The Power of Persistence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet God says, “Keep going.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GotQuestion.org states the following regarding this parable:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A rude neighbor

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

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

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

A loving father

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

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

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

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

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

Why persistent prayer is so powerful

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

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

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

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

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

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

An invitation from God

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

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

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

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

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

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

Always pray . . .

And . . .

Never give up . . . .

YouTube Video: “Good Fight” by Unspoken:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Divinely Orchestrated

This year of 2020 has certainly turned out to be a year we won’t soon forget, and we are only half way through it right now. This past week I was thrilled to discover that the  Barnes & Nobles Booksellers “brick and mortar” stores are back open again after being closed since mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and as I looked over the books on their bargain shelves, I came across a book titled, Blessed in the Darkness(2017), by Joel Osteen, senior pastor at Lakewood Church in Houston, TX.

That book has a very appropriate title for this particular year with the coronavirus pandemic changing the way we live practically overnight starting in mid-March 2020 when lock downs and stay-at-home orders went into effect around America (and in other parts of the world), and then with the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, that lead to peaceful protests and also violent rioting and looting in many cities across America the following two weeks and in the middle of the pandemic.

It’s all been enough to frazzle the nerves of even the most resilient among us.  You might even be one of the millions who have been left unemployed by the pandemic, or your business was forced to close either due to the pandemic or the rioting that took place in which many businesses, restaurants, and other establishments were burned down, looted, and destroyed. And we are all wondering what America will look like once we are finally on the other side of this pandemic. Will social distancing become a permanent way of life? How long will we need to wear face masks? What will happened to the millions who are unemployed? And the questions go on and on.

To those who have been severely affected and are wondering when the “light at the end of the tunnel” will show up, there is a section in Chapter 12 titled, “Trouble is Transportation,” in Joel Osteen’s book, Blessed in the Darkness,” that I’d like to quote. It is found on pages 135-137, and the section is titled, “Every Step Divinely Orchestrated”:

I wrote about Joseph in the previous chapter. When he was a teenager, God gave him a dream that he was destined for greatness, but before the dream came true, he went through a series of very dark places. There were many years when he did the right thing but the wrong thing happened. It didn’t seem as though the dream would ever work out, but Joseph understood this principle: as he kept being his best, the trouble couldn’t stop him–it was moving him toward his destiny. When you study his life, you can see how God connected the dots. Every step was divinely orchestrated. If you left one step out, the others wouldn’t work. If Joseph’s brothers had not thrown him into the pit, he would have never been taken to Egypt as a slave and sold to a man named Potiphar. If he had never been sold to Potiphar, he would never have met Potiphar’s wife, been falsely accused, and put in prison. If he had not been put into prison, he would never have met the butler and the baker and interpreted their dreams. If he’d never interpreted their dreams, Pharaoh would never have called on him to interpret his dream, which led him to put Joseph in charge of the nation.

If you isolate any of those steps along the way, they don’t make sense. It was just one bad break after another. But you have to believe, as Joseph did, that what looks like a disappointment, a betrayal, or a setback is all a part of God’s plan. It’s transportation. It’s moving you little by little through the darkness into your destiny. God knows what He’s doing. God knew that He was going to need somebody in charge in Egypt who would show favor to the Israelites. So years earlier, He’d started this plan to move Joseph into place. What looked like trouble was really the hand of God. Joseph’s brothers took away his coat of many colors, which represented their father’s favor, but they could not take away the calling on his life. What people take from you doesn’t stop your purpose. What’s on the inside is more powerful than anything on the outside. You keep doing the right thing despite the trouble, despite the betrayal, despite the bad break, and one day God is going to connect the dots for you just as He did for Joseph. He’s going to take you to your throne, so to speak. You’ll say, as Joseph said, “They meant the trouble for harm, but God used it for my good.”

The Scripture says, “God will deliver us from trouble.” That means that God will stop the trouble. But consider it in a different light. The post office picks up a package in New York, and drivers deliver it to California. “Deliver” means they transport it; they move it from one location to another. It may have to go through five different stops along the way. The regional post office sends it to the city post office, which sends it to the neighborhood post office, and the mailman brings it to your house. It is “delivered.” In the same way, right now God is delivering you from trouble. You’re en route, the process has started, and there may be some stops along the way. But don’t worry, you’re not delivered yet. Like Joseph, you may be in a pit or a prison, but the palace is coming. You’re in debt, but God is delivering you into abundance. You’re dealing with depression, but God is delivering you into joy. You’re facing an illness, but God is delivering you into healing, wholeness, and victory. When those thought tell you, “This trouble is permanent. It’s never going to change,” just answer back, “No, I’m being delivered. I’m en route. This trouble is not going to stop me; it’s going to transport me.” (Quote source: “Blessed in the Darkness,” pp. 135-137.)

In Chapter 16 titled, “I’m Still Standing,” the opening three paragraphs on pp. 239-241 state the following:

The Scripture says, “Rain falls on the just and on the unjust.” No matter how good a person you are, there’s going to be some rain in your life. Being a person of faith doesn’t exempt you from difficulties. Jesus told a parable about a wise man who built his house on a rock. This man honored God. Another man foolishly built his house on the sand. He didn’t honor God. Then the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on the houses. What’s interesting in that the same storm came to both people, the just and the unjust. If the story stopped there, you’d think that it doesn’t make a difference whether we honor God or not. “The same thing happens to me that happens to everyone else. I built my house on the rock, yet I’m in this storm. I got a bad medical report, my child is off course, and I lost my biggest client.” But that’s not the end of the story. If you judge it too soon, it will seem as though faith doesn’t make a difference.

Jesus went on to tell that after the storm was over, the house build on the rock was still standing. The house built on the sand collapsed and was completely ruined. The difference is that when you honor God, the storms may come, but you have a promise that the others don’t have–when it’s all said and done, you’ll still be standing. In tough times you have to remind yourself, “This is not the end. My house is built on the rock. The enemy doesn’t have the final say; God does, and He says that when it’s all over, I’ll still be standing,” You may get knocked out. You may suffer a setback and have to go through some dark, stormy times, but don’t get discouraged or bitter–that’s just a part of life. It rains on everybody. If you’ll stay in faith, you have God’s promise that when the smoke clears, when the dust settled, you won’t be the victim, you’ll be the victor. You’ll still be standing.

All of us can look back and see things that should have defeated us. You may have gone through a divorce or a breakup that could have given you a nervous breakdown, but look at you–you’re still standing, still happy, restored, and whole. That’s the goodness of God. That addiction, all that partying, should have killed you, but because of your praying mother, you’re still standing–clean, sober, and free. The medical report said you were done, that sickness would end your life, but God said, “I have another report. It’s not over. You’re still standing.” Maybe you’ve lost a loved one and didn’t think you could go on, believing your best days were over; but God breathed new life into you, lifted you out of the pit, put a new song in your heart, and here you are still standing. You’ve been through some difficult, dark places, but you’ve also seen the goodness of God. You’ve seen Him lift you, restore you, heal you, and protect you. When you have this history with God, and you remember what He’s done, you don’t get discouraged by every difficulty, you don’t get upset when people talk negatively about you, and you don’t fall apart when you have a disappointment. You know that God brought you through the darkness in the past, and He’ll bring you through in the future. (Quote source: “Blessed in the Darkness,” pp. 239-241.)

In a brand new book titled, Acres of Diamonds (2020), by Jentezen Franklin, senior pastor of Free Chapel, a multi-campus church in Georgia, there is a story tucked in Chapter 5 titled, “Hell in the Hallway,” in a section titled, “Thank God for Doors that Didn’t Open,” regarding the story of Esther in the Old Testament (pp. 89-92):

In the story of Esther, we learn about a feast begun to celebrate this very idea [e.g., God protecting and delivering us from things that didn’t happen]. God established seven feasts in the Old Testament so His people would always remember certain events in their history. Human beings have a tendency to forget. This was God’s way of making sure the people of Israel always remembered what was most important.

Before I get to the story, I want to share a couple of interesting things about the Feast of Purim. First, it is not one of the original seven feasts, and it was not commanded by God. It was a divinely inspired feast authorized by King Ahasuerus

The other interesting fact is that the book of Esther is the only book in the Bible in which God’s name is never mentioned. You won’t find one Hebrew name of His. Not Elohim, not Jehovah, nothing. And yet God’s fingerprints are all over this record in Scripture. (Side note: Seasons will come in life when you have zero evidence to believe God is working, but when you look back on that time, you will discover He was there all along. Active behind the scenes. From the shadows. Undercover. God is always at work in your life.)

Here is a quick summary of the story.

The Jewish people were on the verge of destruction because of the evil conspiracy of Haman, one of King Ahasuerus’s advisors. Haman hated Mordecai because he did not bow down to him. Instead of just killing him, however, Haman decided to kill every Jewish person in the kingdom. So Haman cast lots, similar to a lottery, to determine on what day this would happen. Once he established this date, Haman approached King Ahasuerus to make the genocide official. He got his permission, and a decree was sent to everyone in the kingdom, notifying that all Jews, young and old, men, women and children, were to be killed on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month.

You need to understand the significance of this. In the moment that Haman cast this “lot,” he was officiating the worst day in the history of the people of Israel. On the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the Jews would face annihilation. Do you see how precise the enemy’s plan is? He operates the same way today.

Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy (see John 10:10). He hates you because you reflect Jesus Christ. And he sets up certain times and events to destroy you, to take your kids out, to cause your marriage to fall apart, to crush your dreams, to steal your job, to kill your faith. Hell in the hallway.

The word “pur” means “lot,” as in the casting of a lot. Purim, as in the Feast of Purim, is the plural of “pur” with means “lots.” Evidently, the enemy had planned to do one thing on one day, but an unseen party was watching, and He said, “I know you cast your lot, devil, but I’m about the cast lots. And what I cast is going to overcome what you planned and strategized against My people.”

Back to the story.

The people of Israel were about to be slaughtered. Eradicated. Butchered. Massacred. Wiped out. Mordecai sought help from Queen Esther, asking her to appeal to the king on behalf of the Jews. His request meant Esther would have to literally risk her life, for it was very dangerous to approach the king without being summoned first. Consequently, Esther called a fast. Those 72 hours of fasting changed the history of the world.

When Esther finally approached the king on behalf of her people, they became a nation not of defeat, annihilation, suffering and shame, but of favor. Not only did the king abolish Haman’s decree, he also bestowed upon the Jews honor and promotion. The king allowed a holiday called the Feast of Purim to be established, which is honored in Israel still to this day, to celebrate this reversal–to celebrate what didn’t happen. The Jewish people threw a big party. They ate. They drank. They danced. They exchanged gifts. What the devil had marked as a day of massacre, God turned into a time of gladness and joy.

God has a way of canceling the verdict of the enemy.

The enemy may have planned for them a day of destruction, but God, through Queen Esther, determined for them a day of deliverance. God can turn your day of destruction into a day of deliverance.

We often talk about being grateful for what we have and the wonderful things that have happened to us, but when was the last time–if ever–you thanked God for what didn’t happen? We ought to stop whatever we’re doing and throw a party for the door that God didn’t open. For the guy you didn’t marry because years later he would have been a deadbeat. For the girlfriend who broke up with you because she would have gone back to her ex-boyfriend. For the job that didn’t work out because you held out for the one God wanted for you to have. For the business deal that went sour before it would have bankrupted you.

Often, when God shuts a door, it is for our protection. Am I ever glad the Lord is my doorkeeper and not me. I can’t tell you how many doors I would have kicked in, thinking I was supposed to do something that in reality was not part of God’s plan. If something doesn’t work out after you have prayed about it, guess what? God just shut a door. Not to punish you or hurt you, but to protect you.

Like Esther, there are times in our lives when God protected and delivered us from things that didn’t happen. He shut the door and locked it. He kept us safe. He said that no weapon formed against us shall prosper. It should have happened. It almost happened. But because of God’s hand of protection, it didn’t happen.

Hasn’t God been good to you? Where would you be today without Him? Before you take a step forward today, take some time and give thanks to Him for all the things that could have happened, that should have happened, that almost happened, but because of His unseen hand of protection didn’t happen. Think about an opportunity that didn’t pan out for your good, or a situation that could have proved destructive but left you unscathed. Start celebrating all the doors that closed in your life.

When you are in the hallway, God can turn things around. You might not see Him. You may not feel Him. You may think He is not even there. But He is. The enemy may have cast one lot to destroy you, but God casts another lot in your favor. It just takes a door. Whatever it is you are facing, decide today to trust that He who began a good work in your life is faithful to complete it.  (Quote source: “Acres of Diamonds,” pp. 89-92.)

In these very challenging times that we are all going through right now, I hope the above quotes will be of great encouragement to help us get through these trying times. God is not silent, nor is He missing in action. He is very much present each and every day, just like He was back in Esther’s time. God is there for us, too.

I’ll end this post with the words from Paul found in Philippians 4:6-7Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding…

Will guard your hearts . . .

And your minds . . .

In Christ Jesus . . . .

YouTube Video: “Miracle” by Unspoken:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

What I Learned in the Dark

Okay, I have a confession to make. The title of this blog post did not come from me. It is the title of a blog post (actually, a monthly letter) written by a friend of mine whom I have, on several previous occasions, posted about regarding a few of his books as they were published (see here, here, here, and here). His name is Steve Brown, and in April, he wrote his monthly Steve’s Letter,” for his ministry website, Key Life Network, that isn’t actually published until  a couple of months after it is written. With everything that is going on right now here in America, I thought it would be good to include some of what he has written in this blog post. You can read his entire letter at this link. Here is part of his letter for June 2020:

I’m writing this in April and you’ll read it in June. It’s the same way with the broadcasts I record and the books I write. Most of the time that doesn’t matter. Truth is truth whenever it’s spoken. And the general themes of these letters, the broadcasts, and the books concern biblical truth that is, like God, the same yesterday, today, and forever….

As I write this, we are still in quarantine because of the coronavirus. Who knows where we’ll be when you receive this in June? I hope everything will be getting back to some kind of normalcy, but maybe not. Some have said we might have months of social distancing and even the quarantine. Other than how hard it is to smoke my pipe wearing this stupid mask, that irritates me and I don’t know what to do with the irritation. But the real difficulty is that it’s hard to say something relevant about the crisis if, in fact, when you read this, it might be over.

You’ve probably heard Christian teachers say about difficult times that you shouldn’t doubt in the dark what God taught you in the light. That works for me. But let me tell you something else that is also true. Don’t doubt in the light what God taught you in the dark. In other words, this pandemic¾as horrible as it is¾can be a place of growth and learning. As a friend of mine says, one has the past to look forward to. Not only that, one has the past to learn from.

Do you remember the two guys walking on the road to Emmaus after Jesus’ resurrection (Luke 24)? Jesus showed and they didn’t even recognize him. After Jesus taught them and then disappeared, Luke wrote that they said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” They almost missed it…and him. Just so, if we aren’t careful, we could miss stuff too. It’s important (at least to me) that I not waste the aloneness, fear, and worry by missing the reality that God was in the midst of it all. Paul was, of course, talking about salvation when he wrote to the Ephesians, “Therefore remember…that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:11-12). However, the memories aren’t just about salvation, but often about what God taught us in the dark.

For instance, I was quite busy almost all the time before the pandemic and now I’m not busy at all. Makes me wonder how much of all that was just busy work. Nothing has fallen through the cracks, Key Life is functioning the way it always has, and I have a whole lot of time on my hands without hurrying to do anything. How much of what I was doing wasn’t altogether that important? That’s one of the gifts God gives us in a crisis. We can now see more clearly what is important and what isn’t. I’m a man of prayer and I spend considerable time with Jesus each morning. (I’ll repent of my self-righteousness in telling you that after I finish writing you.) But that time was always hurried and harried because of my long to-do list. That’s not as true during the quarantine and I sense God saying, “Settle down, be quiet, and let’s just sit together for awhile. Where do you think you’re going to go and what do you think you’re going to do…play golf?”

Jesus told his disciples in the midst of a very busy time to come apart from the crowd and to “rest a while” (Mark 6:31). What he didn’t say and should have (I know, but it would have been appreciated) was, “If you don’t come apart and rest, I’ll send a pandemic, and then you won’t have a choice.” If we ever get back to some degree of normalcy, I plan to throw away my to-do list and just be still. Well, at least more still than I was before.

But there’s more. The more you want something and can’t have it, the more you want it. Losing something important is often the way we see its value. Someone has said that we never know the value of something until it becomes a memory. I remember after Hurricane Andrew, when we had lost everything, and we were thirsty and hot a lot of the time, just how good the frozen orange juice was at McDonald’s. They were the first fast food restaurant to open after the hurricane, and they served only hamburgers and frozen orange juice. That orange juice was the best orange juice I ever had and, even to this day, I value and love orange juice more than a Floridian should. (Quote source and his letter is available at this link.)

Steve goes on to write about what he has learned in the dark during this pandemic, but I don’t want to spoil it by quoting the entire letter in this blog post. You can read the rest of it at this link.

Also, during this time since the coronavirus pandemic started in mid-March (and after he wrote this letter in April), America has become embroiled with the controversy concerning racism and racial inequality that have been systemic in America’s history from the horrific death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020, at the hands of the police (see articles/videos at this link), and the peaceful protesting and violent rioting and destruction that has following and is still ongoing in cities across America.

2020 is not a year we will soon forget, and it’s not even half over with yet.  It has been compared to one of the worst years in recent American history, 1968. James Fallows, a staff writer at The Atlantic,” has written an article published on May 31, 2020, titled, Is This the Worst Year in Modern American History?” comparing 2020 to 1968 that offers “some disquieting lessons for the present,” at this link. He opens his article with the following:

The most traumatic year in modern American history was 1968. But what is now the second-most traumatic year, 2020, still has seven months to run. The comparison provides little comfort, and several reasons for concern.

How could any year be worse than the current one, in which more Americans are out of work than in the Great Depression, and more people are needlessly dying than in several of America’s wars combined?

How could the domestic order seem more frayed and failing than it has in the past week—when the filmed record of a white Minneapolis police officer calmly killing a black man, George Floyd, as other officers just as calmly looked on, led naturally to protests? Protests in some cities decayed into looting or destruction. Then in many cities, police and troopers kitted out as if for Baghdad circa 2003 widened the violence and hastened the decay with strong-arm tactics sure to generate new protests.

Most of the objects of police roundups have been civilians. But in a rapidly expanding list of cities—first Minneapolis, then Louisville, Seattle, Detroit, and elsewhere—reporters appeared to be singled out by police as targets, rather than caught up by accident. In Minneapolis, CNN’s Omar Jimenez was arrested while in the middle of a broadcast to a live national audience. Also in Minneapolis, according to Molly Hennessey-Fiske of the Los Angeles Times, Minnesota State Patrol members approached a group of a dozen reporters, all bearing credentials and yelling to identify themselves as press, and “fired tear gas … at point-blank range.” In Louisville, Kaitlin Rust, a reporter with WAVE 3, an NBC affiliate, yelled on camera, “I’m getting shot!” as her cameramanJames Dobson, filmed an officer taking careful aim and firing a pepper-ball gun directly at them. In Detroit, the reporter JC Reindl of the Free Press was pepper-sprayed in the face, even as he held up his press badge. The examples keep piling up. (Quote source here.)

In comparison with 1968, he writes:

“… here is what anyone around at that time will remember about 1968: The assassinations. The foreign warfare. The domestic carnage and bloodshed. The political chaos and division. The way that parts of the United States have seemed in the past week, in reaction to injustices, is the way much of the U.S. seemed day after day. I think I can remember every week of that eventful year.” (He describes all of those factors in his article).

I remember 1968. I was a sophomore in high school when the year started. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in April that year followed by Bobby Kennedy, who was assassinated in June (he was a candidate for President on the Democratic ticket). They were 39 and 42 respectively at the time of their deaths. The Vietnam War was raging as was the death count, and there were the protests against that war on college campuses all across America.

There is a big difference between seeing the world through the eyes of a 16-year-old and seeing it through the eyes of a 68-year-old, which are the ages I was back then and I am now during the turmoil of 2020. In between the two has been a lifetime of experiencing the massive changes that have taken place in America during the past five decades. Dark times come in all shapes and sizes, individually and on a national scale. And to use a well worn phrase, it would seem when reviewing history that, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

In answer to a question on Quora.com, “What does ‘the more things change the more they stay the same’ mean?” in May 2017,  John Soroushian wrote:

The quote “the more things change, the more they stay the same” is a reference to situations where there appears to be a meaningful change, but many underlying fundamentals are still the same. It nicely catches peoples thoughts in a diverse array of matters including:

  • A drug lord is arrested and people think things are improving, then another drug lord takes his place and things stay the same.
  • A new government promises change but reverts back to the policies of its predecessors once in power.
  • When a person knows the sun will rise everyday, regardless of what else is happening in her life. (Quote source here.)

That is not to say that there aren’t actual changes going on. A case in point is noted in an article titled, The 10 Most Important Revolutions of All Time,” by Joseph Kiprop, published on May 28, 2018 in WorldAtlas.com. Listed among the top ten revolutions in the world, and coming in at #2, is The American Revolution which took place between 1765 and 1783 (the official start is 1775 but it was preceded by a decade of unrest). Coming in at #1 is The Russian Revolution that occurred in 1917. Indeed, the sun still rises everyday even in the midst of revolutions taking place.

Individually, we all have dark times that we go through regardless of whether or not they affect the rest of society and/or the world (as is the case with the current coronavirus pandemic which is still ongoing around the world). In an article titled, 7 Things You Can Learn in Hard Times,” (subtitled “a pink slip, a medical diagnosis, the loss of a loved one–finding meaning in it all”), by Michelle Cox, published on August 14, 2017, in GuidePosts.org, she writes:

I’ve never heard of anyone attending a “Congratulations on Your Difficult Times” party before. Maybe that’s because job losses, health situations, messed-up family relationships, and disappointments are just plain hard to face.

So how can we cope when we’re reeling from the pink slip we’ve just received, or we’ve just gotten one of “those” phone calls from the doctor, or we’re grieving the loss of a loved one?

Here are some things God has shown me when I’ve taken one of those unplanned—and unwanted—journeys: 

1.  I am never alone when I go through hard times.

2.  His grace is sufficient. It will be there when I need it.

3.  He will provide all that I need.

4.  What I learn from those dark days isn’t wasted. God can use me if I’ll let Him.

5.  Even when I don’t understand what God is doing, I can still trust Him.

6.  Hardships draw me closer to Him in a way that often doesn’t happen when times are good.

7.  Hugs, cards, a casserole or dessert, or some heartfelt words go a long way to help soothe a breaking heart.

Have you ever been reading your Bible and felt like God put a spotlight on a verse? That’s what happened recently as I read Psalm 119:71, “My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees.”

Wow, I’d never thought of it like that before, “My suffering was good for me.” That phrase was a sweet reminder that God has a purpose in all that He does. And if He has a difficult circumstance for me to go through, I’d be foolish to complain about it.

“Lord, during difficult moments in life, help me learn the lessons you want me to learn. Help me find the nuggets you want me to discover. And when I get to the end of those hard times, help me look back and see how those days of suffering were truly good for me. Amen.” (Quote source here.)

During the dark times in which we all find ourselves in right now, the Message Bible translates Jesus’ words found in Matthew 11:28-30 as follows:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

For those who like a more standard version I’ll end this post with the words from Matthew 11:28-30  from NKJV: Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls….

For My yoke is easy . . .

And My burden . . .

 Is light . . . .

YouTube Video: “Come to Me” by Vineyard Music:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Uncertain Times

The current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has thrown much of the world into a panic is unprecedented in our lifetime. In case you might not be aware (I wasn’t until I ran across the following information online), coronavirus is actually not new. In fact, it has been around since the 1960s (source: WebMD). The following information on coronavirus comes from WebMD:

A coronavirus is a kind of common virus that causes an infection in your nose, sinuses, or upper throat. Most coronaviruses aren’t dangerous.

What Is a Coronavirus?

Coronaviruses were first identified in the 1960s, but we don’t know where they come from. They get their name from their crown-like shape. Sometimes, but not often, a coronavirus can infect both animals and humans.

Most coronaviruses spread the same way other cold-causing viruses do: through infected people coughing and sneezing, by touching an infected person’s hands or face, or by touching things such as doorknobs that infected people have touched.

Almost everyone gets a coronavirus infection at least once in their life, most likely as a young child. In the United States, coronaviruses are more common in the fall and winter, but anyone can come down with a coronavirus infection at any time.

Severe coronavirus outbreaks include:

    • COVID-19In early 2020, after a December 2019 outbreak in China, the World Health Organization (WHO) identified a new type, 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), which can be fatal. The organization named the virus severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and named the disease it causes COVID-19. The outbreak quickly moved from China around the world. Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
    • Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS): About 858 people have died from MERS, which first appeared in Saudi Arabia and then in other countries in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Europe. In April 2014, the first American was hospitalized for MERS in Indiana and another case was reported in Florida. Both had just returned from Saudi Arabia. In May 2015, there was an outbreak of MERS in Korea, which was the largest outbreak outside of the Arabian Peninsula.
    • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome  ( SARS ): In 2003, 774 people died from an outbreak. As of 2015, there were no further reports of cases of SARS.

Common Symptoms of Coronavirus

You could get lab tests, including nose and throat cultures and blood work, to find out whether your cold was caused by a coronavirus, but there’s no reason to. The test results wouldn’t change how you treat your symptoms, which typically go away in a few days.

But if a coronavirus infection spreads to the lower respiratory tract (your windpipe and your lungs), it can cause pneumonia, especially in older people, people with heart disease, or people with weakened immune systems.

What to Do About Coronavirus

There is no vaccine for coronavirus. To help prevent a coronavirus infection, do the same things you do to avoid the common cold:

    • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water or with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
    • Keep your hands and fingers away from your eyes, nose, and mouth.
    • Avoid close contact with people who are infected.

You treat a coronavirus infection the same way you treat a cold:

A humidifier or steamy shower can also help ease a sore and scratchy throat.

Even when a coronavirus causes MERS or SARS in other countries, the kind of coronavirus infection common in the U.S. isn’t a serious threat for an otherwise healthy adult. If you get sick, treat your symptoms and contact a doctor if they get worse or don’t go away.

Sign up for the latest coronavirus news.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on January 22, 2020 (Quote source here.)

When I was out shopping this past week, it was hard not to notice the empty shelves where bottled water, toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizers, and other supplies are usually found. It is obvious that the panic is palpable regarding coronavirus (COVID-19). Many cancellations and closures of schools, university classes, theme parks, concerts, and a host of other public events is taking place all across America right now (click here to see the latest list of cancellations).

I posted the information above from WebMD because I was not aware that coronavirus is not new and, in fact, it has been around since the 1960s, and to hopefully alleviate some of the intense panic feelings concerning COVID-19. That is not to say precautions should not be taken, but rather to ease the severity of panic that is in the air. The latest updates on coronavirus (COVID-19) from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention are available at this link, and the latest updates from WebMD can be found at this link.

In an article published on March 2, 2020, titled, Christians and the Coronavirus,” by Andrew Fouché, Senior Pastor at Sunset Community Church in Renton, WA (King County), he writes:

The alarm of a possible Coronavirus pandemic is increasing and in a sense we find ourselves at the epicenter in our country (the true epicenter is in Wuhan China) now with the only six deaths in America happening in Washington, five being King County. So, whether you’re stocking up on food and staying home or just treating it like any other seasonal flu, we’re all being impacted by its effects, as schools are closing, the stock market is tanking, and surgical face masks are flying off of the shelf.  The fear is real and it’s affecting us, whether we are buying into it or not. Fear also has a way of exposing what we believe and what we place our hope in. 

So, I have to ask you the question; How does your Christian faith affect how you respond to something like a possible pandemic?

How we respond to most things in life is a combination of emotional reaction (you could call it instinct) and what has been modeled for us in the past. For example, when a grease fire happens in the pan on the kitchen stove our initial reaction is to panic, but if you happened to remember your Mom calmly putting a lid on the pan you’ll know that’s far more effective than trying to douse it with water. So, as followers of Jesus, sometimes it’s helpful to look at how Christians from the past have responded to similar circumstances of tragic pandemics. 

The Cyprian plague in the third century was one of the most devastating plagues to hit the Roman world. At its height it’s believed to have killed 5,000 people a day in Rome. This wasn’t the first plague to hit the Roman empire though. The Antonine plague of the second century had been equally devastating and would impact nearly every corner of the empire. What was often noted in these plagues was the response of this still fairly new religious group known as Christians. While many Roman citizens were deserting the sick and dying, the Christians we’re tending to them and even helping with their burial.

Many historians credit the plagues as contributing to the downfall of the Roman empire and at the same time while enduring the same plagues and increasing persecution, Christianity began to spread. The pagan emperor Julian was recorded as saying: “[They] support not only their poor, but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us.” For Christians their faith was causing them to act different in the face of uncontrollable tragedy and this action was rooted in their beliefs.

 We can also look at a more recent example in the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. One aid worker, Stephen Rowden, volunteering with Doctors without Borders was tasked with the terrible job of collecting 10-25 Ebola stricken bodies a day in Liberia. When asked by NPR host Robert Siegel if his Christian faith was tested during this tragic assignment he said: “No. No, I got great strength from my faith and the support of my family.”

The strength that Rowden drew from his faith is based on the belief that there is something greater than this life and someone greater that has made a way to it. Jesus is our peace in this life because he promises us peace in the next one. Fear is powerless when it’s up against this kind of faith.

 As we read the headlines today it’s good to be reminded that we are part of a long line of Jesus followers who know that sickness and death doesn’t have the final word over our lives. And so, as the world is gripped by fear, we have an opportunity, like those who have gone before us, to be people of peace and compassion in the face of uncertainty. Yes, we should pray for and be wise in uncertain times but as followers of Jesus we don’t let fear determine our steps. Just as the message of Jesus spread in times of persecution and plague, you and I have an opportunity to demonstrate that same message of peace and love here in King County.

These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. 1 Peter 1:7 (NLT) (Quote source here.)

In an article published on March 9, 2020, titled, ‘Be of Good Courage’: Greg Laurie Encourages Congregation to Replace Fear of Coronavirus with Faith,” by Mikaela Mathews, freelance writer and editor, and contributor on ChristianHeadlines.com, she writes:

This weekend, pastor Greg Laurie of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Southern California encouraged his congregation to replace fear over the coronavirus with faith.

“I think the viral fear about it may be worse than the virus itself,” Laurie said in a three-minute video posted to Instagram. “And we need to think about it for a moment. And we need to pray about it.”

He gave three “P”s to help his church located in the West Coast state with the highest rate of diagnosed patients:

1. Be Practical

After talking to several doctors, Laurie said that members should be smart about protecting themselves from the virus. Washing hands with soap and for a long time, as well as avoiding touching the face, can help people avoid the virus.

2. Be Prayerful

“We should pray for our church; pray for our nation that God would protect us. And the Lord can do that, he can put a shield around us.”

He added, “And we want to pray for anybody who has it, that they may heal.”

3. Use as Proclamation

He also shared with his congregation that the virus can be an opportunity to share the gospel. Because many communities are fearful of the virus, Christians can tell others about the hope and peace of Christ.

According to CBN News, Christian pediatric infectious disease specialist Scott James has encouraged his patients with similar advice.

“One thing that does cause me some concern is the general tendency to focus on the unknowns in a way that stokes panic and fear,” he said.

“Instead of fretting over potential catastrophes, pay attention to the opportunities that are right in front of you: take care of yourself, take care of others, and do your part to limit the spread of disease.”

As the CDC has warned Americans to prepare for the spread of the virus, James says, “Preparedness simply means we will seek to inform ourselves of the situation and to make responsible choices for our own good and for the good of our communities … [We should maintain] a biblical perspective based on the understanding that no matter what threat is on the horizon, God is still in control. Trusting in God equips us to take the threat seriously without giving into panic or despair.” (Quote source here.)

In the days and weeks ahead we need to allow our faith to replace of our fears, and compassion to replace our panic, because, as 2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV) reminds us, God has not given us a spirit of fear…

But of power . . .

And of love . . .

And of a sound mind . . . .

YouTube Video: “Faith to Believe” by Shane and Shane:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Fully Known

After I published a new blog post on my other blog earlier today titled, The Right Attitude,” I felt there was still a stirring inside of me to keep on writing another blog post, so here it is. It’s rare that I write two posts on the same day, but the weather outside is dreary and wet, so it’s a great day to write blog posts.

If you read the first post I published titled (as I mentioned above), The Right Attitude,” I was feeling the need for an attitude adjustment as the dreary weather outside for the past several days was starting to give me the blahs (big time!). It worked, too, as I’m feeling much better!

Yesterday, I read a devotion in Our Daily Bread that reminded me of the fact that God knows everything about us even before we were born and he knows all the details of our lives as we live them out day by day (and that includes the good, the bad, and the ugly). The devotion is titled, Fully Known,” by Dr. James Bank, author and founding pastor at Peace Church in Durham, NC. Here is that devotion:

“Before I formed you… I knew you.”Jeremiah 1:5

“You shouldn’t be here right now. Someone up there was looking out for you,” the tow truck driver told my mother after he had pulled her car from the edge of a steep mountain ravine and studied the tire tracks leading up to the wreck. Mom was pregnant with me at the time. As I grew, she often recounted the story of how God saved both our lives that day, and she assured me that God valued me even before I was born.

None of us escape our omniscient (all-knowing) Creator’s notice. More than 2,500 years ago He told the prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5). God knows us more intimately than any person ever could and is able to give our lives purpose and meaning unlike any other. He not only formed us through His wisdom and power, but He also sustains every moment of our existence—including the personal details that occur every moment without our awareness: from the beating of our hearts to the intricate functioning of our brains. Reflecting on how our heavenly Father holds together every aspect of our existence, David exclaimed, “How precious to me are your thoughts, God!” (Psalm 139:17).

God is closer to us than our last breath. He made us, knows us, and loves us, and He’s ever worthy of our worship and praise. (Quote source here.)

The most inspiring passage in the Bible regarding just how well God knows us inside and out was written by King David, and it is found in Psalm 139. Here is what David wrote (actually, composed as a psalm):

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.

If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
    Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
They speak of you with evil intent;
    your adversaries misuse your name.
Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
I have nothing but hatred for them;
    I count them my enemies.
Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

In an article published on June 4, 2018, titled, What Does It Mean to Be Fearfully and Wonderfully Made?” by Jennifer Heeren, contributing writer on Crosswalk.com, she writes:

Meaning of “Fearfully and Wonderfully Made”

“So, God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God, he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:14)

Psalm 139 says that God made all the delicate, inner parts of my body. He knit me together within my mother’s womb. I was made wonderfully complex. God knew me as He was painstakingly designing me with much loving care.

I didn’t just evolve into what I am. I was created and designed with a purpose. And the blueprints of me are similar to other human beings but they’re not exactly the same. I am unique—and so are you.

The human body is a unique design of multiple systems that all work intricately together. The cardiovascular system gives you the energy to move. The muscular system gives you the ability to move, lift, and hold things. The digestive system processes food into energy and discards waste. The immune system keeps you healthy. The hormonal system determines your gender. The eyes cause you to see. The nose lets you smell. The tongue and mouth let you eat and taste. The ears enable you to hear. And your skin enables you to feel textures. You have the ability to encounter an incredibly diverse world with an equally amazing diverse body!

Then you were also blessed with a brain so you can think, process, and create. Isaac Asimov said the brain is “the most complex and orderly arrangement of matter in the universe.” Your emotions help you to relate to other people and feel compassion. All of these systems (plus many more) were uniquely designed to make you who you are.

God created you on purpose with love.

You have the innate ability to discern right from wrong. Although, that ability is hindered somewhat until you connect with your Creator. He didn’t just design you to do your own thing. He created you so you would desire an ongoing relationship with Him.

You were made with a hole in the center of your soul that only one thing fits. Until you find that very specific something, you will never be fulfilled. And that very specific something is God Himself. You were designed with an intense need of your Creator, God. Without a relationship with Him, you will always be searching for something to fill that void. 

Drugs, alcohol, food, money, sex, material goods, occupations, hobbies, travel, success, fame—these are some of the ways in which we try to fill that empty space inside. But none of those things will ever fill it. They are like round pegs in square holes. The vacant areas at the edges will still leave you desiring more of something else. Whatever you attempt to put in there will dissipate because it never completely fills the space. Those things were never meant to fill the space; they never can.

Sadly, many continue to shove mismatched pegs into that hole. A little of this, a little of that… hoping that one day they will feel complete. They surmise that this thing over here didn’t work but maybe this other thing will do it. They just haven’t found the right thing yet but one day they hope they will.

One day…

    • I’ll have enough money to feel safe and secure.
    • I’ll find the perfect spouse that will complete me.
    • I’ll get my dream sports car and life will be grand.
    • I’ll be on television and people will know my name.
    • I’ll be the best in my field and people will scout me out.

“One day” will never come. If you’re not happy with who you are today, right here and right now, you’ll never be. You’ll never be happy with who you are today unless you begin to praise God for creating you just as you are.

People want to look at everyone and everything else before they turn to God.

“Yet no one calls on your name or pleads with you for mercy. Therefore, you have turned away from us and turned us over to our sins. And yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, and you are the potter. We all are formed by your hand.” (Isaiah 64:7-8)

Fortunately, God made a way for us to repent and turn to Him by sending His very own Son to make the way.

When you do finally realize that without God you are unable to make the most of yourself, that’s when things begin to change. The clay cannot mold itself no matter how hard it tries. However, God, the Potter, cannot only mold His clay but He also knows what His original design of you was. He is both a Potter and an Architect with a Master Plan.

Sometimes in this fallen world, people are born with birth defects that disrupt one or more of the intricate systems of the body. God foresaw even those defects and uses them for good when we look to Him. Even our weaknesses are fearfully and wonderfully made.

A blind person can develop hearing beyond the normal capacity. Conjoined twins can teach us about getting along with one another, for they have to do it 24/7. Someone born without arms develops the ability to use their feet in wondrous ways. Another born without legs develops the upper body strength to get around smoothly.

We all have weaknesses that sometimes make us feel like we are of no use. But God’s grace is sufficient to cover our weaknesses. More than that, God’s power is made perfect in our weaknesses. Weaknesses keep me humble and leaning on God’s strength which is much more sufficient than my own.

Should I always feel like I am “Fearfully and Wonderfully” made?

No. Sin and pride always want to drag me back into my own way of thinking. The same thinking that kept me reaching for those mismatched pegs. Those thoughts tell me that I can do whatever I want, by myself, without God. They lie and they don’t even make sense. They say I can do anything but then turn around and also say that I’m not good enough to do what I want to do. Feelings can’t be trusted unless they line up with the Word of God. And the Word of God tells me that I’m fearfully and wonderfully made for a specific purpose. Therefore, with God’s help, I will walk in that purpose as often as I can.

Whether I always feel it or not, I can trust God and His plans for my very life.

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10) (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words from the chorus of a song titled, Known,” by Tauren Wells (see YouTube Video below): I’m fully known and loved by You. You won’t let go no matter what I do. And it’s not one or the other; it’s hard truth and ridiculous grace, to be known fully known and loved by You…

I’m fully known . . .

And loved . . .

By You . . . .

YouTube Video: “Known” by Tauren Wells:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Predictably Unpredictable

Back on February 25, 2017, I published a blog post titled, Divine Appointments,” and I quoted a section from a book titled, The Grave Robber (2014), written by Mark Batterson, lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC. I picked up that book again this afternoon, and when I ran into that particular section quoted in the blog post above, I thought to myself, “This would great to include in a blog post.” That’s when I discovered that I had already written a blog post on that exact same section back in 2017 (you can read it at this link).

Déjà vu…

So, I continued looking through the book and I came upon two back-to-back sections titled, “Critical Realism” and “Eleven Dimensions,” in a chapter titled, “The Rule Breaker.” But before I quote those two sections, let me say that I have always been one to follow rules. I was called a STRAC trooper (STRAC is US Army slang for “a well organized, well turned-out soldier, pressed uniform, polished brass and shined boots. A proud, competent trooper who can be depended on for good performance in any circumstance”) by my Commanding Officer when I was stationed in the U.S. Army in South Korea back in the 1970’s, and I’ve been the quintessential “rule follower” for most of my life. I figured if I always followed the rules, I’d stay out of trouble and I’d have a relatively straight forward life, but as my life moved forward, I discovered that is not always the case. Life is unpredictable no matter how hard we might try to control it, and I discovered what Mark Batterson states below.

In the first section titled, “Critical Realism,” on pp. 129-130, Batterson writes:

According to the research of Rolf Smith [author ofThe 7 Levels of Change: Different Thinking for Different Results”], children asked 125 probing questions per day. Adults, on the other hand, ask only six probing questions per day. That means that somewhere between childhood and adulthood, we lose 119 questions per day! At some point, most of us stop asking questions and start making assumptions. That is the day our imagination dies. It’s also the day miracles stop happening. If you want to experience the miraculous, you need to quit making assumptions.

In the philosophy of science, there is a concept known as critical realism. It is the recognition that no matter how much we know, we don’t know everything there is to know. In the words of Russell Stannard, “We can never expect at any stage to be absolutely certain that our scientific theories are correct and will never need further amendment.” What if we borrowed the concept of critical realism from science and applied it to theology? I’m not suggesting that we question any of our orthodox doctrines as revealed in God’s Word. But 1 Corinthians 8:2 is a good theological starting point when it comes to the study of God: “Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know.”

We’re too quick to explain what we don’t really understand. And God is at the top of that list. You can know Him, but to think you know everything there is to know is the epitome of hubris. To know God is to enter the cloud of unknowing–the more you know, the more you know how much you don’t know.

Scripture says that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13) , so the words, “I can’t” should never leave our lips! But “I don’t know” should come out of our mouths which great regularity and humility. You aren’t omniscient. In fact, you aren’t even close! Your best thought on your best day falls at least 15.5 billion light-years short of how good and how great God really is. (Quote source: “The Grave Robber,” pp. 129-130.)

Batterson continues in the next section titled, “Eleven Dimensions,” on pp.130-132, with the following:

A hundred years ago, we thought we lived in a four-dimensional world. Then along came Albert Einstein and his theory of general relativity. He threw science a curveball by positing that the space-time continuum isn’t as linear as we once thought. Then string theorists extrapolated the existence of more dimensions than meet the eye–ten dimensions in the case of superstring theory theory or twenty-six dimensions according to the Bosonic string theory. In either case, this critical dimension is necessary to ensure the vanishing of the conformal anomaly of the world sheet. And if you have no idea what that means, I’ve made my point. If the universe is infinitely  more complex than can be imagined with the human mind, then how much more so the Creator Himself? His infinite complexity demands a degree of critical realism called humility.

If string theorists are right, then God is operating in at least eleven dimensions of space-time. and therein lies our greatest shortcoming: putting four-dimensional limits on the Almighty. In the words of Dr. Hugh Ross, “Orthodox Christians potentially underestimate God’s nature, powers, and capacities by at least a factor of a trillion in one time dimension.” Multiply a trillion by a minimum of seven additional space-time dimensions, and we begin to understand why Scripture states that God is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20)! We can’t even imagine one extra dimension!

Half of faith is learning what we don’t know. The other half is unlearning what we do know. And the second half is far more difficult then the first half. That’s why Jesus repeatedly said, “You have heard that is was said… but I tell you.” He was uninstalling Old Testament assumptions with New Testament revelations. Going the extra mile or turning the other cheek was more than behavior modification. Jesus was reverse engineering the old rules and installing new ones (Matthew 5:38-48).

In 1932, a German physicist named Werner Heisenberg won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on quantum mechanics. His discovery ranks as one of the greatest scientific revolutions in the twentieth century. For hundreds of years, determinism ruled the day. Physicists believed in the clockwork universe that was measurable and predictable. Heisenberg pulled the rug out from under the scientific community. Here is Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle in a nutshell: we cannot know the precise position and momentum of a quantum particle at the same time. Here’s why. Sometimes matter behaves like a particle–it appears to be in one place at one time. Sometimes matter behaves like a wave–it appears to be in several places at the same time, almost like a wave on a pond. It is the duality of nature. So the imprecise measurement of initial conditions precludes the precise prediction of future outcomes. Simply put: there will always be an element of uncertainty.

Here’s my translation: God is predictably unpredictable.

You never know exactly how or when or where God might show up and show off. But you can be sure of this: He will probably ask you to do something unprecedented, unorthodox, and unconventional. And if you have the courage to do something you haven’t done in thirty-eight years, you might just experience something you haven’t seen in a long, long time. (Quote source: “The Grave Robber,” pp. 130-132.)

In a blog post published on January 27, 2016, titled, Predictably Unpredictable,” by Dave Henning, Director at Crown of Compassion Ministries, a ministry to downsized workers, he writes:

“I have come to expect the unexpected because God is predictably unpredictable.” — Mark Batterson

Mark Batterson concludes Chapter 6 ofThe Circle Maker by reflecting on a favorite saying of his grandmother: “You can’t never always sometimes tell.” Translation: “Anything could happen.” The same is true when you circle a promise in prayer. Prayer adds an element of surprise to your life that is more fun than any other kind of surprise. Mark explains:

“When you draw a prayer circle, even if that circle is limited by your ignorance, you never know how or when or where God will answer it. One prayer leads to another, which leads to another, and where they will take you no one knows except the One who knows all.”

Pastor Batterson notes there is one caveat: you have to give up control if you want God to surprise you. Although you’ll lose a measure of predictability, this frees God to move in uncontrollable ways. Meanwhile, you live with holy anticipation, understanding that coincidences are providences and that any moment can turn into a holy moment. Mark observes it is at this point many of us become spiritually bogged down:

“It’s at this place where God wants to do something unprecedented that many of us get stuck spiritually. Instead of operating by faith, we switch back to our default setting of logic. Instead of embracing the new move of God, we fall back into the rut of our old routines.”

Mark’s solution? Don’t simply brainstorm, praystorm.

Today’s question: How difficult is it for you to give up “control” of your situation? (Quote source here.)

Lately–in fact, more times then I can count–I keep coming across a verse that speaks to the “control” issue many of us have when it comes to our sometimes very perplexing life circumstances. The verse is found in Psalm 46:10 (NASB):

Cease striving  and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.

In the past decade since I lost my job in April 2009, I spent the first several years searching for another job that never materialized, and I had to apply for Social Security at 62 to have any income again. At the time I applied for Social Security, I lost the apartment I had been living in for over four years when new owners purchased the house where my apartment was located, and they wanted to use my apartment for their own purposes. That has now lead into a five-plus year search for low income senior housing that has still produced nothing in the way of affordable housing.

I can attest to the fact that it isn’t easy to “cease striving” when perplexing circumstances keep going on and on after a decade of waiting for an answer to show up. Yet, what I have learned and experienced during this past decade is priceless even though what I thought would happen long before now (in fact, a decade ago) is that I would find another job and move on with my life.

God is predictably unpredictable, and He is also sovereign over everything that happens on this earth. What Mark Batterson describes above regarding our own understanding of God is right on when he states:

We’re too quick to explain what we don’t really understand. And God is at the top of that list. You can know Him, but to think you know everything there is to know is the epitome of hubris. To know God is to enter the cloud of unknowing–the more you know, the more you know how much you don’t know. (Quote source: “The Grave Robber,” pp. 129.)

This is where Psalm 46:10 is so important. Since we can’t ever totally understand what God is up to we are clearly told to cease striving (be still) and know that He is God, and that He will be exalted among the nations and in the earth. GotQuestions.org gives us an understanding of what this verse means:

This verse comes from a longer section of Scripture that proclaims the power and security of God. While the threat the psalmist faced is not mentioned specifically, it seems to relate to the pagan nations and a call for God to end the raging war. Here is the whole psalm:

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Come and see what the LORD has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’ The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

Notice that the majority of the psalm is written in the third person as the psalmist speaks about God. However, God’s voice comes through in verse 10, and the Lord speaks in the first person: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Be still. This is a call for those involved in the war to stop fighting, to be still. The word “still” is a translation of the Hebrew word “rapa,” meaning “to slacken, let down, or cease.” In some instances, the word carries the idea of “to drop, be weak, or faint.” It connotes two people fighting until someone separates them and makes them drop their weapons. It is only after the fighting has stopped that the warriors can acknowledge their trust in God. Christians often interpret the command to “be still” as “to be quiet in God’s presence.” While quietness is certainly helpful, the phrase means to stop frantic activity, to let down, and to be still. For God’s people being “still” would involve looking to the Lord for their help (cf. Exodus 14:13); for God’s enemies, being “still” would mean ceasing to fight a battle they cannot win.

Know that I am God. “Know” in this instance means “to properly ascertain by seeing” and “acknowledge, be aware.” How does acknowledging God impact our stillness? We know that He is omniscient (all-knowing), omnipresent (present everywhere), omnipotent (all-powerful), holy, sovereign, faithful, infinite, and good. Acknowledging God implies that we can trust Him and surrender to His plan because we understand who He is.

I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. It was tempting for the nation of Israel to align with foreign powers, and God reminds them that ultimately He is exalted! God wins, and He will bring peace. During Isaiah’s time, Judah looked for help from the Egyptians, even though God warned against it. Judah did not need Egyptian might; they needed reliance on the Lord: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15).

When we are still and surrendered to God, we find peace even when the earth gives way, the mountains fall (verse 2), or the nations go into an uproar and kingdoms fall (verse 6). When life gets overwhelming and busyness takes precedence, remember Psalm 46:1, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Run to Him, lay down your weapons and fall into His arms. Acknowledge that He is God and that He is exalted in the earth. Be still and know that He is God. (Quote source here.)

What better way to end this post then by quoting Psalm 46:10Cease striving and know that I am God…

I will be exalted among the nations . . .

I will be exalted . . .

In the earth . . . .

YouTube Video: “Be Still and Know” by Steven Curtis Chapman:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

A Day of Atonement

The Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur (“Day of Atonement”) starts on Tuesday, October 8, 2019, and ends at nightfall on Wednesday, October 9, 2019. It is considered to be the holiest day of the year on the Jewish calendar.

On my other blog, I recently published two blog posts leading up to this blog post on Yom Kippur. On September 27, 2019, I published a blog post on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year which took place from sundown on September 29th through nightfall on October 1st this year, titled, Time to Reboot.” On August 25, 2019, I published a blog titled, Elul and the High Holy Days,” which gives a brief description of the activities associated with the month of Elul leading up to the High Holy Days which start with Rosh Hashanah and end with Yom Kippur.

In an article titled, Yom Kippur,” published on History.com and written by the Editors at History.com (first published on October 27, 2009 and updated on August 21, 2018), the following information is provided:

Yom Kippur—the Day of Atonement—is considered the most important holiday in the Jewish faith. Falling in the month of Tishrei (September or October in the Gregorian calendar), it marks the culmination of the 10 Days of Awe, a period of introspection and repentance that follows Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. According to tradition, it is on Yom Kippur that God decides each person’s fate, so Jews are encouraged to make amends and ask forgiveness for sins committed during the past year. The holiday is observed with a 25-hour fast and a special religious service. Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah are known as Judaism’s “High Holy Days.”

History and Significance of Yom Kippur

According to tradition, the first Yom Kippur took place after the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt and arrival at Mount Sinai, where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. Descending from the mountain, Moses caught his people worshipping a golden calf and shattered the sacred tablets in anger. Because the Israelites atoned for their idolatry, God forgave their sins and offered Moses a second set of tablets.

Jewish texts recount that during biblical times Yom Kippur was the only day on which the high priest could enter the inner sanctum of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. There, he would perform a series of rituals and sprinkle blood from sacrificed animals on the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the Ten Commandments. Through this complex ceremony he made atonement and asked for God’s forgiveness on behalf of all the people of Israel. The tradition is said to have continued until the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 A.D; it was then adapted into a service for rabbis and their congregations in individual synagogues.

According to tradition, God judges all creatures during the 10 Days of Awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, deciding whether they will live or die in the coming year. Jewish law teaches that God inscribes the names of the righteous in the “book of life” and condemns the wicked to death on Rosh Hashanah; people who fall between the two categories have until Yom Kippur to perform “teshuvah,” or repentance. As a result, observant Jews consider Yom Kippur and the days leading up to it a time for prayer, good deeds, reflecting on past mistakes and making amends with others.

Observing Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur is Judaism’s most sacred day of the year; it is sometimes referred to as the “Sabbath of Sabbaths.” For this reason, even Jews who do not observe other traditions refrain from work, which is forbidden during the holiday, and participate in religious services on Yom Kippur, causing synagogue attendance to soar. Some congregations rent out additional space to accommodate large numbers of worshippers.

The Torah commands all Jewish adults (apart from the sick, the elderly and women who have just given birth) to abstain from eating and drinking between sundown on the evening before Yom Kippur and nightfall the next day. The fast is believed to cleanse the body and spirit, not to serve as a punishment. Religious Jews heed additional restrictions on bathing, washing, using cosmetics, wearing leather shoes and sexual relations. These prohibitions are intended to prevent worshippers from focusing on material possessions and superficial comforts.

Because the High Holy Day prayer services include special liturgical texts, songs and customs, rabbis and their congregations read from a special prayer book known as the “machzor” during both Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. Five distinct prayer services take place on Yom Kippur, the first on the eve of the holiday and the last before sunset on the following day. One of the most important prayers specific to Yom Kippur describes the atonement ritual performed by high priests during ancient times. The blowing of the shofar—a trumpet made from a ram’s horn—is an essential and emblematic part of both High Holy Days. On Yom Kippur, a single long blast is sounded at the end of the final service to mark the conclusion of the fast.

Traditions and Symbols of Yom Kippur

Pre-Yom Kippur feast: On the eve of Yom Kippur, families and friends gather for a bountiful feast that must be finished before sunset. The idea is to gather strength for 25 hours of fasting.

Breaking of the fast: After the final Yom Kippur service, many people return home for a festive meal. It traditionally consists of breakfast-like comfort foods such as blintzes, noodle pudding and baked goods.

Wearing white: It is customary for religious Jews to dress in white—a symbol of purity—on Yom Kippur. Some married men wear “kittels,” which are white burial shrouds, to signify repentance.

Charity: Some Jews make donations or volunteer their time in the days leading up to Yom Kippur. This is seen as a way to atone and seek God’s forgiveness. One ancient custom known as “kapparot” involves swinging a live chicken or bundle of coins over one’s head while reciting a prayer. The chicken or money is then given to the poor. (Quote source here.)

In an article published in 2014 titled, Forgiveness of Others and Ourselves: Yom Kippur Thoughts,” by Laurie Levy, a contributer on HuffPost.com, she writes:

On the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, a central prayer is the Al Chet or communal confession of sins committed against others. Rabbi Yonah Bookstein describes Yom Kippur as the time for reconciliation and forgiveness. He reminds us that the Hassidic Master Israel Ba’al Shem Tov said, “If we cannot forgive others, how can we expect God to forgive us?”

This holiday always poses an interesting question for me: Can I really forgive someone who has wronged me? Of course, I am not talking about overwhelmingly traumatic acts that are unforgivable — genocide; physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; and other crimes that harm innocent victims. Although there are amazing people who can forgive even these things, I am not one of them.

In a modern version of the Al Chet prayer, Rabbi Michael Lerner asks forgiveness for sins against humanity in general and against the world in which we live. Among those that involve personal interactions, he asks forgiveness for:

The sins of spreading negative stories about people we know;

And for the sins of being passive recipients of negativity or listening and allowing others to spread hurtful stories;

For the sins of not having compassion for one another;

And for not taking care of one another….

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat offers her list of more personal sins she has committed against others. I have to assume people have also wronged her in these ways:

By not embracing those who needed it, and not allowing myself to be embraced…

By poking at sources of hurt like a child worrying a sore tooth…

By hiding love, out of fear of rejection, instead of giving love freely…

By being not pliant and flexible, but obstinate, stark, and unbending;

By not being generous with my time, with my words or with my being;

By not being kind to everyone who crosses my wandering path.

The notion of forgiveness is pretty complicated. In two weeks, I will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of my Chavurah (Hebrew for “friends” or “comrades”). This group of six families came together in the fall of 1974, having no more in common than being 12 adults with 12 kids who happened to live near one another and were disillusioned with formal religion. Later we added three more kids and eventually joined a synagogue en mass. But my favorite memories stem from our early attempts to figure out our own brand of Judaism. And one of our most interesting moments happened when we tackled the issue of forgiveness.

Well, maybe we didn’t exactly tackle it. In fact, with most of us just having crossed into the mature age of 30-something, we had a five-minute talk that devolved into a resounding “Let’s not go there.”

I guess forgiving others is not something that happens until you reach a certain age, if ever. Our Chavurah now has 63 official members. Many of the 25 grandchildren live out of town. Only two of our parents remain, basically making us the older generation. So much has changed. And yet, as our group celebrates 40 years of friendship, I wonder if we are finally old enough to talk about that difficult concept of forgiveness.

I know plenty of folks my age and beyond who are still nursing hurt feelings and something close to hatred for former friends. I have had friends declare they will never forgive people for what they considered deep betrayals.

One thought I have about this is rather obvious. It’s the old “you always hurt the one you love” thing. So I get how it is hardest to forgive a BFF for saying or doing something hurtful. It’s shocking to discover the “B” and the second “F” weren’t really true. So the closer the relationship, the greater the pain, and the lesser the chance of forgiveness.

But lately, I have come to believe the power to forgive is always mine. Exercising that power makes me stronger, not weaker. It definitely makes me happier. Why on Earth would I want to hold on to the pain of hating someone for something that happened 30 years ago? Like Elsa from “Frozen,” my mantra is “Let it go.”

There’s a lot of power in forgiveness. Letting go of the hurt has opened me to the possibility of rebuilt relationships in some cases. In other cases, it showed someone who had bullied me that I was not going to carry that baggage with me, so their words or deeds didn’t have much weight.

Over many years as a preschool director, working with countless parents and teachers, I learned another truth about forgiveness. Much of the time, it turns out the hurtful behavior really had little to do with the target of the behavior. When co-workers or parents or teachers were attacked in various permutations, it was typically a projection of unhappiness elsewhere in that person’s life. It’s hard to look at it through that lens in the heat of the moment, but considering the possibility can help soften the blow. It can give the recipient the power to choose if not forgiveness, then at least not anger and hurt.

So back to the question of whether I can forgive someone who has hurt me: My answer is a resounding “yes.” In fact, it goes beyond “Can I do it?” to “I must do it to lead a happy and meaningful life.” The harder task is to forgive myself for the wrongs I have done to others. (Quote source here.)

And in a touching story in an article published in 2011 titled, Yom Kippur and the Gift of Forgiveness,” by Annette Powers, also a contributor on Huffpost.com, she writes:

Yom Kippur has meant different things to me throughout my life, but while in the process of getting a divorce, the acts of atonement and forgiveness have taken on new significance.

Like most Jewish kids, Yom Kippur was the one holiday I dreaded. Growing up, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar promised nothing but endless hours spent in a gloomy sanctuary. All the adults, cranky and with bad breath from fasting, stood around muttering droning prayers in a language I didn’t understand.

After my Bat Mitzvah, I felt obligated to fast also, and then Yom Kippur took on a new kind of pain. By mid-afternoon, I was dizzy with hunger and the thought of four more hours in synagogue seemed unbearable. I understood that the point of the holiday was to atone, but thoughts of repentance were overshadowed by thoughts of the bagels and blintzes I would devour at the end of the service .

My feelings about Yom Kippur took a turn for the better when I spent a semester in Israel during my senior year of high school. I was amazed at how the whole country shut down in observance. Even the majority of Israelis, who are secular and didn’t plan to set foot in a synagogue, elected not to drive. The silence in the streets was magical and as I walked through Jerusalem’s stone streets from synagogue to synagogue, I heard the ancient Yom Kippur liturgy with new ears. This experience gave me a newfound appreciation for the solemness of Yom Kippur, yet the luxury of youthful innocence still kept me from really feeling the need to atone or forgive.

As the years went by, age and experience taught me that having a designated time to think about my relationship with God, myself and others is a unique and special thing. It is no longer a burden, but a gift. I am especially grateful for the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which are known as the Ten Days of Repentance (Aseret Y’mai Teshuvah.) During this time, we are encouraged to make amends to those we may have hurt in the past and to grant forgiveness to those who ask for it.

As an adult, I have often used these ten days to speak to friends and family and work through old grudges and new grievences, but last year, after discovering the painful truth about my husband’s infidelity and his desire to get divorced, I was too overwhelmed with pain and grief to even consider amends and forgiveness.

Today, it’s a different story. I have had time to heal, reflect and grow and need these ten days now more than ever. Even without being asked, I am anxious to forgive — to cast off my bitterness and start anew, to relieve myself of the burden of anger that tugs at me like a heavy anchor and to free him of the guilt that I heap upon him in both subtle and overt ways day after day. But, the question remains…. Can I actually do it? Making amends is one thing, but being able to forgive is another.

I have a friend who has inspired me with her own incredible act of forgiveness. As a teen, her father was killed in a ruthless hate crime by a group of strangers. Over many years, she found the ability to forgive them from afar. “It was a long road and I will never forget what they did, but I had to let go of all the anger — it was destroying my life,” she said. “Unfortunately, the rest of my family hasn’t been able to forgive and I see how it eats them up inside.”

I too have seen how resentments and anger can devour people over time. I too have seen how forgiveness can liberate. If this friend had the strength to forgive her father’s murderers, surely I could forgive my ex for far lesser crimes!

I want to forgive him. It’s partly a selfish act… I want to let go of the anger so I can move forward with my life. And I need him to forgive me too. While I don’t blame myself for his unwillingness to work on our marriage or his deceitfulness, I recognize that I am responsible for some of what went wrong in our relationship. I recognize some of my shortcomings and can make amends for those. I am sure there are yet others that I can’t see or admit to and for those I can only apologize in the abstract.

And so, yesterday, I sent my ex a note of amends and forgiveness.

I asked him to forgive me for a list of transgressions, from being too critical of him during our marriage to sending him thousands of angry text messages since our separation. I also apologized for “the things I do not know or do not remember that I did — willingly or unwillingly.”

And then came my turn to forgive. It took so much strength to write this: “I know you haven’t asked outright, but I want to tell you that I forgive you. I forgive you and I forgive her. May we all be blessed in the coming year.”

I can’t guarantee that all my resentments will disappear today, tomorrow or in a month, or that I will always be on my best behavior, but this note is my promise to try harder and that is a good start to a sweet new year. (Quote source here.)

During Yom Kippur, maybe now is a good time to think about laying aside that heavy weight of unforgiveness that we’ve been carrying around for a very long time. After all, as the following YouTube song below states:

Forgiveness . . .

We all need . . .

Forgiveness . . . .

YouTube Video: “Forgiveness” by TobyMac featuring Lecrae:

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

Life is Short

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Life is short.”

You hear it all the time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have a problem with this.

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

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

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

How would you expect James to follow up that statement?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, what is James’ exhortation?

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

No.

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

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

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

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

Act justly . . .

Love mercy . . .

Walk humbly . . . .

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

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Childlike Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) Children ask honest questions

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

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

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

Childlike faith asks honest questions.

2) Children ask openly

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

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

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

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

Childlike faith asks openly.

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

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

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

They start with total trust then grow out of it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Childlike faith trusts the parents.

5) Children trust and find satisfaction with parents.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faith Like a Child?

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

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

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

Childlike Faith vs. Childish Faith 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lord protects those of childlike faith . . .

I was facing death . . .

And He saved me . . . .

YouTube Video: “Giants Fall” by Francesca Battistelli:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Fuzzy Faith Fails (Revisited)

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

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

Fuzzy Faith Fails

(published July 8, 2011)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stand firm . . . .

And let nothing . . .

Move you . . . .

YouTube Video: “Good Fight” by Unspoken:

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