Archive for the ‘Commentaries’ Category

I’m not much of a fisherman, but I’ve recently been thinking about fishing lures.  While many fishermen prefer live bait, certain situations call for the use of lures, which can consist of any number of different elements (e.g. rubber, plastic, feathers…) used to attract the fish.  For those who know what they’re doing, there is a whole science to deciding what elements to use for a particular application. 

The specific lure that I remember using as a kid was called a “spinner”.  It had shiny metallic pieces on it, and as it moved through the water it created a spinning motion, which resulted in little flashes of light meant to attract the fish. 

In a time of prayer, I saw a picture of a spinner, moving just below the surface of the water, with little flashes of light coming from it, and pronged hooks protruding from the end.  I felt like this picture was symbolic of the spiritual battle that we face each day.  Though we know that the enemy often comes disguised as an angel of light, we often don’t recognize the deception until after his hooks are into us.

An enemy that doesn’t have the power to overwhelm you with a direct assault must resort to special tactics to achieve the desired result.  Normally, deception and distraction are an integral part of such a strategy. 

Our enemy is a master of deception, and in Western culture we have made distraction almost an art form.  Of course, we don’t refer to it as distraction, we call it entertainment, amusement, recreation, chilling out, a sport, a pastime, a hobby, a special interest…, but regardless of what we call it, our attention is easily snatched away from the more substantial issues of life. 

I would submit that our enemy loves these pre-occupations, and that they’ve been amongst his most effective tools in facilitating moral decay within our culture.  He doesn’t have to convince someone to embrace evil, he simply needs to keep them too pre-occupied with the temporal to even ponder the eternal. 

The truth is that most people within our culture still believe in the idea of God (or a “higher power”), and of being a “good” person.  But most are too busy pursuing their own interests to commit to any sort of relationship with God, or a church community, or anyone else for that matter.  In theory, those of us who count ourselves as followers of Christ ought to be a little harder to deceive, but our predisposition towards being distracted is much the same as the cultures. 

We can spend our whole Christian walk pursuing knowledge, titles, positions, spiritual gifts, experiences, credentials, recognition…  We can champion causes we’re passionate about, and fill our calendar with church activities.  Yet we may never really come to know the person of Christ, or be used by Him in a substantial way to touch the lives of others. 

While all of these pursuits may seem virtuous and worthwhile, unless God is calling us to them, they are simply a distraction from what He is calling us to.  Given the ineffectiveness of the church in touching the world, it is likely that this is more prevalent than any of us would like to admit.

In Stephen Covey’s book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, he suggests that a person (or organization…) create what he calls a “Mission Statement”.  This statement should encompass what that person’s (or organization’s…) ultimate goal (i.e. mission) is.  

As conflicts arise, Covey suggests that they must be evaluated as to their bearing on achieving this ultimate goal.  His premise is that we spend a lot of time and energy on things that really don’t make any significant difference in achieving our over-arching mission. 

He suggests that if it isn’t going to move us toward our ultimate destination, that we shouldn’t spend a significant amount of resources on it.  For the church, it would seem as though the “Great Commission” might be a good mission statement, or maybe Jesus’ statements as to the “greatest commandment”.  Considering those examples, it is difficult to reconcile many of the things “the church” involves itself with. 

From global warming, to student loan forgiveness, to who resides in the White House, the church seems to immerse itself in conflicts, that at the very least seem useless, and in many cases are counterproductive, in achieving our eternal purposes.  If we are investing the resources of the church in areas that it’s not been commissioned for, we are depleting those resources for doing the work it has been commissioned for.

On an individual level, the distractions are even more abundant.  We can easily get caught up in the day to day struggle to raise our families, and lose sight of our higher calling.  Like Covey, the Apostle Paul encourages us to keep pressing toward the goal; he also reminds us that a good soldier doesn’t involve themselves in “civilian” affairs.  These words speak of avoiding things that will distract us from our greater purpose. 

If we don’t keep focused, something as little as the way someone looks at us, or their tone of voice, can pull us off track.  One unkind word, or interpersonal struggle is often all that it takes to make us forfeit the joy of our salvation.  A situation on the job, or an unpaid bill may be all that it takes for us to forget the hope we have in Christ.  We must understand that within these situations there is a hook that our enemy means to get into us, and we must learn not to grab hold of it. 

We’re often so quick to respond to these issues without guidance from the Lord, and then get overwhelmed by the consequences of acting under our own power.  A fish is simply driven by their instinct, and if it survives, it can be hooked over and over again with the same bait.  As believers, filled with God’s Spirit, we need to be wiser than that, and learn to take every thought captive. 

We need to recognize that our enemy is always using people, and situations in an effort to snag us, and choose not to take that bait.  We need to understand that apart from God we can do nothing, and that if He isn’t calling us to the battle, He isn’t under any obligation to equip us for it. 

As Paul said, we must press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of us.  Adding that, “One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”.  We too must push every hindrance aside, and throw off the things which mean to entangle us, so that we might run the race that’s been marked out for us.

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During times of prayer I’ve often been reminded of the scripture, “watch and pray, lest you fall into temptation”.  As I re-read that passage, I got a renewed sense of what Jesus was saying.  It seems that He was trying to warn the Apostles that something was about to come against them, but they couldn’t seem to grasp the magnitude of it.  Despite all that Jesus had told them about what must happen to Him, they remained remarkably unaware. 

He didn’t just ask them to pray with Him, He asked them to watch as well.  What was it that He was encouraging them to see?  One might guess that it was to look for those who Jesus understood would be coming for Him, but in judging Jesus’ reaction to Peter’s response, it seems unlikely that He was asking them to stand guard. 

This wasn’t the first time Jesus had spoken of watching and praying.  In the parable of the fig tree He had told them of a snare that had been set for all who dwell on the earth, and exhorted them to always watch and pray, so that they may be counted worthy to escape the things to come.  He later singled out Peter and let him know that Satan had asked for him, that he might be sifted as wheat. 

I sense that Jesus picked those Apostles who were closest to Him, and the leaders amongst the twelve, because they were the ones most likely to understand.  He had previously expressed His exasperation at the lack of understanding amongst His disciples, but in preparation for this time He had painstakingly explained that He must be given over to death.  He wanted them to pray, so that their eyes would be opened to the significance of the events that were about to unfold.  But as the scripture says, they fell asleep. 

I believe that this is not only their story, but a representation of the church as a whole.  The Lord has been trying to warn us of things to come, but we’ve largely been asleep.  Like the Apostles on that night, our stomachs are full, it seems pretty quiet, and we’re largely unaware of the spiritual implications of what is going on around us.  Just as Jesus told them, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

So what is the temptation that Jesus was speaking of?  Was it a specific issue, or was it just temptation in general?  As we look at the scripture, we can get some sense of what was behind the spectrum of actions, and reactions that were occurring around Jesus in this time. 

It seems that Judas had fallen into the temptation to manipulate the circumstances for gain, while by drawing the sword, Peter took it upon himself to try to power his way through the situation in his own strength.  The other disciples fell to their fear, as they scattered, and abandoned this man that they had claimed to love.  Ultimately, Judas succumbed to despair and shame. 

The Temple Guard fell to the temptation to use the enemies’ tactics, as they came in the dark of night, and without just cause.  The High Priest, and the Sanhedrin were taken by their religious pride, their confidence in their own understanding, and their lust for power. 

Pilate succumbed to his fear of men, while the Israelites who gathered outside were caught up in the arrogance of the mob, as they shouted, “let His blood be on us and on our children”.  Finally, the Roman guards gave themselves over to the brutality that comes with unchecked power. 

As this scene unfolded, there was all variety of temptation to fall to, and we see just about everyone, other than Jesus, succumbing to it.  It is the same today as it was then.  We are falling into the same kinds of temptations.  Our tendencies to react, and respond are the same as theirs, and Jesus’ words still echo loudly.    

Of course Jesus didn’t give in to temptation, as He walked through the horrible reality of the cross.  The scripture says that Jesus despised the shame of the cross, that He agonized to the point that His sweat became like droplets of blood, and that He was sorrowful unto the point of death.  Yet while praying in the garden, He resolved not my will, but thine be done. 

We rationalize that He was the Son of God, and that this means it was somehow different for Him, but the scripture says that He was a man, who was tempted in all the same ways we are.  I would submit that through His times of prayer, He was fortified for the things to come. 

Throughout His ministry, we repeatedly see Jesus separating Himself from the crowd, and finding that quiet place to be with His Father.  He said He didn’t do anything that He didn’t see the Father do first, and I believe that it was in these times of prayer that He received the insight, and direction necessary for Him to fulfill His purpose. 

It was these private moments that allowed Jesus to maintain an eternal perspective on what was happening around Him, and so it is with us.  If we are to be fortified for the things to come, and not fall to the buffet of temptations that await us; if we hope to maintain an eternal perspective, and fulfill our purpose, we too must find the quiet place, where we can receive direction from God. 

It seems that the Western church has fallen into the cultural trend of having a very short attention span, and that the concept of prayer has largely given way to engaging speakers, drama teams, dancers, and power point presentations.  While none of those things is wrong necessarily, it seems like we’ve tried to make ourselves relevant to the world by imitating them.  We can pack the house for conferences, or plays, or concerts, but struggle to get anyone to get excited about a prayer meeting.  If there is too much of a lull in the action, we’re afraid that we will lose the crowd. 

As I consider the state of prayer within the church, I am reminded of the story of Jesus coming into the temple area, and overturning the tables of the money changers, and merchants.  I’ve heard it said that it was the corrupt practices of the merchants in the temple that angered Jesus, but Mark’s gospel account seems to indicate that it was the mere presence of commerce within the temple.  He not only confronted the money-changers, and vendors, but began to drive out those who were buying and selling, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 

I sense that Jesus saw this as a defilement of a sacred place, and that he abhorred that the focus had been taken off the Father.  This makes me wonder how Jesus views the blatant merchandizing, and enterprise that takes place within the church today.  His objection to those extra-curricular activities was that His Father’s house was to be a “house of prayer”. 

The question that looms is whether we are any closer to this today.  How many local churches can accurately claim to be a house of prayer?  If a church isn’t a house of prayer, what is it a house of?  If we are not a praying church, then what are we placing our hope in?  Unless the Lord builds the house, we labor in vain.

Watch and pray, lest you fall to the temptation to focus on the seen realm (2 Cor. 4:18)

Watch and pray, lest you fall to hollow and deceptive philosophies which depend on human tradition (Col. 2:8)

Watch and pray, lest you fall to the temptation to do what is right in our own eyes (Matt 16:22-23)

Watch and pray, lest you give in to the impulse to take matters into your own hands (Luke 22:50-51)

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I was raised in a Christian home with two loving parents, two brothers and a sister.  We were taught (via word and deed) very traditional ideas about God, family, and life in general.  While these were my earliest influences, there came a time in my life that I began to challenge just about every one of those ideas.  I was not consciously trying to rebel, but I definitely wanted to see things for myself.  I didn’t have to go out, and seek the things of the world, all I had to do was live in the world with an “open mind”, and those things worked their way into me. 

I just listened to some music, watched some television, went to some movies, and read some magazines.  Nothing drastic, I lived a fairly typical life, and very subtly “evolved” in my thinking.  I remember thinking how the people who talked about things like “sex and violence in popular culture” sounded like alarmists; after all I was around all that stuff, and it wasn’t affecting me. 

It wasn’t until years later, when I came to an awareness of the emptiness within me that I considered something might need to change.  Shortly after that realization, the life that I had carved out collapsed, leaving me scrambling for a new reference point.  That is the period in which God became “real” to me. 

I went through a season where I found myself frequently alone, and cutoff from the routine of my former life.  As I read the Bible, I encountered many of the ideas that I’d been raised with, and I had to wonder when, and how I’d gotten so far away from that.  It was then that I began to recognize how wrong I had been about the affect that soaking in the popular culture was having on me.

The Bible warns that bad company corrupts good character, and that is largely viewed as a warning against hanging out with the wrong people.  While that is undoubtedly the main thrust of that passage, I’d submit that keeping company with the wrong ideas, and images is just as damaging; maybe even more so. 

In the Old Testament we see God tell the men of Israel not to marry foreign women, because their hearts will undoubtedly be turned to their foreign gods.  It was not the women themselves that were the issue, it was their ideas, and belief systems that God was trying to keep His people from. 

This was played out in dramatic fashion in the life of Solomon, whom God gave wisdom that was “as measureless as the sand of the seashore” and “greater riches… than all the other kings of the earth”.  Despite all of Gods favor, Solomon’s appetite for foreign women (700 wives, 300 concubines) caused his loyalty to become divided, as he built altars, and made sacrifices to the gods of his wives. 

To understand what a serious issue this was to God, consider the fact that despite King David’s adultery and murder, God assessed him to be a “man after God’s own heart”, while despite Solomon’s wisdom, and the splendor of the Temple he built, God angrily promised to tear the kingdom from his children. 

Solomon obviously thought that he could have it both ways, but God knew that ultimately it would cause him to become double minded.  While many of his actions had exalted God, his heart became separated from Him, and in the end the heart is all that counts.

God’s word tells us not to be conformed to the things of this world, and that in fact friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God.  I believe that many of us who call ourselves Christians have fallen into the same trap as Solomon did.  We believe that we can say and do some good things for God, and yet still be on good terms with the world around us. 

We can spend a couple of hours a week involved in “church stuff”, and maybe even pray or read our bible some; but then live just like our lost neighbors for the rest of the time.  We listen to the world’s philosophies, fill our ears with the world’s music, fill our heads with the images of the world, and think that somehow that isn’t coloring our perception of truth. 

It is like saturating a sponge with red fruit punch, and then trying to carry that sponge across a white carpeted room.  There is no way that it isn’t going to stain you, and get on everything that’s around you.  As we sit and watch seemingly harmless “entertainment”, our perceptions of the roles of men and women, of relationships, and of what is acceptable are being affected.  As we sit and watch infomercials, or the shopping channel, we’re encouraged to covet all the things we don’t have.  As we watch the news, our perception of reality is being affected, whether we believe it or not. 

An example of this is a group, which purportedly represented over 10,000 Christians, who came out with a document supporting the Theory of Evolution.  Their stated motivation was that “Creationism” (i.e. the literal interpretation of the biblical account of creation) just isn’t “good science”.  Their misconception was that the “Theory” of Evolution equated to “good science”.  If that were true, it wouldn’t still be a theory all these years after Darwin first developed it. 

In a laboratory a theory is put to the test, and if a consistent result cannot be derived, that theory is assumed to be at least incomplete, if not completely false.  Because of gapping holes within it, the theory of Evolution has not been proven, and as such should probably be classified as questionable science, if not “bad science”.  But we’ve been taught it as though it were fact for so long that many just assume that it must be. 

This is the same dynamic the Church succumbs to on other issues as well.  Gods’ word clearly says one thing, but what we see and hear going on around us is what we treat as reality.  God meant for His church to be an influence on the world, but in the western hemisphere the church seems to be taking its cues from the culture.  Whether it is the model for the family, marriage, divorce, sexuality…, the church appears to be trying to make itself more relevant to the world by adapting itself to the world’s beliefs. 

If our mission was to get people into the church building this approach might be helpful, but our mission is to “make disciples” of Jesus Christ, and this approach only serves to distort His image.

The Bible teaches that how a man thinks in his heart will dictate how he lives.  If our conception of manhood comes from things like John Wayne movies, or our conception of what a family is comes from shows like “Everybody Loves Raymond”, or our conception of men and women come from books like “Women are From Venus and Men Are From Mars”, or our conception of what success is comes from people like “The Kardashians”, or our conception of what charity is comes from people like “Oprah”, or our conception of what love is comes from things like “Romeo and Juliet”…, then we’ve been conformed to this world, and not transformed into the image of our God. 

Only our Creator can truly show us who we were made to be, only He knows what will fulfill us.  Only a God who yearns to have relationship with us can teach us about what He intended for relationships.  Only the God who “is love” can show us what real love is.  We need to quit looking to the world for reality and truth, because one day we will pass from the unreality of this life into the reality of eternity.

When that happens, only Gods point of view will matter, and the rest will have been nothing more than “chasing the wind”.  Like someone who’s had too much to drink, we can argue that we’re good enough to get ourselves home, but a simple blood test will reveal whether we are “under the influence”. 

At the end of this road there will be a traffic stop, and the results of that blood test will definitely be brought before the court.  On that day the man who has tried to make the best of both worlds will likely find that he’s made nothing of either of them.

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I come from a decidedly military background, and it has been a significant part of my personal history.  My father spent 26 years on active duty in the Air Force, and I was raised primarily living on military reservations.  While I grew up with a healthy respect for the military, I truthfully didn’t find myself drawn to that way of life.  I wasn’t one to play with GI Joes, or toy guns.  When I left home, joining the military was nowhere in my plans; but of course neither was squandering the opportunity to get a college education, or getting involved in a totally destructive lifestyle. 

When I felt out of options, I too joined the military and spent twelve years in the Navy.  While that turned out to be one of the best choices I made in my young life, I was pleased to return to civilian life when it was over.  I think people who’ve never really lived that life can have romantic notions about it, but if you’ve walked that path you understand that there is a cost that comes with it. 

I emerged from the military with an unwavering admiration for anyone who chooses to wear the uniform, and make the sacrifice; but also with a much deeper reverence for times of peace.  Years later, when I decided to try to live my life for the Lord, I didn’t realize that I was in effect re-enlisting.

The United States is a very proud country, and many of its citizens would likely count themselves as patriots, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that those folks would all be willing to enlist in the military.  There is a level of commitment that comes with that choice that most folks are not willing to make. 

Interestingly, just because someone is willing to enlist doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re willing to fight.  Many join the military to get training, or money for later education.  Some join because they want to wear the uniform, and be identified with something that they see as virtuous (or at least worthwhile). 

At the time that the Persian Gulf War broke out (i.e. autumn of 1990) I was assigned to a nuclear attack submarine, and I worked with a fellow, who like me, had been in the military about eight years (which means that like me he had re-enlisted).  When the word came down that our boat would be heading to the Red Sea, he talked to me about filing for “Conscientious Objector” status. 

I thought he was joking at first, but he was serious.  I reminded him that he had volunteered (at least twice) to be a part of the nation’s fighting force, that he’d been trained for war, and that he was assigned to a warship.  All he could say was that his Recruiter said that he’d never have to fight, and that he now wanted out. 

I wish I could say that he was the only one, but in that period the military experienced a rash of people who had these types of issues, some even went AWOL (absent without leave) to avoid deployment.  I was shocked at that kind of mindset.  Even though I never saw myself as much of a warrior, I knew that if our nation was going to be engaged in battle, it was my duty to be a part of it, and that I needed to be ready to fight.

From the time you first enlist, you’re reminded that the mission of the military is to fight against the enemies of our nation, and our national interests.  But if you enlist during a time that the nation doesn’t have troops in battle you may not take those warnings very seriously. 

A new recruit is normally consumed with things like how to wear their uniform, how to march in a straight line, and when their hair will grow back.  Though they are considered a soldier at this point, they pose little threat to the enemy.  It is not until they complete their training, and actually become part of a unit that the reality of the mission becomes apparent.  

While in most military units you’re assigned a non-combat role (e.g. in the Seabees I was a Drafter/Surveyor/Project Administrator), everyone has a combat role as well (e.g. in the Seabees I was assigned to the Mortar Canon Crew).  Though you spent most of your time in your non combat role, you always had to be ready to step into combat mode.  Though being good at your non combat assignment was good for your career, how you performed in combat could mean life or death, not only for you, but also for those around you.

Unlike the military, when you decide to become a Christian folks aren’t nearly as forthright about the mission.  Like a good Recruiter they speak a lot about the benefits, and the retirement plan, but very little about what is in between.  They don’t necessarily mention that putting on the uniform makes you a target for the enemy, and that you may want to take your training very seriously, since a combat assignment is a guarantee. 

You may hear that you’re “in the Lords army”, but it often comes across more like a parade tune than a battle cry.  We inevitably learn that “God is Love” and that He so loved the world that He sent His Son Jesus to pay our price; but we may not hear that Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven suffers violence and that the violent take it by force.  We may hear that the Holy Spirit has come to live inside of us, but we may not hear that this sets off a battle for our souls, between our flesh and spirit, that will not end until the day we die.  We may hear about David dancing before the Lord, or playing music to calm King Saul, but we may not hear his words about the Lord training his hands to war. 

If we bother to read the training manual it ought to jump out at us that being friends with the world makes us an enemy of God, which means that we’ll always be swimming against the current of what is popular, and convenient.  We might also notice how Jesus was treated by the very people He came to save, and to note that God destines us to be transformed into His image.  We might also find the little training tip which tells us that Jesus learned obedience by the things He suffered, and understand that maybe we ought to prepare ourselves for some of that too. 

While this may seem to be a fairly dire portrait of the Christian life, it does line up with the scripture, and these battles rage on whether we acknowledge them or not.   Unlike soldiers in the natural, we have the distinct advantage of knowing how the war will end.

It strikes me that as the warfare is becoming more apparent in these days, we’re finding a lot of troops amongst us who don’t really know how to use their weapons, or in some cases even understand that there is a battle going on.  Like my friend back in the Navy, they didn’t really think that this is what they signed up for. 

They are “believers”, who like the patriot believe in the virtue of the kingdom.  They may even be “followers”, who like the recruit have enlisted, and have put on the uniform; but because they’ve not been prepared, they don’t pose a legitimate threat to the enemy. 

In many cases they don’t feel connected to a unit (i.e. the Body of Christ), and they still cling to the hope that somehow they can avoid this conflict.  With that mindset, they will be nothing more than target practice for the enemy. 

The great commission didn’t mandate that we make believers of all men, or even followers; it says to make “disciples” of all men.  While that certainly encompasses seeing souls reached for the Lord, it also means preparing them for battle, and seeing them take up their post within the body.  Paul said that a good soldier doesn’t involve themselves in civilian matters, and it seems that too many soldiers in the Lords Army aren’t following that guidance. 

We have been supplied with weapons of mass destruction, but we don’t seem to know how to deploy them.  Indeed the kingdom of heaven is suffering violence, and it is time for the Body of Christ to become engaged in this battle.  Like the United States in World War II, we’ve waited so long that the battle has come to us.  All of creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.

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In what has been called, the “Song of Mary” we hear the virgin mother declare that “My soul magnifies the Lord” (Luke1:46), and I can’t help but believe that there is something of value in those words for all believers. 

To magnify something, we must first focus on it, and when we do, there is a natural tendency to notice details we may have missed.  We might even call that, taking a closer look.  If we don’t lose or shift our focus, the magnitude of our revelation generally grows. 

We certainly see this principle when we focus on our problems.  As we gaze at our unpaid bills, broken relationships, illness’, conflicts… we can quickly lose perspective, feeling as though our whole life hinges on these particular issues.  Discouragement and depression often follow. 

If it is so with the darkness, should it not be so with the light as well.  We need to see God as bigger than our problems, bigger than our hurts, bigger than our enemy…  While we must face difficult situations in our life, and continually battle our own flesh, there is a perspective that we cannot afford to lose.  The scripture says that we should not fix our eyes (i.e. focus) on what is seen, which is perishing, but on what is unseen, which is eternal (2Cor.4:18). 

This reminds me of a scene from the “Passion of the Christ”, where Mary and Jesus come face to face on the way to Calvary.  Jesus has been ruthlessly beaten, and will soon hang on the cross to die, yet He says, “Look, I make all things new”. 

Everything in that circumstance seemed to be out of control and dire, yet Jesus hadn’t lost the heavenly perspective.  Similarly, as Stephen was being stoned, he was able to look directly into heaven, and to pray for the forgiveness of His oppressors.  Though his body was being destroyed, his soul was magnifying the Lord. 

As we go through our day to day lives, there are undoubtedly times when situations seem overwhelming, and our perspective gets out of balance.  In those moments, it is important to recognize what is happening, and to regain an eternal outlook. 

In order to do this I believe it is essential that we get alone with God.  Throughout the gospels we often see Jesus walk away from His disciples, and other followers to be alone with the Father.  Though He was a man of perfect faith, who knew no sin, He still had the need to spend time with the Father.  I would submit that, at least in part, this is what allowed Jesus to maintain His heavenly perspective, despite the consistent conflict and rejection he faced during His ministry years. 

Someone who has tried to “pray” their way out of discouragement may say that this doesn’t always work, but I believe that this is where the phrase “magnify the Lord” becomes most significant. 

Prayer can take on many forms, and not all forms are necessarily effective in the midst of despair.  I believe that there is a natural tendency in the midst of difficult circumstances to ask God for answers, or to pray for the outcome that we desire.  But God does not owe us answers, nor has He promised us our desired outcomes. 

Even if we’re just asking for divine direction, it can be difficult to hear His voice above the other voices at work within us.  The problem with these types of prayers is that they allow us to remain focused on the situation, which often distorts our perspective and inhibits us from receiving truth. 

I sense that before we pray through some of these situations, we must first recognize that we’ve lost our perspective, and acknowledge our need to simply “magnify the Lord”.  If we can lay aside our grievances and petitions, quiet ourselves before Him, focus on who He is, consider His goodness, remember what He’s already accomplished in our lives, and think upon what His word says, His stature as the sovereign God of the universe begins to grow.  

Whatever amount of time is necessary to regain this eternal perspective is well worth it.  When this happens, the ministry of the Comforter avails itself, and our ability to hear from the Lord is restored.  Even if we don’t get specific direction, that abiding peace carries us through. 

I used to associate peace with a lack of conflict and/or adversity, but I now understand that true peace only comes from God, and that it is His response to conflict and adversity.  Our minds struggle with that, but that’s why God offers a “peace that surpasses understanding”. 

The concept of magnifying the Lord is beautifully captured in the old hymn, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”.  “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace”.

Perhaps as important as regaining our perspective, is learning how to maintain it in the midst of our daily struggles.  While we’ve grown up with the idea of Sunday being the Lord’s Day, I believe that the scripture would point us to a constant awareness of Him, and who we are relative to Him. 

It admonishes us to focus on the eternal things (2Cor.4:18), to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matt.6:33), to live by the Spirit (Rom.7:6, Rom.8:13-14, 2Cor.3:3, Gal.5:18), to be content (Heb.13:5), to pray continually (1Thes.5:17), to give thanks in all circumstances (1Thes.5:18), to speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, to sing and make music in your heart to the Lord (Eph.5:19). 

Now all that might sound a little unrealistic in the context of our daily lives, but it may also be necessary to clarify what we mean by “reality”.  Several years ago, I had one of those mountain-top God experiences that went on well into the night.  As I fell asleep in the wee small hours, I felt so close to Him, and full of faith. 

But when I woke up the next morning for work, I grumbled to myself “back to reality”.  As soon as the words escaped my mouth, a wave of conviction washed over me.  I felt like the Lord challenged, “How do you know the difference between reality, and a dream?”  And as I considered a couple of very realistic dreams I’d had, the only answer I could come up with was, “you wake up from a dream”.  

I immediately sensed the Lord retort, “That’s correct, and one day you will wake up from the dream of this life, to the reality of eternity!” 

Often times, we Christians point to the struggles of this life as reality, but if we believe the scripture, there is only one avenue to truth.  If God hasn’t become that reality for us yet, I’d suggest that we might need to spend some time magnifying the Lord, and allow His reality to consume whatever reality we’ve been living. 

Some might suggest that we risk becoming “too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good”, but I would submit that there is far greater danger in being too earthly minded to be of any heavenly good.

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Before we were in our mother’s womb, God knew us (Jer.1:5), which means that His intent, purpose, and calling were established independently of our parent’s DNA, the circumstances surrounding our physical conception, or the history of our family. 

He not only made us in His image (Gen.1:27), but “pre-destined” us to be conformed to that image as well (2Cor.3:18).  Scripture goes on to say that the steps of a righteous man are ordered by God (Psalm 37:23), that the days ordained for us are written in His book, before one of them comes to pass (Psalm 139:16), and that God is faithful to complete the good work that He has begun in us (Phil.1:6). 

Within that framework, our identity, our value, our security, and ultimately our destiny were all meant to be completely derived from Him.  This design was fully realized in His Son, Jesus Christ, and to the degree that we are willing to surrender our lives to that pattern, it can be manifest in us as well.

A catastrophic consequence of sin is that as we become disconnected from the person of God, we also lose our connection to these provisions, and thereby invest those aspects of our being in other things.  Indeed, as originally conceived, Adam and Eve were naked, yet without shame (Gen.2:25), as they viewed themselves through the lens of the Lord’s affection.  But upon eating of the fruit, they gained a new awareness that caused them to look at themselves, and each other with a different perspective (Gen.3:7). Nothing had actually changed, other than their perception.

Undoubtedly, this is where the poisons of comparison, covetous, and competition were first introduced, and mankind has grappled with them ever since.  Within the first generation these toxins produced murderous effects (Gen.4:8), and like a swarm of locust, they have combined to devour just about every tender sprout of fellowship / community the church has endeavored to establish. 

With Western culture essentially fueled by these elements (i.e. comparison, covetous, competition), they have seamlessly blended into our brand of Christianity, largely rendering the church (in the west) impotent, or at least incapable of healthy reproduction.  Indeed, it seems doubtful that there is any standard within scripture that we have fallen shorter of than Christ’s assertion that the way people would be able to distinguish His disciples was by the way they loved one another (John 13:35).

In his letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor.12) Paul lays out God’s strategy for the body, with each part having a unique design, and purpose that work together for the greater good of the whole.  Indeed, if these individual parts derived their identity and value from their Creator, they could work together in harmony, reveling in their distinct function.  Sadly, Paul also forecasts the inevitable chaos that comes when the various parts begin to compare themselves to each other (versus 15-26). 

Throughout scripture we see examples of the damaging effects of comparison, and Paul speaks directly of it in his letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor.10:12-18).  When the Israelites compared themselves to the people living in Canaan, they judged themselves to be too weak (Num.13:33) to apprehend the promised lands.  In Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard, the workers hired at the beginning of the day compare their wages to those hired at the end of the day, and feel cheated, even though they had agreed to do the work for that price (Matt.20:1-16).  And when Peter tried to compare the manner of death he was facing with how John might perish, he earned a strong rebuke from the Lord (John 21:20-23), who challenged, “What is that to you?  You must follow me.”

The inescapable byproducts of comparison are covetousness, and competition, which also breed their own dire consequences.  When Esau covets Jacobs stew, he willingly forfeits his birthright (Gen.25:29-33), and when David covets another man’s wife (Bathsheba), it leads to adultery, and murder (2 Sam.11:2-17).  Even more damaging, when the nation of Israel covets an earthly king to lead them (1 Sam.8:4-21), they forsake the supernatural protection of their heavenly King.

Likewise, there are multiple gospel accounts of the discord resulting from various disciples jockeying for their heavenly positions (Matt.20:20-28, Mark 10:37-45), Saul’s murderous intent caused by the people’s praise of David (1 Samuel 18:8-11), and the fatal outcome of one brother’s offering being found acceptable, while the other’s was not (Gen.4:2-8). 

Today, even relatively mature believers generally struggle to gather in any sort of meaningful way without falling into these same destructive patterns.  Churches and ministries are infamously contaminated with envy, greed, intrigue, and power struggles.  This constant strife is the antithesis of the destiny the Lord authored for His Bride.

And if sin is what separated us from our identity in Christ (including our value, security and destiny), then surely reconnecting with that identity is a critical part of our redemption.  Paul speaks of this in various places within his writings, especially in Ephesians 4 (17-32).  This “putting off” or “laying aside” the old self, in order to step into the fullness of Christ is a transformation rarely witnessed in Western Christianity, but it is the key to experiencing genuine freedom, and becoming effective ministers of the gospel. 

It begins with taking our eyes off of each other, and our circumstances (2Cor.4:18), and fixing them on the One who is Lord (Heb.12:2).  If real love is not proud, and does not boast; if it does not envy, and keeps no record, then there is no context in which it could ever be competitive.  And until (or unless) God’s people manifest the genuine article, we have nothing to offer in Jesus’ name (1Corth.13).

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There are three questions that the Lord routinely asks me to facilitate an attitude adjustment.

  • What do you know?

Jesus doesn’t just reveal truth, He is the embodiment of truth (John 14:6).  Without Him, we simply have information.  Frequently, the world convinces us that we have the facts, and from there we develop an argument, and soon we find ourselves looking for a forum to make our argument.  In the midst of such moments, the Lord commonly asks me, “What do you know?”  In other words, what is it that I have revealed to you about this?  More often than not, I find that my passions have been stirred by some external stimulus, and that He’s not speaking about the issue at all.  If I am endeavoring to live by every word that proceeds from His mouth (Matt.4:4), I can’t allow myself to be moved by such things.  If He’s not speaking about it, do I need to be speaking about it?  Only He has the words of life (John 6:68).  The genuine Spirit of prophecy is not only saying what God is saying, it is not saying what He’s not saying.

  • Is that how I handle (or have handled) you?

When I reach my wits end with people (or situations), and want to throw up my hands in frustration, the Lord often chimes in with, “Is that how I handled you (or your situation)?”  This instantly reminds me of the incredible patience and grace which He’s extended to me throughout my journey.   Within that context, it becomes impossible to justify withholding grace from someone else.

  • What does that have to do with you and me?

If I have truly surrendered my life to Him, if He has become my source, if He is the vine that I abide in… than this question destroys my rationalizations and excuses.  It doesn’t matter what “they” said, or did, or didn’t do…  The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself as love (Gal.5:6).

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After working in the nuclear industry for nearly four decades, I have developed the habit of approaching issues in a scientific manner.  As such, I tend to look for the elements that are known (i.e. proven, reliable), or in mathematical terms, constant; because it is the arrangement of these constants that facilitates the determination of variables (e.g. if A+B=C, then knowing A and C will allow me to solve for B).   

Similarly, when developing a theory, it is important to identify the assumptions, because they play a significant role in the interpretation of experimental outcomes.  Faulty assumptions result in the misinterpretation of data, which then leads to wrong conclusions.

Most of us would like to think that our assumptions are rooted in truth, but it would be more accurate to say that they are based on what we believe to be true.  Jesus is the embodiment of truth (John 14:6), and our revelation of Him is partial at best (1Cor.13:9).  Consequently, our presumptions about truth tend to be more entrenched in our personal experience (including what we’ve been taught) than in anything that might qualify as factual. 

The idea that we somehow have an innate ability to discern the difference between what is right and what is wrong (i.e. good versus evil) is part of what the serpent promised Eve in the garden, and mankind has been eating of that fruit ever since.

Indeed, there is a way that seems right to a man (i.e. that he presumes to be right), but in the end it leads to death (Prov. 14:12).  Scripture’s exhortations to God’s children are predicated on His direct involvement; I can do all things through Christ who strengths me (Phil.4:13), with God all things are possible (Matt.19:26), those who abide in vine will produce much fruit (John 15:5)…  Jesus warned that apart from Him we could do “nothing” and I am convinced that He means absolutely nothing! 

The concept of sanctification seems to imply that believers eventually mature to a point of being immune to the temptation of doing what is right in their own eyes, but nothing in scripture supports such a notion. 

As a young child, riding in the back of my parent’s car, I didn’t pay attention to where we were going, because my father was driving, and I trusted that He knew the best way to get us there.  Even as an adult, I would never have presumed to take the wheel of my father’s car.  Why should it be different with my heavenly Father?

Minute by minute, we have to make a conscious effort to take every thought captive (2Cor. 10:5), to not lean on our own understanding (Prov. 3:5), to partake of the divine nature (2Pet.1:4), and to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matt.4:4).  Even with the best of intentions, we can effortlessly slip into presumption, and not even recognize that we’re doing it.

How often do we act or speak in Jesus’ name, without ever consulting Him on the matter?  We presume that our knowledge of scripture qualifies us to handle an issue, and then wonder why our ministry doesn’t produce more real fruit.  Peter presumed he was saving Jesus when he grabbed the sword in the garden, just as Saul presumed he was doing God’s work by persecuting Jesus’ followers.  In both cases, God intervened on a personal level to stop them.

Ministers who have a sense of calling on their lives, or have been given a vision for their ministry, often begin to pursue the calling/vision instead of continuing to trust the Lord to guide them step by step to that destiny. 

God gives someone an anointing to flow in a particular gift, and they presume that they are now empowered to dispense that blessing as they see fit; even to the point of marketing it, or offering to “impart” it for the right price. 

Even simple prayers of petition can be laced with presumption, as we beseech God to do what we believe is needed, instead of seeking to understand His perspective and will for a given situation.

When we read 2Chron. 7:14 as a call to pray for our nation, we presume that we’ve already humbled ourselves, turned from our wicked ways, and sought His face.  Praying for a hundred fold return on every seed planted presumes that we’ve planted nothing but “good” seed.  Praying for God to send revival, send the fire, send… presumes that we’ve exhausted the resources He’s already sent (i.e. His Son and His Spirit) and that they were somehow insufficient to accomplish what He’s called us to.

If Jesus, a faultless son with intimate knowledge of His Father, refused to act without His Father’s guidance on a matter, than how can we presume to do otherwise?  If we genuinely fear the Lord, we ought to fear speaking, and taking action, apart from Him. 

Ultimately, it is the presumption that we know what is best for us, and/or what will make us “happy”, and/or  what is needed in any given situation, that keeps us from experiencing the “exceedingly, abundantly more than we could ever ask for, or imagine” (Eph.3:20).

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I am a gifted man.  Does that sound arrogant?  I promise you that it’s not.  Actually I’m just repeating what the Bible says about all of those who are in Christ.  If you are a “Believer”, you could (and actually should) say the same of yourself.  Even if you’ve never recognized a spiritual gift within you, I can assure you that you’ve got them. 

The Apostle Paul said that we should eagerly pursue “spiritual gifts”, and he goes on to explain that these gifts are to allow each of us to fulfill our unique role within the Body of Christ.  This means that our motivation in desiring this giftedness should not be to glorify ourselves, but to serve.  Therefore it is important that we go beyond pursuing, identifying, and deploying our spiritual gifts, to also find the context in which the Lord is calling us to use what He’s given us.

Not many years ago, I would have denied possessing any special gifts, but as I’ve pursued a deeper and more personal relationship with the Lord, I’ve come to realize that He has actually given me many wonderful gifts.  While some might view that as a prideful statement, I would submit that the quality of a gift is a direct reflection of the Giver, and that it does not necessarily reflect anything about receiver (other than the fact that they are the object of the Givers affection).  I know that I’ve not done anything that warrants the good things that God has given me; it is simply a manifestation of His generosity toward me. 

While some might claim that God has been more generous with some than others, I doubt that is true.  I believe that there are many people who never realize what their gifts are, and thus never walk in the fulfillment of them.  I also believe that we judge some gifts as more valuable than others, but that in God’s view, they are all vital to the fulfillment of His purpose.  Because God is no respecter of persons, I believe that He’s given all of His children good gifts.  In light of that, it seems that the only grateful response is to use whatever He has given us to glorify His name, and to serve His people.

The danger in recognizing our spiritual gifts is that we can begin to see them as God’s stamp of approval.  As we become skilled at moving within our area of gifting, we can mistake that ability as Gods reward to us for faithful service, instead of His purely unmerited favor.  The Bible says that the spiritual gifts are “without repentance”, meaning that even if they’re not used for His glory, He doesn’t take them back. 

This also means that giftedness and holiness are not necessarily connected, or proportional.  It seems to me that we in the church are overly impressed by giftedness and largely uninterested in holiness; yet scripture tells us that “without holiness, no one will see the Lord”.  I once heard a minister say that the church doesn’t suffer from a lack of giftedness; it just suffers from a lack of money.  I’d submit that what the church truly lacks is holiness (and the genuine fruit it produces), and that without it, money and giftedness will only hasten our downfall.

In my own walk, I can see that the realization of my spiritual gifts has not made my heart any more pure.  The flesh continues to war with the Spirit for control of my soul.  God may give me the ability to discern something in the spiritual realm (which is simply a manifestation of giftedness), but the power is not in the discernment, it is in what I choose to do with it, which is greatly affected by what is in my heart. 

If I have bitterness, envy or strife with someone, I may use that discernment to gossip, or cause factions.  If I am insecure, I may use this discernment to try to puff myself up, or to promote my own agenda…, but if my heart is sold out to the purposes of God, I will ask Him what to do with this discernment, and seek to advance His purposes through it. 

The Lord reminded me of the story where Ham found his father (Noah) drunk, and naked in his tent, and of how Ham’s brothers walked into the tent backwards, so as to cover their father, and bring no shame upon him.  I felt like the Lord said that Ham wasn’t cursed for discerning the error of Noah’s ways, or even for telling his brothers about it, but because his heart did not seek to honor his father, or protect his family. 

I was convicted by that example, because I know that I have often been “accurate” in my discernment (i.e. giftedness), but have responded in ways that have not been protective of the Body of Christ or glorifying to the Lord (i.e. holiness).  Giftedness was never meant to be a substitute for holiness, or to be applied separately.

It is not my intent to in any way discourage the seeking and fulfillment of spiritual gifts.  As a matter of fact, I believe that the scripture mandates it, and that it is an essential element for us to reach our destiny as children of God.  I don’t believe that the church has even begun to scratch the surface of what Christ has attained for us, and that the great storehouses of heaven remain jammed with unopened gifts.  But I also believe that these gifts will only be effective to the degree that our hearts are submitted to the Lord, and that above all things that must be our priority. 

Spiritual gifts are like tools for the work of the Kingdom; and as with any tool, their effectiveness will largely depend on whose hands they are in.  We must place our tools in the hand of the Master Builder, because unless the Lord builds the house, we labor in vain.  As a man who is aware that he has been given gifts, I pray that God would give me a heart that always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.

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In my personal experience, I have found that the God who entreats us to resist our natural urge to worry about tomorrow (Matt. 6:34) is rarely speaking about future events.  Instead, He who is unmoved by circumstance, and does not regard outward appearances (1Sam. 16:7), is almost always addressing the condition of our hearts in the present tense.  Indeed, mankind’s obsession with knowing the future is rooted in fear, and is the antithesis of trust. 

In the C.S. Lewis classic, “The Screwtape Letters”, the old demon explains to his young apprentice that while humans are created with the ability to access both the spiritual and natural realms, their connection to the spiritual exists in the present.  Because of this, he encourages the younger demon to always have his “patient” looking back, or looking ahead.  Undoubtedly, this is so that they never make the connection to the source of their strength.  In this, Lewis unveils one of the most successful strategies of our enemy. 

Given the clamor of so many “prophetic” voices, claiming to have special insight into future events, we might do well to run back to our Father, and hear what the Spirit of the Lord is saying to the churches (Rev.2).

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