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Blogs I Follow

The Presidents Club

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The Surest Defense Against Evil

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The Triumph of Grace

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Contemplating God’s Sovereignty

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How Should We Then Live?

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Not a Timid Christianity

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Finishing the Race

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Because the Time is Near

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Revelation Song (YouTube)

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Where The Wind Blows

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Doing Great Things

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Recognizing a False Prophet

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The Power of Forgiveness

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Created for Relationships

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The Only Way I Know

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Faith: The Misunderstood Doctrine

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Our True Home Address

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‘Tis the Season . . . for L-O-V-E

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The Paris Terrorist Attack and the Problem of Evil

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Cherry Picking 101

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Love Sweet Love

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So Goes The Culture

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Idols of the Heart

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Divisions Are Not Always Bad

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The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

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Seven Weeks Until Christmas

With seven weeks to go until Christmas, the signs of Christmas are already everywhere here in America. Yesterday I stopped at a LifeWay Bookstore and they had several new books on their $5.00 sale table. One of them, to my great delight, was one of Max Lucado’s new books published this year (2018) titled simply, Jesus.” Regularly priced at $24.99, it has been on sale for 20% off since it was published until now (I assume for a limited time only it is $5.00–click here to see if that price is still good).

The book is not specifically about Christmas, but it is about Jesus. In the introduction to the book titled, “A Word from Max,” he states the following in the last few paragraphs which follow after a cute story about a his wife’s uncle and the uncle’s son-in-law who had misinterpreted their time on their drive home from a road trip to L.A. from Tulsa and back. The uncle only discovered his mistake when he pulled over to the side of the road and called home, and while talking with his wife he discovered, much to his relief, his mistake. Here’s the rest of the story:

They aren’t the first to make such a mistake. This journey toward home can bewilder the best of us. Truth be told, we’ve all lost track of time. We’ve lost our bearings. We’ve lost our perspective. At one time or another, we’ve all needed help. We need to be reminded where we are and  where we’re headed. For Ellis (the uncle) and Pat (the son-in-law), it was a voice from home.

For us, it’s the name of Jesus, sweetest name ever spoken.

I know, I know. The name Jesus has been derided and mocked, turned into a curse word and a scapegoat for everything from a hammered thumb to medieval Crusades. Peeling back all the layers from the name is no easy task. But it is worth the effort.

To see me is to see God, Jesus said. His voice, God’s voice. His tears, God’s tears. Want to know what matters to God? Find out what matters to Jesus. Want to know what in the world God is doing? Ponder the words of Jesus. Need to know where history is headed? He wrote the time line.

It could be that your experience with the name of Jesus has been less than positive. Did someone ram some frosty ideas about right and wrong down your throat and tell you they started with Jesus? Did a circle of high and mighty folks keep you out because you weren’t good enough? Or maybe no one needs to tell you anything. You’ve fumbled enough footballs in life to know that no one like Jesus would have a spot for someone like you.

Reconsider, won’t you?

What if he really is who he claims to be? The image of the invisible God. And what if he can do what he claimed to do? Lead wayward travelers like you and me on the right road. Maybe it’s time to pull over to the side of the road and make a call.” (Source: “Jesus,” pp. viii -ix.)

As a society and, in fact, the entire world, at this time of year (well, mostly after Thanksgiving) we celebrate Christmas around a jolly fellow named Santa Claus, also known as St. Nick, as well as those of us who celebrate Christmas as the birth of Jesus Christ. However, how did the two end up being celebrated at the same time?

At GotQuestions.org, they give us a brief description on the origin of Christmas:

Christmas is a popular December holiday celebrated by large numbers of people all around the world. Christmas (or “the Mass of Christ”) has long been known as the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, and the celebration first began to be observed in the early fourth century. However, some traditions associated with Christmas actually began as a part of pagan culture; these were “Christianized” and given new meaning by the church.

The exact date of Jesus’ birth is unknown, as the Bible does not give specifics as to the dates of either His birth or conception. But in the second century AD, a Roman Christian historian named Sextus Julius Africanus calculated Jesus’ birthdate to be December 25 (nine months after Jesus was conceived, according to Africanus). In spite of the assumptions made in Africanus’s line of thinking, the date of December 25 was widely accepted.

At the time of Christ, Roman culture already celebrated a holiday in December: Saturnalia honored the god Saturn and was celebrated from December 17 to about December 24. Later, the Romans began celebrating Sol Invictus or the “Unconquered Sun,” associated with the winter solstice and observed on December 25. When Rome eventually instituted Christianity as the state religion in the fourth century, the Roman church converted Saturnalia and Sol Invictus to a Christian holiday, the Feast of the Nativity, in order to commemorate Jesus’ birth, thus providing a spiritually positive alternative to a pagan celebration. The sinful customs and debauchery associated with Saturnalia were “cleaned up,” and some of the customs were absorbed into the celebration of Christmas. Christians have “redeemed” December 25 and have celebrated it as the birth of Christ ever since the fourth century.

Given the association Christmas had with the ancient pagan calendar, the question then becomes, “Since Christmas shares a date with a pagan holiday, is it acceptable for Christians to celebrate it?” It is important to note that Christmas, Saturnalia, and Sol Invictus were all distinct holidays; they were never identical to each other. Also, although some elements of Christmas celebrations (e.g., bells, candles, holly, and yule decorations) are mentioned in the history of pagan worship, the use of such items in one’s home in no way indicates a return to paganism. Christians simply celebrate Christmas to remember the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Celebrating Christmas is a matter of conscience (see Romans 14:5). (Quote source here.)

I found the following information in an article published on December 12, 2011, titled, Who is Santa, and What Does He Have to Do With Christmas?” by Angie Mosteller, online teacher at California Baptist University, and founder of Celebrating Holidays. She states:

The name Santa Claus is the English form of the Dutch name for St. Nicholas, “Sinterklaas.” Though the modern Santa Claus is associated with a world of fantasy, the historical St. Nicholas was a godly man known for his charity and generosity.

According to the best estimates, Nicholas, was born around AD 280 in Patara, in Asia Minor. He later became bishop of Myra in modern-day Turkey. Nicholas, it seems, died about 343 on or near December 6.

Nicholas was born in the 3rd century to wealthy Christian parents in Patara (a harbor city in modern day Turkey). It is probable that Nicholas and his parents could trace their spiritual heritage to the Apostle Paul, who stopped in Patara on his third missionary journey 200 years earlier.

It is said that Nicholas’ parents were devout believers who had long prayed for a child. When Nicholas was finally born, they devoted him to God. As an only child, he was raised with great affection and special attention. However, when Nicholas was still a young boy (likely a teenager), a plague struck his city, and both of his parents died. Though a loss like this might turn some away from God, it seems to have drawn Nicholas closer to him. The loss of his parents also seems to have made the boy’s heart tender to the suffering of others.

Nicholas was left with a large inheritance and decided that he would use it to honor God. He developed such a good reputation in his region that he was chosen as Archbishop of Myra (a harbor city just south and east of Patara) when he was in his early 20s, an indication that he must have demonstrated wisdom and maturity beyond his years. During his service as Archbishop, a violent persecution of Christians began. Nicholas was almost certainly imprisoned during this time and was likely tortured for his faith….

There are a wealth of stories about Nicholas’ life–many of them emphasize his kindness and  generosity. After his death on December 6, a tradition of gift giving was begun in his honor.

St. Nicholas Day is still observed on December 6 in many countries, but in others, America included, the practices associated with the day were combined with Christmas. It seemed natural to many Christians that a holiday celebrating giving would merge with the birth of Christ, the greatest gift ever given to the world. However, the merger happened to the dismay of many Christian leaders who thought that St. Nicholas started to draw too much attention away from Christ. In Germany, parents were encouraged to teach their children that the Christ Child was the gift-giver. The name Kriss Kringle is the English form of the German name for “Christ Child.” Ironically, in America the name Kriss Kringle came to be used synonymously with St. Nicholas, St. Nick, Santa Claus and even the English name Father Christmas….

In Middle Age art, St. Nicholas was typically depicted as a tall, thin, bearded cleric. So how did he evolve into the Santa that we know today in America? Santa’s white beard and red suit are actually quite similar to the bishop’s vestments worn by the Dutch Sinterklaas. But the “chubby and plump” appearance of America’s Santa Claus is generally traced to the 19th century poem “’Twas The Night Before Christmasan attempt to create a more friendly image of Santa and assure children that they had (in the words of the poem) “nothing to dread.”

Though the modern Santa Claus has devolved into a secularized figure surrounded by fantasy, his image can serve to help us remember the real St. Nicholas, a man who devoted his life to serving God and inspiring others to do the same. The purpose of all saints (all Christians) is to bring glory to God, not to detract from him.

At Christmas, we celebrate that God himself came in bodily form, in real flesh and blood, to earth. However, after he ascended to heaven and his physical presence was no longer on earth, Jesus entrusted believers to be his “body” (1 Corinthians 12:27). By all accounts, St. Nicholas lived a life that helped others to see the reality of Christ. How can we follow his example and help others to see Christ in us (in real flesh and blood) this Christmas? (Source and entire article is available at this link.)

Personally, I just love all of the Christmas decorations that come out at this time of year. As a kid I grew up with all the Santa Claus stories and Christmas songs (both secular and religious), but we also knew it was the celebration of Jesus Christ’s birth, and that the Santa Claus stuff was just a tradition. It was (and still is) a very festive time of year, and I loved Christmas as a kid. I still do.

I was not aware of background on St. Nicholas until I read that article mentioned above, and I found it interesting how closely the two (St. Nick and Jesus) are actually related in past history. Today Christmas is very much secularized by our culture, but for Christians the true meaning is still celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.

In a lengthy and informative article published on December 17, 2015, titled, Jesus vs. Santa: Who Really Rules the Season: The Bible vs. Wall Street,” by Cynthia Gibson, contributor to Our Weekly.com,” here are a few excerpts from her article:

According to the Bible, Jesus is the reason for the season, but according to Wall Street, Santa Claus is the economic engine that keeps the season going full throttle from Black Friday until Christmas Eve. When it comes to influencing hearts, minds and wallets during the Christmas season, who really rules—Jesus or Santa?….

For Christians, Jesus is real. On the other hand, although he is based on the very real Saint Nicholas, it is widely accepted that the modern-day Santa Claus is a mythic compilation.

So why does Santa Claus, arguably, have just as much—if not more—influence as Jesus during the Christmas season?

“Santa Claus is a less controversial symbol for people to receive, accept and promote. Jesus is totally controversial in his message, method and even in his death, burial and resurrection—everything about Jesus Christ is controversial,” says Najuma Smith-Pollard, program director for the Cecil Murray Center for Community Engagement at USC. Dr. Smith-Pollard is also senior pastor at Word of Encouragement Community Church in Los Angeles.

“Our nation has historically claimed a Christian foundation, (but) the problem is Jesus doesn’t sell toys. When it comes to influence, if you’re talking about selling toys, Santa has more influence,” said Smith-Pollard.

One-in-five adults say they are the parent or guardian of a child in their household who currently believes in Santa Claus, according to the Pew Research Center Survey (2013) on Christmas observations. The survey reports that 69 percent of those parents say they plan to pretend that Santa visits their house on Christmas.

Christian parents admit that Santa Claus has a stronger presence than Jesus during the Christmas season. “Whether it’s television, commercials, billboards, as parents with small kids, when they go to school, the question is, “Is Santa Claus real?’ They’re encouraged to take a position on Santa Claus,” said Neema Cyrus-Franklin, online engagement coordinator at Presbytery of the Pacific (the Los Angeles regional office for the Presbyterian church) and a mother of two children, ages 9 and 4….

According to a 2013 Pew Research survey on Christmas beliefs and practices, a majority of Americans—Christian or not—observe Christmas.

The survey revealed that while nine in 10 Americans take part in the holiday that theologically commemorates the birth of Jesus, only about half actually see it as a religious celebration.

The study also showed a nation where Christmas continues to be incredibly popular, but also that the day is increasingly a non-religious cultural event, especially among younger generations. Pew found that religious and non-religious Americans largely celebrate the holiday the same. Although those who believe in Christmas as a religious holiday and those who believe in the virgin birth are much more likely to go to church services for Christmas, both cultural and religious observers were just as likely to gather with family, exchange gifts and take part in the tradition of Santa Claus visiting their homes at night….

[The article ends with the following]: Despite the proliferation of Santa Claus during the Christmas season, for the 78 percent of Americans who consider themselves religious [from the 2013 survey], Santa does not wield more influence than Jesus. However, believers and non-believers alike concede that Santa Claus is a powerful marketing tool that comes with the season. As America becomes a nation of multiple religions, traditions and customs like Santa Claus, the observance of Christmas becomes a part of America’s melting pot, said researchers.

Pollard-Smith is philosophical about the future of Jesus and Santa Claus. “Those who believe that Jesus is still the reason for the season, that won’t change. The long-term impact may be that it’s no longer just about the influence of Jesus versus Santa. It’s the influence of Jesus, Santa, Mohammed, Buddha and so forth. Because of the increasing diversity of religions and observances in our nation, a change in the face of Christmas is inevitable.” (Quote source and entire article here.)

As Cynthia Gibson noted in her article, our society continues to become more diverse in it’s beliefs and customs; however, for Christians, the meaning of Christmas is still and will continue to be very obvious…

Jesus . . . 

Is the reason . . . 

For the season . . . .

YouTube Video: “Joy to the World” by Whitney Houston:

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

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In Good Times, Bad Times, and All Times

I heard some news yesterday (October 31, 2018) that, depending on which side you’re on, was either very good news or very bad news. For me and many other Christians around the world, it was, indeed, some very good news. In fact, it was a miracle given the circumstances regarding the case. After spending 9 1/2 years in a Pakistani prison–most of that time since 2010 spent in solitary confinement on death row on a charge of blasphemy, a Pakistani woman named Asia Bibi, also known as Aasiya Noreen–age 58, wife and mother of five, was set free from prison by a three-judge-panel on the Pakistani Supreme Court. The appeal process was first started in 2014 (see under Appeals section), and the final appeal was made on October 8, 2018 (see under Supreme Court acquittal section). It was after this last and final appeal that the three judges decided the final outcome of her case yesterday (10-31-18), and they set her free.

Here is a synopsis of Asia Bibi’s situation as stated in an article published yesterday titled, Pakistani Supreme Court Clears Catholic Woman of Blasphemy Charges,” by Scott Slayton, lead pastor at Chelsea Village Baptist Church, blogger at One Degree or Another on Patheos.com, and contributor on ChristianHeadlines.com:

[Asia] Bibi faced the death penalty for a 2009 incident in which Bibi, a Catholic, was accused of blaspheming the prophet Muhammad. Bibi worked as a berry harvester and was asked to retrieve water from a well. CNN reported that her Muslim co-workers refused to drink from the bucket because she is a Christian and her touching the bucket made it unclean. This led to an argument in which she allegedly blasphemed Muhammad and someone reported her to a Muslim cleric (Quote source and article at this link).

Since the ruling yesterday, many articles worldwide have been published regarding her case including Asia Bibi: Pakistan’s Supreme Court ‘historic’ ruling,” b

In other quarters, the news has caused an uproar. According to an article published yesterday titled, Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi has death penalty conviction overturned,” by 

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has acquitted a Christian woman who has been on death row for almost eight years on blasphemy charges.

Asia Bibi, a mother of five from Punjab province, was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 and sentenced to hang after she was accused of defiling the name of the Prophet Mohammed during an argument the year before with Muslim colleagues.

The workers had refused to drink from a bucket of water Asia Bibi had touched because she was not Muslim. At the time, Asia Bibi said the case was a matter of women who didn’t like her “taking revenge.”
She won her appeal against the conviction and subsequent death sentence on Wednesday.
Islamist movement Tehreek-e Labbaik (TLP) had previously vowed to take to the streets if Asia Bibi was released, and protests broke out in Islamabad and Lahore soon after the ruling was announced.

Within hours, the protests were large enough that government officials in the cities were urging people to stay inside and avoid adding to the chaos. Demonstrators blocked a motorway in Lahore and a road linking Islamabad and Rawalpindi has been closed off. Angry workers from the TLP have also staged sit-ins and chanted slogans against Pakistan officials and judges.

In response, police officials invoked Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which prevents the gathering of more than four people. (Quote source and article at this link.)

Most of the years Asia Bibi spent in prison were spent in solitary confinement since a death sentence was given to her in 2010. Story after story has been printed over these years regarding her plight including one story published on October 31, 2014, titled Asia Bibi losing hope on death row: family,” and another story published two years later on December 22, 2016, titled, Asia Bibi: Christmas in a prison cell.”

I first became aware of Asia Bibi’s story back in 2010. There are many, many Christians around the world going through persecution but for some reason I could never get her particular story off of my mind. Drastic forms of persecution such as she has encountered are not uncommon around the globe, even though here in America we don’t see that kind of overt persecution taking place; yet covert persecution is not uncommon here–it is just very well disguised. It can take the form of homelessness, job loss, chronic unemployment and financial difficulties; unexplained health or mental health issues and opioid addiction, accidental deaths, workplace bullying and bullying kids in schools, and any number of other ways made to look like “normal” occurrences taking place. After all, we cannot overtly kill people we disagree with in America as it’s against the law, but those who are so inclined do have their ways of dealing with people they disagree with by destroying their lives in covert ways.

In an August 22, 2016, article published in ChristianityToday.com titled, Are American Christians Really ‘Persecuted’? by K. A. Ellis, a Ph.D. candidate who writes and speaks on Human Rights, Religious Freedom and the Persecuted Church, she states:

Anti-Christian hostility is on the minds of many American Christians these days. Each new legal challenge to religious liberty at the state and federal levels raises the issue afresh. It seems that today, Christians must think through their cultural position more carefully than at any other point in US history.

Still, given the terrible persecution of Christians overseas, I wonder whether it’s accurate to say that American Christians are “under persecution.” When I discuss the rise in anti-Christian hostility in the States, I avoid the “p word,” and I don’t make comparisons to other parts of the world.

But listen to a Middle Eastern underground house church leader: “Persecution is easier to understand when it’s physical: torture, death, imprisonment….American persecution is like an advanced stage of cancer; it eats away at you, yet you cannot feel it. This is the worst kind of persecution.”

A Syrian remaining in the region to assist Christians and Muslims cautions, “It wasn’t only ISIS who laid waste to the church; our cultural compromises with the government and our divisions against each other brewed for a long time. We are Damascus, the seat of Christianity; what happened to us can happen to you. Be careful.”

When persecuted Christian leaders overseas warn about how seriously US Christians are marginalized, it’s time to listen.

Of course, persecution in countries like India and China looks different than it does in Vietnam or Nigeria; the methods of oppressors and survivors vary dramatically. Often, other religious minorities suffer as well. In some regions, the disdain is cultural; elsewhere, hostility manifests itself in legislation. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on September 13, 2016, titled Are Christians Persecuted in America? by Gregory C. Cochran, Ph.D., a pastor, author, college professor and Director of the Bachelor of Applied Theology program at California Baptist University, he begins his article by acknowledging K. A. Ellis’s article (see above) and he goes on to state:

Ellis points out that Christians around the world—including those in hotspots like Syria and the Middle East—believe that Christians are being persecuted in the United States. The sub-title of her article is, “If our overseas brothers and sisters say we are, then we probably are.” The sub-title itself offers a compelling argument. Christians in the Middle East operate on the assumption that all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (see 2 Tim. 3:12). The response of these overseas Christians demonstrates the New Testament reality that the body of Christ identifies with the suffering of other Christians (Heb. 13:1-3). On this point, Ellis concludes,

“When persecuted Christian leaders overseas warn about how seriously U.S. Christians are marginalized, it’s time to listen.”

Ellis further points out the undeniable reality that persecution looks radically different in Nigeria, Vietnam, and China. Certainly, the degree of suffering in the US is less intense when compared to these Christians in other areas. But that fact alone is no proof of the absence of persecution in the US.

Christ taught his followers from the beginning that persecution would include mere insults:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10, ESV)

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matthew 5:10-11, ESV).

Finally, Ellis argues soberly about how quickly societies can flip from tolerant to intolerant. It would be naïve to think that persecution can’t happen “in America.” Of course it can. It has. Baptists and others were persecuted in the early days of American history.  And Christians today are in the crosshairs of many cultural leaders.

Further, as I point out in my book, persecution does happen now in America, but it simply does not get reported as such (for predictable reasons). Churches are burned. Christians are shot and killed. House churches are targeted. And Christians are losing jobs… all in America. Yes, Christians in America are really being persecuted.

So, Christians ought to hear the sober conclusion Ellis reached:

“This is not a cause for despair. We may never experience what the global church faces, but it teaches us that the culture cannot despise us more than we can love its people… Our true goal is perseverance and faithfulness in showing forth the kingdom of God.” (Quote source here.)

Cochran also posted an article yesterday (10-31-18) on Asia Bibi titled, Asia Bibi and Why She Matters.” In his article he sums up the main points of what happened to her and her family from the time she ended up in prison in June 2009. At the end is a telling and ongoing story that goes beyond her release from prison yesterday in the last two paragraphs of his article:

Today, three Muslim judges–chief justice Mian Saqib Nisar and justices Khosa and Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel—have risked their own lives for the cause of truth and justice. In their decision, they quoted Muslim sources demonstrating that, yes, blasphemy is awful, but so, too, is falsely accusing others of it and sentencing them to death. Knowing they have righted the wrong of sentencing Asia to death, these courageous Muslim judges have now put themselves at risk of the same.

The Red Mosque in Paris, the Islamist TLP in Pakistan, and Muslims throughout the region have little interest in justice. They demand blood. They are angry. But James taught us long before Muhammad was born that the anger of man does not bring about the righteousness of God. May the Lord strengthen all people of good will to protect Asia, her family, and these courageous Muslim judges and against the bloodthirsty mobs. (Quote source here.)

After nine and a half years in prison, Asia Bibi is finally free, but there is still a world-at-large she and her family must navigate. Jesus said to his disciples (and he says to us who believe in him today), “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (see John 16:25-33; this is verse 33).

In this world those who follow after Jesus Christ will have tribulation. Jesus said so and that’s a given, not an option. The story of Asia Bibi sunk into my soul years ago, and over the years I have prayed with ongoing passion for her release from prison as have thousands of others who were aware of her story. Her prison was a physical prison cell isolated from others. Here in America, at least at this point in time, our prisons look a lot different, and often we do not recognize them for what they are until something comes along that turns our world upside down.

Asia Bibi ended up in prison cell for all those years because a coworker lied about her, and a lot of others wanted to keep her down and in prison for the sole reason that she was a Christian in a predominantly Muslim country. In America the type of persecution that happened to her is done here through workplace bullying by coworkers that often leads to losing one’s job and leading to chronic unemployment, a ruined reputation, financial difficulties, housing issues, and homelessness. And that’s just one side of the persecution taking place right here in America on a regular basis.

As Cochran stated above, “persecution does happen now in America, but it simply does not get reported as such (for predictable reasons). Churches are burned. Christians are shot and killed. House churches are targeted. And Christians are losing jobs… all in America. Yes, Christians in America are really being persecuted.”

This is a sobering blog post but it needs to be sobering. I’ll end this post with the words from Jesus stated above–In the world you will have tribulation….

But take heart . . .

I have overcome . . .

The world . . . .

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

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

Being Intentional

Being intentional means doing something “with intention or on purpose” (see definition at this link). It can be something good, or bad, or anywhere in between, and it is done on purpose and with awareness that we are doing it. Romans 8:28 is the classic “intentional” verse for Christians. It’s about God’s intentions towards those of us who are believers in Jesus Christ. That verse states:

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

Ephesians 5:1-20 gives us our response in being intentional followers of Jesus Christ. While what is written it’s not popular in today’s world (it never has been), Here are those verses:

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said:

“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is intentional living as a Christian. It’s not a tightrope walk or a list of rules to be followed, but a way of life that blooms from a relationship with God. It stems from a willing heart and mind, and the key is found in verse 10–“find out what pleases the Lord.” While we are certainly not perfect at it all of the time, it is the direction we should be heading in. And it’s not done out a sense of legalism or following rules. It is done because God calls us to live that way.

An article titled What is Intentional Living?” on Family Life Resources, a network of 40 Christian Radio Stations, states:

Intentional living is a lot like a GPS system found in many cars. It shows you the path to where you want to go. A GPS requires putting in the right destination, where you are headed. It also has a beginning point. A GPS knows where you are starting your journey. And once you enter a destination, it calculates a route, a path for you to follow. In the same way, Intentional Living points you toward the path in God’s Word. Psalm 119:105 says, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” (NIV)

The key to “intentional living” is found in Ephesians 5:10, “Figure out what will please Christ, and then do it” (The Message). It’s a roadmap for life. When put into practice each and every day, living intentionally changes your life.

You can experience the best God has for you when you live intentionally. Intentionality happens when you combine information, insight and action.

  • Information: gathering the facts you need to know about the situation. It’s your thinking.
  • Insight: looking at the situation in a new, heartfelt way. This insight often comes from Scripture; it also represents how we relate at an emotional level with other people and with God. It’s how you feel.
  • Action: doing something with the information and insight you’ve gathered. Without action, nothing happens. It’s what you do.
  • A balance of intentional Thinking, Feeling and Doing will result in an extraordinary life filled with peace, passion and progress.

Even though we have a path to follow, it’s easy to get so turned around in this world that we don’t know where we’re going. Always remember that God does the saving through His Son Jesus on the cross. The Bible says we are saved by grace through faith. (Ephesians 2:8 NIV)

So, there’s nothing we can do to earn salvation. But we do show our faith by how we live our lives. We decide how we’re going to think and what we’re going to do when we wake up every day. By taking responsibility for our own thoughts, emotions and actions, the journey of intentional living has begun.

And, the best is yet to come in the five essential areas of life: Faith, Family, Health, Finances and Work. When you apply the teaching in Ephesians 5:10 to each area, you will embark on the intentional life in Christ that you desire. (Quote source here.)

In another article titled, Is ‘Intentional’ the Christian Woman’s New Perfectionism?” by Brenda Rodgers, wife, mom, and blogger at BrendaRodgers.com, she makes a very valid point that being intentional is not about perfectionism. In her article she states:

In some ways my new habits of intentional living were helpful. I discovered areas of my life where I had been flippant and lazy. I realized that a dessert every day is probably not the healthiest choice and that my words to my husband often do come across as disrespectful.

However, there was another part of me that began to revert back to a pattern of behavior that I thought I had buried – a pattern of perfectionism. In my efforts to be intentional with my life, I started trying to control every aspect of it. I thought that the more intentional I was, the more smoothly my life would run.

Intentional living became a mask for perfectionism….

Living intentionally has nothing to do with being perfect and everything to do with knowing who qualifies us. Colossians 1:12-13 says, “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” Our behavior or works never qualifies us. Only God qualifies us. When we know who qualifies us, then we are willingly and freely intentional in other areas of our lives without the bondage of perfectionism.

Since God qualifies us, we no longer have to focus on intentionality in all areas of our life, but just in our relationship with Jesus. This is made clear in Proverbs 9:10. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” To fear the Lord means to honor Him, to put Him first, to revere Him above all else. When we fear the Lord, we gain wisdom into how to be intentional in our lives. As Psalm 90:12 states, wisdom comes from numbering our days. Numbering our days is being intentional in our relationship with Jesus because it acknowledges His sovereignty. The wisdom we gain from our intentional relationship with Him shows us how to be intentional in other areas of our lives. Proverbs 3:5-6Proverbs 16:3, and Psalm 143:8 also explain that being intentional with God produces wisdom for being intentional in all areas of life.

If you’re like me and have been busy trying to be “intentional” in your life, ask yourself if it is a mask for perfectionism. Anything we do in Jesus’ name should bring us joy – not burden. I, however, experienced anything but joy. Instead, I felt anxious to produce the perfect system that in turn would produce the perfect results.

Today make a commitment to only be intentional in your relationship with Jesus. Allow intentionality in other areas of your life to be from the overflow of your relationship with Him. (Quote source and entire article here.)

In a blog post titled, On Being Intentional,” by Pastor Steve (no other identification is given but I assume the author is a pastor), he writes:

Too many things in our lives just happen – we don’t plan for them, we don’t anticipate them, we don’t even want some of them, they just happen. Even things that are part of our regular routine have a degree of ambiguity about them. We know that we have to show up at work at a certain time but then what? We don’t know – we just react to whatever crosses our path.

And that’s often how we live life – unintentionally. Life just happens and we react to it. Sure there will always be a degree of uncertainty in life. You can’t plan for every event, especially when you depend on other people. But what about the areas of life where you have a choice? What about the areas under your control? Things like – oh, let’s say encouraging someone, or showing kindness, or helping someone.

Here’s my suggestion – as Christians let’s begin to live life intentionally. I think this is the point of scripture that is often missed. When the Bible tells us to be something or to do something the idea is that we have to intentionally plan to be/do that thing. The “one another” passages of the Bible come to mind:

Serve one anotherGalatians 5:13
Be kind and compassionate to one anotherEphesians 4:32
Comfort one another1 Thessalonians 4:18
Love one anotherJohn 13:34
Pray for one anotherJames 5:16
Care for one another1 Corinthians 12:25
Build up one another1 Thessalonians 5:11
Forgive one anotherEphesians 4:32

These passages, and others, take for granted that we are being intentional in the way we live. It’s difficult to do any of these things without some forethought and planning on our part. I think that God wants us to live intentional Christian lives.

How would your life change if you became more intentional? If you planned to encourage someone today instead of waiting until the opportunity presented itself? If you planned to serve someone even if they haven’t expressed a need? If you planned to love someone even if you don’t see any specific reason other than that God put them in front of you today? More importantly how would the lives of other people be affected if you became more intentional?

God is a God of the intentional. He plans and He acts according to His plan. As His people we also need to be intentional. We need to plan how we will express His love to others in concrete, specific, intentional ways. (Quote source here.)

“God is a God of the intentional”…. I’ll end this post with the words from 1 Corinthians 5:17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. . . .

The old has passed away . . .

Behold . . .

The new has come. . . .

YouTube Video: “Intentional” by Travis Greene:

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Running the Race

The author of the Book of Hebrews in the New Testament opens Chapter 12 with the following verses (vv-1-4, NLT):

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith [see Hebrews 11], let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.

Opposition comes not only from our own propensity for “the sin that so easily trips us up,” but also from others trying to keep us down, and it is an active and ongoing part of our lives. The author of Hebrews states that as Christians we should “run with endurance the race God has set before us.” And the only way to do this is to “keep our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.”

Dictionary.com defines opposition as follows:

  1. the action of opposing, resisting, or combating.
  2. antagonism or hostility.
  3. a person or group of people opposing, criticizing, or protesting something, someone, or another group.
  4. the major political party opposed to the party in power and seeking to replace it.
  5. the act of placing opposite, or the state or position of being placed opposite.
  6. the act of opposing, or the state of being opposed by way of comparison or contrast.

On this subject of opposition, the other day I ran across a book first published in 2006 with a title that piqued my interest–The Confident Woman–at Half Price Books. It was also at a bargain price ($3.00 for a hardcover edition in excellent shape) so I couldn’t resist, and it is by a very well known Christian woman author, teacher, and speaker who’s name you’ll recognize as soon as I mention it. One of the themes in this book is how to deal with opposition.

In her book, The Confident Woman,” Joyce Meyer, author, Bible teacher and speaker, and President of Joyce Meyer Ministries, wrote the following in Chapter 15 titled, “Winners Never Quit” under the subtitle of “Opposition Will Always Be There” on pp. 211-212 (first edition 2006):

In the beginning of my ministry, God gave me a dream. In the dream, I was driving down a highway and I noticed cars pulling off. Some were parking and others were turning around to go back where they came from I assumed there must be trouble up ahead but could not see what it was. As I boldly continued to drive forward I saw a bridge with water from the river below starting to flow across it. I realized that the people in the cars were afraid they might get hurt or get somewhere and not be able to get back. My dram ended with me sitting in my car looking first at the water-covered bridge, back where I had been, and to the side of the road, trying to decide if I should park, retreat or keep moving forward. Then I woke up.

God used that dram to show me that there will always be opposition when pressing toward a goal. There will always be opportunity to park and go no farther or turn around and give up. It was up to me to decide each time if I would give up or go on. That dream has helped me many times to press on when difficulties came and I was tempted to quit. I have decided that even though I don’t always get the result that I hope for, I will never quit! Determination will get you a lot farther than talent. So if you feel you lack in talent, take heart. All you need to win in life is more determination than anyone else you know. (Quote source, “The Confident Woman,” pp, 211-212)

Opposition comes to everyone at some point in life and maybe from lots of people and places throughout life. However, we as Christians are in good company as there isn’t one instance from Genesis to Revelation where those who follow after God and Jesus Christ get to just “coast along” in life (also reminiscent of John Bunyan‘s allegorical book, Pilgrim’s Progress,” first published in 1678).

In the opening of Chapter 15, Joyce starts with the following story regarding the beginning of her ministry in the St. Louis area:

Quitting is not an option for the confident woman. She must decide what she wants or needs to do and make her mind up that she will finish her source. You will experience some opposition no matter what you attempt to do in life. The Apostle Paul said that when doors of opportunity opened to him, opposition often came with it (1 Corinthians 16:9). Confidence believes that it can handle whatever comes its way; it doesn’t fear what has not happened yet.

I still remember the first Sunday morning I ministered at a church we started in the inner city of St. Louis. Our goal was to help the hurting people in that area and give them hope. I stood in the pulpit that day and announced loudly, “I’m here to stay. I knew others who had tried to do similar works and, after a period of time, gave up. I made up my mind when I started that I would finish.

We have endured opposition. Local churches got upset because a new church was coming into the area. They were afraid that we would take their congregations. There comment was, “We don’t need a big ministry coming in here and taking our people.” Attitudes such as that are fear-based and foolish.

One of our staff members was injured in a drive-by shooting, but we still didn’t leave and neither did he.

Occasionally, members of the congregation had windows broken in their cars during the church service, but they did not leave. A couple of times cars were even stolen, but we still stayed.

The pastor was caught in an affair with another employee and we became more determined than ever. We said, “Even if we have to start all over, we are not going to leave.” Fear said, “the people in the congregation will leave when they here this.” I said, “If anyone leaves, God will send two more to replace them.” I addressed the congregation and openly shared the truth with them. I told them we would get someone good to pastor the church, that Satan wanted to use the situation to divide the church, but we weren’t going to let that happen. People really appreciated the honesty and no one left. The church has grown and is one thousand members strong at this time [circa 2006].

When you attempt to do something and fear rears its ugly head, you must remember that the wold goal of fear is to stop you. Fear wants you to run, to withdraw and to hide. God wants you to finish what you began.

The Apostle Paul was given a job to do and he was determined to do it even through he knew that it meant imprisonment and suffering. he kept his eyes on the finish line, not on what he knew he would go through. he said he wasn’t moved by the opposition, but that his goal was to finish his course with joy. Paul not only wanted to finish what he started, he wanted to enjoy the journey. Enjoyment is not possible if we are afraid all the time. Fear brings present torment concerning future situations that may not happen anyway. Paul knew that whatever did happen, God would be faithful to strengthen him so that he might patiently endure it.

If we stare at our giants too much, the fear of them will overtake us. Keep your eyes on the prize, not the pain. In the Bible, Paul explains how they were pressed on every side and troubled and oppressed in every way. They could see no way out but they refused to give up. he explains in 2 Corinthians 4:9 how they were persecuted but not deserted or left by God to stand alone. Paul said, “We are struck down to the ground, but never struck out and destroyed.” I can feel my heart being stirred with courage even as I listen to Paul. he made his mind up that no matter what happened he was going to finish his course. Paul explained that they did not get discouraged (utterly spiritless, exhausted, and wearied out through fear) because they looked not at the things they could see but to the things they could not see (2 Corinthians 4:8, 9, 16, 18),

If we stare at our problems too much, think and talk about them too much, they are likely to defeat us. Glance at your problems but stare at Jesus. We don’t deny the existence of problems, we don’t ignore them, but we do not permit them to rule us. Any problem you have is subject to change. All things are possible with God!

When David came up against the giant Goliath, he did not stand for hours looking at the giant wondering how to win the battle. The Bible says that he ran quickly to the battle line, all the time talking about the greatness of God and declaring his victory ahead of time. David did not run away from his giant; he courageously ran toward him.

Robert Schuller [American televangelist, pastor, motivational speaker, and author–he died in 2015 after this book was published] said, “If you listen to your fears, you will die never knowing what a great person you might have been.”

If David had run from Goliath he would never have been King of Israel. He was anointed by God to be king twenty years before he wore the crown. During those years he faced his giants and proved that he had the tenacity to endure difficulty without quitting.

Did David feel any fear as he approached Goliath? I think he did. In David’s writings he never claimed to be free from the feelings of fear. As a matter of fact he talked about being afraid:

What time I am afraid, I will have confidence in and put my trust and reliance in You.

By [the help of] God I will praise His word; on God I lean, rely, and confidently put my trust; I will not fear. What can man, who is flesh, do to me? (Psalm 56:3-4, AMPC)

David was clearly saying that even though he felt fear, he chose to be confident!

Paul said that we are each running a race and that we should run it to win. Winning requires preparation, training, sacrifice and a willing to press past our opposition. It often required failing many times but continuing, always keeping going, despite any opposition we many encounter along the way. (Quote course, “The Confident Woman,” pp. 203-206).

In an article titled, Run the Race to Finish,” published on August 11, 2017 on DesiringGod.org by Jennifer Brogdon, guest contributor and a former collegiate distance runner, she states:

Runners not only properly nourish their body and recover well, but they also work hard to build endurance. They endure long runs. They do speed workouts. They lift weights. They stretch. They push through pain. They have sore muscles and tired lungs.

Likewise, as Christians, we work hard to strengthen our faith to endure the race of faith. We must seek him daily in his word and in prayer. We must seek fellowship among other believers and let our fellow church members encourage us in the faith. We must welcome rebuke and embrace trials. Personal discipline is essential if we are to keep our eyes focused on Jesus.

Every ounce counts in a foot race. The lighter the endurance runner, the swifter the runner. The same is true in the Christian life. Many things slow us down and eventually stall us in the race of faith. In my case, chasing self-centered joy and personal accolades. Sin clings closely. It’s hard to get off, and it’s heavy. We lay aside every weight and clingy sin. The farther we are from sin, the closer we are to Jesus.

When we sin, we take our eyes off Jesus and put them on ourselves. We choose to do our will instead of his. But we can’t make it to the finish line without looking to Jesus—the author and finisher of our faith. When we set our eyes firmly on him, we will not grow weary in the fight against sin and in the race to persevere in faith. We remember the crown waiting for us in glory and continue running. (Quote source and complete article available at this link.)

I’ll end this post with a quote from Bill Crowder from his 2010 devotion titled, Running the Race,” in Our Daily Bread

The Christian’s race . . .

Is not a sprint . . .

But a marathon . . . .

YouTube Video: “Standing Up for Something” by Andra Day (feat. Common):

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The Last Word

The title of this blog post actually comes from Isaiah 55:10-11 which states the following:

As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my [God’s] word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

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

Merritt opens his article with the following statement:

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

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

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

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

Merritt goes on to state:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On this issue, Merritt states:

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

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

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

That you may know . . .

How you ought to answer . . .

Each one . . . .

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

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Photo #2 credit here

Real Power

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Is the Holy Spirit?

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

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

Many Gifts, One Spirit

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

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

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

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

In Jerusalem . . .

And in all Judea and Samaria . . .

And to the ends of the earth . . . .

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

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

 

Unconditional Love

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

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

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

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

Unconditional = Selfless

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

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

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

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

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

Wishing The Best For The Beloved

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

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

It First Requires Self-love

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

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

Believing In The Good That One Possesses

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

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

It Can’t Be Said, Only Felt

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

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

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

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

A Relationship Does Not Have To Be Unconditional Too

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

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

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

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

You Can Experience Negative Emotions At The Same Time

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

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

Unconditional Love From A Spiritual Perspective

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

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

There Should Be No Guilt Where It Is Lacking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Garcia then states the following practical considerations:

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

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

Ministry, miracles, and martyrdom are meaningless without love.

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

There is a difference between love and lust.

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

Love is characterized by forgiveness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Without love . . .

Everything else . . .

Is meaningless . . . .

YouTube Video: “Whole Heart” by Brandon Heath:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Life is Short

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Life is short.”

You hear it all the time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have a problem with this.

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

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

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

How would you expect James to follow up that statement?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, what is James’ exhortation?

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

No.

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

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

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

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

Act justly . . .

Love mercy . . .

Walk humbly . . . .

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

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Childlike Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) Children ask honest questions

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

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

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

Childlike faith asks honest questions.

2) Children ask openly

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

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

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

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

Childlike faith asks openly.

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

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

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

They start with total trust then grow out of it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Childlike faith trusts the parents.

5) Children trust and find satisfaction with parents.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faith Like a Child?

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

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

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

Childlike Faith vs. Childish Faith 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lord protects those of childlike faith . . .

I was facing death . . .

And He saved me . . . .

YouTube Video: “Giants Fall” by Francesca Battistelli:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Fuzzy Faith Fails (Revisited)

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

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

Fuzzy Faith Fails

(published July 8, 2011)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stand firm . . . .

And let nothing . . .

Move you . . . .

YouTube Video: “Good Fight” by Unspoken:

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

 

Gregory C. Cochran

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