I’m pretty sure that nearly all church-going Christians know how important grace is to the Christian life. Many New Testament passages indicate this. Passages such as: 

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

If asked, most evangelical church members could probably quote this particular passage from memory. But, what I’m not sure of is that enough church members are sufficiently aware that the New Testament also seems to teach us that how we respond to God’s grace, initially and in an ongoing manner, is crucial. According to the New Testament, we can respond to God’s grace by:

     1.   spurning it, insulting the Holy Spirit in the process (Hebrews 10:29);

     2.   receiving it in vain (2 Corinthians 6:1);

     3.   accepting but then abandoning it or setting it aside (Galatians 1:6; 2:21);

     4.   falling away from it (Galatians 5:4);

     5.   missing it, by failing to extend it to others (Hebrews 12:15); and

     6.   perverting it, turning it in to license to sin (Jude 1:4).

On the other hand, the New Testament also teaches that we can respond to God’s grace by:

     7.   seeking to better understand it (Colossians 1:6);

     8.    making sure to continue in it (Acts 13:43);

     9.   being strong in it (2 Timothy 2:1); and

     10. being careful to keep growing in it (2 Peter 3:18).

Based upon my reflection on all the passages referred to here, I’m thinking that a crucial question all church-going Christians need to ask themselves is whether or not they have ever truly embraced grace, and whether they are doing so now.

In chapter six of my book Defeating Pharisaism I include the following story from Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace?  Yancey writes:

A friend of mine riding a bus to work overheard a conversation between the young woman sitting next to him and her neighbor across the aisle. The woman was reading Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled, the book that stayed on the The New York Times Best-Sellers list longer than any other.

   “What are you reading?” asked the neighbor.

   “A book a friend gave me. She said it changed her life.”

   “Oh yeah? What’s it about?”

   “I’m not sure. Some sort of guide to life. I haven’t got very far yet.”

   She began flipping through the book. “Here are the chapter titles: ‘Discipline, Love, Grace, . . .’”

   The man stopped her. “What’s grace?”

   [The woman replied] “I don’t know. I haven’t gotten to Grace yet.” 

Yancey goes on to express his concern that too many evangelical church members haven’t really gotten to grace yet. I wrote Defeating Pharisaism because I share Yancey’s concern. In this book I suggest that at the heart of the Pharisaical approach to religious life is an inability or unwillingness to embrace grace. 

You see, in the thirty-two years I spent pastoring three churches, I came across many faithful church-goers who nevertheless found it very difficult to trust God to be good and merciful to them. In other words, they found it very difficult to embrace grace. Instead, their need for psychological and spiritual certitude drove them to make certain their place before God by reducing the religious life to a set of concrete rules and rituals they could master with precision. The problem is that once you start down this road of earning your place before God via religious rule and rituals, you tend to end up bearing many of the earmarks of Pharisaism that Jesus had such a problem with: hypocrisy, judgmentalism, super-spirituality, legalism, dogmatism, pugilism (a fighting spirit), separatism, spiritual myopia, et cetera.

In my book I endeavor to show how that throughout his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus used the Pharisees as a negative example of the kind of disciples he had come to make; how an inability to embrace grace would impact such things as a disciple’s ethics, piety, ambitions, ministry effectiveness, and ability to persevere in the faith. In other words, what Jesus was doing in the Sermon on the Mount was making the point of how important it is for his followers to embrace grace if they are going to truly become the kind of people who manifest the traits described in the beatitudes and, as a result, end up functioning as spiritual salt and light, effectively pointing even more people to God!

Now, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be reading this if you were a person who didn’t care at all about functioning effectively as spiritual salt and light. Then again, it’s easy—amazingly easy—for the most sincere Christian to slip into a performance mode before God. I struggle with this myself more often than I care to admit.

Here’s the bottom line: there are many ways we can respond to grace. Have we ever truly embraced it? Are we living out of that embrace right now? It really does make a difference.

Something to think about.

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Giving the Devil His Due

Posted on 28, Sep

Later this morning I will be delivering a lecture on the problem of evil. In that lecture I will point out to my students that the author of the textbook we’re using for the course indicates that at least some blame for the evil that is in the world has to be directed at a malevolent spiritual being at work in it.

I will go on to indicate that this evil spiritual being is referred to fairly often in the Bible (NIV) as: Satan (54 times), the devil (36 times), the evil one (12 times), Beelzebub (7 times), the prince of demons (4 times), and the prince of this world another (3 times).

I will also draw attention to the fact that some pretty smart, spiritually savvy biblical characters evidently took the reality of the devil seriously. I am speaking of such folks as Jesus, Peter, Paul, John, James, Jude, and the author of the Letter to the Hebrews.

Though what the Bible has to say about the origin of the devil is, in my mind, somewhat murky, its various descriptions of his activities seem to indicate that the most basic, fundamental, unwavering orientation of this evil spiritual being is toward the destruction of the human race. As the evil one, he is anti-life, and anti-love. In another words, his essence is diametrically opposed to any sort of human flourishing, either in this age or the age to come.

We really can only speculate about what the devil’s deal is—what makes him so thoroughly committed to evil. C. S. Lewis was careful to point out that evil really possesses no ontological status of its own. It’s not that there are two equal rival powers at work in the universe competing for supremacy (i.e., metaphysical dualism). Evil is rather goodness gone bad.

Whatever the origin and motive of the devil, I will encourage my students later today to take him seriously, as the Bible suggests we should.

According to the Apostle Paul (a pretty smart, spiritually savvy fellow), we should be careful:

  • not to give the devil a foothold in our life (Eph 4:27);
  • not to put ourselves in a position to be tempted by him (1 Cor 7:5);
  • not to allow ourselves to be outwitted by him (2 Cor 2:11); and
  • certainly not to turn away from the faith and follow him (1 Tim 5:15).

Furthermore, says Paul, the way to accomplish all of this is by being careful to put on the full armor of God so as to be able to stand firm against his schemes (Eph 6:11).

Can we give the devil too much attention? Of course. But we can ignore him to our detriment too. Doesn’t the prototypical prayer Jesus provided us contain a petition that says “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one”?

In the movie The Usual Suspects a character named Verbal Kent says: “The greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world he doesn’t exist.” Indeed, it has been my experience that it’s when we stop taking the devil seriously, it’s when we fail to remember that it’s not just us and God in the universe—that we have a spiritual enemy whose main goal is to “steal and kill and destroy” (see John 10:10)—that we allow the evil one to get close enough to us to eat our lunch.

So, in my lecture today I will encourage my students to give the devil his due. This does not mean we should fixate on and obsess over him. But it does mean that we should be careful to take him seriously and resist him in the ways referred to above.

It also means that we should not be so quick to put immediate blame on God for absolutely every evil event that transpires on this fallen planet.

As for why there is a devil and human freedom, while I will address these issues in my lecture today, they will have to be the topic of future blog posting, so stay tuned.

How’s that for a tease?

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The title which C. S. Lewis gave the book that tells the story of his conversion from atheism to Christianity is “Surprised by Joy.” This is a wonderful title of a wonderful book written by a wonderful author. 

That said, my concern is that for many Christians the experience of spiritual joy is either too short-lived—limited to a few hours or days following a crisis conversion experience—or too sporadic—much too dependent upon infrequent occurences of happiness-provoking circumstances beyond their control. While the Bible most certainly does teach that the experience of joy is often precipitated by the activity of God in our lives, it also seems to teach that the experience of joy is something that can and should be proactively pursued. Consider, for example, the following passages:  

Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10) 

So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 8:15) 

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4) 

Okay, so how do we do this: how do we pursue joy? 

There are no doubt many ways one can engage in this pursuit. In this blog, I’ll focus on just one. 

Since one of my devotional habits is to read through the Book of Psalms each month, this means that every so often I will run across passages like Psalm 90:12 which reads: 

Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalms 90:12) 

Viewed in its context, the verse (attributed to Moses) seems to be encouraging its readers to recognize how fleeting life is. Verse 10 of the same psalm reads: 

The length of our days is seventy years—or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away. (Psalms 90:10) 

Becoming aware of verses such as these—passages that encourage us to recognize how fleeting life is—has had the effect of causing me to begin most days recognizing something very important: “I’ll only have one shot at this day; once it’s gone, it gone for good. How am I going to act? Will I walk in the flesh or strive to be led by the Spirit? Will I approach the day with a fear-orientation in my heart (worried that something horrible might happen) or with a faith-orientation in place (confident that I live in a good God-governed universe). Will I choose to endure this day or to enjoy it instead?” 

For the purpose of this blog, it’s that last  question that’s important. Will we merely endure the few days that make up our lives, or make the quality decision to enjoy them? 

Sadly, I’m tempted to think that Thoreau was right when he wrote: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” However, surely, for us Christians, it doesn’t have to be this way, right? Don’t we of all people have a good reason to experience hope rather than despair—a hope for the future that can produce joy in the present (see Rom 15:13)? 

Will we merely endure the few days that make up our lives, or make the quality decision to enjoy them?

Committed to not being a part of the mass of men of which Thoreau spoke, my habit most days is to say to myself: “Since I’m going to live this day only one time, despite my busyness—all the things that really do need to be accomplished—I want to be careful to press some joy into it.”

Admittedly, I don’t always succeed. Sometimes my proactive pursuit of joy get short-circuited by the fact that my faith is still imperfect, and that in this fallen world crud happens—the kind of crud that, frankly, makes rejoicing in the Lord always a difficult thing for an imperfect person like me to do. 

But I don’t allow those bad days to get the best of me. Convinced that the experience of spiritual joy shouldn’t depend completely upon current happiness-provoking circumstances, and that the Holy Spirit wouldn’t have inspired the Apostle Paul to encourage his readers to do something impossible, I firmly believe that with the Spirit’s help I can, over time, become a more perpetually praiseful, grateful, joyful Christ-follower. 

Here’s the bottom line: Though my conversion to Christ was indeed a joyful experience, I don’t want to live the rest of my life merely hoping to be occasionally surprised by joy. No, given the brevity of life, I want to learn to live each day insisting upon it. 

How about you? 











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A Hearing Heart

Posted on 24, Sep

I was having lunch recently with some Vanguard University faculty colleagues when Dr. Rich Israel, Professor of Biblical Literature, made the observation that when Solomon prayed for wisdom in 1 Kings 3:7-9 he was actually asking God to give him a lev shomea, a “listening heart.” Since shomea is related to the Hebrew word shema, “hear,” I suppose we might also refer to lev shomea as a “hearing heart.” 

Almost immediately, I thought of a quote by Thomas Kelly that goes like this: 

There is a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once. On one level we may be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all the demands of external affairs. But deep within, behind the scenes, at a profounder level, we may also be in prayer and adoration, song and worship and a gentle receptiveness to divine breathings.

I love both images–that of a heart eager to hear from God, and of a self that seeks to be continually receptive to divine breathings.

Ultimately, it’s all about direction, isn’t it? To what degree are we committed to being guided by God rather than by our natural understanding of things. The Bible is replete with passages that encourage the former and warn against the latter. Here’s just one passage, well known but worth repeating:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

I want to suggest that, given it’s context, the exhortation to “acknowledge” God is a call to always have a spritual ear tuned to the divine direction he can and will provide those who belong to him. To the degree we do this, says the proverb author, we will find ourselves walking the right paths, doing the right things.

You see, the problem is that our natural understanding of things can sometimes be terribly errant. Other passages from the Book of Proverbs make this crystal clear. For example:

There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25)

He who trusts in himself is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe. (Proverbs 28:26)

It was only right for King Solomon to ask God to give him wisdom–a discerning, listening, hearing heart. After all, as the new king of Israel he was facing some huge responsibilities. But, really, aren’t we all? Don’t we all need all the divine direction we can get?

Much later in time the Apostle Paul would write these encouraging words to the rank-and-file members of the church in Philippi:

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11)

More love informed by knowledge and insight? A greater ability to “discern what is best” so that I might be “pure and blameless” until the return of Christ? The ability not to be merely positionally righteous in Christ, but to actually become practically righteous as well? Are you kidding me? Sign me up!

So, my suggestion is that all of us make Solomon’s prayer our own. In fact …

“Dear God, I’m certainly neither a Solomon nor an Apostle Paul, but my prayer today is that you will give everyone who reads these words, no matter when they do so, a lev shomea–a hearing heart that will enable them to discern what is best so that they may be pure, blameless, and practically righteous until the day of Christ. Amen.”


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Recently I’ve had several students express concern, even despair, over the spiritual condition of friends and loved ones. These friends and loved ones seem to be a million miles away from ever becoming fully devoted followers of Christ. In fact, these prodigals are so antagonistic toward the gospel, it’s nearly impossible for my students to conceive of their ever coming to their senses and making a move toward the God of the Bible. 

My devotional reading in 1 Timothy 1 this morning, however, contained this inspiring testimony from the pen of the Apostle Paul:

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:12-17)

Sometimes I shock my students when I refer to Saul of Tarsus as an antichrist. 1 John 2:18 refers to many antichrists who had already come into the world. In the most basic sense, an antichrist is anyone who stands in opposition to the true Christ–Jesus of Nazareth–and who seeks to make it difficult for others to follow him. Based upon this defintion, Saul of Tarsus certainly qualified as an antichrist. In the passage presented above Paul refers to himself as having formally functioned as “a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man.” Acts 9:1-2; 22:4-5; 1 Corinthians 15:9; and Galatians 1:13 all portray Saul of Tarsus as someone who had made it his life’s ambition to persecute the followers of Jesus, even to the point of having them imprisoned, tortured, and killed. Sounds kind of like an antichrist to me. Right?

On the one hand, it’s no wonder that Paul referred to himself in the past tense as the worst of sinners. On the other, we all know the rest of the story, how that Saul of Tarsus eventually became the Apostle Paul. The one who once persecuted the faith became it’s chief proponent! Such is the power of God: Jesus is big enough to convert even an antichrist!

Now, I could go on into more detail about how I believe God used the preaching and example set by Stephen, the church’s first martyr, in the process of Paul’s conversion, but, instead, I’ll just point out that in the testimony presented above Paul refers to God’s “mercy” and “grace,” and to Christ’s “unlimited patience.” Read the passage again. This is good news for anyone who feels like they know someone who seems to be beyond redemption.

So, don’t give up hope on your wayward prodigal. There is an amazing, transformative power in good preaching, a good example, and a bunch of sincere prayer offered on behalf of those who have yet to embrace the lordship of Christ. Though not all will be saved, unfortunately, it is not God’s will that any should perish (2 Pet 3:9). No one is theoretically beyond Christ’s ability to convert. Not even an antichrist!

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Do Good Anyway!

Posted on 22, Sep

Please pardon the long excerpt, but I begin chapter two of my book Defeating Pharisaism thusly: 

            It is reported that a sign on the wall of Mother Teresa’s children’s home in Calcutta displayed the following words of exhortation: 


People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered, 


If you do good, people will accuse you of 

selfish, ulterior motives, 


If you are successful, 

you win false friends and true enemies, 


The good you do will be forgotten tomorrow, 


Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable, 


What you spent years building may be 

destroyed overnight, 


People really need help 

but may attack you if you help them, 


Give the world the best you have 

And you’ll get kicked in the teeth, 


            Evidently, even Mother Teresa had her critics.[2] My theory is that every significant personality in history, even those to whom history ends up being kind, has had to deal with enemies who sought their undoing. This was certainly true of Jesus of Nazareth. Most New Testament scholars will readily admit that, as a group, the Pharisees are portrayed in the Gospels as the enemies, rather than the friends, of Jesus.[3] 

My point in sharing this excerpt here and now is to provide some encourage for anyone who might be tempted to think that just because they have a critic or two that they should stop doing the good work they believe God has called them to do. What if Mother Teresa had done this? What if Jesus had done this? 

Of course, because we are not Jesus, we should endeavor to monitor the true motives behind our actions. According to both Proverbs 16:2 and 21:2, our motives matter to God, and we should not assume too quickly that we are actually in touch with them ourselves! Let’s do our best not to deceive ourselves about why we’re doing what we’re doing. The Scriptures, the witness of the Spirit, and confirmation coming from a variety of spiritual friends can help us achieve some degree of clarity in this discernment process. 

But at the end of the day, if you have good reason to believe that the good you’re doing really is good, not just for you and yours, but for the world as a whole (especially the poor, hurting, lonely, hungry, exploited, discouraged or oppressed), keep doing it despite the clamor created by your critcs! 

Let’s strive to be like Jesus and Mother Teresa today: despite what any critics might say, let’s do some good anyway!

Something to think about.


[1] Lucinda Vardey, Mother Teresa: A Simple Path (New York: Ballantine Books, 1995), 185. 

[2] For example, see Christopher Hitchens, The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice (London: Verso, 1988). 

[3] For a fairly concise survey of how each of the four Gospels portrays the Pharisees as the enemies of Jesus see Kathleen Kern, We Are the Pharisees (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1995), 32–53. For an even more thorough analysis see Günter Stemberger, Jewish Contemporaries of Jesus: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), 21–38, and Donald Riddle, Jesus and the Pharisees (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1928), 8–54.

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Loving the Truth?

Posted on 21, Sep

My Bible reading this morning caused me to come across a passage in which the Apostle Paul speaks of people perishing because of their refusal to “love the truth” (2 Thess 2:10). That’s an interesting phrase, isn’t it? It got me to thinking: Just what does it mean to love the truth?

Of course, those of us who are familiar with our Bibles know that passages such as John 14:6 refer to Jesus, himself, as the “truth.” It could be that this is all Paul had in mind when he wrote to the Thessalonian believers saying:

The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, 10 and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12 and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness. (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12)

Again, perhaps all Paul had in mind here was the refusal of some people to love Jesus who is the “truth.”

On the other hand, for a variety of reasons, both exegetical and existential, I want to suggest that it’s possible on a grander scale to love/accept or hate/reject the concept of “Truth” in general, or the “truth” about this or that situation in particular.

In our book Beyond the Bliss my wife Patti and I refer to the life discipline of being dedicated to the truth, demonstrating the importance of this dynamic to various issues that can cause the best of marriages to unravel. It seems to me that being “dedicated” to the truth and “loving” it have a lot in common. (I’m assuming here a “soft” rather than “hard” postmodern view of truth: that while we cannot claim to possess complete objective certainty about any matter–even our own motives according to Proverbs 16:2 and 21:2–we can with God’s help possess a “good enough” view of things to discern truth from error and navigate our way through life in a God-pleasing manner. According to 1 Corinthians 13:12, though we see as through a glass darkly, we still see; though our knowledge is now in part, we still know.)

A long time ago I embraced the idea that to love someone with God’s love (agape) is to wish them the highest possible good no matter the cost of this to oneself. This is the way God loves us. This is the kind of love which, according to 2 Thess 2:10 we can and should have for the “truth.” Certainly we should love Jesus in this way. But we all know that there are times in our lives when embracing or accepting a particular “truth” about a particular situation will be an inconvenient, personally costly thing to do. What should we do in such situations? I want to suggest that we should love the “truth” anyway, despite the personal cost and incovenience!

Why is this so important? I’m afraid that if we ever get used to not loving the “truth” about any particular matter, if we ever get used to suppressing the “truth” in any situation due to a desire to avoid the painful consequences that will accrue should the “truth” win out, we run the risk of eventually not loving the “Truth” who is Jesus himself. According to Ephesians 4:15 it is by “speaking the truth in love” that we as individuals and communities “will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” In other words “truth” and “Truth” are related. We can’t truly love Jesus the “Truth” if we are not people who are radically dedicated to the “truth” winning out in our daily lives. We simply can’t be in the habit of suppressing or denying “truths” in particular and still be lovers of the “truth” that is Jesus! 

We can’t truly love Jesus the “Truth” if we are not people who are radically dedicated to the “truth” winning out in our daily lives.

So, is there some truth about a particular matter you are currently tempted to suppress rather than accept because of the personal cost involved? More than that, are you doing all that you can to make sure that the truth about this or that matter wins out? Let’s not just be dedicated to the truth, as important as that is, let’s be lovers of it! The truth is our friend. The “truth” about the situation you’re dealing with, and Jesus the “Truth,” are related. Let’s never be guilty of hoping that the truth doesn’t prevail. Let’s never grow weary of speaking nothing but the truth to one another in love (Eph 4:15).

Something to think about.

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Now. The word now means “at the present time.” But the interesting thing about a blog posting is that the author’s now and the now of the reader will necessarilty be different. So, I can write a blog either expecting the reader to place him or herself in my now, or I can write the blog from the perspective of my reader’s now. Today I’m doing both!

You see, I’m convinced that someday someone will stumble across this posting will have God speak to them in their now through the following two biblical passages which I feel strongly led in my now to put into the blogsophere:

Do not say, “I’ll pay you back for this wrong!” Wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you. (Proverbs 20:22)

Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:19)

Are you that someone? Is today that day? Is there some reason why you need to be reminded today (your now–the day you’re reading this) of these biblical exhorations to put your hurt into the hands of God rather than seeking revenge yourself?

It can be so very tempting to want to strike back, to get even with those who have deliberately damaged us with “malice aforethought.” But those of us who follow Christ are exhorted … not to. As a matter of fact, we are encouraged to actually love our enemies, praying for those who persecute us (Matt 5:44). In this way, says Jesus, we take the tack of our Father in Heaven whose loving posture toward all human beings has the effect of causing people to reveal the true condition of their hearts, either good or evil. In other words, our loving response to those who hurt us will either cause them to feel remorse and to repent, or it won’t. While we should hope for the former to occur, either way, the true condition of their heart before God will become obvious and God’s ultimate judgment of them will be beyond reproach.  

Could it be that your reading these words today is no accident? Maybe there’s a reason why you’ve stumbled across this blog at this point in time. Could it be that God had me write something in my now that he knew you would need later on in your now?

I don’t know who you are, but I’m praying for you in my now. May God apply the effect of my prayer to your life right at the moment when you most need it–in your now. You’re not alone. We are connected, you and I, by a God who loves us both and is at work in both our nows. Be encouraged. God knows what has happened to you and what you’re feeling in your now. The One always lives in the eternal now saw it coming. So, do the right thing. Keep waiting on the Lord instead of taking revenge. Pray a prayer for the one who has hurt you instead of hurting them back.

Something to think about.

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Prayer–The More the Better

Posted on 18, Sep

I was in a meeting yesterday morning with my colleagues in the department of religion at Vanguard University. The meeting began with a brief but important season of spiritual centering. During this time requests for prayer were solicited. Now there happens to be an issue in the life of a loved one that I’m personally praying about with a good deal of consistency and fervency. But the folks around this table (about 13 of us including staff) had already been asked to pray for some really heavy, life-and-death matters. So I sat there wondering to myself: “Should I bring up the less serious but still significant issue that I’ve been so concerned about?”

I suspect that the dynamic I just described happens a lot during group “prayer times.” People wonder whether they should go ahead and ask the group to pray about an issue that’s on their minds, or just keep quiet and continue to pray in a solo manner. 

On the one hand, I appreciate it when group members refrain from asking the rest of us to pray about just everything that occurs to them. On the other hand, if a matter is genuinely important–to the point that it is productive of anxiety in the life of the group member–then I say … share it! Let us help you take that burden to our loving heavenly Father in prayer.

In my previous life as a pastor, I used to encourage church members to recognize that when it comes to the prayer, the principle presented in Scripture is … the more the better. This principle is articulated in the pages of the Bible in three main ways. First, we have Jesus’ teaching that we should never give up on prayer (e.g., Luke 11:5-10). Second, we have the Apostle Paul encouraging us to pray as much as possible (e.g., Rom 12:2; Eph 6:18; Phil 4:6; Col 4:2; 1 Thess 5:17). Third, we have the Apostle Paul’s repeated requests for prayer himself (e.g., Rom 15:30-32; Eph 6:19-20; Col 4:3-4; 1 Thess 5:25; 2 Thess 1:11; 3:1-2).   

Had you ever focused on that last set of biblical passages–the ones that contain Paul’s repeated requests for prayer for himself? It seems obvious to me that Paul believed that, all things being equal, it was a good thing to have as many people as possible praying for him and his ministry team. In other words … the more the better.

So, my encouragement to anyone reading these words is this: First, don’t stop praying about anything that’s important to you, especially if it is producing anxiety in your heart. You have a loving heavenly Father who cares for you and who wants to make a difference in your life, not only in the age to come, but here and now as well. Second, when it comes to group prayer times and whether or not we should share what’s on our heart with the rest of the group, maybe our default should be to share rather than not to because … the more people we have praying with us the better.

Oh, and by the way, I did ask my colleagues to pray about the issue that I’ve been concerned about. It feels good to have spiritual friends who will sense the burden of your heart and compassionately give voice to it in prayer on your behalf. I can’t wait to see what God is going to do now.

Something to think about.


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The Aroma of Christ

Posted on 17, Sep

So I’m out for my morning prayer-walk yesterday when I meet a lady on the sidewalk striding in the opposite direction. We smile and exchange our “good mornings” as we pass by one another. Just as soon as I’m shoulder to shoulder with her I detect a strong fragance. She’s obviously wearing perfume. Now, she’s sporting work-out clothes and is obviously exercising. It’s not like she was on her way to work. Still, before she left the house she apparently felt like it would be nice to spritz herself … perhaps more than once. A good ten yards past her I could still detect her fragrance. It’s like for several seconds I was moving through her aromatic jet stream!

In this case, I didn’t mind. Frankly, the fragrance was a nice one. But the idea that though she had moved on I could still smell where she had been arrested my attention. I thought of the following words penned by the Apostle Paul:

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)

At the risk of greatly oversimplifying what Paul was doing in this passage, I want to point out how that he speaks here of Christians bearing the “aroma of Christ” and of spreading everywhere the “fragrance of the knowledge of him.” It makes me wonder: When I’m in someone’s presence, what kind of aroma, spiritually speaking, am I giving off? To what degree am I redolent of a wise, courageous, compassionate Jesus? Do my words and actions remind people of Christ, or is it just me they see? And, after I’m gone, what kind of spiritual aroma, if any, lingers? Is it the smell of death, or the fragrance of life?

Common wisdom says that most people who wear perfume or cologne tend to overdo do it. But when it comes to bearing the aroma of Christ can this ever really be the case? Can we ever do too good a job of spreading everywhere the knowledge of him? I don’t think so.

Oh, and by the way, I suspect that the only real way to put on Christ’s brand, is to spend time with him. Which begs the question: Did we spritz today?

Something to think about.


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