Living In Joy?



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In Isaiah 55 the prophet says, “For you will go out with joy/And be led forth with peace.” In Nehemiah this governor of the returned exiles tells them, “The joy of the LORD is your strength.” King David write in Psalm 16, “In Your presence is fullness of joy.” In fact, the various psalmists write about joy a lot.

Even the writers of the New Testament have a lot to say about joy, and those who penned the gospels report that Jesus mentioned it more than once. Yes, sometimes they speak of future joy, as Isaiah did, but sometimes they talk about joy in the immediate, even in the midst of trials.

James is a case in point when he says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.”

Of course Paul includes joy among the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians, in essence saying that every Christian has joy.

We do?

I was listening to Pastor Greg Laurie this afternoon. At the end of the program he interviewed a guest, Pastor Levi Lesko, author of I Declare War. He mentioned that often we reach a crossroad in our day at which we can choose.

Interesting that another sermon I heard at breakfast mentioned how under sin, we had no choice. Meaning that sin controlled us. Now, as believers in Jesus Christ, we’ve been set free from sin. We are no longer slaves.

And here was Pastor Lesko saying, we have a choice to live in a funk or to believe what God says in His word. Things like, the joy of the LORD is our strength.

He then told us about how casinos in Las Vegas are built. Apparently when you’re on the outside, the entrances are clearly marked and the access is easy. But once you get inside, in the middle of the casino, it’s constructed like a labyrinth and finding your way to sunshine is like walking the maze.

I don’t know how true that is, but the illustration certainly seems to apply to sin and specifically to choosing joy over its counterpart—despair, regret, discouragement, depression. Sin, even though we are free from its mastery over us, is still compelling. It’s gained strength over the days and years and has created habits that are easy to fall back on.

This is a really simple example, but I’ve decided I want to treat other drivers (and here in the LA area, we all have to drive all the time, everywhere, or so it seems) with more courtesy and respect. Which is good. Until someone cuts me off in traffic. At that point all the frustration and anger at someone not willing to wait his turn flares inside me.

It’s a habit. For far too long, I’ve been an angry driver, always in a hurry, more aggressive than is good for me, and wanting every other driver to play by the rules. Breaking that habit doesn’t come over night.

Instead I have to let the word of God inform me what is true. Behind the wheel of that car is someone who Jesus included when He said, For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but will have everlasting life.

But I don’t love that guy even to the point of giving him a little grace on the road. In truth, I don’t know what the driver’s problem is. God does, though, so instead of steaming about his bad behavior, maybe I should bring him to God in prayer.

That’s the cool thing about joy. Yes, joy. We can actually choose joy in the same way that we can obey the command to be filled with the Holy Spirit. It’s not by trying harder. It’s by reminding ourselves, by preaching to ourselves—really by letting the Holy Spirit bring to our remembrance—what God’s truth is.

And His truth is that no matter what circumstances we live under—financial pressures, wayward kids, unhappy relationships, unemployment, open disdain for our faith in Christ—we have the joy of the LORD. Not, we can have. Not, we will have some day. No. The Holy Spirit lives in every believer and gives us all His fruit, which includes joy.

I think the fruit of the Spirit is part of the abundant life. Jesus painted a metaphor in which He said He was the door to the sheep pen. But then He goes on to say, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Sin does steal and kill and destroy. For one thing, it steals our joy. But we have this fountain of joy in us through the provision of the Holy Spirit.

When I was a kid we sang the little chorus,

I’ve got I’ve got that joy joy joy joy down in my heart –Where?
Down in my heart –Where?
Down in my heart –Where?
I’ve got that joy joy joy joy down in my heart –Where?
Down in my heart to stay

There’s so much truth there, but it’s so easy to forget, so easy to let the old habits dictate and confuse, so easy to let sin steal that joy.

God’s truth makes it clear: we can live in the light of His word—and live according to the joy in our hearts—not in a maze of darkness and confusion

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The Internal Witness Of The Holy Spirit


The Holy Spirit doesn’t get a lot of press. From what I’ve understood, He doesn’t want a lot of press, either. His job is to throw the light of revelation on Jesus Christ. Of course, I can’t tell you where the Holy Spirit ends and Jesus begins, because God is One. We refer to the three persons of the trinity, but They are really a He. So the internal witness of the Holy Spirit is actually the internal witness of God.

But what is an “internal witness?”

When I was a kid I didn’t even know what the Holy Spirit was or if I had anything to do with Him. But the longer I live as a Christian, the more sensitive I become to the Holy Spirit.

I know some people attribute all kinds of wild things to the Holy Spirit—being “slain in the spirit,” “laughing in the spirit,” “being drunk in the spirit,” and the like. I simply don’t see those things in Scripture.

Rather, I see things like the Spirit will guide us in all truth; He will teach and bring to a believer’s memory what Jesus said; He will comfort; He prays on our behalf when we don’t know ourselves how to pray; He speaks through the prophets; He resides with every believer. And more.

The point for this post is this: the Holy Spirit communicates to believers, giving assurance, peace, joy, and the various other gifts we refer to as the gifts of the Spirit. These are inside things. In our heart. In our soul. They are not tangible or physical apart from the actions or the words which they promote.

But they are real.

When I was in college years ago, one of the popular things for Christians to talk about was “practicing the presence” of God. I honestly didn’t get it. I didn’t know or understand what that could possibly mean.

The fact is, the more time you spend with God, the more you can recognize His voice. After college I had a few experiences that were awesome. I felt as loved by God as I could possibly feel. I felt as if I’d sat with Him and enjoyed . . . yep, you guessed it . . . His presence. And definitely, I wanted more.

But that was just it, I wanted the spiritual high more than I actually wanted to be with God. I went through a time when my spiritual life was a bit of a roller coaster—when I felt close to God and then when I felt distant. Finally things leveled out when I realized wanting what God gives instead of wanting God Himself is a twisted kind of relationship.

It’s like a story I recently heard about a bride wanting a perfect wedding. When the day comes she can’t take her eyes off the flowers, the beautiful bridesmaid dresses that came out perfectly, her own beautiful dress, the cake and streamers in the reception hall. It all turned out just as she imagined. “And what about the groom?” someone asks. “The groom?” Maybe he was there, maybe he wasn’t. She couldn’t be sure because she was looking at all the trappings instead.

My point is, wanting to feel the love of God, isn’t the same thing as wanting God.

In some way which I don’t understand, God does make Himself known. It’s between the pages of the Bible, in a still inner voice, in a soul-prick that says to stop, or to speak, or to listen. Sometimes it’s an inner response to a song or to something a friend says or to something in a book. It’s right and true and from God, as surely as if He’d said it out loud. And a few times it even seems as if it’s just Him whispering in my soul. It’s not something low lights and soft music produce, though sometimes the words to a song can be the words He says.

I’ve finally decided that God, the Holy Spirit, is simply doing what He wants to do most: He’s witnessing in my inner being to who Jesus is. That’s actually what the Bible says:

If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for the testimony of God is this, that He has testified concerning His Son. The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son. And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. (1 John 5:9-12; emphasis mine)

Jesus told the Pharisees this same thing—that there were those that witnessed of Him, that He is the Christ, the Son of God, One with the Father. In the Jewish culture, a single witness to anything was not adequate. They needed two or three witnesses. Jesus gave four.

First was John the Baptist who identified Jesus as Messiah. Then there were the works that Jesus did—healing the lame and such, as He’d just done right before that conversation. A third witness is Scripture—the prophets spoke of Jesus, and so did the Mosaic Law. Before Jesus mentioned the Scriptures, He listed God’s own testimony. The Father did declare Jesus as His Son at Jesus’s baptism. But the Holy Spirit did as well, alighting on Him in the form of a dove. And then we read in John’s letter that line that we who believe in God have His testimony within us.

It’s strong and irrefutable, but also not easy to explain.

Pascal, I think, said we have a God-shaped vacuum in our hearts. Well, the Holy Spirit fills it.

Published in: on February 18, 2019 at 5:57 pm  Comments (3)  
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The Advantages Of Knowing Jesus


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Once upon a time I might have headed my list of advantages of knowing Jesus, with reception into heaven. Don’t misunderstand. Knowing Jesus does provide entrance into God’s presence for all of eternity. It’s very important. But it’s also very future. So when I think of Jesus in my life, I generally think of things here and now.

I think of His presence, through the Holy Spirit, living within my heart. In other words, I’m never alone. I think that’s huge in this day and age. Just the other day I heard a list of things that people were most troubled by, and loneliness was close to the top as one of the most difficult things they faced. But Christians are never alone, I thought. Never. Alone. We have comfort and encouragement and support and Someone to listen and a God to call in time of trouble, a God who will bring to our remembrance the things we need to know.

It’s kind of amazing to think of all that’s available inside me, every single day, hour upon hour. That I don’t turn to God more often is really the big surprise. He’s there, with me, in me.

Besides His presence, I think perhaps the biggest advantage of knowing Jesus is that He forgives my sins. Yes, that fact is closely tied to the point about entrance into heaven, but it’s more. I mean, Jesus “made purification of sins” (Hebrews 1) which has this snowball effect. His death is the means of my justification, my being set right with God, so that He now sees me as righteous, that is, as having right standing with Him. He reconciles me with God so that I not only enjoy His presence, but I enjoy His fellowship, His koinonia, which includes intimacy, partnership, joint participation, such as God including me in His work.

More than this, God’s forgiveness through Jesus, frees me—from slavery to sin, from the power of sin, from the fear of death, from the requirement of the Law, from guilt, from the devil who had the power of death (Romans 5-8; Hebrews 2). All of this sets in motion my sanctification, which is really just another way of saying, becoming like Jesus.

When I was a little tyke—I mean, not much more than a toddler—I had a toy broom, and I used to follow my mom around the house and mimic the things she was doing to clean. I wanted in the worst way to be grown up, to be able to do what my mom was doing. I wanted to mirror her.

That’s what sanctification is doing. It is molding me so that I will grow up to be like Jesus.

Just like any other relationship, if you know someone and like them, you want to be with them. Well, knowing Jesus makes me like Him more and more. The consequence is, I want to be around Him more. I want to read about Him more, hear about Him more, talk about Him more, include Him in all the stuff I do. Well, that last one—actually all of them—are works in progress. I want to include God in all I do, but I catch myself at times wondering why I didn’t pray about this or that thing I was concerned about. How much easier if I learn to take “everything to God in prayer” and not just the messes I make when I try to do stuff on my own.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. I wonder what advantages of knowing Jesus you would include.

Let me conclude by stating the obvious: Jesus is my friend. When I was young, one of my favorite hymns was “What A Friend We Have In Jesus.” I thought it would be fitting to find a good YouTube video of the song to put up. And I found one. A really good one. But I also found this “story behind the lyrics.” I had never heard it before. Well, it’s a story worth listening to. What an illustration of how a very present help in time of trouble our God is. Makes the words to the song that much more meaningful.

Not A Religion


Christians are apt to tell others outside the faith that we do not have a religion; we have a relationship. It’s really true.

When I consider what is different between the beliefs of, say, my cousin who is a Buddhist or my cousin who believes in some form of Hinduism, and my faith, I come to this religion/relationship issue.

I thought perhaps our understanding of heaven and what happens after death might be a key component in our differences. After all, Christians have the hope of heaven. We don’t see eternal life as an endless merry-go-round of incarnated lives, hopefully getting better and better until we lose ourselves completely.

No, Christianity is vastly different. We have the same sad parting from a loved one who passes away, but we have the hope of a future with that person if they embrace the good news of Jesus. Our parting is temporary. Not a good-bye but a see you later, as blogger friend Wally so beautifully reminded us in his post about his father-in-law.

Certainly that is different. Different from atheists who think death ends life completely. Different from people who have no idea what happens when we die, or from ones who think we all end up in the same place, whatever that place might be.

Christians have a knowledge that leads to assurance and hope, despite the grief of parting. It’s unique, but it isn’t the only thing we have.

In truth, we only have the hope of everlasting life, which we will enjoy with our loved ones who also believe, because first and foremost we have a relationship. We have a unique connection with the God of the universe, made possible because of what Jesus Christ was willing to endure on our behalf. So here and now, in this present world, we enjoy this kinship with Jesus.

The Bible introduces all kinds of metaphors to help us picture what would otherwise be so mysterious we’d have a hard time grasping the significance and truth about our being reconciled with God.

Jesus describes Himself as a Good Shepherd, a Mediator, a Friend, a vine, and more. But most significantly, He calls Himself our brother while at the same time identifying us as children. In other words, there’s an element of kinship involved, which is really just another way of saying relationship.

I suppose the most obvious aspect of this relationship is the love of God which is poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit. His love is behind His taking care of our sin problem, and that’s something we enjoy now. The weight of guilt, gone; the fear of judgment, dealt with. Hebrews 2 says we’re set free from the slavery of the fear of death.

Perhaps the most powerful aspect of this relationship is that we Christians are growing up, spiritually speaking. We’re starting to want the things God says He wants. Sure, it would be nice to be rich and famous, but how much better to live in such a way that God receives glory and honor! How much better to love our neighbors, to see unbelieving people become the committed followers of Christ?

Why would we do that?

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” — Jim Elliot

We cannot lose the love of Christ.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)

We cannot lose the joy and peace and patience and kindness and self-control that is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Those things will only grow and fill our lives more fully as we get to know our Savoir more and more.

We cannot lose our forgiveness, our justification, our right standing before God.

We cannot lose the privilege of prayer.

We cannot lose God as our “victorious warrior.”

“The LORD your God is in your midst,
A victorious warrior.
He will exult over you with joy,
He will be quiet in His love,
He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy. (Zephaniah 3:17)

I could go on. There is so much that our relationship with God through Christ gives us. Christianity is about as far from “religion” with its cold ritual and self-help efforts as imaginable. But friendship? Sonship (and daughtership)? Brotherhood (and sisterhood)? Those are the things that define our faith. And they are things we will enjoy without end!

A Gentle Answer


I’m not a gentle person. I’m aggressive. As a young person I was an athlete. I guess I still think of myself as an athlete. I played on a co-ed volleyball team for as long as I could. And I coached nearly all of my years while I was a teacher.

When you have to make fast decisions and quick corrections, gentleness doesn’t always get served.

On top of that, I grew up with an older brother and an older sister, so I guess I was always trying to prove myself, trying to hold my own. At any rate, either one of them can tell you that gentle is not part of my natural make up.

And yet Scripture says a soft [or gentle] answer turns away wrath.

That verse used to trouble me. What does a person do who is not gentle? What if it’s my wrath that needs to be turned away?

My usual response to anger was anger, and I was good at it. I could raise my voice with the best of them.

But God works even when we don’t realize He is. He makes changes when we aren’t looking.

So today, when a poor girl at the atheist/theist FB group page called me an idiot and later an a$$, I knew I had a choice. I could react from the me that is quick to correct or I could respond in a gentle way that she might hear.

I say she was a “poor girl” because she was so angry. I don’t know her story. I don’t know if she is young or old. I just know she was seething with anger . . . at God. And anyone who believes in and trusts Him was apparently a target as well.

Of course I have no idea if a soft answer will turn away her anger from me, because I am not going to stop speaking the truth about God. But I think there’s a great need in this woman’s life to do so in love, not throwing anger of like kind back at her.

She actually didn’t answer my last comment to her, but I suspect when she does, it will be more of the same—no real content and more name calling.

That’s OK. After all, she isn’t mad at me. She doesn’t know me. She doesn’t know that once upon a time I would have aimed to eviscerate her with words. She can’t see that the Holy Spirit has done something in my heart that fills me with sorrow that she hates the very Person who can best comfort and care for her.

I just read today a verse in Hosea that speaks to this very point:

It is your destruction, O Israel,
That you are against Me, against your help. (13:9)

I like the way the New International Version translates it:

“You are destroyed, Israel, because you are against me, against your helper.”

That statement was true about ancient Israel, but it’s also true about a contemporary atheist or Christian or whoever rages against God. He’s the very Person who can and who wants to help.

I think of how children sometimes rage against their parents, when, in fact, the parents are the ones who want what’s best for the children and know a lot more what that looks like than they do. In fact I just read a piece for a contest that involved a child responding to a parent in anger though the parent intended to do what was best. No matter the setting, it’s a familiar scene.

That’s a picture of what we so often do in our relationship with God. And I am including Christians, because the accepted idea by so many is, it’s OK to let God have our anger, with both barrels, right between the eyes. After all, the reasoning goes, He’s big enough; He can take it.

Sure He can. But are we able to deal with our circumstances without the comfort, the help He wants to give us if we weren’t so foolish to push Him away by hurling our anger at Him? I remember a woman who’s son was diagnosed with a recurrence of cancer and responded with anger toward the very God she could pray to for healing, who she had prayed to and who had answered when the doctor first discovered the boy’s cancer. Why would you do that, I wanted to say to her.

But back to the point of this post.

Does a gentle answer take away the anger? Maybe not right away, but it’s a step in that direction. It’s a safe bet that anger answering anger is not going to make a difference. But a gentle answer—that’s not expected and it just might arrest the anger enough for the person to actually hear.

The cool thing about my interaction with the person on FB, the gentle answer is clearly not from me. So she’s hearing from God from the Holy Spirit who is changing the way I normally respond. Because “gentle answer” is so not me.

Published in: on April 25, 2018 at 5:55 pm  Comments (2)  
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Misunderstanding Scripture


Interpreting God’s word incorrectly is not a new thing. In fact it’s a very old thing and the number one method Satan uses to confound people so that we do not follow God. Remember his question to Eve in the Garden—Has God really said . . . ?

From then on, people have been in conflict about God’s word.

The same was true in the last years of Judah’s existence as a nation. Babylon had already defeated them and carried away the wealthiest, most influential people into exile, while installing a puppet-king in place of the boy-king they dethroned.

While Jeremiah continued to prophesy to the people in his homeland, Ezekiel proclaimed God’s word to the first-wave exiles in Babylon. Not surprisingly, their messages were the same: Judah will fall to the Babylonians.

The people in Jerusalem didn’t believe Jeremiah, and the people in Babylon didn’t believe Ezekiel. At one point when he proclaimed God’s word, the people said, He’s speaking in parables. But he wasn’t. He was delivering the message God gave him, but at one point he stopped God and said, ‘Then I said, “Ah Lord GOD! They are saying of me, ‘Is he not just speaking parables?’” ‘

That incident reminds me of the disciples’ confusion when Jesus told them he was going to Jerusalem where He’d be put to death, but that He would rise again on the third day. His men simply thought He was speaking metaphorically. They didn’t understand He meant He would literally die and literally rise again.

Too often that same confusion reigns today. People say the Bible doesn’t actually mean what it says. They say some passages don’t apply to our culture or that people have been misinterpreting them for centuries or that these five verses nullify the hundred or so that seem contradictory.

What is God actually telling us?

Of course Satan is still active in this process. He wants us to be uncertain about Scripture, and particularly how Scripture applies to us. I mean, he actually used Scripture against Jesus, trying to trap Him and trick Him by God’s words in Scripture.

I find it interesting that Jesus simply dismissed Satan’s bait. He didn’t explain what the verses actually meant or when the statements would be fulfilled. But He took the opposite approach with His disciples after His resurrection. Then He carefully explained the Law and the Prophets to them so that they could see how He was, in fact, the promised Messiah.

The fact that Jesus unfolded Scripture for them is encouraging, I think. It means that the truth is within the pages of the Bible, waiting for us to understand. And the cool thing is that God sent the Holy Spirit to us when Jesus left.

One of the “functions” of the Holy Spirit is to guide us in all truth, to bring to our remembrance what God has said. He doesn’t invent new truth. He doesn’t send golden tablets written in King James English. Rather, He clarifies the Bible. He brings the various points of history together. He shows how Scripture interprets Scripture.

The Bible, of course, is under attack by those who don’t believe in God. It’s full of errors, they say, and contradictions.

Well, it’s not. What it is, is the God-breathed writings of men of God. They wrote using their own style, to a contemporary audience, for a specific purpose. So of course the Bible doesn’t read like a textbook or a story book or a history book. It’s really like no other book every put together.

The main point is that the Bible as a unit is about God—His plan, His purpose, His person, and His work. Of course, Jesus stands at the center, along with the Father, and it was this truth that Jesus explained to His disciples.

Since Jesus rose from the grave, we’ve had over 2000 years of scholastic investigation of the Scriptures, analyzing, comparing, contrasting. Unless someone adds to the Bible (as the Mormons do by introducing a supposed later revelation known as the Book of Mormon) or subtracts from the Bible (as the higher critics do by nullifying the parts that contain miracles or other supernatural elements), it’s hard to miss what God has done and is doing in human history. The Old Testament foreshadows and promises and prophecies that God would send a Savior; the gospels recount the life, death, and resurrection of that Savior; the remainder of the Bible relates how the Savior affects our life, now and in the future.

There’s no longer any mystery. What God is doing has been fully disclosed. He’s even disclosed Himself by showing up in the likeness of us humans. We can see what God is like by seeing what Jesus was like.

Of course, doubters don’t want to listen to the accounts of Christ’s life. How can we possible know those are true?

Anyone interested in evidence might want to take a look at some of the work done by J. Warner Wallace. He is a cold-case detective who has used the skill set acquired on the job to look at Christianity. His latest book is called Forensic Faith.

Here’s one five-and-a-half minute video in which he addresses what some consider the contradictions of the gospel writers.

This is just one man adding his knowledge to the mountains of evidence that already exist for the truth of the Bible.

The Bible doesn’t really need to be defended, of course, because reading it brings verification of its veracity, but other fields of study agreeing, only makes the case stronger.

If the evidence is so strong, why don’t people believe it?

For the same reason the Jewish people in Babylon and in Jerusalem didn’t believe Ezekiel and Jeremiah: other voices spoke contradictory messages. People claiming to be prophets were telling those first wave exiles that they’d be back in Jerusalem in a few short years, that the exile would not last for any length of time. They were making stuff up. They were not speaking God’s word.

So too people today can listen to the wrong source and get the wrong worldview that will lead them to error, not truth. It’s all a matter of who you trust.

A Personal Relationship With Jesus Christ


At my Facebook atheist/theist group, one of the atheists posted a question of sorts, asking Christians to describe their personal relationship with Jesus Christ, because, he said, if the thing is not demonstrable, then there’s some question it even exists.

I’ve thought about the question a bit. The thing is, I don’t think an atheist can understand my answer. How does a believer explain the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? Or the peace that passes understanding?

As I thought about my answer this morning, I left out the “demonstrable” part, as in, what I assume he was asking for—something other people can observe.

I can say that because of my relationship with Jesus, I read the Bible and pray. The Atheist Guy (AG) would likely answer that I was reading myths and saying words to the air. Because he can’t see Jesus.

My Christian friends, those in real life and on the web all know that reading God’s word is reading words of life and praying is the greatest expression of our thoughts and needs, or potentially can be so, to Him who loves us most. But how can those outside the faith knows this?

Another thing that is “demonstrable” is my going to church, but then people without a relationship with God through Christ might also attend some place of worship. That’s just a religious thing if you aren’t hearing the truth and if you aren’t meeting with God and with His people.

I could list service things or career things, but the atheist can once again point to people of other faiths or no faith who do good and some who even alter their career to serve others. So what does knowing Jesus do that nothing else does?

It’s not really something anyone else can witness. The first thing that came to my mind as I pondered the question is a tag line from a friend’s Christian fantasy: “Never alone.” Because the Spirit of the Living God dwells in my heart, I literally am never alone. He’s with me when I see the snow-capped mountains or a rosebush bursting with blossoms. He’s with me when my friend needs prayer because of a surprise medical condition or a death in her church family.

God is with me when I read His word or listen to the preaching of it. He nudges my heart into realization that the Bible is living and active. It’s not distant and irrelevant or old-fashioned and culturally flawed. It’s vibrant and powerful, and the Holy Spirit, who is with me, brings the truth of Scripture to bear in my life and my circumstances.

I know the AG won’t get any of that.

He won’t get how important it is for me to sit at the Lord’s table or how God gives me living water, how His presence comforts me in times of sorrow and grief. How He quiets my fears, and certainly not how I can turn to Him any time of any day and know He hears my cry.

The AG can’t know how God answers my cries for help, sometimes by sending godless strangers to bail me out of a pickle, sometimes by giving a friend words of wisdom, sometimes by directing my reading to a certain article or book, sometimes by speaking to me in my spirit.

Are these things that an atheist will be able to see and understand as God working in my life because we have a relationship? I doubt it. Most often I’ve heard, “coincidence” or “imagined” in conjunction to God’s answered prayer.

The thing is, whenever I think of living without God, I can’t imagine going on. I don’t mean that to sound moribund. But I don’t understand what an atheist does when they hear a loved one is sick or has been in an accident or if he loses his job. Who do you turn to for help, I wonder. How do you get through the death of a loved one, if you have no hope and no comfort? I can’t imagine going on.

I can’t imagine life without worship. What do atheists do during the proverbial “minute of silence” in a public gathering? Who do they thank for a glorious sunset? Who do they turn to when disaster devastates a community?

The old adage is, There are no atheists in foxholes, which is kind of true if we look at the response of Americans immediately following the terrorist attacks on 9/11. The problem is, as quickly as people turn to God for rescue in crisis, they turn from Him in times of security.

A real relationship with God means we aren’t foul-weather friends—we don’t just care about Him when times are tough.

I can hardly talk about a relationship with God through His Son Jesus without mentioning joy. But how can I explain that sense of well-being and contentment and satisfaction and an awareness of being completely loved, even at the most desperate times?

How can I explain how freeing it feels to be completely forgiven? How can I show AG how different Jesus Christ has made me and is making me as the years go by? How can I explain that my relationship with Him colors my whole worldview, and influences what I write, what I do, how I vote, what I watch on TV—all of it.

I guess what I’m really asking is, how can I make “demonstrable” new life in Christ?

I’m a new creature, I want to shout. Old things just aren’t appealing any more. I don’t have a certain set of ethics because I have to but because I want to. I serve God in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter of the Law.

None of this is “demonstrable,” but all of it marks me as God’s child, His heir, because I’ve been adopted into the beloved. It certainly is enough for me to be sure about my personal relationship with Jesus Christ, even though others may not see it.

God Helps Those Who Help Themselves?


888698_my_new_bicycleI’m not sure where the adage “God helps those who help themselves” got its start. It sounds very American, very responsible, very “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”—and God would approve of this, so He’ll lend a helping hand.

I picture a parent running along side his son or daughter who is learning to ride a bike. The dad has a hand just behind the seat, keeping the bike in balance until the child gets the hang of it and takes off. Then Dad lets go, stands back, applauds when Daughter weaves her way back to him.

God is like that, right?

No, He’s not.

First, He does not exist for our sake; we exist for Him. He isn’t our bodyguard, cheerleader, or fix-it man. He is God!

Amazingly, He wants a relationship with us—friendship, familial interaction, shared love. He also wants us to obey Him, worship Him, serve Him, glorify Him. He, in turn, wants to shepherd us, strengthen us, even exalt us at the proper time.

But help us?

Not surprisingly the Old Testament wisdom literature, particularly Job and Psalms has a great deal to say about God as our help. In any number of verses, the writer says he cries to God for help. In other passages, God is praised for being a help.

A number of different words are used, most conveying the idea of “succor”—assistance and support in times of hardship and distress. Psalm 27:9 is a good example:

Do not hide Your face from me,
Do not turn Your servant away in anger;
You have been my help;
Do not abandon me nor forsake me, O God of my salvation (emphasis mine)

There are also verses that state God’s intention to help His people:

“For I am the LORD your God, who upholds your right hand,
Who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’ ” (Isaiah 41:13)

Is it significant that this concept is almost non-existent in the New Testament? I think so. When Jesus walked on earth people asked Him for help—mostly to help a physical ailment, but even to help with the problem of unbelief.

He explained to His disciples that when He went away, He would send a Helper, a paraklētos. According to Strong’s, the term is used

of the Holy Spirit destined to take the place of Christ with the apostles (after his ascension to the Father), to lead them to a deeper knowledge of the gospel truth, and give them divine strength needed to enable them to undergo trials and persecutions on behalf of the divine kingdom

No longer, then, do those who are God’s own need to plead for Him to help. He already has, by giving us the Helper to live with us and in us.

It seems to me, the times I plead for God to help—and there have been times—I am less aware of God’s presence and provision. Of course, in emergencies, it’s hard to keep a level head, to think through the truths of God’s word. I suppose that’s the very reason it’s important to “practice the presence” of God daily.

I’m not sure I really like that phrase. It seems as if I have something to do with God being with me or not. The truth is, whether I am aware or not, He is with me. But my awareness influences my decisions and my attitude. I am much less inclined to worry, for example, when I remember that God is with me, that He is sovereign and omnipotent and good.

All this to say, God isn’t running along side me as I struggle on my own to accomplish whatever I wish, so He can be available if I cry out when I’m about to crash.

Rather, God has taken up residence in my life. I am His. I don’t need Him to help me—I need Him! He is sufficient no matter what my circumstances. In fact, because He is infinite God, limitless in His attributes, He loves and gives, provides and protects like no one else could.

That includes anything I could do for myself. 😉

This post is the final article in the short series of Evangelical Myths, first appearing here in June, 2013.

Published in: on February 6, 2018 at 4:38 pm  Comments (4)  
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The Peace Of Christ


The peace of Christ is more significant than I once thought. For one thing it is unique to Christians, which of course makes it hard to explain to those who don’t believe in God. They undoubtedly think Christians are making something up or imagining it or tapping into that “religious” part of the brain.

Actually the peace of Christ is a real thing. That’s why a member of my church who endured an illness that caused chronic pain can write the following:

In the midst of God’s response to my pain, my identity as His child is confirmed. Who am I in this pain? I am a son of the Father! One of the deepest and most influential of relationships (a father to a son) is witnessed to and I am reminded in my soul that I am not alone, abandoned, and neglected in my pain, but I am a privileged son being trained by a loving Father. It this presence of the Father that keeps me leaning forward as I endure through storms. (James Hampson, First Evangelical Free Church devotional, Ears to Hear, 11/16/17)

Do Christians always walk in light of our relationship with Christ? No, most of us will admit we don’t. We want to, but the reality is, times of doubt and disappointment and even despair can cloud our vision. In those times it’s a great help to hear from other believers who have persevered, or to read something in Scripture that reminds us we’re not alone or that God is indeed faithful to His promises.

Interestingly, the peace of Christ is most important during the storms of life. When everything is going smoothly, we aren’t as aware of a need for the peace of Christ. We aren’t thinking, “I have this great job, and I get along so well with my co-workers and my boss. How stressful! I can’t stop thinking about work!” Or it’s unlikely that we’re ringing our hands when our children receive academic awards in school, make the basketball team, bring their friends over to the house so we can meet them, ask for a new Bible to replace the one that’s starting to look beat up. Such children are hardly the cause of sleepless nights.

In other words, the circumstances that are themselves peaceful, don’t require anything special. Who wouldn’t be satisfied with a fulfilling job that pays well and gives you lots of respect from your peers? That situation does not “require” the peace of God to get through it.

What requires the peace of Christ are the circumstances that would normally leave us depleted and clenching our fists. In those circumstances, when we’re scrambling for ways to cope, the peace of Christ can be the life preserver that keeps us from drowning.

Paul said in one of his letters, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts . . .” I conclude from that statement that the peace of Christ isn’t something imposed from outside, but it’s something I can choose to govern my life.

However, Paul also said in Galatians that peace is an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit. Of course he also told Christians not to quench the Spirit. So even though the peace of Christ is kind of supernatural, it’s still something we can choose.

In other words, “the peace that surpasses comprehension” is available to believers—from God, for us.

But how? Paul again:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The first thing is prayer. When we turn our needs over to God, we can trust Him to take care of them in His time and for His purposes and how He chooses. He is a good father and will not give us a scorpion if we ask for a plate of fish.

The second thing is to give God thanks, which acknowledges His involvement in our circumstances even when we can’t see them. I’ve been reminded from Scripture that so often God is at work even when we can’t see what He’s doing.

An account in the Bible tells of a siege against a certain city in Israel, causing a severe famine. All looked hopeless, but a man of God went to the king and told him that the next day food would be so plentiful, the prices of things that weren’t even currently available would be so low anyone could afford them. One of the king’s officials mocked the idea. What he didn’t know was what God was doing in the enemy camp—causing them to flee and to leave all their rations behind.

Giving thanks to God, even when the circumstances don’t seem to be changed, reinforces our trust in God’s plan and in His timetable and in the fact that He will give us only good. Not necessarily the thing that seems good to us as we look at the short term. But good. Really good. The very thing we need to make us more like Jesus Christ.

Which reminds me of something interesting I recently learned about writing fiction. One way to create a story, one instructor says, is to identify the lie your character believes. He builds upon the lie what he wants. So he might think that fame and fortune will make him happy, so what does he want? A job that requires him to work nights, to schmooze with the rich and famous. But what does he actually need to make him happy? A healthy relationship with his wife and kids. His pursuit of fame and fortune, for the sake of happiness, is actually robbing him of the very thing he truly needs to be happy.

Just as the writer knows this about his characters, God knows this about us.

Our giving Him thanks in the midst of tough times is really a statement of trust. God’s got it. He’s got us. He’ll work even these circumstances for the good of conforming us to the image of His Son. And in this knowledge, there is peace.

Published in: on November 16, 2017 at 5:18 pm  Comments Off on The Peace Of Christ  
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Hope And The Here And Now – Reprise


westcoast sunsetWhile I acknowledge that this world is filled with disappointment, I also recognize the beauty of God’s handiwork. Yes, there is sadness, but there are also joys. People get married, and babies come into the world. People get promotions and book deals and raises. People go on vacation and spend an evening with friends.

There are so many joys, I can’t help but be hopeful about today.

There are friends, too, bringing laughter and acceptance and companionship. How about family and loved ones—people who don’t care what our hair looks like in the morning and aren’t afraid to tell us if something is hanging from our nose. They love us in such everyday ways we sometimes overlook them, but when we list what we’re thankful for, they come to mind first.

snow_road-winter-xsYes, the joys and the people are part of God’s handiwork, but of course the natural world can’t be left out. Which of the beautiful things tops the list—the white-capped Rockies, the sunset over the Pacific, the snow-dressed forest, the green and golden fields, the woods clothed in autumn finery, the dew-kissed rose, the yellow-breasted song bird . . . the list is endless.

Joy, people, creation. God’s fingerprints are everywhere, and each one brings hope. If things are this good today, can’t tomorrow be just as good? Or better?

The greatest present hope is God Himself. The amazing truth is that God IS, though all else fails. God is the greatest treasure, so I may be poor in this world’s estimation, but if I have Jesus, I am rich. I may mourn, but joy comes in the morning. I may feel defeated, but Christ is the victor. I may be grieving, but not without hope.

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
The Lord GOD is my strength,
And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet,
And makes me walk on my high places. (Hab. 3:17-19a)

God, in His great mercy, gives us memorials so that we don’t lose sight of hope. He gives us sun after the rain, spring after winter. He gives us comfort in the midst of sorrow, kindness from unexpected places.

He tells us to remember Him in the broken bread and shared cup at Communion. He established His Church as the “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.” He gave us the Lord’s Day and reminded us to continue gathering together then.

He gave us His word that is sharper than any two-edged sword—the perfect weapon against the false teaching our adversary throws at us. He taught us to pray and gives His Holy Spirit to interpret when we don’t know what we ought to say.

This is the same Holy Spirit that lives in us—which is why we can truthfully say we are never alone. He is the One Jesus sent when He left earth, promising that it was to our advantage that He go.

God’s presence in the form of His Spirit, His communication with me through prayer, His word, His fingerprints all over the world—these are things I have now that fill me with hope.

Though our society is far from God, why not revival, I think. God changed my heart. He can change anyone’s heart, even atheists putting up anti-church billboards—Nebuchadnezzar was just such a man, and God brought him to his senses. Even people killing others in some mistaken view that they’re doing God’s work—the Apostle Paul was just such a man, and God opened his blind eyes.

With God, there are no limits.

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable.
He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power. (Isaiah 40:28-29)

To him who lacks hope, I daresay, He gives that, too.

This article originally appeared here December 2014.

Published in: on November 3, 2017 at 4:39 pm  Comments (8)  
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