Laughter Is The Best Policy


us_navy_laughingOK, actually honesty is the best policy, but laughter is right there beside him.

I have to say, I used to turn my nose up on the many, many pictures posted on Facebook with cute or clever or wise sayings inscribe on top. The technical name for this, I guess, is memes. Some people seem to post nothing more than memes, and quite frankly I rarely read their posts. Until recently.

What I’ve experienced of late is angst, disharmony, despair, confusion, criticism. Yep, lots of criticism. It’s his fault, it’s their fault, it’s our fault, it’s this other group, it’s our group, it’s the fault of those behind the evil conspiracy.

Enter a belly laugh-inducing meme.

Or even better are the funny pet videos. I have to say, some have made me laugh so hard, I nearly put them on my own site. I mean, a meme or a pet video has to be pretty hilarious for me to share it.

But given the seriousness of the news, the negative tone, and the disagreeable disagreements, funny feels refreshing.

I think other people might agree. Some of the biggest responses to my Facebook posts are to the ones that are humorous.

Of course there’s a real, physical reason for this. Laughter triggers the release of endorphins—the body’s natural painkillers. There are other benefits to laughter that we may not realize right away: it lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones, exercises your abs, is good for your heart health, improves sleep, and increases your chance to win the lottery.

OK, not that last one. But laughter has numerous physical benefits. No wonder we enjoy laughter as a tension reliever. No wonder movie makers and playwrights include a little comic relief in their stories.

Interestingly, science has grabbed hold of laughter, and it’s become a topic of study. Apparently people in all cultures laugh, so laughter is considered one of the universal languages.

Laughter isn’t dependent on jokes either. Circumstances and people seem to be the most important factor.

When I was growing up, I remember a couple of instances when we as a family broke into laughter. The thing was, the harder we tried to stop laughing, the more we laughed. Once we were in a diner and a rather large woman squeezed herself between two tables. We thought that was funny but didn’t want to be rude, so we tried to control our laughter. Finally my sister and I went to the bathroom to get the laughter out of our system.

I remember laughing as a family at some of the I Love Lucy shows. Funny, slapstick comedy made the funnier because we were together laughing.

Once we got to laughing in church. It didn’t end well.

My dad could make me laugh simply by adopting a loud fake laugh. My sister-in-law got my sister and me laughing so hard because she pressed an invisible laugh button.

I think we need a laugh button, invisible or not, in America today. We need to solve the great divide in our country by laughing together. Maybe then we could move toward common solutions instead of divided arguments.

Laughter reminds me that we’re all human. What makes one person laugh, will probably make other people laugh, regardless of their nationality or ethnicity. People are people, and we seem to forget that sometimes.

Yep, laughter is the best policy. At least for the short term. It’s only a fleeting burst of joy, but it has longer-lasting effects. I’d like to hear more of it and less of the vitriolic over-talking that seems to be so popular these days.

Published in: on January 31, 2017 at 6:47 pm  Comments (5)  
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What’s Satan Doing These Days?


william_blake_003_dragonI believe that Satan is the predator of my soul, the enemy who seeks to devour me spiritually, if only he could. He can’t because nothing can separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus—not even angels or principalities or powers (Rom. 8:38-39).

So what’s Satan doing these days? I mean, the Bible gives us some notion of his activity “back then.” In the Old Testament we know he targeted Job and brought immeasurable suffering on him and his family in an effort to prove that Job’s faith had a foundation built on his health and wealth, not on God’s character.

Further, we know he, or one of his demon followers, opposed Michael as he set off in answer to Daniel’s prayer. We also know that, being the Father of Lies, Satan must have been behind the false prophets that misled Judah and Israel. We know in fact that he lied about God’s word to Eve:

The woman said to the serpent, “From … the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.'”

The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die!

I suspect Satan was the prime mover in a lot of the idol worship of the day, with its child sacrifices and temple prostitutes, but I’m not sure that’s verifiable. But he did prompt David to take a census of Israel, apparently in opposition to God’s dictates. And the prophet Zechariah saw a vision in which Satan was accusing the high priest (Zec 3:1).

In the New Testament Satan and his forces seem to have been less covert. He himself spent forty days tempting Jesus in the wilderness (Luke 4:2), capped by three specific temptations that called into question Christ’s deity (Matt. 4:3-10). In addition, numerous people Jesus encountered were demon possessed, at least one with a “legion” of evil spirits.

The Pharisees, according to Jesus, were following after their father the devil. Satan also entered Judas and prompted him to betray Jesus.

Paul said Satan hindered him from going to the Thessalonians, and he admonished the Corinthians to put on the armor of God to be able to stand against the devil.

Peter, writing in the first epistle bearing his name, said, “Be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (I Peter 5:8b).

There’s that devour business again. So the question is, has Satan stopped prowling about? Or does he only prowl about in places far, far away?

Or is he just as active today in exactly the same ways in the US as he was in Biblical times and Biblical places? If the latter is the case, then he is accusing some before God’s throne, demanding to test others, using schemes and snares to capture still others to do his will (see 2 Tim 2:26) and actually possessing some.

Yes, possessing some. While we in our educated, rational society look for sociological or psychological reasons for bazaar anti-social behavior, I am suggesting we shouldn’t dismiss the possibility that Satan is at work. We know he tempts, but he also tricks, lies, seduces, and bends some to his will.

I believe he is especially active when his territory is threatened, but I don’t have Scripture to prove this. Nevertheless, understanding the way conflict works, it seems logical.

Think for a moment about political conflict. There are two segments of society that don’t receive a great deal of attention from a candidate during an election—those he knows he cannot win, and those he knows he’s already won.

So too, I suggest, Satan ignores some while working double-time against others. (NO, I didn’t say political candidates are from Satan! 😆 Stay with me here).

Satan doesn’t need to give a lot of attention to those who are adamantly opposed to God. He already has them. Nor does he need to spend a lot of attention on those who are solid believers.

What he hates, I submit, are believers who have an impact on the “undecided,” who are forging into new territory—evangelizing, planting new churches, challenging Satan’s lies, and showing the love of Christ.

Thankfully, his efforts are futile as long as we believers stay alert and gird ourselves with the FULL armor of God.

So, what’s Satan doing these days? If we stay on our spiritual toes, I suspect it won’t take long before we see that he hasn’t changed. He’s still prowling about, still seeking somebody to devour.

This post is an edited edition of one that first appeared here in June 2010.

Published in: on January 30, 2017 at 5:56 pm  Comments (2)  
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Feminism And The Bible


march_for_womens_lives_1One of the subjects that divides America today is feminism. In fact feminism may divide some Christian denominations.

To be clear, by feminism, I mean “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men” (Oxford American Dictionary).

The question then centers on the last phrase: “equality to men.” Are women “equal to men”?

As much as feminists would like this to be other than what it is, women’s bodies are different from men’s, and therefore men can do some things better than women can. Of course, women can do something men can’t do at all—give birth to children. So on the purely physical plain, women and men aren’t “equal” in strength or speed. Or stamina.

The fastest male runners are swifter than the fastest female runners due to innate factors including muscle mass, higher oxygen intake and lower resting heart rates. That said, some studies have indicated that in ultradistance running — beyond 30 miles (48 kilometers) — the fattier female body can keep moving more efficiently than the muscular male frame since the fat represents more lasting, slower-burning energy stores [source: Maharam]. Estrogen may also offer an advantage of protecting against muscle fatigue, although its effects can vary by athlete and running conditions [source: Crowther]. Those biological benefits may help explain women’s sudden surge in Iditarod races, the grueling Alaskan dog sledding competition, bringing home championships four years straight from 1985 through 1988 [source: Library of Congress]. (Health: How Stuff Works)

Despite the differences, feminism has lobbied for women’s inclusion in the military and in jobs that seem more suited for the male body type.

All this is “extra-curricular,” however, since feminism is supposedly concerned with equal rights in the political, social, and economic realms. By application, women should have the right to vote, to run for the same offices men can run for, and be involved in the political process at every level, with no discrimination or prejudice because of their gender.

Economically, women should receive equal pay for equal work, and we should have the same opportunities for advancement, including promotion to the highest level of leadership.

When it comes to social equality, I suppose women are to be treated with the same respect a man receives, but I have to admit, I’m a little confused here. Women now can be sexually aggressive while at the same time holding the line against unwanted sexual advances. So men can’t be as sexually aggressive as women? Be that as it may, women no longer have to wait for men to open their car doors or any door for that matter. Men can enter in front of a woman rather than stand aside and let her go first. Because we’re socially equal. In the office, men can make the coffee, not just the women.

And in church, in a marriage women are . . . what?

Here’s where the Bible speaks directly to the interplay between men and women.

Up to this point, despite what many people think, the Bible paints a picture of women in society doing things that men do. Not in large numbers, but certainly not forbidden from the roles of military leader, city elder, prophetess, merchant, shepherdess, ruling queen, gatherer, tent maker, converts to Christianity, evangelists. Women were first to the empty tomb Jesus had occupied. Women were filled by the Holy Spirit. In short, women held significant place in Jewish history and in the development of the early church.

Then why this perception that the Bible looks down on women?

Two things come to mind. In the Law detailed in Leviticus, women slaves were not worth as much money as were male slaves. Of course children weren’t worth as much either, so it would seem that the amount of money reflected the amount of physical labor the slave could produce. (Slavery in the Bible is a topic for another day).

Second, Paul taught through his letters that husbands were the head of the home and that women were not to speak in the church. In other words, women and men don’t have the same roles.

Paul never said women couldn’t teach. He worked with Priscilla and Aquila on his third missionary journey, and it was this couple that taught the evangelist Apollos “the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26). Paul also included two women in his Philippians letter. Though he corrected them for their lack of harmony, he nevertheless identified them as those who had shared his struggles in the cause of the gospel and as “fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life” (Phil. 4:3).

Paul also commended women, such as Timothy’s grandmother Lois, and greeted them in his letters by name, particularly those who opened their home for a church gathering. In addition, he specifically said there was no difference between male and female:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:28)

The Apostle Peter agreed with this point when he instructed husbands to “show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life.”

In discussing a different matter, Paul brought home the truth of the equality of women in God’s eyes when he said that an unbelieving husband would be “sanctified” by his believing wife, and conversely that an unbelieving wife would be “sanctified” by her believing husband. (See 1 Cor. 7:14). This sanctifying work needs explanation, to be sure, but for the sake of this discussion, it’s clear there is no difference between what a believing wife and a believing husband can accomplish for their family.

A good understanding of the Bible’s instructions to husbands also helps. Paul says husbands are to love their wives the way Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her (Eph. 5:25). There’s no power trip in this instruction, no abuse or bullying or king of the castle. He’s to be the leader, the first one in the trenches, the guy who lays down his life so that his wife can make it.

There’s much more to say about the Bible and women. How did Jesus interact with them, for instance? He healed them, witnessed to them, forgave them, comforted them, commended them, counseled them. But He never belittled them or ignored them or treated them like second class citizens.

There’s one other troublesome discussion about women, though—what Paul said about women not having authority in the church. I’ve looked at that at some length already in an earlier post.

When all is said and studied, it’s clear that the gender issues of Bible times and the ones we experience now are a result of sin—the original sin and the sin nature we now must deal with. The Bible, as opposed to the counsel of our culture, gives us God’s perspective which shows us how to navigate the differences and avoid the clash between men and women.

Published in: on January 27, 2017 at 6:47 pm  Comments (1)  
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Abortion And The Bible


human_fetus_10_weeks_-_therapeutic_abortionI’m not quite sure why some people think abortion is so different from killing babies. The claim is that a baby, to be recognized as human, must be “viable,” meaning that it can live outside the womb. But “live” by what means? A newborn is still helpless. He can’t feed himself. She can’t tell anyone what she wants. She can’t acquire covering or run from danger. He is as helpless and dependent as a newly formed life in his mother’s womb. And science has left no doubt that the fertilized egg is a life.

For hundreds of years, perhaps thousands, killing babies was the culturally accepted way of dealing with unwanted children. Take China for instance. [China has] “a history of female infanticide spanning 2000 years.”

During the 19th century the practice was widespread, readings from Qing texts show a prevalence of the term ni nü (to drown girls), and drowning was the most common method used to kill female children. Other methods used were suffocation and starvation. Leaving a child exposed to the elements was another method of killing an infant, the child would be placed in a basket which was then placed in a tree. Buddhist nunneries created “baby towers” for people to leave a child. In 1845 in the province of Jiangxi, a missionary wrote that these children survived for up to two days while exposed to the elements, and that those passing by, would ignore the screaming child.[13] Missionary David Abeel reported in 1844 that between one third and one fourth of all female children were killed at birth or soon after. (this and the previous quote from “Female Infanticide In China”)

With the one child per family rule instituted in 1980, infanticide is once again on the rise in China, though many babies—girls or ones with birth defects—are also aborted.

So what does the Bible have to say about abortion? Some professing Christians have taken a stand that the Bible is silent on the subject. But that’s not true. The Bible actually says a great deal about life in the womb. For instance, God speaking to the prophet Jeremiah, said

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
And before you were born, I consecrated you. (Jer. 1:5)

So God not only made Jeremiah, He also set him apart to be a prophet “to the nations” before he was viable.

Other Bible writers call attention to the fact that God creates life in the mother’s womb: Job (31:15), David (Psalm 22:10), Isaiah (45:24; 49:5).

Others also mention God’s call on their life before they were born. Isaiah, speaking prophetically said this, likely about the Messiah:

The LORD called Me from the womb;
From the body of My mother He named Me. (Is. 49:1b)

The writer of Judges recounted Samson’s prophesied birth. The angel who met with his mother before his conception, told her to follow certain guidelines because “the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb.” The Nazrite was someone set apart and dedicated to God, but usually this was to fulfill a vow and was for a short period of time. Samson was different. He was to be a Nazirite from the womb throughout his life.

The Apostle Paul was similarly aware of God’s call on his life before he was ever born:

But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles . . . (Galatians 1:15-16a)

Perhaps the most dramatic example of life and spiritual activity in the womb is John the Baptist who was filled by “the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15). Not only did he have the Spirit in his little life, but his spirit responded to the presence of the life of the Messiah in Mary’s womb, and as a result the baby “leaped for joy” in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:44).

Just as compelling, for me is the statement David made, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, in Psalm 58. This is one of those imprecatory psalms, “those psalms that contain curses or prayers for the punishment of the psalmist’s enemies” (from Theopedia). They can be hard to read for those of us used to an emphasis on God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness. But the significance here is that God identifies the spiritual life of individuals before they are born:

The wicked are estranged from the womb;
These who speak lies go astray from birth.
They have venom like the venom of a serpent;
Like a deaf cobra that stops up its ear,
So that it does not hear the voice of charmers,
Or a skillful caster of spells. (vv 3-5)

The point seems clear: not just certain special individuals are alive and fully formed spiritually as they grow physically, but even the wicked have their spiritual direction set in the womb.

Of course, man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7)—and apparently He does so from the womb on, throughout a person’s life.

What does all this mean for abortion?

Throughout Scripture, God informs us of the value of human life. In particular He came down hard on people groups, including Israel, which incorporated child sacrifice as part of their worship of false gods.

[Jerusalem] should be removed from before My face, because of all the evil of the sons of Israel and the sons of Judah which they have done to provoke Me to anger—they, their kings, their leaders, their priests, their prophets, the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. They have turned their back to Me and not their face; though I taught them, teaching again and again, they would not listen and receive instruction. But they put their detestable things in the house which is called by My name, to defile it. They built the high places of Baal that are in the valley of Ben-hinnom to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech, which I had not commanded them nor had it entered My mind that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.

Abortion is today’s version of child sacrifice. We don’t offer children on an altar; we don’t make it a ritual incorporated into worship, but we certainly take the lives of helpless humans for the benefit of the mature adult making the decision. Those we should protect, we destroy for our own purposes.

What’s more, we violate God’s first command: Be fruitful and multiply.

Ah, some will say, it’s the multiplying that is the problem. We need to curb human reproduction because the planet can’t sustain us all.

But now we come to the real issue: humans think we know better than God. We don’t know how He could possibly have dealt with overpopulation if we didn’t step in, violate His command to be fruitful and multiply, and solve the problem ourselves.

That’s been the issue from the beginning. Man doesn’t think God is capable of dealing with the problems. God, in His infinite wisdom, says, OK, we’ll try it your way for a while, and when you’re ready, you can come back to me and we’ll get things straightened out.

I don’t see the problems of our times reversing themselves, but who knows? We can only walk in the light of the knowledge we have, and that knowledge points to babies, alive both physically and spiritually in the womb, and God who wants us to protect the vulnerable and to preserve life. To me that’s a pretty clear case against abortion.

Published in: on January 26, 2017 at 6:12 pm  Comments (17)  
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Immigration And The Bible


border_mexico_usaSome people may think that immigration is a problem of contemporary times and that the Bible has nothing to say about the matter, but that’s not so. Scripture gives us principles we can follow in all kinds of situations though the details differ from those described in the pages of Holy Writ. When it comes to immigration, though, the people who lived in Bible times dealt with immigration much as we know it today.

True, a national identity wasn’t as defined as it has become. No one carried passports and there were no border crossings, no visas to procure, no inspections or laws about what you could and could not bring with you into the new country where you planned to settle down. Still, people left one city or people group and migrated to another.

Abraham, for example, left Ur of the Chaldeans and traveled to Haran where they settled for a time. God then directed Abram, as he was called at the time, to go to the land of Canaan:

Now the LORD said to Abram,
Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father’s house,
To the land which I will show you;
And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (Gen. 12:1-3)

Abraham lived a fairly nomadic life, but eventually his descendants more or less settled down—until a famine spurred them to seek a place where they could find food and water. Consequently, when his grandson, Jacob and all 75 of his clan made their way to Egypt during the seven year famine, the trip was not unheard of.

Staying for four hundred years—now that was the anomaly.

Of course, Moses himself was an immigrant even before he led the Israelite exodus. He had fled Egypt where he’d been born and raised, and lived in the land of Midian.

But even after the people of Israel escaped from Egypt and returned to their homeland, drove out the inhabitants, and settled in to build a national existence, people still immigrated.

Ruth, for instance, came from the country of Moab with her mother-in-law Naomi. Why? Because Naomi, her husband, and two sons had gone to Moab during another famine. One of the sons married Ruth, but died some years later. So Ruth immigrated to Israel.

She, a “foreigner,” ended up marrying Boaz, then gave birth to Obed, who was King David’s grandfather.

David himself did some immigrating. While he was on the run from King Saul, he spent time with the Moabites, more than once with the Philistines, and perhaps with others.

The question isn’t, did people immigrate in Bible times as much as it is, what did God say about immigrants?

In Abraham’s case, He directed him to migrate. Circumstances played a big part in others leaving home and going elsewhere, but regardless of the reasons for leaving, for going, God identified those who were separated from their homeland in order to follow Him just like He did orphans and widows, the poor and the needy. They were vulnerable and therefore God expected His people to protect them and care for them.

In fact when Ezekiel prophesied regarding God’s judgment of His people, the ill treatment of immigrants—sojourners—is one of Israel’s sins:

The people of the land have practiced oppression and committed robbery, and they have wronged the poor and needy and have oppressed the sojourner without justice. I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before me for the land, but I found no one. (Ezekiel 22:29-30; emphasis added)

Sojourners, then, were not to be oppressed.

But the Law spelled out in Leviticus indicates there was more than just not mistreating them:

‘Now in case a countryman of yours becomes poor and his means with regard to you falter, then you are to sustain him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you. (Lev. 25:35; emphasis added)

Putting aside the point of this passage, which was to instruct how a poor person was to be treated, it’s clear that the sojourner was to be taken care of, at least until they were in a place to take care of themselves (see Lev. 25:47).

One last point: Scripture seems to make a distinction between the sojourner and the stranger who was living as an alien among them. This latter individual was not to be granted access to the temple. On the other hand sojourners were expected to keep the Sabbath and had access to the cities of refuge just like the people of Israel.

What can we conclude about immigration today, based on what the Bible says?
1. Sometimes immigration is necessary; sometimes it’s God directed.
2. Immigrants who want to leave their culture and be included with the people of God are welcome.
3. Immigrants are to obey the laws of the land.
4. The citizens of the land to which immigrants come, are not to oppress them
5. The citizens of the land to which immigrants come, should do what they can to help them with their transition.

Of course the US is not synonymous with “the people of God.” But I think we can extrapolate from the second principle that people who want to make their home in a new country, are welcome. They demonstrate their intention by learning and living according to the values of the country to which they’ve come. That’s what Ruth did.

We could wait a long time for our US Congress to reach an agreement on immigration policy. I personally think Christians who love God’s word should not wait. We should take it upon ourselves to follow God’s direction. We should be welcoming to those who have come to the US legally due to circumstances that necessitated their leaving home. We should help them to learn our laws and culture. We should do what we can to help them while they’re trying to get on their feet. We should do all we can to see that they aren’t oppressed.

In short, Christians shouldn’t ignore immigrants or assume the worst about a person who is new to our country. We should actually thank God for the opportunity to be a missionary without leaving home!

Published in: on January 25, 2017 at 6:03 pm  Comments (4)  
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Certificates Of Debt


Debt is not a popular topic. The US government continues to bow under the massive debt we’ve accrued in the past few decades.

The state of California is no better. And then there is the debt of individual Americans!

The one good thing about all this insurmountable debt, I guess, is that we can more completely understand the parable Jesus told in Matthew 18 about the servant who owed so much money, his king was going to foreclose. The plan was to sell him, his family, and all of his stuff.

Jesus explained that the guy had no way of repaying his debt, implying that what he owed was far greater than what his king would receive from the sale.

A bad investment, some would conclude. The servant cost more than he was worth. Better to cut the losses and get out. And that’s precisely what the king intended to do.

Except the servant pleaded for more time.

As if!

More time was not going to change things. Five years or fifty years, the servant was not going to make enough money to pay what he owed. His situation was hopeless.

Enter the Christ of Colossians:

When you were dead in your transgressions … He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (2:13-14; emphasis mine)

This passage reminds me of Romans 8:1—“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Those certificates of debt Paul referenced in Colossians, those “decrees against us,” are the things of which I stood condemned.

And yeah, they were hostile to us—they condemned us to death. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).

But now they’ve been removed—taken out of the way, nailed to Christ’s cross. So it’s easy to see why there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ.

He didn’t forgive the debt in the same way that the king in the parable did, simply by saying the word and wiping the slate clean. Instead, Jesus Christ paid the debt.

It’s a great picture because it shows God’s justice—the debt needed to be paid—coupled with His mercy that freed us from the debt.

It also shows the impossibility of the debt coming back on us. How do you un-pay something? How do you un-remove it from where it’s been or un-nail it from the cross, the place of death?

Paul explained about the cross in more detail in the first chapter of Colossians:

For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach—if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard (vv 19-23; emphasis mine).

I love the “in order to” part of that passage. Christ has done the work, paid the debt, in order to present me blameless, beyond reproach—or specifically, beyond Satan’s reach. Simply put, all my certificates of debt are marked PAID.

This post is a a revised edition of one that first appeared here in September 2011.

Published in: on January 24, 2017 at 6:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Purpose Of Prayer


I don’t understand much about prayer and its purpose. In fact, for years my prayer life was … sad.

For the longest time, I prayed pretty much for no other reason than that Scripture tells us to pray. From my experience, it seemed mostly like a crap shoot as to whether or not God would give me what I asked for.

When I was a kid, I prayed for things like a bike—didn’t get one until I was in junior high and then we lived where there was no place to ride.

As a young adult, I prayed for things like our friend who mysteriously disappeared one Sunday morning, never to be found again.

Later I prayed for a spouse. I’m still single. I prayed for people to get well who died, and for others, who lived. I prayed for families to stay together that split up.

As a teacher I prayed for my classes and my lesson prep and my work load, and I was never sure when God answered. When things went well, was it because of His provision or the natural course of things? When they went badly, was He telling me I’d neglected something I was supposed to be doing?

At some point, I pretty much stopped trying to figure prayer out. I knew what it wasn’t. It was not God’s vending machine—insert faith, push the desired prayer button, wait for answer to automatically spit out.

Prayer as vending machine had been my philosophy when our friend went missing. I knew God was powerful enough to bring her back, whole and healthy, even. I believed He wanted to protect her and to return her to her role as a pastor’s wife. I asked, believing she would be found. I fully expected it. But days turned into weeks, then years, and eventually it was clear God had not answered my prayer—at least not by giving me what I requested. Now I understand that’s not the way prayer works.

In fact, prayer doesn’t “work” as if it’s a tool to fix what’s broken. Rather, prayer is our “spiritual media” (in contrast to our ever demanding social media)—our means of communicating with God.

So I guess that defines at least part of prayer’s purpose. God wants us first and foremost to talk to Him. I mean, we’re in a relationship. Healthy relationships need healthy communication. Clearly, communication involves a lot more than simply asking for things.

I find it interesting that there were times in Scripture God said He wouldn’t hear His people’s prayers. In other places, however, He seemed to promise answers. If two or three are gathered in His name, if we have the faith of a mustard seed, if we pray without any doubt, if we pray according to His will.

That last point is a stickler. How are we to know His will? Does He want my friend to be healed of cancer or does He want to glorify Himself by how she approaches death? How am I to pray? Or is my every prayer to be, This is what I want God, nevertheless not my will be done, but Yours.

If so, aren’t we back to the crap shoot idea since I really don’t know how to pray or what God plans?

Here’s the shocking thing I’ve learned in the last few years. When it comes to asking for things, God has told us in Scripture what things He wills. Over and over He’s told us.

But silly me, I persist in asking for things without having a clue what God wants instead of asking for the enduring provisions God wants to give me.

Look at this one passage in the book of James, and think how life-changing it could be if I were to pray for these things that I know are God’s will:

Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts you double-minded.

Or how about this from Philippians:

Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intend on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves. Do not merely look out for your own personal interests but also for the interests of others.

And later in the same chapter:

Do all things without grumbling or disputing so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world.

Prayer changes things, I’m convinced. Until recently, though, I don’t think I understood what things God wants to change most of all.

Sure, in answer to prayer He could have changed Jesus’s status as the Suffering Servant who would die to redeem mankind. He didn’t because He knew the stakes. And Jesus knew to pray, “Not My will but Yours” because He knew the stakes, too.

He also knew His Father to be good, to be loving and merciful. So He put His trust in the Father’s will.

The purpose of prayer? First as communication between us and the Father. I think God wants us to pour our our heart to Him, to unload our burdens, to plead with Him for comfort or strength or even for change. We know God hears, but like a kind Father, He will only give us what is good for us.

But of equal importance, a key purpose of prayer is as a means for us to be involved with God to accomplish His will—things we know He wants because He has stated them in Scripture. These things we can pray knowing God hears and answers, though we may never see the outcome. God’s time is not ours, just as His ways are not ours. But praying with perseverance means we wait eagerly for God’s perfect answer.

This post is a an updated and revised edition of one that first appeared here in May 2011—because I still need to re-read thoughts on prayer.

Published in: on January 23, 2017 at 6:15 pm  Comments (1)  
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Prayer Changes Things?


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I don’t understand prayer. I’ve thought about it, written about it, heard sermons about it, studied it in scripture, participated in it corporately and individually, and I still don’t understand it. Not really.

Here’s what I do know—it’s a short list.

1. God doesn’t pay us for being righteous by answering our prayers. In other words, getting what we pray for is not in direct correlation to doing what God tells us to do. Somebody like Job lived righteously, but he lost everything. Daniel prayed and still got thrown into the lion’s den. Sure, he survived, but he still spent the night with the lions. Is that what he prayed for? I doubt it.

2. God doesn’t give us a formula to follow: Do steps A through F just exactly as I tell you to, then I’ll answer your prayer.

3. God will not be manipulated. He’s God. He does not move mountains at our behest! He moves them because moving them fits His plan and purposes.

4. God wants us to pray. He actually commands it, but He also promises to hear, wants us to ask without doubting Him.

5. We don’t receive from God because we don’t ask. And too often when we ask we do so with wrong motives. That’s actually what James say in chapter 4, but I recognize the truth of what he said in my own experiences.

I might also say, I also pray with impatience. I get tired asking for the same thing over and over, and I just give up. Am I to be more persistent or has God said no?

Paul asked three times that the thorn he lived with would be removed and God said no. One of the Old Testament prophets was apparently praying for God’s people, but God told him to stop because He determined to judge them for their disobedience.

But Jesus told parables about prayer, particularly about being persistent in prayer.

So how do I know if I am being persistent, faint-hearted, not willing to hear God say no, or filled with doubt?

I have this sense that prayer is more than what I make it to be.

On one hand, I don’t think I pray believing as I should. I mean, Jesus seemed to be making a huge promise in Mark 11:23-24 when He said

Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him. 2Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.

He also told His disciples to “seek first [His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things [food and clothing] will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).

So perhaps prayer should fit in with what we seek. If I’m seeking my own good and glory, that’s not seeking God’s kingdom and His righteousness. Don’t selfish pursuits fit into James’s “wrong motives” category?

Perhaps this motives question explains why repentance should be a part of prayer. Of course, not everyone thinks it must be. After all, believers in Christ have already been forgiven our sins. But I see David sorrowing for His sin in various Psalms, and James tells us to confess our sins to one another. David also says,

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way. (Ps. 13:23-24)

It seems such an approach to prayer would be perhaps the only way to have right motives.

But I come back to the basic point of prayer: what is it? Is it a way we can get what we want from God? Right there, that seems to shout, WRONG MOTIVE.

But Jesus, in response to His disciples’ request that He teach them to pray, modeled a prayer that included requests for both physical things (daily bread) and spiritual things (forgive us our trespasses, lead us not into temptation, deliver us from evil).

So asking for things isn’t wrong in and of itself. But I can’t help but notice that the spiritual things in Jesus’s prayer outnumbered the physical ones three to one. And if you add in His opening: Hallowed be thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, then it’s actually a six to one ration.

But people in the Bible prayed for physical things. Hezekiah prayed that he wouldn’t die from his illness and God extended his life fifteen years. Gideon asked as a sign of God’s choice of him as the leader of the army, that dew would fall only on his fleece and nowhere else. Then the next day he asked for the opposite: dew everywhere except on his fleece. Both times, God answered. Then there was Elijah who prayed that it wouldn’t rain. God answered by sending Israel a three and a half year drought.

Were these prayers selfish? Hezekiah was clearly praying for something for himself, but Isaiah records his prayer and there is more to his desire than simply his own life extended:

It is You who has kept my soul from the pit of nothingness,
For You have cast all my sins behind Your back.
“For Sheol cannot thank You,
Death cannot praise You;
Those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your faithfulness.
“It is the living who give thanks to You, as I do today;
A father tells his sons about Your faithfulness.
“The LORD will surely save me;
So we will play my songs on stringed instruments
All the days of our life at the house of the LORD.” (Isaiah 38:17b-20)

These physical things, then, seemed to have a spiritual motive.

But there’s something else about prayer that I know I neglect: friends talk to each other. Prayer doesn’t have to be about asking for things. It can be communication for the sake of “getting to know you better.” I think it’s good to ask God questions: I don’t understand this passage of Scripture, God. What does it mean? Or, I have this dilemma and I don’t know which to choose. What do you think, God?

I think those kinds of prayers make me mindful of God’s way—what He values, how He looks at things. That’s the real key. Prayer is not me telling God what He should do. Prayer is me getting to know the heart of God and asking Him how I fit into His plans.

Published in: on January 20, 2017 at 5:45 pm  Comments (6)  
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Thoughts On Prayer


woman-praying-840879-mMy mom prayed. Among others, I know she prayed for me. Every day. When she passed away, it dawned on me that I no longer had someone praying for me on a daily basis. It was a sobering thought. I felt a little as if someone had removed my safety net.

As time passed, I realized I wanted to be more like my mom in a number of ways. She was a good correspondent, writing notes to people she knew decades earlier and consistently sending birthday cards to family members. She was disciplined—had regular eating and sleeping habits, kept her home neat and clean and her checkbook balanced. And she prayed.

I’m not my mom, so the discipline and the correspondence, when I think about them, are dreams, at best, but prayer … now that’s a different story.

Prayer is something God asks of all Christians, not just the disciplined ones or those who are particularly good at staying in touch.

So prayer is something I need to work at.

Interestingly, among the things of my mom’s that I kept was a prayer journal. Not one she used. In fact, it might actually have been my dad’s, but at any rate, I acquired this volume that neither of them had written in.

It wasn’t revolutionary in its content. In the introductory section, those who put the journal together (Peter Lord originally, and with Daniel Henderson in the current version) gave Biblical instruction about praise and thanksgiving, confession, intercession, including how to pray for the unsaved, and petition.

And then the journal. Above all, it provides a way for me to think about who I should pray for.

There are pages to record requests for national and state leaders, judges and civic leaders, school board members and principals and teachers.

Another page is reserved for recording requests for enemies. Another for friends.

Several pages focus my thoughts on missionaries. One page lists Biblical needs to pray about for persecuted Christians around the world.

There is a “heart burdens” page (this is were I pray for Christian fantasy writers and the success of the genre). There’s a page for praying for my pastor and for other pastors and church leaders.

You get the idea. The journal focuses my attention on the people God says we are to be praying for and the things Scripture says we are to be praying about.

Yes, there’s also a page for “my stuff,” so I am still praying about the things that used to dominate my prayer time—the very things that made prayer feel redundant and boring, even to me. But now, I see them as part of a greater whole. My perspective is different and my stuff doesn’t seem as urgent as it once did.

The biggest difference is the praise and thanksgiving time the journal has led me to include consistently. By focusing first on God, I realize that He is bigger than my prayer concerns, that His concern for these same issues is greater than my own, that He who has shown Himself to be faithful in times past, is still faithful and true and trustworthy.

One last thing. The journal editors encourage recording answers to prayers by giving God the glory—praise Your holy name, or PYHN for short. It’s a great short-hand way to look back and see what God has done in answer to prayer.

Sound mechanical? I suppose so, but I needed structure. My prayer life was … nothing like my mom’s, and I wanted that to change.

This post is a re-print of one that first appeared here in May 2010—because I needed to re-read this one too.

Published in: on January 19, 2017 at 5:37 pm  Comments (2)  
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Holy Habits


prayer handsWhen I was growing up, rebellion was the in thing. Teen angst, questioning the establishment, finding fault in every “meaningless” adult action–these were the norm.

A good number of us Christians didn’t buy into all these challenges to society, but culture seeped into my thinking regardless. One way this became apparent was in questioning the value of doing things by rote. Rather, everything was to be authentic, transparent, significant. And what was the worth of doing things over and over simply because we’ve always done them?

Significance, of course, is important, as opposed to doing something for show. Yet some things don’t reveal their value immediately. Unfortunately, my generation expected instantaneous results. If something didn’t have apparent worth right then, it was shuttled off to the side.

Note the word “apparent” in that statement. Unfortunately, if something is not perceived to have immediate value, then the conclusion is, it doesn’t have any.

When it comes to being a Christian, here are some of the things I grew up with: church, Sunday school, evening Sunday service, youth group, Wednesday night prayer meeting, Youth for Christ or Young Life, family devotions, prayer before meals twice a day (three times during the summers when we were home at noon), vacation Bible school.

Mind you, nothing is sacred about any of those things, except assembling with believers in worship, which Scripture tells us not to stop doing. Yet, there is an advantage in developing holy habits. Each of those activities I remember from my growing up years served to reinforce what I knew and was learning about God. That these activities were important to my parents said something too.

Sadly, for too many of the adults, they were simply going through the motions, or they could have answered the questions about purpose and significance their teens were asking. They could have demonstrated authenticity, had their holy habits carried real meaning.

Instead, those holy habits started to fade. First to go was prayer meeting, then evening church. Pretty soon, showing up for a church service once in a while seemed to become the norm. Happily Bible studies and fellowship groups have risen more recently to take the place of some of the other activities.

Through it all, I’ve learned that nothing substitutes for personal holy habits.

I wondered and questioned, more than I care to relive, the value of reading the Bible when “I wasn’t getting anything out of it.” My mind would drift when I prayed, and I felt frustrated when I found myself faced with the same requests week after week.

Yet here I am years later, with such a different attitude toward spending time in God’s word and in prayer. When did this change happen? Somewhere in the midst of the routine of pulling out my Bible first thing every morning. The change didn’t happen because of something I did, and there was no switch God flipped inside me.

Rather, the holy habit of spending time with God, even when I didn’t feel like it, had a transforming effect. Or more accurately, God’s presence in His Word and by His Spirit made the time with Him increasingly more significant.

Yes, holy habits can be routine and seem mundane, but like any other habit, the value comes with time. Establishing the habit may be hard, but enjoying it once it’s in place—that’s priceless.

This post is a re-print of one that first appeared here in December 2012—because I needed to re-read it.