Mentoring matters! And sometimes it accomplishes much more than simply helping one acquire a new job or life skill. To illustrate the truthfulness of this rather bold assertion I want to make use of a powerful story that Donald Miller relates in his book, To Own a Dragon.

An abridged version of this interesting story goes like this:

I lived for a time with my friend and mentor John MacMurray, where the first rule is to always tell the truth. John and I were sitting in the family room one night when he asked about my new cell phone.

“I got it free,” I told him.

“How did you get it for free?” he asked.

“Well, my other one broke, so I took it in to see if they could replace it. They had this new computer system at the store and they didn’t have their records. They didn’t know whether mine was still under warranty. It wasn’t, I knew, because it was more than a year old. The guy asked me about it, and I told him I didn’t know, but it was right around a year. Just a white lie, you know. Anyway, the phone was so messed up they replaced it with a newer model. So, I got a free phone.”

“Did you ever see that movie The Family Man with Nicolas Cage?” John asked. “There’s this scene where Nicolas Cage walks into a store to get a cup of coffee. And Don Cheadle plays the guy working at the counter. There’s a girl in line before Nicolas Cage, and she’s buying something for ninety-nine cents, and she hands Cheadle a dollar. Cheadle takes nine dollars out of the till and counts it out, giving her way too much change. She sees that he is handing her way too much money, yet she picks it up and puts it in her pocket without saying a word. As she is walking out the door, Cheadle stops her to give her another chance. He asks her if there is anything else she needs. She shakes her head no and walks out.”

“I see what you’re getting at, John,” I say.

“Let me finish,” he says. “So Cheadle looks over at Nicolas Cage, and he says, ‘Did you see that? She was willing to sell her character for nine dollars. Nine dollars!'”

After a little while, I spoke up. “Do you think that is what I am doing with the phone? Do you think I am selling my character?” And to be honest, I said this with a smirk.

“I do,” John said. “The Bible talks about having a calloused heart. That’s when sin, after a period of time, has so deceived us we no longer care whether our thoughts and actions are right or wrong. Our hearts will go there easily, and often over what looks like little things—little white lies. All I am saying to you, as your friend, is, watch for this kind of thing.”

 Miller concludes the story saying:

I went back to the store the next day. It cost me more than nine dollars, but I got my character back.

Based upon this story, I want to put before you three fairly straight-forward questions.  

Here’s the first:

Do you have any spiritual friends like John MacMurray in your life—friends who will speak the truth in love to you even at the risk of ticking you off?

Miller refers to MacMurray as both a friend and mentor. I’m convinced it’s important to have both formal mentors and spiritual friends.

Why is this so important?

Proverbs 13:20 reads:

He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm. (Proverbs 13:20)

Walking with the wise! This is the ultimate goal of a mentoring relationship: finding an especially wise person or group of people to hang with so that some of their wisdom might rub off on us.

Over the years I’ve observed that some pretty powerful things can happen as a result of a meaningful participation in a group of genuine spiritual friends.

Our spiritual friends can:

  • Help us zero in on a sense of overall direction for our lives.
  • Help us make major education and career-path decisions at various crossroads moments in our lives.
  • Help us make it through some especially stressful seasons of life.
  • Help us get a grip on some unspiritual behaviors that we can’t seem to overcome on our own (by functioning as accountability partners).
  • Help us hear God’s voice when we’re about to make a major ethical decision that can’t be undone.

But, as Donald Miller’s story indicates, there’s at least one more thing that our spiritual friends can do for us:

  • Lovingly confront us whenever we make the huge mistake of selling our character.

Someone once defined a true friend this way: a true friend is someone who, when you call them at 2 in the morning and tell them you need help burying a body, they show up on your doorstep 10 minutes later carrying a shovel.

Well, that’s loyalty for sure. But according to the book of Proverbs, a true spiritual friend (or mentor) doesn’t simply support us no matter what we do, he or she loves us enough to hold us accountable as well!

Better is open rebuke than hidden love. [6] Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. (Proverbs 27:5-6)

 The New Testament tells us essentially the same thing:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)

My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, [20] remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20)

So, I ask you again: do you have any spiritual friends like John MacMurray in your life?

If the answer is no, the way you answer the second question I want to put to you now might explain why.

How do you normally react when anyone dares to confront you in love?

In the story we just read, Miller is honest enough to confess that his first response to his mentor was to push back somewhat with a smirk on his face.

In other words, he had an attitude: sort of cocky, “Oh yeah; says you” frame of mind that produced a subtle but snarky response!

I get it, don’t you? Who likes to be told that they’re messing up?

But, once again, God’s word says …

He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise. (Proverbs 15:31)

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid. (Proverbs 12:1)

Wow! That’s some straight shooting, isn’t it? He who hates correction is … stupid!

Now, in Miller’s defense we have to acknowledge that though his initial response was sort of snarky or “smirky,” eventually he made the decision to heed his mentor’s counsel.


I want to suggest that, though it’s rarely easy to admit that we’ve been wrong or have made a mistake, it was the way MacMurray described the consequences of sinning against one’s conscience that got through to Miller.

I guess the question I’m asking at this point in this blog is: Would MacMurray’s admonition have gotten through to you?

You see, according to the Book of Proverbs, there are two kinds of people who simply can’t be gotten through to no matter how wise and spot on the advice: the mocker and the fool.

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

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

A fool spurns his father’s discipline, but whoever heeds correction shows prudence. (Proverbs 15:5)

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

As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly. (Proverbs 26:11)

Though you grind a fool in a mortar, grinding him like grain with a pestle, you will not remove his folly from him. (Proverbs 27:22)

If the passages cited above strike you as a bit sobering and scary that’s actually a good sign. The very fact that reading them might cause you to hope in your heart that they don’t apply to you probably means they don’t.

Then again, if you’ve read this far and are completely unfazed by anything presented here, then … 

Anyway, here’s the third question I want to put to you today:

Could it be that you need to do something right away to get your character back?

Could it be that you’re not reading this blog posting by accident? Could it be that you were supposed to read this stuff at precisely this point in your life?

In the Book of Genesis we read of a guy named Esau selling his birthright for a bowl of stew (Gen. 25:29-34)!

Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. [30] He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.) [31] Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” [32] “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?” [33] But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob. [34] Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So Esau despised his birthright. (Genesis 25:29-34)

Much later on the author of the New Testament Book of Hebrews would write:

See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. [16] See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. (Hebrews 12:15-16)

The same biblical author wrote these words of warning:

See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. [13] But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. (Hebrews 3:12-13)

This is precisely what our spiritual friends are supposed to do for us: encourage us not to develop a hardened heart!

This is precisely what I’m trying to do for someone reading this blog right now. Whoever you are, consider me your John MacMurray … at least for today.

God knows who you are and what you’re about. He loves you anyway and is very serious about drawing you to himself before it’s too late.

Is there some sense in which you’re being tempted right now to sell your character? Don’t do it! Your character is the only thing you will take with from this world into the next. Nothing in this world is worth the loss of a tender, sensitive conscience before God!

Or has it gone beyond that? Have you already begun a pattern of sinning against your conscience, of selling your character for a bowl of stew … or nine bucks … or whatever?

It’s not too late for you to turn back. You can do what Donald Miller did; you can do the right thing; you can get your character back!

Something to think about.

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Taking Psalm 50:23 Seriously

Posted on 23, Nov

He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God. (Psalm 50:23)

Having blogged just yesterday about the importance of giving thanks to God, I certainly did not go to bed last night intending to do so again today. But then, while reading Scripture this morning, I came across Psalm 50. It just so happens that one of the main themes of this particular psalm seems to be that though the wicked can and (for various reasons) sometimes do engage in many of worship rituals prescribed by the temple cultus, only those who are truly consecrated to God will sacrifice thank offerings to him. Thus, the act of giving thanks is on my mind once again.

The point I want to make today is that while it’s true that there was a ritual, material, geographical aspect to the manner in which the ancient Hebrews would sacrifice a thank offering to God (see Leviticus 7:11-15), the New Testament seems to spiritualize the concept, focusing on the act of simply speaking forth words of thanksgiving and praise to the one we acknowledge as Lord (see Hebrews 3:15). Thus, though the Thanksgiving holiday affords us an annual opportunity to sacrifice thank offerings to God, I want to suggest in this blog posting that giving thanks should be a way of life … and for good reason!

This is actually a point I elaborate upon some in my book Christ’s Empowering Presence (Biblica Publishing) scheduled for release in June, 2011. In that work I write: 

            Finally, I want to say a bit more, as promised, about the vital importance of maintaining throughout the day an attitude of real gratitude to God for his many blessings. We’ve already seen that a good number of the classic works on Christian spirituality have emphasized the important relationship between the practice of the presence of God and an ongoing engagement in worship, praise, and thanksgiving. What I want to underscore here is my understanding of how the connection between giving thanks to God and the experience of his presence is not only correlative, but causative as well. We all know how easy it is to worship and give thanks during those wonderful moments when Christ’s presence is palpably evident to us (see Ephesians 5:18–20). This is what I mean when I say that the presence of God and giving thanks just seem to go together, to correlate.

            But what about those times when the divine presence is not so patently obvious to us—those seasons of spiritual dryness referred to by spiritual life authors such as Thomas à Kempis and Richard Foster? While I heartily endorse what à Kempis, Foster, and others have said about the value of simply and patiently waiting these seasons out, I want to go on to state that my experience has been that during times when a sense of Christ’s nearness has been noticeably absent in my life, the spiritual discipline of giving thanks to God in an intentional, proactive, yet sincere manner has often brought about a fresh season of his existential proximity. In other words, I want to suggest that the act of giving thanks in the face of one’s ambiguous, perhaps even adverse, circumstances can actually cause or facilitate a renewed sense of Christ’s empowering presence.

           In Psalm 50:23 we read, “He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.” I’m more than intrigued with the idea that giving thanks in a deliberate, proactive manner can somehow precipitate God’s providential involvement in my life—I’m convinced of it! While I don’t mean for this to be understood as a foolproof formula, it’s because of passages such as Psalm 50:23, and the fact that I’ve personally experienced both the correlative and causative connections between giving thanks and the experience of God’s presence, that one of the grand goals of my life is to become a truly praiseful person—a man whose lifestyle is earmarked by the habit of seeing God in everything that happens, and giving him thanks, sometimes by raw faith, as a result (see also Ephesians 5:19–20; Philippians 4:4–7; 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18). Deep down inside, don’t you want to become a perpetually praiseful person too?

Well, don’t you? We have some really good reasons to take Psalm 50:23 very seriously, Thanksgiving week or not.

Something to think about.

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This coming Thursday is the American holiday that is officially designated as Thanksgiving Day. Unfortunately, however, for many Americans, this Thursday won’t be Thanksgiving Day, but merely Turkey Day.

This observation reminds me of a cute story:


Thanksgiving was only eight days away. Miss Michelle, who was teaching in a church’s mid-week children’s program, decided to ask her preschoolers about the upcoming holiday. She thought it would be effective to have the class playfully correct some wrong ideas about Thanksgiving.

          So she said, “Now let me see. Thanksgiving. That’s the day when we think about all the stuff we have. And how we want more things than anybody else has. And how we don’t care about anybody but ourselves. And –”

          “No!” the kids started to yell. “No-o-o!”

          Then one little guy called out, “That’s not Thanksgiving, Miss Michelle, that’s Christmas!”

My point is that not all families actually engage in the practice of giving thanks on Thanksgiving. And with that, yet another story comes to mind:

           One Thanksgiving season a family was seated around their table, looking at the annual holiday bird. From the oldest to the youngest, they were to express their praise. When they came to the 5-year-old in the family, he began by looking at the turkey and expressing his thanks to the turkey, saying although he had not tasted it he knew it would be good. After that rather novel expression of thanksgiving, he began with a more predictable line of credits, thanking his mother for cooking the turkey and his father for buying the turkey. But then he went beyond that. He joined together a whole hidden multitude of benefactors, linking them with cause and effect.

          He said, “I thank you for the checker at the grocery store who checked out the turkey. I thank you for the grocery store people who put it on the shelf. I thank you for the farmer who made it fat. I thank you for the man who made the feed. I thank you for those who brought the turkey to the store.”

          Using his Columbo-like little mind, he traced the turkey all the way from its origin to his plate. And then at the end he solemnly said “Did I leave anybody out?”

          His 2-year-older brother, embarrassed by all those proceedings, said, “God.”

          Solemnly and without being flustered at all, the 5-year-old said, “I was about to get to him.”

This is the question I want to put to all of us today—just a few days before Thanksgiving:

Assuming we actually give thanks at all this Thursday . . .

Will we get to God this Thanksgiving?

In this Thanksgiving devotional blog my goal is to help prepare anyone reading it to have a truly blessed day this Thursday by encouraging them to be careful to get to God this Thanksgiving.

To do this, I want to make the following points:

First, giving thanks to God for the many ways He’s blessed us is simply the right thing to do.

 Giving thanks to God is the right thing to do for several reasons:

Giving thanks to God is the right thing to do because doing so is what sets the true worshipper of God apart from those who engage in idolatry.

 In Romans 1:18-23 the Apostle Paul states very clearly that the essence of idolatry is an unwillingness to give thanks to the God who created us.  According to this passage, giving thanks to God is one of the actions that separate the true worshipper of God apart from those who, because of their sin in their lives, choose to worship idols instead. Thus, giving thanks to the true God of the universe, the God who created us in his image, the God who wants us to experience a personal relationship with him, is simply the right thing to do.

Giving thanks to God is the right thing to do because it can actually affect our level of happiness in this life.

Surely everyone reading this blog wants to be a happy, joyful person. With that thought in mind, look carefully at these words of advice penned by the English spiritual writer William Law:

If anyone would tell you the shortest, surest way to happiness and all perfection, he must tell you to make it a rule to yourself to thank and praise God for everything that happens to you. For it is certain that whatever seeming calamity happens to you, if you thank and praise God for it, you turn it into a blessing.

 In a sermon entitled “An Attitude of Gratitude” John Yates says:

“John Henry Jowett, a British preacher of an earlier generation, said this about gratitude: ‘Gratitude is a vaccine, an antitoxin, and an antiseptic.’ What did he mean? He meant that gratitude, like a vaccine, can prevent the invasion of a disgruntled, discouraged spirit. Like an antitoxin, gratitude can prevent the affects of the poisons of cynicism, criticalness, and grumbling. Like an antiseptic, a spirit of gratitude can soothe and heal the most troubled spirit.”

Thus, for all those reading this blog whose spirits need soothing and healing as we approach this holiday season, I recommend that we sincerely give thanks to God this Thursday!

Giving thanks to God is the right thing to do because it can also benefit our physical health!

A few years ago Fox News reported that a recent study of 1,000 people aged 65-85 points to the importance of a positive attitude in dealing with life. After almost 10 years of follow-up, researchers found that people who described themselves as optimistic had a 55 percent lower risk of death from all causes and a 23 percent lower risk of heart-related death. Optimistic people tend to be more physically active, drink less, and smoke less. They cope with stress more effectively.

What does this research tell us? It suggests that a positive, hopeful, optimistic attitude toward life can help us live longer as well as happier lives!

I want to go on to suggest that, because the precursor to giving thanks is the act of counting our blessings, the practice of giving thanks can help us become more positive, hopeful and optimistic in our approach to life.

Furthermore, this leads me to say …

Giving thanks to God is the right thing to do because all of us have some significant reasons to be thankful.

A teacher asked her students to list what they thought were the present Seven Wonders of the World. The students cast the most votes for: 

  1. Egypt’s Great Pyramids;
  2. The Taj Mahal; 
  3. The Grand Canyon;
  4. The Panama Canal;
  5. The Empire State Building;
  6. St. Peter’s Basilica; and
  7. The Great Wall of China.

          While gathering the votes, the teacher noted that one student had not turned in her paper yet. She asked the girl if she was having trouble with her list.

          The girl replied, “Yes, a little. I couldn’t quite make up my mind because there were so many.”

          The teacher said, “Well, tell us what you have, and maybe we can help.”

          The girl hesitated, then read, “I think the Seven Wonders of the World are: 

  1. to see;
  2. to hear;
  3. to touch;
  4. to taste;
  5. to feel;
  6. to laugh; and
  7. to love.

Here’s something to think about: How many of these Seven Wonders of the World are at work in our lives?

In The Sacred Journey, Frederick Buechner writes:

          “[One] winter I sat in Army fatigues somewhere near Anniston, Alabama, eating my supper out of a mess kit. The infantry training battalion that I had been assigned to was on bivouac. There was a cold drizzle of rain, and everything was mud. The sun had gone down.

          “I was still hungry when I finished and noticed that a man nearby had something left over that he was not going to eat. It was a turnip, and when I asked him if I could have it, he tossed it over to me. I missed the catch, the turnip fell to the ground, but I wanted it so badly that I picked it up and started eating it anyway, mud and all. 

          “And then, as I ate it, time deepened and slowed down again. With a lurch of the heart that is real to me still, I saw suddenly, almost as if from beyond time altogether, that not only was the turnip good, but the mud was good too, even the drizzle and cold were good, even the Army that I had dreaded for months. 

          “Sitting there in the Alabama winter with my mouth full of cold turnip and mud, I could see at least for a moment how if you ever took truly to heart the ultimate goodness and joy of things, even at their bleakest, the need to praise someone or something for it would be so great that you might even have to go out and speak of it to the birds of the air.”

And yet, there is something better we can do with our thanksgiving; we can not only speak of it to God, we can share with others.

This leads me to say that …

Giving thanks is the right thing to do because it can have a powerful effect on those around us.

In a leadership prayer breakfast held in Wheaton, Illinois a few years back, Retired U.S. Marine Corps General Charles Krulak told the story of how he became a Christ follower. The general explained:

           Thirty-five years ago I was a young second lieutenant just graduated from the Naval Academy, married 14 days after I graduated. My wife and I went down to Quantico, Virginia, home of the basic school where officers learn about honor, courage, and commitment. At that time in my life I thought I was a cross between John Wayne and Tom Cruise. Because I was married, I shared a room with another married officer named John Listerman. John was a wonderful human. He exuded goodness. If I asked him for his arm, he would have said, “Where do you want me to cut it off? At the wrist? The elbow?” John was a Christian. That meant nothing to me other than Gee, what a nice guy. I guess this Christian stuff must be pretty good.

          Upon graduating from basic school, John and I went to Camp Pendleton, California, where we joined the same battalion preparing to go to Vietnam. And I saw another side of John Listerman: he was a tremendous leader—aggressive and technically proficient. People loved him. He was committed to his troops; his troops were committed to him. He was a Marine’s Marine.

          On a December morning in 1965 John and I went to war. John Listerman’s war lasted one day.

          We were on patrol moving down a trail through the jungle. We came around a corner in that trail, and we ran into an ambush. John took the first round, a 50-caliber round right in his kneecap. As his kneecap burst, the crack was so loud it sounded like a mortar exploding. It threw him up in the air. As he was dropping, the second round hit him right below the heart and exited out his side. I was wounded also but nowhere near as badly. I saw John about 30 meters away on his back, his leg blown off.

          I crawled up to him, and I wanted to say, “Are you okay? Can I do anything?” but before I could do that, his head turned to me and he said, “How are you doing, Chucker? Are you okay?”

          I said, “Yes, John. I’m okay.” He said, “Are my men safe?” I said, “John, your people are okay.” At that point he turned his head and looked to the sky and repeated over and over, “Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Lord. Thank you for caring for my people. Thank you for caring for me.”

General Charles Krulak went on in that leadership prayer breakfast to explain that it was that experience of hearing his Christian friend giving thanks to God in those adverse circumstances that caused him to eventually become committed Christian himself.

Mark it down, this business of giving thanks is important stuff. It can make the difference as to whether or not people around us ever end up connecting with Christ!

For all these reasons, giving thanks to God is simply the right thing to do this holiday season.

Then again …

Second, according to the Bible, giving thanks to God should be a lifestyle, not something we do once a year.

British author G. K. Chesterton once wrote:

You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing, and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.

It is true that the Bible seems to assume that we Christians will pause to offer thanksgiving to God before we eat our meals. Can you guess what the following passages all have in common?

  •   Matthew 14:19 
  •   Mark 8:6 
  •   Luke 22:19-20  Luke 24:30-31 
  •   Acts 27:33-37 
  •   Romans 14:6
  •   1 Timothy 4:3-4

All of these passages refer to the practice of Christians offering thanks to God before they eat a meal. So, this practice of pausing to pray a prayer of thanksgiving to God before we eat is indeed a biblical practice.

On the other hand, there are other passages in the New Testament that indicate that giving thanks shouldn’t be limited to meal times; giving thanks should be something we do constantly every day of our lives! Take a gander at a few more passages that talk about giving thanks:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6)

And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, {11} being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully {12} giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. (Colossians 1:10-12)

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:15)

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17)

Be joyful always; {17} pray continually; {18} give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise–the fruit of lips that confess his name. (Hebrews 13:15)

I’m pretty sure you get where I’m going with this: the New Testament makes it abundantly clear that the God we serve wants his people to be folks of faith who routinely give thanks to him for everything that happens in our lives.

Finally, here is one last point that I feel the need to make:

Third, in the end, giving thanks to God is a crucial, important choice that each of us must make for ourselves.

 Bob Reccord, author of the book, Forged by Fire: How God Shapes Those He Loves, writes:

           As I write this book, I’m having to exercise the faith of dealing with the prison of pain. Unexpectedly, I suffered a severe cervical spinal injury. The pain was so excruciating, the hospital staff couldn’t even get me into the MRI until they had significantly sedated me. The MRI showed significant damage at three major points in the cervical area. The orthopedic surgeon’s assistant later told me, “Bob, your neck is a wreck.” He said there was hardly any way I could avoid surgery.

          Because of the swelling of injured nerve bundles, the only way I could relieve the pain was to use a strong, prescribed narcotic and to lie on bags of ice. Sleep, what little there was, came only by sitting in a reclining chair.

          Approximately 48 hours from the onset of the injury, doctors estimated that I lost about 80 percent of the strength in my left arm. Three fingers on my left hand totally lost feeling. Even the slightest movements would send pain waves hurtling down my left side and shoulder. To add insult to injury, physicians said I had to step away completely from my work (which I love), and begin to wear a neck brace…24 hours a day for five weeks.

          About halfway through that experience, I found myself sitting on the screened-in porch behind our home. The day was cold and blustery, but I was committed to being outside, just for a change of scenery. Suddenly a bird landed on the railing and began to sing. On that cold, rainy day, I couldn’t believe any creature had a reason to sing. I wanted to shoot that bird! But he continued to warble, and I had no choice but to listen.

          The next day found me on the porch again, but this time the atmosphere was bright, sunny, and warm. As I sat, being tempted to feel sorry for myself, suddenly the bird (at least it looked like the same one) returned. And he was singing again! Where was that shotgun?

          Then an amazing truth hit me head on: the bird sang in the cold rain as well as the sunny warmth. His song was not altered by outward circumstances, but it was held constant by an internal condition. It was as though God quietly said to me, “You’ve got the same choice, Bob. You will either let external circumstances mold your attitude, or your attitude will rise above the external circumstances. You choose!”

As I bring this devotional blog to a close I want to suggest that this is true for all of us. No one can force us to give thanks ever, much less this Thursday. It’s a choice each of us has to make for ourselves. The question is: Will we do so?

 As you decide, here’s one last story to keep in mind:

       An atheist was walking through the woods, admiring all the “accidents” that evolution had created. “What majestic trees! What powerful rivers! What beautiful animals!” he said to himself.

          As he was walking alongside the river, he heard a rustling in the bushes behind him. Turning to look, he saw a 7-foot grizzly bear charge towards him. He ran away as fast as he could up the path.

          He looked over his shoulder and saw the grizzly was closing. Somehow he ran even faster, so scared that tears came to his eyes. He looked again, and the bear was even closer. His heart was pounding, and he tried to run faster. He tripped and fell to the ground. He rolled over to pick himself up, but the bear was right over him, reaching for him with its left paw and raising its right paw to strike him.

          At that instant the atheist cried, “Oh my God!”

          Time stopped. The bear froze. The forest was silent. Even the river stopped moving.

          As a bright light shone upon the man, a voice came out of the sky, “You deny my existence for all these years, teach others that I don’t exist, and even credit creation to a cosmic accident. Do you expect me to help you out of this predicament? Am I to count you as a believer?”

          The atheist looked directly into the light and said, “I would feel like a hypocrite to become a Christian after all these years, but perhaps you could make the bear a Christian?”

          “Very well,” said the voice.

          The light went out. The river ran. The sounds of the forest resumed. Then the bear dropped his right paw, brought both paws together, bowed its head, and spoke: “Lord, for this food which I am about to receive, I am truly thankful.”

My point?

Just this: genuine Christ-followers give thanks!

This Thursday should be much more for us than mere Turkey Day. I encourage you to make the choice to really give thanks this Thursday. And while you’re at it … make sure you get to God.

Something to think about.

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Did you know that the New Testament provides us with a negative example of Christian community—a picture of what genuine Christian community is not?

This negative example is known to us as Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians. Near the end of this letter Paul writes:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. {5} It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. {6} Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. {7} It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. {8} Love never fails. . . . (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

This passage gets read so often at wedding ceremonies that you might be tempted to think that the Apostle Paul had marriage on his mind when he wrote it.

Actually, 1 Corinthians 13 as a whole was not written to stress the importance of love in marriages; it was written to stress the importance of love in the local church. In this famous passage we find Paul talking about the kind of love he believed could and should exist between members of the body of Christ (see 1 Cor. 12). In other words, this was the kind of love that manifests itself when genuine Christian community occurs among a group of fully devoted Christ-followers.

To properly understand 1 Corinthians 13, we have to know that when he originally wrote this passage Paul was trying to correct some problems that were keeping the Corinthian church from being a genuine Christian community.

What were these problems?

  •     First, there were divisions in the church—various factions of people each claiming loyalty to a different teacher/leader: Paul, Apollos, Peter, Jesus (1 Corinthians 1, 3).
  •     Second, there were people in the church who were trying to syncretize the Christian faith with Greek philosophy with the result that: some church had begun to lessen their devotion to the cross of Jesus as the foundation of their faith (1 Corinthians 1, 2); some church members had begun to feel superior to their less enlightened fellow church members (1 Corinthians 2, 3); some church members had even begin to feel superior to, and to criticize their founding pastor (1 Corinthians 4)!
  •     Third, there were church members who, because they were abusing and perverting Paul’s message of grace in such a way as to condone sin, were serving as terrible examples for other church members (1 Corinthians 5).
  •     Fourth, there were church members who had been taking other church members to court over minor money matters (1 Corinthians 6).
  •     Fifth, there were church members who were so insistent on exercising their “rights” as individuals that they had become guilty of tearing down the faith of fellow church members and/or actually causing them to fall into sin (1 Corinthians 8-11).
  •     Sixth, there were church members who were ignoring and humiliating fellow church members while in the very act of observing the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11).
  •     Seventh, there were church members who considered their spiritual gifts to be superior to those received by fellow church members, causing these fellow church members feel less important and valuable to the church family (1 Corinthians 12).
  •     Eighth, there were church members who had been dominating (and, as a result, sabotaging) church services by engaging in legitimate expressions of worship in way that made them look spiritual but did not edify anyone else at the gathering (1 Corinthians 14).
  •     Ninth, there were church members whose loss of confidence in the doctrine of the resurrection caused them to lose their spiritual zeal and their willingness to labor for the Lord (1 Corinthians 15).

It’s against this backdrop that we should seek to understand what Paul was saying in 1 Corinthians 13. It was as a corrective to the pseudo-community that was going on in the church at Corinth that Paul wrote:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. {2} If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. {3} If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. {4} Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. {5} It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. {6} Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. {7} It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. {8} Love never fails.  But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. {9} For we know in part and we prophesy in part, {10} but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. {11} When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. {12} Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. {13} And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13)

For sure, there is a focus in this passage on the issue of spiritual gifts (tongues, prophecies, and words of knowledge); this was the specific problem Paul was dealing with in this section of his letter (chapters 12-14).

But . . . I want to suggest that when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 13, he also had in mind all the other problems that existed in the Corinthian church.

What this means is that . . . in 1 Corinthians 13 Paul was implicitly saying that the earmarks of genuine Christian community are antithetical to the problems that existed in the Corinthian congregation.

Thus . . .

  •       In genuine Christian community, church members are not divided into various factions, each one loyal to a different teacher/leader.
  •       In genuine Christian community, the church members are united in their common, unflagging devotion to the cross of Christ as the foundation of their faith.
  •       In genuine Christian community, better educated church members don’t feel superior to less educated ones, nor do church members engage in a chronic criticism of their leaders (especially their founding pastor)!
  •       In genuine Christian community, church members don’t condone sin and serve as terrible moral examples for other church members.
  •       In genuine Christian community, members don’t initiate civil lawsuits against fellow church members over minor matters.
  •       In genuine Christian community, church members would rather give up their “rights” rather than weaken the faith of fellow church members or actually cause them to fall into sin.
  •       In genuine Christian community, church members are careful to celebrate their unity at the Lord’s Supper (instead of ignoring or humiliating one another).
  •       In genuine Christian community, church members don’t compare their spiritual gifts, causing some to feel superior to others, and causing others to feel unneeded and unwanted in the body of Christ.
  •       In genuine Christian community, church members don’t dominate and sabotage church services by engaging in legitimate expressions of worship in a selfish, inconsiderate manner.
  •       In genuine Christian community, church members talk and sing so often about their hope of resurrection that they end up encouraging one another to maintain their spiritual zeal and their willingness to labor for the Lord.

        Count Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf was born in Dresden, Germany, in a Pietist noble family in 1700. The Pietists were Lutherans who sought to know Jesus personally and to live a godly life.

        At the age of six Zinzendorf committed his life to Jesus. In childlike simplicity he wrote love letters to Jesus and threw them out the windows of the castle. At ten he was sent to school in Halle, the center of German Pietism.

        He completed his education at the University of Wittenberg, and in 1721 purchased his grandmother’s estate containing the village of Berthelsdorf. Soon thereafter a leader of the Moravians, the spiritual descendants of Jan Hus, came and asked him if oppressed Moravians could take refuge on his estate. Zinzendorf agreed, and in December 1722 the first ten Moravians arrived. They were given a plot of land that was named Herrnhut, meant “The Lord’s Watch.”

        Because the Pietist pastor of the Lutheran church in Berthelsdorf shared the Moravian’s vision in his preaching, Lutheran Pietists soon became part of Herrnhut, as did Reformed and Anabaptists. By 1727 the population had reached three hundred, but divisions were arising.

        There were language barriers as well as squabbles between the Moravians and the Lutherans over the church liturgy. Zinzendorf, determined not to let Herrnhut destroy itself, moved there himself, going house to house trying to bring unity to the community.

        On July 19, 1727, Zinzendorf organized all the adults into spiritual “bands” of two or three. He grouped people with a natural affinity for one another and appointed one of them as leader. They began to meet together regularly to pray, exhort, and share one another’s burdens.

        The people in Herrnhut saw their differences start to fade as they focused on one another. On Sunday, August 13, the pastor of the Lutheran church gave an early morning address at Herrnhut to prepare them for the Lord’s Supper. The people then walked to the church in Berthelsdorf. The service began with the singing of the hymn “Deliver Me, O God, from All My Bonds and Fetters.” Then everyone knelt and sang,

 My soul before Thee prostrate falls

To thee, its source, my spirit flies

        The congregation became gripped with such emotion that the sound of weeping nearly drowned out the singing. Several men prayed with great fervor. Zinzendorf led the congregation in a prayer of confession for their earlier fellowship. Then they partook of the Lord’s Supper together. After the service people who had previously been fighting embraced one another, pledging to love one another from that time on.

        The residents of Herrnhut saw that day as their Pentecost. Soon and around-the-clock prayer ministry began at Herrnhut and continued for one hundred years.

        The Moravians became the first missionary-sending Protestant church. When Zinzendorf died thirty-three years later, 226 missionaries had been sent out from Herrnhut to St. Croix, Greenland, Lapland, Georgia, Suriname, Guinea, South Africa, Algeria, Ceylon, Romania, and Constantinople. One in every sixty of the early Moravians became a missionary.

Talk about maintaining spiritual zeal and a willingness to labor for the Lord! This is an impressive, inspiring story, don’t you think? It tells me that …

Genuine Christian community is a powerful thing. It not only enables the transformation of individual Christ-followers, it inspires and empowers a serious engagement in mission!

So, I’m thinking that two big questions we all need to be asking ourselves are: Are we part of a genuine Christian community of believers? What do we need to do right now to make sure we are?

Something to think about.

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Growing Older Gracefully

Posted on 12, Nov

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; {13} planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. {14} They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, {15} proclaiming, “The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” (Psalms 92:12-15)

Now that we’re well into November it’s time to begin thinking about the kind of holiday celebrations we hope to experience this year. For many, their holiday get-togethers will be filled with joy. But for others, these annual family gatherings are not a source of joy but of pain instead.


It’s because too many families contain within them one or more members who can best be described as . . . a toxic relatives.

A few years ago I ran across a newspaper article entitled “Something Crabby This Way Comes.” Here’s how this article began:

          Just one can ruin a whole family’s holiday.

          Those whiny, crabby, you-can’t-please-’em relatives who make you dread getting together.

          Most of these crabs are old. Most of them are women. And most of them can stink up a whole room with their negative vapors.

          So concludes Gloria Davenport, 71, an educator who has spent more than a decade researching the people she classifies as “toxic elders.”

           “The majority of people age gracefully, but there are some elderly adults that are just plain, well, awful,” Davenport says. “They make constant snide remarks about little things. They always start out by saying what’s wrong. They can contaminate a whole gathering, an entire room.”

          They are at their worst during the holidays, she says. “I remember my own daughter saying she wouldn’t come home from college for Christmas if Nana (Davenport’s mother — a ‘toxic’) was there.”

          Davenport coined the phrase “toxic elders” while she was writing her doctoral thesis on “the determining factors of successful aging.” Many people she interviewed, she says, had this personality disorder. “They were so negative, they sucked the energy right out of me.”

Do know anyone like this? Does your family contain a “toxic elder?” Could it be that someone reading this blog posting is a toxic elder in the making?

Frankly, this is an issue that concerns me. One of my ongoing prayer requests is that God will help me grow old gracefully. I don’t want my kids to mature into adults who hate being around me. I want my grandkids, should I live long enough to see them, to look forward to spending time with me rather than to dread it.

I’ll say it again: I want to grow older gracefully!

How about you?

Having thought about this matter some, I’ve come to the conclusion that the single most important thing we can do in order avoid becoming a toxic elder (besides doing our best to remain physically, socially and intellectually active; getting control of our tongues; and making it our goal to imitate Christ better and better until the day we die) is this:

We need to make up our minds to start enjoying life now instead of waiting to be happy someday.

According to experts on aging, like Davenport, one of the things that cause some people to become toxic as they age is the fact that they view themselves as victims who never had a life to speak of. Down deep inside they are angry and resentful that life didn’t turn out the way they thought it would or should. The only way they know to express this innate frustration is to become crabby, demanding, demeaning old people.     

Assuming this explanation for crabbiness has merit, the cure the dynamic is obvious: we need to do our best to get a life before it’s too late! We need to do our best to live each day of our lives to the full so that when we get older we have little room for regrets.

Where do we start?

A poem attributed to Nadine Stair can be viewed as a response to this very important question.  Listen to what it says:

          I’d dare to make more mistakes next time; I’d relax; I would limber up; I would be sillier than I have been this trip; I would take fewer things seriously; I would take more chances; I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers; I would eat more ice cream and less beans; I would perhaps have more actual troubles, but I’d have fewer imaginary ones.

          You see, I’m one of those people who lives sensibly and sanely hour after hour, day after day. Oh, I’ve had my moments, and if I had it to do over again, I’d have more of them. In fact, I’d try to do nothing else, just moments, one after the other, instead of living so many years ahead of each day. I’ve been one of those persons who never goes anywhere without a thermometer, hot water bottle, raincoat, and parachute. If I had it to do over, I would travel lighter.

          If I had my life to live over, I would start barefoot earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall. I would go to more dinners; I would ride more merry-go-rounds; I would pick more daisies.

What I hear this wise lady saying is that if she had it to do over again, she wouldn’t sweat the small stuff so much and would take care to press more joy into each day of her existence. In other words, we need to get a life—start really living now instead of always getting ready to live.

I don’t know about you, but I’m still learning how to do this. From time to time I have to remind myself that each day I’m alive is precious—once this day is gone there’s no way to call it back and live it over again.

Do you need to do this with me? Should we, together, make up our minds to do our best to start living our lives to the full right now, so that we have no regrets later on?

Ancient history records that a certain city was besieged, and at length forced to surrender.  In the city there were two brothers, who had, in some way, endeared themselves to the conquering general. As a consequence of this, they both received permission to leave the city before it was set on fire, taking with them as much of their property as each could carry about his person. It wasn’t very long before the two generous youths appeared at the gates of the city, one of them carrying their father, and the other their mother.

What a great story! I’d like to think that my two kids would respond similarly. I want my kids to consider their dear old mom and dad precious and still valuable to them when we’ve become old and gray (okay, in my case grayer)! We carried our kids around throughout their formative years. Someday they may need to carry us around. The point is that if my kids do have to carry me around someday, I want them to be able to do it with joy rather than with dread and disdain. I want to grow older gracefully.

How about you?

Remember, the holidays are approaching!

Something to think about.

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The Humility Paradigm

Posted on 10, Nov

In the course of my Bible reading lately I’ve been reminded that more than once the Scriptures emphasize the same theme: God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble. This same message shows up in the following three passages:

The Lord’s curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the home of the righteous. 34 He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble. (Proverbs 3:33-34)

But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)

Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5)

Sensing that the Spirit may have brought this reminder to me for a reason, I made the matter the focus of some more research. Here’s what I discovered:

First, it’s not just the verses cited above that emphasize God’s gracious posture toward the humble; in various passages the Bible refers to “the humble” as a category of people especially dear to and blessed by God!

You save the humble, but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them low. (2 Samuel 22:28)

You save the humble but bring low those whose eyes are haughty. (Psalms 18:27)

He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. (Psalms 25:9)

The Lord sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground. (Psalms 147:6)

For the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with salvation. (Psalms 149:4)

Second, it appears that sometimes a person’s humility stems from their material poverty; in other words, there’s nothing like having to pray in one’s daily bread to make one a humble, praying person!

A passage in the Old Testament that reflects this idea is:

In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll, and out of gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see. 19 Once more the humble will rejoice in the Lord; the needy will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel. 20 The ruthless will vanish, the mockers will disappear, and all who have an eye for evil will be cut down– 21 those who with a word make a man out to be guilty, who ensnare the defender in court and with false testimony deprive the innocent of justice. (Isaiah 29:18-21)

Here’s a classic passage from the New Testament that likewise echoes this theme:

And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me– holy is his name. 50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. 51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful 55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.” (Luke 1:46-55)

Third, on the other hand, the Bible contains many passages that exhort its readers, regardless of their social circumstances, to humble themselves … before God and one another!

Here are some passages from both Testaments that in one way or another encourage us to humble ourselves before God:

So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said to him, “This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: ‘How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? Let my people go, so that they may worship me. (Exodus 10:3)

Then he continued, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. (Daniel 10:12)

Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger. (Zephaniah 2:3)

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:10)

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. (1 Peter 5:6)

Here are some passages from both Testaments that in one way or another encourage us to humble ourselves before one another:

My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor, if you have struck hands in pledge for another, 2 if you have been trapped by what you said, ensnared by the words of your mouth, 3 then do this, my son, to free yourself, since you have fallen into your neighbor’s hands: Go and humble yourself; press your plea with your neighbor! 4 Allow no sleep to your eyes, no slumber to your eyelids. 5 Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, like a bird from the snare of the fowler. (Proverbs 6:1-5)

Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5)

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:12-14)

Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, 2 to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men. (Titus 3:1-2)

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. (James 3:13)

Finally, we should take note of how the Book of Proverbs, in particular, repeatedly underscores the relationship between the virtue of humility (before God and others) and the experience of such things as wisdom, honor and wealth!

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. (Proverbs 11:2)

The fear of the Lord teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honor. (Proverbs 15:33)

Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but humility comes before honor. (Proverbs 18:12)

Humility and the fear of the Lord bring wealth and honor and life. (Proverbs 22:4)

So, what do we do with all this research? Well, I guess that’s up to each one of us. As for me, I’m going to assume that the Lord is speaking to me in a personal way about the need to humble myself before him and others.

To be even more specific, I’m sensing the need to adopt what I’m going to refer to as the “humility paradigm.” This is a particular way of seeing the world and my place in it. It’s a biblically informed life-perspective that is calling for me to “get over myself” and to do my best to approach this day (and every day) remembering that:

  • since there’s no possible way for me to live a truly effective, Christ-honoring life without his gracious empowerment, I need to maintain a prayerful, worshipful attitude all day long;
  • since it’s not all about me I need to take the time to truly “see,” listen to, and, hopefully, encourage the people God has me interact with today;
  • since God in his sovereignty has placed other folks in positions of authority over me, all things being equal (i.e., no immoral or unjust actions are demanded of me) I should do my best today to cooperate with them rather than function in a mocking or subversive manner; and
  • since I desperately need God to forgive my many moral transgressions, I must be willing to forgive those who will offend, disappoint  or inconvenience me before this day is through. 

How about you? Could it be that you’re reading this blog (whatever day it is) for a reason? Is God calling you also to adopt the “humility paradigm”?

Something to think about.

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In the devotional allegory Hind’s Feet On High Places the main character Much Afraid is in the habit of meeting with the Chief Shepherd daily at a spot referred to as “the trysting place.” Now a tryst is sort of a date. Long ago I began to think of my times of daily devotion as appointments or “dates,” as it were, with Jesus. 

Recently, I was getting ready to go for the two-mile prayer-walk with my dog Jack (a very bright Border Collie) that has been a part of my daily devotional routine for about the past eight years. I caught myself feeling almost a bit giddy about the mere prospect of it. I began to give some thought as to why I look forward so much to this daily jaunt. I quickly came to the conclusion that there are two big reasons why I nearly always approach this spiritual and physical exercise with so much relish. 

The first reason is that I simply get so much out of it spiritually speaking. In a book that will be released next summer, Christ’s Empowering Presence, I elaborate some on the effects which this daily slice of solitude produces in my walk with Christ.  

            First, during these jaunts I’m able to formally invite Christ to be a part of every item on that day’s agenda—classes, meetings, counseling appointments, writing sessions, etc. I will lift before the Lord any activity or responsibility that calls for even a modicum of creativity or prophetic capacity and ask him to provide it. While I’ll stop short of referring to them as “inspired,” the fact is that some of the most insightful and effective strategies I’ve ever come up with have derived from these times of prayerful communion. 

             Second, this long hike is also an occasion for me to converse with the Lord about any specific worrisome concerns that are currently bouncing around in my brain. Though I’d like to be able to say that this prayer practice never fails to produce within me an overriding sense of peace, the truth is that there are some days when I return to the house as burdened as when I left. Most of the time, however, my anxiety is assuaged big time as I pour my heart out to my invisible walking partner. This is due in no small part, I’m convinced, to the fact that my habit is to lift these issues before the Lord through praying in the Spirit per Romans 8:26–27 (see also 1 Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 6:18; Jude 20), and asking Jesus to impart to me the same wisdom, courage, and compassion that seemed to earmark his earthly existence. Many mornings I will also feel led to express to the Lord a fresh sense of longing to know—really know, deep down inside at the core of my being—just how much I am loved by him (see Ephesians 3:16–19), so that I might be able to “live” in this love and share it with others. Personally, I’ve found it nearly impossible to utter this prayer sincerely without immediately experiencing a wonderful, peace-producing sense of Christ’s empowering presence. 

             Speaking of loving others, these daily walks, thirdly, are also times for me to pray for family members, friends, students, and colleagues, mentally lifting them before the Lord. Often I will imagine the life-giving light of God’s face shining upon these folks one at a time (see Psalm 4:6; 67:1; 80:3, 7, 19). If I know of a specific need in their lives, I will intercede, asking God to address that particular issue with kingdom power in Jesus’ name. If I’m not aware of a specific need, I will petition God on their behalf, once again engaging in that spiritual discipline the New Testament refers to as “praying in the Spirit.” 

            Fourth, when I’m at my best I will whisper intercessory prayers for the people whose paths I cross during the course of each day’s trek. Usually my prayer is that if these folks are not believers, the Holy Spirit will help them recognize the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:3–6); and that if they are believers, the Lord will bless them and make them missionally effective in the cause of Christ. 

            I’m especially prompted to engage in this kind of anonymous intercession when my first impulse is to think of someone I encounter in an impure or unkind manner. Yes, it happens! On any given day I might be tempted to ogle an attractive female jogger, or to form a negative opinion of the guy who thinks he’s the only person in the world who doesn’t need to keep his dog on a leash! I’m doing my best to become intentional about praying for people rather than simply thinking about them. The sixth chapter of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans seems to teach that the key to defeating old, unrighteous habits is to replace them with new, righteous ones. How great it would be if our first impulse when meeting a new person was to respond to him or her the way Jesus would! I’m still working on this, encouraged by the thought that even baby steps can still represent progress in the right direction. 

              Finally, I should make it clear that prayer is not the only spiritual discipline enabled by these daily walks. Along with Frank Laubach, I’ve come to believe that the sublime beauty we find in nature is a subtle but powerful way in which God speaks to us and prompts us to acknowledge him.[1] Simply put, the world doesn’t have to be as beautiful as it is. Furthermore, I believe that the best explanation for the aesthetic sensibilities present in our hearts is that a creative God placed them there. Whenever we see or hear something extraordinarily beautiful or complex (or both) in the world around us, it’s possible to be reminded of the Creator’s power and providential care for those who share his image. Thus, these long walks often lead me not only into profound experiences of prayer but of worship as well. (I will have more to say about the importance of worship to “the pursuit” below.) 

          Though I fully recognize that I probably need to build into my busy schedule some extended seasons of solitude during which I can disengage from society and simply be in the presence of God, the fact is that my present pursuit of Christ’s empowering presence is tremendously enriched each day by the half-hour of solitude I’m able to experience during these long walks. I heartily recommend this practice to anyone whose circumstances will allow him or her to do likewise.[2] 

So, the first reason why I get a bit giddy about my daily date with Jesus is because of what my times of trysting with him produce in my life.

But, if I were to be completely honest, there’s a second reason why these daily walks are no hardship for me. The fact is that I love being able to provide my dog Jack with so much pure joy. You would not believe how excited he becomes each day when he recognizes that I’m getting ready to take him for a walk. I swear, he manifests his joy not just with a wagging tale and some “happy feet,” but by a genuine glint in his eyes (which is all the more observable since one of his eyes is blue and the other is brown)!

Concerned that my times of solitude might not be really that (times of solitude), Dallas Willard once asked me in a doctoral seminar session why I felt the need to take Jack with me on these daily walks. At that point I had never thougth about it before. Immediately, however, I spoke how much joy it gave me to be able to give him joy.

Hmmm… Do you think that maybe Jesus feels the same about us? Could it be that Jesus truly enjoys our daily times of trysting with him because he enjoys giving us joy?

I can’t say for sure that this is the case, but I kind of like the idea that it’s not just Jack and me that get so much out of our dates with Jesus. I’d like to think that maybe Jesus gets a bit giddy at the mere prospect too.

Yet another reason for all of us to be faithful to whatever our daily devotional routine involves. Right?

Something to think about.     


[1]Frank C. Laubach, Man of Prayer: Selected Writings of a World Missionary(Syracuse: Laubach Literacy International, 1990), 199.      

[2] Once again, if your particular life situation makes such a practice impossible, don’t fret; simply make use of any open spaces in your daily schedule to do your best to connect with Christ in a similar manner. For instance, my wife routinely endeavors to turn her daily train ride to and from downtown Los Angeles into an opportunity to “walk” with the Lord, figuratively speaking.

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Qualifying Romans 8:28?

Posted on 5, Nov

In Romans 8:28 we read:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

This really is a powerful passage. It suggests that we can always maintain a sense of hope, regardless of what adverse circumstances come our way.

I have some concerns however about the way in which this verse is often interpreted.

First, I’m concerned that many people claim the powerful promise presented in Romans 8:28 who really have no business doing so.

Many people firmly believe that the Bible teaches that God causes all things to work for the good of all people regardless of the level of their commitment to Jesus Christ.

Sorry to burst anyone’s bubble, but this just isn’t so. A careful look at the context in which this verse is located indicates that Paul didn’t have everyone in mind when he penned this powerful promise; Romans 8:28 really only applies to fully-devoted, Spirit-filled followers of Jesus.

Paul’s goal in writing Romans 8 was to emphasize how radically important the Holy Spirit is to the Christian discipleship. I count 22 references to the Spirit in a passage that contains only twenty-eight verses. A quick read of just the verses that contain references to the Spirit indicate that Paul was saying some serious stuff to some serious Christian disciples:

…because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2)

…in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. {5} Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. {6} The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; (Romans 8:4-6)

You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. {10} But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your Spirit is alive because of righteousness. {11} And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. (Romans 8:9-11)

For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, {14} because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. {15} For you did not receive a Spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” {16} The Spirit himself testifies with our Spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:13-16)

Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:23)

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. {27} And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. (Romans 8:26-27)

This quick read is just one way of establishing the fact that Romans 8 was written with the serious Christian disciple in mind.

But perhaps more important is the fact that Romans 8:28 itself qualifies its powerful promise, saying specifically that God works for the good of those . . . who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

And what is God’s ultimate purpose for everyone who belongs to him? Verse 29 goes on to say:

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:29)

Unfortunately, this qualification simply does not hold true for everyone on the planet. The sad fact is that not everyone loves God, and not everyone has responded to God’s call to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. The bottom line is that the promise contained in Romans 8:28 really doesn’t apply to everyone. It only applies to the fully-devoted, Spirit-filled follower of Jesus Christ! The promise can be thought of as one of the many powerful perks that come to those who make the decision to take the message of Jesus Christ with the seriousness it deserves.

It’s not that I’m trying to stingy or territorial, I’m just pointing out a qualification of Romans 8:28 which the text itself delivers. We need to be dedicated to the truth, right? So, the next time you hear someone who makes no claim of allegiance to Jesus Christ as the Lord of their lives trying to claim the powerful promise contained in Romans 8:28, perhaps you should encourage them to take another look at the promise’s literary context.

Second, I’m concerned that many people trivialize this powerful promise by trying to suggest that it’s behind every fortuitous event that takes place in their lives.

Christine Wilson of Eureka, California submitted this anecdote to the Christian Reader magazine and got it published. She wrote:

            I stood dismayed in the kitchen of our newly acquired country home—I had accidentally submerged my left foot in a tray of fresh wall paint. A few minutes later, as I took off my comfortable, hole-in-the-toe painting sneakers, I regretted that I hadn’t brought along another pair of socks. I would have to sport a “Country Orange” big toe in my sandals when I picked up my four little sons from the sitter’s.

            When I arrived at her home, she suggested that since they were still napping, I do a little shopping and stop back for them later. I don’t often get an offer like that, so I wasted no time in heading for the department store.

            On the way, I remembered my toe. It would have been embarrassing to explain my clumsiness, my orange toe, and my toeless sneaker. At the store, however, I quickly made my way to the house wares department. There I found that all things really do “work together for good.” I was able to perfectly match the new kitchen dish cloths and towels to my Country Orange toe.

Now, I’m hopeful that Wilson was writing tongue-in-cheek here. However, on the basis of many conversations and counseling sessions I’ve had with people over the years, I’m saddened to say that some people really do interpret and apply the promise in Romans 8:28 in this sort of cavalier manner.

I’m not suggesting that God doesn’t care about helping us match our dish cloths and towels with the color of our walls. But I am concerned that many people, even some church members, tend only to think of Romans 8:28 when things work out in trivial situations like this. My experience over the years as a pastoral counselor has been that while many church members are quick to refer to Romans 8:28 when they experience some serendipity such as a parking space close to the mall entrance, when they find themselves in a truly serious, adverse set of circumstances, they don’t think of Romans 8:28 at all; they give in to panic, worry and despair instead!

I’m just saying that we need to understand that Paul’s purpose in enunciating the powerful promise that is Romans 8:28 wasn’t simply to encourage people to give God credit when they experience unexpected but convenient turns of events. Paul’s purpose was to encourage committed Christians to keep hoping in God when absolutely devastating circumstances come their way, maintaining a rock-solid confidence that God can be counted on to cause all things to work together for their good.

Third, I’m concerned that many Christians don’t recognize the possible connection between this powerful promise and the spiritual practice known as “praying in the Spirit.”

Let’s back up and look at the two verses that immediately precede the promise presented in Romans 8:28:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. {27} And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. (Romans 8:26-27)

Paul seems to be saying two key things here:

  • When we face circumstances so severe that we don’t even know how to pray about them, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us as we agonize before God in prayer. (I’m assuming that the Spirit doesn’t pray for us apart from our engagement in prayer. He prays through us, not despite us.)
  • This kind of praying is supremely effective because the Holy Spirit knows how to pray for us according to God’s will.

It’s at this point that we read:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

I’m about to suggest something really controversial. Could it be that there is a connection between the promise presented in Romans 8:28 and the practice of praying in the Spirit described in Romans 8:26-27? Could it be that Paul was saying that it’s precisely because of our allowing the Spirit to intercede for us according to God’s will that God can be counted on to work all things together for our good?   

If this is true, then it yields this powerful insight:

The promise in Romans 8:28 is to some degree conditional—it’s to the degree that we pray in the Spirit that God is willing and able to cause all things to work together for our ultimate good!

If this is even granted as a possibility, it prompts the question: Are we doing it: are we allowing the Holy Spirit to intercede for us in accordance with God’s will?

Given the tremendous importance of the promise contained in Romans 8:28, I can’t think of very many spiritual practices more important than this one. Especially when we take into consideration that: 

  • according to Jude 1:20 praying in the Spirit is a means by which we can build ourselves up in our most holy faith; and that
  • according to Ephesians 6:18 praying in the Spirit is a means by which we can intercede for our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Pastor John B. McGarvey of Cochranton, Pennsylvania, once used the following helpful analogy in order to illustrate the nature and underscore the importance of this spiritual practice:

            One day our church copier broke down. I’m not mechanically minded, but I called the repair shop to see if they could tell me what the problem was and if I could do anything about it. I quickly discovered, however, that I didn’t even know how to describe what was broken. I didn’t know the names of the parts or what was specifically wrong. I just knew the copy machine didn’t work.

            So the repair shop sent out a technician. While working on our machine, he also called the shop. Unlike me, he knew how to describe what was needed. He used words I didn’t understand, but the person at the shop did, and soon the copier was repaired.  My need was met because someone came and communicated to headquarters in words I could not express. The apostle Paul teaches in Romans 8 that this is also what the Holy Spirit does for us. When we don’t know how to pray, the Holy Spirit knows precisely what we need and prays in a language the Father perfectly understands.

I realize that this blog, suggesting as it does that perhaps some qualifications of Romans 8:28 are in order, will prove to be somewhat controversial. Still, I humbly offer it to my readers for their prayerful consideration. Could it be that these three qualifications are valid? Most importantly, could it be that the spiritual practice referred to in Romans 8:26-27 really is crucial to a full experience of the powerful promise presented in Romans 8:28 … for ourselves and those for whom we intercede?

Something to think about.

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In the movie Signs Mel Gibson plays the role of a Christian minister who has lost his ability to keep trusting in the goodness of God. Indeed, it appears that this particular character has come to doubt the very existence of God!

What we are talking about here is the phenomenon known as the “crisis of faith.”

Have you ever experienced a crisis of faith? Have you ever passed through a place in your spiritual journey where the circumstances you were experiencing at the time made it very difficult for you to keep believing that God was there and that He cared?

In Psalm 73 a fellow named Asaph opens up his soul and relates to us the details of the crisis of faith he once experienced. Evidently, both the psalmist and the Holy Spirit who inspired him to write believed that our reading this saga could help us in our own walk with God.

Asaph begins his saga with a preliminary statement of faith.

Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. (Psalms 73:1)

Now, we might not realize it at first, but in this brief sentence, Asaph is affirming his belief in three important theological propositions:

  • First, God is there.
  • Second, the God who is there is a good God.
  • Third, the God who is there can be counted on to be good to the people who belong to Him, to the people who do their best to maintain a pure heart and to live their lives the way He commands.

However …

Asaph goes on to confess that once upon a time he experienced a rather serious problem in his walk with God.

But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. (Psalms 73:2)

According to this verse, Asaph hit a major bump in the road that was his spiritual journey. Even though Asaph was evidently a high-ranking Levite whose job was to help the people of Israel worship God, he almost lost his confidence in the goodness, bigness and dependability of God.

This prompts us to ask the crucial question: What was it that almost caused Asaph to almost lose his foothold in the faith?

Asaph quickly presses on to indicate what it was that caused his problem.

But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. {3} For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. (Psalms 73:2-3)

At the risk of putting words in Asaph’s mouth, I hear him saying something like this:

My confidence in the goodness, bigness and dependability of God was severely shaken when I began to recognize how unfair life is. If God is there and is especially good to those who do their best to maintain pure hearts and lives before Him, then why are the most prosperous people often those who are arrogant and wicked? My spiritual confusion became so intense that, for a while, I actually began to envy the lifestyles of the rich and famous, many of whom couldn’t care less about serving God!

Can you relate at all to Asaph’s concern? Have we never had similar questions, and experienced a similar temptation?

This can be a very serious trial to a person’s spiritual walk, as evidenced by the fact that . . .

In the next few verses of his psalm, Asaph goes to some lengths to describe the lifestyle of the people he found himself envying.

They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. {5} They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills. {6} Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. {7} From their callous hearts comes iniquity ; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits. {8} They scoff, and speak with malice; in their arrogance they threaten oppression. {9} Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth. {10} Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance. {11} They say, “How can God know? Does the Most High have knowledge?” {12} This is what the wicked are like — always carefree, they increase in wealth. (Psalms 73:4-12)

For what it’s worth, it’s my sense that Asaph had a hard time understanding why…

  • The wicked don’t seem to have struggles.
  • They appear to be healthy and strong even though they are filled with pride and are given to violence.
  • The wicked possess hearts that are so calloused toward God and others their lives are filled with iniquity and their language is filled with arrogant scoffing and threats of oppression.
  • The wicked are constantly making boastful claims for themselves, and they expect everyone else to serve them.
  • The wicked possess no humility whatsoever, and yet, ironically, they are surrounded by people who hang on to their every word and want to imitate their every action.
  • The wicked do not have the slightest idea of what it means to fear God (i.e., they don’t believe that God can see what they are doing or will judge them for the way they live their lives).
  • In summary, it seems that, despite their arrogance toward God and mistreatment of others, the wicked are always carefree and keep increasing in wealth!

So, it appears that Asaph is saying to himself something like: “What in the heck is up with that?”

In the next section of his saga, Asaph honestly expresses his great sense of frustration over how unfair all this seems to be.

Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence. {14} All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning. {15} If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed your children. {16} When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me… (Psalms 73:13-16)

Now, this kind of existential frustration is not something we feel free to talk about in church, but it does sometimes occur. Am I right?

The brutal truth is that the evil can be quite adept at causing us to doubt whether all our attempts to maintain pure hearts and lives before God are really worth it. We can begin to wonder, in the dark corners of our hearts and minds, if maybe we are not being naïve, foolish even, in our continued striving to live as fully devoted followers of Christ. Could it be that we are missing out on the best that this life has to offer while we foolishly strive to maintain purity before an invisible God?

Asaph tells us that he once passed through a period of time in his life when these kinds of questions so haunted his walk with God that he nearly gave up his faith.

But then, in verses 16 through 20 of Psalm 73, Asaph reveals the insight that finally brought peace to his tormented soul.

When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me {17} till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. {18} Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. {19} How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors! {20} As a dream when one awakes, so when you arise, O Lord, you will despise them as fantasies. (Psalms 73:16-20)

What do you hear Asaph saying here? I hear him saying something like this:

All this was oppressive to me until one day, while sitting in a worship service, I refocused my attention off of this life and onto the one to come. Then I realized that any blessings the wicked enjoy are merely temporary. Someday, perhaps sooner rather than later given their self-destructive behaviors, they are going to die and experience God’s righteous judgment. God doesn’t pay at the end of every day, but in the end . . . He pays. It was then that I realized that for all their present prosperity, I wouldn’t want to be one of the wicked rich when they stand before God after this life is over!

It’s at this point that Asaph takes the first step toward his spiritual recovery: he confesses to God the effect this season of doubt had been having upon his life.

When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, {22} I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. (Psalms 73:21-22)

Now whenever the Bible speaks of men and women living as brute beasts, it’s not a good thing. We human beings, unlike all other creatures of the earth, are created in the image of God. What this means is that, unlike all other creatures, we can have a personal, intimate, interactive relationship with the Creator of the universe.

But we don’t always walk worthy of this high calling, do we? Sometimes, we can allow ourselves to live beneath our privileges. Sometimes, we can, like Asaph, become spiritually dull and insensitive before God and live our lives merely by animal instinct, like brute beasts instead of God’s children.

The big problem with this is that brute beasts don’t care about living lives of purity before God. Even more importantly, brute beasts (except for dogs) don’t go to heaven after this life is over.

I’m not sure if Asaph wrote Psalm 49 (it is possible), but notice how these few verses parallel what we are reading in Psalm 73:

But man, despite his riches, does not endure; he is like the beasts that perish. {13} This is the fate of those who trust in themselves, and of their followers, who approve their sayings. Selah {14} Like sheep they are destined for the grave, and death will feed on them. The upright will rule over them in the morning; their forms will decay in the grave, far from their princely mansions. {15} But God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself. Selah {16} Do not be overawed when a man grows rich, when the splendor of his house increases; {17} for he will take nothing with him when he dies, his splendor will not descend with him. {18} Though while he lived he counted himself blessed– and men praise you when you prosper– {19} he will join the generation of his fathers, who will never see the light of life. {20} A man who has riches without understanding is like the beasts that perish. (Psalms 49:12-20)

The point is that we don’t want to live our lives like brute beasts, driven entirely by our animal instincts rather than our unique knowledge of God. This is precisely what the wicked but rich are doing, and why they will suffer so after this life is over and they are forced to give a reckoning of their lives to God.

What Asaph acknowledges in verses 21 and 22 of his saga is that to the degree he allowed himself to become envious of the wicked but rich, he too began to lose his spiritual sensitivity and to live as a brute beast before his Creator.

Since Asaph’s vocation called for him to lead people in worship, this would have been no little problem!

But, the good news is that in the next two verses of Psalm 73, Asaph proceeds to speak of the special, personal consolation he eventually began to experience.

Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. {24} You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. (Psalms 73:23-24)

Isn’t this good stuff? On the one hand, you have the wicked but rich who tend to die young and then will face fearsome judgment and eternal death. On the other hand, you have folks like Asaph (and you and me), who may never be materially wealthy in this life but are blessed beyond measure!

What are the blessings of those who maintain heart purity before God? According to Asaph:

  • First, we get to experience the peace, joy and sense of purpose that come from holding God’s hand as we walk through life.
  • Second, we get to experience God’s gracious guidance and provision in the here and now.
  • Third, when this life is over, we get to experience a glorious, abundant life that will last forever!

This is good stuff, isn’t it?

This explains why . . .

Near the end of his psalm, Asaph offers us a fresh expression of his renewed faith and trust in God.

Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. {26} My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalms 73:25-26)

Ultimately, Asaph concludes his saga with a final declaration of his radical commitment to keep serving God no matter what and to encourage others to do the same.

Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. {28} But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds. (Psalms 73:27-28)

I hope this little peek into Asaph’s crisis of faith has been as helpful to you in your own walk with God.

Here are a few lessons that linger for me:

First, we shouldn’t be all that surprised when we experience a crisis of faith—it happens even to really spiritual people.

Second, at the same time, we must recognize how serious such a crisis can be: the spiritually desensitizing effect this experience has on us can make us especially vulnerable to the temptation to sin and, perhaps even, to defect from the faith.

Third, the key to overcoming any crisis of faith is simply to regain the proper perspective, the big picture of what God is really doing in the world.

Fourth, usually, this much needed paradigm shift occurs in the “sanctuary,” i.e., when we, by raw faith, continue to stay engaged in prayer and worship.

Finally, there is a reason why God allows us to experience an occasional crisis of faith: the end result of such a crisis is an even stronger faith in God, and an even greater commitment to encourage others to stay close to Him.

You’ve probably heard by now that in the Chinese language the word for crisis is made up of two characters: way gee. Each of these is half a word, the first being “danger” and the second “opportunity.” Therefore, the word Chinese word for “crisis” literally means “dangerous opportunity.”

That’s a pretty good way of looking at what we are calling the “crisis of faith.” Each crisis of faith we move through in our spiritual journey is a “dangerous opportunity.”

Are you passing through a crisis of faith right now? How will you handle your dangerous opportunity?

Something to think about.

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Sweet Nothings During Supper

Posted on 2, Nov

Today is my 36th wedding anniversary! Tonight I will take my wife Patti out to dinner and speak sweet nothings into her ear before during and after we dine. Why all this positive table talk? It’s because we really do try to practice what we’ve written about in our book Beyond the Bliss: Discovering Your Uniqueness in Marriage. In a chapter on communication we write: 

             Over the years we’ve discovered that how we communicate with one another is just as important as what we communicate. It’s not enough, says the Apostle Paul, for Christians to simply speak the truth to one another; we must do so with a loving motive and in a loving manner.

             And yet, when conflicts arise, it’s amazingly easy for two loving people to lapse into communication that is marked by hostility rather than loving concern for the other. Don’t you agree? Certainly there will be moments, perhaps even seasons, of conflict in the best of marriages. We’re all capable of irritating one another, and of becoming more than a little angry when we feel wronged. We’re suggesting, however, that we should proceed with caution regarding how we express our frustrations toward one another. The rule of thumb must be to always speak the truth in love because even a minor issue, if communicated in an angry, hostile, unloving manner, can easily escalate into a major brouhaha. Furthermore, the truth is that acting and reacting to each other angrily rather than responding to one another graciously can move from being episodic in nature, to habitual and then chronic. One angry encounter builds upon another until trust wanes and the couple begins to relate to each other more as sparring partners than best friends!   

             Marriage specialist John Gottman believes the foundation of a successful marriage must be earmarked not only by a shared sense of purpose and meaning, but also respect, fondness, and affection.[1] So, if the negative communication pattern referred to above seems to describe your marital relationship at present, it’s important that some mid-course corrections take place immediately. The evidence seems to suggest that when the emotion of anger (rather than fondness and affection) is allowed to color too many exchanges between a husband and wife, this negative emotion doesn’t normally dissipate; it builds, eventually turning into something much more insidious and poisonous to our marriages. According to Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, this accumulated build-up of unchecked and uncensored anger can easily turn into actual contempt—a palpable attitude of disdain for the other that is communicated between marital partners not only in the actual words they use but through their tone of voice and angry facial expressions.[2]

             How familiar does this sound? We need to be honest with ourselves here because it could be an indication that a marriage is in serious trouble. Gottman contends that an evidence of contempt is the tell-tale sign that allows him to assess within just a few minutes of observing a couple in conflict whether their marriage will make it or not.[3]  He believes the reason why the manifestation of contempt is so telling is that it conveys disgust (rather than love and respect). And, along with Goleman, he maintains that this attitude of disgust can be communicated in a variety of ways, such as “name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humor.”[4] It’s not just the words we use that can convey contempt to our marital partners, it’s the way we say them! Gottman  goes on to explain that when couples communicate contempt to one another it overrides everything else, ensuring that the result of such conversations will nearly always be more conflict rather than reconciliation.[5]

             Our experience over the years, as a married couple and as counselors to many other couples, resonates with the learned opinions of these relationship experts. It’s simply insane to think that we can maintain a fervent, transformative friendship with our mates when the primary earmarks of the relationship are contempt and criticism rather than love, respect, and mutual admiration.[6] Thus, we’re led to the conclusion that learning to speak the truth in love to our mates is not just nice, it’s absolutely necessary!

             So what is the antidote to these negative communication patterns that couples so easily fall into? This question is so important we feel we must devote some space to it. Many popular books that deal with communication issues in marriage offer their readers various techniques designed to improve their communication skills in general and their conflict resolution capabilities in particular (e.g., praying before you converse; holding hands while arguing; always using the first-person rather than second-person pronoun; never attacking the members of your mate’s family of origin; etc.). While there are some good ideas in these “technique-oriented” discussions, we’re not convinced that such an approach to the issue of communication in marriage sufficiently gets to the heart of the matter. What if the key to breaking out of a negative, hurtful, anger-driven communication pattern is not to learn how to better manage conflict in the relationship, but to intentionally focus on the relationship’s strengths?  

             John Gottman, widely recognized as one of the country’s foremost relationship experts, has an interesting though somewhat counterintuitive theory about how to assist conflict-riddled marriages. His studies have concluded that “marital therapies based on conflict resolution share a very high relapse rate … only 35 percent of couples see a meaningful improvement in their marriages as a result of the therapy.”[7] In other words, the key to helping a marriage is not simply to teach couples how to manage their conflicts. Most marital fights are not about issues such as how chores are divided or how money is spent, but about much deeper issues that are “rooted in fundamental differences of lifestyle, personality, or values.”[8]  It’s these “hidden issues that fuel the superficial conflicts and make them far more intense and hurtful than they would otherwise be.[9] Much more important for the health of a marriage than learning a slew of conflict resolution techniques, says Gottman, is the capacity of the marital partners to understand how they differ from one another, and to respect and honor one another by actually celebrating those differences! Thus, he argues that the key to a successful marriage is not found in the way a couple handles disagreements but how the couple relates to each other when they’re not fighting. In other words, Gottman’s work is based on his studies of “what went right in happy marriages.”[10] 

             Gottman suggests that couples should intentionally focus their attention on the positive aspects of their relationship rather than allowing the negative ones to become all consuming. Accordingly, he believes that expressions of thanksgiving and praise for the marriage and one another are the “antidotes to the poison of criticism and its deadly cousin, contempt.”[11] As we begin to literally count our blessings, and develop the habit of speaking in loving and affirming ways to and about our marital partners whenever possible, it will help to us to focus less on the negative aspects of our marriages and our mates. In the process, the friendship which is at the heart of any marriage will be strengthened, and the sense of hope that is so vital to a thriving marriage can be continually reborn.

Sorry, for the length of this excerpt, but it does explain why, during dinner tonight, Patti and I will focus on what’s right with our marriage.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be one’s anniversary before a husband or wife can sprinkle some sweet nothings into the dinnertime conversation. Right?

Something to think about.


[1] John M. Gottman, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, (NewYork:  Three Rivers Press, 1999), 63.

[2] Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence:  Why It Can Matter More Than IQ (New York: Bantam Books, 1995), 135.

[3] Gottman, 27.

[4] Ibid, 29.

[5] Ibid, 29.

[6] As we noted in Chapter 4, Gottman maintains that successful marriages are distinctive in that they are based on a deep friendship which is characterized by mutual respect and enjoyment of each other and a shared sense of meaning for the marriage.

[7] Gottman, 10.

[8] Ibid., 23.

[9]Ibid, 23.

[10] Ibid, 46.

[11] Ibid., 265.

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