And Grace, My Fears Relieved

Posted on 14, Oct

Today the words that have me inspired are found in the second verse of John Newton’s famous song, Amazing Grace, which begins like this:

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev’d;

Interestingly, Newton speaks of two kinds of fear here: a good kind of fear, and then some fears that need to be relieved. My assumption is that the good fear for which Newton was thankful was what the Bible describes as “the fear of the Lord.” The Scriptures are filled with exhortations for us to embrace this kind of fear that causes us to take God seriously rather than live our lives as functional atheists.

But what about the other fears that Newton was glad to have alleviated by his experience of grace? We could spend a lot of time speculating, but the rest of the song seems to suggest that the fears Newton had in mind were such things as:

  • the fear of death;
  • the fear of eternal punishment;
  • the fear of spiritual failure; and
  • the fear of spiritual abandonment.

Newton’s song can seem a bit triumphalistic in the sense that it can be interpreted as suggesting that once a person initially experiences God’s grace, all these fears will be forever banished from his or her heart.

But what do you think?

While it’s certainly true that the New Testament seems to encourage Christ’s followers to approach each day with a faith-orientation in place rather than with a heart that’s filled with fear, is it nevertheless possible that a sincere Christ-follower might find himself or herself passing through a season of life which is earmarked by a profound wrestling with a spirit of fear? Have you, as a sincere Christ-follower ever had the experience of doing battle with a spirit of fear sent by the evil one to take you down?

I have. And so have many other sincere followers of Jesus.

This is a difficult experience, during which one is tempted to wonder if God is really there, and if he is, does he really care. This is a hellish, nightmarish season during which one has to literally fight the good fight so as to stand firm in the faith rather than succumb to the temptation to defect from it.

A man known to us as St. John of the Cross wrote about an experience he referred to as the “dark night of the soul.” My version of this painful spiritual experience occurred back in the early eighties and lasted for a full eighteen months. While I won’t go into detail here about that ordeal, I will tell you that it greatly affected my walk with Christ and ability to minister to others. In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 we read:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

When God has his way, this is what a dark night of the soul experience is supposed to do for us—make us better, more compassionate disciples, able and willing to minister his comfort to others.

In other words, God knows what he’s doing even when we don’t. With that thought in mind, I want to offer you today nine major lessons I learned from my year-and-a-half battle with a spirit of fear. I hope something I say here will resonate with you and prove to be both encouraging and helpful .

First, wrestling with a spirit of fear is nothing to be ashamed of. Though Newton’s song can make it seem like all our fears will be alleviated as a result of our first experience of grace, this just isn’t the case. Even the Apostle Paul admits in his letters that he knew what it was to experience fears during his walk his walk with Christ. Why should we assume it will be any different for us?

Second, at the same time, it’s also true that God has not given us a spirit of fear (2 Tim. 1:7), nor does he want us to live our lives debilitated by fear (Hebrews 2:14-15; Romans 8:15-16; Luke 12:32; etc.)

Third, while the main trigger for a battle with the spirit of fear seems to be a traumatic experience that shows us our mortality or underscores our helplessness, these traumatic events can be exacerbated by something as simple as too much stress. Stress is serious stuff! Too much stress can affect you spiritually as well as physically and psychologically! We simply must learn how to be busy without being in a hurry.

Fourth, we really do have a spiritual enemy out there, an enemy whose greatest ploy is to convince the world he doesn’t exist, and whose main weapon is the spirit of fear (Heb. 2:14-15) and despair. Don’t ever make the mistake of thinking that your life is ever just about you, God and your circumstances. This will cause you to blame God instead of drawing near to him. This is exactly what the evil one wants us to do.

Fifth, at the same time, the story of Job teaches us that it’s not only okay to be honest with God when you’re wrestling with a spirit of fear, it’s crucial. If you are genuinely feeling that you’ve been mistreated or abandoned by God, tell him so. The rule is: if you feel it, say it. At least you’re still talking to God instead of giving up on him!

Sixth, it’s also crucial to have other people you can talk to, and, perhaps more importantly, who will talk to God on your behalf.

Seventh, and this is very important, the key to overcoming a spirit of fear is to engage in spiritual warfare—we have to proactively praise and worship God in the face of our adversity (see Ps. 50:23; James 4:7-8). This is going to seem simplistic, irrational and, at times, even humiliating. But we need to remember that we Christians are called to walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7) and that God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).

Eighth, keep reminding yourself of two things:

  1. While it’s true that “it is what it is,” it’s also true that “nothing is random;”in other words, the fact is that everything in life is a test;
  2. You don’t have to know all the reasons for why things are what they are; your job is to simply pass the test that’s in front of you right now!

Finally, we need to remember that when it comes to spiritual things, expectancy usually precedes experience. Therefore, keep expecting the Holy Spirit to break into your life, speaking to your heart words of comfort, encouragement and exhortation. If you don’t expect this to happen, if you don’t pray for it to happen, it probably won’t. This is a shame because it’s these periodic prophetic in-breakings into our lives that rescue us from the world, the flesh and the devil, that make our walk with Christ anything but boring and routine!

Again, I hope something I’ve said in this blog is helpful. This is a serious topic. No matter when you read this, be reminded by it that there’s a grace from God that can and will eventually set us free from any spirit of fear the enemy releases into our lives.

Furthermore, if you need someone to pray for you as you do battle with a spirit of fear, feel free to contact me via this contact apparatus on the home page of this website. I’ll be happy to be one of your spiritual friends, talking to God on your behalf until you experience … the grace that relieves us of our fears.

Something to think about.

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“I’ll Be Watching You”

Posted on 13, Oct

Today I have the lyrics to Stings’s “I’ll Be Watching You” in mind. The first part of this song goes like this:

Every breath you take
And every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
Ill be watching you

Every single day
And every word you say
Every game you play
Every night you stay
Ill be watching you

Oh, can’t you see
You belong to me
Now my poor heart aches
With every step you take

Every move you make
Every vow you break
Every smile you fake
Every claim you stake
Ill be watching you

This may sound kind of cheesy now but I will admit that back in the day I once had the worship leader of the church I was pastoring sing this song at the conclusion of a sermon I had just preached—a sermon that was making the point that it’s God’s style, as a loving father, to watch over his kids. My main text for that sermon was Matthew 10:29-31 which reads:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31)

At one point in the message I indicated how that the following passages from the Book of Psalms provide support for the idea that it is indeed God’s style to watch over his people: 

As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore. (Psalms 125:2)

For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous … (Psalms 1:6)

He will not let your foot slip– he who watches over you will not slumber; 4 indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. 5 The Lord watches over you– the Lord is your shade at your right hand; 6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. 7 The Lord will keep you from all harm– he will watch over your life; 8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore. (Psalms 121:3-8)

But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love … (Psalms 33:18)

The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry … (Psalms 34:15)

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. (Psalms 139:1-3)

Now, when I was a kid, the idea that God was watching everything I did was not a little intimidating. But now, it’s one of the most comforting concepts that can occur to me.

What makes the difference? First, my understanding of God’s motive has matured. I’ve come to understand that he’s not watching me hoping to catch me doing something wrong; he’s simply looking after me as a diligent dad would the child he loves as much as life itself. (You have to be a father yourself to really understand this.) Second, my ability to embrace grace has matured as well. More and more I’m learning (also as a result of being a father) that when (not if) I mess up and think or do something I ought not, or fail to do something I should, his grace is there offering not only forgiveness, but the power to do better the next time.

What a life! An existence filled with hope, meaning, purpose, direction, assurance … spiritual power! God’s grace doesn’t motivate me to want to see how much I can get away with. On the contrary, knowing the real reason why he’s watching over me makes me want to please him with every ounce of strength I possess.

As you can see, for some reason my heart is full this morning with gratitude to a loving heavenly Father who in so many words is saying to me today:

Every breath you take
And every move you make
Every step you take
Ill be watching you

Just so you know, he’s watching over you too.

Something to think about.

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Whatever the Weather

Posted on 12, Oct

Though I am writing this long before sunrise, I have every reason to believe that the day will be a beautiful one weather-wise. After some more Bible reading, another cup of coffee, and maybe a few minutes devoted to editing the book I’m currently working on, I will take my dog Jack out for a two-mile prayer-walk along some equestrian trails that meander through my suburban southern California neighborhood. The sky will be blue and the sun shining. Perfect! 

However, just last week it was a different story: several days of dark, cloudy skies and rain! What did I do those mornings? I took my dog for a two-mile prayer-walk just as if the sun were out and the skies were blue. By and large, this is a daily habit, part of my devotional routine, something in which I engage … whatever the weather.

As I conducted in my routine one morning last week, the rain pelting the waterproof wind-breaker and the baseball cap I was wearing, I was thinking about how that my daily prayer-walk is analogous to what we Christians often refer to as our “walk with Christ.” In the same way that I try not to allow the current climate to determine the dynamic of my devotional life, we shouldn’t be in the habit of allowing the current climate, figuratively speaking, to determine the dynamic of our discipleship. In other words, we should be all-weather followers of Christ rather than fair-weather Christians. Our walk with Christ shouldn’t be all that impacted by our external circumstances.

According to the Bible, there are some things we Christ-followers should be doing all the time, whatever the weather. For example:

  • According to Luke 18:1-8 we should always “pray and not give up.”
  • According to Luke 21:34-36 we should always be “on the watch” so as to be ready for Christ’s return.
  • According to 1 Corinthians 15:58 we should always “give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord.”
  • According to Ephesians 5:20 we should always be “giving thanks to God the Father for everything.”
  • According to Ephesians 6:18 we should always “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests … praying for all the saints.” 
  • According to Philippians 4:4 and 1 Thessalonians 5:16 we should always “rejoice in the Lord” and “be joyful”
  • According to Colossians 4:6 we should always make sure that our “conversation is full of grace.”
  • According to 1 Thessalonians 5:15 we should always “try to be kind” to everyone.
  • According to 1 Peter 3:15 we should always “be prepared to give an answer” to anyone who asks us to explain the “reason for the hope” we have.

You get the idea: there are some things we should “always” be doing, regardless of the circumstances we may find ourselves in.

Personally, I could only wish that I was as constant in my spiritual walk as I am in my daily jaunt around the neighborhood. The fact is that all too often, I allow the current “climate” to control both my mood and my actions.

But I don’t want it to be this way. I’m committed to becoming the kind of person who has a vital, vibrant, faithful walk with Christ … whatever the weather

How about you?  

Something to think about.

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Heart Massage, Anyone?

Posted on 11, Oct

You’ve probably seen this poem in your web wanderings:

Inner Strength

If you can start the day without caffeine or pep pills,

If you can be cheerful, ignoring aches and pains,

If you can resist complaining and boring people with your 


If you can eat the same food everyday and be grateful for it,

If you can understand when loved ones are too busy to give you time,

If you can overlook when people take things out on you when, 

through no fault of yours, something goes wrong,

If you can take criticism and blame without resentment,

If you can face the world without lies and deceit,

If you can conquer tension without medical help,

If you can relax without liquor,

If you can sleep without the aid of drugs,

If you can do all these things . . .

Then you are probably the family dog!

What this humorous bit is playfully suggesting is that our dogs are probably better at living the Christian life than we are!

Hmm . . . I wonder.

Years ago psychologist Bruce Narramore wrote a book in which he suggested that the root of many people’s problems—both spiritual and psychological—is the deeper problem of unresolved guilt. The book was entitled No Condemnation and in it Narramore argued that too many people, including many Christians, are walking around with hearts that are haunted by repressed rather than released feelings of guilt and shame. According to Narramore, latent, hidden feelings of guilt can manifest themselves in our lives in at least five ways:

  • Projection: we attribute to others the negative stuff we secretly feel guilty about.
  • Repression: we simply deny our feelings of guilt, and guilt-producing feelings, and push them down out of our awareness.
  • Compulsive activity: we experience an insatiable need to achieve in order to prove our value and worth.
  • Obsessive thinking: we continually accuse ourselves of failing to do the right thing.
  • Sublimation: we work out guilt-producing impulses or feelings in a socially acceptable way.

Now, if you know anything about psychology then you also know that these five dynamics cover a lot of territory. What this means, says Narramore, is that latent feelings of guilt, and/or an inability to ever feel truly forgiven, can and will produce a whole host of problems in our lives.

Is it possible that you possess some latent, unreleased feelings of guilt in your heart?

Let’s find out.

I’ve created a list of twenty questions based on the content of Dr. Narramore’s discussion of disguised guilt. As you look them over in rapid succession, do your best to keep count of how many of them you might even come close to saying yes to.

  1. Do you tend to be a driven person, a perfectionist?
  2. Do you tend to engage in any compulsive behaviors?
  3. Do you tend to be critical and judgmental toward yourself and others?
  4. Do you tend to berate yourself for the mistakes you make?
  5. Is it hard for you to forgive yourself and others?
  6. Is it possible that you tend to project onto others the attitudes and actions you secretly feel guilty about?
  7. Do you tend to be cynical about and suspicious of other people’s motives?
  8. Do you tend to get angry . . . a lot?
  9. Do you tend to respond defensively toward any hint of criticism that comes your way?
  10. Are you plagued by stubborn, nagging feelings of inferiority and inadequacy?
  11. Is it hard for you to demonstrate or receive expressions of love and affection?
  12. Is it hard for you to accept praise or compliments?
  13. Do you possess a compulsive need to manage the impression others have of you?
  14. Do you tend to be fearful and anxious . . . a lot?
  15. Is it hard for you to relax without feeling guilty?
  16. Is it hard for you to make decisions and then feel good about them?
  17. Do you tend toward depression?
  18. Has the thought ever occurred to you that you might be guilty of subconsciously sabotaging your own success?
  19. Do you tend to enter into one unhealthy, abusive relationship after another?
  20. Do you seem to experience significant seasons of spiritual dryness in your relationship with God?

So, how did you do? Could it be that way too many of us are actually walking around with hearts haunted by unreleased feelings of guilt and shame?

Of course, you know how ironic this is, don’t you? It’s ironic because . . . the Christ we Christians are all about is all over this business of the forgiveness of sins! This is a huge theme in the New Testament as a whole. The phrase “forgiveness of sins,” or a derivative, appears in the NIV of the New Testament no less than 43 times! Not only did Jesus talk a lot about forgiveness, not only was Jesus himself a very forgiving person, but his death and resurrection were things he experienced in order that we might experience the forgiveness of our sins.

In Matthew 26 we read that during the Last Supper he had with his disciples Jesus said:

This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:28, emphasis added)

In Acts 13 we read that after proclaiming the death and resurrection of Jesus to members of the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch, the apostle Paul went on to say to his Jewish hearers:

“Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. (Acts 13:38, emphasis added)

And in the first chapter of his letter to the church in Ephesus, where we find Paul singing a hymn of praise to Jesus Christ, we read:

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace… (Ephesians 1:7, emphasis added)

According to these and many other passages in the New Testament, there is an unmistakable connection between the cross-work of Christ and our experience of the forgiveness of sins.

In a sermon entitled “The Prime Principle” Steve Brown made a profound observation about God’s forgiveness:

         Have you ever watched a little girl get her new dress dirty just before church? Little girls get their dresses dirty sometimes when they really don’t mean to, and then they’re faced with a number of options.

         They can try to hide the dirt by folding the dress over and walking close to their mother. Or they can pretend that they don’t know about the dirt: “Dirt? I didn’t know there was any dirt on me!” Or they can just try to stay away from mother so that mother can’t see the dirt. If mother comes into the living room, the daughter goes into the bedroom. She’ll try to get in the car before her mother gets in.

         Or she can do what she ought to do if she has a mother who reflects the grace of God. She can go to her mother and say, “Look, my dress is dirty.” If her mother is right on, she does something about the dirt but not the daughter.

                                                                                                       —       Steve Brown

Folks, our God is “right on”: he does something about the dirt, but not his sons and daughters.

The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. {9} He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; {10} he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. {11} For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; {12} as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. {13} As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; {14} for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. (Psalms 103:8-14)

The God we Christians worship and serve is a God who is compassionate and gracious; actually eager to forgive our sins.

Perhaps the Apostle John had this passage in mind when he wrote:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

But, this leaves us asking ourselves a crucial question today, doesn’t it?

If it’s true that Christ is all about the forgiveness of sins, then why are there so many people, including Christians, walking around with repressed feelings of guilt still haunting their hearts?

The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard used to tell a story about ducks to illustrate how we Christians can hear the message of the Bible without really putting into practice. According to Kierkegaard, there is a town where only ducks live. Every Sunday the ducks waddle out of their houses and waddle down Main Street to their church. They waddle into the sanctuary and squat in their proper pews. The duck choir waddles in and takes its place, then the duck minister comes forward and opens the duck Bible. He reads to them: “Ducks! God has given you wings! With wings you can fly! With wings you can mount up and soar like eagles. No walls can confine you! No fences can hold you! You have wings. God has given you wings and you can fly like birds!” All the ducks shouted, “Amen!” And then they all waddled home.

“And then they all waddled home.” In other words, too many of people hear the message of God’s grace (we may even be the ones who are preaching and teaching it) but then waddle home—we go on living our lives as if our sins aren’t really forgiven!

Prominent Christian counselor David Seamands has written:

          Many years ago I was driven to the conclusion that the two major causes of most emotional problems among evangelical Christians are these: the failure to understand, receive, and live out God’s unconditional grace and forgiveness; and the failure to give out that unconditional love, forgiveness, and grace to other people. . . . We read, we hear, we believe a good theology of grace. But that’s not the way we live. The good news of the Gospel of grace has not penetrated the level of our emotions (emphasis added).

According to this Christian counselor, it’s not good enough for us Christians to simply hear and affirm the message of grace; we have to take it to heart!

So, what do we do about this serious situation? Is there anything we can do?

The answer is yes.

If we let Him, the Holy Spirit will massage into our hearts the message of God’s love and grace in such a way as to empower us to release rather than repress our feelings of guilt and shame.

According to the Bible, what happens to and in our hearts is of the utmost importance.

  • Proverbs 4:23 tells us that the heart is the wellspring of life.
  • Jeremiah 31:33 tells us that God’s goal is to write his word and his will onto our hearts.
  • Matthew 13:19-23 tells us that for the message of the Kingdom to do us any good, it has to be planted deeply in our hearts.

Since what happens to and in our hearts is so important, it shouldn’t surprise to read that …

And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:5, emphasis added)

The Holy Spirit does a lot of things in the lives of Christ’s followers after we surrender our lives to him; but nothing, absolutely nothing, is more important than this business of impressing upon our hearts the message of God’ love and grace.

Has this happened to you yet? Has it happened lately?

It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or how guilty you might feel today. If you ask him to, the Holy Spirit can and will massage into your heart the message of God’s grace and the experience of His love.

And . . .

If there are longstanding feelings of guilt and that are hiding in the recesses of your heart, the Holy Spirit can and will begin a process of inner healing so that you can begin to truly live the new life Jesus died in order to give you.

In one of his books, spiritual disciplines guru Richard Foster tells the following story:

           A friend of mine once counseled a seventy-eight-year-old woman. She had been a missionary for fifty years, but now her life, it seemed, was in shambles. She had fears day and night. She was afraid of crowds; she was afraid of stairs; she was afraid of everything. And she was depressed; a deep sadness hung over her entire life. So total was her misery that she was preparing to have shock treatments.

          My friend, who is very wise in the care of souls, asked if she had been happy as a child. “Oh yes!” she responded. The next question was a simple one. “When did you begin to feel this sadness and depression?” The reply was quick, “When I was sixteen.” And so my friend asked, “Why? What happened when you were sixteen that caused the sadness?” For the first time in her life, this woman admitted that at sixteen she had an affair with a young man. Fortunately, she did not become pregnant, and the young man soon went away, but she had carried this deep wound in her spirit for over sixty years.

This story absolutely blows me away! Here is a woman who had not only been a church-going Christian, but had spent fifty years of her life as a Christian leader—a missionary. Nevertheless, during all that time she had been walking around with a heart haunted by feelings of guilt and shame before God! Even while she was worshipping and serving God, her heart was filled with fear, sadness and despair, instead peace, joy and hope.

Are you curious about what happened to her?

Richard Foster finishes the story by saying:

          My friend prayed for the inner healing of this dear woman, and, wonderfully, within a matter of weeks, the fears and depression began to disappear, so that, as she put it, “I am able to remember that I used to be afraid and depressed, but I can no longer remember what it felt like!”

I don’t know for sure if anyone reading this blog possesses a heart that is filled with repressed feelings of guilt and shame. But I do know that, if you do, there’s hope.

The Holy Spirit is in the heart-massaging business!

Heart massage, anyone?

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Am I Self-Sabotaging?

Posted on 10, Oct

My blog today is not for everyone. It’s only for two kinds of people:

  • It’s for people who want to actually experience success in this life rather than just talk about it all the time.
  • It’s for people who recognize that the biggest key to living a happy life is to maintain positive, healthy, mutually beneficial relationships with other people.

So, do you fit into either of these categories? If you do, I want to encourage you to ask yourself a very important question today: Am I self-sabotaging?

To be even more specific, I believe we all need to ask ourselves: Is it possible that I might have some psychological blind spots?

You see, it’s our psychological blind spots that allow us to remain oblivious to certain aspects of our personality that are obvious to everyone around us. More often than not, these aspects of our personality that we don’t seem to be able or willing to recognize are problematic rather than helpful.

  • People with psychological blind spots keep making the same mistakes over and over again without ever accepting responsibility for them.
  • People with psychological blind spots keep behaving in ways that push most people away from them.
  • People with psychological blind spots keep sabotaging their own success.

Now, many psychologists will argue that if we possess a psychological blind spot, it’s not because we can’t see the truth about ourselves; it’s because we don’t want to. This is why, when the Bible talks about people with psychological blind spots, it doesn’t refer to them as victims, but as “fools” or “mockers”!

The Book of Proverbs contains a whole slew of passages that describe the fool as a person who simply doesn’t want to know the truth about themselves or anything else for that matter.

Here, see if you discern the point being made in these various passages:

The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice. (Proverbs 12:15)

The discerning heart seeks knowledge, but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly. (Proverbs 15:14)

A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions. (Proverbs 18:2)

Do not speak to a fool, for he will scorn the wisdom of your words. (Proverbs 23:9)

Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him. (Proverbs 26:12)

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

Do you get the idea being presented in these pasages?

The fool is the person who is not open to hearing or learning from anyone else. The fool is content to have his or her blind spots. The fool is someone who simply doesn’t care about the truth.

At the risk of being a bit too thorough in this blog, I will press on to point out that the Book of Proverbs also refers to the person with a psychological blind spot as a “mocker.” Like the fool, the mocker is not open to learning anything from anyone else.

Take a look at a few more passages that describe the self-destructive behavior of the mocker:

Whoever corrects a mocker invites insult; whoever rebukes a wicked man incurs abuse. (Proverbs 9:7)

A wise son heeds his father’s instruction, but a mocker does not listen to rebuke. (Proverbs 13:1)

A mocker resents correction; he will not consult the wise. (Proverbs 15:12)

The proud and arrogant man–” Mocker” is his name; he behaves with overweening pride. (Proverbs 21:24)

Drive out the mocker, and out goes strife; quarrels and insults are ended. (Proverbs 22:10)

The schemes of folly are sin, and men detest a mocker. (Proverbs 24:9)

Did you notice how that, according to these passages, the mocker succeeds in alienating himself or herself from nearly everyone around him or her?

How about it? Do you think you know of anyone who might qualify as a mocker?

With that thought in mind, let me encourage you not to make the mistake of thinking that we are talking about ignorant, uneducated people. Many foolish people are anything but ignorant or uneducated. The fact is that it’s possible to be very well educated and still be a fool.

A minister, a Boy Scout, and a computer executive were flying to a meeting in a small private plane. About halfway to their destination, the pilot came back and announced that the plane was going to crash and that there were only three parachutes and four people.

The pilot said, “I’m going to use one of the parachutes because I have a wife and four small children,” and he jumped.

The computer executive said, “I should have one of the parachutes because I’m the smartest man in the world and my company needs me,” and he jumped.

The minister turned to the Boy Scout and, smiling sadly, said, “You’re young and I’ve lived a good, long life, so you take the last parachute and I’ll go down with the plane.”

The Boy Scout said, “Relax, Reverend, the smartest man in the world just strapped on my backpack and jumped out of the plane!”

Commenting on this joke, psychologist Les Parrott III writes:

          “A high IQ has never guaranteed good decisions. No matter how superior one’s intelligence, even a genius may not see what’s obvious to others. One need not look far to find breathtaking acts of stupidity committed by people who are smart. You may be quick-witted, clever, and intellectually brilliant but these enviable traits don’t ensure wise judgments or accurate assessments, especially about oneself.”

In this quote Dr. Parrott seems to be referring to blind spots. How do I know?

I know because the quote doesn’t stop there; he goes on to say . . .

          “Blind spots. We all have them. Research has shown that we don’t know ourselves as well as we think we do. Psychological blind spots keep us from seeing the truth. They distort our perceptions, trick our reality, and feed us misinformation. Like the physical blind spots in automobiles, our personal blind spots steer us into danger if we’re not careful.”

So, what do we do about our blind spots? Dr. Parrott concludes this discussion by saying:

           “This is why discovering your blind spots is key to making good decisions. Ask for input. Have a confidant show you what you don’t see. It’s not easy work, but the payoffs are certainly sweet. It heightens your self-awareness, lowers your stress, revolutionizes your relationships, and frees your spirit for optimal fulfillment.”             

According to Dr. Parrott, the key to eliminating our blind spots is to proactively seek some quality input from some people you believe you can trust. The Bible says essentially the same thing:

Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. (Proverbs 27:6, emphasis added)

Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of one’s friend springs from his earnest counsel. (Proverbs 27:9, emphasis added)

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17, emphasis added)

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom … (Colossians 3:16, emphasis added)

speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. (Ephesians 4:15, emphasis added)

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. (Hebrews 10:24, emphasis added)

I want to end this blog encouraging you to ask yourself another question or two:

  • Do I have any confidants—close spiritual friends—I can trust to help me see the truth about myself, things I haven’t wanted to see?
  • Will I actually do it? Will I open myself up to the truth no matter how painful a process this might be?

I can pretty much guarantee that this process of self-discovery will be painful. This is why the philosopher Socrates once said:


“Let him who would move the world first move himself.” 

—       Socrates

And why the philosopher Plato once observed:

“Self conquest is the greatest of all victories.”

—       Plato

Make no mistake, this business of eliminating our blind spots is hard, painful labor. But, let me assure you, Jesus will help you through this learning experience no matter how painful it may be. Just ask Peter or any of the other disciples … except Judas.

What I’m trying to say is that because we are whole, integrated beings our psychological health is important to Jesus. If we let Him, He can and will help us all cease our self-sabotaging. The next move is ours.

Something to think about.

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I’m currently proofreading an edited version of the manuscript that, in July 2011, will be released as Christ’s Empowering Presence. In chapter 7 of this book my focus is on  the set of “rules” for holy living put forward by a seventeenth-century Anglican churchman named Jeremy Taylor. Better thought of as suggestions, these  “rules” were intended by Taylor to enable his readers to experience the presence of God in their daily lives and respond appropriately to it. Here’s an excerpt from my manuscript I feel led of the Lord to share with my friends today: 

Rule #2

            Taylor’s second “rule” has to do with the way in which his readers conduct their times of devotion. Taylor suggests that as we begin our quiet times we should spend a few moments in worship: picturing God with the eyes of faith; rehearsing the reasons why he is worthy of our time, attention, and praise; imagining ourselves in his very presence. According to Taylor, this simple act of connecting with God in a way that is both volitional-intellectual and mystical-experiential will have a tremendously positive effect upon our devotional exercises. 

“In the beginning of actions of religion, make an act of adoration, that is, solemnly worship God, and place thyself in God’s presence, and behold Him with the eye of faith; and let thy desires actually fix on Him as the object of thy worship, and the reason of thy hope, and the fountain of thy blessing. For when thou hast placed thyself before Him and kneelest in His presence, it is most likely all the following parts of thy devotion will be answerable to the wisdom of such an apprehension, and the glory of such a presence.”[1]

            When talking to my university students, either in class or in one-on-one counseling sessions, I will often make the distinction between our conversing with God and our merely talking at him. I will point out that what some of us are really doing during “prayer” is merely rehearsing our worrisome thoughts toward the idea of God rather than genuinely sharing our burdens with him in a real, person-to-person manner. 

            I’m convinced that Jesus would have us understand that prayer can be a real conversation we have with God, confident that we are being listened to by a gracious, loving heavenly Father who genuinely cares for us. This is the kind of praying that produces: (a) a real sense of peace in our hearts; and (b) real results in the world! Rather than merely talk at, or worry toward, the idea of God, we can and should converse with him. To do this, we need to take rule #2 seriously and begin our prayer times with an act of adoration, reckoning with God’s real presence, focusing our heart and mind on the fact that we are about to converse with a very real spiritual entity who also happens to be our loving heavenly Father. 

I hope this distinction between speaking to God in prayer rather than merely talking at him (or worse, at the mere idea of him) is as helpful to you as it is to me. At the very least it provides us with … 

Something to think about. 


[1] Jeremy Taylor: Selected Writings, “Holy Living,” ed. C. H. Sisson (Manchester, England: Carcanet Press Limited, 1990),, 62–63.

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Postmodernity’s rejection of modernity’s concept of a rational, autonomous knower tends toward a rejection of individualism as a whole accompanied by a sometimes radical embrace of communalism. Many postmodern Christians are therefore highly critical of the individualism they see present in contemporary evangelicalism. Some are even beginning to question whether it is legitimate for evangelicals to speak of having or pursuing a “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ. Pointing out that this phrase is not present in the New Testament text, some postmodern theologians are concerned that such language is off-putting to the post-Christians living around us, and that such a concept causes many contemporary Christians to become myopic, self-centered and consumerist in the way they live out the Christian faith.

It is true that many evangelical Christians have become too individualistic in their walk with Christ, and that the phrase “personal relationship” with Jesus does not show up in the pages of the New Testament. But does this mean that the concept of a personal relationship with Christ is altogether absent from God’s word? Is denying or even simply downplaying the idea of a personal relationship with Christ the best way to respond to the problem of Christian individualism?  

This is an important issue for any Christian who wants his or her faith to be biblically informed. Therefore, I encourage you to take a good look at the following passages in order to make your own determination as to whether the authors of the New Testament, nearly two millennia before the advent of modernity, did or did not communicate the idea that God is concerned for the spiritual well-being of individuals, and desires that individuals enter into and maintain a personal relationship with him through Jesus Christ (a personal though not private relationship that most certainly has communal implications).

Matthew 10:37-42 Romans 10:11 Philippians 4:13 2 Peter 1:8-9
Matthew 16:24-27 1 Corinthians 3:17 Hebrews 3:12 2 Peter 3:9
Mark 8:38 1 Corinthians 11:29 Hebrews 4:1 1 John 2:4-6
Luke 15 1 Corinthians 16:22 Hebrews 4:10 1 John 4:8,15-16
John 7:17 2 Corinthians 5:17 James 1:23-25 Revelation 3:20-22
John 10:3 Galatians 1:15-16 James 1:26 Revelation 22:12
John 14:23 Galatians 2:19-21 James 2:14 Revelation 22:17


C. S. Lewis has famously observed that the trinitarian God of Christianity is unique in that he is not simply personal, but super-personal. At the heart of the Godhead is a community of three persons engaged in a sort of divine dance produced by the eternal, loving interaction between Father, Son and Holy Spirit (see Mere Christianity, pp. 175-176). In other words, our God is all about the dynamic of interpersonal relationship.You might say that he is a hyper-personal God who is radically interested in a personal (though not private) relationship with each and every human being created in his image. Hence the long list of scriptures presented above!

It is precisely this desire in the heart of God for a personal, life-giving relationship with each of us that produces the drama inherent the biblical story. The sad truth is that not everyone will enter into such a life-giving relationship with God, despite the remarkable lengths God has gone to make such a relationship possible.

Make no mistake, the New Testament does emphasize the concept of a personal relationship with God. The problems of contemporary Christians adopting an attitude of radical individualism, and approaching life in the church with a consumerist mindset in place are real and need to be dealt with lest we continue to practice churchianity rather than Christianity and give the post-Christians around us more justification for dismissing the faith. But the solution to these problems is not to dismiss or downplay the idea of a personal (though not private) relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Quite the contrary.

Something to think about.


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Have you ever noticed how many of the psalms have as their theme a plea to God for protection from the psalmist’s enemies? Even allowing for the fact that the ancient Near East was an environment where the rule of law did not always hold sway, it kind of makes you wonder what the psalmists (especially David) were doing to create so many enemies?

Judging by the content of the prayers themselves, all the psalmists were guilty of was trying to live a righteous and upright life in the face of much evil and lawlessness (see Ps 7:8; 17:1-3; 18:20-24; 40:9-10; 119:121).


But having written a book about the problem of Christian Pharisaism, which often manifests itself in attitudes of self-righteousness and super-spirituality, I have to admit that I get a little nervous around people who are in the habit of insisting that their provocative actions are completely innocent, their motives entirely pure, and their cause indubitably just. I also grieve whenever I see or hear of people acting in a deliberately belligerent, obnoxious manner because they are absolutely convinced that defending God’s honor or advancing God’s concerns depends upon their doing so. It’s not that I’m suggesting that the psalmists (especially David) were self-righteous, super-spiritual jerks, I’m just saying that I hope that not too many contemporary readers of the psalms will be guilty of justifying the presence of a plethora of unnecessary enemies in their lives on the basis of them.

Then again, it’s also true that, as Mark Twain once observed, there’s nothing more annoying than a good example.

Furthermore, along with the Scriptures, everyday life teaches us that it does sometimes happen that essentially good people will be persecuted by less good people for no other reason than because of their commitment to please God.

Just ask Jesus. 

In his book, Holy Sweat, Tim Hansel includes a cogent quote from the writings of Martin Bell. Speaking of Jesus, Bell writes:

“There he is. In the temple again. Causing trouble. Speaking very differently from other preachers. Speaking with authority about sorrow, anxiety, sickness, and death. Penetrating the dark corners of human existence. Shattering illusion. Make no mistake about it; this is a dangerous man.”

To some people, Jesus was a dangerous man.

Hmm … aren’t we called to emulate this dangerous person? Didn’t Jesus warn his disciples in John 15:18-22 that, to the degree they successfully re-present him to the world, they should expect to be hated and persecuted as we was? It was certainly not the case that Jesus was a self-righteous, super-spiritual jerk. Rather it was because he was so very committed to living his life in a righteous manner in his relations to God and his neighbors, and called for others to strive to do the same, that he got on people’s nerves, making a number of necessary enemies in the process.

These musings have the effect of causing me to wonder: Does anyone in the world consider me dangerous? If not, why?

Indeed, having thought about the matter some, I’ve come to the conclusion that this may be why so many of the psalms contain prayerful, heart-felt appeals to God for divine protection against the psalmist’s enemies. The same Holy Spirit that inspired the composition, collection and canonization of the psalms inspired the Apostle Paul to write:

In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted… (2 Timothy 3:12)

So, instead of wondering why so many of the psalms are about protection from one’s enemies, and instead of worrying about too many contemporary readers justifying the presence of too many unnecessary enemies in their lives on the basis of them, maybe I should be wondering why I don’t have more necessary enemies of my own.

Weird, huh?

Something to think about.

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Empowering Grace

Posted on 1, Oct

Yesterday morning’s Bible reading involved Haggai 1 in which is found the following passage:

So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began to work on the house of the Lord Almighty, their God, 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year of King Darius. Haggai (1:14-15)

The backstory is that the exiles from Babylon had returned to Jerusalem and had begun to put their lives back together. Houses were being built; crops were being planted and harvested; community life was being reorganized taking on a semblance of normalcy. However, according to the word of the Lord that had come to the prophet Haggai, there was a huge problem: the house of the Lord (the temple) remained a ruin (Haggai 1:4, 9). This oversight, said the prophet Haggai, was the reason why the people in the land had yet to experience God’s full blessing on all their life re-building endeavors (Haggai 1:5-6, 10-11).  The call of Haggai’s propehcy was for the people to come correct and and make the rebuilding of the house of the Lord a priority (Haggai 1:8). The implication of this prophetic message was that putting God first in their lives would put these people in a position to experience his full blessing. 

The chapter goes on to say that the people responded well to the prophetic preaching of Haggai—the orientation of their hearts to the message was one of obedience to it (Haggai 1:12). In response to this, a second word of the Lord came through Haggai to the people, assuring them that God was (and would be) with them. It’s then that we read of the Lord stirring up the spirit of the people and their leaders to actually begin the work or re-building the temple.

The idea of the Lord stirring up the Spirit of a group of people to become involved in a ministry project, the importance of which they had not correctly assessed before, was on my mind all day yesterday and is still with me today. Could it be that I am overlooking something that God considers very important? Should I so quickly assume that my prorities are God’s priorities? Is there something I need to be doing in order to please God and bring him the honor he deserves (Haggai 1:8) that I’m not doing right now?

Now, while this medidation could end on a negative, self-critical note, I don’t intend for it to. The biblical text ultimately says that the Lord stirred up the spirit of the people, encouraging and empowering them to do that which would please him and put them in a position to experience his best blessings in their lives. That’s grace!

Over the years I’ve found that we have a God who is so gracious that he can be counted on to provide his people with the “spirit” and “heart” they need in order to live their lives in a way that’s pleasing to him and good for themselves. All we have to do is ask. For example:

  • In Psalm 51:12 we read of David requesting that the Lord would grant him a “willing spirit,” that he might do better at pleasing him.
  • In Psalm 86:11 we read of David asking God to give him an “undivided heart” that he might fear his name.
  • In Psalm 138:3 we read of David giving thanks that the Lord heard his prayer and responded by making him “bold and stouthearted.”

Isn’t it good to know that we serve a God who not only instructs us in the way we should live but then is willing to provide us with that which we need in order to do so: e.g., a “willing spirit” and a “heart” that is both “undivided” and “stout” (sturdy, resolute, determined, strong)?

The Haggai text tells us that in response to the orientation of their hearts to want to obey the prophetic word they had received, the Lord stirred up the spirit of the people enabling them to accomplish the very thing he was calling them to do. Again, that’s grace—empowering grace—and I need/want as much of it as I can get. How about you?

Something to think about.

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