Are We Over-complicating Life?



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I’ve heard of oh, so many people who are stressed out, and any number of new books are hitting the shelves about managing our anxiety. I’ve even written blog posts on the subject (such as this one or this one).

Worse, the suicide rate among teens is on the rise, and there’s apparently so much pressure on kids to get good grades, to get into the right universities, that some people have simply thrown away the book on right and wrong.

What’s the matter with us? Our technology is supposed to make life easier, but teens are now getting killed because they allow their screens to dictate their lives. They get lured into places by dangerous people, they text while they drive, they tarnish their reputation by foolish pictures or comments or arguments.

And parents aren’t far behind. They work so hard to accomplish so much and then face their empty nest without a relationship with the kids they thought they were doing all their frantic activity for.

I didn’t mean to get started on the negative stuff. The fact is, even if we’re not living it, we rub shoulders with those who are.

But we ought to live differently. God put all people on this earth that He might enter into a friendship with each of us, that we can enjoy Him, that we can shine a spotlight on Him to show others how great He is.

Isn’t that what we do with our family? Pull out the phone and show pictures of the new baby or post the graduation shots on social media? We want people to know how great our kids are. How cute, how accomplished, how hard working. We want everyone to know what we know about them.

So, why shouldn’t we want to do the same about our Father? Our Heavenly Father? It’s a normal, natural family reaction—hold up the picture so everyone can see Him. Tell others how great He is.

Of course we can’t tell people about what we don’t know, so we need to wrap ourselves in this relationship and learn all we can about the God who made us, who loves us, with whom we will spend eternity.

Instead, we scurry and storm about trying to accomplish all the things the world tells us are important. We need to earn, accomplish, move up the corporate ladder.

But why?

If we were made for one thing, just one thing, why do we trouble ourselves with doing so many other things?

Jesus put it this way to His friend Martha:

But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:40-42; emphasis mine)

What had Mary chosen? To sit at Jesus’s feet and learn from Him. Enter into relationship with Him. Spend time with Him.

I don’t know how that would look for others living in western society in the 21st century. Each person has to decide that for himself or herself, but I’m pretty sure we all think there’s more than one thing that “is necessary.”

Jesus said, No. Only one is necessary.

The rest? We put them into places of importance, sometimes even crowding out the necessary to work on our other stuff.

Ironic. I recently heard a pastor preach on knowing God’s will. He gave something like eight questions that he asks to know what God wants for him—the ones he suggests everyone else asks in order to figure out God’s will. In the back of my mind I thought, Really? Jesus put two things before us: love God and love our neighbor. That’s what God’s will is. I don’t need to over complicate this issue. To Martha, He narrowed that down to one thing: the necessary thing.

We love God by sitting at His feet until we desire what He desires, until we do what He directs us to do. We love our neighbors by putting the needs of those who cross our paths before our own needs. I could give examples, but really it’s not up to me to define what this means for other people. I have to know what God is saying by His Holy Spirit, to me.

But it’s not complicated. Not really.

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Solomon’s Warning


I’ve never liked the book of Ecclesiastes. I thought parts were cool—a cord of three strands cannot be broken, for instance. And a time to laugh, a time to cry and so on. But the book? I didn’t really get it.

Then some pastor explained that the phrase repeated over and over, “under the sun” was Solomon’s way of saying, “Apart from God.” I wasn’t convinced. How did the scholars know that’s what Solomon meant? Finally I became convinced that’s truly what he was saying, but that just made me angry. I mean, the wisest man on earth, and he came up with some of the nonsense in that book?

And there was plenty of nonsense. Mostly his conclusions are nihilistic. Everything totals out to, zero. Even that passage made famous by the folk rock band The Byrds in their song “Turn Turn Turn.” I used to like that passage. Yes, I thought. It’s a statement of the rightness of the place all these things have in a person’s life. In my life. Until that same pastor pointed out that actually what Solomon was saying was that these things cancel each other out and the sum of them all is, zero.

There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven—
A time to give birth and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.
A time to kill and a time to heal;
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance.
A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing.
A time to search and a time to give up as lost;
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear apart and a time to sew together;
A time to be silent and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate;
A time for war and a time for peace.

It gets worse when Solomon says, essentially that riches and poverty make no difference because the one who is rich and dies and leaves all his wealth to . . . he doesn’t know who. Will the one who takes control of his estate use it well or squander it? Or how about the wise man and the fool? No advantage, Solomon says, because they both die and end up going to the same place.

Uh, no, I think. This brilliant guy Solomon, is missing the truth. He is ignoring God and the ways He makes a difference, now and in the hereafter.

And that’s the point.

I heard a message by one of my favorite pastors on the radio, Philip De Courcy, and it “happened to be” his introduction to his series on Ecclesiastes.

What I learned from Pastor De Courcy is that God used Solomon and his own personal struggles to find meaning in life, to inform us, so that we don’t have to go through the same crash into meaninglessness before we resurface and find God to be our anchor.

That was Solomon’s trajectory. He was the thirsty man building broken cisterns that could hold no water. He tried to achieve by building all kinds of awesome structures. He tried to acquire by gaining more wealth than anyone. He lived for personal pleasure—wine, women, and song. He tried to hone his wisdom. In the end, he concluded none of it was satisfying. It all left him empty.

And that lesson is for us. We don’t have to follow in Solomon’s steps. We can read his testimony, and we can skip to the last chapter so that his end and be the guide in our own lives:

The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil. (Ecc. 12:13-14)

Instead of being angry at Solomon, I should be grateful to God for including in His word the struggles of this intelligent, capable, powerful king who “had the world on a string,” yet strayed from the truth. All those women he married brought into his palace and into his heart and mind, the foreign gods they brought with them. Which explains how someone so wise could go so far astray.

He lost his relationship with God and that left him trying to find meaning apart from God. It wasn’t in any of his stuff, his pleasures, his brilliance. Earlier in the book he said everything added up to zero. Life was futile. A miscarriage was better than a rich man because he didn’t have to face the struggle.

That’s worse than sad. It’s bleak, the words of someone who has no hope. But for the grace of God, his life, and the book of warning could have ended there. But no. God gave him clarity before it was too late. His conclusion to all his struggles is the most important part of the book: fear God—treat Him with reverence and awe—and keep His commandments.

Published in: on March 11, 2019 at 5:39 pm  Comments (7)  
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Reverence – An Expanded View


My alma mater’s semi-annual magazine that goes out to alumni featured an article by communications studies professor Gregory Spencer taken from his book Awakening the Quieter Virtues (InterVarsity Press). I know of Professor Spencer because he also has written a couple fantasy novels; consequently I was particularly interested in reading his article entitled “Reverence: The Church Without Shoes.”

Professor Spencer quickly moved from an introduction to his subject, to Scripture—specifically to the account of Moses’s encounter and reaction to God speaking to him from a flaming shrub. Remove the shoes, God said, as if the shoes were somehow less clean than the feet. And Moses was quick to do so. While we may not understand the whys and wherefores of God’s command, there’s still much we can learn, by metaphor if not by principle. And Professor Spencer did a wonderful job drawing out those lessons.

In contrast to Moses’s position—standing barefoot on holy ground—Jesus and Paul knelt in prayer and four others who encountered Christ knelt before him. Others in Scripture fell on their faces. So how do the these reactions to the holy, these postures before the holy, inform our understanding of reverence?

Professor Spencer uses the physical attitude of people in reverent communication with God as metaphors to explain what reverence actually means. As he describes it, the concept has two prongs. One aspect is what we often think of—kneeling or falling on our faces before the sacred:

Noticing the sacred is noticing all of God that we can see, especially his holiness. Sometimes the sacred is found because it is searched for. Sometimes it seems to crash upon us unannounced. Either way, reverence increases as we cultivate eyes and ears for the God who is there.

The second aspect of reverence, the part we too often miss or mistakenly practice, is standing up to the profane:

The profane is that which intentionally dismisses, ridicules or destroys the sacred. When our loved ones are attacked or defiled, don’t we bristle and seek to defend them? Aren’t we saddened when they are misrepresented, ostracized or harmed? And so it is in our life with the Lover of our souls. Who cares about sacrilege these days? The reverent do.

Professor Spencer closes this section with a good reminder that not everything offensive to us is offensive to God, and vice versa. The standard we must use is that which grieves His heart.

The article did not elaborate on this point (perhaps the book does), but I’d add that Scripture is the source we can rely upon to know what moves God’s heart. For example, Jesus mourned for Jerusalem because He longed to gather its people like a hen gathers its chicks, but they would not. It’s safe to say, then, that people rejecting Christ grieves God’s heart.

The books of prophecy are filled with things that grieve God’s heart. At one point He says He wants justice and mercy rather than sacrifice. He then chastises His people for idol worship, for neglecting the Sabbath, for profaning His house, for mistreating widows and orphans, and on and on.

I admit. I know that Proverbs tells us that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, but I seldom think what that fear, that awe, that reverence looks like. These metaphors, drawn from our posture before God, help me to understand both avenues our Heavenly Father wishes His followers to take: kneeling before the sacred; standing against the profane.

From the archives: this article contains minor revisions from one posted here in January, 2011.

About That Loving Your Neighbor Command


The Bible is really clear about how Christians—followers of Jesus Christ—are to treat our neighbors. Jesus broadened the command further by identifying our neighbor as the person we come across who is in need.

So love them. Give them what they need to reach a point in which they are no longer in need. Like the Good Samaritan did. He gave medical attention to the guy he came across who had been mugged. Further, he put the wounded guy on his own donkey, took him to a nearby inn and paid the man in charge to provide for the next layer of needs. I take that to be shelter and food and perhaps clothes. For how long? The Samaritan didn’t know, so he gave an open-ended promise. Whatever the innkeeper spent on the wounded man, above and beyond the money he’d already been paid, the Samaritan would cover the cost.

It’s a great story of selflessness and generosity and letting go of ethnic stereotypes. Of refusing to give in to prejudice.

But here’s what I’m thinking about. What if the Samaritan took him home instead of to an inn. What if the Jewish victim proved to be . . . difficult. What if he was unappreciative and demanding? What if he wanted to argue politics or religion? What if he was not someone the Samaritan liked?

More often than not, I think that’s our challenge today. We are fine if we can throw some money at a problem, as if our generosity equates with love. We forget that the Samaritan was committed to coming back, that he would be checking in on the wounded Jew, that his responsibility was more than a one-time donation.

We forget that he first took a risk. After all, he could have been walking into a trap. He set aside his own needs, even his religious ones—his interaction with the wounded man made him spiritually unclean, because it’s hard to imagine that he tended the man’s wounds without getting his hands a bit bloody and that maybe he’d be touching a dead body. Then there was the change in his plans. The delay, the inconvenience of walking while the Jewish man rode. The commitment to put him up and check in on him and to pay more if needed.

All this makes me aware that loving our neighbor requires some level of commitment, of interaction, of relationship.

Which brings me back to the question: what if our neighbor is someone we don’t like?

I don’t think our likes or dislikes change God’s command. We don’t get to say to God, Well, I’d love him if I liked him a little better, because You do know, He’s a Jew. Set aside for a moment that Jesus was also a Jew. The point is, He told that story particularly because love crossed the ethnic divide.

What if the Jewish man was cursing and complaining the whole way to the inn? What if he was demanding and simply had an irritating personality? Jesus doesn’t give us an out because someone is not easy to love. He simply says, love your neighbors.

So here’s what I think. Paul tells us that when we are weak, we are strong. Because when we are weak we turn to God and let Him give us the strength we need. My guess is, if a neighbor is hard to like, God will give us the strength to love them anyway, and maybe even to like them.

I’ve had that experience, more than once. When I was teaching, there were a few times that I had a student I didn’t really like. They were . . . annoying. But as soon as I realized I was having a hard time, I started praying. And in each instance, the student and I actually developed a close relationship by the time they moved on to another grade. In other words, God took my willingness to follow Him and my admission that I was weak and needed His strength, and He forged a better relationship than I could have ever imagined.

In truth, I would have been poorer if I had missed out, if I had let my likes and dislikes dictate who I loved or didn’t love.

God really knows what He’s talking about when He tells us to love our neighbors!

Published in: on March 4, 2019 at 5:48 pm  Comments (2)  
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Best Intentions


Best intentions really aren’t enough. Addicts often have the best intentions but can’t break the vise of their vice. Children frequently have the best intentions, only to forget a few minutes later what it is their parents have told them to do. I don’t doubt that Presidents and senators and representatives, governors, assemblymen, all have the best intentions to rule well and keep their campaign promises. Sadly, we know how that works out more times than not.

Clearly, intending to do well isn’t the same as doing well.

The people of Israel were a perfect example of this basic fact. They declared their intentions as they prepared to follow Joshua into the Promised Land:

They answered Joshua, saying, “All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. (Joshua 1:16)

How quickly “all you have commanded” turned into Achan taking a bit of gold, some silver, and a fancy piece of cloth—things Joshua, at God’s direction, had said Israel was not to take.

In the end, best intentions are only as good as the act of following through. It’s not enough to intend to serve others if we turn around and serve ourselves instead. It’s not sufficient to intend to obey God if we go our own way when we don’t like what He says. It’s not OK to intend to keep our promises if we break them when it’s more expedient to do so.

Are intentions worthless? No. They reveal our hearts at a moment in time. But our hearts are fickle, weak, wicked, and deceptive. The person who says, “Mine isn’t” proves how deceived he is by his heart.

The point is, intentions need to be propped up by commitment which turns into action. God didn’t just intend to send a Redeemer, He actually committed Himself to that role, and then took on the form of Man and went to the cross to implement what He intended.

If we are to go beyond intentions—intending to obey God, to live righteously, to love our neighbors as ourselves—we will know we mean it when we commit, when we start, and when we stay with it.

The people of Israel intended to possess the Promised Land. They couldn’t stand on the bank of the Jordan and simply intend to conquer Jericho. The priests needed to step into the water, and the people needed to walk to the other side with a wall of water billowing up beside them. They needed to march around the city for days, and they needed to charge ahead once the walls were down.

Best intentions? They aren’t worthless. But they aren’t really even a start. They are hopes, plans, and for the Christian, the perfect thing to take to God in prayer.

This post is a revised reprint of one that appeared here originally in October 2012.

Published in: on February 19, 2019 at 5:07 pm  Comments (2)  
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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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What Satisfies


Years ago I read a book by author, speaker, psychologist Dr. Larry Crabb that left a lasting impact. He based his thoughts on Jeremiah 2:13.

For My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me,
The fountain of living waters,
To hew for themselves cisterns,
Broken cisterns
That can hold no water.

God gives living water. We need living water. But instead of staying beside that Fountain that provides in abundance, we take another tack. We go to our own wells which we have to dig for ourselves and which are actually broken and can’t keep any water in them.

This is a great picture of what we humans do.

God offers, we reject. But we still have our basic needs, so we turn to our own solutions.

Just recently I found another passage of Scripture that basically says the exact same thing. This one is in Isaiah:

Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters;
And you who have no money come, buy and eat.
Come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without cost.
“Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And delight yourself in abundance.
“Incline your ear and come to Me.
Listen, that you may live (55:1-3a)

I’m guessing not many people know the word ho appears in the Bible. It’s an interjection and the Hebrew transliteration of the original is howy. It’s most often translated as woe but sometimes as ah or alas or even O. The point is, it’s not a happy word. It’s drawing the reader’s attention to something that isn’t really a happy circumstance.

I had been reading the first lines as a carnival barker might call out to the crowd: “Listen up, people. Step right up! I have a special you don’t want to miss.” But the following lines are not in that cavalier vein.

Rather, this portion of Scripture is sober and sobering. The offer of water is there, but this is more than water. It’s nourishment. It’s fulfilling. And it’s free. But then the questions upon which the verses turn: Why do you spend money (when you’ve been offered something for free) when it isn’t even anything that will sustain you? I mean, you need food. You need water. But you’re paying out for stuff that will not keep you alive.

It gets worse. You’re working long hours to turn your earnings over to someone selling stuff that gives you no satisfaction. In other words, you’re just as hungry, just as malnourished, when you finish eating as when you started.

Just like the broken cisterns.

What is it with us humans that we pursue empty goals, empty pleasures, empty dreams, empty relationships. If it’s empty, we’re all over it, like a miner panning for fools gold.

We bite on every offer for the next new shinny thing. We buy lottery tickets because, you know, instant millionaire! It looks so inviting. We drink too much because for that moment we feel so good about ourselves. We do drugs for the next high. We dabble or dive into promiscuous sex because it’s candy to our appetites.

On and on. We think we know what will fulfill us. Maybe it’s a younger wife. Or taking a little money under the table. Or cheating on our income taxes. Or a church that says God wants me to be rich.

Who wants a “follow me” message that involves denying myself and taking up a cross. My cross. A place where I am to die to myself. That sounds counter intuitive to fulfillment.

I suppose it is. God is that way. In fact He says as much later in that Isaiah passage:

For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts.” (55:8-9)

This is where trust comes in. The way things look to me: if I want water, I need to go look for some, dig a well, collect it. What God says: Come to Me. Listen to Me and live.

My efforts give me mud, at best. Zilch, nada, nothing, at worst. In truth, we can’t live that way.

Then why do we spend money for what is not bread and our wages for what does not satisfy?

Are we afraid to trust God? Do we think Jesus was wrong when He said we should take up our cross daily? Do we really think we can do better than God?

The thing is, some people do look as if they are doing fine without God. They appear to have it all together. Except when we look at increasing instances of divorce, drug use, prescription drug use, anxiety, suicide, pornography, abortion, mass murders, homelessness—things that should not be in society if we were all happily fulfilled with our marriages, our jobs, our homes, our friendships.

It really is kind of astounding. As the anonymous quote says, “Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.” That’s where mankind lives. We know going our own way does not satisfy, but we go our own way regardless.

I’d say that could be a result of a person not knowing there’s a different way. Not knowing seems unlikely in our western culture, at least. But I’m coming to understand that many who think they know about God and His way, really are mistaken. They have believed a lie. So they keep rolling the stone up the hill, trying to reach the top, even though it continues to slip into reverse and come down upon us as it returns to the bottom of the hill.

Why do we do it?

The solution to our cracked and broken wells, to our cycle of buying what is not bread and what does not satisfy, is not so complicated.

Seek the LORD while He may be found;
Call upon Him while He is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
And let him return to the LORD,
And He will have compassion on him,
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.

Published in: on February 14, 2019 at 6:05 pm  Comments (3)  
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Trusting God Doesn’t Mean Things Will Be Easy


God cares about His people, but He does so on a much deeper level than we realize. He cares about what happens to us into eternity. His goal for us here and now is to make us like His Son. We are being conformed—molded, shaped, fashioned—into the likeness of Jesus.

This process of trimming and pruning is quite different from what most people think of in connection with the Christian life. I dare say, there are those who think once a person becomes a Christian, God is on their side. Once I even stated, “Apparently God chooses sides.”

By that, I did not mean what many people think, however. A Christian hasn’t simply added to his team the biggest and best person around. He hasn’t ensured his chances of success because he now has someone greasing the wheels to make his plans work.

And despite players making very public display of praising God during their football games, God doesn’t want my team to win more than He wants your team to win just because I’m a Christian. (The truth of this becomes clear when two Christians want different, opposing teams to win).

The Christian life, then, is not about getting God to give us what we want to be happier, healthier, richer, more comfortable, stable, protected, or respected than the next guy. A person who claims the name of Christ is not getting a pass when it comes to hardship.

Christians still lose their jobs and have car accidents. Their computers crash, and their loved ones die. They get cavities, acne, cancer, strokes. They have rebellious kids and unfaithful spouses. Bills pile up. Colleagues stab them in the back. Muggers stab them in the chest.

And they die. We die.

The point isn’t that God steps in and saves us from human tragedy or suffering or trouble, though He sometimes chooses to do so. But He always walks through life with us, maximizing the joys and minimizing the sorrows.

Isaiah 43:2 says it well:

When you pass through the water, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they will not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched,
Nor will the flame burn you.

I find it interesting that God said those words, through Isaiah, to Israel. In the preceding verse, He identifies them in this way:

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are Mine!”

So I have to think, in what way is the Christian different? We have been redeemed, called, and claimed. This promise, then, is for us as much as it was for Israel. God isn’t going to let us pass through floods except that He’ll be with us. And when we walk through fire He will protect us.

We’ll still have to experience the fire, though. The difference is that we’ll come out the other side un-scorched.

So Christians don’t have things easy—but it might be a little more comforting to go through hard times with Someone rather than alone, knowing that there’s a grand purpose for it and a sweet end waiting.

This post is a revised version of one that first appeared here in January, 2014.

The Advantages Of Knowing Jesus


Photo by Zun Zun from Pexels

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.

The Hobbit And The Dragon, Or Playing With Fire


Some time ago, I re-read The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien. At one point our hero, Bilbo Baggins, confronts the dragon (Smaug) in his lair beneath the Lonely Mountain.

After having successfully made off with a gold cup during his first foray into the tunnels, Bilbo returns, hoping to learn something useful about Smaug. He strokes the monstrous creature’s ego, plies him with questions, and learns some very useful information. However, Bilbo’s successes make him careless. He takes a parting shot, taunting the dragon about not being able to catch him (at the time he is wearing the ring that makes him invisible).

The jab infuriates Smaug, and he goes after the hobbit based on sound and smell. Bilbo is severely singed and barely escapes with his life. What’s more, the dragon goes after the place he believes Bilbo usd as an entrance into the mountain tunnels. He is right and seals Bilbo and his companions inside.

All because Bilbo got a little cocky from his successes.

Bilbo and SmaugSomething else came from the hobbit’s engagement with the dragon. Smaug planted a few seeds of doubt in Bilbo’s mind. Would his companions—gold-loving dwarfs—really divide Smaug’s treasure with him as they promised? And if so, how was he going to cart that treasure all the way back home when the journey to the Lonely Mountain had been so hard?

Bilbo’s encounter with Smaug isn’t so different from a real person’s encounter with the enemy of our souls.

Nowhere in Scripture are we told to reason with Satan. We’re told to flee, resist, stand firm, but never to parlay.

Even Jesus, in the three particular temptations the Bible records, fought Satan with Scripture. He didn’t explain why He wasn’t going to turn stones into bread or jump from the pinnacle of the temple. Rather, He stated what God had said, and He stuck to it. Far from gloating when He’d bested Satan, He spent time in the company of angels afterward, recovering from the ordeal, perhaps, or preparing for the next encounter.

Too often in my experience, when I see a spiritual victory, I think, One down, one less to worry about. At that point, I’m just like Bilbo taunting Smaug. How much wiser to look for the nearest company of angels. And falling short of that, to find a fellow believer or time alone in God’s Word.

The point is, spiritual victories feel like a “high,” but in reality they create some of the most vulnerable moments in our spiritual walk. They might tempt us to pride, to relax our guard, to listen to the suggestions the enemy slipped in during the encounter.

When we are weak, then we are strong, Scripture says, but too often we operate as if we are strong when we are strong. We bested a temptation, responded in faith, trusted God in spite of what Satan threw against us, and we think it’s over, that we’ve come out on top. The unpleasant news is, there is no “on top” until Satan is put away for good or until we enter into God’s presence for good. Until that time, we’re in a war, and one battle doesn’t mean Satan is waving the white flag. He’s not. He’s a hungry lion (or dragon), and we are his prey.

Bilbo made a costly mistake, one that we can so easily make too unless we keep the armor God gave us firmly in place.

This article is a revised version of the original that appeared here in January, 2013.

Published in: on January 29, 2019 at 5:15 pm  Comments (2)  
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