans for the glory of God.

Believe it or not, Val drove all the way from Canada to clean our offices at National Community Church. I know that sounds strange, but I think it falls into the category of “strange and mysterious.” She was profoundly impacted by our podcast, and she wanted to repay her debt of gratitude the best way she knew how. So she drove all the way to DC to clean our offices.

Who does that?

I’ll tell you who. Someone who knows God has called them. Back home, Val is the custodian for the school district. It’s often a thankless job; the job no one else wants to do. And it isn’t always easy. “My prayer last year was the God would get me off the third shift,” Val told me. “But now I have changed my prayer. I want to be taught by God what I need to learn.”

There might be educators in her district smarter than her, but I dare say that no one is more teachable than that custodian. And that’s what really counts in God’s kingdom.

Being a third-shift custodian isn’t most people’s dream job. But what you do isn’t as important as how you do it and whom you do it for. So no matter what you do, do it like Michelangelo painted, Beethoven composed, Shakespeare wrote poetry, and Val cleans bathrooms.

Whatever you do, don’t settle for what.

Imagine “what if.” (Quote source: “If,” page 221-225.)

I’ll end this post with something to think about that Batterson states on page 24:

There is no higher leverage point than the two-letter word “if.”

It defines our deepest regrets: “if only.”

It defies impossible circumstances: “as if.”

It’s pregnant with infinite possibilities: “what if.”

And it overcomes all refutations: no “ifs, ands, or buts” about it.

Biblically speaking, “if” is the conditional conjunction that turns God’s eternal promises into our present realities. Each of those promises is a high leverage point, but perhaps no promise in the Bible has more leverage than Romans 8:31 . . .

“If God is for us, who can be against us?” . . .

And that’s one little “if” . . .

That can change your life . . . .

YouTube Video: “Feel It” by TobyMac ft. Mr. TalkBox

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

High Hopes

morning-gloryThe other day I ran across a small book of “simple suggestions” titled, High Hopes,” by Patrick Lindsay, “one of Australia’s leading broadcasters and nonfiction authors. He spent more than 25 years as a journalist and TV presenter before he began writing full-time in 2001” (quote source: inside back cover of the book). As of the publication of this book in 2014, he had written 19 best-selling books. The blurb for this book on Amazon.com states:

Most of us race through life, unable to enjoy the present because we’re weighed down by the past or worried about the future. “High Hopes” offers insights that will allow you to slow the daily rush and enjoy your life, moment by moment. Patrick Lindsay prompts us to lift our spirits by simplifying our lives, embracing our humanity, sparking our imaginations and inspiring ourselves and those around us (quote source here).

Each quote contains a title, a simple suggestion, and is supported by a quote of timeless wisdom. Here are three for consideration:

Listen to What’s Not being Said

Most of us hear people speaking.
What’s 
more important is what they’re
not saying. Look 
for the subtext.
Be aware of what has been left out.

Observe their revealing physical reactions.
Often 
the real message is in the omissions.

~~~~~~~~~~

The art of being wise is the art of
knowing what to overlook.

William James (1842-1910)
(Source: “High Hopes,” p.24)

><><><><><><><><><><><><><

Look for the Pattern

Most situations develop to a pattern.
It 
may be camouflaged, or slow to reveal,
but it’s 
usually there, and usually decipherable.
Understanding the patterns gives you power
to anticipate the next steps, or to break
the pattern to find novel solutions.

~~~~~~~~~~

Habit rules the unreflecting herd.

William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
(Source: “High Hopes,” p. 36)

><><><><><><><><><><><><><

Lose the Self-Pity

If we stop being self-centered, we
change our viewpoint on everything.
We widen 
our horizons, we start thinking
about others instead of ourselves. 
We
break away from a strangling negativity.
We 
form a solid positive base.

~~~~~~~~~~

Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we
yield to it, we can never do anything
wise in this world.

Helen Keller (1880-1968)
(Source: “High Hopes,” p. 51)

rose-growing-in-concrete-crackAll of us, at one time or another, have found ourselves in the throes of a pity party. I’ve had my share over the past several years since losing a job that has left me unemployed on a rather permanent basis at this point in time. It is not uncommon for us to ask “Why me?” especially if what happened to us was caused by others and not necessarily an outcome from something we did. Or it could stem from a natural disaster (or other circumstance) that took away everything we held precious in it’s wake. And on a lesser scale, it could stem from not getting accepted to a college we had dreamed about attending, or getting a job promotion we expected but was given to someone else. The list of things that are capable of causing us discouragement and to lose hope is endless… and that’s the point. We can’t afford to lose hope. . . .

I’m reminded of the story of Joseph in the Old Testament as a classic example of a young man who endured one trial and tragedy after another lasting for years. His story is found in Genesis 37-50. It’s a story is filled with rivalry, jealousy, and betrayal. As a teenager Joseph is sold by his jealous older brothers into slavery to Midianite traders, and they tell their father, Jacob, that Joseph is dead. The Midianite traders then traveled to Egypt, where they sold Joseph to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. Potiphar was captain of the palace guard (Genesis 37:36). Joseph serves Potiphar well, and Potiphar was quite pleased and gave him complete administrative responsibility over everything that he owns. Joseph is also described as being well built and handsome, and Potiphar’s wife had taken note. She tried to get Joseph to sleep with her but he refuses; and in her anger she concocts a story telling her husband that he tried to rape her which lands Joseph in prison for several years (see Genesis 39).

At this point in the story I want to turn to something Max LucadoMinister of Preaching at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas, for that past 25 years, wrote regarding Joseph in his book, You’ll Get Through This: Hope and Help For Your Turbulent Times (2013). In a chapter titled, “Oh, So This is Boot Camp” (pp. 45-48), he opens the chapter with the following story:

On November 28, 1965, the fighter plane of Howard Rutledge exploded under enemy fire. He parachuted into the hands of the North Vietnamese Army and was promptly place in the “Heartbreak Hotel,” one of the POW prisons in Hanoi. [At this point a two-paragraph description of the prison and his 6×6 cell and the horrible conditions it is in is given.]

Few of us will ever face the austere conditions of a POW camp. Yet to one degree or another, we all spend time behind bars.

  • My email today contains a prayer request for a young mother just diagnosed with lupus. Incarcerated by bad health.
  • I had coffee yesterday with a man whose wife battles depression. he fees stuck (chain number one) and guilty for feeling stuck (chain number two).
  • After half a century of marriage, a friend’s wife began to lose her memory. He had to take away her car keys so she wouldn’t drive. He has to stay near so she won’t fall. They had hopes of growing old together. They still may, but only one of them will know the day of the week.

Each of these individuals wonders, “Where is heaven in this story? Why would God permit such imprisonment? Does this struggle serve any purpose” Joseph surely posed those questions.

If Mrs. Potiphar couldn’t flirt Joseph into her bed, she would force him. She grabbed for his robe, and he let her have it. He chose his character over his coat. When he ran, she concocted a story. When Potiphar came home, she was ready with her lie and Joseph’s coat as proof. Potiphar charged Joseph with sexual assault and locked him in jail. “And [Joseph] was there in prison. but the LORD was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.” (Genesis 39:20-21).

Not a prison in the modern sense but a warren of underground, windowless rooms with damp floors, stale food, and better water. Guards shoved him into the dungeon and slammed the door. Joseph leaned back against the wall, slid to the floor. “I have done nothing here that they should put me into the dungeon” (Genesis 40:15).

Joseph had done his best in Potiphar’s house. He had made a fortune for his employer. He had kept his chores done and his room tidy. He had adapted to a new culture. He had resisted the sexual advances. But how was he rewarded? A prison sentence with no hope of parole. Since when does the high road lead over a cliff?

The answer? Ever since the events of Genesis 3, the chapter that documents the entry of evil into the world. Disaster came in the form of Lucifer, the fallen angel. And as long as Satan “prowls around like a roaring lion” (I Peter 5:8 NIV), he will wreak havoc among God’s people. He will lock preachers, like Paul, in prisons. He will exile pastors, like John, on remote islands. He will afflict the friends of Jesus, like Lazarus, with diseases. But his strategies always backfire. The imprisoned Paul wrote epistles [some while he was in prison]. The banished John saw heaven [read the Book of Revelation]. The cemetery of Lazarus became a stage upon which Christ performed one of his greatest miracles.

Intended evil becomes ultimate good.

As I reread that promise, it sounds formulaic, catchy, as if destined for a bumper sticker. I don’t mean for it to. There is nothing trite about your wheelchair, empty pantry, or aching heart. These are uphill, into-the-wind challenges you are facing. They are not easy.

flower-growing-in-concrete-crackBut neither are they random. God is not “sometimes” sovereign. He is not “occasionally” victorious. He does not occupy the throne one day and vacate it the next. “The Lord shall not turn back until He has executed and accomplished the thoughts and intents of His mind” (Jeremiah 30-24 AMP). This season in which you find yourself may puzzle you, but it does not bewilder God. He can and will use it for his purpose.

Cast in point: Joseph in prison. From an earthly viewpoint the Egyptian jail was the tragic conclusion of Joseph’s life. Satan could chalk up a victory for the dark side. All plans to use Joseph ended with the slamming of the jail door. The devil had Joseph just where he wanted him.

So did God.

They bruised his feet with fetters
    and placed his neck in an iron collar.
Until the time came to fulfill his dreams,
    the Lord tested Joseph’s character.
    (Psalm 105:18-19 NLT)

What Satan intended for evil, God used for testing. In the Bible a test is an external trial the purifies and prepares the heart. Just as a firs refines precious metal from dross and impurities, a trial purges the heart of the same. One of the psalmists wrote:

For you, God, tested us;
    you refined us like silver.
You brought us into prison
    and laid burdens on our backs.
You let people ride over our heads;
    we went through fire and water,
    but you brought us to a place of abundance.
(Psalm 66:10-21 NIV)

Everyday God tests us through people, pain, or problems. Stop and consider your circumstances. Can you identify the tests of today? Snarling traffic? Threatening weather? Aching joints?

If you see your troubles as nothing more than isolated hassles and hurts, you’ll grow bitter and angry. Yet if you see your troubles as tests used by God for his glory and your maturity, then even the smallest incidents take on significance. (Quote source: “You’ll Get Through This,” pp. 45-48).

The story of Joseph doesn’t end there. Early in his life God gave Joseph the ability to interpret dreams, and one day after he had been in prison for several years, Pharaoh had two very troubling dreams back-to-back. He called all the magicians and wise men in his kingdom, but no one could interpret the dreams. His cupbearer, who had been in prison two years earlier with Joseph, recalled a dream that Joseph interpreted for him, and the interpretation came true three day later. The cupbearer was released from prison and reinstalled as cupbearer (which was part of the dream that Joseph interpreted would happen to him), and Joseph asked the cupbearer to remember him to the Pharaoh. Unfortunately, the cupbearer forgot all about Joseph until two years later when Pharaoh has his troubling dreams. The cupbearer told Pharaoh about Joseph’s interpretation of his dream and how it came true.

At this point, Genesis 41:14-36 describes what happened next:

Pharaoh sent for Joseph at once, and he was quickly brought from the prison. After he shaved and changed his clothes, he went in and stood before Pharaoh. Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I had a dream last night, and no one here can tell me what it means. But I have heard that when you hear about a dream you can interpret it.”

“It is beyond my power to do this,” Joseph replied. “But God can tell you what it means and set you at ease.”

So Pharaoh told Joseph his dream. “In my dream,” he said, “I was standing on the bank of the Nile River, and I saw seven fat, healthy cows come up out of the river and begin grazing in the marsh grass. But then I saw seven sick-looking cows, scrawny and thin, come up after them. I’ve never seen such sorry-looking animals in all the land of Egypt. These thin, scrawny cows ate the seven fat cows. But afterward you wouldn’t have known it, for they were still as thin and scrawny as before! Then I woke up.

“In my dream I also saw seven heads of grain, full and beautiful, growing on a single stalk. Then seven more heads of grain appeared, but these were blighted, shriveled, and withered by the east wind. And the shriveled heads swallowed the seven healthy heads. I told these dreams to the magicians, but no one could tell me what they mean.”

Joseph responded, “Both of Pharaoh’s dreams mean the same thing. God is telling Pharaoh in advance what he is about to do. The seven healthy cows and the seven healthy heads of grain both represent seven years of prosperity. The seven thin, scrawny cows that came up later and the seven thin heads of grain, withered by the east wind, represent seven years of famine.

“This will happen just as I have described it, for God has revealed to Pharaoh in advance what he is about to do. The next seven years will be a period of great prosperity throughout the land of Egypt. But afterward there will be seven years of famine so great that all the prosperity will be forgotten in Egypt. Famine will destroy the land. This famine will be so severe that even the memory of the good years will be erased. As for having two similar dreams, it means that these events have been decreed by God, and he will soon make them happen.

“Therefore, Pharaoh should find an intelligent and wise man and put him in charge of the entire land of Egypt. Then Pharaoh should appoint supervisors over the land and let them collect one-fifth of all the crops during the seven good years. Have them gather all the food produced in the good years that are just ahead and bring it to Pharaoh’s storehouses. Store it away, and guard it so there will be food in the cities. That way there will be enough to eat when the seven years of famine come to the land of Egypt. Otherwise this famine will destroy the land.”

At this point, Pharaoh releases Joseph from prison and makes him second in command (Genesis 41:37-44):

Joseph’s suggestions were well received by Pharaoh and his officials. So Pharaoh asked his officials, “Can we find anyone else like this man so obviously filled with the spirit of God?” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has revealed the meaning of the dreams to you, clearly no one else is as intelligent or wise as you are. You will be in charge of my court, and all my people will take orders from you. Only I, sitting on my throne, will have a rank higher than yours.”

Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the entire land of Egypt.” Then Pharaoh removed his signet ring from his hand and placed it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in fine linen clothing and hung a gold chain around his neck. Then he had Joseph ride in the chariot reserved for his second-in-command. And wherever Joseph went, the command was shouted, “Kneel down!” So Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of all Egypt. And Pharaoh said to him, “I am Pharaoh, but no one will lift a hand or foot in the entire land of Egypt without your approval.”

daisies-growing-in-concrete-crackAfter the seven good years ended, the famine started for the next seven years, and it reached all the way to where Joseph’s family was living. The brothers who sold Joseph into slavery years earlier had no idea what had happened to him, and they had told their father that he was dead. Long story short (it’s too long to go into the details in this blog post) the famine evenutally brings his family including his father to Egypt, and the end result is that they were saved from the famine and the family was reconciled.

Joseph was 17 at the time his brothers sold him into slavery and 30 at the time Pharaoh brought him out of prison and appointed him to be ruler over all of Egypt (only second to Pharaoh). He was most likely around 40 before he saw his family again.

Genesis 50 speaks of the reconciliation between Joseph and his father, Jacob, who died shortly after their reconciliation, and he requested to be buried in the land of Canaan. After the burial in Canaan and the period of mourning was over, Joseph speaks the following words to his brothers (Genesis 50:14-21):

After burying Jacob, Joseph returned to Egypt with his brothers and all who had accompanied him to his father’s burial. But now that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers became fearful. “Now Joseph will show his anger and pay us back for all the wrong we did to him,” they said.

So they sent this message to Joseph: “Before your father died, he instructed us to say to you: ‘Please forgive your brothers for the great wrong they did to you—for their sin in treating you so cruelly.’ So we, the servants of the God of your father, beg you to forgive our sin.” When Joseph received the message, he broke down and wept. Then his brothers came and threw themselves down before Joseph. “Look, we are your slaves!” they said.

But Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. No, don’t be afraid. I will continue to take care of you and your children.” So he reassured them by speaking kindly to them.

So Joseph and his brothers and their families continued to live in the land of Egypt, and Joseph lived to be 110 years old (50:22).

Most of us will not go through circumstances as severe as Joseph went through regarding his brothers’ betrayal which sent him into slavery, and then spending years in prison (under a false charge of rape) when he did nothing wrong. However, we all face situations and circumstances that come into our lives that at the very least cause us to say, “Why me?” But no matter what the situation happens to be, for those of us who truly believe in God, it is God who orchestras even those events we don’t understand that come into our lives, including those trying situations that can stick around for years.

I’ll end this post with one of my favorite parables that Jesus told which is found in Luke 18:1-8:

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?”

The persistent widow never gave up, and that’s a great lesson for us. No matter what we may be going through at any point in time, let’s remember the words of Jesus when he said:

Always pray . . .

And never give up . . .

And always have hope in God . . . .

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YouTube Video: “Nothing Compares” by Third Day:

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Once Vices Now Habits

Bad behaviors left unattended becomes bad habits that are hard to break. In fact, we’ve often become so accustomed to our bad habits that we might not even consider them to be all that bad anymore. They just “are.” For example, habits like worry, anger, hate, revenge, gossip, jealousy, etc. Or habits like being late all the time, or overeating, smoking, drinking too much, drugs, and manipulating others for our own benefit. We can add lust, greed, power hungry, and showing disrespect to others–especially those we don’t like for whatever reason–to the list. However, the #1 bad habit infecting all of us is (drum roll, please)… lying. We don’t even think twice about lying anymore. It’s become as natural as breathing to many of us (see December 2016 article in The Washington Post titled, An epidemic of lies: Our country’s cultural plague just keeps getting worse).

Well, you get the idea about bad habits. We all have them, and often we just excuse them off. So let’s consider this quote:

“The more I looked, the more I found Christian Atheists everywhere.”

Do you know who said it? It’s the topic of a 2010 book titled, The Christian Atheist: Believing in God but Living as if He Doesn’t Exist,” by Craig Groeschel, founder and senior pastor of Life.Church which started back in 1996 in a two-car garage by him and a handful of others. It is now “the largest church [as of September 2016] in the United States with twenty six locations in eight states (quote source here). He is also a New York Times bestselling author and has written several books.

That quote above is taken from the blurb on the back cover of The Christian Atheist,” and it is also found on Amazon.com:

“The more I looked, the more I found Christian Atheists everywhere.” Former Christian Atheist Craig Groeschel knows his subject all too well. After over a decade of successful ministry, he had to make a painful self admission: although he believed in God, he was leading his church like God didn’t exist. To Christians and non-Christians alike, to the churched and the unchurched, the journey leading up to Groeschel’s admission and the journey that follows—from his family and his upbringing to the lackluster and even diametrically opposed expressions of faith he encountered—will look and sound like the story of their own lives. Now the founding and senior pastor of the multi-campus, pace-setting LiveChurch.tv [Life.Church], Groeschel’s personal journey toward a more authentic God-honoring life is more relevant than ever. Christians and Christian Atheists everywhere will be nodding their heads as they are challenged to take their own honest moment and ask the question: am I putting my whole faith in God but still living as if everything was up to me? (Quote source here.)

The following endorsements for the book should pique the interest of any Christian who is coasting along without serious thought for how they are living their everyday lives. These endorsements are found on the opening two pages of the book:

“The thing I’ve always appreciated about Craig is his willingness to be honest when his life doesn’t match up with the Scriptures. Too Many people are quick to make excuses for themselves and others who call themselves “Christian.” Craig challenges us to think deeply, honestly, and fearfully about how our lives may be contradicting our message.” ~Francis Chan, pastor and author

“In ‘The Christian Atheist,’ Craig leverages transparency to force the rest of us to take an honest look at the contrast between how we live and what we claim to believe. Craig’s vulnerability coupled with his fresh insights, will move you to begin realigning behavior with beliefs.” ~Andy Stanley, senior pastor, North Pointe Community Church

“Craig Groeschel is a brilliant communicator and a gift to the church worldwide. He has a way of saying the things we are all thinking with an approachable authority that resonates with the ups and downs of our daily walk with God. Craig’s genuine heart to see your life’s journey flourish, and his honest perspective on personal experiences, will quietly convict your heart and encourage your soul.” ~Brian Houston, senior pastor, Hillsong Church

“Church people always talk about Christians and non-Christians, but nobody ever talks about the people in-between. Most of the men and women I talk to everyday fall into that middle ground, the group that believes in God but lives like he’s not there, doesn’t care, or doesn’t matter. In ‘The Christian Atheist,’ Pastor Craig Groeschel hits this audience head-on, opening up about his own doubts and fears, while setting the table for hundreds of life-changing discussions about who God is and how he operates.” ~Dave Ramsey, host of The Dave Ramsey Show, Ramsey Solutions

“There are too many Christian Atheists in the church today, and through this book, Craig Groeschel challenges the genuineness of faith in the life of the self-proclaimed believer. ‘The Christian Atheist’ will cause you to move from head knowledge to heart knowledge. This is a must-read for every Christian.” ~Jentezen Franklin, senior pastor, Free Chapel

“Craig’s insights and candor combine to make this book a true gift to ‘atheists’ of all kinds!” ~Bill Hybels, senior pastor, Willow Creek Community Church, and chairman of the board, Willow Creek Association

“‘The Christian Atheist’ will challenge you, push you, and disturb you. It will redefine your sense of purpose and focus as a Christian. Every Christian today need to read this book. Craig’s gut-level honesty is refreshing and will help move you toward a life that is fully devoted to Christ. Too many of us live lives that don’t truly reflect who we are as followers of Christ. But the good news is we can change. True Christianity awaits us. And Craig provides a practical prescription for how to get there.” ~Brad Lomenick, president, Catalyst

matt-16v26That should whet your appetite for reading The Christian Atheist.” Groeschel opens the book with a sobering verse from Titus 1:16: “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.” In his “A Letter to the Reader” found on pp.11-15, he describes a conversation he had with a 23-year-old female grad student named Michelle who sat next to him on a flight and who he describes as a Christian Atheist. Here is what he writes on pp. 13-15:

Christian Atheists are everywhere. They attend Catholic churches, Baptist churches, Pentecostal churches, nondenominational churches, and even churches where the pastor says, “GAW-duh!” when he’s preaching. They attend big seminaries, Big Ten universities, and every college in between. They are every age and race and occupation–and some even read their Bibles everyday.

Christian Atheists look a lot like Christians, but they live a lot like Travis [e.g., a middle-aged father of two heading home from an unsuccessful business trip that Groschel sat next to on a previous flight–that conversation is on pp. 11-13, but in Travis’ case he denies the existence of God altogether and states that he thinks Christians are the weakest people alive].

Before our plane took off, Michelle struck up a conversation. Somewhat nervous about flying, she seemed eager to talk, as if our chat might make the flight pass more quickly. After describing her difficulties with balancing her checkbook and handling her divorced parents and her live-in boyfriend–who’s scared to death of marriage–she asked me about my life.

Creating a diversion from my “I’m a pastor” answer, I explained that I’m married and have six children. “Six kids?! Don’t you know what causes kids?” she joked.

After some more small talk, Michelle asked me what I do for a living. No longer able to dodge the inevitable, I answered, “Well, as a matter of fact, I’m the pastor of a church.”

This revelation gave Michelle permission to unleash a stream of Christian words and stories. Dropping the occasional “God told me” and “God is good,” she smiled softly as she described how she “gave her life to Jesus” at the age of fifteen at a Christian youth camp. After praying sincerely, she was eager to get back to school to share her faith and live a life of purity and spiritual integrity. Michelle held on to her new belief in God but soon slipped back into her old way of life.

As if in a confessional, Michelle continued pouring out her life’s darker details. She looked down as she admitted that she was doing things with her live-in boyfriend that she knew she shouldn’t. She told me she wanted to go to church but was simply too busy working and studying. She did pray many nights–mostly that her boyfriend would become a Christian like she was. “If only he believed in Jesus, then he might want to marry me,” she said, wiping her tears.

At last, Michelle expressed one final confession: “I know my life doesn’t look like a Christian’s life should look, but I do believe in God.”

Welcome to Christian Atheism, where people believe in God but live as if he doesn’t exist. As much as I don’t want to admit it, I see this kind of atheism in myself. People might assume that a pastor wouldn’t struggle with any form of atheism, but I certainly do. Sadly, Christian Atheism is everywhere. There has to be a better way to live.

This book is for anyone courageous enough to admit to their hypocrisy. I hope it pushes you, challenges you, and disturbs you. And if you’re honest before God–as I am trying to be–perhaps together we can shed some of our hypocrisy and live a life that truly brings glory to Christ. (Quote source, “The Christian Atheist,” pp. 13-15).

I’ll give you the chapter titles but if you want more, you’ll need to get a copy of the book. The twelve chapter titles are revealing:

Introduction: A Recovering Christian Atheist (Groeschel’s own story)
Chapter 1: When You Believe in God but Don’t Really Know Him
Chapter 2: When You Believe in God but Are Ashamed of Your Past
Chapter 3: When You Believe in God but Aren’t Sure He Loves You
Chapter 4: When You Believe in God but Not in Prayer
Chapter 5: When You Believe in God but Don’t Think He’s Fair
Chapter 6: When You Believe in God but Won’t Forgive
Chapter 7: When You Believe in God but Don’t Think You Can Change
Chapter 8: When You Believe in God but Still Worry All the Time
Chapter 9: When You Believe in God but Pursue Happiness at Any Cost
Chapter 10: When You Believe in God but Trust More in Money
Chapter 11: When You Believe in God but Don’t Share Your Faith
Chapter 12: When You Believe in God but Not in His Church
Afterword: Third Line of Faith

Each chapter is filled with deeply personal stories that will move us to reflect on our own life as a Christian and what it means to be a Christian, and in the course of reading it, we’ll find that there really isn’t any “middle ground” that one can afford to stagnate on. In the “Afterword,” Groeschel writes about three “lines of faith” and how the third line of faith is the most crucial . . . and without it, nothing else matters. Groeschel states:

matt-6v34Several years ago [do remember that this book was published in 2010], I increasingly recognized inconsistencies between what I claimed to believe and the way I actually lived. I preached that people without Christ go to hell, but my life showed I wasn’t equally passionate to reach those people. Though I believed God wanted my life to be different, I found comparing myself to others easier than measuring my life against Christ’s. I preached that prayer is critical, But my prayer life was virtually nonexistent. God’s Word said my treasure shouldn’t be in this world, yet material things continued to grab my attention. Jesus said, “Don’t worry about tomorrow.” But worry came as naturally to me as breathing. If I truly belonged to Christ, I should surrender my whole life to him. I just gave him parts instead, and took them back whenever he didn’t do what I wanted. I called myself a Christian, but I lived like an Atheist.

The more honest I became, the more I hated living faithlessly, and the more I craved intimacy with God. “Whatever it takes” became my heart’s cry. Whatever it takes to know him. Whatever it takes to live like I truly love God. Whatever it takes to love eternity more than this world. Even if I have to fight, scrape, and crawl away from my Christian Atheism into a genuine, crucified life of faith and radical obedience to Christ, I’ll do whatever it takes. (Quote source, “The Christian Atheist,” pp. 234-235.)

Groeschel then explains a life changing experience that changed his direction:

One day I was at home working out on my elliptical machine, listening to a sermon on my iPod. Suddenly I just had to stop. Surrounded by God’s presence, I knelt down on the floor and started crying out to God. If you had seen me, you would have thought I was falling apart. But God was putting me back together.

I cried for all of God, and his presence became immediately real. Although I’d unquestionably been spiritually reborn a decade and a half ago, it was like I was being born again–again.

I’ve always believed in spiritual visions; I’d just never had one. Not anymore. I saw a picture as clear as the words on this page. I stood before three lines in the sand. Somehow I knew what each line represented. (Quote source, “The Christian Atheist,” p. 235).

At this point, he states the three lines of faith:

Line 1: I believe in God and the gospel of Christ enough to benefit from it. Like so many others, crossing that first line was easy. Sadly, many who call themselves Christians live here. If there is a God, I want to be on his good side. I want to go to heaven. I want him to bless me with good health, good relationships, and a happy life. Like the nine ungrateful lepers in Luke 17, once God has helped me, I forgot about him.

Most wouldn’t admit that this is all the faith they can manage. We want God’s benefits without changing how we live. We want his best, without our sacrifices. At the first line, we don’t fear God or share our faith. We still love this world. We’ll pursue happiness at any cost. The list goes on and on. We first-line believers get what we can get from God without giving much, if anything back . . . .

Line 2: I believe in God and Christ’s gospel enough to contribute comfortably. Past the first line are people who believe in God not only enough to benefit but also enough to give back–as long as it doesn’t cost too much. Many first-line Christians eventually cross the second line. “If I don’t have to change too much, I’ll do some of what God asks. If it doesn’t hurt too much, I’ll get more serious about God. But everyone has their limits, right?” Like the rich young ruler in Matthew 19, I was willing to go along with the religious rules as long as it didn’t hurt too much. . . .

Line 3: I believe in God and Christ’s gospel enough to give my life to it. Although most people I knew were line-one and line-two believers, suddenly anything less than line three didn’t seem like real Christianity to me. Could I give my whole life to Christ? Not only in words but in my daily life?

Verses I’d read dozens of times suddenly flooded to mind:

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Matthew 16:25-26). Am I willing to lose my life?

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20). Could I sacrifice my desires, my hopes, my dreams?

“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24). What would it take to make my life nothing to me, existing only to do what Christ wants me to do?

“What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8). Could I truly count all my earthly possessions a loss, making Christ my greatest treasure? (Quote source, “The Christian Atheist,” pp. 235-238.)

Groeschel states:

I knew in the deepest part of myself: I have to be a third-line believer. With unquenchable thirst, I pursued living water above all substitutes. I started praying like never before. I started pursuing God in the morning and continued throughout the day. Jesus was on my mind when I fell asleep and when I awoke. Scripture started becoming my bread of life, nourishing my soul.

I surrendered one thing after another, until just one major hurdle stood between where I was and where God wanted me. I can’t tell you what that thing was. It’s simply too personal. Only two people in the world know it.

My battle to cross the third line lasted almost two years. I prayed about it daily. I quoted Scripture. Though spiritually exhausted, I wouldn’t give up. Spiritual warfare raged around me. Finally, on one very normal Saturday afternoon, by faith, I gave this last part of my life totally to God. I sacrificed a fear that had held me hostage since I was a child and made a promise to God that I’d never take it back.

I crossed the third line.

I believe in God and Christ’s gospel so much that I’m wiling to give my whole life to his cause. Nothing in this world is more important to me than my treasure in heaven. No fear in my heart is greater than my fear of God. Tears are filling my eyes as I type this. I cannot put into words what God has done in my heart.

I am a different person.

You can be, too. . . . (Quote source, “The Christian Atheist,” pp. 238-239.)

As we can see from the above brief quotes from The Christian Atheist,” and as stated on the back cover of the book, “Goeschel’s frank and raw conversation about our Christian Atheist tendencies and habits is a convicting and life-changing read.” If we want to go beyond the surface and the “What’s in it for me?” mentality, read this book. And perhaps, as Goeschel stated at the end of his book, we, too, will be able to state . . . .

I’ve crossed the third line . . .

I’m a different person . . .

You can be, too . . . .

YouTube Video: “Lose My Soul” by TobyMac, Kirk Franklin, and Mandisa:

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