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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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On Judging Others

Judging others is a favorite pastime we all indulge in on a very regular basis whether we acknowledge that we do it or not (and we do). And if we think we are not guilty of it, here’s something to think about from a 2013 article titled, Quick to Judge, Slow to Understand,” by Bryan Calabro, managing editor-in-chief (2012-2013) of The Beacon Wilkes campus paper (comprised of Wilkes University students who are advised by a full-time faculty member of the Communication Studies Department):

Have you ever heard the saying “treat others the way you want to be treated?” or “don’t judge a book by its cover?” They have probably been pounded in our heads for years along with a million other things, and still continue to be. The question is, how often do we follow them?

As a society, we judge others too often and too quickly, and we are well aware of it. The second we cross paths with someone else, we are analyzing them and making our own assumptions. You’re probably thinking, well, it’s a part of human nature, and you’re right. However, that doesn’t make it right.

Take these situations for example, which is something I saw on Facebook and really made me stop and think:

A 15 year-old girl holds hands with her one-year-old son. People call her a slut, but no one knows she was raped at 13.

People call another guy fat. No one knows he has a serious disease causing him to be overweight.

People call an old man ugly. No one knew he had a serious injury to his face while fighting for our country in the war.

People call a woman bald but they don’t know she has cancer.

I didn’t just stop and look at this in passing, I even reposted it because I felt others needed to see it. Many of us are at fault here, and sometimes we don’t even realize we are doing it. But there are no excuses. The bottom line is, we are too quick to judge.

As someone who works at a grocery store and deals with the public, I can tell you that making judgments about others, even just based on their appearance is something that happens constantly. I see it all of the time, and it doesn’t just happen in grocery stores. It happens literally everywhere you go, and we are being judged in return. I will admit I am just as guilty as the next person for doing it.

The reasons for which people judge others are so numerous, they could probably fill a small book. We tend to judge those who are different than us, including those who have disabilities, speech impediments, a different sexual orientation, look different or don’t seem intelligent … and the list goes on and on. Even criticizing the way people dress or how they do their hair or makeup can make them feel bad about themselves.

Yet we still do it.

Obviously we do this because we feel others are different, but maybe we also do it because we don’t think they measure up to our standards or think like us. Maybe we just have nothing better to do than place judgment on others, because it seems easier to follow the crowd than be the bigger person and be nice.

The worst part is that we evaluate others without actually knowing the circumstances or the fact that the person could be a very good person and have a lot to give. The truth is you don’t know what other people have been through or what they are going through. Therefore, you don’t have the right to make judgments. Not everyone is willing to talk openly about their personal life or things they cannot control. We shouldn’t jump to conclusions based on things we don’t know.

This is not just about judging others, but it is also about making them feel unwanted or unaccepted which is perhaps one of the worst feelings a person can have. I have always felt bad for those I see sitting alone at a lunch table in school or sitting alone anywhere, particularly kids and elderly people. It always makes my heart melt a little.

We often do not think about the ways in which our negative attitudes and actions make others feel. Not only should we consider this before we decide to think or act negatively, but we should also think about how we are going to feel about ourselves afterwards, and likely regret our hurtful words or actions.
We also don’t want to be the reason behind someone’s feelings getting hurt.

Obviously this isn’t right, and I’ve personally been putting much thought into this recently, which has made me realize how much room I have to improve and become a better person. There is always room to be better. I’ve certainly been looking at things differently.

Everything we go through in life is a learning experience, and so this is as well. We should always strive to change our ways, maybe some we are not so proud of, because it can and will backfire if we are not careful.

People will always be judgmental, but we can always strive to be better. If you take anything from this article, let it be a lesson to always be kind to others, and that means in both words and actions. The next time you are about to cast judgment on someone, remember the golden rule and how you would feel it you were in that position. You might think twice about making that judgment. (Quote source here.)

All of us can recognize ourselves in those words expressed above. And not only do we judge others, but we also judge others who we think are judging us, too. And we judge others from the gossip we’ve heard about them or that has been spread about them on social media and other sources.

As noted in an answer to a question regarding judging others on GotQuestions.org:

Jesus’ command not to judge others could be the most widely quoted of His sayings, even though it is almost invariably quoted in complete disregard of its context. Here is Jesus’ statement: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1). Many people use this verse in an attempt to silence their critics, interpreting Jesus’ meaning as “You don’t have the right to tell me I’m wrong.” Taken in isolation, Jesus’ command “Do not judge” does indeed seem to preclude all negative assessments. However, there is much more to the passage than those three words.

The Bible’s command that we not judge others does not mean we cannot show discernment. Immediately after Jesus says, “Do not judge,” He says, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs” (Matthew 7:6). A little later in the same sermon, He says, “Watch out for false prophets. . . . By their fruit you will recognize them” (verses 15–16). How are we to discern who are the “dogs” and “pigs” andfalse prophetsunless we have the ability to make a judgment call on doctrines and deeds? Jesus is giving us permission to tell right from wrong.

Also, the Bible’s command that we not judge others does not mean all actions are equally moral or that truth is relative. The Bible clearly teaches that truth is objective, eternal, and inseparable from God’s character. Anything that contradicts the truth is a lie—but, of course, to call something a “lie” is to pass judgment. To call adultery or murder a sin is likewise to pass judgment—but it’s also to agree with God. When Jesus said not to judge others, He did not mean that no one can identify sin for what it is, based on God’s definition of sin.

And the Bible’s command that we not judge others does not mean there should be no mechanism for dealing with sin. The Bible has a whole book entitled Judges. The judges in the Old Testament were raised up by God Himself (Judges 2:18). The modern judicial system, including its judges, is a necessary part of society. In saying, “Do not judge,” Jesus was not saying, “Anything goes.”

Elsewhere, Jesus gives a direct command to judge: “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly” (John 7:24). Here we have a clue as to the right type of judgment versus the wrong type. Taking this verse and some others, we can put together a description of the sinful type of judgment:

Superficial judgment is wrong. Passing judgment on someone based solely on appearances is sinful (John 7:24). It is foolish to jump to conclusions before investigating the facts (Proverbs 18:13). Simon the Pharisee passed judgment on a woman based on her appearance and reputation, but he could not see that the woman had been forgiven; Simon thus drew Jesus’ rebuke for his unrighteous judgment (Luke 7:36–50).

Hypocritical judgment is wrong. Jesus’ command not to judge others in Matthew 7:1 is preceded by comparisons to hypocrites (Matthew 6:2516) and followed by a warning against hypocrisy (Matthew 7:3–5). When we point out the sin of others while we ourselves commit the same sin, we condemn ourselves (Romans 2:1).

Harsh, unforgiving judgment is wrong. We are “always to be gentle toward everyone” (Titus 3:2). It is the merciful who will be shown mercy (Matthew 5:7), and, as Jesus warned, “In the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2).

Self-righteous judgment is wrong. We are called to humility, and “God opposes the proud” (James 4:6). The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector was confident in his own righteousness and from that proud position judged the publican; however, God sees the heart and refused to forgive the Pharisee’s sin (Luke 18:9–14).

Untrue judgment is wrong. The Bible clearly forbids bearing false witness (Proverbs 19:5). “Slander no one” (Titus 3:2).

Christians are often accused of “judging” or intolerance when they speak out against sin. But opposing sin is not wrong. Holding aloft the standard of righteousness naturally defines unrighteousness and draws the slings and arrows of those who choose sin over godliness. John the Baptist incurred the ire of Herodias when he spoke out against her adultery with Herod (Mark 6:18–19). She eventually silenced John, but she could not silence the truth (Isaiah 40:8).

Believers are warned against judging others unfairly or unrighteously, but Jesus commends “right judgment” (John 7:24, ESV). We are to be discerning (Colossians 1:91 Thessalonians 5:21). We are to preach the whole counsel of God, including the Bible’s teaching on sin (Acts 20:272 Timothy 4:2). We are to gently confront erring brothers or sisters in Christ (Galatians 6:1). We are to practice church discipline (Matthew 18:15–17). We are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). (Quote source here).

Along with the above information, there might also be motives behind why we judge others or pass along gossip and untruths about another person–for example, motives involving self interest at the expense of that other another person. We intentionally want to make them “look bad” to others as it will serve our purpose in some way (whether we want their job, or their significant other, or to destroy their reputation, and the list goes on). However, that gets into a whole different area on judging others that is very intentional on the part of those trying to destroy another person’s reputation, career, etc. This post is primarily about how we all judge others on a regular basis with erroneous information and judging by appearances, etc.

And, there’s no getting around the fact that we judge others constantly, presumptuously, and too often negatively. How to stop (if you want to stop)? Here’s some advice from 1 Peter 4:8-11 from The Message Bible:

Everything in the world is about to be wrapped up, so take nothing for granted. Stay wide-awake in prayer. Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless—cheerfully. Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, and he’ll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything—encores to the end of time. Oh, yes!

So remember that love covers . . .

A multitude . . .

Of sins . . . . 

YouTube Video: “Speak Life” by TobyMac:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

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Journeys Not Yet Taken

I just posted this blog post on my other blog, Reflections,” and then realized it would also be a good post to publish on this blog, too, so here it is! 🙂

One never really knows where life might lead them. We can make our plans, and things can look pretty predictable for a while, maybe even a very long time, but one never knows when circumstances might lead them in a totally different direction then they ever thought they might end up going in.

In 2013, Vic Johnson, former founder of a corporate and political communications firm, motivational speaker and author, published a book titled, It’s NEVER Too Late And You’re NEVER Too Old: 50 People Who Found Success After 50.” While I haven’t read the book, I love the title, and if I find a copy of it on sale somewhere, I’m going to buy it. Goodreads gives this brief description of the book:

“It’s never too late to be who you might have been.” ~George Eliot, 19th Century English novelist [whose real name was Mary Ann Evans]

One of the biggest hurdles people over 50 have to overcome is the mindset about their age. There’s an old cliché of “age ain’t nothin’ but a number.” But as we all know, getting older does have certain obstacles such as dwindling health, limited income, and the end of long-time careers followed by “now what in the heck do I do?”

Yes, age is the number of candles on a birthday cake, and a stark reality of things to come. But getting older isn’t…

…a deal breaker.

…a reason you can’t start a business or any other new venture.

…a limit on success.

…a valid excuse for inaction.

…a valid excuse to give up on your dreams.

Here are 50 people who overcame the very same things you are facing right now. Let them show you the way to outrageous success and happiness regardless of your age or circumstances). (Quote source here.) You’ll have to get the book to read the stories… 🙂

Truth is . . . nobody really knows what tomorrow holds whether you’re 8 or 80 or older. As the saying goes, life could turn on a dime tomorrow. And our journey could take us to the most unexpected places, no matter how old we may be.

In an article titled, 10 Reasons It’s Never Too Late to Be Who You Want to Be,” by Dr. Nikki Martinez, PsyD, LCPC, adjunct professor, consultant, and author, published in June 2017 in HuffPost, she states the following:

I can’t even explain how many people think that their dreams have passed then by. That it is too late for them to go back to school, start a business, or pursue that unique interest of theirs. The truth of the matter is that we are never too old, it is just the story and timeline we have given ourselves. We have told ourselves that certain things need to happen by a certain age, or they will never happen for us. Nothing can be further from the truth, we can choose and make our destiny at any time. Here are some inspirational stories who understand that age is merely a number, and it is never too late to accomplish them dream.

1. At 40, Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run. This was not mere luck of years of playing. This was talent, developed through many hours and many years of practice. He had a passion for something, and he kept at it until he became at the top of his field.

2. At 49, Julia Child FINALLY published her book, “Mastering the French Art of Cooking.” Anyone familiar with the life and story of Julia Child’s know that she spent MANY years writing and re-writing, being rejected, looking for her place, and then FINALLY someone saw in her what had been there all along. Although it did not come until the second half of her life, she became one of the most beloved and respected chefs of our lifetime.

3. At Age 60, George Bernard Shaw finished writing, “Heartbreak House.” This was considered by many to be the greatest work of his career, but it took almost his entire career to come up with the right combination that resonated with people. Imagine working your whole life to finally come into your own? It was clearly possible.

4. At age 72, Margaret Ringenberg made a flight around the globe. While this may not be a common name, it is a very uncommon accomplishment. To have wanted something for so long, to have waited so many year, and to say I will not give up on this dream due to a simple matter of age.

5. At age 77, yes you heard this right 77, John Glenn became the oldest astronaut to ever go into space. Something about this just leaves me in awe. When I think of the training, the physicality, the mental abilities, and the sheer drive to do something in your lifetime, I am continually impressed that he was able to accomplish this. Something that many would never be able to do.

6. At age 86, Katherine Pelton swam the 200 meter butterfly (a stroke I struggle with period), in 1 minute and 14 seconds. Do the words astounding come to mind? Something that many of us could not achieve, something that  many of us tell ourselves we cannot more importantly. She is living proof that we can accomplish great things with practice and perseverance.

7. At age 92, Paul Spangler finished his 14th marathon! One is an accomplishment, 14 a great feat for anyone, but for a 92-year-old man to be out there keeping up with the most elite, and those training, what is our excuse for not getting up and working out in the morning. It takes a little steam out of all the excuses, the snoozes, and the tomorrows.

8. Dorothy Davenhill Hirsch became the oldest person the North Pole aboard a Russian Nuclear ice breaker. Talk about refusing to leave something off the bucket list. That is amazing. Something many of us will never achieve in our lifetimes, she MADE happen. This is not to say we cannot make these things happen for ourselves, it is just that we choose not to. Look what choosing and perseverance get you!

9. Dr. Leila Denmark worked as a pediatrician until her chosen retirement at the age of 103. Talk about loving what you do. A perfect example of when you love what you do, it is not a chore, it is a joy. One that you want to do as long as you are able. I think we all hope to find a calling like that!

10. Talk about a lifelong goal realized! Bertha Wood, born in 1905, dreamed her whole life of writing and publishing a book. This dream was finally realized in 2005, and was based on her memoirs. I suppose there was a great deal to be said in the 90 years it took her to write it!

The common thread of all these individuals is persistence, belief in self, and not putting time limits, age limits, or any type of constraint upon themselves. They simply decided they had a goal they were going to accomplish, and they kept trying until they had. It shows that all of us that it is never too late to do what we want to do, and be who we want to be. (Quote source here.)

So how about that, folks! Persistence and perseverance, and lets not forget hope! James 1:2-8 gives us some very good instruction about perseverance:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

So ask . . . and believe. And don’t doubt . . . ever. Right before Jesus told the parable about the persistent widow and the unjust judge in Luke 18:1-8, his very first words to his disciples were that they should always pray and not give up (verse 1). That goes for us today, too.

So if you’re reading this, you’re not dead yet . . . 🙂 And if you’re not dead yet, you never know what the future holds regardless of your current circumstances, regardless of your age, and regardless of any other circumstances you want to use as an excuse. Trust God and pray. Now would be a good time! As the Apostle Paul wrote from a prison cell, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phillipians 4:13), so we, too, can do the same . . . .

So always pray . . .

And never give up, never give up . . .

Never give up . . . .

YouTube Video: “Miracle” by Unspoken:

Photo #1 credit here (incredible 11-minute YouTube video at this link):

Photo #2 credit here

God on the Move

I just finished a blog post titled, The Long and Winding Road,” on my new blog site when I realized I wasn’t done with that particular topic. I finished what I had on that blog as it fit in with the theme for that blog, but there is more to that story, and the rest of it will fit in nicely on this blog.

I found the following article published in 2014 titled, God on the Move: The Long and Winding Road–Acts 23,” by Randall D. Smith, Ph.D., Professor/Director of Great Commission Bible Institute, Director of Christian Travel Study Abroad, Ltd., and teaching pastor at Grace Church of Sebring, on his teaching blog titled, The Wandering Shepherd.” I didn’t run into his article until I was just about finished with my previous blog post (mentioned above), but as I looked it over, I knew I wanted to continue on with the theme of “the long and winding road” that I started on my earlier post , so this is a continuation of my blog post titled, The Long and Winding Road.”

Dr. Smith takes the theme of “The Long and Winding Road” as it relates to the Apostle Paul’s life, specifically in Acts 23, in his article,God on the Move: The Long and Winding Road–Acts 23.” For a brief outline on the background of Paul you can click on this link. After Paul’s conversation on the Damascus Road to Jesus Christ, for the remainder of his life (approximately three decades) he went on four missionary journeys (click on this link for info on those journeys). It was after Paul’s third missionary journey that he was imprisoned and bound for Rome. As Acts 23 opens up, he is standing before the Sanhedrin addressing them. Here is the text from Acts 23:

Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.”At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!”

Those who were standing near Paul said, “How dare you insult God’s high priest!”

Paul replied, “Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: ‘Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.’”

Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees believe all these things.)

There was a great uproar, and some of the teachers of the law who were Pharisees stood up and argued vigorously. “We find nothing wrong with this man,” they said. “What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks.

The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”

The Plot to Kill Paul

The next morning some Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. More than forty men were involved in this plot. They went to the chief priests and the elders and said, “We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul. Now then, you and the Sanhedrin petition the commander to bring him before you on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about his case. We are ready to kill him before he gets here.”

But when the son of Paul’s sister heard of this plot, he went into the barracks and told Paul.

Then Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the commander; he has something to tell him.” So he took him to the commander.

The centurion said, “Paul, the prisoner, sent for me and asked me to bring this young man to you because he has something to tell you.”

The commander took the young man by the hand, drew him aside and asked, “What is it you want to tell me?”

He said: “Some Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin tomorrow on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about him. Don’t give in to them, because more than forty of them are waiting in ambush for him. They have taken an oath not to eat or drink until they have killed him. They are ready now, waiting for your consent to their request.”

The commander dismissed the young man with this warning: “Don’t tell anyone that you have reported this to me.”

Paul Transferred to Caesarea

Then he called two of his centurions and ordered them, “Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at nine tonight. Provide horses for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix.”

He wrote a letter as follows:

Claudius Lysias,

To His Excellency, Governor Felix:

Greetings.

This man was seized by the Jews and they were about to kill him, but I came with my troops and rescued him, for I had learned that he is a Roman citizen. I wanted to know why they were accusing him, so I brought him to their Sanhedrin. I found that the accusation had to do with questions about their law, but there was no charge against him that deserved death or imprisonment. When I was informed of a plot to be carried out against the man, I sent him to you at once. I also ordered his accusers to present to you their case against him.

So the soldiers, carrying out their orders, took Paul with them during the night and brought him as far as Antipatris. The next day they let the cavalry go on with him, while they returned to the barracks. When the cavalry arrived in Caesarea, they delivered the letter to the governor and handed Paul over to him. The governor read the letter and asked what province he was from. Learning that he was from Cilicia, he said, “I will hear your case when your accusers get here.” Then he ordered that Paul be kept under guard in Herod’s palace.

As we can see, Paul is in a very dire situation. On the one hand, the Lord has made it clear to Paul that he would make it to Rome to testify about him (Jesus Christ), yet on the other hand, many were trying to kill him before he ever gets that far.

In this chapter, Dr. Smith gives us a key principle which is this–“God’s will for us is not only about us–it also fits into His larger plan.” He goes on to state:

Christians need humility when looking at the experiences of their life. We often don’t know where things are going, even though we know where all things will end. The Bible offers us the ultimate destination to world history, and to our own final state – but the path to get there is not always clear. We need to be careful not to oversell our understanding of events as they come across our path….

The Apostle Paul faced a mob but was assured by Jesus that he was Rome bound. The encounter with Jesus–like the one long before at Corinth that kept him ministering during the second mission journey–settled Paul. He would not die at the hands of the Sanhedrin. His time was not near; some of his work for the Kingdom was still incomplete. At the same time, the path Jesus took him on was neither straight nor easy. Why not? The answer lies in the truth that God was doing other things – He was also providing solutions to other problems and addressing other needs while dealing with Paul in his series of personal defenses of his faith, imprisonments and delays to be heard.

In Acts 23, Paul stood to defend himself before what had to be considered, from the Jewish perspective, the premiere educational and religious institution of his day. These were ostensibly the leaders of God’s people, yet nothing was as it seemed that day – and it often isn’t in our journey, either. God was at work staging the events – and Paul had to learn to lean on God’s provision – no matter how “long and winding” the road.

Look at how things were so different than they appeared to be. What looked like a setback in Paul’s arrest was actually God providing a paid bodyguard service for him to deliver a message to the Jewish leadership (Acts 23:1-10).

At this stage in the story, Paul had been “rescued” by Roman guards out of a mob scene at the Temple, taken to the garrison building, and held overnight as much for his own protection as to stop any rioting in the city. In the morning, the Apostle was walked under guard to the Sanhedrin chamber…. We “enter the scene” with Paul on a witness dais, while the assembly of leaders was gathering in a less formal array – for not everyone had their full regalia on, signifying their various positions (read their exchange in verses 1-5)….

There are two important thoughts I want to highlight about this brief exchange. First, we must be careful to be humble even when what we are saying is right, and what they are saying is wrong. Many believers spend time learning an apologetic of the faith, and become emboldened to speak truth in difficult circumstances – that is a good thing. At the same time, we who spend so much time around other believers need to be very careful about how we sound, and how we react in particular, to the world. The best evidences are lost in discourteous behavior.

…Let me raise a specific caution flag about how you and I answer when being “struck in the face”. The unanticipated response, and especially the cruel one can drive us to overreact, and we must understand that is ever a temptation. If we do step out of line, we should be humble and accept correction. Meekness is “power under control” – and Jesus said the meek are blessed. In fact, in all of the Gospel accounts, the only self-description of His character Jesus offered was that wor–”I am ‘meek’ and lowly of heart.”

A second truth can be gleaned from the short exchange. We need to learn that God isn’t always doing what we think He is! Think of it! There is certainly irony in the “Apostle to the Gentiles” getting a Roman escort to the Sanhedrin that was currently accusing him of taking a Gentile into the holy precinct of the Temple. This account drips with irony! They had Gentiles in their chambers, but Paul never did. Yet they accused him!

[Now read verses 6-10God sent Paul with a specific message to give to the Sanhedrin leadership – and it was successfully delivered. The message was that Jesus’ resurrection was their key offense, but not all Jews disagreed with it. That belief didn’t put Paul and other Messianic believers “outside” of Judaism – so they needed to be careful about tossing them all away as though they were not faithful Jews. Some who were not believers began to defend Paul, and the meeting escalated. The Roman commander stepped in and “pulled the plug” on the meeting.

Yet that is not the only thing that was not as it appeared… Paul was whisked away to a quiet place, his heart pumping fast from the whole highly-charged incident. Eventually, he settled down and the day passed by. Follow Paul down the hall to a place to rest, and Luke recorded what happened next… What looked like an arrest was actually a guarded and secure meeting place to meet with God (read verse 11).

The Roman tax sesterces provided a bed in seclusion for Paul to have a meeting with Jesus. That simple verse reminds me of how Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego got a private meeting hall provided by Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3. Now it’s true, the meeting hall looked like a fiery furnace – but nevertheless God provided a place at government expense to meet the Savior and have a chat. Here God did it again!

What looked like a discouraging abandonment by family and friends was actually the stage for an encouraging opportunity to show hidden support (read verses 12-15). We know much about Paul and his companions, but little about his extended family. Interestingly enough, in this one instance we see one of his nephews saving Paul. The plot had to bother him a bit, but after all – this wasn’t exactly new to him. He had been dodging men who wanted his head for years! The encouragement was that God used his family – however distant to him in belief at the time – to send a message of rescue. Yet, there is more…

What looked like a threat to his life was actually a select invitation to an otherwise “closed” palace (read Acts 23:17-24). Paul eventually had to stand before Roman authorities – so this back story bode well for Paul. It was clear, at least in the report of the commander, that Paul was being “set up” and the Roman guards were preventing an injustice. Seeing this, the commander responded (read verse 23).

Paul is staying in style and traveling in the most secure fashion he has ever traveled – and all this was provided by God! It is true that he was not free to leave yet, but it was clear in the narrative that the commander helped Paul escape alive, and his continued intervention kept Paul well.

We have to remember that God doesn’t always provide the way we think He is going to – because there are issues beyond the scope of our own understanding that He is also carefully monitoring and caring for.

By all accounts, eagles are very responsive to their eaglets. The “mother eagle” dotes over the eggs, then over the hatchlings. That same “mother” knows that to help them, she must force them into discomfort to get them flying. She does so by taking them as high as possible and then drops them. They have never flown before, so they plummet downward. As they gain their senses, the ground is approaching quickly, so she swoops to save them and takes them high in the air again. After several drops, they begin to use their wings to fly. She is providing a way for them to live as they grow. She is giving them experience while keeping them from the ground.

Consider this: Sometimes God places us in situations that are terribly uncomfortable, so that we can learn, step by step, how to follow Him better for the next encounter. Paul was receiving help and assistance from the Romans to reach Rome with the Gospel – and we must remember that the Gospel DID reach and transform Rome – all in God’s time. God kept “giving” Paul help that didn’t look helpful, but it was.

What looked like an arrest warrant was actually a letter of introduction (read Acts 23:25-35). Paul was escorted to the palace at Caesarea with a safe escort, and a letter accompanied the entrance.

I am certain that Paul did not want to be kept under guard, but it was better than being dead on the road somewhere, which is what would have happened had God not stepped in to rescue him from his countrymen. God works, very often, in mysterious ways… but we need to be aware that it is STILL GOD at work. Let me illustrate…

A cheerful but elderly, Christian widow was financially struggling. Her house was in desperate need of repair, yet she praised the Lord continually for His provision for her. There was an old man who lived next door who had no time for God, and he kept deriding her in conversation, saying there was no God – and she was wasting her life in belief of a fantasy. One day, the old man happened by her window moving his hose around his yard and overheard the old woman in prayer. She called on the Lord and asked for provision, for her cupboards were bare, and no additional money was expected until the following week. She simply prayed: “Lord, somehow, if You would, can You send some groceries.” Her neighbor crept away and thought to himself: “That is perfect! Now I can show her there is no God, and she is wasting her time!” He went to the nearby grocery and bought milk, bread, and some other food essentials, and placed them at her door. He rang the doorbell, and hid from view. As she opened the door and observed the provisions, she cried: “Oh, thank you God! You have done it again!” Just then, the old man came around the corner and said to the woman: “You see! I heard your prayer. I bought these things! God has nothing to do with it!” He sneered at her, but she smiled back and said: “Oh my, how exciting!” The old woman stopped and looked at the frumpy old man. “Jesus not only got me these groceries, but he got an unbeliever to pay for them! Isn’t He grand!”

You can’t go by what things look like–God may be doing many other things at the same time! God’s will for us is not only about us–it fits into His larger plan.

Let me close this lesson by urging all of us to make the effort to seeing things differently. That’s hard to do – but it’s the best way for us to begin to humbly admit that most of our complaints about how things are happening are unjustly blaming God when He is busy doing what is best. (Quote source here.)

So you see, even our own “long and winding roads” are not just about us. We just don’t get to see what else is going on behind the scenes until God finally chooses to show us His larger plan. I’ll close this post with the words from Psalm 34:1 . . .

I will bless the Lord at all times . . .

His praise shall continually . . .

Be in my mouth . . . .

YouTube Video: “God is on the Move” by 7eventh Time Down:

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

Persistent Prayer

Very recently (April 28, 2018), I published a blog post on the topic of prayer titled, Prayer Changes Things.” In that post I started off by stating that there is really no formal setting or position that is required to pray, and that praying can be done at any time, any place, anywhere, and under any circumstances. It’s doesn’t have to be prayed out loud, or even with your eyes closed. It can be done in a crowd, while walking through a mall, while sitting at a desk in a workplace, and while driving your car (and you definitely don’t want your eyes closed while driving a car). It can be done anywhere and nobody around you even has to know you are doing it.

There is something else I want to add to this list for us to think about when it comes to prayer. I read it last night in a book titled, The Red Letter Life: 17 Words from Jesus to Inspire Simple, Practical, Purposeful Living (2014) by Bob Hostetler, an ordained minister, writer, editor, speaker, and literary agent who had written over 50 books (and eleven of them co-authored with Josh McDowell, who has been at the forefront of cultural trends and ministry for more than 50 years–see Josh McDowell Ministry). He also has a daily prayer blog titled, One Prayer a Day,” at this link.

Bob Hostetler addresses the subject of prayer in his book, The Red Letter Life,” in Chapter 7 titled, “The Word That Opens Heaven.” It’s easy to relate to the opening paragraphs in this chapter:

There are seven billion people in the world. Seven billion.

You might think that, out of all those people, there might be someone–just one–who thinks or feels the way you do, someone who understands, who “gets” you, whose heart beats in the tune with your heart, whose mind anticipates your thoughts, whose expressions mirror your emotions.

Maybe you’ve met that person. Maybe not.

Either way, you probably still feel sometimes as if no one really knows. . .or cares. . .or understands. It’s part of the human condition.

You may be surrounded by thousands of people every day. You may live in a city of millions. You may sometimes feel awash in a sea of people, and yet it’s as if no one really knows you, no one really understands you, not even your friends, not even your family.

It’s not about romance or finding the love of your life. It’s not about friendship or family. It’s about our common human longing to connect with someone on a level we seldom–if ever–seem to touch. It’s about a nagging sense of aloneness and alienation that all our gadgets and games won’t relieve.

I say that not only because there are many who harbor those kinds of feelings, but also because it is not God’s desire for you to feel that way. He has created you with a great and wonderful capacity for connection and communion–not only with other people, but with him as well. And the sense of emptiness and estrangement you often feel is a symptom, not a disease. It is an indication that your heart and soul are not getting what you long for–and what God longs to give you.

The means to meet that desire and fill that emptiness is prayer.

Don’t freak out. Don’t turn the page. Don’t give up just yet.

You’ve heard it all, of course, You’ve listened to sermons on prayer. You’ve read books about prayer. You’ve tried. You’ve failed. Just like the rest of us.

But there’s no escaping the fact that Jesus said, “Pray.” When he said “pray,” however, he was saying something new. He was revising. He was revolutionizing. Because he commanded and modeled a kind of prayer that was different. Unique. A kind of prayer that opens heaven and fills the human heart.

It was different from the type of prayer his contemporaries knew. If was different from what his closest friends and followers practiced. So much so, in fact, that it piqued their curiosity: “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples'” (Luke 11:1).

It was different, too, from the prayers a lot of us have heard in church–you know, the kind that are filled with a lot of “thees” and “thous,” a bunch of fancy words and impressive Bible phrases thrown in. When Jesus said, “Pray,” he wasn’t talking about repeating the right phrases, or reciting something so many times, or reaching a certain level of consciousness–or unconsciousness!

He had a different idea. he revolutionized prayer. he changed the rules. He did to prayer what Michael Jackson did to dancing, what Picasso did to painting, what Apple did to cell phones.

When Jesus’ disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray,” they weren’t saying, “We don’t know how to pray.” They had been praying all their lives–a minimum of three times a day, in fact. They were saying, “We’ve been watching you. We watch you go off by yourself. Sometimes we follow you and spy on you a little. And we listen to you pray. But you don’t pray like we do. You don’t pray like other rabbis. You don’t pray like anyone we’ve ever known. To us prayer is boring and tedious. It doesn’t seem to do much for us. But you–when you pray, it seems like heaven opens and touches you and everything around you. It’s like it fills you and fuels you. Like it refreshes and recharges you. So. . .teach us to do what you do! Teach us to pray. . .like you”

That’s what they were asking. And so Jesus answer their plea. But he didn’t respond with a seminar or a formula. He said, in effect, “Watch.”

“Pray like this,” he said.

“Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power
And the glory forever.
Amen.
(Matthew 6:9-13, NKJV)

You may know it as the Lord’s Prayer or the Our Father. You may have recited it or heard it recited in church. It is a masterpiece of beauty and concision–which is what we could expect from the Son of God himself. It is not primarily a prayer to be recited and repeated; it is a pattern to guide our praying. It contains the main things Jesus wanted to teach his closest friends and followers about prayer. It encapsulates the ways he wanted them to pray (“The Red Letter Life,”pp.91-93). . . .

Pray, Jesus says. But he does not insist that we memorize the pattern he provided (though many have). And he does not require us to pray it word for work (though there is nothing wrong with that) or every day (though some have found great blessing in doing so). Instead he has modeled for us prayer for us–what it can be like, how it can sound, what it can do, and how it can bless.

He says, “Pray communally. Pray relationally. Pray confidently. Pray respectfully. Cooperatively. Specifically and practically. Contritely and graciously. Submissively. Purposefully. And worshipfully.” That’s the way he prayed. That’s the way he teaches us to pray.

There are many versions of the Lord’s Prayer–formal and informal, poetic and prosaic, simple and profound. The final word in this chapter is simply to choose a version that works for you and pray it once each day for the next week. You may wish to used your favorite Bible version (you’ll find the prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4). You may want to GoogleThe Lord’s Prayerand find a favorite version online. You may want to write your own paraphrase (“The Red Letter Life,”p. 106).

So, why pray? GotQuestions.org states the following:

For the Christian, praying is supposed to be like breathing, easier to do than to not do. We pray for a variety of reasons. For one thing, prayer is a form of serving God (Luke 2:36-38) and obeying Him. We pray because God commands us to pray (Philippians 4:6-7). Prayer is exemplified for us by Christ and the early church (Mark 1:35Acts 1:142:423:14:23-316:413:1-3). If Jesus thought it was worthwhile to pray, we should also. If He needed to pray to remain in the Father’s will, how much more do we need to pray?

Another reason to pray is that God intends prayer to be the means of obtaining His solutions in a number of situations. We pray in preparation for major decisions (Luke 6:12-13); to overcome demonic barriers (Matthew 17:14-21); to gather workers for the spiritual harvest (Luke 10:2); to gain strength to overcome temptation (Matthew 26:41); and to obtain the means of strengthening others spiritually (Ephesians 6:18-19).

We come to God with our specific requests, and we have God’s promise that our prayers are not in vain, even if we do not receive specifically what we asked for (Matthew 6:6Romans 8:26-27). He has promised that when we ask for things that are in accordance with His will, He will give us what we ask for (1 John 5:14-15). Sometimes He delays His answers according to His wisdom and for our benefit. In these situations, we are to be diligent and persistent in prayer (Matthew 7:7Luke 18:1-8). Prayer should not be seen as our means of getting God to do our will on earth, but rather as a means of getting God’s will done on earth. God’s wisdom far exceeds our own.

For situations in which we do not know God’s will specifically, prayer is a means of discerning His will. If the Syrian woman with the demon-influenced daughter had not prayed to Christ, her daughter would not have been made whole (Mark 7:26-30). If the blind man outside Jericho had not called out to Christ, he would have remained blind (Luke 18:35-43). God has said that we often go without because we do not ask (James 4:2). In one sense, prayer is like sharing the gospel with people. We do not know who will respond to the message of the gospel until we share it. In the same way, we will never see the results of answered prayer unless we pray.

A lack of prayer demonstrates a lack of faith and a lack of trust in God’s Word. We pray to demonstrate our faith in God, that He will do as He has promised in His Word and bless our lives abundantly more than we could ask or hope for (Ephesians 3:20). Prayer is our primary means of seeing God work in others’ lives. Because it is our means of “plugging into” God’s power, it is our means of defeating Satan and his army that we are powerless to overcome by ourselves. Therefore, may God find us often before His throne, for we have a high priest in heaven who can identify with all that we go through (Hebrews 4:15-16). We have His promise that the fervent prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much (James 5:16-18). May God glorify His name in our lives as we believe in Him enough to come to Him often in prayer. (Quote source here.)

One of the most well known parables that Jesus taught us on prayer is found in Luke 18:1-8, known as The Parable of the Persistent Widow”:

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

In a devotion on Ligioner.org regarding this parable, the devotion states:

Take the parable of the unjust judge, also known as the parable of the persistent widow, in Luke 18:1–8. Clearly, the unjust judge does not represent anything beyond himself. He is not a symbol for God, or the devil, or anyone else. Instead, he is a character that Jesus invents in order to develop a comparison that stresses the Lord’s willingness to hear and respond to the prayers of His people. This judge, who in defiance of Deuteronomy 27:19 was not at all concerned to execute justice for widows, finally gives in to the widow’s demands because she refuses to leave him alone until he does. He finally acts justly, not out of a concern to do what is right but simply so that he can have some peace.

If evil judges will act justly in such circumstances, how much more will God, who never tires of hearing the pleas of His people, do what is right? The Lord, who can do no injustice, will move quickly to help when His children cry out to Him (Luke 18:7).

We should not think that our infinite God gets tired of hearing our pleas for justice. The Lord does not forget when injustice has been done, and He will certainly rectify it, though sometimes He waits until we have persistently called upon His name before He acts. But whether God intervenes immediately or seems to delay His response, we can be sure that He will do what is right. (Quote source here.)

The key to prayer is persistence. Jesus taught us that we should always pray and not give up, so let us pray… Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name . . . 

Your kingdom come . . .

Your will be done . . .

On earth as it is in heaven. . . .

YouTube Video: “Our Father” by Hillsong Worship:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Rebel With A Cause

Twenty three years ago Franklin Graham, the first born son of Billy (1918-2018) and Ruth (1920-2007) Graham, wrote an autobiography titled, Rebel With A Cause.” In the book he talks about the challenges of growing up in the shadow of his father’s fame (the renowned evangelist Billy Graham), being a Christian in contemporary America, and his work with Samaritan’s Purse. The following excerpt is taken from Google Books:

Franklin recalls childhood memories that are both happy and tainted. There are the warm memories of hunting and exploring with his father in the mountains around their home. But there are also the memories of the death threats targeting his father and the endless tourists who would peek in the windows of his family’s house to get a glimpse of life in the Billy Graham household.” “By the time Franklin was a young man, he was running from God and from the public’s high expectations of him as the oldest son of the best-known preacher of our time. His teen and young-adult years were marred by smoking, drinking, fighting, confrontations with the police, and eventually, expulsion from college.” “But finally, one night in a Middle East hotel room, God caught up with Franklin, and Graham’s daredevil, destructive life was from that point forward transformed into a creative, God-glorifying adventure.” “God instilled in Franklin a passion for the suffering and oppressed peoples of the world. Just six years after that hotel-room encounter with God, he was named president of Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian relief and evangelism organization that meets emergency needs around the world.” “In thrilling narrative after narrative, “Rebel with a Cause” recounts Franklin Graham’s often dangerous adventures as a worldwide emissary of Christ’s compassion: opening a medical clinic and orphanage in war-torn Rwanda; setting up a shelter in Croatia for Bosnian girls raped by enemy soldiers and now pregnant; organizing and training a chaplain’s corps for the Nicaraguan Contra army; and reaching out to Muslim Saudi Arabians with “Operation Desert Save” during the Gulf War. (Quote source here.)

Too often in today’s America we hear some pretty loud voices from the opposing side of Christianity that too often drown out the good that Christianity has done in this world of ours down through the ages, and that still happens all over the world today. The arguments get bogged down in politics and other agenda areas, not to mention a very active agenda to silence Christian voices in the media. However, religious freedom is still very much a part of our Constitution, as is freedom of speech. Tolerance isn’t tolerance if even one voice is trying to be silenced.

We used to be more civil in our disagreements, but thanks to the relentless 24/7 access of social media and the fact that civility isn’t being taught anymore, we are becoming a nation of loud and often angry voices whenever a dispute arises. Here is a case-in-point, taken from an article titled, Too Few Pastors Spoke Up. It’s the Real Reason We’re in this Mess Today,” by Dr. Michael L. Brown, founder and president of FIRE School of Ministry, director of the Coalition of Conscience, and host of the nationally syndicated talk radio show, “Line of Fire,” as well as the host of the apologetics TV show, “Answering Your Toughest Questions.” He holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University and has served as a visiting or adjunct professor at Southern Evangelical Seminary, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Fuller Theological Seminary, Denver Theological Seminary, the King’s Seminary, and Regent University School of Divinity, and he has contributed numerous articles to scholarly publications, including the Oxford Dictionary of Jewish Religion and the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament. He is also the author of 30+ books (source here).

The following is taken from Dr. Brown’s article noted above and published on Charisma News on June 11, 2018. I am including a small portion of that article below to show just how vitriol the responses can be when a dispute arises on a “hot topic” issue. It is the type of responses he received and not the topic of the article that I’m addressing. Here is that excerpt:

…Of course, I’ve written and spoken on these topics for years, but I’m stirred to do so afresh in light of the reaction to our recent video “Can You Be Gay and Christian?” (If you follow my articles at all, then you’re quite aware of what’s going on. We still need your help and solidarity.)

We’ve received a torrent of horrific comments. A flood of vile death wishes. The most vulgar, almost unimaginable attacks against God. Responses pouring in by the thousands. YouTube demonetizing the video. Google reminding us of their guidelines against “hateful” content. And commenter after commenter expressing their absolute shock that anyone in our day and age could be so bigoted as to think God made men for women and women for men.

To quote one comment from among thousands (and a milder one at that), “What a [expletive]. He’s stuck in the 40’s and I honestly feel sorry for him. He’s blinded by his lack of intellectual thought process.” Or, in broader terms, from another commenter, “The bible is not honest. It’s a [expletive] middle eastern jew book from crazyland. You monkeys have all been conned.”

That’s what people are thinking. Christian conservatives are living in the dark ages. We’re ancient fossils, soon to be forgotten. We’re out of touch and out of our minds.

This is the response we get for simply laying out what the church (and synagogue and mosque) have believed throughout history, virtually without debate, until recent years.

But what shocks me is not that so many people are angry. Or hateful. Or vile.

What shocks me is that so many people are shocked. It’s as if they had no idea we still believe what we have always believed. (Quote source here.)

Ten years ago this type of outlandish commenting wouldn’t have been found on what was then the early stages of social media. Again, I’m not addressing the particular topic of this article (either the “pastor” issue or the “gay and Christian” issue). I’m addressing a civility issue. And I find it hard to believe that while Google apparently reminded Dr. Brown of their guidelines against “hateful” content, I didn’t read anything about Google reminding the commenters about their “hateful” content in the comments they sent to Dr. Brown. So where, exactly, does Google draw the line? Hate is still hate no matter what side it is coming from, and it certainly came from some of the commenters to Dr. Brown’s video.

We have a couple of generations of folks now who know next to nothing about Christianity other then what they get from social media or other sources, and what often comes off as a bad caricature in movies and on TV, and quite frankly, all the “selling” of Christianity out in the marketplace (it is a billion-dollar business here in America). There is much that I see on TV and in social media and elsewhere that if I wasn’t already a Christian I might think it was bogus, too. But much of that isn’t genuine Christianity.

In a June 12, 2018, article published in The Week titled, The Maligning of Early Christianity,” by Pascal Emmanuel Gobry, a writer and fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center (his writing has appeared in ForbesThe AtlanticFirst ThingsCommentary MagazineThe Daily BeastThe Federalist, Quartz), he states:

Christianity is, if nothing else, one of the most successful cultural phenomenons in all of human history, and still powerfully shapes the world. But in many ways, this is happening reactively in much of the secular West, where a major plank of the Enlightenment sought to use history to show that Christianity represented a steep decline in our history.

This anti-Christianity revisionism is basically political propaganda. As George Orwell pointed out so masterfully, you can change how people think if you can change their vocabulary. A term like “the Middle Ages” is meant to imply that a thousand years of European history was basically just an ellipses between antiquity and “the Renaissance,” a loaded term if there ever was one, when it was only the “rediscovery” of ancient Greek and Roman philosophy — which had been suppressed by fundamentalist Christians — that enabled the start of a “new age” of “rationality” and “free inquiry.” Even if we didn’t pay much attention in history class, we’re all familiar with this narrative, because it’s everywhere. The ancient world, we are told, was tolerant, open-minded, and believed in philosophy and free inquiry, and the advent of Christianity ruined all of that.

You can find this narrative in countless works of popular culture. The latest salvo is a book by the historian Catherine Nixon whose title, The Darkening Age, speaks volumes. As a review in The New York Times puts it, Nixon casts the early Christian church as “a master of anti-intellectualism, iconoclasm, and mortal prejudice.”

I hope I don’t have to spell out the political advantages that this narrative can have today. Too bad it’s wrong.

Take the ancients’ supposed open-mindedness and pursuit of rational inquiry, and Christians’ supposed anti-intellectualism. The fact of the matter is that in the ancient world educated Christians were just as enamored of scholarship and philosophy as anyone. The early Christian writers spoke of the “spoliatio aegyptorum,” which meant the use of concepts from pagan philosophy in Christian theology, which they did avidly and gratefully. Stories of early Christian mobs attacking pagan sites are used to portray fanatical Christianity crushing whatever opposed its “dogmas.” But pagan mobs attacked Christians too. And let’s remember that Christianity was illegal, and that these mobs were often incited and abetted by Roman officials as a convenient way to put down those unruly Christians.

What of scientific inquiry? The idea, again, that ancient society had any sort of commitment to open scientific inquiry and that the Christians did not is false. Most historians today admit that the Romans were pretty much stagnating technologically by the time Christianity came on the scene and that there was very little scientific progress in the intervening centuries. Scientific progress started accelerating in the Middle Ages. Building a cathedral would have been just as out of reach of the Roman Empire at it’s height as building a moon rocket.

And what of the supposed open-mindedness of pagans when it comes to sex, which contrasts with Christians’ much-mocked prudishness? I think this one takes the cake. Did the pagans have orgies? You bet they did. But people typically forget to point out that in those merry occasions depicted in Roman art, the women would typically be slaves. Indeed, buying, selling, and renting slaves for sex was absolutely legal, and not even frowned upon — including that of children — and was therefore done on an industrial scale, in a society with permanently skewed sex ratios due to gender-selective infanticide.

Did Christians “impose their beliefs” when they got into power? Yes. For example, one of their first acts was to ban the use of slaves for sex. As a Christian, somehow, I don’t feel shame about that. Did Christian mobs deface pagan statues and monuments? Absolutely, yes. In the ancient world, pagan religion represented an entire social order that sanctioned all kinds of terrible things. It’s not hard to imagine why someone might want to deface a statue or two. I wish they hadn’t, but it’s not exactly monstrous that they did.

Remember that early Christianity did an awful lot of good, too. It created the first organized welfare system in all of human history, enabling the poorest and most destitute in Roman society to lead lives with dignity. Christians paid widows pensions, in a society where unmarried women had no rights and widows (of which there were many) were forced to remarry or face destitution. Other notable innovations of the early Christian church included the first schools (for children whose families could not afford private tutors) and the first hospitals (for those who could not afford doctors). They had to build all these things because they believed in serving the poor and pagans did not.

Christianity was indeed a rebellion against a lot that the ancient world stood for, in particular paganism, which suffused through the social order. Society was dominated by the idea that the entire cosmos was essentially a celestial hierarchy, ruled by fate, with the hierarchy of gods, also bound by fate, up top, and free male citizens somewhere in the middle, and everyone else below. And that any violence, any cruelty, in the service of this order, or by those higher up against those lower down, was basically fine.

Did Christianity “destroy the ancient world”, as the Times review of Nixey’s book has it? My first thought is “not enough.” Sadly, Christianity in its early centuries did not destroy cruelty or evil, which would continue to haunt it throughout its history, as we all well know, but instead only the belief, which lay at the heart of pagan philosophy and religion, that cruelty and evil is right and proper. I, for one, don’t have a problem with that. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with an article titled, The Litmus Test of Genuine Christianity,” by Cap Stewart, a videographer, freelance writer, and media manager for a multi-state southeastern construction company:

In our pluralistic culture, churches have become so varied that they spread confusion about what it really means to be a follower of Christ. When it comes to hot-button issues like gun rights, abortion, and homosexuality, professing Christians line up on opposite ends. Can Christianity legitimately be so divided? Or, to put it another way, can anyone discern the “real deal”? Is it possible to know what functional, practical Christianity truly looks like? 

James, the brother of Jesus, says yes—and he gives us a simple litmus test:

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James. 1:27).

James provides a short, two-item checklist: (1) love—helping those in need, and (2) holiness—separating from worldly influence. These two traits summarize the practical outworking of a life changed by the gospel.

Much of the current division within the church comes from overemphasizing one trait over the other. Some churches tend to emphasize love, whereas others tend to prioritize holiness. But neither is negotiable. Both are essential for living the Christian life.

First Essential: Love

One way Christians can be tempted to forsake the requirement of love is to pursue our rights. Especially in America, where individualism is one of our sacred cows, we can get caught up in fighting for our rights, particularly as they pertain to religious freedom. There are certainly times and places to use proper legal means to secure those rights (as Paul did in Acts 22:22-30), but we should be known for something better than demanding equal treatment.

We can become so consumed with our liberties that we end up treating those in the world as our enemies, to the detriment of the gospel. God has called us to proclaim a message of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-20), something that is hard to do if we constantly approach unbelievers armed for a fight.

The Christian is called to consider the needs and preferences of others (Gal. 5:14). Yes, we must sometimes draw attention to a person’s—or even a nation’s—sins, but are we going to do so with our fists in their faces or with tears on our cheeks? During New Testament times, the government was far more corrupt and hostile to Christianity than ours is today, yet we don’t see Scripture commanding us to fight for our rights. Instead, we are instructed to expect unfair treatment—even blatant persecution—and to return hostility with love (John 15:18-20Rom. 12:18-21).

Second Essential: Holiness

The sacred cow of individualism has affected not only our love but also our holiness. Too often, we have turned our personal happiness into the greatest good. As long as it makes me happy (whatever “it” may be), and as long as no one else gets hurt, I can and should pursue it. If I don’t pursue my own happiness, I am being untrue to myself. Or so the argument goes.

But the second fruit of genuine Christianity, James says, is “to keep oneself unstained from the world.” The world may tell us to follow our hearts, but we are called to be true ultimately to God and his Word—not to our autonomy. And being true to God often comes in the form of denying ourselves what we think we want, because it is actually bad for us (Rom. 13:41 Pet. 2:11).

At the same time, we don’t want to be so far removed from the world that we don’t understand it. We can’t affect the culture if we aren’t engaging with it. In many ways, though, we have sacrificed our holiness on the altar of relevance. With the apparent purpose of being more engaged with our culture, the church has tried so hard to fit in that the distinction between churched and unchurched peoples has often been obliterated. We must take James’ warning to heart: aligning ourselves with worldly values is aligning ourselves against God (James. 4:4).

Christianity Is Countercultural

Christ-like love is a beautiful thing. To love unconditionally, regardless of another person’s maturity or theological depth or moral purity, is to love like God loves. It reveals a heart transformed by the gospel. Likewise, true holiness is a beautiful thing. Avoiding conformity to this world is a sign of a heart satisfied with promises and pleasures found in the gospel that exceed anything the world can offer.

Pure and undefiled Christianity is counter-cultural. It stands out as radically different from anything we would naturally think or do. Wherever we stand politically or denominationally, the true path of Christianity challenges us to confront the animosity and worldliness found in our own hearts. True Christianity may look to the world like foolishness, but it reveals God’s saving power. (Quote source here.)

Enough said. I’ll end this post with Micah 6:8He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly . . .

To love mercy . . .

And to walk humbly . . .

With your God . . . .

YouTube Video: “If We Are The Body” by Casting Crowns:

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The Case For Miracles

Before I get too far into this blog post, let’s first define the word miracle.” Dictionary.com defines a miracle as follows:

1. An effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.
2. Such an effect or event manifesting or considered as a work of God.
3. A wonder; marvel. (Quote source here.)

We also need to define the difference between miracles and magic. GotQuestions.org states that difference as follows:

Magic and miracles might mean the same thing to some people, but there is actually a vast difference between the two terms. It is proper to say that Jesus worked miracles, but it would be wrong to attribute His works to magic. Basically, magic and miracles differ in their source: magic has either a human or demonic source, but miracles are a supernatural work of God.

There are two different kinds of “magic,” and it is good to distinguish between the two. Entertainers who use sleight-of-hand and illusions in their performance are often called “magicians,” but they are actually illusionists, which is what most of them prefer to be called. An illusionist’s audience does not consider what they see to be “real” magic; they understand it is a trick, and they delight in the fact they cannot figure out how the trick is done. The other kind of magic is what some might call “real” magic; it draws on occult, demonic power…. This type of magic, sometimes spelled “magick” to distinguish it from sleight-of-hand, is associated with divination, conjuring, and sorcery….

A major difference between magic and miracles is that magic draws upon power that is not directly from God, and miracles are the result of God’s power intervening in the world. Magic is an attempt to circumvent God in the acquisition of knowledge or power…. Another difference between magic and miracles is that magic involves manipulation and opposition to the truth but miracles reveal the truth. The magician attempts to manipulate people for personal gain. The worker of miracles simply showcases the power and glory of God….

Miracles and magic sometimes look the same, but their goals are different. Magic and illusion distract the eye from reality, while miracles draw the eye to reality. Miracles reveal; magic hides. Miracles are an expression of creative power; magic uses what already exists. Miracles are a gift; magic is a studied skill. Miracles do not glorify men; magic seeks to be noticed and bring glory to the magician.

Jesus was not a magician. He was the Son of God, known for His many miracles (John 7:31). Jesus told His enemies, “Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father” (John 10:37–38). Jesus’ miracles (or “signs,” as John called them) are proof of who He is. (See quote source and full article at this link.)

The other day I picked up a copy of Lee Strobel‘s new book, The Case for Miracles: A Journalist Investigates Evidence for the Supernatural (2018).  Lee Strobel is an atheist-turned-Christian who for the past twenty-five years has been sharing the evidence that supports the truth and claims of Christianity, and he is the author of more than twenty books including his classic, The Case for Christ,” a perennial favorite (which was made into a movie in 2017) which details his conversion to Christianity. His recent release, The Case for Grace in 2015, won the 2016 Nonfiction Book of the Year from the EPCA. He is currently Professor of Christian Thought at Houston Baptist University, and a teaching pastor at Woodlands Church.

In his latest book on miracles, Amazon.com states:

New York Times bestselling author Lee Strobel trains his investigative sights on the hot-button issue of whether it’s credible to believe God intervenes supernaturally in people’s lives today.

This provocative book starts with an unlikely interview in which America’s foremost skeptic builds a seemingly persuasive case against the miraculous. But then Strobel travels the country to quiz scholars to see whether they can offer solid answers to atheist objections. Along the way, he encounters astounding accounts of healings and other phenomena that simply cannot be explained away by naturalistic causes. The book features the results of exclusive new scientific polling that shows miracle accounts are much more common than people think.

What’s more, Strobel delves into the most controversial question of all: what about miracles that don’t happen? If God can intervene in the world, why doesn’t he do it more often to relieve suffering? Many American Christians are embarrassed by the supernatural, not wanting to look odd or extreme to their neighbors. Yet, “The Case for Miracles” shows not only that the miraculous is possible, but that God still does intervene in our world in awe-inspiring ways. Here’s a unique book that examines all sides of this issue and comes away with a passionate defense for God’s divine action in lives today. (Quote course here.)

In a book review on The Case for Miracles” published in Influence Magazine on March 27, 2018, by George P. Woods, executive editor of Assemblies of God Publications, including Influence Magazine, and coordinator of Religious Freedom Initiatives for the national office of the Assemblies of God, he writes:

On Pentecost Sunday evening, 1981, a young woman walked down the aisle of Wheaton Wesleyan Church in Wheaton, Illinois. Church attendance wasn’t uncommon in that city, which housed the headquarters of many evangelical institutions, including Wheaton College. And yet, this young woman’s steps elicited gasps from those in attendance.

Why? Because Barbara — that was the young woman’s name — had been diagnosed with progressive multiple sclerosis 16 years earlier. She hadn’t been able to walk for seven years. Indeed, at that point, the progression of her illness was so severe that she was in hospice care at her home, with a life expectancy of six months.

What accounted for the change? A prayer request for Barbara had been communicated to Moody Bible Institute’s radio program. Over 450 people wrote letters to her church, indicating they were praying for her.

As Barbara’s aunt read some of those letters to her at her bedside, Barbara heard a man’s voice say, “My child, get up and walk.” And she did. Barbara’s been free of MS ever since and now lives with her husband, a pastor, in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Lee Strobel recounts Barbara’s story in his new book, “The Case for Miracles.” Strobel was the award-winning legal editor of “The Chicago Tribune” and an atheist before coming to Christ in the early 1980s. Since then, he has written “The Case for Christ” and other books investigating evidence for the truth claims of Christianity.

Christianity is an inherently supernatural religion. Among its supernatural truth claims are the existence of God, the creation of the world, the inspiration of the Bible, the incarnation of Jesus Christ, and Christ’s resurrection from the dead, among many other miracles. In the modern world, under the influence of science, many have come to doubt the reality of the supernatural.

To understand their doubts, Strobel interviews Michael Shermer, a well-known atheist and editor of Skeptic magazine. Shermer agrees with the critique of miracles outlined by the Scottish philosopher David Hume in his essay, “On Miracles.”

Hume defined a miracle as a violation of the law of nature. He believed that claims of miracles come from uneducated persons in less advanced societies, people and places unaware of how the world works. And he argued that, in any case, it was more likely that there was a natural explanation for an event than a supernatural one. Shermer considers this the best argument against the miraculous.

Barbara’s case provides evidence that Hume was wrong. Here was a modern person, treated by doctors at the Mayo Clinic no less, whose instantaneous healing was documented by her doctors in two separately published books. And that healing took place in the context of a spiritual experience.

Those facts indicate that naturalistic explanations — remission, psychosomatic cure, placebo effect, etc. — are insufficient empirically.

And Barbara’s case is not the only one Strobel cites. Strobel interviews Craig Keener for further evidence in favor of miracles. Keener was an atheist who became a Christian. He is a well-known New Testament scholar and author of the two-volume book, “Miracles.”

While writing a commentary on the Book of Acts, Keener realized that too many scholars believe Acts is unreliable historically because it contains accounts of miracles. Keener decided that if he could provide evidence that miracles happen today, it would buttress the historicity of Acts. He provides documentations for hundreds of modern miracles, including Barbara’s.

Strobel goes on to interview other scholars about Christianity’s supernatural truth claims: Candy Guenther Brown on the efficacy of prayer and Michael Strauss on the Big Bang and the fine-tuning of the universe, for example. And Strobel summarizes the case for the resurrection of Jesus through an interview with atheist-turned-Christian J. Warner Wallace, a cold-case homicide detective.

Of course, miracles don’t always happen. They’re exceptions to the laws of nature, not the way that nature ordinarily works, after all. Strobel interviews Christian philosopher Douglas Groothuis to understand how Christians can remain faithful in the absence of miracles.

Groothuis’ wife, Rebecca, a scholar in her own right, was diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia, which has slowly robbed her of her ability to speak and to think. It’s been agonizing to watch, but Groothuis’ faith has helped him. “I’m hanging by a thread,” he says. “But, fortunately, the thread is knit by God.”

Whether through their presence (Barbara’s case) or through their absence (Rebecca’s case), miracles are signposts pointing to God. On the one hand, if readers approach miracle claims with an open mind — i.e., one that doesn’t rule out miracles because of a dogmatic naturalistic worldview — they might come to believe that there’s more to nature than meets even the scientifically trained eye.

On the other hand, if they realize that this-worldly suffering poses unavoidable questions of meaning and significance, they might come to believe that they need more out of this life than this life can offer.

Either way, that “more” is God. If you’ve never thought about the case for miracles or the importance of finding meaning in life, I encourage you to read “The Case for Miracles” and reach your own verdict. (Quote source here.)

Another short article published on October 14, 2016 in Influence Magazine titled, “The Majority of U.S. Adults Believe in Supernatural Healing,” states:

Regardless of how many Americans are leaving traditional Christianity, many are still taking elements of faith with them. According to new research from Barna, the majority (66 percent) of U.S. adults believe people can be supernaturally healed by God.

An even greater number (68 percent) has personally prayed for someone to be supernaturally healed. According to Roxanne Stone, Barna’s editor in chief, these beliefs in an increasingly postmodern society should come as no surprise.

In Stone’s words, “Being sick personally, or having someone you love face a serious illness, is one of the most vulnerable and devastating experiences of a person’s life. It’s a moment that drives many—even those who do not believe in God—to their knees in desperation. Many people seek God in that space when they may not otherwise….” (Quote source here.)

In one last article titled, Do You Believe in Miracles? Turning to Divine Intervention When Facing Serious Medical Illness,” published on December 15, 2017, in Psychology Today, the two authors, Shoba Sreenivasan, Ph.D., and Linda E. Weinberger, Ph.D., both clinical psychologists, state:

Believing in miracles is somewhat common. Holding these beliefs is not limited to certain age groups nor is it restricted to certain religious denominations or a religious affiliation. In 2007, a study surveyed almost 36,000 Americans, aged 18 to 70-plus-years-old, and found that 78 percent of people under the age of 30 believed in miracles versus 79 percent among those older than 30 (Pew Research Center, 2010). With respect to religious affiliation, 83 percent of those who were affiliated believed in miracles in contrast to 55 percent of respondents who were unaffiliated. Although people from all religions believe in miracles, over 80 percent of those with Protestant and Catholic affiliations endorsed this belief.

Even physicians believe in miracles. In a national poll of 1,100 physicians from different religious faiths, the physicians were asked whether they believed in miracles. Seventy-four percent believed miracles occurred in the past and 73 percent held the belief that miracles occur today (Poll: Doctors Believe in Miracles, 2004). Moreover, 72 percent of the physicians believed that religion is a “reliable and necessary guide to life.”

Some people rely on religious or spiritual beliefs as a way to live their lives; however, many others turn to such beliefs in time of need. Relying on a powerful, beneficent, supernatural being (e.g., God, angels, guardians) to be present, and hopefully intervene, can help the afflicted cope with extremely difficult situations….

There are many people whose spiritual and religious beliefs include the existence of miracles. To some, these beliefs may seem peculiar or even reflective of mental illness. We should not be so inclined as to mistake this faith in the supernatural as a sign of a mental disorder. Doing so takes away the power of giving meaning to life; particularly, in the direst of circumstances when life is threatened. This vehicle of hope should not be underestimated or debased. (Quote source here.)

There are many miracles mentioned in the Bible. Jesus performed many miracles that are recorded in the Gospels (see list at this link), and his disciples performed many in Jesus’ name in the Book of Acts in the New Testament. So, does God still do miracles today like He did back then? The following answer comes from BillyGraham.org:

God is not limited, and He is certainly able to work in miraculous ways today just as He did in biblical times, if He so chooses. If He didn’t, why would we bother to pray when a loved one falls ill or God’s work is opposed by evil forces?

At the same time, much of what God does in the world is hidden from us. Think, for example, of the work He has given His angels to do on our behalf. Occasionally they may make their presence known, but for the most part, they’re hidden from us, and only in heaven will we understand how they protected us or delivered us from danger. Much of what they do could be labeled as miracles. The Bible says, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14).

Would more people believe in God or in Christ if they saw a miracle? Not necessarily. Countless people saw Jesus perform miracles, yet they refused to believe in Him or give their lives to Him. Don’t let this be true of you!

The greatest miracle of all, however, is the miracle of a changed life—and this can happen, as we open our hearts and lives to Christ. Do others see Christ in youHis love, His compassion, His purity, His joy? Make sure of your commitment to Christ, then ask Him to change you from within by His Holy Spirit, and make you a living witness to the miracle of His transforming power. (Quote source here.)

Jesus told his disciples (and that includes those of us who believe in him today) in Luke 18:1 that we should always pray and not give up. So pray, and don’t give up, because . . .

God still . . .

Does . . .

Miracles . . . .

YouTube Video: “He Still Does (Miracles)” by Hawk Nelson:

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Divine Appointments

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

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

Accident? Or divine appointment?

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

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

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

You go nowhere by accident.

Wherever you go, God is sending you.

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

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

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

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

You go nowhere by accident.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes God shows up. Sometimes God shows off.

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

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

Don’t seek miracles.

Follow Jesus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

How is that even possible?

How do you miss the gorilla in the room?

The short answer is “inattentional blindness.”

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

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

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

As Batterson continues (p. 24):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, Lord.”

One little yes can change your life.

One little yes can change your eternity.

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

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

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

Jesus Christ can make the impossible possible. . . .

Do you believe this? . . .

It requires one faith-filled yes . . .

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

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We All Do It

challenge-assumptions“I thought you were normal, and now I find out you are one of those religious types.” (Quote source: Never Go Back” (2014) by Dr. Henry Cloud; Preface, p. xv).

I had to laugh when I read that line. And we all do it, too . . . . We make assumptions about others we don’t know or don’t care to know or don’t like or we think are weird or “whatever.” And, quite frankly, we all do it for any number of reasons or personal agendas on a list that could be pretty much endless.

Read with me what Dr. Cloud wrote in the preface to his book, Never Go Back: 10 Things You’ll Never Do Again” (2014), titled “The Nineteen-Foot Spinning Jesus,” regarding a conversation he had with a television executive (pp. xiii – xviii):

I was excited about my upcoming meeting with the television executive. He was working with one of the major networks on a project he wanted me to consider. He was familiar with some of my work and some associates had told him to contact me. We had a great telephone conversation about how I would approach the topic he wanted to address, and he had really connected with what we had discussed. Until . . .

I walked in and the maître d’ escorted me to his table.

“Hi, I’m Henry. Good to meet you face-to-face,” I said.

“Hi,” he said. But his demeanor was not as exuberant as it had been on the phone just a few days before. After we ordered our food, he did not waste any time and jumped right in to let me know why.

“So . . .” he began. “I Googled you.”

“Yeah, and what did you find?” I asked.

“When I typed in your name, it was as if ‘a nineteen-foot-spinning-Jesus was over your head.'”

“Uh . . . what?” I asked. I had not ever seen Jesus hovering over me, so I was a bit surprised and confused.

“A lot of the stuff you have written and talked about is so ‘religious,'” he said. “When we talked, you seemed pretty normal, so I was kind of shocked. I mean, you are a real doctor, right? But in one clip I could not tell if you were a psychologist or a preacher. You were talking about God and Jesus and a whole bunch of religious stuff. So, what gives?”

I laughed so hard I spewed out my coffee.

“I totally get it,” I said. “The ‘spinning Jesus’ and ‘you seemed normal’ make me laugh, but it is a real issue sometimes.”

“How so?” he asked.

“Well, exactly what you said,” I went on. “My professional life is serious to me and very scientifically based. I spend a lot of time deep in the research of clinical, relational, and performance issues. So, yes, I am a ‘real doctor,’ as you said. And most of my work is in very mainstream, secular settings, like this network or CNN or Fox, or corporations or leadership events where the topic has nothing to do with faith or spirituality. What I talk about fits in because when we are discussing what causes depression or a relationship breakdown or a CEO’s destructive behavior, I work from very real principles and research-based science. That is why you connected with what we discussed on the phone. Just ‘normal’ psychologist stuff, as you say.

speak_life“At the same time, although I am not particularly ‘religious,’ to use your term, I am a person of faith. I have come to believe that all of science and research strongly validate what my faith tradition teaches. So sometimes I have an opportunity to speak, write, and work in contexts where I talk about faith too. So I am not surprised that you ran across some of that material. Don’t get scared,” I said, still a bit amused at it all.

“Well, you said your expression of faith sometimes causes issues. What might those be?” he asked.

“The look on your face when I walked in!” I said. “I have seen that look before.”

“What look?” he asked.

“You summed it up when you said, ” I thought you were normal, and now I find out you are one of those religious types.”

“Because I also write about faith and how it affects our lives, sometimes people associate me with weirdos they have met from religious groups, and I have to work to convince them that real faith is not weird at all. So sometimes I have to overcome an extra step–guilt by association with the kooks. It’s just that I see and experience great compatibility with spiritual wisdom and scientific knowledge, and for me, they validate each other over and over. I see no conflict.”

“Okay, that makes sense . . . I think,” he said. “You didn’t sound crazy when we talked, but I just wondered. It scared me.”

“Well, I am a bit crazy in my own ways, as my family and friends will tell you, but nothing that requires institutionalization,” I said. “Just garden-variety dysfunction.”

He laughed, relaxed a bit, and we moved on to talk about the project he wanted to do.

So, what does that encounter have to do with the book?

A lot.

This television executive was afraid that I might be too “religious” for him. And in my experience, many people have this same fear about matters of faith. Anything that sounds too spiritual makes people wary, and they immediately turn off. I do not want that to happen with this book, so I wanted to start with a few words about where I am coming from. [At this point Dr. Cloud explains the foundation of his book. He then goes on to explain the following to the readers of his book:]

If you have had some bad experiences with people from the faith world or with spiritual language, please reserve judgment and take a fresh look with me. Take the spiritual writings I share, the Bible verses, at face value; please don’t view them through the lenses of the kooks you have known or seen on TV. Believe me, I am with you and have the same negative reaction to those people myself.

But I have learned not to let the crazies ruin faith for me, and I would like for you to engage with me in this book to take a fresh look. Faith and spirituality might be very different in reality than may have been expressed to you in some sad distortions. So if you would, take a real look at the spiritual principles I share. Try to see their great, great wisdom, which I believe shows that Someone truly did design it all and wants us to know him and know more about how life works than we can discover on our own.

God and faith are not weird. My own relationship with the very real, living God and the realization that his ways are true is what saved my life back when I was really suffering. And ever since then, he has sustained me, grown me, and led me into a life I never thought I could have.

My prayer is that this book, in addition to sharing some great life principles, will also give you a fresh look at God, and I thank you for the opportunity to share it. (Quote source: “Never Go Back” (2014) by Dr. Henry Cloud; Preface, pp. xii-xviii).

never-go-back-coverFor a small taste of what Dr. Cloud’s book is about, the ten items mentioned in the title of the book are available in an article by Dr. Cloud titled, 10 Things Successful People Never Do Again,” published June 24, 2014 on Success.com. While this blog post is not about his book per se, (and, by the way, I’m really looking forward to reading it as I just purchased it yesterday–it can be ordered at Amazon.com at this link), the preface he wrote could not have been a better example of the assumptions we often make about others that turn out to be so erroneous. And that is the topic of this blog post.

If you are like I was as I read the preface to Dr. Cloud’s book, I nodded in agreement and laughed along with him at the misconceptions people automatically assume about “people of faith.” And, of course, a lot of that comes from the things that Dr. Cloud points out in his preface.

As I think about my blog and the explanation I gave when I started it back in 2011 on my blog’s home page, I sometimes think the readers who don’t know me might assume the same thing about me that the television executive assumed about Dr. Cloud. In reality, while I do believe everything I write on my blog post, my blog is specific to that particular topic, and none of us are one-dimensional. Also, I do not consider myself to be “religious” either, but rather, as Dr. Cloud stated about himself, “a person of faith.” The term “religious,” especially here in America, can conjure up all kinds of weird stuff to those who are not particularly faith-based or “religious,” just like the television executive assumed about Dr. Cloud.

My faith originated with my mother when I was a very young child, and I wrote about my mother in a blog post titled, Incomparable,” on July 25, 2012. However, my educational background and degrees comes from secular colleges and universities. And for most of my professional career and working life I worked at secular colleges and universities. I didn’t talk about my faith or my beliefs in the work setting (except when I worked at a Christian university for several years where faith-based conversations were common). As a person of faith coming from a Christian worldviewI have never felt that verbally expressing my faith in a secular workplace while performing a job for my employer was the proper place for faith-based discussions unless someone specifically asked me about my beliefs. This is not dissimilar to the first phone conversation between Dr. Cloud and the television executive where the subject of faith was never a part of that first discussion. In fact, it was not until the television producer Googled Dr. Cloud’s name after talking with him that he discovered that he was, as the television executive described him, “religious,” which had a chilling effect initially during their second “in-person” conversation.

There is a time and a place for faith based conversation, and being sensitive to that timing is important. While I didn’t discuss faith issues during working hours, that is not to say that over the lunch table or any social setting with work colleagues that the topic might not come up, especially with other Christian work colleagues. However, my policy in the secular workplace has always been to not discuss religion (or politics) with other staff or the students I advised in college settings unless the topic was first brought up by them, and even then I believed in treading lightly.

There is an excellent question and answer discussion on Forbes.com regarding this very topic in an article titled, How To Talk About Religion At Work,” by Liz Ryan, a former HR professional who now writes for the Huffington Post, Business Week, LinkedIn, the Harvard Business Review, the Denver Post and Forbes.com, and leads the worldwide Human Workplace movement to reinvent work for people. The situation in that article occurred when an HR manager had to get involved when one of their supervisors told an employee to stop ‘hassling’ another employee who felt awkward about saying “Please stop inviting me to your church — I don’t want to go.” She stated that everybody involved was feeling bruised and now she had to address the situation.

Ms. Ryan stated to the HR manager, “In the best case, we can empower our employees to speak for themselves rather than relying on HR to do that for them. It’s not that hard to say ‘Thanks so much, but I’m good—I don’t want to be saved and I don’t want to go to your church.’ You’re not going to write a policy, but you need a way to communicate with your employees  how the company feels about work and religion.” She continued by stating, “You have an obligation to make a reasonable effort to accommodate your team members’ faith traditions in the workplace. That accommodation doesn’t mean that your employees have the right to push their religious views on their teammates.” (Quote source here.)

Back to the issue of making assumptions, there are plenty of Christian stereotypes in our culture, and what the television executive assumed about Dr. Cloud is not an atypical response. In an article titled, How Valid Are Christian Stereotypes? by Dargan Thompson, a former RELEVANT editor turned freelancer, published October 15, 2013 in RELEVANT Magazine, she tackles five of the most common stereotypes. These five stereotypes are (1) Christians are Republicans; (2) Christianity is mainly an American thing; (3) Christians think they are better than anyone else/are hypocritical; (4) Christians don’t care about science; and (5) Christians have the same divorce rate and those outside of the Church. Ms. Thompson states some facts for each of these stereotypes in her article, and she ends the article with the following statement:

Just like with any group, stereotypes of Christians often exist for a reason, and while we as individuals may not be able to change perceptions of the whole, we can certainly seek to live a life that defies stereotypes—a life given wholly to a God who defies every stereotype. (Quote source here.)

Assumptions (and stereotypes) are easy to make and hard to get rid of when we make assumptions about others we don’t really know, or even when making assumptions about those we do know. And Christians are just as capable of making false assumptions about other Christians that can often be more damaging than the false assumptions made by folks who don’t consider themselves to be Christian or who aren’t particularly “religious.” It is one of those unfortunate dilemmas that has always been around. Some have even tagged it in Christian circles as “shooting our wounded.” For a concise explanation of that phrase, an article titled, Why Christians Shoot Their Wounded,” by Randy Elrod is available at this link.

The lesson for all of us is simple but very difficult to do. It is to stop making assumptions and stereotyping others. Instead, if the opportunity presents itself, ask the person we are making an assumption about what they believe, just like what happened in the conversation between Dr. Cloud and the television executive. We too often assume too much, and talk too little or not at all to the person to whom we are making the assumptions about. And I’m as guilty of doing that as anyone else is, too . . . .

So, let’s remember to ask when we can . . .

And not assume when we can’t ask . . .

And instead speak life . . . .

YouTube Video: “Speak Life” by TobyMac:

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Glory Days

glory-days_sub-banner-936x243More often than not, when we think of “Glory Days” we are looking back at our lives–perhaps during our high school years or maybe highlights in college if we attended college. Back in 1984, Bruce Springsteen (also known as The Boss) had a mega hit song that has endured the test of time titled, Glory Days (You Tube Video at this link), recorded on his seventh album titled, Born in the USA.” The story behind the song can be read at this link. It is a song about the “glory days” of the past.

UrbanDictionary.com defines “glory days” as follows:

A certain time. Where you reminisce the good old days. When everything was easy. You didn’t have any worries in the world. No bills, no debts, nothing. Something to look back to and think “Man, I miss them days”. Going down nostalgia lane and reminiscing your school days maybe, or just aching for one last moment to visit your first girlfriend’s house, or the house where you grew up. The memories will never die. They will always remain in your heart. (Quote source here.)

Last October (2015) I drove back to my hometown in Iowa from Orlando to attend my youngest nephew’s wedding. Due to circumstances, I had not been back in several years but I have not yet missed a family wedding, and I wasn’t about to let unemployment and living in hotels while looking for affordable housing on my Social Security income stop me this time. So I drove my eleven-year-old car (it’s twelve years old now), 1500 miles one way in 29 hours with a 3-hour sleepover at a rest stop in Illinois, and I arrived in Iowa a week before the wedding. (I took a southern route back to Orlando that added another 2000 miles to the trip.) While my dad made plans to have a few maintenance things done on my car while I was there, I had a couple of days to drive around my hometown of Des Moines, Iowa, before the shop got my car for several days to get the work done before the wedding.

The last time I had my own car to drive around my hometown was in June 1992 at which time I left Des Moines to drive to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to begin a one-year doctoral fellowship I was awarded for the 1992-93 academic year. After I moved to Fort Lauderdale, when I returned to Iowa for visits I took a plane to see family, and I was at their disposal as to whether or not I could see the sites I was interested in seeing since they had the wheels. However, this time I had my own car. There were no specific “glory days” that I reminisced about as I drove around my hometown and past my old high school and the house and neighborhood where I grew up before my parents’ split up when I was 12. However, memories came flooding back to me of those years from so very long ago. I also drove by the elementary school I attended, and the junior high (now called middle school) which is right by the high school.

I visited the cemetery where my maternal grandmother, one of my aunts, and my mother are buried; and I drove around the cemetery where my stepmother and stepbrother are buried, and where swans and ducks swim around in a small pond. I drove through a park where a bunch of my friends and I hung out in the summer time during our high school years. And I drove around the “haunts” in West Des Moines that my high school friends and I also frequented. One of my best friends from way back then died of cancer a few years ago. We once rode together on a rented bicycle built for two through back streets that are now major roads with lots of traffic. And I drove through areas of town that had vastly changed due to the suburban sprawl and population growth in the northwest and west side of the city. In fact, they had changed so much some areas were hardly recognizable, but other areas looked like they has stood still after all this time, too.

I drove by the house where my first love interest lived when I was the ripe old age of 16. While the love was unrequited, he ended up dropping out of high school two months before graduation, and he was drafted and send to Vietnam to fight in one of the most unpopular wars in our nation’s history. At some point he went AWOL, and from what I understood back then, he was never quite the same after he came back. The trip down memory lane was bittersweet with both good and not so good memories (which is likely true for most of us revisiting the past). I’m glad I went back and had this time to reminisce. But “glory days” they were not. I tend to think it is mostly prom queens and football stars who are the folks who look back on “glory days.” But the rest of us? Maybe not so much. At the least, they are likely overrated.

However, there is another way to look at “glory days,” and that is in the future and not the past. One of my favorite Christian authors (and I have many favorite Christian authors from over the years) wrote a book titled, Glory Days (2015), which is one of the many books he has written over his career as senior pastor at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, TX, and as a New York Times bestselling author. His name is Max Lucado, and over the years over 120 million readers including myself have found inspiration and encouragement from his many writings. This particular book, aptly titled Glory Days,” speaks of the glory days yet to come.

One of the endorsements for this book comes from Mark Batterson, New York Times bestselling author, and lead pastor at National Community Church. He states:

In classic Lucado style,Glory Daysunpacks what it means to know that God fights for you–and how that knowledge will change every part of your life. This is a message the Church needs and a reminder every believer can use.

Greg Laurie, senior pastor at Harvest Christian Fellowship; founder of Harvest Crusades, and author, states:

Max Lucado has done it again! In his new book,Glory Days,” Max is encouraging a generation of Christians to live out their inheritance, to fight from victory, and to take God at his word. Max reminds us of all that we have in Christ and the necessity of faith and obedience in the face of trials and difficult circumstances.

The book is filled with many inspiring stories, but the one I want to share is found in the last chapter, Chapter 16, titled, “God Fights For You,” citing Joshua 23 as the passage to read and is referred to in the story. Here’s the story (pp. 173-178, 181):

isaiah-43v19Nadin Khoury was thirteen years old, five foot two, and weighed, soaking wet, probably a hundred pounds.

His attackers were teenagers, larger than Nadin, and outnumbered him seven to one.

For thirty minutes they hit, kicked, and beat him.

He never stood a chance.

Khoury’s mom had recently moved the family to Philadelphia from Minnesota. She had lost her job as a hotel maid and was looking for work. In 2000 she escaped war-torn Liberia. Nadin Khoury, then, was the new kid in a rough neighborhood with a mom who was an unemployed immigrant–everything a wolf pack of bullies needed to justify an attack.

The hazing began weeks earlier. They picked on him. They called his mother names. They routinely pushed, shoved, and ambushed him. Then came the all-out assault on a January day. They dragged him through the snow, stuffed him into a tree, and suspended him on a seven-foot wrought-iron fence.

Khoury survived the attack and would have likely faced a few more except for the folly of one of the bullies. He filmed the pile-on and posted it on YouTube. A passerby saw the violence and chased away the bullies. Police saw it and got involved. The troublemakers landed in jail, and the story reached the papers.

A staffer at the nationwide morning showThe Viewread the account and invited Khoury to appear o the broadcast. He did. As the video of the assault played on the screen behind him, he tried to appear brave, but his lower lip quivered. “Next time maybe it could be somebody smaller than me,” he said.

Unbeknownst to him, the producer had invited some other Philadelphians to appear on the show as well. As the YouTube video ended, the curtain opened, and three huge men walked out, members of the Philadelphia Eagles football team.

Khoury, a rabid fan, turned and smiled. One was All-Pro receiver DeSean Jackson. Jackson took a seat on the couch as close to the boy as possible and promised him, “Anytime you need us, I got two linemen right here.” Khoury’s eyes widened saucer-like as Jackson signed a football jersey and handed it to him. Then, in full view of every bully in America, he gave the boy his cell phone number.

From that day forward Khoury has been only a call away from his personal bodyguards. Thugs think twice before they harass the kid who has an NFL football player’s number on speed dial.

Pretty good offer. Who wouldn’t want that type of protection?

Joshua did. Brutal and bloodthirsty enemies occupied the Promised Land. Joshua’s men were untested. His leadership was unproven. Yet in spite of the odds, God guaranteed the conquest. “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you” (Joshua 1:5).

It was as if God told him, “Jericho has its thick, tall walls? True, but you have me. The Amorites have home-field advantage? They do, but you have the King of heaven on your side. The enemies have more chariots, experience, and artillery? Yes, they are strong, but I am stronger still. And I will not leave you or forsake you.”

God gives you the same promise. In fact, the writer of Hebrews quoted the words in his epistle: “For [God] has said, ‘I will never leave your or forsake you.’ So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6, NRSV).

That last question is a troubling one. “What can anyone do to me?” You know the answers. “Lie to me.” “Deceive me.” “Injure me.” “Terrorize me.” “Bully me.”

But the Scripture asks a different question. If the Lord is your helper, what can anyone do to you?

The Greek word for “helper” in this passage is “boetheia,” from “boe,” which means “a shout,” and “theo,” which means “to run.” When you need help, God runs with a shout, “I’m coming!” He never leaves you. Ever! He never takes a break, takes a nap, or takes time off for vacation. He never leaves your side.

The job market is flat? True. But God is your helper. You blood cell count is down? Difficult for sure, but the One who made you is with you. The world is rife with conflict? Indeed it is. Still, the Almighty will never leave you or forsake you.

Consequently, everything changes! Since God is strong, you will be strong. Since he is able, you will be able. Since he has no limits, you have no limits. With the apostle you can boldly say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6).

But there is more. The biggest–and best–news of Joshua is this: God not only stays with you . . . he fights for you.

Not only does God desire that you live the Promised Land life, but he fights for you so you can. This was the main point of Joshua’s victory speech. Envision the commander as he stands before his army to deliver one of this final messages.

“I am old,” he begins, “advanced in age . . . [This] day I am going the way of all the earth” (Joshua 23:2, 14). He was 110 years old when he died (Joshua 24:29), so he must have been nearly that age as he spoke.

He has a rush of white hair and a chest-length beard. His back is stooped, but his voice is strong. He stands on a rock and looks out over a valley full of faces. When he lifts his hand to speak, their voices fall silent. He lead them out of the wilderness, through the Jordan River, into Canaan. When Joshua speaks, they listen.

Joshua has seen every significant moment of the last half century. “You have seen all that the Lord your God has done,” he announces to his soldiers (Joshua 23:3).

Oh, the stories they could tell. The Jordan River opened, and the Jericho walls fell. The sun stood still, and the enemies scattered. The Hebrews inhabited farms they did not plow. They ate from the vineyards they did not plant. And Joshua in his final words wants to make sure they have gotten the message: “The Lord your God is He who has fought for you” (Joshua 23:3).

The Hebrews took the land not because of their skill but God’s. Throughout the book of Joshua, God does the fighting.

In his call to battle Joshua told his men, “Go in to possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you to possess” (Joshua 1:11).

Then again: “The Lord your God is giving you rest and is giving you this land” (Joshua 1:13).

On the eve of the Jordan crossing, Joshua declared, “The Lord will do wonders among you” (Joshua 3:5).

As they stood on the western side of the river, Joshua deduced, “The Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan” (Joshua 4:23).

On the outskirts of Jericho “Joshua said to the people: ‘Shout, for the Lord has given you the city!'” (Joshua 6:16).

The entire narrative reads like this: God claiming, God giving, God defending. Joshua summarized the victory by saying, “For the Lord has driven out from before you great and strong nations, but as for you, no one has been able to stand against you to this day. One man of you shall chase a thousand, for the Lord your God is He who fights for you, as He promised you” (Joshua 23:9-10).

Don’t you love the image? “One man of you shall chase a thousand.” I envision a single Hebrew soldier with drawn sword racing after an entire battalion of enemies. He is outnumbered a thousand to one, but since God fights for him, they scatter like scared pigeons.

I picture the same for you. The Amorites of your life–fears, dread, hatred, and hurt–come at you like a legion of hoodlums. Yet rather than run away, you turn and face them. You unsheathe the promise of God’s Word and defy the enemies of God’s cause. You are a grizzly and they are rats. “Get out of here, shame! Begone, guilt! Fear of death, regrets of the past, take your puny attacks elsewhere.”

This is Glory Days living. You were not made to quake in fear. You were not made to be beholden to your past. You were not made to limp through life as a wimp. You are a living, breathing expression of God. What’s more, he fights for you.

Is this a new thought? You’ve heard about the God who made you, watches you, directs you, knows you . . . but the God who fights for you? Who blazes the trail ahead of you? Who defends you? Who collapses the walls, stills the sun, and rains hail on the devil and all his forces?

Did you know that God is fighting for you? That “with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles” (2 Chronicles 32:8)? That “our God will fight for us” (Nehemiah 4:20)? That the Lord will “fight against those how fight against [you]” (Psalm 35:1).

“God fights for you.” Let those four words sink in for a moment.

“God.” The CEO, President, King, Supreme Ruler, Absolute Monarch, Czar, Emperor, and Raja of all history. He runs interference and provides cover. He is impeccably perfect, tirelessly strong, unquestionably capable. He is endlessly joyful, wise, and willing. And he . . .

“Fights.” He deploys angels and commands weather. He stands down Goliaths and vacates cemeteries. He fights . . .

“For.” For your health, family,  faith, and restoration. Are the odds against you? Is the coach against you? Is the government against you? Difficult for sure. But God fights for . . .

“You.” Yes, you! You with the sordid past. You with the receding hairline. You with the absentee dad. You with the bad back, credit, or job. He fights not just for the rich, pretty, or religious. He fights for the yous of the world. Are you a “you”?

The big news of the Bible is not that you fight for God but that God fights for you. And to know this–to know that your Father fights for you–is an unparalleled source of empowerment . . . (Source: “Glory Days,” pp. 173-178).

. . . This is God’s goal for you. This is your inheritance: more victory than defeat, more joy than sadness, more hope than despair.

These are the Glory Days (Source: “Glory Days,” p. 181).

Our glory days are not in the past but in the future. As Lucado mentions above–whether your enemies are internal, such as “fears, dread, hatred, and hurt,” or external such as “the odds, the coach, the government” or any other physical enemy; or a combination of both as in “your sordid past, your receding hairline, your absentee dad, bad back, credit or job;” if you throw the whole weight of your being on God and trust him completely to fight your battles (Proverbs 3:5-6), He will, and you won’t have to fight them at all.

If you’re in need of encouragement, I hope these words from Max Lucado encourage you to rely totally on God in the midst of your trials and circumstances. And as Proverbs 3:5-7a (MSG) reminds us to do: Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track . . .

Don’t assume that you know it all . . .

Run to God . . .

And run from evil . . . .

YouTube Video: “Let God Be God” by Phillips, Craig & Dean:

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Be the Miracle

there_are_only-quote-einsteinI love bookstores. In fact, if I could find an apartment to rent that is attached to a bookstore, it would be like finding a little slice of heaven here on earth. This afternoon while I was in a Barnes & Nobles bookstore I ran across a book on one of their bargain shelves titled, Be the Miracle: 50 Lessons for Making the Impossible Possible (2012) by Regina Brett, newspaper columnist, popular speaker, and Pulitzer Prize finalist who hosts a radio show and is a New York Times best-selling author of God Never Blinks” (2010).

The title of the book obviously piqued my interest, so I grabbed a copy and sprinted to the Starbucks coffee shop inside B&N to take a look. Here’s a few paragraphs from the Introduction (pp. 1-3):

We all pass by miracle workers every day.

Most of the time they’re disguised as ordinary folks, teachers, hairdressers, nurses, secretaries, cashiers, cabdrivers, and the like.

I’ve never forgotten the day I was a ball of stress and stopped to pay for parking at an outdoor lot. In most parking lots, you pull up, the person sticks his or her hand out of a little booth, takes your money, gives you change, and you pull away. Your eyes never meet and neither of you remembers the encounter.

This time the attendant stood tall, popped his head out, and gave me the biggest smile. He looked me in the eye, greeted me, shook my hand, and gave me a blessing before I left.

He told me he loved his job and saw it as his ministry to bless people as they passed through his parking lot into the rest of their day. Where I saw a mere money collector, he saw a mission in life. He left me feeling renewed and calm.

We’ve all had moments like that. They happen when you are with people who know that everyone matters, that you don’t have to make a lot of money to make a big difference, that you can simply start where you are and magnify the good.

It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed by all the problems in the world. How many times have you heard someone say, “Why doesn’t someone do something about that?” Or the words come out of your own mouth, as they have mine. We hear about bad news and whisper, “It’ll take a miracle to fix that,” And we wait and wait and wait for someone else to be the miracle.

We want someone else to act. But miracles aren’t what other people do. They’re what each of us does. They’re what happens when ordinary people take extraordinary action. To be a miracle doesn’t mean you have to tackle problems across the globe. It means making a difference in your own living room, cubicle, neighborhood, community. . . . 

We can’t do everything, and what we can do, we can’t do perfectly, but that’s okay. All we need to do is make a beginning, right here, right now. If we just do that, it will make all the difference in the world. (Quote source: “Be the Miracle,” pp. 1-3).

This book contains Brett’s second set of 50 lessons; the first set of 50 lessons came from her first book, God Never Blinks.” Brett states:

For the past 26 years, I’ve had the privilege to be a columnist at the Plain Dealer in Cleveland, and before that, at the Beacon Journal in Akron. I’ve had a front-row seat on life. Ordinary people from all walks of life have opened their hearts and shared with me how they’ve made the impossible possible. You’ll meet some of them in this book, since some of these essays originally appeared in those newspapers.

My cancer journey inspired my first book, “God Never Blinks: 50 Lessons for Life’s Little Detours.” My readers inspired my second book, “Be the Miracle: 50 Lessons for Making the Impossible Possible.”

I hope this book will challenge you to be your best self, to go make something possible, to be the miracle. (Quote source here.)

The personal stories in these 50 lessons are very inspiring. I thought about typing the titles to all 50 lessons as they are inspiring quotes in and of themselves, like Lesson 12 that is titled, “Speak up for others, especially when they aren’t present to speak up for themselves,” and Lesson 35 titled, “No matter what happens, don’t take it personally. Take it spiritually.” Or Lesson 5 titled, “Do your best and forget the rest. It could simply be too soon to tell,” or Lesson 50 titled, “If you woke up today, God isn’t through with you yet.” (Click here to read the titles of all 50 Lessons.) However, I settled on Lesson 24 to share. It is titled, “God doesn’t always call the strong. Sometimes you have to be weak enough to serve” (pp. 123-126):

Lesson 24: God doesn’t always call the strong. Sometimes you have to be weak enough to serve.

2-cor-12v9We’ve all heard the stories.

Elvis Presley once got an F in music and was told to keep his day job driving trucks. Michael Jordan was cut from the high school basketball team. “Gone with the Wind” was rejected 38 times before it was published. J.K. Rowling lived on welfare before Harry Potter made her a billionaire.

Beethoven’s music teacher said he was hopeless at composing. Winston Churchill flunked the Royal Military Academy entrance exam twice and finished last in his class. Lucille Ball got sent home from acting school for being too shy. Julia Roberts failed to get a part in the soap opera “All My Children.”

Thomas Edison was fired twice for not being productive enough. Babe Ruth held the record for the most strikeouts. Walt Disney lost his job at a newspaper after he was told he lacked imagination. Van Gogh sold just one painting his whole life. Abraham Lincoln suffered from depression, failed in two business ventures, and lost eight elections. Tell that to the Lincoln Memorial.

The failures of those great successes convince me that our weakness is often the flip side of our strength. I used to be terrified of speaking up. My career? Writing an opinion column for the largest newspaper in Ohio.

Our strengths and weaknesses are usually directly related. For the longest time I resisted embracing my strengths because to do so would make me confront my weaknesses. It was a long time before I learned that God can use both. It took me even longer to learn that sometimes God chooses us for our weaknesses, not for our strengths.

I find it a great comfort that, all through the Bible, God doesn’t always choose the strong. He picks the flawed and the weak and transforms them. A person like Moses, who killed a man, is chosen to lead people from bondage to freedom. David, who ordered a man to be killed, is picked to be king. Then there’s Jesus, who included among His 12 closest followers a man who lied to Him, a man who doubted Him, and a man who betrayed Him.

My favorite Christmas passage starts with “Fear not.” Those two words mean God is going to do something powerful with someone weak. I love that moment in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” when Linus offers to explain the meaning of Christmas to his friend by quoting the Gospel of Luke:

Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

I’ve heard it said that we should read the Bible as if we are each of the characters in it. One year the priest at my church, Father Tom Fanta, gave a sermon as if he were the innkeeper who closed the door to the holy family on that first Christmas Eve. He acted the part from beginning to end, from his smug refusal to his shameful remorse.

He said that we are the innkeeper who shut the door and made no room for others. We’re too busy to talk to that friend who is in the middle of a messy divorce. Our lives are too filled to make room for volunteering at the women’s shelter or babysitting for a friend.

We are those shepherds, busy tending our sheep–our jobs, hobbies, families–and afraid when God comes to us, whether in the form of heavenly angels or earthly ones–friends, family, and strangers, or in the shape of problems and crises. We balk when called to go somewhere unfamiliar or somewhere undesired, some detour from our carefully constructed career paths or highly scheduled calendars.

We are like Joseph, who could have quietly left Mary instead of getting into a relationship that might demand more of him than he wanted to give. We prefer the normal, the steady, the predictable–something we can control. We plan our lives and in the planning are careful not to leave any room for God to come in and screw it all up.

We are like Mary, who, when first greeted by the angel, was scared. Would we really want God that close? “Fear not,” the angel proclaimed.

What would happen if God called us to something higher? It sounds good–for a second. Until we count the cost. What if it means moving? Earning less money? Going back to school?

When God called Jeremiah, he wanted to decline; he claimed he was too young for the job. Moses wasn’t so hot on being hired to corral the Israelites through the desert to the Promised Land.

A priest once told me he was unsure before his ordination whether he was strong enough to become a priest. Then someone asked him, “Are you weak enough?” Saying yes to God isn’t about being strong, but about being weak and saying yes anyway.

Mother Teresa once said that she wasn’t called to be successful; she was called to be faithful.

If your answer to the question “Are you strong enough to serve?” is no, maybe you’re asking the wrong question.

Are you weak enough to serve? (Quote source, “Be the Miracle,” Lesson 24, pp. 123-126).

I’d like to end this post with the opening paragraphs of the last lesson–Lesson 50: “If you woke up today, God isn’t through with you yet” on p. 262:

How many people does it take to change the world?

One.

It doesn’t matter how much money you have or how much time you have left or how much energy you have. You’re never too old or too sick or too broke or too broken to be of use to God. It’s been said that man’s finish is God’s beginning. When I was feeling my worst after chemotherapy and daily radiation treatments, every morning these words inspired me to get out of bed and climb into life:

If you woke up today, God isn’t finished with you yet.

I glued those words to my morning meditation book after seeing them in a newspaper article. You aren’t finished until God says you are. If you’re still here, there’s a reason.

Maybe more than one. . . . (Quote source: “Be the Miracle,” Lesson 50, p. 262.)

So if you’re reading this today God isn’t finished with us yet, and here’s a song to remind us of that very fact. Back in 2006 Mark Lowry sang a song titled, Be the Miracle (YouTube Video below). Here are the lyrics:

Be the Miracle

I used to pray hard for a miracle
To end all the suffering I see
In this sacred moment
My eye have been opened
Maybe it starts here with me

Let’s bring down the walls of complacency
Start moving with mercy and faith

Be the hands of God touching the hurting
With loving arms wide as the sky
Be the heart of grace bleeding forgiveness

With tender compassionate eyes
When a wounded soul
Needs a little hope
Be the miracle

We don’t have to feed the five thousand
To care for the hungry we see
We don’t have to walk on the water
To get to somebody in need

There’s no good excuse
Not to let heaven give
The miracle of you and me 

Be the hands of God touching the hurting
With loving arms wide as the sky
Be the heart of grace bleeding forgiveness

With tender compassionate eyes

When a wounded soul . . .

Needs a little hope . . .

Be the miracle . . . .

YouTube Video: “Be the Miracle” by Mark Lowry:

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