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Christian Principles: Food for Thought

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Christian Principals: Food for Thought

A collection of talks delivered to

Lake Seminole Baptist Church Prayer Group

from 2011 through 2015

Copyright Notice : This book has no copyright conditions. It may be used and distributed by anyone and to anyone for any Christian purpose.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Control-Click on Chapters to Jump to Location

Forward

 

Chapter 1 – The Journey

 

Chapter 2 – On Sin

What is Sin?

Rationalizing Sin

Pride

Rising Above Your Sin Nature

Choices

Forgiveness – A Binary Concept

 

Chapter 3 – On God’s Word

The Jenga Tower

The Seven Most Important Words

“But God”

Is All The Bible a Rulebook

Discernment

What Kind of Soil are You?

 

pter 4 – On God’s Will

Knowing and Doing God’s Will

Feed Jake

Listening for the Holy Spirit

 

Chapter 5 – On Sharing God and Christ

What is Sin?

God First – Then Christ

Bearing Fruit

Cornering an Evolutionist

What’s a Disciple?

The Power of Two

Witnessing to Those Who Deny the Bible as Truth

How Bright are You?

 

Chapter 6 – On God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, and Us

I AM

“But God” II

Growing as a Christian

Thoughts for New Christians

Understanding the Trinity

Christ’s Claims to Deity

A Tale of Two Dogs

Who Killed Christ?

The Belly of a Whale

Is 2/3 Enough?

Sewing Up The Veil

The Winery

 

Chapter 7 – On Faith

How Much Faith Do You Have in Your Faith?

Electricity and Faith

Praying With Conviction

Are You Listening?

 

Chapter 8 – On Trusting God

Degrees of Trust

Do You Believe In God?

God’s Hand in the Small Stuff

God in the Details of Our Lives

 

Chapter 9 – Faith Plus Nothing

Grace vs. Works

Here Come Da Judge

The Haiku

 

Chapter 10 – On God and Science

God and Science

Natural Causes for God’s Miracles

Newton’s Second Law and God

Everlasting Life and Heaven

 

Chapter 11 – Spiritual Thoughts

The Wall

Favorite Spiritual Quotes

And God Said No

Author’s Notes

Forward

This book is a collection of fifty-four talks given as devotionals to a group of men meeting once a week for a prayer breakfast. These are thoughts and ideas that have come to me – from God, I believe – to help us understand His word and what it means in our daily lives. Most are about things we have heard before, so I make no claim of originality in what I have written. What is different is how I cover the topic from a perspective that may be new to you.

I also make no claim whatsoever of theological correctness. These ideas are based on doctrine that is common to many evangelical denominations, which might not be shared by other churches. The underlying theme, however, focuses on fundamental principles straight out of the Bible:

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p<>{color:#000;}. God sent His son, Jesus, to die for the sins of everyone who will accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

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p<>{color:#000;}. Jesus rose from the grave on the third day after His burial and appeared in human form to many witnesses to demonstrate the resurrection that is promised for His followers, and to validate that all He said in life was true.

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p<>{color:#000;}. To those who accept Him, salvation comes from the grace of God through faith alone – no good deeds are required to get into Heaven.

These devotionals are written in a conversational tone because that’s how they were presented. So when you see grammatical errors or unusual punctuation, that’s the way I speak. You will also find some redundancies, where I repeat ideas from one devotional in another. Each devotional was written independently, sometimes months apart, so I often repeat important themes. Sometimes you will find two consecutive devotionals on almost the same topic. That’s because, although I wrote them months or years apart, I grouped them together in this collection because they covered similar subjects. Think of it as a 3-D object being viewed from different angles. Even though there is only one object (Biblical concept), the different views help us understand it more deeply than a single snapshot can.

Few, if any, of these writings are superficial; there is a depth of meaning that you will miss if you just skim over the words and go on to the next one. Take time to think about them and see how they might apply to you and your life. My goal in delivering these devotionals to the men’s group, and in publishing this collection, is to help you grow as a Christian, just as I did when I originally wrestled with these concepts myself.

CHAPTER 1

My Journey to Christian Belief

By J. Dee German

I was born an atheist. As a baby, my brain’s only function was to get organized and keep my bodily systems alive and growing. Before long, my brain got those systems working more or less on their own and began the lifelong process of creating a mind. By the time I was two years old, the mind was able to form simple thoughts and respond to the world around me.

At the age of five, my parents began my religious education by dropping my older sister and me off at Sunday school. I must have been introduced to God and Jesus then, but I don’t remember it. We sang “Onward Christian Soldiers” every day at kindergarten while we marched upstairs for snack time, but I didn’t know what it meant, other than we were about to get orange juice and crackers. I was still an atheist, not by choice, but simply because I didn’t know about God and Christ.

When I was six, I finally became a believer. In Sunday school we heard bible stories about God and Jesus and I knew for certain that God watched over me and Jesus loved the little children. I didn’t yet know about Jesus being God’s son or the meaning of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, but my simple mind had absolute faith that God watched over us from heaven and that, when any person or pet died, they went to heaven to be with God. My faith in Santa and the Easter Bunny was also rock solid.

But then my mind began developing enough reasoning to separate real things from imaginary things. First the easter bunny, then santa claus were revealed as frauds, and our parents as liars for telling us they were real. But my reasoning mind didn’t quit there. It continued on to question other things for which I had never seen any evidence – among them god, jesus and their miracles. At that point, I became an agnostic; my mind had learned to doubt.

As the ability of my mind to reason grew stronger, I saw with perfect logic that the Bible was just a collection of ancient legends written by ordinary men over thousands of years. God couldn’t have be talking to all of them – he never talked to me or anyone else I knew. And there were so many other stories and legends that men had created and believed in – tales of ghosts, trolls, witches, magicians, vampires, and evil ones who ate little children. I could easily see that the bible belonged up on the shelf right there beside the Brothers Grimm.

To gather strength for my growing agnosticism (I hadn’t even heard that word yet, but I fit the definition perfectly: One who, based on what he or she knows, is unable to affirm or deny the existence of God), I turned to those around me. I asked the smartest man I knew, my father, who he believed Jesus was. He replied that Jesus was a great philosopher and religious leader, but he didn’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God. Then I turned to my older sister. Since she was studying Bible history at her boarding school, she must know about these things. She thought that, like the Egyptian, Greek and Roman gods, God with a capital G was something early men made up to help them deal with their fears of a world they couldn’t understand or control. After that, I went back to being an atheist for awhile.

By now I was in my early teens and my mind had developed a hunger for knowledge that I satisfied by reading about everything. I read novels, magazines, science books, encyclopedias, and some of my father’s philosophy books. In this mix, I came across several things that caused me to doubt my disbelief in God. Maybe God was a cosmic consciousness, a master switchboard that connected all human minds together. That would explain things like mental telepathy. And later I thought that maybe God was within each of us, a part of our minds – the embodiment of the goodness of mankind. At this point, I began attending Sunday school on my own in a conservative Christian church. I also was full of the idealism, skepticism, and judgementalism that bursts forth at that age. I listened to the Sunday school lessons and church sermons, but saw in the leaders of the congregation those rumored to be dishonest or who cheated on their wives, all the while feeding their egos with their importance in the church. This was my first encounter with hypocrisy and it angered me enough that I quit going to church. I didn’t realize that I was confusing the behavior of the imperfect people in the church with an idealized vision of what Godly people were like.

But there was a ray of hope. I had begun praying to God nightly, even though I wasn’t sure what or if he was. I asked him to help me be a better person, to keep me from doing things that I knew were wrong, to help me control my growing anger. I kept this up for some time, but it wasn’t working. I couldn’t overcome the lying, disobedience, anger and other behaviors that made me dislike myself and disappoint my parents.

At the age of 18, I finally gave up on God. I didn’t go back to atheism though. I made the conscious decision to be an agnostic until I had time to reason it all out. I noticed that older people seemed to be more religious than younger ones and concluded that, as people aged, there must be some mechanism that makes them more willing to believe in God. (I didn’t realize it at the time, but the “mechanism” is called LIFE). I would be content to remain an agnostic until I was older.

But things kept happening that seemed to have God’s hand in them. As I matured into my early twenties, I occasionally reflected on things I did as a teenager that should have been disastrous. I was a bright, adventurous kid who was always doing dangerous things, like making a flame thrower out of a hair spray can and a match, or building Molotov cocktail gasoline bombs and pipe bombs. When the U.S. space program started, I made my own rocket fuel and tried to launch a few rockets, but they all failed. Looking back on these and dozens of other reckless things I did, it seemed to me that someone up there must have been watching over me. All this youthful experimentation turned out to be beneficial, though. I went on to become a research scientist, first for a 20-year Air Force career, and later for several aerospace companies.

More evidence of God’s hand kept appearing in my life. When I was in my early thirties, my wife and I had a son who almost died in the few weeks after his birth from an undiagnosed liver problem. The problem apparently cleared up and my son grew into a normal, healthy child. When he was six years old, a routine blood test showed that some of his liver readings were a little high, but the pediatrician didn’t think it was anything to worry about. I called my father, who was a surgeon at a university hospital, and asked him what we should do. He referred us to a gastroenterologist who said that we should bring him to the university as soon as possible for a liver biopsy. The biopsy revealed that my son had a rare condition called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency that could eventually destroy his liver and his lungs unless we took steps to protect him from liver stress and air pollution. This wasn’t just a simple medical case correctly diagnosed by a competent doctor. Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency only strikes 1 in 10,000 Americans, and the gastroenterologist, who just happened to be a friend of my father’s, was one of very few specialists in the country who could recognize the liver abnormality associated with it and diagnose it. To me, the probability of all these things falling into place without some help from God seemed unacceptably low.

These things weren’t enough for me to give up my agnostic position entirely, but it made me think a lot about how to reconcile my doubts about God and the Bible with his apparent intervention in my life. I had become a searching agnostic – looking for evidence that would allow me to believe in God.

Then an opportunity came up that I hoped might help me resolve this struggle. I was asked to join a team of U. S. scientists visiting Turin, Italy to perform tests on a church relic called the Shroud of Turin, traditionally viewed as the burial cloth of Christ. When I joined the project I thought the Shroud might provide the evidence I was looking for. I expected, or even hoped, that when I first saw the Shroud, I would feel something – an aura of the presence of God maybe. But I felt nothing, and was disappointed that I hadn’t. After several months of research on the Shroud, I was still an agnostic. I had seen, touched, and studied what might be the only physical evidence for Christ’s existence, and I still couldn’t believe in God. The problem was that, as a scientist, I was looking for the only kind of evidence I thought I could trust – scientific evidence.

I’ve since found out that belief in God doesn’t come from science or the intellect – it comes from the heart, from an inner spiritual core in each of us; a part of me that I refused to acknowledge until, in my mid-forties, a personal crisis forced me to turn to God. I went through a dozen years of deep, suicidal depression. For the first couple of years, I responded in a typical man’s way – by telling no one and trying to fix it myself. But as the depression got worse, I was in constant emotional pain. I frequently thought about killing myself to end the unbearable pain. I finally reached a point when the pain was too great; when I realized that I couldn’t handle it on my own. I had to turn to God for help even though I was doubtful that He existed. So I asked him to help me deal with this, to show me what I needed to do to get better. I was still in the grip of the delusion that I would play the major role, with just a little help from God.

Fortunately, God wasn’t put off by this. Apparently it’s a common problem on the journey to fully trusting him. He led me first to a Christian friend who had been through a similar depression. His help led me to seek psychological counseling and enroll in a five-year men’s bible study program, where God’s hand became even more obvious.

Up to that point, I had refused to take anti-depressants. I still believed that, with God’s help, I could fight back the depression with the strength of my own will. One night the bible study speaker, a pharmacist, was covering Chapter 20 of II Kings, where Hezekiah was healed by placing a fig poultice on his infection. At that point the speaker stopped, looked out at the audience of 200+ men, and said “ Notice that God used medicines of the day to heal the king. Some of you men out there need to be taking medication for blood pressure, cholesterol, or other problems. Go see your doctor. Let God work through him.” That hit me like an arrow straight from God. I called my doctor the next day and started on Prozac.

Even with antidepressants, it took God several years to get me over the depression and bring me close to him. It’s been a long uphill road, with my inner self and scientific mind fighting God and me at every turn. But every time I got stuck, He would lead me to a Christian radio program, a friend, or a pastor who would address the very issue that was troubling me at the time – who provided just what I needed to overcome the latest roadblock my intellect had put up.

One of the most powerful things I heard on the radio was that “Each of us is born with a God-shaped hole in our heart. Most of us spend our lives trying to fill it with something else – work, hobbies, sports, human relationships, power, money, alcohol, drugs but no matter how many things we try to fill it with, we still have a sense of emptiness, of something missing in our soul. Like a unique puzzle piece, only God can fill that hole.” When I heard this I was finally able to start letting God all the way in.

But something still stood in the way of full belief – my scientist’s mind. The rational part of my mind reasoned that a 6-day creation was impossible, that evolution made lots of sense, and a 6,000 year old earth was totally out of sync with geological data. I couldn’t accept the inconsistencies between my logical mind and my spiritual leanings. The solution came to me while driving to work one morning. I was praying for God to help me break through this barrier and it came to me: I had to split my mind into two parts – the rational scientific mind and the spiritual mind – and no longer require that the two be fully consistent. After that, my faith grew quickly.

As I cautiously gave God control of my life, a little at a time, he opened up my mind to his grand plan for us: He sent Jesus to teach us, convict us of our disobedience to God [sin], enlist disciples to spread the Gospel around the world and into the future, and then give His life as a substitute sacrifice for all our sins – past, present, and future – to be forgiven. Wow!

Now that I have given God complete control over my life, I have an inner peace that I didn’t imagine was possible. God is part of my life every day and I always turn to him for help and guidance. My intellect still intrudes on my spiritual beliefs, especially when I try to comprehend how the Father, his Son, and the Holy Spirit who lives within me can be one and the same; a single God. But when my intellect intrudes, I tell myself to let it go for now. The way I see it, when I get to heaven, God will explain it all and there will be no inconsistencies.

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CHAPTER 2 – ON SIN

 

Rationalizing Sin

One of our favorite tools to convince us that what we’re doing is O.K. with God is rationalization. I heard a great definition of that last week: Rationalization is self deception – lying to yourself and believing it.

Rationalization is creating a logical explanation to justify thoughts or behaviors that are unacceptable to us or others. This process can be in a range from fully conscious, to protect us from ridicule by others for example, to mostly subconscious to block us against internal feelings of guilt.

For example, consider a person who bought one of the first home computers in 1980 primarily motivated by the excitement of playing with a computer. If he felt that his wife or friends would think that playing with a computer was too childish, he might find other justifications, like telling them how much time it was going to save him in doing his taxes. Or, in a more serious situation, a man who spends time on the computer visiting pornographic web sites might tell himself that, since he’s not really cheating on his wife or involving another woman, it’s not really wrong. After all, God blessed men with a strong appreciation for the female body and a desire for sex, so I’m not doing anything that God wouldn’t approve of. Besides, the word pornography doesn’t even appear in the bible.

Rationalizing our sinful thoughts and behaviors this way opens the door for us to justify any sins we really want to do but don’t want to be judged for. If we can just find some bible references that we can interpret in a way that lets us lie to ourselves and pretend we believe it, then we can go ahead and do it.

One the many examples in my own life was the issue of suicide. During my depression, after I had accepted God and Christ, I still had a need to preserve the option of suicide for myself. So I searched Bible references and concordances; I Googled web sites from Christian organizations that addressed the issue of whether suicide was a sin. What I found was very encouraging for me, because it helped me to rationalize that suicide isn’t sin. The word suicide, or even the concept, apparently isn’t mentioned in the Bible. The best that good Christian web sites could come up with is that, like abortion, suicide violates the principle of “sanctity of life.” But as other “Christian” web sites stated, the phrase “sanctity of life” itself doesn’t even appear in the Bible. This intellectual answer satisfied my desire to be able to “punch out” whenever I felt the pain was too bad.

The take away message here is for each of us to examine things we are doing that would displease God, and reject our rationalization of them. Because at it’s foundation, that’s what sin is – displeasing God.

2 Corinthians 5:9. So our aim is to please Him always in everything we do.

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Notes On Pride

Definition of Pride (Secular Dictionary)

(1) A feeling of self-esteem arising from one’s accomplishments, possessions, etc. (2) arrogant behavior or conduct, (3) an exaggerated idea of one’s importance (4) a feeling of gratification arising from association with something that is good or laudable (i.e. a championship sports team), (5) a lofty and sometimes arrogant assumption of superiority.

Synonyms: conceit, self-esteem, egotism, and vanity imply a favorable opinion of one’s own appearance, advantages, achievements, etc.

Antonyms: humility, modesty.

Definition (Holman Bible Dictionary)

Undue confidence in and attention to one’s own skills, accomplishments, state, possessions, or position. Pride is easier to recognize than define; easier to recognize in others than in one’s self. Many Biblical words describe this concept, each with its own emphasis. Some of the synonyms include arrogance, presumption, conceit, self-satisfaction, boasting, and high-mindedness. It is the opposite of humility, the proper attitude one should have in relation to God. Pride is a rebellion against God because it attributes to self the honor and glory due to God alone. Proud people do not think it’s necessary to ask God’s forgiveness because they don’t admit their sinful condition. This prideful attitude often causes one to have a low estimate of their ability and worth of others, and therefore to treat them with contempt or cruelty. Some have considered pride to be the root of all sin. Others consider it to be sin in its final form. Either way it is a grievous sin.

Bible Examples

There are many verses in the Bible that deal with pride. A good one to start with is in I Cor 1, where Paul is teaching the principle of oneness in Christ. Since Jesus Christ can’t be divided, then why are there so many denominations in his church? Why are there so many church splits? Why are there quarrels in a local body over silly things that have no eternal value? The answer is because of pride.

In Corinth, this pride was about who baptized you. The Corinthians had become more concerned with who baptized you than they were about the meaning of baptism. It wasn’t the fact that the people were making a public declaration that they had put their faith in Jesus Christ. Instead, they were saying that your baptism wasn’t authentic unless you were baptized by Paul, or Peter, or Apollos, or some other Christian superstar!

“Boasting can be committed only in the presence of others (I John 2:16, James 4:16), while ‘haughtiness’ or ‘arrogance’ measures self as above others (Mark 7:23, Luke 1:51, Romans 1:30, II Timothy 3:2, James 4:6, I Peter 5:5). Arrogance refers primarily to the attitude of one’s heart.”

Comments on Pride

For the Christian and Non-Christian alike, pride is a stumbling block. It fosters the belief that one essentially has no need of a God or the nature of His grace. It reinforces the thought process that ones own abilities are all that is needed to progress. It is a subtle sin. It rules and reigns in many a heart without being detected, and can even wear the garb of humility. It is a most soul ruining sin. It prevents repentance, keeps men back from Christ.

Pride may appear in many forms. Some of the more common are pride of race, spiritual pride, and pride of riches. Jesus denounced pride of race (Luke 3:8). James 1:10 warns the rich against the temptation to be lifted up with pride because of their wealth.

Christians often consider pride the most dangerous sin of them all. Ironically, today’s society considers pride a positive trait (“take pride in yourself,” “hometown pride,” and so on). Although confidence in yourself and appreciation of your hometown aren’t bad qualities, selfish pride is. It causes you to become consumed with your wants, your needs, your happiness, and your rights and to place them as more important than God and others. Pride also serves as a trigger for sins that seem initially like impulsive sins, such as lust, but are actually motivated by a spiritual condition. You can want something, not for animal-like reasons, but purely out of selfishness. Mine, mine, all mine.

“Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.” C. S. Lewis

Proverbs 3:34
He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble.

Romans 12:16
Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

1 Corinthians 3:18
Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise.

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Rising Above Your Sin Nature

No matter where we are in our walk with God, we all have a sinful nature that we wish we could overcome – things we say, do, or think that we wish we wouldn’t. Even the apostle Paul struggled with this problem, writing “Why do I do what I do not want to do and don’t do what I want to?” But it seems there is something inside us that has control, that makes us repeat those behaviors we dislike ourselves for, that blocks our attempts to stop doing it. That something is our built-in human nature that wants to feed it’s emotional appetites and protect us from fear, shame, punishment, and insecurity. It will cause us to lie, boast, be jealous and covetous, mistreat others, and even to give in to sexual temptation. We pray about it and ask God’s help, then sit back and wait for him to lift it from us. But that’s not the way that God works. It’s like the story about a man who kept praying to the Lord to let him win the lottery. After months of this, he finally heard an answer from God: “Help me out here. Buy a ticket.” If we want to rise above these behaviors and leave them behind, we must participate in the process.

I was an agnostic until I turned to God to help me deal with a deep suicidal depression. My walk toward intimacy with God was a long, slow process, with my human nature continually showing me how unworthy I was to be called a Christian. But God provided an approach for me to overcome my sinful behaviors, one at a time. Although it took more than a decade, this process has worked very well for me and I continue to apply it to get rid of remnants of my old behavior, of my old nature tugging on my mind. Even though this approach worked for me, it may not be effective for you. But give it a try and see if you can leave behind aspects of your human (sin) nature that still creep into your life.

The process is relatively simple. It’s a recipe for re-programming your mind and habits, and only requires three steps: (a) identify the behaviors you want to overcome, (b) write down situations where they crop up in your life and, © ask God to help you reprogram yourself to eliminate them one at a time. Understanding this process is easy, but successfully applying it is infinitely more difficult.

It starts with understanding what sin is and identifying it in your life. Sin isn’t just the bad stuff – disobeying the Ten Commandments. Sin is falling short of God’s expectations for you. The Greek term used in the Bible literally means “missing the mark”, as in an archer missing the target bulls eye. When you apply this meaning to your everyday behaviors, you will find dozens of areas where you are falling short.

Once you understand just what sin is, the next step is to identify the sinful behaviors in your own life. Most of them are the things that make you uncomfortable or give you a twinge of guilt. Sit down and make a list with examples of when and where they show up in your life. Put the ones you think are the “worst” at the top. Don’t worry if you can’t come up with many. As you gain control over those you can identify, the Holy spirit will point out other’s that you need to add to your list. Here’s what my first list looked liked; the old me:

Pride – I wanted to tell others how important I thought I was, what great things I’ve done, the names of important people I’ve worked with. I feed on the praise and approval of others – I was an approvalholic. When I went into social situation where I knew I would be asked “What do you do?”, I practiced saying something humble, like “I work for the Government” or “Oh, I’m in the Air Force.” But when I get the question, I reply that I’m a laser physicist who worked on the Star Wars program. As soon as I’ve said it, I feel ashamed, but that doesn’t stop me from telling the same thing to the next person who asks. My human nature seeks praise and approval and I am controlled by that need.

Lying – All children start lying at an early age. They’ll lie to get candy, to keep from getting punished, or just for the fun of it. At some point in their upbringing, they learn that lying is “bad” and, if they are lucky, they get reprimanded for it. Some learn to be more and more clever in their lying until others appear to believe them. After awhile, it becomes second nature to them to lie whenever they feel the inner need to. If they are blessed with a conscience, they feel guilty and wish they could stop, but their human nature is in control.

The wish for conflict avoidance drove most of my lying. If I thought that something I say may make someone angry or unhappy with me, I revised reality in the hope that it would make everything O.K. I also lied to make myself look good, or to avoid looking bad. Like if my boss asked how I was coming along on that report he wanted, I’d say “I’m almost finished,” even though I had barely started it.

Sexual Misbehavior – The sexual instinct is the strongest part of human nature and therefore it is often the most difficult to overcome. In my case, it was reading “men’s” magazines. I wouldn’t have them in the house with my wife and kids, but my favorite barbershop was my favorite only because it had a good stock of such magazines. I would even let other customers go ahead of me so I could spend more time with the magazines. As an avid reader of novels, I favored the authors who knew how to write a good sex scene and included lots of them in their books. [Thank God internet porn hadn’t been invented yet.]

Cursing – I was never one to use curse words indiscriminately as part of my everyday conversation, but if I got upset enough over something, a string of profanity would result. Except for anger on the basketball court, I kept it mostly at home, but my sons and wife were usually in hearing range. This was the most uncontrollable of my sins because it was based on anger, usually at myself, or the object that was responsible, like the hammer that hit my thumb..

Thinking Bad Thoughts – All kinds of stray thoughts wonder through your mind. Some are stimulated by a memory, or something your eyes glanced at, or a movie, or just daydreaming, or feelings like anger. Most of these are harmless. But sometimes your mind grabs hold of them and goes beyond a passing thought. That anger you feel turns into thoughts of getting even. Or when you are about to get in trouble and your mind immediately begins lining up lies so you can pick the most believable one. Or maybe your financial situation gets you thinking about padding your hours at work or slipping some cash out of the register. Or that attractive woman who just walked by, after spending two hours making herself as irresistible as possible, leads your mind to lustful thoughts. How can you control your mind at time like these? Well, your first – and automatic – response should be to immediately replace the thoughts with a quick prayer for help in regaining control of your mind. Here’s a thought that occurred to me the other day. What if everything that passed through your mind was instantly known by your friends and loved ones? It’s like a loudspeaker in your head blares out “I just thought of a way to cheat on my taxes!” If you program yourself to “believe” that this could happen, it can help you gain control of the bad thinking in an instant, before the loudspeaker lets it out.

After I dealt with these big ones, I added other behaviors that needed correcting, many of them variations of the ones above, that the Holy Spirit later convicted me of. But this was my starting list. Ask God to help you create your list, as I did.

How do I Stop Bad Behaviors?

The next step is to pick one to focus on – not the most difficult thing on the list, but one that you think you can have early success with. I started with cursing. Work on it until you have it well under control – not necessarily eliminated, but to the point where you seldom do it. This may take weeks, months, or even years. You are trying to overpower forces of human nature that have dominated human behavior since the Garden of Eden. But to be successful, you must persevere.

Now comes the hard part. In your morning prayers, every day, remind yourself of the thing you are trying to overcome and ask God to give you special help in this area. If you know you will be in a situation during the day where the problem is likely to surface, do some mental practice, visualization, of yourself getting through it without the undesired behavior. As you enter the “battlefield” – a meeting, social situation, or trip to the barber – stop and ask God to keep the behavior in the forefront of your mind. If you let it fade to background, your unconscious will sneak it in. If it helps, visualize the behavior as a beast and lock it in a cage. Something that helped me with my pride issues was to try to eliminate the word “I” from my interactions with others. On the job, I replaced it with “we”, meaning the group I worked with, even if I did all the work. You would be surprised how easy this is to implement and stick to if you constantly remind your “self.”

When you do give in to your human nature, you need to immediately ask God for forgiveness. Don’t wait but do it as soon as the words or behavior leak out. If you have wronged someone or lied, you should go to them, tell them what you did, and say you’re sorry [and mean it!] You may not have the courage to do this until after you have broken the grip that your human nature has on you, but at some point you will have the strength.

After you get the first one under control, pick another one to start on. Doing the easier ones first allows you to develop the technique and gain confidence that it works. If impediments keep popping up in your attempt to control a specific behavior – you “forget” or are “too busy”, or “slip” frequently, chances are that your inner self is fighting you. (Freud’s psyche, Jung’s inner child, the subconscious, the unconscious, – pick whatever term you wish. They all play a role in your behavior.) It controls some of your behaviors to meet its inner needs. These behaviors may be based on past hurts, fears, or emotional trauma and will require a lot more work to change them. At any rate, if you encounter one of these stubborn behaviors that you can’t seem to change, move on to another one and work on the stubborn ones a little at a time. But spend time exploring your inner self until you find what’s behind the problem. Only then will it lose its grip on you.

That’s it. That’s the recipe God gave me to gain control over the things I thought, said, and did that were displeasing to God. For me, visualization was the strongest tool. If you spend time repeatedly imagining yourself in the situations that led to your sins, and then rerun them with the right actions, you will reprogram your mind so the right response is the automatic one.

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Choices

Our lives are full of choices. Choices like where we live, who we marry, when do we retire. These are life choices, usually made after some thought and weighing the alternatives. But I want to talk about another set of choices we face every day – choices about what we think and do – choices that determine who we are and who we’ll be. Choices that others will use to judge what kind of Christians we are.

Let’s start with anger. We all get angry, usually about something someone has said or done to us. Sometimes we really lose it and throw a temper tantrum in front of others that we feel ashamed of later. We never plan to get angry, it’s just happens. It’s seems to be out of our control. We often say “He/she/it made me so angry.” Well guess what! Anger is a choice. No one can make you angry – You choose to get angry in response to something they said or did. Or didn’t say or do. But you can make the choice not to get angry. You don’t have to be a victim of your emotions.

How about pride? It’s O.K. to be proud of your accomplishments or your children, but not if you’re using it to impress others or to make yourself look important. Pride grows out of our inner need to be special; to be significant. Like anger, prideful talk is seldom planned. It’s an automatic response to a question like “What do you do for a living?” or “Are you any good at fishing?” We’d all like to be humble, but pride keeps popping up in our minds and actions. But you can choose not to let that happen.

Let’s go a little deeper – what about bigotry – belief that people of other races, or countries, or religions, or gender are inferior to you and your kind. We don’t think that through, it’s an automatic thought pattern that we grew up with. But you can choose to change that – not just in the words you speak around others, but in your thinking, and in your actions.

This is how it is with sin. We don’t get up in the morning and tell ourselves “I think I’ll see what kind of sin I can get into today.” The opportunities to sin just pop up from the world around you. You’re browsing through the AOL news page and you see a headline that has the word sex in it. So you click on it just to see what it’s about. But that page has a link to something more titillating – maybe a piece about “how to have more sex in your seventies” – of course you have to check that out. From there you dig deeper into the internet porn world. Your responses to these lures weren’t thought out ahead of time – it was just your God-given instinct making you do it. But you don’t have to even start down that path. You can make a choice to over-ride your instinctive response to the word s-e-x. To slam the door on those thoughts.

If we have a choice in how we respond to the world around us, why is our automatic response so often the wrong choice – to get angry, to brag about ourselves, to look down on other types of people, to yield to sin’s temptation? The answer can be illustrated using a computer analogy.

Your computer comes from the factory with certain programs – we call software – already installed. Some of it’s very useful in our lives – keeping us in touch with friends and family, providing a great resource for learning, helping us balance our checkbooks. But there’s lots of software that isn’t good – pop-up ads, web sites you can’t get back out of without rebooting the computer, viruses, and spyware. The only way to get rid of them is to re-program the computer, either with a PC Cleanup program or by taking it to a computer expert.

That’s exactly what each of us needs to do with those automatic, programmed responses that make us do what we shouldn’t or don’t do what we should. We need to re-program our minds! How do we do that? We can ask God for help, but we can’t just sit back and wait for him to fix us. We have to do our part – we have to “buy a ticket.”

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Forgiveness – A Binary Concept

Most of us have heard the term “binary” but few of us understand what it means. The best way to look at it is to contrast it with its opposite – “analog”, which we probably don’t understand any better. We may not understand the word, but we’re all fully aware of the concept. The speedometer on your car is an analog device. It shows your speed on a continuous scale from 0 to 100 mph or so. If you increase your speed by a small increment, say 1 mph, the needle moves a little to the right on the dial. A thermometer is another analog device. It shows you the temperature on a continuous scale of small divisions. The same is true in how you steer your car. If it wanders a bit to the left you make a minor correction to the steering wheel, but if the car hits a bump and moves far to the left you make a proportional larger correction. Proportional response is the key concept here – the speedometer, thermometer, and your steering system all change in proportion to some input.

Binary, on the other hand, can take on only two values: 0 or 1, yes or no, plus or minus. A light switch is binary – it can be on or off. The value of any variable can be represented by a string of 0’s and 1’s. Inside a computer a value of 5 volts is a digital 1 and a value of 0 volts is a digital 0.

If God’s response to our sin was analog, if God only forgave us part way, where would we be? Chuck Swindoll has a great quote on forgiveness – “Forgiveness is giving up the right to get even.” So what practical value can we get out of knowing the difference between analog and digital? It’s very important in our lives as Christians. You are either saved or not saved. You are either a sinner or sinless in God’s eyes. The Bible makes it clear that you can’t sin just a little bit – every sin is just as serious to God. Sin is not an analog function – it’s binary. Another Christian concept that’s also binary is forgiveness. You can’t forgive someone part way, because then your forgiveness has no value – to you or the person who you think offended you. You forgive another to show them that you have erased the memory of how they hurt you. Just like God erases all of your sins when you ask Him for forgiveness, you need to do the same

Look at : Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

What do the first four words say? Get rid of all – every bit of it.

Christian Love is another binary thing. You either love someone in the Christian sense or you don’t. If you only “kind of love them,” you don’t really love them. But you say “they make me angry”, or “they don’t return my love, so why should I love them” or “they don’t deserve it.” But, just like salvation, you can’t earn love. You can earn respect, you can earn a reputation (either good or bad), you can earn someone’s trust – but love isn’t earned, it’s granted by the giver. Just like God’s love and His grace. So when you choose to love someone – to follow Christ’s second great commandment – don’t do it part way. That doesn’t mean you have like them, or have them over for dinner every week. But it means that you show them, by your loving attitude, that you accept them just as they are, and that your love is unconditional – just like God’s love.

We spend our lives looking for love, looking for someone who will love us and accept us just like we are, unconditionally, but you can’t find that in another human being. But if you know God’s perfect, unconditional love, you are no longer driven to seek it from those around you

“Forgiveness is making the choice to forget.” Skip Heitzig

“Forgiveness is giving up the right to get even.” Chuck Swindoll

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CHAPTER 3 – ON GOD’S WORD

 

The Jenga Tower

The New Testament lays out God’s plan for our salvation – that Christ died as a sacrifice for our sins, to make us acceptable to God so that we can have a close, loving relationship with Him. Most of us Christians accept this, but we wrestle with how much of the Bible we really accept as truth. These Cafeteria Christians, or Buffet Believers, pick and choose what they want to include in their personal biblical belief system. They stay away from the Biblical concepts that might convict them of their ungodly lifestyle. But this practice can put their faith in jeopardy.

There’s a parlor game called Jenga that starts with a tower made of rectangular wood blocks. Each player tries to carefully remove one more piece from the tower without collapsing it. At some point, a block is removed that weakens the tower beyond its strength and all the remaining blocks tumble. Well, the Bible, and the New Testament in particular, are like that. If you reject some parts of it, telling yourself you don’t agree with one part or another, or that some of the material is too preposterous to believe, you are removing blocks of truth from God’s word.

Could Noah really have put all the animals in the Ark? Take that block out and the tower representing Christian faith still stands. How about the six-day creation? Yep, that block came out o.k. The crossing of the Red Sea? That one wasn’t essential either. Now try to pull out the Abraham block – whoops, better leave that one in. The David and Goliath story can come out, but you know better than to touch David’s kingship. So far your faith still stands firm. Now let’s see if we can remove some New Testament stuff. You have to keep Christ’s virgin birth in there for sure, but it didn’t have to happen in Bethlehem, so remove that one. Well, that broke some prophecies, but the tower still stands.

Pretty soon you have removed several blocks. The tower is still standing, but it’s unsteady. Maybe we could remove Paul’s encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus. Oops – there goes all of Paul’s letters, and the doctrine of grace. Jesus didn’t speak of God’s grace. It was something God revealed to Paul so he could teach it to the gentiles. How about the Resurrection block? After all, Christ had already died for our sins, so why do we need the Resurrection? Let’s toss it out.

No, you can’t do without it. The tower will collapse. Christ appearing alive after his death is our guarantee of our own life after death, our everlasting life. And because Christ foretold it, it was essential to prove that Christ spoke the truth, that He was who He said He was, that His promises to us will be kept.

Most of these facts aren’t essential to the core beliefs that lead to our salvation, but soon, you’ll pull out one too many “non-essential” blocks and the entire Biblical foundation of your faith will collapse just like a Jenga Tower.

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The Seven Most Important Words in the Bible

Here’s something to think about that I heard from a pastor on TV. What are the seven most important words in the Bible? You’re probably going through your mind counting words of things Jesus said, but you won’t find it there. You’ll find the answer in John 2, at the wedding in Cana. You all know the story. The host ran out of wine and Mary said to Jesus “They have no wine.” But He told her “Woman, what does your concern have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” She ignored His answer, turned to the servants, and said “Whatever He says to do, do it.”

That’s it! Right there! The seven most important words in the Bible for us.

Whatever He says to do, do it!

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.

Whatever He says to do, do it! Do you?

Love one another, just as I have loved you.

Whatever He says to do, do it! Do you?

Love your enemies, bless those who persecute you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who persecute you.

Whatever He says to do, do it! Do you?

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.

Whatever He says to do, do it! Do you?

Judge not, lest ye be judged.

Whatever He says to do, do it! Do you?

If you love me keep my commandments.

Whatever He says to do, do it! Do you?

These are just a few. There are over 50 commandments Christ gives us in the Gospels, some directly and others indirectly. You can find them listed on the Web by searching the phrase “The commandments of Christ.”

Whatever He says to do, do it! If we’d follow those simple instructions – every day – in every part of our life – we would be living God’s will for us. And these words didn’t come from Jesus, or Moses, or any of the prophets. God had Mary speak these important words to us.

What happens if we don’t do what he commands? Is our salvation in jeopardy? Of course not, or then it would be a works based salvation. Faith plus nothing. Belief in Christ’s sacrifice for us is all that’s required. But our aim in Christian growth should be to follow more and more of Christ’s commands more and more often.

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But God”

Based on a sermon by a Joyce Meyer

There’s a two-word phrase that appears often in the Bible. I think it’s one of the most important, and relevant, phrases to us in our trials. The words are “BUT GOD . . .”

Let’s look at a few of them:

Gen 48:21And Israel said unto Joseph, Behold, I die: but God shall be with you, and bring you again unto the land of your fathers.

I Sam 23:14And David abode in the wilderness in strong holds, and remained in a mountain in the wilderness of Ziph. And Saul sought him every day, but God delivered him not into his hand.

Psalm 49:10-15For all can see that wise men die, the foolish and senseless alike perish . . .But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me.

Psalm 73:26My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.

Acts 7:9And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: but God was with him

Acts 13:29-30 – . . . they took Him down from the tree and buried Him, ut God raised him from the dead

I Cor 2:10But as it is written, eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit

Eph 2:4There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

We all have dozens of BUT GODs in our pasts. I could have died in the accident, BUT GOD saved me. I would have killed myself during my depression, BUT GOD showed me the way out of it. I was so angry that I could’ve beaten that man to death, BUT GOD intervened. I almost gave in to that woman, BUT GOD opened my eyes. Our marriage was headed for divorce, BUT GOD . . . BUT GOD . . . BUT GOD. We all need to think back on all the BUT GODs in our lives, seriously think about them and number them, so we can feel renewed trust in God and praise Him for every one. That way, the next time we face something we think is too big for us to handle, we’ll remember all the times He stepped in and rescued us and we’ll have full faith that he will do it again, and again, and again.

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Is all the Bible a Rule Book?

The Bible is full of instructions – rules God wants His people to follow. As Christians are we required to follow all these rules? If we do any kind of work on the Sabbath are we sinning? Can we eat meat from cloven-hoofed animals like pigs? Is it alright to eat catfish since they have no scales? Some Christians believe that if the Bible says it, we must do it. Everything mentioned in the Bible applies to all Christians. But is that true?

I heard something the other day by a TV pastor I like named Les Feldick. He said “All the Bible was written FOR us, but not all the Bible was written TO us.” What he’s saying is that everything in the Bible is there for us to learn from and find applications in our own lives, but not everything, especially in the Old Testament, was written as instructions to us. Much of what the Bible directs God’s followers to do was written specifically to the Jews. Things they must do to be obedient to God and be set apart from the rest of the peoples. All you have to do is to read Leviticus to realize this.

Paul addressed this in Romans 15:4 where he said:

“For whatever things were written before [the Old Testament] were written for our learning [not for doctrine] that through the patience and comfort of the scriptures we might find hope.”

The bottom line here is that we must be careful in discerning God’s information intended for our education from God’s instructions on how we are to live our lives as Christians. How do we do this? The easy answer is to treat the New Testament as instructions and the Old Testament as historical examples. Clearly much of the New Testament, especially what Jesus said, is God’s instruction about His expectations for us as Christians. Peter’s sermon to the crowd that gathered after hearing the commotion at Pentecost in Acts 2 is a good example of this. The Holy Spirit, through Peter, said

Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified , both Lord and Messiah. Therefore repent and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Ephesians 4:25 is another example of God’s expectations for Christians:

“Therefore put away lying, let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin, do not let the sun go down on your anger.”

But wait a minute – this is Paul quoting from the Old Testament, so it’s not just for Christians, it’s God’s expectations for the Old Testament Jews also. Of course, they weren’t very good at living up to it, which is why Christ came.

The same is true of Christ’s commandment about love:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul. This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like unto it. Love your neighbor as yourself.”

These commandments are the foundation of Christian belief, but they’re found throughout the Old Testament too. So figuring out what parts of the Bible are written TO us and which parts are written FOR us is not as easy as Old Testament/New Testament. There’s lot’s of Old Testament stuff that God wrote to us. Fortunately much of this is repeated in the New testament.

I probably haven’t made myself very clear here, but I thought it was worth the time to expound on Les Feldick’s comment because it is important in helping us understand the difference between what God EXPECTS from us as Christians, and what he PROVIDES as moral lessons, history, prophecy, and lessons learned. There are some Christian denominations that have created a rigid set of rules their congregations must follow in order to be saved, taking both Old and New Testament passages out of context as justification. They are just like the Sadducees and Pharisees – creating requirements for Godliness that have no basis in scripture.

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Discernment – What is it and how do we get it?

As Christians, our key to identifying false teachers, or false teachings by mostly truthful pastors, is discernment. So what is discernment and where do we get it from?

A quick Google check reveals a wide variety of definitions. One says it’s “perception of that which is obscure” and another says “the ability to feel or perceive something with the use of the mind and the senses.” That’s a little closer to what we want. Several definitions revolve around decision making, saying discernment is “prayerful reflection and discussion before taking a major decision” or “discovering, with God’s help, God’s will for our lives.” It involves listening to God in all the ways God communicates with us: in prayer, in the scriptures, through the Church, in personal experience, and in other people.”

In its simplest definition, discernment is nothing more than the ability to decide between truth and error, right and wrong. Discernment is the process of making careful distinctions in our thinking about truth. In other words, the ability to think with discernment is synonymous with an ability to think biblically. Another simple definition is: “Discernment is the ability to think biblically about all areas of life.” A longer, more thorough one might be something like this: “Spiritual discernment is the God-given, Spirit-empowered, ability to understand and interpret truth, so that we can apply truth to our lives, thus bringing glory to God and furthering our enjoyment of Him”

First Thessalonians 5:21-22 teaches that it’s the responsibility of every Christian to be discerning:

“But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.”

The apostle John issues a similar warning in I John 1:1 when he says:

“Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world”.

According to the New Testament, discernment is not optional for the believer – it’s required. And it not just about what you read and hear – it’s also about how you live.

The key to living an uncompromising life lies in our ability to practice discernment in every area of our life. Failure to distinguish between truth and error leads the Christian believe false teaching, and that leads to an unbiblical mindset, which results in unfruitful and disobedient living – and compromising our witness.

So we know what it is, but how do we develop it? Hebrews 5:14 says we develop discernment by practice:

“Solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.”

In Philippians 1:9–10 Paul tells us it comes from prayer:

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ,

The source of discernment is God and His Word. God says in Psalm 119 that He will “teach discernment to all who ask”, so we’re not born with it. Unfortunately, discernment is an area where most Christians stumble. We struggle with our ability to measure the things we’re taught against the infallible standard of God’s Word. This leads to unbiblical decision-making and behavior. In short, we’re not prepared to take a biblical stand against the unbiblical thinking and attitudes that we face every day.

If we’re to be discerning, we need to begin with ourselves, because true discernment springs out of the insight of a renewed mind. Jesus taught us in Matthew 7 that we’re better equipped to be discerning when we first turn the discernment in upon ourselves. How can we be discerning about outside things without being discerning about the inside things. People who are discerning will grow in wisdom, they’ll accept rebuke, and allow it to bring change in themselves so they can strive to live righteously. It’s at the point of change in your own life that you’re empowered to help someone else change their life.

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What Kind of Soil are You?

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This is usually called the Parable of the Sower, but it should really be called the Parable of the Soils, because it’s not about the sower, it’s about the types of soil the seeds fell on. Let’s look and these four types of soil and then ask ourselves “What kind of soil am I?”

Maybe we are all four kinds of soil at different times? Pay attention so these words will fall on good soil – so you can take the thoughts home and meditate on them.

1. First there’s the seed that falls by the wayside – on the hard ground beside the path – and gets snatched up before it can sprout. These are the thoughts God wants you to think about and use to evaluate your Christian walk – but they get snatched from your mind, replaced by worldly thoughts before they can take root and influence your actions. How often do we leave church talking about points of the pastor’s sermon that caught our attention? Or do we leave saying “What’s for dinner?”, or “Are you going to mow the grass today?”

We need to be turning the hard soil into good soil on our way to church – opening our minds to spiritual things and pushing out worldly thoughts, so that when the thought God wants you to take away falls on your ears it will stick in the soft soil of your prepared mind.

2. Then there are the words that land on rocky soil. For many people, their mind isn’t just hard soil, it’s solid rock. They have their minds made up about what they want to believe about God and Christ, and it ain’t what the preacher is preaching. The seed dies under the scorching sun of modern views of morality and rationalizing sins in your life. When the message is about serving others they reject it because it’s God’s job to answer their prayers and serve them. Or maybe the message is about living a pure life, which of course doesn’t apply in today’s world – particularly not to their own live-in relationship. Or maybe the message is about honesty, which of course can’t apply to your unreported income. What the Government doesn’t know about belongs to you. They’re just a bunch of thieves anyway.

Can we have just a little bit of honesty? It ought to be an on-off thing – just like sin. There’s no such thing as big sins and little sins in God’s eye’s, you won’t find conditional honesty in the Bible. Of course in the world’s eyes . . .

When the Lord’s word falls on a mind like that, there’s no chance for it to take root and convict someone of the sin in their life. It may try to work its way into their thoughts – the soil of their mind – but there’s no foundation there for it to take root in.

3. How about the seeds that fall among the thorns – Godly seeds that are choked out by the worries and problems in our lives before they can take root. We would like to make serving God a priority in our lives, but there’s just no time left for it, what with work, time with our wives and kids, duck hunting . . . If we don’t set aside God’s time as a priority, the weeds of our lives will choke out what God wants to take root.

We need to keep weeding the garden – pulling the weeds up by the roots – the thoughts that can lead us astray, the time clocks of our lives. Satan loves to come along and plant these weed seeds when we’re not looking, then like the enemy in the parable, sneak away and wait – wait for us to water and nourish them ourselves. Maybe the seed is the thought that just a little bit of pornography won’t hurt me. . . but like a Lay’s potato chip, you can’t have just one. Soon the sinful activities and thoughts push God and spiritual things out of your mind. Then you start to feel guilty – so guilty that you’re ashamed to go to church or pray. The same thing can happen with just one drink, or just one lie, or just one . . . fill in the blank.

4. Good soil is what we need to offer God. The good soil of our minds needs to be prepared, constantly ready to receive new spiritual seeds, kept watered with study of God’s word, with listening to pastors, with critically examining what we read and hear to see if we’re living that life. It’s not hard, but it does take time. Like reading the Sunday School lesson ahead of time – enough ahead of time so that you can go to other sources to help provide the foundation that will give you and others in the class the most out of the lesson.

So I’ll end with the original question – What kind of soil are you? If, like most of us, you’re really a mix of soils – receptive sometimes, but preoccupied or close-minded at others, give some thought to how you might increase the ratio of good soil to bad in your mind.

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CHAPTER 4 – ON GOD’S WILL

 

Calling Bud Higgenbottom!

I named this devotional “Calling Bud Higgenbottom.” I know that sounds unusual, but I’ll get to the explanation of this title later. The actual subject is Listening for God – not listening to God, but listening for God. God communicates with us in lots of ways – Bible passages, Christian teachers and pastors, radio and TV pastors, music lyrics, discussions with friends, seeing someone in need and being moved to help. We hear or see something that catches our attention. It’s often things we have heard dozens of times but this particular time, it’s different. It’s like a slap up side the head by the Holy Spirit saying “listen up – there’s something you need here.” Maybe the new meaning is because we’ve changed and now have a fresh perspective, but more often than not, it’s about something God is preparing us for. He’s urging us, through the Holy Spirit within us, to take some action.

Often He communicates with us more directly, through thoughts He puts thoughts in our minds or in some cases, words we actually seem to hear. The question for you is . . . are you listening? Are you paying attention to these instructions from God? Is your spiritual receiver tuned in to the possibility that God may be behind these thoughts and ideas?

To be an active listener for God’s instructions, we have to give our minds some quiet time so God can be heard above the distractions of our lives. We need to focus on what God may be trying to say to us. A great time to do this is at the end of your daily prayers. You’ve just asked God for help with what’s troubling you or others. What better time to stop and listen for His instructions.

This brings me to the personal experience that led me to this devotional topic. I end my daily prayers with the words “Lord, I’m yours today. Tell me what you want me to do and I’ll do it.” Then I pause to let His reply enter my mind as thoughts. Some days I get nothing but most of the time I receive a thought and think “Aha, that’s it.”

A few weeks ago Stacy and Mike brought me together with Bud Higgenbottom to help bring him to an understanding of why we need Christ in our lives. Bud has been a lifelong believer in the Eastern belief of reincarnation and currently associates himself with a recently invented version called Eckankar. But Bud also has a great interest in science and the cosmos, which Mike and Stacey thought might give me an opening to get to know him better and provide opportunities for discussing Christ as compared to the Grand Eck Master. Well, their plan worked. I visited with Bud over the next couple of weeks for hour-long discussions and friendly debates. God provided me with plenty of seeds to plant, and Bud fully respected my position. But he didn’t seem to be swayed much.

A couple more weeks went by without any contact. I had the feeling that there was unfinished business there, but I was busy with lots of issues in my own life so I kept putting it off, telling myself I’d call “next week.” Then one morning, as I closed my prayers with the usual request that God tell me “what He wanted me to do and I’d do it,” the thought come crashing into my head “Call Bud Higgenbottom!” It didn’t seem like a request but rather a command. I vowed to call him later in the morning but, as usual, my day got away from me. The next morning I guiltily asked God what he wanted me to do, because I knew what He wanted, and again I got the message “Call Bud!”. That day I did call him and went over for a visit. We spent 2 ½ hours talking about a wide range of topics of interest to us both, including “Who created the earth and the cosmos, and why Jesus had be God’s son and why he had to be born of Mary to preserve the Davidic covenant. God helped me plant more seeds that day that in all of our other discussions combined.

Thinking of this led me to realize how many other times God had told me what he wanted and I was too busy to do it right then. But my daily request to God is very clear: “Tell me what you want me to do TODAY, and I will do it.” I realized that, although I had the best intentions with my request, I wasn’t fully committed to responding immediately. That still happens to me, and I suspect to all of us. We know God is nudging us to do things, but sometimes we don’t want to be bothered. Or we tell ourselves, that’s just my conscience bugging me. Well maybe the name of that conscience is the Holy Spirit.

So I leave you with this thought: How does God talk to you and what do you do about it?

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Knowing and Doing God’s Will

How do you find out what God’s will is for you? And once you know it, how committed are you to doing it? I’ve spent some time thinking about this issue in my own life and came up with four steps that make it easier for me to know and do God’s will: Ask, Listen, Commit, Act.

Ask – The starting point is asking God what you should do. It can be about routine things in your life that are troubling you like family matters, your finances, doing things for the church – or about larger things like finding the right husband/wife, finding a church, changing jobs, or selling your house and moving closer to your kids and grandkids. Whatever it is, you need ask God what He wants you to do about it. Tell Him what the problem is and why you are struggling with it.

Listen – Next you need to listen for His response. Stop talking to Him and free your mind so you can “hear” His answer. Go over the options in your mind and see if God provides insight that points to His choice. The question is, what should you listen for? For God to create audible words that you literally hear? That‘s what happens for some people. Or maybe it’s a silent message that comes to your mind. That’s usually how it works for me. Or maybe it’s being led to open your Bible to a particular section. It’s been my experience that listening for God’s answers and knowing it’s from Him doesn’t come naturally. Like everything else you learn to do, it takes practice. Once you train your God “radar” what to look for, you’ll find it much easier to hear Him and know for certain that it’s Him. It will get to the point where He will tell you what He wants without you asking.

A good example is the devotionals God provides me with, like this one. I’ll be thinking about things I’ve struggled with in my road to belief, or listening to a Christian pastor on the radio or TV, and pick up on a something that catches my interest. Then I’ll think “maybe I could do a devotional on that.” Just a fleeting thought. But the idea keeps coming back into my mind, stronger and stronger, until I realize that God wants me to do it and put it on my “to do” list. Over the next few days, more ideas about how to expand on the subject and present it clearly come into my mind. Then, once I sit down to write the devotional and ask God to show me what He wants, everything falls into place. God is showing us His will frequently, even when we haven’t asked Him about a particular issue. Be alert for it.

Commit – Step 3 for me is committing to carry out what God has shown me He wants. Once I know it, I commit to doing it. But I recently heard something that shook up my thinking on where commitment belongs in the list. It was a quote by Donald Barnhouse that goes “[_ 95% of doing the will of God is starting with the commitment to do His will once you know i _]t.” This means that the very first step in finding and doing God’s will must be the commitment to follow through with where He leads you. If you haven’t made your mind up from the start that you will abide by His answer, don’t bother asking Him. If we approach it that way – waiting to see what God says before we decide to accept it – we’ll end up doing our own will in God’s name.

Act – The final step action. Actually doing what God has told you He wants you to. This can be the most difficult part for a couple of reasons; we’re too busy to make time for it or we’re not very happy with the answer we got. A good example for me was the subject of the previous devotional on “Calling Bud Higgenbottom.” God had clearly shown me that I should get to know Bud and discuss provide Christian information that might help him reject the eastern religion he was following and turn to Christ, but I kept putting it off. But God kept giving me stronger signals that I needed to act.

Well, I started out telling you that the four steps to knowing and doing God’s will were Ask, Listen, Commit, and Act. But then I realized that the order should be Commit, Ask, Listen, and Act. If you don’t start out with that Commitment to do whatever He asks, you’re wasting your time.

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Feed Jake

We all pretty much know what Christ’s Great Commission is. In Christ’s last instructions to His apostles in Matt 28:19 & 20 He said:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,^20 _]^[_and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

With these words Jesus commissioned his 11 disciples to train all people to be disciples. But He didn’t tell them to do only that -- to dedicate their lives to full-time mission work. They were to work on this mission as they lived their daily lives. They were to invite and train others to be apprentices of Jesus just like they were. And that's what He has in mind for us. Not necessarily to give up our lives to become full-time workers for God. There are people that do that today – pastors and missionaries – but they’re not the only ones Christ is speaking to in these verses. Although most of the 11 disciples did what Jesus asked, only a few of them dedicated their lives to it. We read about Simon Peter, James, and John’s lives – but there’s nothing about how other disciples like Thaddeus, Philip, Bartholomew, or the other Simon carried out their assignment.

I think people are uncomfortable about their Great Commission assignment. We get a twinge of guilt when the pastor talks about it. We’re afraid to go “all in” with it because, if we accept it as our personal mission, we’ll have to give up too much. It will take time, money, and work if we give in to Jesus’ last request. But we see here that Jesus isn’t asking just for full-time disciples; He’s asking for us to offer whatever we can to help others come to Christ, or to strengthen those with weaker faith, as we go about our lives. It can be joining the church visiting program, or just making friends with our acquaintances – talking about what God has done in your life, or in the lives of others you know who went through some of the same trials as your new friend. It’s not rocket science. You don’t have to stand on a street corner and boldly proclaim the Gospel. Just look around you. And ask God to point out who He would like you to talk to. No, not talk to – listen to. Discipling should be more about you listening than talking.

The great commission of Jesus for his followers then is summarized like this: as you go about each day, do something to invite or train someone you know or meet to trust Jesus. If they will trust Jesus as the Christ, invite them to be baptized so they can identify themselves as one of Christ’s followers. Train them to live like Jesus by teaching them how to do what Jesus taught all of His followers to do. This will take time. Be patient. You’re not fully like Jesus is yet either.

What if we look at the Great Commission as Jesus last request – His last will and testament so to speak. If a loved one on their death bed asked you to do something after they’re gone – their last wishes – you would most likely agree because you love them and want them to die with peace knowing that they can trust you to do it. After they’re gone you would feel compelled to carry it out. This reminds me of the country song “Feed Jake” – “If I die before I wake, feed Jake.” If someone gave us that last request, we wouldn’t hesitate to feed Jake. Well, Jesus didn’t ask us to feed Jake, but He did ask us to feed His people – to share the food of the Gospel with those that don’t know Him. So what are you going to do with the Great Commission? Are you going to feed Jake?

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Listening for the Holy Spirit

I’d like to start with a couple of questions for you to think about. When is the last time you heard or felt the Holy Spirit moving you? How often does that happen? How does it happen for you? Has it ever happened for you? If you don’t know, or if it seldom happens, maybe you don’t know what to listen FOR. As Jesus promised before he died, He sent us a counselor, The Holy Spirit, to dwell within us.

John 14:16-18. “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.”

*
p<>{color:#000;}. He guides us into the way of victory over sin (Galatians 5:16).

*
p<>{color:#000;}. He leads and directs us in our service for God (Acts 16:6-7; Romans 8:14).

*
p<>{color:#000;}. He prompts us to take the right action at particular times (Luke 2:27).

*
p<>{color:#000;}. He guides us to the right solution of difficult problems (Acts 15:28).

*
p<>{color:#000;}. The Holy Spirit will, if allowed, guide you in every area of life; from the words you should speak, to the spouse you should marry, to the investments you should make.

When we became true believers we received the Holy Spirit into our . . . our what? heart? Soul? Mind? I don’t know just where He resides in me, but I know He’s in there somewhere. Jesus promised me.

But if we’re not receiving the Holy Spirit’s guidance, what’s the problem? We’re not listening! Maybe because we think what He wants for us is not what we want for us. But maybe it’s just that we haven’t learned how to listen for Him.

My son and a friend of his used to love hunting for arrowheads. They were both certified cave divers and many of the local areas that are now submerged used to be above the water line. Indians from 4 to 10,000 years ago loved waterfront property just as much as we do today. So Michael and his friend started diving into caves and even walking the rows of newly plowed fields beside the Flint and Chattahoochee looking for the arrowheads they heard were there. The first few times out they didn’t find any. But then they found their first couple, both underwater and in the fields. And after that they found more. Six months later they were coming back from each trip loaded with arrowheads. What had happened? Did they stumble on the mother load? No, their eyes and minds had acquired the skill of seeing arrowhead shapes in the dirt and sand. They practically jumped out at them

So what’s my point here? I think it can be like that with the Holy Spirit’s communications with us. Maybe just a fleeting thought that keeps returning, or an urge to visit someone or do something, or maybe some silent words in your head. But just like hunting for arrowheads, we have to learn to pay attention, to listen for the Holy Spirit, and to recognize His “voice” when he’s making God’s will known to us.

I’ve been taught, by the Holy Spirit I believe, what to listen for. I turn to Him before making decisions, like when Linda and I came here from Texas to look at a lakeside property. My will at the time was to stay in Texas – try to keep too much change out of my life. But Linda and I prayed for guidance and asked the Holy Spirit to show us, through open or closed doors, where God wanted us. Every morning when I pray, I close by telling God that I’m His today and, if He will show me what he wants from me, I’ll do it. Sometimes when He gives me a task – to go visit so-and-so or offer help to someone – I get busy on other things and forget. But the Holy Spirit keeps reminding me until I get around to doing it.

When you pray, do you specifically ask the Holy Spirit for your orders for the day? How can you know where the Holy Spirit is guiding you if you don’t ask? Of course asking a question is of no use if we don’t spend time listening for the answer. So don’t rush your prayers. Give God praise and glory for all He has done for you and pray for those on your prayer list – then specifically ask what God’s plan for you on this day is. Then, before you say “inJesusnameamen”, spend some time, however long it takes, listening for the Holy Spirit to guide your thoughts to what your mission of the day is.

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CHAPTER 5 – ON SHARING GOD AND CHRIST

 

What is Sin?

The topic today is sin. Not from the perspective of our own sin, but from the perspective of an unbeliever. As solid Christians, we all understand that we, like everyone else, are sinners. We have sinned in the past, we still sin, and we’ll continue to sin. But when we tell unbelievers they need Christ because they’re sinners, they may nod their heads but their mind is telling them “I’m not a sinner, I don’t lie, cheat, steal, or murder.” Before they can understand why they need Christ they have to accept the fact that they’re sinners. So I’m going to go over a few biblical points that will help you be a better witness. We Christians already know these verses so I’m preaching to the choir with you guys, but to an unbeliever who you are trying to reach this is all new and will help him understand that he’s a sinner in need of Christ.

What is Sin?

The Greek word used for sin means “to miss the mark” as an archer missing the target bulls eye. The mark, in this case, is the standard of perfection established by God and evidenced by Jesus. Viewed in that light, it’s clear that we’re all sinners.

Sin is any deliberate action, attitude, or thought that goes against God’s word. Most non-Christians and many once-a-week Christians think of sin as an obvious act, such as murder, adultery, or theft. Although that’s true, sin is also in simple things that often we don’t even notice. Things like pride, envy, and deceit which is much broader than simple lying. Sin includes both things you shouldn’t have done, but did – and things you should’ve done, but didn’t.

Jesus made this point very clear!

Mark 7:7-23: “It is the thought life that pollutes. For from within, out of men’s hearts, comes evil, thoughts of lust, theft, murder, adultery, wanting what belongs to others, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, pride, and all other folly.”

Matthew 5:21-22: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.”

And the really big one:

John 17:9: “The world’s sin is unbelief in me.”

Which tells an unbeliever that, by definition, he is a sinner.

Fundamentally, unbelievers need to understand that sin is anything they do that displeases God. It’s them not living up to Gods standards:

1 John 5:17: All unrighteousness is sin. Where righteousness describes the state of being in conformity with God’s laws and requirements.

2 Corinthians 5:9: So our aim is to please Him always in everything we do.

Hebrews 11:6: You can never please God without faith, without depending on Him.

1 Timothy 1-2: Don’t just pretend to be good! Be done with dishonesty and jealousy and talking about others behind their backs. . . put away all evil, deception, envy, and fraud.

1 John 1:8 & 10: If we say that we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves. . . . If we claim to have not sinned, we are lying and calling God a liar, for He says we have sinned.

Romans 3:23: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Paul connects sin to a person’s natural sense of right and wrong in Romans 14:23: But anyone who believes that something he wants to do is wrong and shouldn’t do it; he sins if he does it.

And James does also in James 4:17: Knowing what is right to do and then not doing it is sin.

Here you could ask the unbeliever “when is the last time your conscience bothered you?”

So, when you’re witnessing to a nonbeliever, keep in mind that he doesn’t understand “Christianese” – or that he is and always has been a sinner. You have to convince him with verses like these.

Let me close with one further thought: Using the Bible as your authority when you are talking to someone who won’t accept it as the word of God is like using English to give directions to a foreigner who doesn’t understand the language. You can use the truths of the Bible without quoting it chapter and verse. You know what you are saying is from the Bible, but the unbeliever doesn’t need to be reminded of it every other sentence.

How do I know When I’m Sinning?

That’s a lot of stuff to remember and judge your actions by, so here’s a simple question you can ask yourself:

Does what I’m about to do or say honor God?

If you can’t answer a resounding “YES!”, don’t do it!

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God First – Then Christ

When we approach unbelievers to tell them what they’re missing, we tend to go straight to the Christ part. We tell them that only by believing that Christ died for their sins can they find salvation. Most unbelievers don’t even know what you mean by “salvation”, much less understand what Christ has to do with it. They think “where do you get off calling me a sinner.” I believe that, to bring most people to Christ, we have to focus on God first. And then bring them through a series of steps that leads them undeniably to their need for salvation through Christ.

If they don’t believe or understand who God is, then introducing Christ as God’s son, as God’s great plan for our salvation, makes no sense to them. So we need to start with God when talking with unbelievers. Get them to accept God’s sovereignty, as creator of all of us, who loves us and cares about us and wants a close relationship with us.

Is this when we introduce Christ? No, we need to tell them about the Bible as God’s inerrant word – the source of truths we need to live by. If they see the Bible only as a history book, then the next step won’t work. We don’t want to tell them literal truth, that the earth’s 6,000 years old, or that Noah really did save all those animals on the ark. Those things are sticking points for most new believers. If we’re trying to tell them that the Bible is word-for-word literal truth, they’ll doubt that. There’s plenty of time after they are saved to learn about the Bible. But they have to accept that God is the author of the Bible so they will have a reason to believe what comes next.

Is that when we introduce Christ? Not yet. Before they can accept Christ as a sacrifice for their sins, they have to be convinced they’re sinners. And since we have to use the Bible for that, it makes no sense to convince them they are sinners if they don’t believe that the Bible, which you’re using to define sin for them, is the word of God.

So how do we show them they’re sinners? Not everyone has a past life that includes what they think of as sin. So in their eyes, they aren’t sinners – or at least they believe they’re no worse than most others they know. So you have educate them about what sin really is and why they are sinners.

There are a few verses in the New Testament that can convince new believers they are sinners. Tell them that there’s more to sin than obeying the Ten Commandments. Those may be the fundamental ground rules, but sin is really anything we do that displeases God. Then hit them with the big Catch 22. Even not believing that Christ is who He and God said He was is a sin, so if they don’t believe in Christ yet, they’re sinning! But don’t point to Bible chapter and verse – unbelievers are often annoyed by that. So just quote the words of the verses. And don’t use the King James Bible . Use the plain language of the New International Version (NIV) or, better yet, the plain, everyday language of the New Living Translation (NLT).

Now you can talk about Christ with them – after they accept God’s divinity, that the Bible is God’s word, and that they’re sinners in need of salvation. Then you can discuss the important things, like:

*
p<>{color:#000;}. How God can allow you to have a close relationship with him only if you are cleaned of your sin.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. That the only way to do that is for them to accept and believe that Christ’s death and resurrection cleanses sin.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. That their acceptance and belief comes through their faith that this is true – not from historical facts or science.

So we have to bring them to an understanding and acceptance of God, the Bible, and their sin, before their acceptance of salvation through Christ has meaning.

I know this probably isn’t the usual way to bring people to Christ. In fact, many unbelievers will believe and accept Christ without going through these steps. And if they can do that, truly believe why Christ had to die for them, that’s great. That means the Holy Spirit in moving in them. The deeper understanding can come later. But these steps I’m talking about are from my own path to belief, a path no one helped me along. But God led my thoughts down this path, and it worked for me. It’s a path of logic that leads to an undeniable conclusion. But this isn’t something that happens in a single visit, It may take days, weeks, or months. For me it took years.

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Bearing Fruit

In the New Testament, Jesus and his Disciples talk a lot about bearing fruit. In the four Gospel books Jesus repeatedly talks directly about us bearing fruit:

Matt 21:43Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits

Luke 3:8 Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.

Luke 6:44For each tree is known by its own fruit

Jesus speaks of bearing fruit 15 times in Matthew, 4 times in Mark, 12 times in Luke, and 7 times in John.

Paul also talks about bearing fruit in his epistles:

Col 1:10So as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

In Romans 1:13“ – I want you to know, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. This word “harvest” is the same word (“fruit”) that Jesus uses in John 4.

And in Hebrews 13:15“By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of [our] lips giving thanks to His name.”

So we know as Christians that we’re supposed to produce fruit, but just what is this fruit.

To dig a bit deeper into this issue, we need to know what the word “fruit” means in New Testament language. The word “fruit” (and its derivatives “fruits” and “fruitful”) occurs 66 times in the New Testament. In 41 of these occurrences the word is used figuratively, as a metaphor regarding our life as followers of Jesus. In this usage the word, is defined as “being the visible expression of power working inwardly and invisibly; the character of the “fruit” being evidence of the character of the power producing it

In Galatians 5:19-23, Paul lists what is of the flesh and what is of the Spirit.

“We know what the works of the flesh are,” he says, “and if you do those things, you won’t go to heaven. But if you have the Spirit, you have his fruit, which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

Notice that Paul says, “The fruit of the Spirit is…” He doesn’t say, “The fruits of the Spirit are…” The noun fruit and its corresponding verb is singular. This means that they come as a package deal. If you have Christ, you have the Spirit; if you have the Spirit, you get all His fruit — which is the expression of what He is doing in your heart that will overflow to others by your actions, words, and attitudes. We get this spiritual fruit so that, by our Christian walk, we can reflect Christ within us and draw them to want what we have.

So we need to be sure that the fruit of the Spirit shows in our lives. Bearing fruit doesn’t only happen in evangelism. It happens when we kill sin. It happens when we sing to the Lord. It happens when we love our neighbor as ourselves. It happens when we suffer well. It happens when we increase in our knowledge of God. It happens when we’re in pain or troubled and others see us turn to God and trust him.

So how do we bear fruit in our Christian walk? Is fruit referring only to bringing lost souls to Christ? I hope not, because most of us will come up short by that measure. But it’s not just that. We’re bearing fruit when we help those already saved, but in doubt, find Biblical truths that strengthen their faith. We’re bearing fruit in so many ways:

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p<>{color:#000;}. When we mentor baby Christian, one-on-one to help them grow in Christ and lead them to church and Sunday school so they can learn the meaning of God’s word.

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p<>{color:#000;}. When we participate in food distribution to the poor, financially and as workers, we’re bearing fruit.

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p<>{color:#000;}. When we collect boxes of food for the children’s home or contribute to Lottie Moon, we’re bearing fruit.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. When we visit someone who is sick to cheer them up and bring them food, we’re bearing fruit.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. When we serve on church committees or teach Sunday school, we’re bearing fruit.

So if you think you’re life isn’t producing enough fruit, start doing more of these simple things and make Christ’s presence in you visible to everyone. Don’t hide your Christian light under a basket.

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Cornering an Evolutionist

One of the sticking points that keep so many from believing in God is evolution. They believe that man was created through evolution, not by God. Here’s a dialog you can have with them that will unravel an evolutionist’s belief system.

You can start by asking them if they believe in God.

You – “Do you believe in God?”

Them – “No” or maybe “I’m not sure.”

You – “If there’s no God, then who created man?”

Them – “Man was created by evolution.”

You – “So you believe in evolution?”

Them – “Yes, I do.”

Here you throw them a curve ball. You say

You – “So do I. I believe that God built into every living species the capability to adapt to their local environment and pass those adaptations on to their offspring. It ensures that the species will survive changing environments. That’s why we see all the sub-species around us – hundreds of kinds of birds, and fish, and insects, and mammals. That’s known as micro-evolution. Do you believe in that?”

Them – “Sure, I can look all around me and see that.”

You – “What God didn’t do is provide the ability to cross over from one species to another – from a whale to a cow, from a fish to a bird, from an ape to a human. That’s called macro-evolution. There is no solid evidence of fossils that are in the process of changing from one species to another. So how could evolution create man?”

Them – “I don’t know. But it wasn’t God. I don’t believe He exists.”

You – “O.K., let’s go back to the beginning of life. If evolution is correct, then at some time in the past there were no living things on earth. But then, something that wasn’t alive – a soup of chemicals – became alive. And no only did it become alive, it had to have the ability to replicate itself, to reproduce. And before it could do that, it needed to provide the energy necessary to replicate – the ability to take in living stuff around it for food. But how could this something-from-nothing first appear with the abilities already included. Because without those, this “spark of life” would die out quickly. So what do you think could create a life form ready-to-roll?”

Them – “I don’t know. Maybe they came to earth frozen in a comet.”

You – “How did they get into the comet? Where did they originally come from.”

Them – “Scientists say from another world somewhere in the universe.”

You – “That just shifts the creation problem somewhere else. How could the first life start from nothing on another planet?”

Them – “I don’t know.”

You – “There’s only one answer. Somewhere in space and time, there had to be a creator. That fact is inescapable. We call that creator God, or Jehovah, or Yahweh, or Abba. And we are His special creation who He wants to have a relationship with. He created a way to do that, to make us righteous so we can get close to Him.”

I wouldn’t bring up Christ at this point. I’d leave them wondering about the way. Let them put the pieces together. Maybe they’ll come to you to learn about Christ, or maybe God has someone else assigned that task. Everyone has to come to God and Christ – we can’t push them.

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What’s a Disciple

Here’s a question I’d like you to answer to yourself – Are you a disciple of Christ? We know we’re followers of Christ, but are we His disciples? Think about it.

What is disciple of Christ? What do you think? How would you define a disciple? What’s the difference between being a follower and a being a disciple? Let’s start with a good definition of a disciple from a Bible dictionary:

A disciple is one who is committed to and continually growing in Christ.

I think most of us fit the “committed to” part, so let’s look at that for a minute. We think “Well, I may not be as committed as some other church members, but I don’t have the . . . what? – time, energy, gifts – that others have. So should I worry that I’m not committed enough? The answer is No, simply because commitment to Christ is a true/false question, not a grade score of 1 to 100. When we accepted Christ as our savior and the full meaning of it, we became committed. This commitment makes us followers of Christ – but not necessarily disciples.

It’s the other half of the definition – continually growing in Christ – where most of us fall short. This part is not a true/false question, it’s scale of ever increasing improvement in our love relationship with Christ, in our desire to please Him, to do His will. It’s a becoming thing, a growing into thing. Becoming what? More like Christ in our thoughts and actions.

So here’s another question that will help you know if you are a follower or a disciple of Christ. Have you grown spiritually in the last year – the last month – the last week? Could you sit down and make a list of all the ways you’ve grown spiritually in that time? Or are you a stagnant Christian with your spiritual growth frozen in time. Has this year been just like the past several years with you camped out in your Christian comfort zone. Go ahead and make a list to see if you are indeed a growing disciple. If not, ask God for direction in how to overcome your reluctance to move forward.

Once you realize that you have fallen short on the growing thing, make another list . . . of ways you plan to spiritually grow this next year. Write it in the front of your Bible so you see it every time you open it. Then look back at it a year from now and see how well you’ve done. Here are a few suggestions of what you might put on the list:

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p<>{color:#000;}. Disciple someone. Adopt someone who is weak in the faith. Meet with them regularly to talk about where they are, how you used to be at that level, and how you have grown. Go with a few Bible verses in hand to focus the conversation on their weaknesses. Or seek out someone who is stronger in the faith and more knowledgeable than you and ask them to disciple you.

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p<>{color:#000;}. Be a regular friend to someone who lives alone – Christian or not. These people are lonely and need someone to be their friend, someone who values them.

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p<>{color:#000;}. Grow in your understanding of God’s word and how to apply it. Pick a book of the Bible and focus on a chapter or two every day for a month. Read it in other versions – like the New Living Translation, the Amplified Bible, or Eugene Peterson’s The Message. Get a good evangelical commentary, like John MacArthur’s Bible Commentary, or use online Bible sites, commentaries, and sermons to shed a light on the material from different directions.

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p<>{color:#000;}. Ask God what your weakest point is and let Him guide you towards it.

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The Power of Two

I call this devotional “The Power of Two.” It relates to what our pastor has been saying about how we should all be Discipling someone. First let’s look at the most common way people come to Christ – by leaving it up to the preachers – by depending on the word of God preached at everything from small churches like ours, to stadiums full of people like Billy Graham did. How effective is that?

Let’s say that a pastor is blessed by God with the chance to travel all over the world and preach the gospel to 50,000 people every night, all year long, and each night 1,000 people accept Christ. At the end of the first year, there would be 365,000 new Christians! Just from one man’s preaching. At the end of 10 years this number would grow to be 20 million. After 33 years of nightly preaching like this, the pastor would have brought over 50 million souls to Christ. Quite a feat.

Now let’s look at the power of two. Let’s say that one man, like you, tells his friends about Christ and after a year, two of them become believers. In the next year these two each bring two others to Christ. And the year after that, these four new Christians each disciple two others. So in the first year, there are two new Christians, and the second year there are 4 new Christians, and the third year there are 8 new Christians, and the fifth year there 32, and so on. After 10 years, the total number of new Christians would only be 2,046 compared to Pastor Mike’s 20 million. Not very impressive, huh. But now the power of two starts to kick in. At 20 years, there will be over a million new disciples, at 30 years it’s over a billion, and in 33 years there will be 8.6 billion new disciples. – the entire projected population of the earth.

But what if we don’t start with just one, what if we start with everyone at Lake Seminole Baptist Church. Then it would take only 24 years to convert the entire earth! And all it takes is for each of us to bring two new disciples to Christ this year and help them each bring in two others next year. In just that two years our church membership could grow to over 500!

I leave you with two questions: How long have you been a Christian . . . and where are your disciples?

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Witnessing to Those Who Deny the Bible as Truth

I listened to a guest pastor in his sermon last month talk about how to use the Bible and the “Roman Road” to bring people to belief in God and Christ. That approach has been used successfully for ages to bring sinners to repentance and forgiveness. But that approach is based on one premise – that the person accepts the Bible as truth. But if the person sees it as only a good history book at best, and can’t accept the stories of Noah’s Ark, the parting of the Red Sea, the virgin birth of Jesus, and His resurrection, the Bible is ineffective in bringing that person to salvation. I know that’s true because that person was me. And there are many others out there who feel the same way. So how do you witness to a person like that? I have an approach I’ve used with others who think that way and I’d like to share it with you. Maybe you’ll come across someone who denies the Bible and you can try this approach.

Can you say you have peace in your life with all the worries, problems, and fears you have? Or do you have calmness and joy in spite of these things? I do. If you don’t have this peace it may be because you haven’t asked anyone for help with your burdens. Just sharing your problems with someone can give you a new perspective on them – and loosen their control on your life.

But if you’re like most people, there’s no one you really trust enough to share everything with. If you share what’s going on in your head you’re afraid that person will think less of you and maybe even tell others.

There’s one person you can share everything with – all the bad stuff you’ve done, your fears, insecurities – who won’t think any less of you. Because He’s God and He already knows it all! He knew you before you were born and has followed your life ever since. If you share your heart with Him, He can give you peace about it. But there’s a problem. You have to get close to Him before He can help you. But you can’t get close to Him because you have been disobeying Him all your life. You may believe that you haven’t ever broken the Ten Commandments – well maybe the one about lying – but hopefully none of the big ones like murder, or committing adultery. But God’s expectations go way beyond those foundational principles. Anytime you make choices that go against what God expects of you, you are being disobedient – sinning as we say in the business.

Because of that sin you are, in God’s words, unrighteous, and God won’t have a relationship with unrighteous people; people who do not live up to his standards of thought and behavior. He can’t allow you close to Him because you’re covered in sin. It’s like having a dog that goes out and rolls in the mud, and then comes back inside begging for you to hold him. You can’t allow it close to you until it has been washed clean. And if He can’t allow you close to Him, you can’t have the close personal relationship with Him that you need to deal with your problems.

Because God wants you to have a relationship with Him, He provided a means for unrighteous people to become righteous in his eyes -- a Way for all sins – past, present, and future – to be forgiven. The Way is for you to accept that God sent Jesus to tell us of His plan and to fulfill God’s ancient sentence of death for all sinners. Christ suffered and died in your place so that God can accept you as righteous and free of sin. It’s the only way to have a personal relationship with God. There are many who believe that they can have a relationship with God directly, without Jesus – but they can’t because without Christ’s cleansing, they are still unrighteous sinners in God’s eyes.

But once you accept Christ and yield control of your life to Him, God will do wonderful things for you.

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p<>{color:#000;}. He will show you that you are truly and unconditionally loved – for the first time in your life.

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p<>{color:#000;}. He’ll open your heart and mind to understanding His word and what He has in mind for you.

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p<>{color:#000;}. By giving control of your life to Christ, you can finally give up one of the biggest causes of stress in your life – the illusion that you are in control.

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p<>{color:#000;}. God will teach you how to pray, and reveal Himself to you through His creation.

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p<>{color:#000;}. He will show you where there is sin in your life, and help you overcome it.

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p<>{color:#000;}. When you accept Christ and give Him control of your life, it’s a package deal that includes:

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p<>{color:#000;}. Freedom from being controlled by the sinful tendencies within you, and the sinful world around you.

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p<>{color:#000;}. Notice it’s not freedom from sin – it’s freedom from letting sin control your life. Christians still sin because we’re human. But the power of the Holy Spirit within you will break you free from its control.

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p<>{color:#000;}. A desire to grow ever closer to God.

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p<>{color:#000;}. A new perspective on what’s really important in your life.

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p<>{color:#000;}. A new understanding of what the Bible has been trying to tell you all these years.

And here’s the best news of all – once you have accepted Christ, there is nothing you can do to make God reject you – He holds you in His hand forever. John 10:28-29

Wouldn’t you like to have all these wonderful things? All you have to do is to accept the truth that you are a sinner and, through God’s great plan, Christ has paid the bill for all your sin – Past, present, and future. Can you do that now?

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How Bright are You?

In John 8:12 Jesus told the adulteress He saved from stoning “I am the light of the world. He who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” And again in John 9:5 He said “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

But in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, after giving the Beatitudes, Jesus said “YOU are the light of the world. . . Let YOUR light shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. Paul echoes this in Ephesians 5:8 when He says “For you were once in darkness, but now you are the light in the Lord. Walk as children of the light.” And again in Philippians 2:14 & 15: “Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God, without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation , among whom YOU shine as lights in the world.”

Do you see a plan here? When Jesus was on the earth, He himself was the light of the world. But He passed that torch on to us so that, after He was gone, His believers would be that light.

Back in Matt 5:14-15 Jesus said no one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket – they put it on a lamp stand so that it will give light to all. He’s using this simple metaphor to tell us that we’re supposed to lift His light in us up high where everyone can see it – not turn it down so it barely flickers. So the question is:

“Are we serving God by being the light of the world? Or are we going to heaven with our lamp unlit and the bowl full of oil?”

Using another metaphor, “There are two ways to be the Light. You can be the candle, or you can be a mirror reflecting the candle.” Are we being the shiniest mirror that we can be reflecting Christ’s light?

You know, we all complain about how this country is falling away from God and ask “But what we can do about it?” If our light, the light of Christ in us, isn’t shining as brightly as we can make it shine – if we’re hiding our light under a basket – then I don’t think we have grounds for complaining about the state of the country and our helplessness to change it.

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CHAPTER 6 – ON GOD, CHRIST, THE HOLY SPIRIT, AND US

 

I AM

Read John 14:2-6

Here Jesus continues to teach His disciples about His death and resurrection. He began speaking more plainly about heaven, describing the place He was going to prepare for them in John 14:2-3: Then Jesus said “You know the way to the place where I am going”. Speaking for the others, Thomas said they didn’t know where He was going, so how could they follow Him there? Jesus answered with His classic I AM statement: He said:

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

This is one of the most important statements Jesus made and should be on everyone’s list of memory verses. In these few words Jesus gives us the entire reason for His existence on earth – that we can come to the Father through Him, through His death and resurrection that makes us clean, so God can have a close personal relationship with us and wrap His arms around us. Let’s try to understand this verse better by looking at each part of it.

I am – In the Greek language, these two words are a very intense way of referring to oneself. It would be comparable to saying, “I myself, and only I, am.” Several other times in the Gospels we find Jesus using these words. In Matthew 22:32 Jesus quotes Exodus 3:6, where God uses the same intensive form to say “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” In John 8:58, Jesus said “Truly, truly I say unto you, before Abraham was, I am.” The Jews clearly understood Jesus to be calling Himself God because they tried to stone Him for committing blasphemy in equating Himself with God. In Matthew 28:20, as Jesus gave the Great Commission, He gave it emphasis by saying “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” When the soldiers came seeking Jesus in the garden in John 18:4-6 the night before His crucifixion, He told them I am He” and His words were so powerful that the soldiers fell to the ground. These words reflect the very name of God in Hebrew, Yahweh, which means “to be” or “the self-existing one.” It ‘s the name of power and authority, and Jesus claimed it as His own.

I am the way – Jesus said this to distinguish Himself as “the only way.” A way is a path or route, and the disciples were confused about where He was going, and how they could follow. As He had told them from the beginning, Jesus was again telling them (and us) “follow me.” There is no other path to Heaven, no other way to the Father. Peter reiterated this same truth years later to the rulers in Jerusalem in Act 4:12, saying about Jesus, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved”. The exclusive nature of the only path to salvation is expressed in the words “I am the way.”
I am the truth – Again Jesus was emphasizing Himself as “the only truth.” Psalm 119:142 says “Your law is the truth.” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminded His listeners of several points of the Law, then said “but I say unto you…” equating Himself with the Law of God as the authoritative standard of righteousness. In fact, Jesus said that He came to fulfill the law and the prophets in Matthew 5:17. Jesus, as the incarnate Word of God, is the source of all truth. By the way, we hear the word incarnate a lot. What does it mean? It means He became human, in fleshly form. It has the same root as the word carnal – referring to our own fleshly nature.
I am the life – Jesus had just been telling His disciples about His impending death, and now He was claiming to be the source of all life. In John 10:17-18, Jesus declared that He was going to lay down His life for His sheep, and then take it back up again. He spoke of His authority over life and death as being granted to Him by the Father. In John 14:19, He gave the promise that “because I live, you also will live.” The deliverance He was about to provide was not a political or social deliverance, which most of the Jews were seeking, but a true deliverance from a life of bondage to sin and death, to a life of freedom in eternity.
In these words, Jesus was declaring Himself to be the great “I Am,” the only path to righteousness, the only true measure of righteousness, and the source of both physical and spiritual life. He was staking His claim as the very God of Creation, the Lord who blessed Abraham, and the Holy One who inhabits eternity. He did this so the disciples would be able to face the dark days ahead and carry on the mission of declaring the Gospel to the world. But we know from Scripture that they still didn’t understand, and it took several visits from their risen Lord to shake them out of their disbelief. Once they understood the truth of His words, they became changed people. That’s exactly what happens to us once we fully understand the truth of Christ’s words – we become new people, recreated as children of God, no longer controlled by old ways and thoughts.

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Growing as a Christian

Most of us realize our knowledge and understanding of God’s word and what being a Christian means is not complete. No matter how long we’ve been a Christian we wish that, when we accepted Christ, suddenly our minds would be filled with complete knowledge and wisdom about God. But, of course, it doesn’t work that way – nothing works that way. Learning and growing as a Christian is a long slow process – we’re impatient to “get there. Sometimes we think “O.K. I know enough. I’ll just quit growing at this point. But that’s not what God wants from you. If we’re serious Christians we’ll spend the rest of our lives on this quest for more understanding of God’s word and what it means in our lives. This doesn’t come easily, though. We need to work at it – keep working at it. How do we do this? Here’s my recipe:

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p<>{color:#000;}. Start with prayer. Promise God you will commit to understanding more of his word every day. Then ask him for daily strength to keep your promise and for the Holy Spirit to open your mind to the Word.

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p<>{color:#000;}. Just like any large project we start on, we need a plan. Write down a plan for how you’ll do this, but listen for the Holy Spirit’s guidance on this. The plan should be tailored for you, taking into account the ways you learn best and the ways you struggle with. Do you have trouble with reading comprehension? Then find radio and TV pastors to listen to. Order their CDs to listen to on the road. Review the plan for progress periodically to see how you’re doing and to encourage yourself to continue. By the way, reading the Bible again from cover to cover isn’t much of a plan.

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p<>{color:#000;}. Don’t be too ambitious or set unrealistic goals with your plan. That’s a sure way to get discouraged and quit. Your plan must include daily time alone with God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit – preferably about the same time every day so you get in the habit.

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p<>{color:#000;}. Pick a particular topic to focus on for awhile so your mind can stay absorbed in it. It doesn’t have to be a particular Bible book – follow a certain theme through all the books it shows up in – like the prophecies about Christ, or the promises of Christ. Read or listen to commentaries from several sources, but ask for discernment to realize when something you hear isn’t Biblical. There’s a great quote by Johnny Cash about this: “The Bible can shed a lot of light on the commentaries.”

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p<>{color:#000;}. Write down questions and thoughts as you read or listen so you can ask others to help you understand. Do this in a notebook or journal – maybe you could title it “My Spiritual Journey”. But don’t write and forget to review it. Include action items like “Ask the pastor about this verse” or “How does this apply to my life?” Then go back and put what you have found out in your journal.

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p<>{color:#000;}. Use multiple translations of the Bible. Use your favorite one as your primary source, but then go to versions like the Amplified Bible, The Message, or the New Living Bible to help you fully understand the passages you’re studying. If you don’t have a parallel Bible with the King James and modern translations side-by-side, get yourself one. But choose wisely which translations you want to include. My favorite is the New King James, the New International Version, the New Living Translation, and Eugene Peterson’s The Message.

An encouraging example is Paul – the great disciple that God filled with knowledge of what He wanted the Christian church to be. But all this didn’t come to Paul in a flash. Although he immediately began preaching Christ after his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, God hadn’t yet revealed His plans for the growth of the church. Instead the Holy Spirit led Paul into the Arabian wilderness, some believe it was Mt. Sinai, for three years of preparation. But even before Paul was converted God was preparing him. In Acts 22:3 Paul says “I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors.” Gamaliel was probably the greatest Bible scholar of his day. God made sure that Paul learned from the best. This background made Paul the Old Testament “expert” among the Apostles and equipped him to use the prophecies of the Messiah in his preaching.

So what are you going to do with my comments today? Are you going to forget them as you walk out the door? Or are you going realize that your Christian growth is lacking and make that commitment to God?

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Thoughts for New Christians

Many new Christians have spiritual concerns about whether they are really saved because, when they accepted Christ, they think they may not have been fully committed. Having these concerns early in your walk with Christ is very common to new Christians. When we accept Christ, we are truly serious about it at the time, but we don’t really have an inkling of what being a Christian is really about. People at this stage are “baby” Christians, as Paul says in I Corinthians Chapter 3:

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ.

I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly.

What you are experiencing is part of the process of “becoming” – a process that will go on until the day you die. As your faith and trust in God grows through prayer, reading, and teaching others your understanding of what Christ’s death on the cross means, and what salvation means, will continue to deepen.

My own experience with this is the personal story I tell others when discussing how I came to believe in God and Christ:

“Let me make a comment here about Jesus and his role in my relationship with God. My dad taught me that, when you have a problem, go straight to the top. Write the president of the company. So when I first turned to God for help, I had no thoughts about Jesus. I went straight to God with my problems, and God helped me, . But, in his patience, he led me along my path to understanding until I learned that, to be close to God, I had to accept the meaning of the crucifixion. So I accepted Christ as my savior and was baptized. I had accepted Christ’s sacrifice but didn’t really comprehend what it meant.

After several years of learning and growing I finally understand what Christ’s death on the cross means to me personally. It wouldn’t be possible for me to get close to God unless I’m righteous, and the only way that can happen is because Jesus gave himself as a substitute sacrifice for my sins to make me holy enough to be in God’s presence. Before I could be truly close to God I had to accept that truth and believe it to the very depths of my soul!”

Many Christians, after they grow enough to realize how weak their commitment was at first, answer the altar call at church to recommit themselves to God and Christ, and some get baptized again – because they realize how superficial their understanding was at the beginning compared to what they know now. But everyone who accepts Christ as their savior is fully forgiven and saved from sin from that moment on. By asking God to forgive you for falling short in your faith – and just by having the realization that, compared to where you are now, your faith fell short at first – you are doing exactly what God wants you to do. Ask God to show you how to continue your growth in understanding, faith, and commitment to doing God’s will.

Now to the subject of guilt. First you have to realize that, when you become a Christian and ask God to forgive your past transgressions, you become Justified – a Christian term that in often interpreted as “Just-as-if-I-never-sinned.” And that is absolutely true! If it weren’t true then Christ died for nothing and the Bible is full of lies. But here’s the catch: you are fully forgiven and free of blame . Those here on earth who you cheated, let down, deceived, and belittled have not forgiven you. Some of them may never forgive you. But here’s what you need to do – and it will be difficult. Write to each one of them, at least the more important ones like family and friends, and ask their forgiveness. Spell out for them all the specific things you are asking forgiveness for, and apologize. Tell them that you are now a Christian and, because of Christ’s sacrifice, God has forgiven all the bad things you have done, but you are seeking the forgiveness of those you sinned against. Close by telling them that you realize that they may never be able to forgive you, and you will have to live with that.

After you have sent the letters (don’t write them all at once, start with those you have hurt the most) they may not write back to let you know they have forgiven you, or even acknowledge that they received your letter. So you’ll never know which of them refused to forgive you. But – and here’s the very important point – you have done your part in apologizing and asking their forgiveness. If they can’t forgive you, it’s on them not on you. And if you truly believe that, then you can give up your guilt.

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But God” II

Last year I gave a devotional titled “But God” about this two-word phrase that appears so often in the Bible. I said it was one of the most important, and relevant, phrases to us in our trials. Some examples I gave included:

Gen 48:21 – [_ And Israel- Jacob - said unto Joseph, Behold, I die: ] [but God_] shall be with you, and bring you again unto the land of your fathers.

I Sam 23:14David lived in the wilderness of Ziph and Saul sought him every day, but God delivered him not into his hand.

Psalm 49:10-15For all can see that wise men die, the foolish and senseless alike perish . . .But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me.

Acts 7:9And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: but God was with him

Acts 13:29-30 – . . . they took Him down from the tree and buried Him, ut God raised him from the dead.

We all have dozens of BUT GODs in our past. I could have died in the accident, BUT GOD saved me. I would have killed myself during my depression, BUT GOD showed me the way out of it. I almost gave in to that temptation, BUT GOD opened my eyes. When we think back on all the BUT GODs in our lives we feel renewed trust in God, so that the next time we face something we think is too big for us to handle, we remember all the times He stepped in to rescue us, and have full faith that he will do it again – and again – and again.

This morning I’d like to look at that phrase in a different context – one that’s as relevant as the first. I’ll use God’s interaction with Moses in Exodus 3 thru 7 as an example to make my point. So here’s Moses standing barefoot before a burning bush from which God tells him to lead His people out of Egypt. Moses says his first BUT GOD:

But Moses protested to God ‘Who am I to appear before Pharaoh. Who am I to lead the people out of Egypt?

God says I’ll help you out.”

But again Moses protested ‘If I go to the people of Israel and tell them the God of your ancestors sent me, They will ask me What’s His name?’

Tell them Yahweh sent you. And the Lord laid out His plan for Moses. So what did Moses say next in Verse 4:1?

But Moses protested again ‘What if they won’t believe me or listen to me?

So the Lord gave Moses a couple of miracles – a staff that turns into a snake and his withered, then healed, hand.

Nevertheless, right after God tells him this we see in Verse 4:10

[But] Lord, I’m not very good with words. I get tongue tied and my words get tangled.

God replied “I will instruct you in what to say.”

But Moses pleaded again ‘Lord, please send someone else.’ (Doesn’t that sound like us about the Great Commission?)

So God tells him He’ll send Aaron to speak for him. Moses finally gives in to God’s will and goes to see Pharaoh. But Pharaoh tells him “no way, Jose” and puts extra work on them by taking away their straw supply for making bricks. So the Lord told him to go back to the Israelites and tell them again that Yahweh will bring them into the promised land, then go to Pharaoh again. In Verse 6:12 we hear Moses complaining again:

But Lord, my own people won’t listen to me. How can I expect Pharaoh to listen? I’m such a clumsy speaker.

This time the Lord commanded Moses and Aaron to lead the people out of Egypt. That’s the first time that word is used in this exchange. The previous verses say that God asked”, or God “told” Moses. After Moses says BUT GOD seven times, the Lord commanded him to go . . . and this time he did.

Here’s someone who’s standing before a great miracle, being spoken to by God’s own voice. No one else in the Bible will ever be that close to God. No one but Christ will ever have such a close encounter with Yahweh. Yet in spite of this, Moses isn’t yielding to His will. He keeps saying BUT GOD, I can’t do what you want because . . . Isn’t this us sometimes – maybe too often. God makes His will clear to us, but we’re just like Moses. We say “But God, I don’t have time for this. But God, I’m not very good at witnessing to strangers. But God, I can’t get up early enough for Sunday School. But God, I already go to Sunday and Wednesday night services, isn’t that enough for you? But God, visiting people on Tuesday nights interferes with my favorite TV shows.

When the Biblical BUT GOD is followed by great things God does, it’s a comforting phrase, reminding us that God has the power to change our lives. But when we say BUT GOD and tell Him what our will is, it’s not a good thing – it’s us making a rationalization about why we’re not going to do what God asks us to do. So the next time God is guiding you towards His plans for you – and your reply begins “BUT GOD” – it should set off alarm bells in your head to let you know that you’re once again about to rationalize why you can’t do -- no, why you won’t do – what God is asking.

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Understanding the Trinity

Many Christians struggle with the idea of the Trinity and, more specifically, that Christ and God are one. They have a problem with the deity of a God who looked like a man and walked the earth. Muslims and cults like the Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses don’t accept that God and Christ are one. Doubt about Christ’s deity is a normal human reaction. Understanding how God and Christ can be one and the same, yet be separate, is beyond our rational thinking. We have no life experiences to compare it to.

If you’re like me you want to find the answer to this confusing concept, to find something our mind can grasp. I spent lots of time in my early Christian years reading everything I could find on the subject, believing I had to understand this before I could fully accept Christ. The answer came to me, strangely enough, in the novel Waterworld. Most or you have probably seen the movie with Kevin Costner, which isn’t known for deep theological dialog. But the author of the book, like many good novel writers, uses dialogs in the plot to present some of their own philosophies and thoughts. The setting of Waterworld is an earth future where global warming has melted all the ice on the planet and covered it with water. The time is several generations after the melting where the small remnants of population live in crude floating cities and talk about stories of the earlier civilization, which have been verbally handed down. Author Max Collins included a dialog between a descendant of a priestly family and the hero of the book, named Mariner, who was questioning the old myth of the Trinity, and how could God be three persons at the same time. It went something like this:

The priest explained it using a principle from mathematics called the Gödel Limit, after Kurt Gödel, a 20th century mathematician. He shows the entire framework of mathematics is based on some foundational principles called axioms. These axioms are taken to be true, but they can’t be proved. For example, parallel lines never meet, even if you draw them to infinity. This seems to make sense to us but it can’t be proven. Yet all of geometry is built on this and 9 other axioms. And much of what’s around us – buildings, roads, bridges – required geometry to design. The tallest skyscraper has, as it’s ultimate foundation, a set of assumptions that can’t be proved.

After spending much of his lifetime trying to prove these foundational assumptions, Gödel came to the conclusion that there is a fundamental limit to man’s ability to comprehend. If you start with a simple “fact” like why is the sky blue?, you’ll find an explanation about the color spectrum of the sun’s light. But then you ask, why does light have colors, to which the answer is our eyes perceive different light frequencies as color. The next question then is why do our eyes work like this? Or why does light have different frequencies, and so on until you reach a point where there is no explanation – where no matter how much you know and learn, there is no rational reason. You have to say “Just because!” It’s like you end up saying to your kids after a long string of questions – “Because I said so!” This point is called the Gödel Limit – it’s the furthest point in a trail of logic beyond which it is impossible to go.

The priest then applies this concept to man’s attempts to understand the Trinity, and how God is Christ is God. It’s beyond our capacity to comprehend. We just have to accept it as an unprovable axiom. It’s “Because God said so.” And we, like mathematicians, must accept that on faith and not let it get in the way of all that follows once we accept the concept.

Author’s Note: If this subject interests you and if you like to challenge your mind, get the book titled Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter.

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Christ’s Claims To Deity

There are many places in the Old and New Testaments that affirm Jesus is indeed God – one of the Trinity who make up the one God, the Godhead. In most of these references, His divinity is inferred through fulfillment of prophecy, His miracles, and Jesus’ revelation to His disciples, those He healed, and even demons. But the most compelling evidence of Christ’s deity are the claims that Jesus Himself made. Look up each of these claims in your Bible so you can see the full context in which Jesus made these claims.

Matthew

11:27 All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

12:8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.

16:15-17 But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” ^16^Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” ^17^Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.

24:30 At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. ^31^And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.

26:29 I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

28:17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. ^18^Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. ^19^Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

Mark

2:10-11 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins …. He said to the paralytic, ^11^’I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’

8:27-29 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?” ^28^They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” ^29^“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ.”

13:26-27 At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. ^27^And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

14:60-62 Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” ^61^But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” ^62^“I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Luke

10:18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”

10:22 All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

John

4:25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” ^26^Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

8:58 “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “Before Abraham was born, I am!”

9:35-37 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” ^36^“Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” ^37^Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”

10:30 I and the Father are one.”

10:38 “But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.”

17:1 After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 2For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. 3Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. 4I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. 5And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

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Who killed Christ?

Adapted from a sermon by Skip Heitzig

Who Crucified Christ? Was it Judas who betrayed Him with a greeting in the Garden? That started off the events leading to Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion. So certainly we could blame Judas. But what about the soldiers who arrested Him? They’re the ones who took Jesus to the Sanhedrin, so maybe they were really the ones who should be blamed.

The Priests of the Sanhedrin? They were so jealous of His miracles and His growing following that they made up charges against Him and brought in false witnesses to back up their claims. Their intentional sin might make them more to blame than any of the others.

Or maybe the crowd of Jews, who cried for the release of Barabbas instead of Jesus, and shouted “Crucify Him, Crucify Him!” were to blame. If they hadn’t done that Jesus could have gone on teaching and spreading the gospel.

And then there’s Pontius Pilot, who knew Jesus was innocent but didn’t have the courage to stand up to the crowd. He tried to wash his hands to be free of blame, but we know that doesn’t work with God.

How about the Roman soldiers who flogged Him and nailed Him to the cross? Just the flogging alone was enough to assure His death. Nailing Him to the cross just speeded things up. They were the direct cause of Christ’s death so they have to bear the responsibility and sin for killing Him.

So who killed Christ? All those I named must share the blame, but they weren’t the ultimate reason Christ died. No, WE killed Jesus! It was our sins that made it necessary for Christ to give Himself up to die as atonement for all the times we ignored God’s wishes and refused to follow His will.

Another thought is that Jesus Himself was responsible for his death because He went willingly and didn’t defend Himself. (See John 10). This would, in a sense, make His death a suicide, which many believe is a sin, but of course Christ was sinless.

But, the original responsibility for Christ’s death lies with God Himself. He planned it from the beginning.

Author’s Note: This piece was written to stimulate our thinking about Christ’s death by using flawed logic. Please don’t take it as truth . . . or quote me on it, as in “This author said Christ committed suicide.”

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Are You in the Belly of a Whale?

The title of this devotional comes, of course, from the book of Jonah. Let me read and comment on some verses from Chapters 1 through 4 :

Chapter 1

1[_ The word of the_] Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai:^ ^“Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” ^3 ^But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port.

^4 ^Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. ^5 ^All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. . . .

7 _][_Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 _][_So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?”

9 _][_He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”

We see three things here:

Jonah was a man of God – the Lord told him to go to Nineveh – and Jonah refused. He chose to rebel against God and put his wants above God will. He purposely disobeyed God even though he fully recognized God’s power and supremacy.

Jumping ahead to verse 15:

15 _][_Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. 16 _][_At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him.

This part shows God’s sense of irony. Jonah refused to go to Nineveh to bring those people to God, but by doing the opposite he brought a ship full of sailors to believe in God.

17 _][_Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Chapter 2

1 _][_From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God.

So here’s Jonah, in the stomach of a huge fish, getting slowly eaten up by the digestive juices, and he doesn’t turn to God for 3 days! He was so set on getting his way that he chose to die there rather than relinquish control to God. Because if he hadn’t finally turned to God for help with his problem, and if God had not answered his prayer but allowed him to suffer the consequences of his sin, that’s what would have happened.

But finally Jonah got over his stubbornness and asked for help.

10 _][_And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

So God answered Jonah’s prayer, but probably not the way he expected. He wasn’t whisked away to Nineveh with a new set of clothes to begin his ministry. He was tossed onto a beach, probably with little or no clothes left on him, covered in vomit, and maybe even bleached by the gastric juices. Then he had to journey to Nineveh on foot.

Chapters 3 and 4:

1 Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: ^2 ^“Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” ^3 ^Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. . . .

10 ^When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, He relented and did not bring on them the destruction He had threatened.^(P^)^

Chapter 4. 1But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, [that God wouldn’t carry out His plan to destroy the city because of their sin] and he became angry. ^2 ^He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish.”

Finally Jonah did what God wanted. Think of all the suffering could have avoided in the first place if he had done God’s will. But after all that, he still had a rebellious attitude towards God. He said to God “I told you so. I was right all along. My suffering is all your fault.”

So, back to my lead-in question: Are you in the belly of a whale? Are there things in your life that are slowly eating away at you like gastric juices – anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, self pity. Things that God, through his word, has shown you what He wants you to do about it. Just like with Jonah, God has made it plain as day what he expects of you, yet you stubbornly refuse to change directions. You hang on to things that will eventually destroy you. Maybe it’s time for us to begin our “third day”, to turn to God and ask Him to help us overcome these attitudes and feelings that are keeping us from fully enjoying relationships with our wife, our children, friends, and of course, God.

And what about the last part of this lesson. Are you blaming God for your situation? Are you angry with Him for the misery in your life? As He told Jonah at the end of the book [loosely paraphrasing] “This is my creation and will do with it what I choose to.”

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Is 2/3 Enough?

Adapted from a Sermon by Skip Heitzig

John Ogilvie who was at one time the chaplain for the United States Senate wrote: “Sadly many Christians settle for two-thirds of God. God the Father is way up there somewhere, aloof and apart from their daily lives. Christ is out there somewhere between them and the Father. The Holy Spirit is some kind of vague force or impersonal power that they hear about but do not know intimately.” 

Let’s start with the Trinity. The whole idea of God being three and at the same time being one is really beyond our understanding. But it’s sort of like water – as ice it’s solid, at warmer temperatures it is a liquid, and if it gets even hotter, it becomes steam. It’s all still water, H2O, but with different forms, each of which has separate qualities that are useful to us. [Some will say this isn’t a good analogy because water is never in all three states simultaneously. But they’d be wrong because, at a certain combination of temperature and pressure, water reaches a “triple point” where all three phases exist at the same time.]  It’s not essential that you understand the theology of the Trinity, but rather what the Son, the Father and the Holy Spirit mean in our daily lives.

First of all, all three do work and all three work together, but each has a specific, unique role. John, Chapters 14, 15, 16, and 17 is the longest recorded sermon Jesus ever preached. It’s to his twelve disciples, it’s in the upper room, and it’s the night before his arrest and crucifixion. In John 14:10 Jesus says “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own authority but the Father who dwells in me does the works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves.” And further down “ I will pray the Father that he will give you another helper, that He may abide with you forever, the spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him for he dwells with you and will be in you.”

This theme is carried all through Chapters 14, 15 and 16. Christ freely speaks of the Father, himself the Son, and the Holy Spirit as three distinct persons working in harmony together. He assigns personality to them. When he speaks of the Holy Spirit for instance, he doesn’t say, “When it comes, when that impersonal force shows up…” He uses a personal pronoun: He, Him, His. And he does that with all three members of the Trinity when he speaks of We. So he speaks of three individuals who are doing work, all working in concert together. Let’s look for a couple examples.

First of all, creation. In Genesis 1:1 we see, “In the beginning God (Elohim) created the heavens and the earth.” But the Greek word here is in the first person plural – more than one. That’s the introductory statement. But throughout the rest of the Bible we understand that Father, Son and Holy Spirit all took an active part. It was the Father who planned and thought of and decreed Creation. Think of the Father as the sovereign architect of Creation. But God the Son, Jesus Christ, He’s the builder, He executes Gods plans. Look at I Corinthians 8:6: “There’s only one God, the Father of whom are all things, and one Lord Jesus Christ through whom are all things.” It’s of Him but it’s through Jesus. So if the Father is the architect and the Son is the builder, what’s the Holy Spirit’s role? Think of Him as the project manager. He’s the one that made sure it all was being carried out according to plan. Look at Genesis 1:2 : “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” In Greek, hovering is better translated brooding. it’s the term used in Deuteronomy of a mother eagle brooding over and ensuring the safety of her young in the nest. That’s Creation, they all work together.

Fast forward to Christ’s birth. In Christ, sent by the Father, God stepped into our world and hung out here for thirty-three years. So the Father sent and the Son went, and the Holy Spirit provided His power and His presence to that whole event. That’s what the angel told Joseph. [“Fear not for that which is conceived in her[Mary]is of the Holy Spirit.” _]And again at Jesus’ baptism. [“The heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘This is my beloved son in whom I am well-pleased.”_] All three persons of the Trinity were active in Christ’s time on earth.

Now fast forward again to your own salvation. Our salvation happened way before you and I were even around. In fact, the Bible says, “God the Father chose you before the foundation of the world.” Chose you. So the Father chose you, the Son Jesus Christ came to the earth and redeemed you, and it was the Holy Spirit who drew you to Christ and, once you come to Jesus Christ, sanctified you. Let’s look at a fishing analogy, fishers of men. God the Father sent Jesus Christ his Son fishing. The Holy Spirit baited the hook, lured you to Christ. Jesus caught you and once he caught you it’s the Holy Spirit who cleaned you. And every fish Jesus catches he cleans through his Holy Spirit.

The unique thing about the Holy Spirit is that He lives within us. He leads us to do God’s will, He speaks to us through thoughts and feelings. When you read the Bible did you ever come across a scripture that you’ve read before, but somehow it’s new this time. And it’s like, “Wow, that means so much to me right now. That truth is so important to me.” Something was unlocked. How does that happen? It’s the Holy Spirit doing that; that’s His job. I Corinthians Chapter 2:9&10 says, “[_Eye has not seen nor has ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of men the things that God has prepared for them that love him but God has revealed them to us by his Spirit.” _]It’s the Spirit’s job to do that. So all three do work and they do it together.

Let’s get back to the theme of this devotional – Is two-thirds Enough. How important is the Holy Spirit in our prayer life? Paul thought it was important. In closing out II Corinthians he writes “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Or in Romans 8:6 – “The Holy Spirit helps us in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we ought to pray for.” So the Spirit not only helps us in our weaknesses but leads us to know what to pray for. There are many other examples, spoken by Christ and the authors of the New testament. In fact, it’s the Holy Spirit who gave those authors the words and ideas that God wanted recorded. God, in the from of the Holy Spirit, breathed his word into their minds.

We all should cultivate a sense of the presence of all three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in our lives. If we’re looking for something involving ourselves – guidance in a decision, strength to change a sinful behavior, words to write or say to someone who needs Christ in their life, ask the Holy Spirit; that’s His job. If we’re praying for God’s intervention for a sick relative, ask the Father. If we’re thanking God for saving us from the sinful life we were living, talk to Christ. This will help us develop a better understanding of the how the three persons of the Trinity interact in our lives.

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Sewing Up The Veil

When God had led Israel out of Egypt, He gave Moses specifications for the Tabernacle. These plans included a section in the back – the Holy Of Holies – where the Ark of the Covenant was kept behind a veil. Starting in Exodus 25:8 God tells Moses about this special area:

25:8 – And let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.

26:31 – 33 [31 _][“You shall make a veil woven of blue, purple, and scarlet_] thread, and fine woven linen. It shall be woven with an artistic design of cherubim. 32 _][_You shall hang it upon the four pillars of acacia wood overlaid with gold. Their hooks shall be gold, upon four sockets of silver. 33 _][_And you shall hang the veil from the clasps. Then you shall bring the ark of the Testimony in there, behind the veil. The veil shall be a divider for you between the holy place and the Most Holy.

29:43 – And there I will meet with the children of Israel, and the Tabernacle be sanctified with my glory.

Hebrews 9 summarizes the design 2 _][_For a tabernacle was prepared: the first part, in which was the lamp stand, the table, and the showbread, which is called the sanctuary; 3 _][_and behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All, 4 _][_which had the golden censer and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant; 5 _][_and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. 6 _][_Now when these things had been thus prepared, the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services. 7 _][_But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance.

The purpose of this veil was to separate the unrighteous people of Israel from being in God’s Holy presence. It was a separation from God that could not be crossed except as prescribed. Anyone else coming behind the veil died instantly.

But what happened to this veil when Christ died on the cross?

Matt 27:50 – 51And Jesus cried out again in a loud voice and yielded up His spirit. Then behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.

What did this mean? It symbolized the New Covenant – that all people could now have direct, continual access to God through Jesus Christ. The veil no longer had to separate man from God.

But what does it mean to us, now? It means that, when we accepted Christ’s sacrifice as the one and only means to our salvation, that when we stepped from being an unholy sinner who God couldn’t allow in His presence, to the righteousness that allows us to be close to God, to be in His presence, the veil in our heart that kept us from God was torn open – ripped from top to bottom. We can probably still remember the joy of that moment, of knowing God’s love, of feeling His Holy Spirit within us.

This symbolism and the truth it points to is not new to us – we’ve heard it before. But do you know what the Jews did after the veil was torn? They sewed it back up!!! They closed the direct path to God that Christ had created. They were so set in their old ways that they couldn’t understand what it meant. They had to repair the barrier between them and God.

Here’s where I’m going with this. Since you accepted Christ and felt the veil tear in your heart, what have you done with it? Have you left it wide open so you can be with God every day, in everything you say and do? Or have you started sewing the veil back up – not all the way, but just enough to try to shield from God’s eyes that part of the old you that you don’t want to give up? And once you’ve started to sew it back up a little bit, it gets easier and easier to add more stitches now and then. Think about it – what’s the status of your veil today? Is it time to remove those stitches that are once again putting distance between you and God?

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The Winery

A man decided to go into the wine business, starting from scratch. He knew something about the chemistry of wine making and a little about farming, so he thought “How hard can it be?” He found some good property in the Napa Valley and settled in. In the spring of the first year he prepared the dirt for the vineyard and planted 10,000 grape vine seedlings suitable for winemaking. At the end of the first year, he tended them and pruned them. But in the first year, grape vines don’t produce fruit. So through the summer of the second year, he tended and pruned them again, but two-year grape vines don’t produce grapes either. On the third year, his plants produced their first grapes. But he had learned that, if you don’t harvest the first crop of grapes, the grapes in later years will be larger and juicier, so he let the grapes fall to the ground.

Finally, at the end of the fourth summer, his field produced the first crop of wine grapes. He had a big harvest celebration, pressed the grapes, put the juice in caskets to ferment, and bottled his first wine. But wine has to age for three or four years before the flavor reaches maturity. So eight years after he planted his first seedlings, he finally had a product to sell. Of course, there was no profit that year because of the eight years of preparation with no income. In fact, it was fifteen years after he first started his winery when he finally broke even and started showing a profit.

It’s like that with God and us. When He first leads us to accept Christ as our savior, we’re “seedling” Christians, struggling to overcome the forces of nature and put some roots down. Over the next few years, He tends us and prunes us. This pruning is often painful, as I suppose it is for the grape vines. Just when we think we’re growing in our closeness to God and Christ, He allows things into our lives that get in the way of that growth, that hurt us emotionally, physically, financially. But He knows what He’s doing. Every one of these trials, that we see as setbacks, are building up our weak points, strengthening us for what’s to come, and preparing us to be the fully developed Christian that God has in mind. Like with the wine, it may be years before we can live in the peace He can provide, and become the “fine wine” that only God can make.

The moral of this story? Wherever you are in your life and your walk with God, have hope in the truth that God has plans for you later on, after you realize what’s really important in your life. Don’t despair that you’re spending the best years of your life trapped somewhere. Simply pray for guidance, follow the Holy Spirit who lives within you and will direct your path, if you let Him, and KNOW that God will use you when it’s your time. Many famous businessmen, scientists, pastors, and leaders didn’t make their mark until they were older – Col. Harlan Sanders, Thomas Edison, Joyce Meyer, Nelson Mandela are but a few. If they had lost hope and given up, they never would have reached their full potential and made the impact on the world that they did. Be patient if the time of your fullness has not yet come.

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CHAPTER 7 – ON FAITH

How Much Faith Do You Have In Your Faith?

You all know the story about Abraham and Isaac – when God commanded him to take his son up on the mountain and sacrifice him – kill him. I’ve always had some issues with this. If God asked that of me would I do it? Of course not. Times are different now. We don’t offer blood sacrifices to God any more, and He doesn’t command us to do such things. But, even though blood sacrifices were common in Abraham’s time, how could he go ahead with all the preparations, without even questioning God about it? The story had a happy ending when God provided a ram stuck in the bushes as a replacement for Isaac.

But here’s the question – Why did God command Abraham to kill His son? What was His purpose? The answer we usually get is that God was testing Abraham’s faith – God wanted to know how strong his faith was. Once God saw him ready to plunge the knife into Isaac, God knew Abraham’s faith was unwavering, no matter what the cost. God now knew he could trust Abraham with the future of His chosen people.

But what’s wrong with this picture? God is omniscient – He knows everything, past present and future, so why would He need a demonstration of Abraham’s faith – God knew all along how strong his faith was and how he would respond to the command. So if God already knew the outcome, why would he put Abraham through this test. Because God didn’t want to see how strong Abraham’s faith was, He wanted Abraham himself to see how strong his own faith was! And He wanted Abraham to see that, if he remained strong in his faith, God would rescue him.

So what’s in it for us here? The next time you are going through a really tough time, consider that God may be trying to teach you how strong – or weak – your own faith is. When you turn to Him in prayer asking for relief from your burden, do you have absolute confidence that God is in charge of the situation? Or do you pray hoping that God may answer you, but preparing yourself just in case God doesn’t come through. Is your faith in your faith like Abraham’s, or do you worry that God won’t help you out? If you do, then your faith in your own faith – your confidence that God is really in charge – isn’t very strong.

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Electricity and Faith

People understand electricity at different levels. To most, all they know is that when they plug the toaster in, it works and that lightning is bad stuff. But some understand a little more about it. They know about amps and volts and watts, and maybe even load resistance, and with that knowledge they have a deeper understanding of how electricity behaves. And with that knowledge they can repair and upgrade electrical systems.

Still others understand electricity at the atomic level. They know that current in a wire is actually a stream of tiny electrical charges, electrons, jumping from one copper atom to the next, and that lightning is a huge river of these charges. And with that knowledge, they can develop better conductors and lightning protection.

There are a few that understand electricity down to the quantum physics level. They can tell you why the atoms and charges behave the way they do and why current can flow forever in a wire loop submerged in liquid helium. And with that knowledge they can create transistors and superconducting magnets.

But regardless of how deep your understanding of electricity goes, when you plug the toaster in, it works. That’s the fundamental truth of electricity.

Our understanding of God is a lot like this electricity example. All some people know is, that through their faith in Christ, their sins are forgiven and they’re going to heaven when they die. But those who have studied the Old Testament – with its repeated examples that men and women cannot keep God’s Laws on their own, with the prophecies of Christ, with the details of who God is, and what His plans for us are – have a deeper understanding of the meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection.

Those who study the New Testament understand even more – what will happen when we die, the tribulation, how Christ will triumphantly return to set up a new kingdom on earth, what God expects of us and the church. They begin to understand how God, Christ and the Holy Spirit can be separate yet one and the same.

Then there are the theologians who have the deepest understanding of all. These are the “quantum physicists” of bible study. They study every word, phrase and sentence in the Bible – in Hebrew, Greek, and modern language versions – so they can grasp the full meaning of all the allegories, metaphors, and prophecies and from that, know the full importance of God, His word, and His plan for us.

But even the deepest understanding of the Bible doesn’t change the simple fact that Christ died for our sins so we can draw close to God and have everlasting life. That’s the fundamental truth of Christianity.

So where does all this lead to? It tells us that we shouldn’t get upset when we don’t understand passages we read in the Bible, that we don’t have to grasp the deep meaning of the Trinity or the symbolism of the Old Testament to have Christian faith. You don’t need to understand everything to be just as good a Christian as the theologians. Just like the toaster, we only need to understand the fundamental truth of our faith – “it works when we plug it in.”

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Praying with Conviction

Based on a sermon by Pastor Chuck Swindoll

I wonder how many of us really, really trust that God will answer our prayers? Whether we’re praying for help with life’s problems, or for someone with a serious illness to be healed, do we pray with the absolute conviction that God will respond? Unfortunately, for many if not most modern Christians, the answer is “not really.” Christians today tend to go through the motions of prayer, but their attitude is more about hope than of complete trust in God.

How about the original Christians. Certainly they knew how to pray with conviction. These early Christians, who were meeting secretly for worship and prayer, must have had complete faith that God would answer those prayers. After all, Christians back in those days had the words of Christ – “Whatever you ask in my name, it will be granted” – ensuring that their prayers would be answered. Surely these were men and women of great conviction.

Acts 12 recounts one of these church meetings. It starts with the persecution the early Christians by Herod Agrippa. When Herod had James put to death, he saw that it pleased the Jewish leaders so he had Peter seized and put in prison, intending to bring him before the people after Passover in a mock trial, just as had been done with Jesus.

While Peter was in prison, the church gathered at John’s mothers house and prayed fervently that Peter would not be put to death.

You all know what happened next. An angel of the Lord came to Peter, released the chains from Peter’s hands, and said “quickly, get dressed and follow me.” Peter thought it was simply a vision until the angel led him past two guard posts and through the prison gate without the guards seeing them.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the church was praying for God to free Peter. Their prayer was interrupted by a knock on the front gate. A servant girl, Rhoda, answered Peter’s knock and before she even opened the gate, she recognized Peter’s voice. She immediately ran back to the gathering and announced that Peter was at the gate. And the people responded with great shouts of “Hallelujah, God has answered our prayers like we knew He would.”

Is that what happened? No, they told Rhoda that she was nuts, it couldn’t be Peter, he must be dead already and it’s his angel at the gate. But Peter keeps knocking so they went and opened the gate. And now did they welcome him with hallelujahs, praising God? Nope. They were astonished! “What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be in prison.”

So what’s wrong with this picture? Whatever they were doing, it wasn’t real prayer. When God pulled Peter out of prison, they were shocked! In their minds Peter was still in prison. They had zero faith that their prayer would be answered.

They were doing what we do a lot of, but we just don’t want to admit it – to others or even ourselves. Like those early Christians, we do what’s expected, going through the motions, hoping that maybe our prayers will be answered but not really expecting it.

We have to change this. We have to learn to pray with conviction! With absolute faith – not that God CAN answer prayer – but that God WILL answer our prayers. Does this mean that God will make everything we pray for come true? No, God works according to his own purposes. But if we aren’t praying with the unquestioned expectation that God will act in this matter, He may not even listen to our prayers. Change the way you pray. Pray earnestly, with full confidence that your prayers will be answered. Also, keep in mind that God’s answer to prayer may not be to change your circumstances but to give you peace and joy in spite of those circumstances.

One final note. It’s interesting that the only person in the room who immediately knew it was Peter at the gate, even without seeing him, was the young servant girl. Like so many children, she had absolute, unquestioning faith in God and in His power to do anything. She believed that, if the brethren were praying for Peter to be released, God would certainly make it happen. Maybe we should regain some of that child-like faith in our prayer life.

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Are You Listening?

What We Should Do When Our Prayers Remain Unanswered

Adapted from Charles F. Stanley

Have you ever felt as if God was giving you the silent treatment? Perhaps you are going through a physical illness, and despite your prayers for healing, the Lord has not intervened. Or maybe you’re seeking His direction for a major decision, and He’s just not answering.

At these times, questions run through our minds: [_Is He listening? Does He care? Why won’t He help me? _]If you’ve experienced a situation like this, you’re not alone. Mary and Martha knew the heartache, confusion, and disappointment of having their hopes dashed. When their brother Lazarus became sick, they sent word to Jesus. But when He got the message, He waited two more days before going to them. Mary and Martha expected the Lord to drop everything and come and heal their brother. As they waited and watched Lazarus’s get sicker – until one day he died. They were asking “Where was Jesus? Why hadn’t He come?” Just like them, we sometimes ask “Why doesn’t the Lord answer my prayers?

Silent times are often God’s means of preparation for something greater. Think about the story of Lazarus. Jesus delayed for a good reason: instead of healing an illness, He was planning to raise His friend to life and bring His Father glory. That incident convinced many of the Jews that Jesus was their Messiah. God’s silence is never random or indifferent. Every time He’s quiet, He has a good reason.

Maybe it’s because we’re not ready to listen.

Sometimes the problem is not God’s silence, but our inability to hear His response. If we’re so caught up in our worldly lives, our minds won’t be tuned for His voice. He could be shouting, and we still wouldn’t hear Him.

Maybe it’s because unconfessed sin is blocking our communication with God.

Isaiah 59:2 says:

“But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.”

We can’t expect to hear from the Lord if we’re offending His Spirit by doing things that He forbids. Until we confess and deal with our sin, we might not hear anything from God, other than His conviction of our behavior.

Maybe He just wants to get our attention.

Many of us limit our relationship with the Lord. We see Him as a distant God in heaven whose job is simply to listen to our prayers and send down the answers. We don’t pray seriously until there’s an urgent need in our life, otherwise we don’t have time for Him. That isn’t the kind of relationship the Lord wants to have with us. Instead of coming with a list of requests, He wants us to enjoy just being with Him. I think that’s why He sometimes withholds answers to our prayers. He’s trying to get our attention and draw us into a more intimate relationship.

Maybe He’s teaching us to trust Him.

Can you trust God when He doesn’t respond? Does your faith weaken when He doesn’t immediately answer to your prayer? His silence doesn’t mean He’s ignoring you. He’s already working on the situation. Whatever He’s planning will be best for you. We’re called to live by faith, not by feelings or answered prayers. The important issue is not what you see or feel, but what God has promised.

Maybe God is using silence to help us grow.

As we see in children, immaturity is characterized by an unwillingness to wait. They want it now! Sadly, that’s how some Christians behave—and the more urgent the need, the more demanding they become. But when we place our demands on the Lord, we’re forgetting that He is God and we are not. Patience is an invaluable trait that God wants to develop in all of us.

Maybe He’s teaching us to be persistent in prayer.

Jesus emphasized the importance of persistence in prayer in Luke 11:5-13. Sometimes when we pray, it feels as if there’s a wall between God and us, even though we’re walking faithfully with Him. The way through this barrier is to keep on praying. A good example of this is when, for the first time, the men of our church choir sang a hymn together as a quintet. One of the women stood up afterwards and said “You don’t know how long we have been praying for this.”

Maybe the Lord wants us to learn to distinguish His voice.

When God is silent, we’re frequently tempted to rely on our own solutions or ask friends for advice. But how can we know if these ideas are from the Lord? The time to begin recognizing God’s voice is not at the point of desperation, but during a lifelong relationship of intimate communication. The key is to become so familiar with His voice that we’ll be able to discern whether or not He’s speaking.

How should we respond when God is silent?

Think about what happens when you don’t receive an answer to prayer. Initially, most of us are disappointed or confused, especially when we have a scriptural promise and God isn’t doing what He said. If the silence continues, doubts arise, and we can easily descend into discouragement. Some people feel guilty or afraid, thinking they’ve done something wrong and God has deserted them. Others get angry with Him. All these are natural reactions but there’s a better way to respond. The next time you feel God isn’t answering your prayer, follow these steps:

[_Ask why. _]It’s not wrong to question the Lord in order to gain understanding about His ways. He may show you which of the above things is the reason for His inaction.

[_Wait for His timing. _]God has infinite knowledge and wisdom. He knows exactly what to do and when to do it to achieve the effect in your life He wants.

[_Trust Him. _]The Lord may seem silent, but that doesn’t mean He isn’t involved. He’s personally interested in the details and is actively working out every situation according to His good purposes.

Work on a more intimate relationship with Him. When we respond to the silent times with submission, trust, and patience, our relationship with Christ is enriched and deepened.

Read the Bible. If God’s voice is unclear, reading His Word is a good place to tune in. That’s where His thoughts, desires, and ways are revealed. It’s simply His voice in written form.

Keep praying. Don’t stop communicating with the Lord. Keep asking, seeking, and knocking, but don’t let it end there. Sit quietly with Him and listen.

If you faithfully and patiently wait for Him, you’ll discover that your relationship with Him has deepened through the experience. You will have learned to sit with Him through silence, not relying on His activity to encourage you, but simply delighting in His presence. If you’ll make this a habit in your life, your negative response to the turmoil in your life will disappear, and in its place, you’ll find peace and satisfaction in your relationship with Him.

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CHAPTER 8 – ON TRUSTING GOD

Degrees of Trust

I’ve talked before about how salvation is a binary thing – like a light switch being either on or off – you either have salvation or you don’t . The light switch can’t be only partly on, and you can’t be only partly saved. Here’s a question that came to me – is the same thing true about our trust in God? After thinking on this for a couple of weeks I’ve come to the conclusion that this trust should also be binary – all or nothing – but that’s seldom true for Christians. I think that all too often our trust in God is on a sliding scale. Let me give some examples.

If we pray for a safe trip for relatives on the road, we’re pretty confident that God will grant that prayer. We trust God and have confidence they will have a safe trip based on that trust. After all, they’re safe drivers and have never been in a serious accident. Here’s the big question: does our degree of trust in God have any relationship to how likely the prayed for event will happen? Does their safe driving record impact how much we trust that God will deliver them safely? It certainly shouldn’t, but I think it often does. Let’s take this example in a little deeper.

If we would assign a numerical score of our trust level we might trust God fully to grant this particular prayer. But what if Grandpa, the driver, is 92 years old and has had several accidents in the past few months? The chance of him having another accident is pretty high, so maybe we only trust God 75% to answer our prayer for a safe journey. And what if Grandpa insists on driving home even though there is a blizzard turning all the roads into ice. Would you still have a high confidence level that God will keep them safe? Or would you assign a trust level of 50% or so to the successful granting of our prayer.

Do you see where I’m going with this? I hope so because I’m not sure myself. It seems to me that we often let doubt – the negative side of trust – influence our confidence that God will answer our prayers. The least likely the outcome is, the more doubt and less trust we have in God to deliver the outcome we pray for. Here’s an extreme example, from our church, that illustrates this. Ana Rodriguez has cancer – bad cancer. It’s spread to her ovaries, stomach, and both lungs. The initial attempts at chemotherapy put her life in immediate danger so they had to stop. We all pray for Ana – we pray every day for her, asking God to heal her cancer and restore her health. But from a practical standpoint, based on what we know about cancer, we probably believe the cancer will kill her before long. If we were to assign a trust level to our prayers for Ana’s healing being answered, it might be 10% or less. On the doubt scale that’s 90% – doubt that God will save Ana.

As Christians, we’ve developed ways to “hedge our bets” on such prayers. So we pray “Lord, , I ask that you heal Ana.” But by adding that preface, we’re exposing our lack of trust that God will heal her cancer. We’re “giving God a way out” in answering our prayer – a way that allows us to accept our doubts that Ana will recover and still keep our trust in God. There’s nothing wrong with this thinking. We know that God’s will is supreme; it takes precedence over our own wants and wishes. But when we pray for Ana’s healing, the doubt – the lack of complete, 100% trust in God, lurks in our minds.

So what do we do with this issue of trusting in degrees – of our lack of confidence in God and Christ to answer our prayers, every time all the time – even the seemingly impossible ones? I see two approaches here. First, we need to pay attention to what we pray for. If, like I talked about last week, we pray for the Mercedes Benz instead of any old car that will meet our needs, we are asking too much and we would be right to doubt that He will answer our prayer with what we want. If we pray more generally rather than too specifically we are more likely to see our trust rewarded. In Ana’s case I think a good prayer would be “Lord, we ask that you intervene in Ana’s health issues, that you give her peace and comfort through this trial, that you lift her worries and fears from her, that you help her trust in you and know you are indeed in charge and will create the outcome that is in your will.”

The second approach I see to help us work towards trusting God fully is to realize, and accept, that we’re not in control of our lives – God is. Whatever happens to us – good or bad – God will use for His Glory. Maybe to strengthen our own faith or the faith of others, or to show others the difference believing in Christ can make in their lives, or to show others that we look forward to joining you and Christ in Heaven when it’s our time to die.

My reason for this devotional topic was to help me gather some thoughts about my own lack of complete trust in God so I could figure out how to strengthen that trust. I thought by sharing it with you, it might offer you some personal insights on this topic.

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Do You Believe in God?

If you ask people “Do you believe in God?” many will answer yes. But this answer doesn’t mean much. Their view of the God they believe in may be God as Mother Nature, or God who created the universe, like winding a clock, and then sat back to watch it run with only a nudge now and then to keep it running. Or maybe they think God is only an internal spiritual thing – if you ask them what religion they are they might respond “Well, I’m spiritual.” Have you ever heard that? I have. So if you only ask someone if they believe in God, a yes answer may not mean much.

You could narrow this down by asking “Do you believe in God AND Christ?” They may answer “I believe in God but I’m not sure about Christ.” That would have been my answer the first few years after I turned to God. Or they might say what my father told me when I was 12 and asked him who he thought Jesus was, “Jesus was a great man, a great philosopher, but I don’t think He is the Son of God.” Or, as most Christians today would answer, “Of course. I believe in them and I believe Christ is the Son of God.” But if you go a little deeper and ask if they’re saved, if they believe Christ died for their salvation from sin, many will hesitate because they don’t really understand that concept very well. That’s especially true for those who come from a non-evangelical church background.

So what could you ask people instead of “Do you believe in God and Christ” to help you, and them, understand where they’re at? How about “I know you believe in Christ, but do you believe Christ – believe all that He said – about Himself, about God the Father, about how to become righteous, about you and everyone else being sinners in need of rescue through Him? Do you believe His two great commandments, the Great Commission, that your everlasting life begins the moment you accept Christ as your savior.”

And then ask the final question “If you believe Jesus, do you DO what He asked of you?” That’s a good question to ask yourself. I think we all ought to get out a red-letter copy of the New Testament now and then, where all of Jesus words are printed in red. Then make a list of all of Christ’s instructions to his followers. Put the instruction or commandments in the left column and in three columns to the right add the headings I Do Follow, I Don’t Follow, I’m Not Sure. Finally, for each of Christ’s instructions put a check mark in the column that applies to you and your life. We all will have a lot of Don’t Follow and Not Sure check marks, because learning to follow God’s word is a lifelong project. But add up the check marks in each column – If you have more Don’ts than Dos you need to spend some time thinking about how you might change that. Maybe start with the Not Sure items and decide what you need to do to move some of them to the Do column. Pick two or three to work on until you’ve made the changes in your words and actions that put them in the Do column. Go back to your list every few weeks and pick a couple more to work on. Then start on the Don’t column. I think honest self-assessment is the only way we can keep growing in faith, moving closer to being the Christian Christ wants us to be, and this approach can provide that assessment.

Authors Note: The quick answer to the question “Do you believe in God?” is “Even Satan believes in God.”

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God’s Hand in the Small Stuff

The greatest miracle in all of history is the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ. At this time of year we focus mostly on Christ’s birth, but this wasn’t the only thing God made happen then. His hand is in several events related the birth. I’d like to go over these to show that God doesn’t just do the big things, but He also manages the details that support the big things.

In Luke 1, when Mary came to visit Elizabeth, shortly after the angel told her she had conceived a child by the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth knew instantly, through the Holy Spirit, that Mary was carrying God’s Son. And Elizabeth told this to Mary. So why did God create this event, this minor detail in the unfolding story? If we look at Elizabeth’s last words in Verse 45 we might see the answer. She said “Blessed is she who believed those things told to her by the Lord.” Maybe the words the Angel told Mary had faded in her mind as she went back to her daily life, and God, through Elizabeth, reminded her how important the baby in her womb was.

This possibility is supported by how Mary responded to Elizabeth in Verses 46-55. She remembers bits and pieces of the prophecies and uses them in her prayer of joy and thanksgiving Verse 47 is from Habakkuk 3:18, Verse 48 is from Psalm 138:6, Verses 49 & 50 are from Psalm 103:7, Verse 51 from Psalm 98:1, and Verses 54 & 55 from Genesis 17:7 & 19. God is bringing all these old prophecies to her to strengthen her understanding and emphasize the importance of the role Jesus will play in Israel and the world.

Another detail that God had His hand in was the birth of John the Baptist. He told Elizabeth’s husband, Zacharias, that she would have a child, even though she was a barren senior citizen. The angel told them that their son will be great in the eyes of the Lord and filled with the Holy Spirit. That he would turn many of the children of Israel back to the Lord. God arranged for the lives of John and Jesus to intersect twice – once before they were born and again as Jesus starts His ministry. John could have been born anytime and they wouldn’t have met in their mothers’ wombs, but God used the baby John to signal Elizabeth that Mary’s child was the Lord.

And what about Caesar’s decree that everyone must return to their hometown for a census? Was that just happenstance? Or was it another detail God created so that the prophesied Savior would be born in Bethlehem, as He had revealed through the prophet Micah over 700 years earlier?

Another detail is that God revealed Jesus’ birth to only two groups of people – shepherds in the field and wise men from the east. Why did He choose lowly shepherds and scholars from another country? Why not have the angel announce it to crowds at the Temple? I don’t know the answer, but it may be for the same reason Jesus was born in a manger – to bring him into the world quietly and humbly, so He could be prepared for His purpose without threat or influence by the priests of the Temple.

Did the wise men slip up when they told Herod about the birth of the King of the Jews, or did God have a purpose in that? Their action led to the family’s flight into Egypt until they returned after Herod’s death. Why would God want that to happen? To fulfill another one of His Old Testament prophesies recorded in Hosea 11:1.

Two other God-driven events occurred at the Temple, where Jesus was taken eight days after his birth, for the circumcision ritual. First, a just and devout man named Simeon was led to the Temple by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that “he would not see death until he saw the Lord’s Christ.” When he saw the baby Jesus he knew this was the fulfillment of that promise. He took the child, blessed him, and told Joseph & Mary what lay ahead for their child. God used Simeon to reveal to Joseph and Mary more details about the future mission of God’s son.

Also in the temple was Anna, a prophetess who lived in the temple serving God. She heard Simeon’s pronouncements and blessed the child herself, telling about Him to all who were looking for redemption. So like God did with the shepherds, He provided another spokesman to tell the working class Jews that the promised Messiah was among them.

So what’s my point in going over these less important details concerning Christ’s birth? It’s that God not only intervenes in the big things, but in all the small things that make the big things happen according to His plans. This was shown at the time of Christ’s birth and later throughout His ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection. It’s evident in everything we’ve been studying in our Sunday School lessons this year – the birth and growth of the Ekklesia, the Church.

I think we all accept that God has, and always has had, a plan for each of our lives. But it’s not just in the big things – like who we marry, how we raise our children, what church we go to, who He connects us with to share the Gospel. There are thousands of little details that God can control to bring us to where He wants us. But in all these details . . . we have the choice to follow God’s path or to do it our way. And if we ignore God’s will in these little details, then we may be interfering with the big things God has in store for us.

So, if we’re ignoring God’s will in everyday things, how do we fix that? We all turn to God for the important things. We ask Him to heal us or our sick relatives, we ask Him to bring someone to buy our house so we can move, we ask Him if He wants us to move somewhere else, we ask him to keep our daughter from marrying that idiot boyfriend. But do we turn to Him every day to ask for guidance about the small things – the things that pave the way for the bigger things? I don’t mean we should enquire about what to wear to church, or if it’s O.K. to go fishing tomorrow – those are not likely to be of interest to Him. What we should be doing is praying for the Holy Spirit to show us what is important to Him – to reveal which details He would like control of.

I’ve talked about this before and I’ll undoubtedly talk about it again – add 5 minutes to your morning prayer to ask God what He would like you to do that day. Tell Him whatever it is He wants, you’ll do it. Then wait quietly with an open mind for Him to speak with you. Much of the time you won’t get an answer, which I think means that He doesn’t need control over any details in your life that day. But once you ask Him this question – and pledge to follow His wishes – He may hit you with something during the day that He didn’t tell you about in your prayer. Maybe you’ll see someone in need and the Spirit will nudge you to take the time, effort, or money to help them out.

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Does God Bother With Details?

I’ve always wondered how much of what happens to us is God-controlled, and how much is just part of the random occurrences that make up our lives. Another way to put it: “Does God deal with just the general direction of our lives, or has He laid out daily paths to bring us to where He wants us at the end of the day. ” There’s a wide range of views on this, from “God simply wound up the world and history like a watch and stepped back to let things run on their own”, to “God plays a role in every thing that happens to us minute by minute. ” These two examples are the extremes that most Christians would reject. The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. I used to think He’s active mostly in the larger decisions – career choices, where to live, who to marry – decisions that will take us towards His goal for our lives.

But my thinking has changed on this issue, based mostly on personal experience. For example, I might decide I won’t go out visiting on Tuesday evenings, but often something – I know now it’s the Holy Spirit – makes me more uncomfortable with that decision as the day wears on. I get the feeling that God wants me to go. Sometimes when I’m tired, I use that as a rationalization to follow my own will and stay home. Sometimes I get busy on something and forget all about it until it’s too late – that’s probably Satan working in the details. I could give lots of examples where I feel God was involved in some detail of my life, but you get the point.

For the past couple weeks we have been covering the story of Joseph, at the end of the book of Genesis. We know the story – Jacob, the father of 12 sons, favors Joseph, making his brothers jealous. Joseph tells them of his dream symbolizing that someday they’ll bow down to him. Then Jacob sends Joseph to check on his brothers, who are supposed to be grazing their sheep in Shechem. When Joseph gets there, he finds they’ve moved up to the area of Dothan. When they see Joseph approaching, they plot to kill him and throw his body in a hole. But Rueben, the oldest, convinces them to just throw him in the hole to let him die, so they wouldn’t be committing murder. Rueben plans to come back later to rescue Joseph, but when he does Joseph is gone. The other brothers sold him to a merchant caravan that was passing by headed to Egypt.

Then Joseph get put in charge of Potiphar’s household, but gets thrown into prison because of a false accusation by Potiphar’s wife. Then the head jailer sees how smart Joseph is and puts him in charge of the whole facility. While he was there he interprets dreams by the kings baker and cup bearer, both of which come true. The cup bearer gets called back to serve the king and Joseph tells him as he leaves to mention him to the king. The cup bearer forgets all about Joseph until the king has a troubling dream. Joseph is called to interpret the dream – 7 years of plenty followed by 7 years of famine – and Pharaoh appoints Joseph to be in charge of everything. This puts him in a position to bring his father, Jacob, the brothers, and their families to Egypt and arrange for them to settle in Goshen, some of the richest farming and grazing land in the country.

I think you can get where I’m going with this. God wanted Joseph to go to Egypt, so His guiding hand was behind everything that happened. Look at how this story might have turned out if God wasn’t behind every move.

First, if Jacob hadn’t favored Joseph, the brothers wouldn’t have hated him or wanted to kill him – end of story. If Jacob hadn’t sent Joseph to find his brothers – end of story. Or, when Joseph found them in Dothan, the brothers could have carried out their original plan to kill him – end of story. Or they could have thrown him in the hole alive, but there was no caravan passing by, which means Reuben would have rescued Joseph and taken him home to his father – end of story. If the brothers hadn’t moved from Shechem to Dothan, next to the merchant’s road from Damascus to Egypt – end of story. Or if God hadn’t arranged for the caravan to leave Damascus at just the right time to be passing by the brothers at just the right time, – end of story. Or if the brothers hadn’t put blood on Joseph’s coat and taken it home to their father so he would assume Joseph was dead, Jacob might have sent out a search party to bring Joseph back home – end of story.

I could go on through Joseph’s time in Egypt and we would see the same picture. I’ll just point out one detail that I noticed. While he was running Potiphar’s household, and later the prison, it’s likely that Joseph was learning the management skills he would need later when Pharaoh put him in charge of the entire country.

The point is that, from this story, we can see God behind every little detail that happened to get Joseph to where God wanted him – the prime minister of Egypt. And all of this was achieve a later goal, to move Abraham’s descendants to a place in Egypt where their numbers would grow to millions and become a nation, just as God promised Abraham.

So the bottom line here is that God involves Himself in our lives to whatever level of detail is necessary to move us forward in His plan for our lives.

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CHAPTER 9 – FAITH PLUS NOTHING

 

Grace vs. Works

In the book of Romans, especially in Chap. 3, Paul is telling the Jews, who measured their holiness by their own efforts to follow the Jewish law [their works], that obeying the religious law cannot make you righteous [perfectly clean so you can be close to God]. There is nothing anyone can do to earn God’s righteousness. It is a free gift that, through His Grace [His unmerited favor upon us], He gives us. But this goes against our natural instincts. We believe that, since we have been so terribly disobedient to God in our past life, there’s no way He will give us forgiveness for free, with no strings attached.

From the time we are babies, we spend our lives trying to “earn” love and approval through our own efforts. If only we can become potty trained, behave, make better grades, have better manners, be better husbands, do our job better; then those who matter most to us -- our parents, teachers, spouses, bosses, – will give us the love and approval we crave. We’re conditioned by the world to believe that only through our works can we be loved and accepted.

This conditioning is what makes it so hard for us to believe that God will accept us and love us exactly as we are. There is nothing we have to do or can do to earn this – God’s love is unconditional! There is nothing we have done in the past or can do in the future that will cause God to reject us! This concept goes against everything we have learned. We have to overcome our worldly conditioning to understand this vital point if we are to have the close, personal, unconditional relationship with God that He desires for us: God’s grace is a gift, given by Him to whomever believes in and asks for forgiveness of sin based on Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross. Believing that we must somehow “earn” that gift is like getting a birthday gift that you have to pay the giver for.

A good illustration of this is the crucifixion scene in Luke 39 – 43. There were two criminals on crosses beside Jesus. One of them said “If you’re the Messiah prove it by saving yourself and us.” But the other answered “Don’t you fear God? We’re condemned to death justly [for the criminal deeds we did] but He is innocent. Then he turned to Jesus and said “Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom.” Jesus answered him “I promise you that today you will be with me in paradise.” Instant forgiveness of one criminal’s sin! Why one and not the other? Because the first showed his disbelief that Jesus was who He said he was, but the second accepted Jesus as the Son of God by recognizing His kingdom as a truth. He was forgiven because of His faith in Christ.

Paul preached the Gospel of Grace given to Him by God – We are saved by Grace through our faith in Jesus Christ. That’s the only requirement – Faith plus nothing!

Eph 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is a gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

Some will point to James 2:14-17 as proof that works are required in order to be saved, but that’s not what he is saying. Here’s the passage from the NIV Bible:

^14^What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? ^15^If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, ^16^and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? ^17^Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

James is not saying that you must do works to before God will forgive your sins. If you have faith in Christ you are forgiven. What he does say is that, if you are saved by your faith in Christ, that faith is of no earthly use unless you serve God by your actions.

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Here Come Da Judge

O.K., here’s the situation. You’re toolin’ down the road in the middle of nowhere, enjoying the scenery, singing along to your favorite country songs and not paying attention to how fast you’re going. The music is so loud that you don’t hear the siren at first – not until the police car gets 100 feet behind you. You look up at your rear view, then down at your speedometer and say “Uh Oh. I’m in trouble.” The officer pulls you over – gets out of his car – puts on his Smokey hat – pushes the sun glasses up on his nose – adjusts his holster in case he has to make a quick draw – and saunters up to your car with ticket book in hand. He looks just like the troopers in all the bad movies you’ve ever seen. [John Goodman comes to mind here.]

He tells you in his southern drawl “Step outta the car.” You ask “Don’t you need to see my license and registration?” to which he replies “We don’t do things that way around here.” After patting you down he says “You were going 90 in a 55 zone. I’m gonna have to take you in.” You know with all the tickets you’ve ignored over the years you’ll lose your license over this one, so you take a chance and say “Isn’t there some kind arrangement you and me can come up with” hoping you can buy him off for a couple hundred dollars. He gives you a stern look and says “Now you’re really in trouble. Turn around and so I can cuff you.”

He puts you in the back seat of his squad car, slams the door, gets in the front, turns his lights and siren on, and speeds away at 90 mph. Things don’t seem quite right to you, especially when you realize that the car had no city, county, or state markings on the door. So you ask him where he’s taking you and he says “You don’t need to know that.” After a half hour of winding through cypress trees, swamps, and gators he pulls into a small town that looks like it’s a hundred years old – or two, or three. He pulls up in front of an old court house, pulls you out of the car, and takes you to a cell in the basement. “How long will I be in here?” He says “Well the Judge should be around in a few days.”

You look around the cell and see something out of all the bad movies you’ve ever seen – again. Scratches on the wall to keep track of how long others have been here – some of them with several months of marks. There’s a window with bars, but no glass. You notice how warm it is in here and look around for an air conditioning vent, but there are none. Two days later a deputy comes down to handcuff you and take you up to see the Judge.

You see a big stack of papers in front of the Judge. “Son, you have quite a stack of violations here – speeding, failure to stop at a stop sign – you have 63 of those – too fast through school zones, 2 leaving the scene of the accident charges, 12 for parking in front of fire hydrants, 146 parking meter expiration offenses . . . I could go on for another half hour – but you get the picture.” “But your honor, I never got caught for most of those. How can they be on my record?” “We have a record of everything here, son.” “But how can that be? Even computers can’t have a record of things I didn’t get caught at?” The Judge says “This is a special court, son. We know everything.”

So, now that you know we have a record of everything, how do you plead?” You’re confused – this is moving too fast. “Wait a minute, here! Don’t I get a lawyer.” “Oh, I almost forgot about that part. Bailiff, call in the Lawyer.” A tall man in a white, double breasted suit and straw hat steps in and sits down beside you. Now things are looking up! You lean over and ask Him “Can you get these charges dismissed.” He says “No, that’s not my job here. Just wait.” The judge repeats “How do you plead.” You look at your Lawyer and He just shrugs. You really have no other choice, since they’ve got the goods on you. “[_ Well, I guess I’m guilty, your Honor.” “You GUESS you’re guilty?? Look at all the evidence I have here. Are you guilty or not?” ] You figure if you admit to it all and throw yourself at the mercy of the court the Judge might go easier on you. [“Yes Sir, I am guilty as charged of everything against me.”_]

The Judge says, “Time for lunch, we’ll have sentencing after a two hour lunch break.” You turn to your Lawyer and ask “Is this where you negotiate for a shorter sentence?”It’s still not my time in these proceedings. Wait.” So you spend the next two hours back in your steaming hot cell wondering how many days you’ll get sentenced to in this place. When you get back into the courtroom the bailiff says “All rise. The court is in session for sentencing.” You look at your Lawyer one more time and he shakes his head, so you go up in front of the Judge. He says, as he riffles through your record, “Well, I see no attempt on your part to set things right on all these violations, so I sentence you to be locked up in the basement cell.” You wait for the rest, but the Judge is stacking up his papers like he’s ready to leave. So you ask him “How long your honor?” “Indefinitely” he replies. “You can’t do that – it’s unconstitutional!” And then you hear some really scary words from him. “The constitution has no meaning up here, son. I make all the rules.”

As you’re being led out you turn back to the Judge and ask “Isn’t there anything that can be done, your honor.” He says “Well . . . there is one thing that will get the charges dismissed” and looks over at my Lawyer. The Lawyer wakes up from his snooze when the Judge clears his throat and asks “Is it my turn now?” The judge says “You’ve been my Son all your life, been through an uncountable number of cases with me, and you still have to ask ‘Is it my turn now?’ You know the plan. Of course it’s your turn.” So your Lawyer stands up and says “Your honor – I would like to volunteer to serve this man’s sentence for him.” You intervene “Wait a minute, that’s not fair. He hasn’t done anything wrong.” The Judge agrees “That’s right, His record is totally clean.” “So why should he have to stay in that sweltering basement and serve my sentence?” “Because he volunteered. He knows how miserable it is down there, but he cares about you enough that he’s willing to pay for your crimes.” You look at the Lawyer – He nods at you and whispers “It’s O.K. That’s what I’m here for.”

You can’t believe someone cares about you so much that he would do this, but he seems willing, so you say “Alright your Honor, I’ll agree to let him suffer for me.” The bailiff comes over, puts the handcuffs on your Lawyer, and starts to lead Him away. “Can I have one last word with him your Honor?” You lean over to your Lawyer and say “How do I repay you for this? Can I send a check or something?” He chuckles and says “Son, there’s no way you could ever pay for this.” “Why not?” “Because it’s a free gift, and you don’t pay for gifts.” As they lead him off you say “I didn’t even get your name” but He’s already going down the steps. You look at the Judge and ask “He’s your Son, what’s His name?”

“Around these parts we usually call Him Jesus, but sometimes we call Him by His middle name, Christ.” “What’s His last name?” “Oh, it’s the same as mine – Yahweh – God in your language” The bailiff takes your cuffs off and the Judge says “Son, you’re free to go. I declare you Not Guilty.” As you approach the door the Judge calls to you “Don’t worry son. I’ll set Him free in three days.”

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The Haiku

I wondered what a Haiku was, so I looked it up online. It’s a short form of Japanese poetry that traditionally has 5 syllables in the first line, 7 in the second, and 5 in the third and final line. They aren’t required to rhyme. A Haiku often has deep meaning that goes beyond the words. The web site invited viewers to write a Haiku of their own, so I submitted this one:

[I hated my self,
__][but Christ recreated me,
and now I have peace . . .]

Notice my self is two words. That’s because I hated what was inside me, my self, my inner self, maybe what Freud called the ID, or the ego, or the subconscious. I think Jung’s description best fit what I felt – the inner child – an unloved child who controlled my thoughts and behavior in an attempt to keep itself hidden. Why did it need to stay hidden? In my analysis of myself, I believe it was because it thought it would die if discovered. It was a piece of me that never integrated with my adult self – a piece that broke off and was left behind for my adult self to deal with, a piece that infected me and surfaced later as a long suicidal depression.

Enough of the deep stuff. I don’t like to revisit those years. But it gives you an idea of where the Haiku came from. And the happy ending is that God made me into a new person that no longer hates himself. In fact, I love myself, and not in a prideful way.

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CHAPTER 10 – GOD AND SCIENCE

 

God and Science

Something many people struggle with – I certainly did and it kept me away from God most of my life – is the apparent contradictions between God’s word and Science. Some reject all things scientific because of this. But I’ve found in my attempts to understand both, that it isn’t about God vs. Science. God invented science – the laws of chemistry that allowed all the chemical elements to combine in a infinite number of ways to make everything – the laws of physics that guarantee things can’t fall up or the planets don’t whirl off into space, or keep rotating so one side of earth isn’t fried by the sun while the other is a deep freeze – the sunlight itself wouldn’t be if it weren’t for the laws of electromagnetic radiation and quantum physics. This morning I’d like to look at just a few of the things of science that demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that the universe and the perfect planet for us to live on couldn’t have happened by chance.

Let’s look at the conditions needed for us, the world, and the universe, that had to be met exactly, often within a fraction of a per cent, for the universe and everything in it to exist. Here are a couple of examples:

The “glue” that holds atoms and molecules together is the electromagnetic force. Unless this force takes on a particular value, molecules won’t happen Take the nucleus of an atom. There are electrons orbiting that nucleus. If the electromagnetism force is too weak, the electrons can’t orbit the nucleus – they’ll fly away. And if electrons can’t orbit nucleus, then electrons can’t be shared to form molecules. Without molecules, we have no life. On the other hand, if electromagnetism is too strong, the electrons will stick to the nucleus and can’t be shared to make molecules, and again we have no life. Unless this electromagnetic force is fine-tuned to a particular value, within a very narrow range, the universe and life could never have formed.

There’s also a problem with holding protons and neutrons together in the nucleus of atoms. These are held by something called the strong nuclear force, which is the strongest of the four forces of physics. If the nuclear force is too strong, all the protons and neutrons in the universe will stick together in one big lump. But if we make the nuclear force slightly weaker, none of the protons and neutrons will stick together to form a nucleus and only hydrogen can form. How sensitive is the design of this strong nuclear force required for life to exist? It’s so sensitive that if this force was 3/10ths of 1% stronger or 2% weaker, atoms, molecules, and life would be impossible in the universe.

We also have a problem with the protons and the neutrons themselves. The neutron is 0.138% more massive than the proton. Because of this, it takes a little more energy for the universe to make neutrons than it does protons. That’s why in the universe we have seven times as many protons as neutrons.

If the neutron were 1/10th of 1% less massive than it is, then the universe would make so many neutrons that all of the matter in the universe would very quickly collapse into neutron stars and black holes, and life would be impossible.

If the neutron was 1/10th of 1% more massive, then the universe would make so few neutrons, that all the heavier elements like Carbon, Oxygen, and Nitrogen couldn’t exist. I could go on and on, but you get the picture. If these forces and dozens of other factors weren’t exact, we’re not here. It seems pretty clear to me that life is no accident.

One more thing to look at is the Big Bang. Many say that the Big Bang never happened – that God made the universe. But we don’t know how He made it. He might have used the Big Bang to kick start everything. A scientist/pastor described it nicely – “First there was nothing . . . then it exploded.” Only God could have made something from nothing. If there’s a beginning there has to make it begin.

Next I’ll talk about a favorite science theory of so many Christians – Evolution. Most scientists say all life began from the smallest, simplest of cells. But 20 years ago some scientists who were Christians discovered something amazing that makes intelligent design by a creator undeniable. It’s called the principle of irreducible complexity. It says that there are many parts of the human body – indeed all higher life forms – that have no survival value by themselves. Lets look at a mousetrap as a simple example.

A mouse trap has 5 parts – a wooden base, a spring, a whacker, a catch, and a holding bar. All of these are needed, working together, for the mouse trap to function. It would be useless for the mousetrap to “evolve” the separate components that have no value at all until all five are assembled. An irreducibly complex system can’t come together gradually because none of the parts have any use by themselves.

An example from living systems is a cell. The tiniest cell is a factory containing thousands of exquisitely designed pieces of molecular machinery, made up of one-hundred million atoms (in each cell), far more complicated than any machine built by man. Yet the cell can’t function unless all the parts are there – from the beginning. The parts couldn’t have slowly assembled themselves into the finished state – they’re all or nothing. Either everything is there and it works, or something is missing and it doesn’t work. The human body is filled with parts and systems that offer no survival benefit unless all the components were there working together in the beginning, put there by the Designer.

There are dozens of numbers called the constants of physics – the speed of light, the index of refraction of free space, the permittivity of free space, the permeability of free space – I could go on for hours naming terms that are meaningless to you – many are meaningless to me. But if they weren’t all, both individually and in the relation to each other, within a gnat’s eyelash of being the precise value they are, nothing works.

I hope my point is clear by now. Science isn’t our enemy. God created everything to work together perfectly through the laws of science. No, the problem isn’t with science – it’s with the scientists putting their own ideas ahead of God’s laws.

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Natural Causes for God’s Miracles

Modern scientists have spent a lot of time figuring out how the miracles God and Jesus could have been caused by natural phenomena. I’m an expert on this because I spent the first half of my adult life believing there was no such a thing as miracles – they could all be explained by natural happenings or deception – magic tricks. God eventually straightened me out about this and I now see miracles as real demonstrations of God’s power to do things man cannot understand. But man has an inner need to find an explanation for everything, including the miracles of the Bible. We have all heard of these explanations, usually sold to the public as “facts”. I had a thought about this that I put on my Facebook page as the daily quote. I thought I’d share some of these with you.

I found a web site titled “10 Bible Miracles Explained by Science” that is a great example how far some scientists have to warp science to explain away God’s miracles. The crossing of he Red Sea by the Israelites as they fled from the Egyptians is one we’ve all heard explanations for. It was an unusual tide surge, or they didn’t really cross the Red Sea but went over the Sea of Reeds further north that’s very shallow. And of course the most common one – it was the wind. The latest theories on this is that it was a weather phenomenon known as wind set down, where the wind make the water back up and exposes the bottom. This kind of wind really happens, and has been seen several times around the word, especially in the Great Lakes. The problem with using it to explain away the Red Sea parting is that it always happens along a shoreline, not across the middle of a body of water. And the highest the pushed back water had ever been measured is 5 to 15 feet.

The next thing on the list was an explanation for the burning bush event with Moses. A scientist believes that the bush was above a small volcanic vent and that’s where the fire and smoke came from. And a psychologist is certain that the voice Moses heard wasn’t from God, but from a hallucinogenic plant that grows in the area.

This next one really made me laugh. A scientist has come up with a string of events that explain the 10 plagues of Egypt. He says that the water of the Nile turned blood colored because a variety of algae called Burgundy Blood. And when the algae bloom died off, it attracted frogs, lice and flies. And of course the insects carried diseases that affected the livestock and caused boils on people.

Then the eruption of the volcano on the island of Santorini caused hail and locusts. He doesn’t explain how a volcano spews out locusts, though. Finally, a fungus in the grain supply caused the death of the first born because they were young children with immature immune systems.

Sodom and Gomorrah was an easy one for the scientists – it was hit by an asteroid plunging through the atmosphere.

A medical doctor declared that Jesus healing miracles were the well-known placebo effect – tell someone that these sugar pills will cure them and their belief causes their body to recover – or that the healing was psychosomatic – they weren’t really sick, it was all in their minds.

The last on the list of 10 scientific explanations was about how Jesus walked on water. When fresh water flows into very cold salt water it forms a sheet of ice, called springs ice, just beneath the surface and that’s what Jesus walked on. Aside from the fact that it would have given Jesus frostbite, the scientist forgot to do his homework. The Sea of Galilee isn’t salt water, it’s a fresh water lake, so that kind of ice couldn’t have formed.

Other than giving us all a good laugh, I had a point in this. It’s the statement I put on Facebook:

God created the laws of science – physics, chemistry, biology – that make our world run smoothly. Some people use the laws He created to try to prove that He doesn’t exist. Consequently, many Christians consider science to be a bad thing. But it’s not the science, it’s the misguided scientists.

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Newton’s Second Law and God

Newton’s Second Law isn’t fair! Why can’t we turn a square corner at 60 miles per hour? Think how much easier life would be for all of us if we could push a stalled car as easily as we could a child’s wagon? And why shouldn’t a 120 lb football player be able to crash through the line just as easily as a 250 lb player? Newton’s Second Law just doesn’t seem reasonable.

Sir Isaac Newton formulated his Second Law of Motion to describe a property he observed in the laboratory, and in everyday life; a property we call “inertia” or “momentum”. As Newton stated it in 1686, “Change of motion is proportional to the moving force impressed and takes place in the direction of the straight line in which the force is impressed.” Inertia is one of the most fundamental properties of nature. Every person, animal, and object in the world is bound by its effects. Anywhere there is mass in motion, Newton’s Second Law is obeyed without exception.

Did the law of inertia apply before Newton so succinctly stated it, and quantified it in a mathematical formula? Of course! Man’s understanding, or lack of understanding, has no bearing on the truth of the law. Without a doubt, the majority of the population of the world has never seen Newton’s formula and wouldn’t understand it if they did, but most know the limitations it imposes on them and have learned to live within its bounds.

Does Newton’s Second Law apply even to those who do not believe it? We see the wreckage daily of drivers who didn’t believe it. Surgeons see the wreckage of athletes who didn’t believe it. We see on the news the wreckage of pilots who didn’t believe it.

But for those who do believe, and who apply that belief to their everyday lives, Newton's Second Law can be beneficial. A stalled car can be restarted by getting it moving and then letting the inertia of the car turn the engine over. A potter can keep his wheel turning smoothly with sporadic pushes on a pedal. A race car driver can shave second's off his time by sliding through the turns. Do any of these people have to understand the physics of Newton's Second Law? No -- they only have to believe and, through that belief, learn how to use the law for their benefit.

Newton’s Second Law is just one of many natural laws that govern our lives, our world, and our universe. These laws are absolute, whether or not we understand them fully, and whether or not we believe them. The history of physical science is the story of man trying understand the natural laws. With each law, the path to understanding was slow and fraught with wrong turns and dead ends. Even today, there are many relatively common natural laws that are not yet fully understood. But they still apply, and can provide benefit to those who believe that these laws exist.

There is another set of laws that govern the universe just as surely as do the natural laws. These are the spiritual laws. Although they may be not be as clear to us in our lives as the natural laws, all the above comments about natural laws can also be applied to the spiritual laws.

God just doesn’t seem fair. If He exists, why is there so much evil in the world? How could a loving God allow a child to die of cancer? Man doesn’t have a soul; it’s just not logical for part of us to live on after we die. How can we believe in something that we can’t see and don’t understand?

The spiritual laws of the universe, just like the natural laws, apply absolutely, even if man does not understand them. There are theologians, just as there are physicists, who make it their life’s work to improve understanding of the laws, and there are teachers who try to impart some of that understanding to others. For most of us, unfortunately, we’ve learned no more from our spiritual teachers than from our high school or college physics teachers. But we do not have to understand the spiritual laws to be bound by them any more than we have to understand Newton’s Second Law to be bound by it.

The spiritual laws also apply to those who do not believe in them. The world is filled with the wreckage of people who thought they could make it on their own, without God; of couples who thought the world’s plan for their marriage was better than God’s plan; of alcoholics and addicts who thought they could “kick the habit” with nothing but their own inner strength.

But for those who do believe, there can be abundant rewards. Spiritual laws, in the form of God’s biblical principles, can provide the moral and ethical framework for a successful career. God’s plan for marriage won’t eliminate conflict and stress in marriage, but it will provide the basis for dealing with those difficulties and the foundation of commitment essential to a strong marriage. And, for those who have learned to depend on God and accept the spiritual strength He can provide, the battle to overcome addictions and personal problems will be less painful and more likely to succeed.

Another parallel can be drawn regarding man’s perception of natural and spiritual laws. It is the way in which belief and acceptance grows. A child just learning to walk has many encounters with the principle of inertia. He just doesn’t believe that he will get hurt if he runs full-bore into coffee table, or tries to turn a square corner with his tricycle, or, as a teenager, tries to bring his Dad’s car from 60 miles per hour to a full stop in 20 feet. We each become believers at a different rate but fortunately most of us we do eventually become believers. So it is with spiritual belief. Some of us accept early, without question. Others of us must repeatedly test the boundaries, smashing against the pavement time after time until we finally can accept and believe in something we don’t understand. And, just like the freeway drivers who should have as their epitaph “I didn’t believe Newton’s Second Law”, there will be those of us who never believe that there are indeed spiritual laws governing our lives.

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Everlasting Life & Heaven

We know, directly from the words of Christ, that we as Christians have everlasting life. According to the scriptures, once we die we are assured that we will end up in heaven to be with God, Christ, and our family and friends who are Christians, on streets paved with gold. Wait a minute – streets paved with gold? I don’t know about you, but I have struggled with believing this. It just seems too preposterous to be true – it seems like something from man’s imagination and fairy tale wishes.

To strengthen my faith in this area, I decided to examine the idea of everlasting life and heaven.

The first thing I found was that everlasting life doesn’t begin when we die or are raptured; it begins when we accept Christ as our Savior. John 5:24 says this very clearly “Most assuredly I say to you, whoever believes in Him who sent me has everlasting life.” Jesus himself said that, when we believe, we have everlasting life, not we will have it in the future. And in John 17:3 Jesus praying to the Father says “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent.

So it’s clear that we – all of us who believe, who know God and Christ – have already begun our everlasting life right here on earth. This is sort of a Phase I of our everlasting life.

But what about heaven? It really stretches our sense of reality to see how such a thing as the scriptural heaven could actually exist. A bejeweled city with 12 gates, each made from a single pearl, wall foundations of precious jewels, and streets of gold. That’s beyond our imagination. It sounds like the preposterous wild invention of someone on drugs.

But is it any more spectacular that the universe, the earth, or the human body? As a scientist I’ve studied these things and found many things that are harder to believe than the heaven described in Revelation 21. Our bodies are a tremendously complex control system composed of hundreds of electro-chemical-mechanical subsystems, all interacting with each other to keep the our body functioning. What’s more, these subsystems are self correcting and self healing! If some chemicals get out of balance or an injury or illness disrupts this system, most of the time it adapts and repairs itself. And it can still work when major portions of it are missing. Did you know that there are people who have lost half their brains and still function pretty well? How preposterous is that!

Or the relationships among plants, animals, bacteria, and the world around us that allows them all to exist in harmony and even provide services to each other that makes life possible. Without the bacteria in our gut we couldn’t digest food. Look at the bee-flower relationship. The flower provides food for the bees and they spread the flower’s pollen so it can reproduce and make more flowers for more bees. How accidental is that?

Certainly if God can create all these, a city of gold would be child’s play for Him. God’s creation itself is more unbelievably spectacular than what we are told heaven is like. Creating such a place would be nothing to God compared to what else He has done.

There are teachers and scholars who don’t accept the idea that the description of heaven in Revelation 21:21 is literal. They contend it’s metaphorical. They say it’s too preposterous to believe. But if we look simply at the text God has given us within the context of the entirety of John’s revelation, there seems to be no reason to doubt it.

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CHAPTER 11 SPIRITUAL THOUGHTS

 

The Wall

An Autobiographical Allegory By Dee German

Some time ago, I began to come to the conclusion that it was time to give it up. I had owned the property from almost the beginning, close to 46 years now, and I just hadn’t been able to do the things that I had in mind for it. It’s not that I had let it run down; I had made improvements almost continuously. I had a lot of help with that in the beginning – from my parents, from teachers, from my wife and children, and from the world around me. But for the last 20 years or so, I did all the work myself, or thought I did. As it turned out, someone else was helping me improve the property.

He would sneak over on nights and weekends, when I was too busy to notice, and add an improvement here and there. Sometimes I noticed the change, and wondered where it came from. Most of the time, I’d tear it down and redo it the way I wanted it. I never stopped to wonder who was doing this, or why. I had no idea that He had in mind all along to make the property His some day.

Early on I had started to build a wall around my property to keep Him, and others, off my property, and that seemed to work for awhile. The wall reinforced the illusion (actually self-delusion) that I was in control. But I found that I had to keep raising the wall higher to keep them out and protect my self. Finally it took so much energy to keep the wall intact that my strength failed me and the wall collapsed, leaving me crushed and broken.

He came back to help me then, in the light of day so I could see His face. He helped me clear the remains of the wall and open up the property to those around me. I knew then that He was the rightful owner, so I gave up control of the property to Him. He and I spent the next several years rebuilding the place from the ground up. In fact, we’re still working on it and always will be. But now it’s grander than I could ever have made it because it’s built according to His plans. And His plans do not include a wall.

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A Collection of My Favorite Spiritual Quotes

“Pride is a spiritual cancer” C. S. Lewis

“Don’t tell God how big your storm is, tell the storm how big your God is.”

“Are you doing God’s will, or your will in God’s name?” Pastor Skip Heitzig

“Prayer is a workout for the soul.” – Pastor Skip Heitzig

“How do we find God’s will for us? Where do we look? God is not a celestial Easter bunny who hides his will in hard-to-find places and sits up there saying “You’re getting warrrmer!”. He put it all in His Book. He had His people write it down. All you have to do is read it. As He says in the Book, ‘Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.’” [_ -- Pastor Skip Heitzig _]

“Religion is man’s attempt to reach out to God – Christianity is God’s attempt to reach out to man.”

“The older I get, the less I care about what people think and the more I care about what God thinks” Chuck Swindoll.

“Grace is God’s gift of unmerited favor granted unconditionally to the undeserving.” Chuck Swindoll.

“Any day that I don’t move closer to God and further from who I used to be is a wasted day.” Dee German 1996

“Trusting in God doesn’t mean that we sit back and let Him take care of everything. It means that we have confidence that God will show us what to do and provide the help, strength, patience and endurance required so that we can take care of ourselves.” Dee German

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future into the hands of a known God.” – Corrie Tenboom

“Pain is the megaphone that God uses to get our attention.” – C. S. Lewis

“God does not always tell us all, but all that he tells us is true.” Norman Geisler

“Christianity is not a religion – it is a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.” Josh McDowell

“We should give God the same place in our hearts that he holds in the universe.” -- Cicero

“How often we look upon God as our last and feeblest resource! We go to him because we have no where else to go. And then we learn that the storms of life have driven us, not upon the rocks, but into a haven of love and peace.” – George MacDonald

“Two types of men please God – he who serves him with all his heart because he knows Him and he who seeks him with all his heart because he knows Him not.” – Nikita Panin

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves, … we make Him out to be a liar and His word has no place in our lives.” – 1 John 8-10.

“Make every effort to add to your faith, goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.” 2 Peter 5-7

“There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person, and it can never be filled by any created thing. It can only be filled by God, made known through Jesus Christ.” Blaise Pascal

“Only if we can love God and love ourselves can we truly love another.”

“Faith is a virtue by which things not seen are believed.” – Augustine

“First believe; then understand” – Augustine

God’s Judgment is in Him no longer protecting us from falling victim to our own sinful natures – for that is the worst thing that can happen to us.

Faith is not believing that God can, but knowing that God will!

Peace is Anxiety that has been Prayed About. Greeting card.

“It’s not how many times you have been through the Bible – it’s how many times the Bible has been through you.” Pastor Skip Heitzig

“The impossibility of conceiving that this grand and wondrous universe, with our conscious selves, arose through chance, seems to me the chief argument for the existence of God.” Charles Darwin

“Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe – a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble.” Albert Einstein

“Humility is not thinking lowly of yourself, it’s not thinking of your self at all.” Joyce Meyers

“The Bible wasn’t written to satisfy your curiosity; it was written to change your life.” Howard Hendricks in .

“God’s answer to prayer may not be to change your circumstances but to give you peace and joy in spite of those circumstances.”

“Preach the Gospel at all time and, if necessary, use words.” St. Francis of Assisi

“We’re the only Gospel many people will ever read.” Chuck Swindoll

“God calls you for your destiny, not for your history”. Bible study teacher

“Never doubt in the dark what God gave you in the light.” Chuck Swindoll

“God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?” President Thomas Jefferson

“You don’t come to God head first, you come to God heart first.” Adrian Rogers

“The Bible sheds a lot of light on the commentaries.” Johnny Cash

“Two natures lie within my breast
One is cursed and the other blessed
One I love and one I hate,
But the one I feed will dominate.” Author Unknown

“There is no limit to the ways in which God might bring us to our senses.” – Kathleen Norris, author of Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith.

“A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on.” – Carl Sandburg

“If you know God’s perfect, unconditional love, you are no longer driven to seek it from those around you.” Dee German

“Religion is man’s attempt to reach out to God – Christianity is God’s attempt to reach out to man.” Skip Heizig

“There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person, and it can never be filled by any created thing. It can only be filled by God, made known through Jesus Christ.” Blaise Pascal

“Pain is the megaphone that God uses to get our attention.” – C. S. Lewis

“Only if we can love God and love ourselves can we truly love another.”

“The fact that humans share many physical characteristics with animals implies only that we share common DNA and a common Designer, not that they were our ancestors.” – My summary of assorted sermons on creation

God’s judgment is in Him no longer protecting us from falling victim to our own sinful natures – for that is the worst thing that can happen to us. Unknown

God says “The reason some people have turned against you and walked away from you without reason has nothing to do with you. I have removed them from your life because they cannot go where I am taking you next. They will only hinder you in your next level because they have already served their purpose in your life. Let them go and keep moving forward. Greater things are coming for you.”

Note by Author: The sources I attribute these quotes to may not be the original sources, but rather the person from whom I first heard or read it.

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And God Said No

By James Moris

[I asked God to take away my pride. And God said “No”.
He said it was not for him to take away, but for me to give up.
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I asked God to make my handicapped child whole. And God said “No”.
He said her spirit was whole, her body was only temporary.
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I asked God to grant me patience. And God said “No”.
He said patience is a by-product of tribulations. It isn’t granted, it is earned.
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I asked God to give me happiness. And God said “No”.
He said he gives me blessings, happiness is up to me.
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I asked God to spare me pain. And God said “No”.
He said suffering draws you apart from worldly cares and brings you closer to me.
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I asked God to make my spirit grow. And God said “No”.
He said I must grow on my own. But he will prune me to make me fruitful.
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I asked for all things that I might enjoy life. And God said “No”.
He said I will give you life, that you may enjoy all things.
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I ask God to help me love others, as much as he loves me.
And God said, “Ah, finally you have the idea!”]

Author’s Notes

Christian Principles: Food for Thought is the third book by Mr. German to be published digitally as an E-book. He has also published two novels: The Hermetrius Conspiracy and its sequel, The Forseti Solution, about an ultra-conservative rich financier who tries to buy his way into the White House. Murder, kidnapping, car chases, intrigue, and romance characterize these thrilling tales of a possible future for America.

These novels are available in formats that can be read on computers, Ipads, Nook, and Kindle devices. If you have a Nook or Kindle, download it like any other book – type in the title at the web site and buy it for $1.99. If you have a computer or Ipad, go to www.Shakespir.com and buy the PDF version for the same price.

 

Feel free to contact me with comments and questions at

[email protected]

You can keep up with my latest writing projects on my Blog at http://jdgermanauthor.blogspot.com/

 

About the Author

J. D. German, known to his family and friends as Dee, retired from a 40-year career as a scientist to a lake home in southwestern Georgia. He was a classic agnostic scientist for most of his career until a personal crisis brought him to God and Christ. He now attends Lake Seminole Baptist Church in Donalsonville, GA, where he teaches Sunday School and a men’s discipleship class.

In 1978 Mr. German joined a team of thirty scientists from major U.S. research laboratories that went to Turin, Italy to investigate an ancient relic known as The Shroud of Turin. This cloth, bearing the image of a man who was crucified, is believed by some to be the cloth used by Joseph of Arimathea to wrap Christ’s body after the crucifixion. The team performed a wide range of tests, measurements, and imaging designed to better understand the relic and what caused the image.

After he retired Dee created an informal presentation titled “Science and the Shroud of Turin” which he has given dozens of times in several states. The talk focuses on the scientific work and its conclusions rather than theological issues. His presentation ends with a powerful testimony of how his work on the Shroud, and later life events, brought him from intellectual agnosticism to a full relationship with God and Christ.

Dee is available to give this talk to churches, groups, and schools anywhere. The talk is free except for traveling expenses. If you or your pastor is interested in such a talk, please send me an email at the above address requesting more information.

 

About the Cover Image

The image on the cover is a composite of the Orion Nebula, taken by NASA’s Hubble Telescope, overlaid with the hand detail of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel painting of God reaching down to create Adam. To me it symbolizes man using the Hubble Telescope to reach further into the heavens than ever before, and still being unable to touch the hand of God. The title that came to mind was The Hubble Tower of Babel.


Christian Principles: Food for Thought

This book is a collection of fifty-four talks given as devotionals to a group of men meeting once a week for a prayer breakfast. These are thoughts and ideas that have come to me – from God, I believe – to help us understand His word and what it means in our daily lives. Most are about things we have heard before, so I make no claim of originality in what I have written. What is different is how I cover the topic from a perspective that may be new to you. Few, if any, of these writings are superficial; there is a depth of meaning that you will miss if you just skim over the words and go on to the next one. Take time to think about them and see how they might apply to you and your life. My goal in delivering these devotionals to the men’s group, and in publishing this collection, is to help you grow as a Christian, just as I did when I originally wrestled with these concepts myself.

  • Author: J. D. German
  • Published: 2016-05-23 17:35:20
  • Words: 45233
Christian Principles: Food for Thought Christian Principles: Food for Thought