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Discernment

 

Discernment
When Christians need to make decisions, they often have a hard time understanding what is going on inside of them, leading to greater uncertainty.

For example, some struggle with Visible Signs they are ‘seeing’ (circumstantial evidence for/against their decision). Others don’t know how to read their Instincts or Intuition. Still others don’t know how to read the internal Cautions generated within their emotions or spirit. These cautions often come to us in the versions of “fear,” “dread,” or “uncertainty.”

I hope this helps.

DISCERNING WHAT TO DO

Let’s say you need to make a decision (X). You are unsure what to do. First, let’s take up this matter of Visible Signs, which can be confusing…

1. REGARDING VISIBLE SIGNS. The bad news is that when we get down the spiritual road toward maturity, we are given fewer and fewer visible signs about what to do. Meaning, outward, clear, visible signs are harder and harder to come by. That’s because God knows that we know His voice already and those signs are simply unnecessary at this point in our spiritual development and, ironically, also less reliable than Him speaking to us quietly within our spirits.

So don’t let the silence frustrate you– it’s an indicator that you don’t need outward signs anymore. John 10:27.

2. REGARDING INSTINCTS or INTUITION. Let’s assume that you are seeking God’s Will and walking in His Spirit (though this is a big assumption, we have to start somewhere). If you have gotten this far down the road toward your decision, and if you have been led here without clear internal warnings that you were going the wrong way and planning on doing the wrong thing– then you absolutely MUST trust your instincts now more than ever.

Here’s what I mean: Sometimes Christians pray and then feel led to do something– and this something is (let’s assume, unless you realize it’s not) from a healthy and holy motive. So they move forward and God apparently blesses the idea and things begin to unfold toward the realization of that dream and vision. But somewhere along the way, things hit a rough spot (and what you thought was crystal clear is now cloudy). It’s at this time that many Christians begin to question their entire discernment apparatus and their ability to hear God’s voice and to know His Will.

Point: God WANTS you to know His Will– more than even YOU want to know it! God wants you to know His voice. And the general demeanor of the Spirit-filled and obedient believer is “GO.” Believers should be seeking to conquer more ground for the Kingdom and Glory of God. So, you should actively seek to advance your life and opportunities for good and the like UNLESS AND UNTIL the Holy Spirit cautions you or stops you.

At a time like this, when you’re ‘that close’ to pulling the trigger and making a big decision, that’s not the time to second-guess your entire discernment apparatus. If you have faithfully prayed and sought the Lord “the best you knew how” and in that faithful pursuit of this dream, you did not have clear and obvious cautions– then you move forward in the way you were going, with CONFIDENCE.

3. DISCERNING CAUTIONS. That leads me to my final test of discernment (not that there’s not a lot more that could be said, but I’m gonna simplify it): YOU NEED TO IDENTIFY *EXACTLY* WHAT EMOTIONS YOU ARE FEELING BEFORE YOU MOVE FORWARD. DO YOU HAVE A SENSE OF “FEAR” ABOUT THIS, OR A SENSE OF “DREAD,” OR A SENSE OF “UNCERTAINTY?”

HERE’S HOW YOU WORK THROUGH THOSE.

A) FEAR: Fear isn’t of God. So when you feel ‘fear,’ that should not keep you from acting. So you musn’t let fear imprison you. Anytime I feel like moving forward in a decision but ‘fear’ exists, I put the pedal to the metal. I speed up; I don’t slow down. Then I brace for impact, because Satan may throw some stuff at me to make me question my decision.

B) DREAD (or ‘foreboding’): If you sense “dread” or a sense of foreboding– a deep, unshakeable and heavy, threatening sense of weighty, immobilizing dread… THAT “is” the Holy Spirit. In such a case, He is bearing witness in your spirit against a decision or action. When I sense this emotion, it’s clearly a divine warning.

But dread and fear or insecurity are different things. Dread ‘feels’ heavier and is unmistakably different than fear. Dread is always a “no go” for me.

C) UNCERTAINTY: Uncertainty can go one of two ways, and here’s how I approach it. (1) If the uncertainty was from the beginning, and if the uncertainty had been gnawing at me “all along” and it was something I couldn’t shake, in spite of ignoring it– and if I simply had (read this closely) a constant, unremitting sense of uncertainty… that generally means “WAIT.”

You then say, wait until ‘when?’ Answer: Wait until the uncertainty leaves or don’t do it. Uncertainty (when it manifests this way) is often an indicator of a lack of faith. So, when you have it– it doesn’t mean it’s not God’s Will… it just means that you lack the degree of faith to see it through, so whether it’s right or wrong is immaterial… because when the heat is on, you’ll fold… so don’t do it if that ‘all along’ type of uncertainty was there.

(2) If the uncertainty is a recent artifact that, hereforeto, did not trouble you– then you’re probably simply at a crisis of faith, and that’s more of an internal psychological matter of exercising faithful action than it is anything else. In other words, the uncertainty is just unexercised faith. Once you make the decision, you should then have a sense of increasing peace and internal witness that you did the right thing– whether or not the outward circumstances worked for you or not.

The only exception to this is, if after you make an initial decision, if you had a profound and absolutely unmitigating weight on your chest (when you SHOULD BE gaining freedom and liberty and excitement), then in that case, you misread your uncertainty. All other times, the uncertainty will evaporate after the decision is made, and you’ll begin to have joy and excitement about what God is getting ready to do.

One last thing– and it’s one of the most important.

Once all the facts above are considered, if you decide not to do it– there’s nothing lost (but nothing gained)… life goes on as it has. But IF YOU MOVE FORWARD, the best and only advice I’d give you concerning God’s Will is:

(IF YOU DECIDE TO DO IT) **Make a decision, then MAKE IT WORK.

After the decision is made (much like a marital decision), you don’t look back, you don’t second-guess… you simply ASSUME it was/is God’s perfect Will, then you FORCE IT to work.


I hope this is encouraging to you. It’s worked for me consistently.

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Do You Want to Change the World?

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work:
If one falls down, his friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

The one thing that you have to do if you want to change the world is to have ACCOUNTABILITY in your life If you want to attempt great things for God, to give Him great glory, and to be a mighty man or woman of valor, you’ll never do it without accountability in your life. Every great leader has multiple levels of accountability in his or her life. Various Biblical leaders show the importance of accountability. David was accountable to Nathan (2 Samuel 12:7), Paul was accountable to Barnabas (Acts 15:36ff), and Peter was held accountable be Paul (Galatians 2:11-14).

What is accountability?

Accountability is giving other people in your life the right to ask you the hard questions– and them giving you the same right– not for the purpose of tearing one another down, but building one another up. It’s for discouraging each other from harmful patterns of sinful living and encouraging each other toward godliness.

We need it because spiritual growth is often uneven– we win some; we lose some.  Together, we can win more.  We still have a sin nature, even as believers.  But we have power over it through Christ– and that power is greater when Christians unite and encourage one another.

The best way is to have an accountability group is by using what I call the 3 Musketeer Model (All for One and One for all). Ecclesiastes gives us the best advice: “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” An additional important element of this accountability is to meet regularly, most likely weekly. Accountability groups should also be of the same sex, as spiritual intimacy can often lead to physical intimacy.

Biblical Models of Accountability

Paul– Each of us needs a spiritual mentor (older in the faith, a giant “to us”, a seasoned believer; youth usually need an adult for this role, someone you approach who is willing to help you grow) Think of who it will be for you…Think of 2-3 and pray about it– be very serious before doing it or you’ll crash and burn

Silas– Each of us needs a spiritual equal (someone on our spiritual level) Who might be a good fit?

Timothy– Each of us needs to help disciple someone younger in the faith (2 Timothy 2:2)

Look for those who are more experienced in the faith, who can be your mentors, those who are your spiritual equals, and those whom you can disciple. In order to grow, you need mentors, equals, and others that you can mentor. Accountability is essential and vital in our Christian lives, to be mentored and to mentor others.

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Live As If It Really Matters

Sometime at the end of high school or the beginning of my college years, I began to understand how important life really is.

What is life?  What does your life consist of?

Life is the cumulative effect of every decision you will ever make. We can conclude, if this is true, that decisions are important. And not “just” important… they’re ultimate. Since they’re of ultimate importance, it’s a good idea to learn to make good decisions and every decision begins in the mind.

Because of the centrality of the mind in our decision-making, I want to challenge you to explore your own thought process to see if you can improve your ability to “live as if it really mattered.”

Socrates said that the unexamined life isn’t worth living. Let’s take his advice and examine three things about our minds

Examine Your Decisions: Think about WHAT you DO.

You and I both know lots of people who live their lives as if it’s a game— like the stakes aren’t that high… never stopping to ask themselves, “WHAT AM I DOING?  WHERE IS MY BRAIN?”

The truth is that one decision you make in a moment can have lifelong ramifications— for good or bad. Those who don’t think about what they do end up making bonehead moves with a high price tag attached to them.

When was the last time you just weren’t thinking about your actions and harmed a relationship?  hurt a friend?  wounded a family member? violated another person?  dishonored your own body?  offended God?

Remember the advice of Colossians 4:5,  “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.”  1 Peter 1:13 tells us to “Prepare our minds for action.”

Examine Your Assumptions and Beliefs: Think about WHAT you BELIEVE

Most people’s beliefs are like a patchwork quilt, a family heirloom. Passed down from generation to generation without much thought, they’re a hodge-podge of ideas from all kinds of different places. Without even realizing it, many Christians hold conflicting positions about political, social, moral, legal and spiritual issues.  Sometimes the views are so inconsistent it’s absurd, but they don’t realize it because they haven’t really thought about it.

You must have a workable philosophy of life… one that’s consistent with reality– one that’s in harmony with truth and the way things really are.  If you don’t, life will eventually cave in on you because you’re living a lie. That’s why the Apostle Peter reminds us in 1 Peter 3:15, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that is within you.”

IF YOUR LIFE IS GOING TO COUNT FOR GOD, YOU HAVE TO THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU BELIEVE AND WHY.

Examine Your Thought Process:  Think about HOW you THINK

Most people don’t think much about anything… they live on autopilot. Don’t veg-out and put your mind in neutral. Don’t get so lazy mentally that you don’t think critically

When you don’t think about how you think, before you realize it, instead of your mind being transformed into a powerful tool God can use, it becomes like a lump of clay that is molded and conformed into thinking like everyone else. That’s why the Apostle Paul said in Romans 12:2 not to let your mind (your thinking) be conformed to the world, but to be transformed— to undergo a metamorphosis so you’ll know how to live like God wants.

So that’s my challenge to you today:  Live As If Life Really Mattered by:

Thinking about WHAT you DO
Thinking about WHAT you BELIEVE
Thinking about HOW you THINK

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Meditation: Gaining the Mind of Christ through Prayer

Meditation, pondering spiritual themes in reference to God, helps us understand how to apply God’s truths and gain insight into God’s truth.

It helps us understand difficult passages, relate truths to other scripture passages, network doctrines together and come to biblical understandings of doctrinal systems, and helps us distinguish between concepts, among other things. In Joshua 1:8, we are told to meditate on the Law day and night so that we will not depart from the way of God. Because of meditation, God will make our ways prosperous and successful.

Meditation is a part of praying without ceasing. It is pondering, chewing on biblical concepts and going at them in different angles, looking at the supposed contradictions of faith and the Bible only to ultimately crack the shell and find the truth therein.  We must work to find it and only when we really intend to obey the principle wrought by that word should we expect to find truth.

God doesn’t intend to impart undiscovered truth on us until we intend to obey it.

Meditation helps us gain and learn the mind of Christ, to be more and more like our Lord.

Because we don’t meditate, thinking clearly and biblically, we have messed up ideas of Scripture and doctrine. We then depend on others thinking.  We don’t want to do it ourselves.  When asked to justify our beliefs, many say, “That’s what so and so said, I heard it on TV.”  We are chronically gullible because we cannot distinguish ideas, due to our lack of meditation.

Meditation yields inner peace, brings greater satisfaction in our devotional lives, and gives us an opportunity to be a more obedient servant. It gives us a divine perspective, that we may see God’s thoughts and God’s ways. Meditation can help us understand life better and make better sense of our circumstances..

The fruit of meditation is insight to truth.  Truth liberates and changes things.

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Thanking God in Prayer

Thanksgiving is related to praise but they are not one and the same. Thanksgiving is to express appreciation for the things that God has done for you, for others, or for any acts He has performed. Praise is to express appreciation for who God is, His Person, His Word, His Attributes.

Thanksgiving is mental or vocal. It is to be specific gratitude. Thanksgiving– like the whole of prayer itself, is not just an act, but a lifestyle (1 Thess 5:17-18).

It focuses on God’s faithfulness and thereby increases our faith because it reminds our hearts of what He has done. Faith is always trust based on the Lord’s faithfulness of the past.  Thanksgiving increases that. It is one of the best cures for depression, pity parties, disappointment.
As I asked readers to practice praise a few weeks ago, I ask you again now to practice thanksgiving. Allow your mind to wander through the days activities.  Allow God to direct you toward blessings you overlooked and failed to thank Him for.  Don’t just thank Him, “Thanks God,” but thank Him by exploring the goodness of God in those items.  Thank God specifically, not just a blanket statement. Thank Him individually and sincerely.

You can thank God for His goodness to you, to your family, to the world.
You an thank God for His blessings in the past, His blessings in the present, and His blessings that will come in the future. God’s blessings can be people, things, ideas, confirmation of His will, and nearly anything else. Blessings can be material, spiritual, relational, physical, and external.

You can thank God for His sovereignty and His ruling over the world. The Bible tells us to be joyful in trials and tribulations, so you can also genuinely thank God for tragedy, for hard times, for persecution. Our trials and tribulations bring about our perseverance and develop our character.

Give thanks to God in all circumstances, unceasingly.

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Watching for God’s Working though Prayer

Just before being arrested, Jesus tells His disciples to watch and pray. ‘Watch’ comes from a Greek word meaning to be alert, awake or vigilant.  Intent, awake in order to guard, close observation.  Spiritually speaking it is to be awake and alert spiritually in order to be on guard.

On guard for what? The wiles of the devil and the working of the divine.  That’s what was the key issue in the garden of Gethsemane– discerning where God or satan was at work.

Watching means to develop discernment. Discernment means to separate truth from falsehood; better to detect and understand a distinction from that which is of God and that which is not.

Most Christians are not discerning.  Most do not always even understand when God is speaking to them and when He is not.  This is due to the neglect of our personal lives. The spirit of God communicates to us through prayer, Bible study, other Christians, and circumstances.  Since many neglect most of these we have only a part of what God is saying to us. For this reason, most Christians don’t know how to distinguish, detect or understand anything other than the most obvious things that aren’t of God– they rely on feelings.

That’s why watching is so important.  It is a time of examination, of peering closer and magnifying everything with the Illuminator. Ephesians 6 describes the armor of God and to conclude the passage, Paul commands the Christians in Ephesus to watch and be alert, continuing in prayer always.

 

Fatigue is often a harm in our prayer, and decreases our ability to watch, because it takes a clarity of mind that is not at our disposal when we are tired and our minds aren’t sharp.  It also makes us more susceptible to sin….Why?  We are not as discerning and do not recognize satantic snares as quickly.  We are reactionary.  Watching then is not an idle activity but an active one that requires diligence and vigilance.

To watch, we must make ourselves aware of satan’s work to hinder our prayer.  He tries to, through various means, distract us from prayer in the first place. Don’t allow satan to draw you from the important prayer issues. Satan works trough fatigue, though distractions, through anything to keep our minds from being alert.

We should keep from praying using meaningless repetition and many words. This can also be tools of satan and may actually weaken our prayer, because we dilute our request or distort it into uselessness. Take time to be aware of the wiles of the devil throughout your life and the world.  Where is he at work in the community, the nation, or the world?  Become aware of it.  Develop discernment and alertness and pray against such things.

 

Watching also means to become more aware of God’s working throughout the world. How is He acting and what is He wanting to do?

There are several things we can do to better watch for God’s working, to be aware of His presence and alert to His voice. Read material that aids you in becoming aware of specific global Christian needs, such as mission awareness books and publications, as well as news material. Newspaper, the radio, television, and news magazines can all inform us of what’s going on in the world, where God and satan are working. Merely looking around can also be a powerful way to watch for and discern God’s work. Weather disasters, picket lines, strikes, world crises, church crises, government actions and other things can all reveal God’s work to us.

Finally, ask the Spirit of God to show you how to react to it.  James 1:5 tells us to ask the Spirit for wisdom. We need wisdom from on High. If He doesn’t guide our prayer as we watch, we could be misled.

 

Watching involves God revealing His mind to us, like 1 Corinthians 2 says, and allowing us to see those mysteries, in a spiritual way.  As we are allowed into this realm, we begin to really identify with these items, and like Ephesians 6 says, we persevere for the saints with supplication, because God ignites our compassion and spiritual sensitivity.

 

We must watch to gain this sensitivity and discernment. This will cause us to pray more specifically, clearly, directly and hence, more powerfully and in line with the desires of God.

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Praying Through the Scriptures

The Word is crucial to prayer. The degree to which we believe it and apply it in prayer is the degree that God will pour out His power in our lives.  YOU CAN NEVER expect to grow in spiritual confidence (faith) if you spend little or no time in His word, because that’s where you get to know him.

Use the Bible not just to read, but devotionally.  See it as God’s daily love letter to you, where you respond to what He says to you that day by praying it back to Him.  God’s Word is powerful, “Let there be light”, “peace be still” , “Lazarus, come forth.”  It has ability to create ‘ex nihilo,’ out of nothing.  When we believe God and pray to Him with His powerful word, He is able through faith in Him to create those things out of nothing, when it seems unlikely, because with God, nothing is impossible.

Not faith in faith or even faith in prayer, but have faith in God and the fact that His Word is a representation of His character.  But we don’t just try to have faith in His Word, we have faith in Him– His Person, from whom His Word emanates.  When we read His Word, it is guaranteed to be true, just as a dollar is guaranteed to produce buying power.  Just as a savings bond is guaranteed a return.  Prayer is nothing more than redeeming God’s Word into God’s actions.

Increasing our faith comes through the Word (Romans 10:17).  The Word of God is the Christian’s book of prayer.  It is a guide and foundation for all effective praying. Remember that in Luke 11 when Jesus taught the disciples to pray, part of that was ‘Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.’

How do we know what God’s will is and How He wishes to build his kingdom apart from His word?

We can pray Scripture in praise of God, in our confession, and in the context of any devotional passage. Scriptural prayer flows from the Word of God and is alive, just as the Word is.

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Confessing Our Sin in Prayer

Another aspect of prayer to be considered is confession.

Confession, defined as acknowledgment or disclosure of sin or sinfulness, is vital in a Christian’s prayer life.

We confess when we miss the mark of God’s holiness. 1 John 1:9 says that, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

But why does this sometimes not seem to work? We confess and are we free?  John isn’t just talking about acknowledgment of sin as confession. Confession as agreeing with God regarding our sinfulness and continuing to do the same thing is not the confession God commands. It implies repentance. It’s true repentance that breaks the chain of sin and sets us free. We are to do an about face, to turn away from sin and turn towards God.

Declared admission. Sometimes we don’t want to confess because we feel so bad about our sin.  God feels worse. It is pride not to go to Him the umpteenth million time.  We must humble ourselves each time.  At the same time, it’s not enough to realize we’ve done wrong.  Realizing our wrongs without confession leads to spiritual lethargy.  When we are aware of sin but do nothing to rid ourselves of it, we are victimized and arrested by sin to inactivity and impotence.

Psalm 66:18 speaks of cherishing sin in your heart. It is one of the many reasons we have unanswered prayer.  I’m not discussing how God answers prayer this week, but a lack of confession and repentance often means that God will not listen to our prayers. When we deliberately and knowingly choose sin over God, He does not listen when we pray.

Heartfelt recognition. We take it seriously.  He doesn’t need to know, we do…  Confession is a time when we ask God to show us what is wrong in our lives and agreeing with Him and placing it under His authority.  Sincerity coupled with action and the intent to forsake that sin.

Confession was the primary activity done in the Holy of Holies because that is what required a high priest.  Now Christ has become that and His presence is the Holy of Holies and you may enter it with confession on your own behalf as a priest and co-heir with Christ.

Confession properly done. Our effort is not actually confession unless we are sorrowful and have an emotion of regret, (we may not necessarily experience guilt though we usually do) We must agree with God about the sinfulness of the sin and its opposition to His character and person; we must turn from that sin and intend not to commit it again.

The results of unconfessed sin. Unconfessed sin dulls the conscience and extinguishes one’s desire to pursue God.  Sin causes spiritual insensitivity, then indifference and leads to blatant apathy.  God won’t powerfully use a dirty vessel.  He doesn’t need a beautiful  one, but He won’t use a dirty one. Isaiah, Daniel and Job were used mightily after confession.  (But we don’t use this as a license– David confessed his sin with Bathsheba and of murder, but never was used as much.  Some offenses’ consequences are so great that they cannot ever be fully overcome– here on earth.)

Confession in prayer leads to confidence in prayer.

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Listening in Prayer

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One of the least known elements of prayer is that of listening.

Ecclesiastes 5:2 tells us to “let our words be few”, not to be quick with our mouths of hasty in our hearts. Because God is Lord and King, we are to listen to His Words before seeking to promote our own interests or petitioning for our needs. As Jesus commands His disciples not to pray with useless repetition and meaningless words, we are also to listen first.

Listening is another aspect of the receiving end of our dialogue with God. It is different than waiting, which is preparing for God’s coming and letting Him love you. It is different from meditation, which is pondering spiritual themes and asking God to illuminate them for you.

Listening is to seek to hear God speaking to You, to allow Him to apply Scripture to your life, to allow Him to give you an insight about life issues, and to seek to see what He has laid upon your heart

The person who doesn’t learn to listen is the person who doesn’t really have a clear direction in his life about what God wants him to do and doesn’t pursue aggressive things for God. When we listen, we will hear God’s words, hear His directions, and we can act in obedience to Him.

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Worship as Prayer

Worship isn’t just corporate, it is personal. The choir is meant to lead the congregation in worship, not to perform for them. They direct us.  The choir was placed earlier in the loft, but usually stays behind the pulpit (primarily since the Reformation), in order for the larger congregation to see how to respond and, when the special is going on, to participate vicariously through the expressions and feelings of the singers.

Corporate worship is enhanced by personal worship through the week. Singing is a great part of that because sometimes we cannot express the depths of our souls any other way but through song.  That’s why God gave it to us.  Our souls include our minds, wills and emotions.  We can choose to worship God and use our minds to that effect, but sometimes even great truths cannot find their fullest expression in our persons until we express our devotion to our Lord through song.  Remember that the Psalms were simply Israel’s Hymnal.

Songs are many times praise. Remember that God inhabits the praise of His people, and songs of praise to the Lord often are a wonderful weapon against depression, spiritual defeat, fatigue,  and other Satanic devices. Keneniah led the singers of Israel in their assault on Jericho.  It was the singers and not the worldly weapons that caused the walls to fall.  Our weapons are not the same as the world, but are strong to the pulling down of strongholds (2 Corinthians 10).

Personal worship through song enhances our relationship with God. Praise and worship of God can take place through song and through prayer, so personal song can be a form of prayer as well. We can pray through music, when we cannot express our thoughts and emotions in another way.

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Petitioning God in Prayer

Petitioning is an additional aspect of prayer that we can consider and practice. Praise and confession are foundational in prayer, but petitioning is also an important piece of praying to our God and Father.

What is petition? Asking God for one’s own behalf.  Technically, only yourself– not your family or anyone else falls into this category. It’s significant that petition falls after many other topics in prayer.

Asking is symbol of our desire, yet sometimes He won’t give that which we want or need until we ask for it. As James 4:2 says, “Ye have not because ye ask not.” God may still answer with a ‘no’ or ask us to wait or tell us ‘later,’ be He cannot answer if we don’t pray and we don’t ask.

Petition is not unbiblical or necessarily selfish. We do rely and depend on God and for that reason, we must ask Him for that which we need. As Jabez cries out in 1 Chronicles 9, who asked with sincerity for God to protect Him. We have but one Father and He must grant our provision. Petition is a confession of our helplessness, reliance, and desperation. When we ask with wrong motives, God does not grant our selfish requests (James 4:1-3).

It is spiritually healthy to take a need apart, piece by piece, during prayer.  Analyze it from every angle and express it as a petition. The more specific and complete a petition is, the more faith is generated when the prayer is answered. Specific prayers are also good because you know when they are answered (Matthew 7:7; Mark 11:23).  Don’t escape the spiritual tension by asking vaguely and then wondering if your prayers were answered.  Sometimes we ask vaguely because we’re so afraid they won’t be answered and that indicts someone– God or ourselves.

Asking God with faith and with pure motives for ourselves is not selfishness, but is trusting God with all of our needs and with our future.

Prayer begins with praising God for who He is and what He’s done. We must also confess and repent of sin, as unconfessed sin hinders our petitions for ourselves. Waiting for God and watching for His work are also vital to making our own petitions. We must look for where God is working in the world already before making a request for ourselves.

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Waiting for God’s Presence in Prayer

An oft-overlooked aspect of prayer is waiting. Without realizing the importance of waiting, much of prayer is useless because we never really enter God’s Holy presence.

In Job 40:4, he speaks of putting his hand over his mouth because he is unworthy to speak to God. This silence helps get our hearts in tune for prayer until we sense His full presence and fellowship.

Madame Guyon, a Catholic mystic writer in the late 17th century said that “There was a period when I chose, A time and place for prayer … But now I seek that constant prayer, In inward stillness known.” She silently waited in the presence of God, praying unceasingly, as Paul commands us to do.

Prayer needs an early significant spiritual silence. It renews our dependence on God and signifies our submission to Him.  Without that consolation of the Spirit and the subsequent renewal, our works become dead and “our message loses the ring which bespeaks its divine origin.”

Waiting places us in submission.  It helps free us from being the center of attention and having to get our own way.  It strips us of self-importance, and always having to be served or waited on…. It is the freedom to be second place; insignificant, and realize who liberating it is to be a nobody and not have to live up to others expectations. Allow waiting to create in you an inner subordination.  Paul called himself a slave of Christ.  We often expect our Master to serve us. Waiting breaks us of that.

Through waiting we see the real value of words/speaking/idle words and the idea of coming into the presence of a regent, a King. Waiting is a way to curb our desire for immediate gratification.

It’s when we say, like Thomas a’ Kempis, “As thou wilt, what thou wilt, when thou wilt,” as if we have nothing better to do than sit in the presence of the Lord.  It isn’t for God to prepare for our coming, but for us to prepare for His (Psalm 46:10).

Great mens’ vision, inner strength and genius is wrought in silence… Gaining it mystically from God himself.  It isn’t something taken from God, but given by Him.

Waiting is a discipline, we must become pupils.

We must be constantly renewed by Heavenly communion or our works become dead and powerless.  Have you ever felt like that?  Do they bespeak their divine origin?

“Amidst the multitude of works, the soul withers.”  Too much to do leads to powerless and non-eternal service/ministry.  Instead, those we minister to should say, “Didn’t we feel our hearts burn within us?”

Waiting consists of the silent surrender of my soul to God. It is not day dreaming, but concentrating on God’s presence and His approaching. It focuses our attention on His Heavenly voice until it’s as if He says, “OK, you’re ready.” Waiting isn’t a time of listening, trying to say anything, or getting answers. Waiting is simply waiting.

Waiting is silent love. We sit quietly in God’s presence, letting Him love you and minister to you, much like Paul describes the Holy Spirit in Romans 8. Wait until there is peace in your soul, until your spirit is submissive and no longer fluttering. Waiting is for the purpose of getting your heart in tune until you sense His full presence and fellowship.

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Praise: The Foundation for Prayer

A few weeks ago, we talked about spiritual disciplines. An additional discipline I’d like to discuss is prayer.

Many Christians today have questions about prayer: How should I pray? When should I pray? What should I pray?

The best example of prayer in the Bible is given by Jesus in the New Testament. In the Sermon on the Mount, he preaches regarding prayer. He tells His followers not to seek righteousness through prayer, but that prayer should be between you and God only. He also gives His followers a format to follow for prayer. In Matthew 6:9-13, Jesus gives us what is known as “The Lord’s Prayer. The beginning of the Lord’s Prayer, our model prayer, is praise for our Lord’s name.

“Hallowed,” comes from the Greek word Hagiazo, which means to revere, set apart, or sanctify God’s name.

It exemplifies vocal adoration

To adore comes from the idea of putting the hand to the mouth or kissing the hand, as a symbol of respect and submission. It recognizes the other’s authority and our servanthood.

That’s what we do when we praise God, we lift Him up and it serves to lower ourselves.

That’s good. Lots of people worry about self esteem.  When we realize that we are very small, then our esteem will grow because we can’t live up to the task of being as great as many psychologists want us to be.  Self-esteem is healthy, but is paradoxical.

Only praise puts God in rightful position at the beginning of our prayer time. Confession is fine to do first, but putting praise first, further exalts God and makes us more aware of the distance our sin makes us from God’s glory. Only when we see God for who He is can we see ourselves as we really are.  And only when we see ourselves as we really are, any confession is still less than it should be (Isaiah 6).

Praise makes our time of petition, listening, intercession, singing, etc. more rich, rewarding, and meaningful because we are more aware of God’s deservedness of such exaltation.

After this blog, I ask you to engage in a time of praising the Lord, exalting His name and recognizing who He is and all that He’s done.

Praise God for His name.

Praise God for His righteousness

Praise God for His infinite creation

Praise God for His Word
Because God is limitless, the potential for praise is also.  His person and personality is without bounds.

Praise is to examine and explore the person of God.  Uncovering His greatness.  Examination like an intense physical examination of a doctor.  It is to explore like one looking for Hidden Treasure.  Isn’t that what God is?

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Getting in the Habit (Part 2)

Spiritual disciplines are multi-faceted, with internal as well as external disciplines, disciplines to be done alone and to be done corporately. There are disciplines focused on prayer, on service, on worship. With so many avenues available to grow in spiritual maturity, I wanted to focus on one, oft-neglected discipline: that of submission.

Submission is not a popular word or idea in today’s society, but it is an important concept to understand and to practice in our Christian lives.

So…what is submission?

Submission is choosing to yield or surrender to the power, will or authority of another as an act of obedience to God. It is to leave or commit to the discretion or judgment of others

So submission is about obedience… and what I’ve found is that it’s a simple choice– either you do it or you don’t.

What if you don’t?

Well, there was a time when my life was like Frank Sinatra… I did it my way. My wants; my way; my will (not God’s will) and to get those things, you and I manipulate things, events and people to have life the way we want it…on our terms.

When we choose not to submit to authorities in our lives, we are guilty of a kind of “Self-Worship.” If we don’t submit to God and His Will, we have broken the First Commandment.  He said “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”  But when have been more loyal to ourselves and our wills than God’s, we’re guilty of exalting ourselves… self-worship.

On the other hand, we can choose to submit our wills to God’s Will like Christ did in the Garden of Gethsemane. Have you ever asked yourself, “How could Jesus submit his will to the Father’s when he knew his fate?” Four reasons. The same four reasons we should totally submit ourselves to God’s Will.

1.    God’s Omniscience– He knows everything. He has all the facts
2.    God’s Omnipotence– He’s powerful enough to take care of it
3.    God’s Omnipresence– He’s always there, 24-7-365
4.    God’s Omnibenevolence– He loves us and always wants our best

When I discovered that, I saw that submission meant I had to dethrone myself. Making Christ the Lord of our lives isn’t the end, it’s where life begins. How do we depose or dethrone ourselves and exalt the King of Kings?

It’s a choice. Submission is a choice you make moment by moment to yield or surrender to the power, will or authority of another as an act of obedience to God.  It when you choose to leave things to the discretion or judgment of others.

There are two spheres of submission God requires for freedom in our relationships, the vertical and the horizontal.

The vertical is submission in our relationship with God. Choosing to yield or surrender to the power, will or authority of God because of His attributes we just discussed.  To leave or commit my life and my will to the discretion or judgment of God (1 Peter 5:6). The horizontal is submission in our relationship with others. Choosing to yield or surrender to the will or authority of other authorities in our lives… why?  Because we know that no matter what happens, God is sovereign (Romans 8:28).

God has called us to be disciples and to make disciples.  We can’t make disciples if we aren’t disciples. The word “discipline” comes from the same root word as “disciple.”  By definition, a disciple should be disciplined.

I challenge you to learn more about the spiritual disciplines by reading Richard Foster’s book and to begin placing them into your life so you will have the spiritual growth God desires and the spiritual intimacy that you desire.

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Getting in the Habit (Part 1)

The postmodern culture we live in is often overly focused on feelings, on making decisions based on instincts rather than rational thought or thorough study.

This is not the way God instructs us to live.

God commands His people to be different from the world, which does whatever feels right. Following God may not be the easiest choice; it may not seem like the most natural thing to do. One thing we can engage in to in spiritual maturity and to seek to know more about God is to practice spiritual disciplines.

So, what are spiritual disciplines? Spiritual disciplines are different ways we place ourselves in the position to grow spiritually (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).

Spiritual disciplines include all of the Holy Habits that we do to grow spiritually, including prayer, fasting, praise, meditation, solitude and so many others. Don’t get put off by the phrase “Holy Habits.”  Most of the time we think of habits as routine or bad.  Habits can be good too. They are refreshing.  In the same way, the Spiritual Disciplines are not always something that we are thrilled about, and they may take discipline but spiritual growth can’t take place without them.

Spiritual disciplines put us where God can work within us and transform us.  By themselves, the spiritual disciplines can do nothing– they can only get us to the place where God can work in us.

A spiritual discipline is necessary, but “just doing it” will not make you holy.  It is only the means to spiritual growth.  The goal of spiritual disciplines is to bring us into spiritual maturity, intimacy, and wholeness. The goal isn’t just to “pray” or to “show up at church;” the goal is intimacy with God.

Praying/Fasting/Worship/Service, etc. for the sake of themselves will not make you spiritually mature.  That’s just going through the motions.  Those are only means to maturity.  You don’t do them for the sake of just doing them, like it’s just some obligation.  When you do those things in that way, and your Christian life is nothing more than a Spiritual To-Do List, the Christian life drops into monotony and mediocrity (2 Corinthians 3:6).

In your spiritual pursuit, don’t replace the things of God (the disciplines) for the person of God.

Now, having said all that., let’s ask the question, “So what?”  What’s the big deal– why should I practice the spiritual disciplines?

God has ordained the disciplines of the spiritual life as the means by which we place ourselves where He can bless us.  Doing them does not make us grow– God does that… but without doing them, we can’t grow.  By practicing them we can place ourselves in the position to collide with God’s grace, and it is there that spiritual growth becomes a reality.

I want to underscore something…good intentions aren’t going to make you holy. THE SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES, and the spiritual disciplines alone are the path to spiritual growth.  They are required to grow.

So, what’s the point?

For each spiritual discipline we omit in our lives, we forfeit the corresponding grace; we simply lose out on the benefits produced by the practice of that discipline… and we need them all for spiritual maturity and balance in our lives.

If you’re interested in learning more about spiritual disciplines, I highly recommend Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. If you are interested in deepening your spiritual walk, this is a must read.  It was named among the Top 10 Books of the last century by Christianity Today magazine.

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20 “I’ll Nevers”


A friend of mine sent me a list of 20 “I’ll never” statements today. I liked it so much, I thought it would be a good exercise to do myself. Thanks Beth!

1. I will never fail to realize how dangerous it is to say “I will never.” Even so, these are convictions I resolve to uphold and won’t shrink from committing to.

2. I will never desert my convictions, nor fail to contend earnestly for the faith, once for all delivered to the saints. If that doesn’t mean something, then nothing means anything. Convictionless living is a meaningless existence because it plants nothing and harvests nothing, making the net gain ‘zero.’ If life means nothing, then cut me a big, long line of coke and get out of my way (that’s my translation of the book of Ecclesiastes).

3. I will never shirk the responsibilities I have to my family, my wife, and children. Those commitments were a free-will decision made by myself to myself and to God.

4. I will never live in fear or regret. I must live in fearless abandon, feverishly pursuing ultimate reality and absolute truth, without holding anything back. Why ‘save’ my vitality? What would I save it for, anyway?

5. I will never secretly wish I could ‘trade places’ with anyone else, known or unknown. I live the life I dream about… and if I wanted someone else’s life, I would simply change mine.

6. I will never want to live “way out” with lots of land. That’s just not how I think. I like to visit those places, but have no interest in living there. Most people feel exactly the opposite, and that’s cool.

7. I will never fail to be grateful that I can see, hear, and walk– things important for gaining the fullness of the human experience

8. I will never want to own a cat, a llama, a monkey, a large dog that sheds, a hamster, mouse, gerbil, or other vermin-turned pet.

9. I will never accept status quo. I’d rather unquo the status. The status quo is for people who don’t mind being in the ‘heap.’ I’d rather be on top of the heap– it’s a better view.

10. I will never own a car with a bad stereo system or buy an automobile I hate because it gets good mileage. Life’s too short to drive a car you despise.

11. I will never stop celebrating life and existence. However, wild and wooly, life is the most amazing adventure and enterprise ever imagined. People who have a problem with life suffer from an errant perspective; usually their error is in thinking that pain and suffering makes life bad or unbearable. The truth is that we can always handle the “what” if we know the “why.” If a person doesn’t ‘get’ the “why,” he or she should go on an unmitigated search to discover why or life will always confuse them.

12. I will never stop loving my favorite music: Lynyrd Skynyrd, Eddie Money, CDB, Kansas, Fleetwood Mac, Journey, and all manner of Arena Rock.

13. I will never stop making excuses for writing a book until I make or find time to write them. Hopefully I’ll get my ducks in a row soon. I’ve been unable to make it a priority up until now. Frustrating.

14. I will never, ever, ever, ever stop feeling the pain of losing my mother at the age of 58, my dear beloved grandmother at 83, and others I have loved and lost.

15. I will never fail to have a profound, nearly irrational love for my twin brother Teddy (Nashville, TN) and my brother and sister (Kevin Windle/Kelli Hinkle).

16. I will never stop celebrating the virtues of the good men and women in uniform, serving the United States with distinction, in places known and unknown, to the four corners of the earth.

17. I will never fully understand why or how God can forgive each of us from our dastardly deeds and how, after being forgiven, any Christian can actually withhold forgiveness from another human being. Withholding forgiveness places us, not necessarily the offender, in terrific bondage.

18. I will never forget where I came from. I’ll always let it shape me as I count my blessings, one by one.

19. I will never forget, nor fail to honor, those who have benefited me in ways big and small. I won’t ever fail to appreciate those who have, in any way, shown me kindness, grace, and mercy.

20. I will never tire of traveling to amazing places, doing amazing things with incredible people, and having new, novel experiences. One of the greatest ways to be impoverished is by failing to meet interesting people, to go to interesting places, or to read about them.

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The Christian’s Secret to Living With Abandon

This post is a follow up to a previous post. To locate that post, simply click the title “The Christian’s Secret to Living With Abandon” above.

Only a few short months before the death of Dr. Jerry Falwell, founder of Thomas Road Baptist Church and my alma mater, Liberty University, the seminary at which I teach invited Dr. Falwell to our campus.

In the way that only he could, he unleashed a powerful torrent of ideas and perspectives in a packed house. Having been around him numerous times and, again on that day, being able to have a conversation with him, I was struck at the freedom of spirit he enjoyed– and the unmistakable sense of liberty in his life… He truly lived with abandon.

You could imagine my shock as, only a few months later, the 74 year old leader was felled by a massive heart attack. In the days that passed, I was able to spend intimate time with some people who knew him much better than I– people who were close personal friends with Falwell– who traveled with him regularly and, the real test of closeness, had his personal home and cell phone number.

That’s when I learned that Jerry had struggled with a long history of physical problems, particularly with the “granddaddy of them all,” his heart. In fact, I learned that on perhaps two separate occasions, Falwell had been taken in and had emergency heart operations- and that, at least once, he had to be revived from death (that took place some two years before his final demise). Now, it’s one thing to have a hang nail or some other minor health issue– that’s par for the course… But living with a condition of major heart disease is another.

That led me to wonder… “How can a man (person) facing such known physical threats like heart disease, not only function so powerfully in leading a movement and an empire of sorts– but also, do it while living with such abandon, in the face of it all?

So I sought to discern how this principle worked, and now I want to share what I’ve learned. Now, I’m the first to say that there is more to be said and that I need to work on how to articulate some of these ideas, but I at least have enough understanding that I want to share what I’ve come to believe and understand, in hopes it can help someone.

How It Works for Christians

First, I strongly believe that being a devoted follower of Christ makes all the difference in this area. Note that I’m not talking about outwardly-pious religionists– I’m talking about people who are normal, like you and me, but who happen to wrap their existence around the teachings of Jesus and seek to live consistently with what he said to do.

Why do I think it’s different for these people? Predominately because they sense an absolute calm when it comes to the ultimate problem of death and destiny. Because they believe (know) that their eternity is covered, and that the “worse that can happen” is leaving an imperfect world in order to enter a perfect eternal existence– that lowers the threat level of death immeasurably.

So, in that case, death is not something to be “avoided” per se– even though it’s not something to be ‘pursued’ either. It is what it is, it happens when it does, and though one might seek to take necessary precautions to avoid stupid (e.g., driving drunk on a motorcycle at 120 mph) or unwise (trying to break the world record for chain smoking) decisions that lead to what might be called a “premature death,” otherwise, little concern or thought is given to death as an event.

The only exception might be allowing the sobriety of one’s/another’s death to raise one’s awareness of the importance of living one’s life wisely, since time is a gift that, once used, cannot be regained. So death teaches and reminds the devoted Christian believer of the importance of how time should be invested, but otherwise, it’s essentially a non-issue.

Other Faiths and Their Solutions

One might ask, “Sure, but what about people of other religions? Isn’t it the same with them?” No, not really. Christianity alone offers confidence towards death for the believer. Were Hinduism or Buddhism to be true, the only real ‘hope’ of those faiths is to re-enter a world of suffering (their words, not mine) and hope, ultimately, to be drawn into the ultimate reality of an impersonal force– where one’s identity and personhood is extinguished (Nirvana or Moksha). This is hardly any real hope, and there is no concept or assurance in those faiths as to if or when this might occur. Similar, but different concepts, are shared by different animistic religions around the world who hold to a “cyclical” view of reality– unlike Christianity’s linear view of truth and time.

One could refer then to Islam or even Judaism. But even in these, there is no sense of absolute certainty as to one’s salvation. Though some overtones and similarities exist between Judaism and Christianity, Judaism has no sense of a system of teaching with regard to salvation in the way Christianity does. Their faith is based largely on their own efforts, hoping they are sufficient for making the cut. Islam is even less hopeful. They believe God is a sometimes-capricious deity who may or may not allow the faithful to join Him in His eternal abode.

All of that to say, the beliefs of these religious traditions offer no certainty to their adherents about the probability or certainty of security in eternal life– and I believe the consciences of those religions’ followers also bear witness of this uncertainty. They generally have a fear of death and, as a result, live with reticence. Frank discussions with people of these faiths about these issues easily prove my point.

Now, all of that could be perceived as amounting to ‘religious pride’ but anyone who knows me knows that’s not where I am coming from. First of all, all persons have freedom to acknowledge any (or no) faith, and though I am concerned about those who live without a confident faith– I am not responsible for their choice of a faith that doesn’t provide any confidence or security about the afterlife. That’s on them. My obligation is to communicate the truth of Christianity to them, in hopes they will be convinced and acknowledge for themselves what truth is– and enter into the same peace and eternal security that I enjoy moment by moment.

But back to the main issue– this idea of living with abandon.

The primary point I was making is that a main pre-condition of living with abandon in life is the undergirding confidence that one’s afterlife is secure. That is one great piece of this puzzle. And without that piece in place (feeling secure about the life after this life), I believe that fear and uncertainty and insecurity and a sense of threat is inevitable to every person who seriously thinks about their mortality. What can I say?


What Else Is Required To Live With Abandon?

But then, one may say “I have known Christians who did not have this sense of living with abandon, and were uneasy about death.” I have too. This includes people who were close to me– and that’s horrible. I regret and grieve over the fact that they felt insecure in an area that God never intended for them to feel insecure. However, it wasn’t that this peace and security I’ve described were not available to them, but that they failed to understand and practice the other insights that I have gained in this search of mine.

Loving Obedience

I have also found that, when people are not walking (living) in intimate obedience to Christ trying to appropriate his teaching to their lives, they nearly always live fearfully. They live (ironically) in fear that includes feeling threatened in their relationship with God, as ironic as that may sound. But I’ve been there too, at times. What I mean is that, when people live in obedience to Christ, they know that life is completely in His hands and, because they are fully and completely trusting Him and living consistently in His principles, they do not live fearfully or threatened. But when people are resistant to fully trusting in Christ, because all things (including death) are subject to him, they begin to fear death and all manner of other maladies that could befall them.

Why? This is key. Because when people know they aren’t intimate with God, living close to Him, they are naturally uncomfortable with where they stand with them. They know that they have betrayed themselves and violated their consciences. They know that they cannot be trusted– and as such, they don’t trust God, because they know that whatever may come– their lack of obedience makes them unguarded and the fear of getting what they deserve, and enduring it without the sweet confidence of God’s soothing presence and intimacy is too much to bear… So they are naturally afraid. Who wouldn’t be? Again, I’ve been there– but understanding this is keeping me from going back.

Let me try to wrap this up…

Surrendered Submission

When a person lives in surrendered submission to God, they learn to live with fearless abandon. Fully and cheerfully submitting to the sovereign and benevolent God… regardless of what befalls them. That’s because they know that regardless of what befalls them, since He commands and controls every detail of their lives, and (whether directly or indirectly) that nothing can happen outside His ultimate permittance.

And even though people can appear to be carefree, deep within there must be a sense of reservation and uncertainty. We can either try to live in avoidance of our Inner Voice and coax a superficial confidence, but that doesn’t protect our hearts and minds from the unguarded moment when our hearts are prone to fear.

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Understanding Fear

Artist

Edvard Munch’s ultimate work was his expressionist series The Frieze of Life. In that series Munch sought to illustrate some of the most fundamental themes of the human experience: life, love, death, melancholy, and fear.

The emotion of Fear was characterized and immortalized in his painting, The Scream. That workis highly-acclaimed because, in painting it, Munch tapped into the epicenter of that universal experience and phenomenon: “fear.”

Fear causes dread. It cultivates terror. Fear is very, very personal. Fear is intimate.

Everyone understands fear. Just meditating on the word itself can cause us to physically shudder. Fear evokes caution within our innermost person. And, ironically, what produces fear in one’s emotions and troubles people’s minds are not necessarily the same thing. Some fears move from the rational into the irrational– resulting in hard to understand phobias. Phobias range from rational fears, such as being uneasy around tight spaces (claustrophobia), to irrational fears like becoming dismayed at the sight or thought of human beards (pogonophobia).

The sense of feeling or being threatened arrests us and is capable of immobilizing us and bringing our entire lives to a grinding halt.

Understanding Fear

So what is fear? Or more importantly, how does fear “work?” Why does it have such an effect on us? And how do some people live with fearless abandon– in spite of fear and threat?

People feel fear because of the fact that we are not omniscient, omnipotent, or sovereign.

Omniscience is the quality of knowing everything. Since we don’t know everything, we are afraid because of the Fear of the Unknown.

Sovereignty is the quality of being “over all.” It speaks to the ability to pull the strings on everything and make reality do what we want it to do. Since we’re not sovereign over our own lives, much less anyone else’s, we have the Fear of the Uncontrollable.

Omnipotence is the quality of being all powerful. Since we are not all-powerful in the least, we have the Fear of Powerlessness.

These fears are very real because those things they represent can harm, exploit, and even kill us. That’s why we are afraid…

The Solution

The solution to fear is for the fearful to locate a higher power that is all of those things– Omniscient, omnipotent, and sovereign… AND ONE MORE THING: Omnibenevolent.

Omnibenevolence has to do with having the quality of being “completely and absolutely good.”

So where does that leave one? Should a person simply grab hold of some “higher power” and feel safe? No, for two reasons.

1. Only the God of the Bible identifies Himself as having all of these attributes, including Omnibenevolence. No other religion even makes the claim to have a god like this. Ah, I’m sure some will doubt what I am saying, but it’s true. Those who are really familiar with other faith traditions know this to be the case.

But one more factor needs to be understood.

2. Just believing in a higher power isn’t enough. That’s because belief alone is inadequate. One can’t just fabricate confidence and fearlessness. We’ve tried that, haven’t we? We can’t fake ourselves out or trick ourselves out। The answer isn’t belief in a higher power without those attributes– because it’s not our belief that makes us fearless… it’s belief in the one higher power that does possess those attributes। His power, knowledge, sovereignty, and goodness ENSURES we’re going to be OK. And that’s how to overcome fear: Place yourself in the care of the One and Only True God.

 

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People Without a Life


The Irrelevant Disclaimer.

Everything that interests me isn’t thrilling or profound, but most of my insights come through thinking or talking about ideas– so I decided to think through some issues about people I sometimes meet who just don’t seem to be “going” anywhere. They have no life.

Life is meant to be lived.

I know this sounds glib and sort of cheeky, but it’s true nonetheless. Life is a gift. It’s a precious treasure. It’s a pearl of great price. It’s something of inestimable worth. And its value is what makes it such a terrible thing to waste.

I guess I feel this way more than usual because someone close to my family passed away this week and will be buried tomorrow. And since death is such a cold, brutal reality– the green vitality of life is a theme that’s on my mind today.

Life is a full-contact sport. But some people don’t like that aspect of it. They don’t like the rough and tumble. The bumps and bruises. The hurt and the burn. But that’s sort of like wanting to eat a big piece of cake without having to go to the gym to burn it off– we have to take the good and the bad, because the two can’t be separated. The good and bad of life represent two polarities– sort of like a magnet. Both forces are always present and they come as “part of the package.”

So, back to those without a life. There are those people we know who just won’t get into the game. Those are the ones who just ride the pines and let life bench them. The truth is that I GRIEVE for people like that. I mean, life’s simply TOO important to miss out on it.

And it’s short too– relatively speaking, anyway. The irony of it is that life seems *painfully long* for those who have no real purpose. And its *unjustly short* for those trying to ingest its fullest and drink it in.

Something I’ve noticed about people without a life is that they often fall into two broad categories. Most seem to either (1) live vicariously through others or (2) anonymously through technology.

And it’s through these two ways that they both “escape” life and “engage” it at the same time.

But each of those approaches pose a problem.

Living Vicariously. Living vicariously means that we personally never experience those actual things, themselves– except by proxy. As a result, the emotions and thrills and excitement such a person does have are second-hand, or at least one dimension removed from their own personal reality. And since it’s second-hand, ultimately that type of living won’t satisfy our innate craving for daring and drama. No, we’re hard wired for life in stereo– not mere mono. Life’s thrills, emotions, hurts, and the catharsis those things bring should be an eyewitness event, not hearsay. The best of life’s experiences shouldn’t be hand-me-downs from someone else.

Living Anonymously. Those who don’t have a life and who choose not to live their years through others’ experiences want to embrace life in all its fullness, but fear and insecurity make them want a layer of insulation from the brunt of life’s sometimes cruel realities. So they often live in the cocoon of anonymity. They try to experience depth of meaning and intimacy, but they do it in a world that is only a form of quasi-reality (Not a bad word– I should get intellectual credit for that one if you use it). This quasi-reality is the world of technology. People want to go interactive but they also want to remain anonymous. These are the people who have online identities without names or pictures. They want to know you but don’t want you to know them. They want you to see their kids on their avatar tags, but not they-themselves.

All of this to say the obvious: We need to embrace life. We need to live. We need to know– and we need to BE KNOWN. We need intimacy. Intimacy is a two-way street of giving and taking. But a person can’t be intimate if they have no identity.

And that’s really what this post is all about: That until we come to terms with ourselves, we can’t have an identity. And until we have an identity, we can’t have intimacy. And until we have both, we won’t have a life.

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Virginity: Priceless & Cheap At The Same Time


With the recent revelation that Nevada resident “Natalie Dylan” is selling her virginity, we’re learning a lot about how some in our culture view purity and sexuality.

Here’s a sample story.

We learn a few important things from this situation that I want to highlight.

1. Purity and Sex/Sexuality/Abstinence Are Not One and the Same.

Note that sexuality and purity are two separate things.

In the case of this “Natalie Dylan” (surely, certainly, not her true name), one sees that her abstinence to this point– i.e., not previously engaging in illicit sexuality-– in no wise should be interpreted as “purity.”

Purity is not something garnered from the outside in, but the inside out. In fact, a person could have illegitimately given up their virginity at an earlier point in life (or it may have even been illicitly or illegally taken), and the compromised body would not necessarily imply that such a person is not “pure” today. Someone could have made a mistake in that way, violated themselves and/or another– or been violated, but now be of pure mind and, in a very real sense, of restored conscience and purity or integrity.

But the irony is this: a person (in this case “Natalie Dylan”) may be sexually abstinent and completely impure. This woman is no longer a virgin due to ethical considerations (though she may have been that way at one time), but simply happens to be a virgin. Meaning, her virginity is more of a biological fact than any statement about her purity, as such. Doubtless, since she is prepared to sell her virginity, it is entirely possible that a person who is and has been illicitly sexually active for some time could, theoretically I suppose, have more of a sense of sexual integrity than she does– despite her biological virginity. That’s because her act of selling sex is a greater offense of purity than merely using the body illicitly ‘for free.’ In this act, she will cheapen herself and render her own virginity worthless in the process– or, at least, worth only a few pieces of silver for the self-betrayal.

Of course, the ideal state would be to be pure and to fully embrace one’s sexuality at the same time– virgin or not. This may sound odd for some people, but the point is this: Sexuality does not violate purity, nor does “sex,” if it is legitimate sexuality. Every human is a sexual being. People are sexual, whether or not they happen to be “having” sex. So being a person familiar with his or her gender and its uniqueness and celebrating who it is they are as a man or woman can be healthy. Moreover, if a person is legitimately sexually active and celebrates sexuality in that context, then he or she is (or may be) as pure as a virgin. So we must separate virginity and purity.

Because of the growing length of this post, I’ll just make one other note…

2. Virginity can be both priceless and/or cheap.

The irony of virginity is its absolute worth, and its relative worth at the same time. At once, it is priceless– because it is a gift that can only be opened once. Even if a non-virgin woman underwent the medical refurbishing of the female hymen, this does not restore “virginity” as such– it simply re-creates the appearance of it. Nothing is actually “undone.” My guess is that this medical procedure may even re-iterate and more potently remind the woman of the absence of her virginity– in spite of her restored hymen.

We see through this pathetic situation with “Natalie Dylan” that, at once, Virginity is priceless… which is why people are willing to pay MILLIONS of dollars to take it from her, but at the same time, her virginity is cheap. NOT THAT “virginity” is cheap, but that HERS is. Ironically, she will be the richer and the poorer for selling it… and the one who buys her (or “it”) will be enriched and impoverished at the same time. It will probably be exhilarating and defeating for both of them.

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What Does It Mean To Become a Christian?

What Does It Mean to Become a Christian?

The Christian life, and Christianity is general, is largely misunderstood in American and perhaps other cultures. There are many reasons, I’m sure, but I’m certain that part of it is because of caricatures assigned to it by non-adherents, and it is also due to the failure of many who profess Christ to articulate their faith with clarity AND TO LIVE their faith with integrity.

So today, I’m asking the question… What is the Christian life?

I am a Christian. That means I believe in Jesus Christ. I follow Christ. I am wrapping my life and existence around the teachings of Jesus.

The Christian life is first and foremost about individual people who, in the warp and woof of life, have walked down the winnowing path of human existence and—through any number of experiences and events—come to a point in their thinking, where they realized that all was not well.

This comes in so many ways— like what?

But, at any rate, however it happens, this realization leads a person to a point where they feel drawn to God in an increasingly tangible way, and become more and more open to the possibility and—ultimately, the reality, that Jesus Christ is a living reality—an existential BEING who is capable of and interested in cultivating a relationship with each of us, and specifically ME—or, YOU, as the case may be.

And at some point, that person acknowledges the reality of God, and the truth of Christ, and commits his or her life to Jesus by surrendering to His authority.

This type of belief is sometimes called “saving faith.” It is called “Salvation” by Christians, because one is QUOTE, saved, from himself—saved from the ramifications of his or her decisions and actions that wounded their relationship to God and that violated God’s authority.

This belief is associated with a recognition of the fact that things in our lives didn’t go the way they ought to have gone—that we failed to be all we were created to be—that we often violated our consciences to recklessly pursue desires and directions that were fundamentally and diametrically opposed to that which is good. And this pursuit of vice ended up causing us to violate others, ourselves and most importantly, the God who created us in His image. And for that reason, because we have an obligation to him as our Maker—just as a child might be obligated to recognize the authority of his parent or parents, we must answer to Him for our disobedience and our loss or, perhaps better, the forfeiture of virtue.

This acknowledgment is essentially the recognition that, though we are persons of value, we are nonetheless soiled— that is, we are contaminated… and that the contamination we suffer and bear is the outcome of our own doing. And the recognition that, left unattended, that corruption will ultimately result in our undoing.

So a person in this condition calls out to God, silently or audibly—it matters not, and in the sanctuary of their hearts, their innermost beings, they admit to God that they are estranged from a right and harmonious and peaceful relationship with him—and that the reason for this is our own personal rebellion— something that could and should be rightly called “sin” meaning, disobedience toward God.

This disobedience was against God and we know that is the case because we understand and FEEL guilty and culpable for violating our conscience and, wittingly or unwittingly, have also violated the standards God articulated in his love letter to humanity—which is what the Holy Bible actually is.

So the Holy Bible provides us with the written standard of what God desires and expects, and what is required for us to live in harmony with him… and, incidentally, with others.

So the attitude of a person wanting to repair his relationship with God confesses this reality of sin and the resultant loss of inner peace and asks God to forgive him or her. What this means is that, such a person feels sorrow, contrition, regret, disappointment and even guilt for past thoughts, attitudes, and actions, and then ASKS FOR and receives forgiveness from God.. and this then INITIATES a relationship with God through the person of Jesus Christ. And such a person considers Jesus his only hope for abundant living now and eternal life now and later.

And what that means is that a person who desires to be reconciled with God and to patch up his or her relationship with God and to enter into a real and actual relationship with the God of the Universe invites the one and only Son of God, Jesus Christ into his life and then begins a new life—ONE that seeks to cultivate a relationship with God.

That is what it means to become a Christian—being reconciled to God by Faith Alone through Christ Alone.

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The Power of a Pure Life

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Purity begets personal power.

This personal power comes from integrity. Integrity creates inner strength, which manifests itself in strong character. This ‘character’ increasingly produces unmitigated power in the life of the person possessing it– and such a person is fueled by nothing other than pure conviction.

Inner integrity manifests itself as a type of unstoppable force.

Put another way– the inner realization of a pure conscience leads to boundless personal power. So, BECAUSE OF THE FACT THAT OUR HEARTS DO NOT CONDEMN US, we come to possess an absolute sense of internal integrity. This sense of personal “cleanness” instills an inner witness inside of us that creates utter liberation.

As a result of this liberation, the believer can truly (and finally) live with abandon– fearlessly, in fact.

Ironically, instead of this liberated abandon (which SPENDS OUR ENERGY) leading to the loss of vitality and strength (the type of thing that would leave the average person burned out and burnt up), because of the power of God that is able to flow through such a person, the totally spirit-empowered believer finds himself surprisingly refurbished… moment by moment. And this experience (really… it’s more of an encounter than an experience) makes us the recipient of an ever-renewing and “just-made” or, may I say, fresh-squeezed brand of genuine Holy Spirit power.

Moreover, because of the integrity of the Spirit and the genuine honesty in the conscience of a person with a pure life, the power begotten by that pure life simply cannot be manufactured. And since few believers exhibit this type of consistent Christian living, this type of pure power is seldom seen. That’s by virtue of the fact that it cannot be produced apart from the life of Christ.

But if we will consciously and consistently submit ourselves to Him– we will be fueled by that clear conscience just mentioned… and that’s when we’ll begin to experience this unremitting surge of Supernatural Pneumatic vitality moment by amazing moment, viz., The Power of a Pure Life.

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The Elimination of Envy and Entitlement

Envy. Entitlement. Two words I hate.

Now, that isn’t to say I haven’t ever practiced those vices. But I really do hate them.

Envy is, of course, inward turmoil stimulated by another’s good fortune. It involves wanting what another has. Jealousy, envy’s evil twin and hellacious handmaiden, involves personal resentment toward the one in question. Whereas an envious person wants what another has, jealousy [at least] simply doesn’t want the other person to have it.

Clearly, both usually go together: The envious person sometimes, if not usually, becomes jealous. The results of envy-jealousy includes the dropping of one’s countenance toward the fortunate (or blessed) person, then self-justifying (and sometimes-irrational) frustration which often deteriorates into further ungodly manifestations.

If I can take a bunny trail here— let me share a word about those ungodly manifestations. It seems to me that jealousy-envy often contaminates and/or wounds both the perpetrator and its victim(s). What I mean is that, once envy erodes into jealousy, it is not unusual for the jealous person to be contaminated by seething anger, internal rage, and finally contempt. Sometimes these emotions are accompanied by abuse and violence– verbal, physical, or both. As a result, the jealous person often ends up suffering a sense of guilt, personal condemnation, self-loathing, and, at worse, despair.

And if that were not enough, the victim of jealous envy also suffers, wittingly or not.

But this post is not only about envy; it’s also about entitlement. But I mentioned both because envy is often accompanied by entitlement. But entitlement can also be an “independent vice.” So entitlement doesn’t require the presence of envy though, like women who go to public restrooms in groups, they often appear together.

So, what of “entitlement?”

Entitlement is a perspective… a mentality. It usually manifests itself as an assumption that one DESERVES something– an expectation of a perceived (or moral) right. Now keep in mind that there ARE legitimate entitlements. But those are not my concern, nor are they the topic of this post. Rather, I am concerned about the general and pervasive “entitlement mentality” that hangs like a dark cloud over many people, including certain sections of the American populous. And just as “groups” of people develop entitlement mentalities, individuals do it as well. Those who do so consider it an outrage that they sometimes must “do without” or otherwise should actually “do something”– rather than doing nothing but having an expectation of receiving something nevertheless.

All this serves as a long introduction to the title of this post: The Elimination of Envy and Entitlement.

In the past, I assumed several things… Things like:

  1. BLESSINGS SPOIL PEOPLE
  2. MATERIAL NICETIES STIMULATE THE BASE INSTINCTS OF OUR HUMANITY AND DRIVE ENVY INTO PEOPLE
  3. THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN GIVEN MUCH ALWAYS DEVELOP AN ENTITLTEMENT MENTALITY THAT SPOILS THEM, AND FINALLY…
  4. BLESSINGS PRODUCE ENTITLEMENT IN THE PERSON WHO RECEIVES THEM AND ENVY IN THOSE WHO DO NOT.

But I no longer think those things.

Oh, sure, we’ve SEEN EXAMPLES of those ideas– but I have come to believe that no cause-effect relationship exists between blessing and entitlement or envy.

Today was an example. My elder son, Dakota, turned 11. For his birthday he got this insanely great gift that virtually no child his age has. To boot, Dakota enjoys a life foreign to my own early years. He (and his brother Christian) is, in many ways, a child of plenty. He has never known “need.” He would hardly even understand the concept of “want.” And yet, the enormous blessings he enjoys are (a) not “expected” by him, nor (b) have these opportunities and experiences soiled or spoiled him. Dakota is genuinely thankful and grateful. And though all the results aren’t in– his life and demeanor has shown me that envy, entitlement, and blessing CAN BE mutually exclusive.

So what makes the difference?

I believe that envy and entitlement are eliminated from blessed people when those people possess character.

Character (or its absence) is, I believe, the single arbiter of envy and entitlement mentalities. With character, those bad character qualities are not present. Without character, those vices breed, mutate, and multiply.

So now, instead of withholding “good” from my child/children, I feel the freedom to bless them liberally. And rather than spending all my energies regretting my generosity and battling their growing envy and entitlement, I work on ensuring that they are developing character. I think that’s the way God intended it to be, and it helps me enjoy being a generous father– just as my Heavenly Father is.

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The Violence of Truth

A sage once said that “Truth-telling is an act of violence.”

Regarding violence, anyone who has ever been victimized and that has suffered the resultant trauma knows its resonant results. It is like the proverbial pebble which causes a disproportionate effect– rows of ripples that circumnavigate far from the point of impact, long after the rock has settled in the silt below.

In this sense, violence forever affects those it touches. It should not be confused with a momentary, punctiliar event… violence is the initiation of an altered and completely re-arranged reality for all those it touches, be it directly or indirectly. Violence changes people’s lives. Some of that change is painful… and some of it, ultimately, can bring redemptive meaning and hope.

Now back to the central idea– truth.

Truth-telling is also violent. I’ll never forget the words of a physican to me in the winter of 2006 when my mother was ailing in a Knoxville, Tennessee hospital. “Freddy, your mother is dead.” No mastery of language could ever help me communicate the thoughts and emotions I experienced in that moment. The statement, however true, was horribly blunt. Cold. Hurtful. Awful. That shows what is meant by the violence of truth. That statement forever affected my life and the lives of so many others.

The death of my mother caused profound hurt, but as the gaping wound has slowly begun to heal, God has used it to bring ephiphanies and moments of meaning that, apparently, I would have been unable to perceive otherwise. Does that mean that mom’s passing was ‘for the best?’ I don’t know if I could ever utter such a thing– it seems inconceivable. But since death is an irrevocable and necessary evil since the Fall (Genesis 3), the meaning and insights I’ve received are at least a modest consolation. And, at least for my mom, this discussion is academic. She wouldn’t return even if given the chance. If that’s good enough for her, it’s good enough for me.

With these broad and sketchy ideas strewn about, I return to my original concept. The Violence of Truth.

Jesus said, “I came to bring a sword” (Matthew 10:34). The truth of God, like violence, affects everything. It impacts people to different degrees, depending on their proximity to it. The effects of truth continue on and on. Truth alters and dictates reality. And though it can be painful, once it does its important work, truth brings intuitive insights and meaning. For those reasons, however painful truth sometimes is, knowing it is better than ignorance– because only the truth can set us free.

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Fear and Danger (The Dangerless Fear)

Fear can be rational or irrational.

That said, there’s a ‘sense’ in which it doesn’t always matter whether one’s fear is rational or not. That’s because even if a particular fear happens to be irrational, that doesn’t necessarily make it any less troubling. In fact, irrationality doesn’t “negate” fear in the least– and, in some cases, it can even breed terror.

In the context of this discussion, it is important to remember that fear and danger are not one and the same. Fear is an emotion. Danger, however, is an actual threat to one’s safety.

Though fear and danger should appear together (and often do), interestingly, they can also be inexplicably separated. Note that a child may be in actual danger of physical harm, but have no fear whatsoever. In addition, a grown adult may be in absolutely no danger, yet be deathly afraid.

In the case of my dear mother who passed away a year ago (February 25, 2007), there was a time prior to our losing her that she struggled with a fear of death. She (like me… and you) did not want to die. Sadly, the fact that she was a Christian believer did not assuage her insecurity, nor did it eliminate her fear of the unknown. In fact, my mother was in the condition of many Christians– she “feared” though there was no “danger.”

In Christ, my mom’s eternal fate was absolutely secure– something she now knows full well. Yet that reality and fact never calculated into spiritual peace and inner security. So though my mother’s fear did not affect her destiny, she was still emotionally imprisoned—at least for a short time. The only thing I wish is that she could have lived free from what I wish to call the “dangerless fear.”

Similarly, in spite of the fact that God is sovereign, many Christians today live in fear. And though the world sometimes presents genuine threats where fear is not completely unfounded, in light of the Omnipotent Sovereign we serve, disciples should increasingly embrace and then embody the security and confidence which is very much found in Christ. As we do, we will become powerfully emboldened and increasingly learn to live with fearless abandon. This type of courageous Christianity is the only brand of faith that is capable of pushing back the darkness and advancing the light. As such, Christians must decide whether to cave… or to be brave.

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