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Category Archives: FaithLife

This category holds my general thoughts about a variety of topics related to living in Jesus Christ. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the same subjects.

Pains that Come from God

Brother Lawrence, who wrote a marvelous book on Christian spirituality called The Practice of the Presence of God, suggested: “When pains come from God, he only can cure them. He often sends diseases of the body to cure those of the soul.”

To our ears, what a strange idea! God doesn’t send pains of any kind. To our thinking, the Lord is a good and wonderful being who wants nothing but the things that make us happy. Baloney! God wants what is best for us, and nothing less, ever. What is best is seldom painless.

Pain is part of every good thing we do. When we want to learn a new skill, language, or hobby, we go to great pains to study the subject thoroughly, and we enjoy every minute of the labor involved. We discover new aspects of the subject when we fail, and we repeat what broke down with modification until we master the knowledge we set out to acquire. A painful but necessary experience.

God sends us pain in other ways. When we discover in our devotional time that we’ve been far from patient, we set out to master this virtue. Learning to be patient is a pain! We have to put up with slipshod workmanship from others or ourselves. We have to tolerate accidents, delays, failures. We have to bear with so much that we don’t like or enjoy in order to be trained in patience.

Diseases are often part of God’s lessons in life. The reason you’re struggling with cancer is not that your body was invaded by a microbe or disturbed by an improper habit. You combat cancer and its pains so that you will learn the spiritual lesson you haven’t learned in less harsh ways. You’re finally still enough that God’s Spirit can teach you to surrender yourself wholeheartedly to him. Brother Lawrence was right. God frequently allows us to experience a disease so that our souls might benefit.

You see, we humans think that long living is good living, but this isn’t true. To live a long life means we must put up with agony of one sort or another for a lengthier time. Neither the quantity nor the quality of life makes life meaningful. The meaning in life comes from your relationship with God, and to develop the relationship the Lord wants with you may require him to inflict pain, just as a parent disciplines a child properly in order to create an adult who will always appreciate what he or she learned while growing up at home. Taking out the garbage or cleaning up your room may have been a bothersome chore, a pain, but it taught you habits of cleanliness that make life better.

Jesus Christ is the great physician, the one who will heal, but the healing is sometimes accompanied by pain. Don’t shy away from the agonies of life. Embrace them as gifts from God, and study them for the lessons God has for you. Pain is a scalpel in the healer’s hand, and he uses it skillfully to remove everything that harms your relationship with him.

 

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Posted by on January 25, 2012 in FaithLife

 

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Meaningless Effort

The days in which we now live go in circles, don’t they? Whirling tornadoes of activity. A person labors for a good life. People pour themselves into buying a home, raising children, belonging to groups of good friends, supporting a better community, doing all sorts of positive things. Yet all their labor seems to amount to well-meant but meaningless effort. It’s undone in an instant.

Look at the emptiness all around us. Every morning the news tells us about someone who was so desperate she robbed a bank or he raped a woman. The offspring from not only the ghetto shoot each other over nothing but also those of the middle class home shoot schoolmates. The world isn’t going to hell in a hand basket. It’s already there! A parent’s hope and dream for a child is destroyed, by the child’s own action, or someone else’s infantile deed.

Look at the emptiness. The excitement of so-called reality shows is artificial, unreal, yet they are popular evening viewing. People who seek meaningful relationships keep looking for them in one bar after another, and seldom find their “soulmate.” A lay-off at work is followed by arguments over money at home until home life is under-appreciated. Politicians spout the same causes as in the last election without the admission that nothing was done to improve on the problems, except to make them worse. The whirling circles of life spin the mind and heart until we are disoriented.

How can human effort become meaningful?

Write a self-improvement book. Develop labor saving products. Enter medical school. Clean up university locker rooms. On and on, we could list positive, life-affirming actions that people take. I admit that doing good works will improve the world. Something edifying always builds instead of tears down. Yet these actions don’t change much, don’t make permanent improvements in the world as a whole. A little good is better than no good, I suppose.

But how can human effort become meaningful for all time?

Only by improving the human being. And this takes a divine hand together with a surrendered heart. God must act to remake the human being, and the human being must cooperate through surrender. This happens every day. People finally realize all their efforts are meaningless, because they are mis-directed. So they give up in a positive sense. They give up to the Lord. They surrender their souls to Jesus Christ, whose Spirit has been prodding them for years to drop their guard and dare to believe. When they surrender, God is able to put new meaning where emptiness used to be. He is able to re-create the surrendered heart and make it consistently good. The divine effort and human effort then combine to remake the world. Even this is not a complete re-manufacturing of a broken world into a good one. There has to be an end made of the vain world, and this God alone can do and plans to do. For the moment, those who find Christ also find an abundant life that’s worth the effort.

 

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2012 in FaithLife

 

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God and Evil, and Human Beings

A blog I recently read made the point that evil is the absence of God. I responded to it, and I thought I’d also share my answer in this blog. So here it is…

Evil as an absence of God. This is certainly true. But the presence of God would also be the absence of evil. The two thoughts in tandem explain why human free will is so risky. By acting in an evil fashion, a human takes himself out of the presence of God. He is too holy to tolerate evil in his presence. However, does choosing good automatically bring a person into the presence of God? Perhaps not. It at least allows God an opportunity to admit the human being to his presence, but something more appears to be required: a cleansing. The evil that was chosen must be purged, because it has left a mark upon the human soul. Christ enters to provide this cleansing, along with the Holy Spirit to help maintain the purity and expand it throughout the whole human character. This is a signal of the sovereignty of God. By his trinitarian actions, he restores the human to relationship with himself and makes possible a consistent choosing of the good. Yet this work of deity is not completed until a period beyond human time-bound experience. Until then, we continue to struggle with good and evil.

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2012 in FaithLife

 

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Courage to Start New Things

It’s time to think about starting things. A New Year is only days away, and we naturally make resolutions. “I’m going to lose weight!” “I’ll pay off my bills faster.” “I’m going to read twelve books in 2012.” We usually keep our resolutions, for a while. But that’s not what I’m thinking about.

The time has come to think about starting new things. The old aren’t working so well. We need new things.

Our habits are bad. We indulge in over-eating, not only during the holidays, but also all year long. We need to start a new thing…eating better. Our attitudes are bad. We demand more than we deserve, such as a larger salary, a larger house, a larger role in the business, a larger anything! Our attitude is wrong. Instead of a “me first” attitude, we have to start a new thing…gaining a servant mentality. Our feelings are bad. We complain all the time about politicians, doctors, spouses, children, store clerks, everyone who crosses us somehow. We feel the worst things. We need to start new feelings going around the community…compassion for others.

As I listen to our society, so much negativity floats in the air around us. It’s easy to fall into the moaning and mourning, the superior smugness of one who thinks he or she has been slighted. Rather than complain and gripe, why don’t we create? If we don’t like the way life is going, can’t we make it go in a new direction? It only takes our will power, our thinking, our plans. Then we can realign our resources and find a new way to act. We can accomplish better things, if we have the desire to do them.

Wait a minute! Isn’t it a Pollyanna outlook to believe human beings are able to achieve and do wonderful things in a whole society?

How do we know if we don’t try a different, and hopefully a better, way of doing things? If the habits and deeds of the past have failed us, why not do something different? It might turn out better. If we don’t like being out of work, why don’t we pick ourselves up and create a new job ourselves or keep looking for another one? Discouragement will come, but rather than allowing it to beat you down, why not make it build you up? Let discouragement become a motivator for a wider search for work. New attitude, new thinking, new ways of doing…this will change where we are right now.

I see a lot of down in the dumps people, when they don’t have to stay there in the ash heap. Okay, so nobody is helping you. Help yourself. Think creatively about the problem that’s weighing you down. A new solution will come, a new life will build. You don’t have to mope and groan. Do something positive to change where you’re at in life.

I’ve heard a lot about bank robberies and store hold ups lately. We always do when the economy sours, and jobs dry up. But I wonder if the people who are so desperate that they have to steal couldn’t come up with a better way—if they put their minds and hearts into creative mode. It’s time to begin new things.

Do you have the courage to start new things that are worth doing?

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2011 in FaithLife

 

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Just in Case…

Wintertime! When you read this, you may have had some snow this winter, though at the time I’m writing, December brought us very little of the white stuff. Winter is so unpredictable, although weather forecasters try to make us believe they have a good idea what’ll happen before the first flakes fall. Truth is, the weather is always what the weather is. That’s why some people never worry about catching a meteorological report. They know that if it rains they’ll be wet. If it snows, they’ll be cold. They rejoice in the warm weather they encounter unexpectedly. Others sweat over the predictions, catching every broadcast they can. Just in case…

Where’s this leading? It’s an illustration to me of how easily we worry or fret. When the weather people tell us to expect a lot of snow, people worry about running out of supplies. So they race off and endure long grocery lines just to make certain they have enough bread and milk and batteries. Just in case…

It doesn’t take much to make some people worrywarts.

The winter doldrums strike many after the holidays. Family returns to their own homes. Loneliness, Christmas bills, an untidy house, snow, rain, clouds, barren trees, brown grass, ice… Everything adds up until anxiety lashes frostily at your mood and leaves you miserable. Depression is a common problem in January and February. What are you to do? It’s hard to visit people or even make it to church. Many of us have forgotten how to read or how to entertain ourselves, and television gets to be a bore during winter.

For me, the winter months have always been a time to re-charge. I don’t have outdoor work to do most of the time, so I spend a little more time reading Scripture, praying, and catching up with God. Other times of the year, I get busy and neglect him and the spiritual disciplines that help me grow. So I return to the practices of prayer and meditation during winter. Just in case…

Just in case I get busy again and forget to stop and listen to what the Lord wants to tell me. Winter is a time to draw into my thoughts, prayers, and private fellowship with Jesus, the Father, and the Spirit of holiness.

If the bad weather or the general dreariness of winter has you down, I suggest that you start looking up again! Just in case your mood needs to improve a little.

 

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2011 in FaithLife

 

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Immersed in Words

None of us escapes being immersed in words. From the time your ears hear their first sounds until the final syllables you think, words are building blocks or stumbling blocks in your life. They articulate your happiness and define your chagrin. Words overlap all around you, a cacophony of personal shouts and whispers mingled with voices of loved ones, strangers, neighbors, and God.

Sometimes you’re so overwhelmed by verbiage, you seek silence, but even in secluded places with only the songs of birds and squirrels for company, language intrudes before you notice. Your mind starts a conversation that trips you up or directs you into new knowledge. Vocabulary is friend and foe, but always words are present. They’re the essence of your humanity. Almost without willing it to happen, human beings express themselves.

Not all the words in your life can be your own. Others have words you need to hear. What’s said may or may not be to your liking, and how the thoughts of others are couched may not suit your taste. You’d speak the thoughts differently, with less vehemence or more compassion. You’d stress different points, but regardless of how or why or where or when someone else’s words are delivered to you, an overarching obligation presses on you—the need to listen.

Words are spoken for a purpose. The speaker wishes to communicate with you. The information might be important, exciting, life-changing, hateful or boring. Yet you should listen. Words are the stuff of human existence. From the words that bubble around you comes the focus of your daily activities. Thus you must listen.

Those who don’t hear are soon devoid of friends or isolated from meaningful encounters. Life becomes humdrum, and the non-listening person slips into a mental, emotional, or spiritual coma. Words swim around, but they don’t make sense. They float in a rolling, dark emptiness. The person being addressed isn’t listening, isn’t awake.

Where’s this rambling headed? To the word of God. The Bible. If it should happen to be true that the words of scripture are God’s words to humanity, shouldn’t you and I listen carefully?

Below the surface of my Christian faith, the word of God rests as a major stone in the foundation. Without its presence the whole structure of my life would be immeasurably weakened. Through long experience reading, studying, and wrestling with the Bible, I’ve seen how precious its pages are. The words pouring from scripture immerse my mind and heart in God’s thoughts. He speaks to me! He doesn’t speak to me because I’m a saint or even a good person. God speaks to me through his word because he loves me.

His conversation is intended to be heard by everybody. He loves each human who reads his message. He loves those who ignore a holy book with ancient names they find hard to pronounce and so refuse to read. At the root of all the words God utters to humanity is his love for each person.

God wants us to know what’s in his mind and heart as well as our own. So he immersed us in words.

 
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Posted by on December 20, 2011 in FaithLife

 

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Why I Like Winter

Is winter ever mentioned in the bible? This question came to me. So I looked up the word winter in my Bible. In the New International Version, it occurs only seventeen times. God promised Noah, after the flood, that as long as the earth endured, he’d be certain to send humanity seedtime and harvest. He’d give us times of cold and heat, the seasons of summer and winter. Even day and night would never stop happening. (See Genesis 8:22.) Isn’t wonderful that we can count on the seasons to turn every year? It’s a sign of the Lord’s commitment to us.

The ancient poet who wrote Psalm 74 also considered how God watches over humanity:

          It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth;
you made both summer and winter.
                                                              Psalm 74:17 (NIV)

The psalmist praised God’s creativity, especially as it related to the seasons. The Lord made summer and winter.

And this is one reason I live in the northeastern United States. I love my seasons! One of my daughters has lived in Arizona for most of her adult life, and I love to visit her any time of year. But I’d rather live where frequently in winter the snow falls and the winds blow cold. (I know Arizona gets snow sometimes, but not often enough for me.)

With the ancient poet, I rejoice in God’s creativity.

When God was angry with Israel for its sinfulness, the seasons figured into the background. Through the prophet Amos the Almighty said:

           I will tear down the winter house
               along with the summer house;
           the houses adorned with ivory will be destroyed
               and the mansions will be demolished,”
                                          
declares the Lord.
                                                      Amos 3:15 (NIV)

Owning a summer and a winter house was a sign of the luxury in which many Israelites lived, but when they forgot God, they’d have to surrender their summer and winter luxuries—a warning about the season of wrath and judgment. Even Jesus used winter as a warning of impending disaster. Speaking about the end times, the Savior said, “Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath” (Mt. 24:20, NIV).

I have no idea where these thoughts are leading, except to say that winter is a gauge for human spiritual vitality, just as much as it’s a sign that changes come. In winter, one day may be dreary or rainy, snowy or sunny. The only sure thing is that tomorrow will be different. Winter weather is difficult to predict. And so is life…and judgment…and much more.

Winter teaches me to trust God better, and to be prepared for the day of judgment by the goodness of my life now.

 
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Posted by on December 17, 2011 in FaithLife

 

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