A blog that focuses on the quest to know and please God in a constantly increasing way. The upward journey never ends. My prayer is that this blog will reflect a heart that seeks God and that it will encourage others who share the same heart desire.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

What's the Point?

At times life can be frustrating, discouraging, or even hopeless. When one sees no apparent reward for his effort, no apparent value in his existence, no apparent reason for his circumstances, no apparent connection with others, or no apparent stability in his situation, he can easily ask the question, "What's the point?" He loses determination, motivation, and interest.

A father tries to support his family but loses job after job through corporate changes. A single lady waits many years to be married, only to have her husband die after a short time. A couple's lengthy pursuit of children results only in miscarriages. Parents who have tried to carefully lead their children see one after another leave the church. A person in the prime of life faces persistent health problems that rob his best years. A widow lives on for decades with no one to support her. A single person endures a distasteful job so that he can come home every day to an empty house and a solitary life. Liberalism or false teaching creep into a ministry to which a faithful man had dedicated years of labor.

These problems are not exclusive to the modern day. After an unimaginable series of tragedies, Job faced a devastating health condition, while finding no comfort from his friends. Under these conditions, he did not want to keep living. "Why is light given to him who suffers, and life to the bitter of soul, who long for death, but there is none?" (Job 3:20-21). Job agonized, "What is my strength, that I should wait? And what is my end, that I should endure?" (Job 6:11).

Moses faithfully served God, having chosen "rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin" (Hebrews 11:25). His reward was repeated challenges, provocations, and threatenings. On one such occasion, Moses cried to God, "Why have You been so hard on Your servant? And why have I not found favor in Your sight, that You have laid the burden of all this people on me? . . . If You are going to deal thus with me, please kill me at once" (Numbers 11:11&15).

After three years in hiding, Elijah acted boldly at God's command, but victory dissolved into discouragement when Elijah's life was immediately threatened. Elijah went "into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; and requested for himself that he might die, and said, 'It is enough; now, O LORD, take my life'" (I Kings 19:4).

Asaph's psalms reveal a sincere and sensitive heart for God. Faithful Asaph became discouraged when he observed the comfortable life of the wicked. He admitted, "But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling, my steps had almost slipped" (Psalm 73:2). In frustration he bemoaned, "Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and washed my hands in innocence" (Psalm 73:13).

If anyone could have succumbed to the frustration of a life beset by problems and trials, it would be Joseph. He was hated by his brothers because of his father's choices, sold as a slave while obeying his father's command, falsely accused when he fled evil, wrongfully imprisoned, and forgotten by someone he had helped. Joseph spent decades separated from his family, living in a strange land in the service of others. Joseph was consistently faithful and innocent, but every time he started to see the blessing of God, a new tragedy would strike.

The Bible does not record any desperation or frustration from Joseph. Joseph did not cry out, "What's the point?" Joseph was different in the midst of trials, because he focused on God's truth. Joseph told his brothers, "Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life" (Genesis 45:5). He later stated, "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good" (Genesis 50:20). Because Joseph focused on his role in God's service, he could continually face life with peace and assurance.

God also has truths for His children today. No matter how wrong or frustrating or worthless or pointless life may seem, there is always purpose in life. In the midst of setbacks, disappointments, reversals, and pain, God always has a plan for His children. Here are some applicable truths from God's Word that can provide purpose in any situation.

"Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).

"Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship" (Romans 12:1).

"For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body" (I Corinthians 6:20).

"Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (I Corinthians 10:31).

"According to my earnest expectation and hope, that . . . Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death" (Philippians 1:20).

"Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men" (Colossians 3:23).

"So that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (I Peter 1:7).

If one's goal in life is to experience health, comfort, stability, success, or respect, then life has great potential to seem pointless. If the most important thing is to enjoy life, spend time with family, be active socially, or prosper in ministry, there is ample opportunity for frustration to creep in. However, if one's goal is to please and honor God, based on a foundation of verses like those listed above, life cannot be pointless. There IS a point.

Saturday, September 9, 2017


Hugging has multiple identified benefits. Physically, hugging lowers blood pressure, lowers the heart rate, facilitates healing, reduces pain, balances the nervous system, relaxes the body, increases energy, improves concentration, and promotes better sleep. Socially, hugging decreases loneliness, aids in social bonding, promotes trust, and strengthens interpersonal connections. Emotionally, hugging makes people feel happy, wards off depression, soothes fears, promotes calmness, and reduces stress and anxiety. Hugged children benefit into their adult lives, and hugged seniors benefit through the end of their lives. Physical touch benefits people by adjusting levels of oxytocin, dopamine, seratonin, and cortisol. Virginia Satir, a family therapist states: "We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth."

Two realizations can provide some parameters for considering hugs (and other physical contact). First, people without God perceive a greater need for hugs, as they try to replace with human interactions everything that God can supply. Even significant interaction with people cannot match or replace the interaction with God. Second, God made both the human body and the emotions. The benefits of hugging are not accidental, but are by God's plan. Guided by these two factors, a Christian should recognize the God-intended value of hugging, while not depending upon it as desperately as the world does.

The majority of hugging takes place within a family, between spouses or between parents and children. Where do people without a family (or without family nearby or with a dysfunctional family) get hugs? The simple answer is that God actually describes the church as a family. The bond between brothers and sisters in Christ can transcend that of biological family. "Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another" (I Thessalonians 4:9).

God intends for members of a church to meet each other's needs. "Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:1). Christ's new law to His followers was "that you love another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another" (John 13:34). Christians should desire and aid the well-being of others. "But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth" (I John 3:17-18).

God makes powerful statements about love in the church. "Fervently love one another from the heart" (I Peter 1:22). "Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another" (I Peter 4:8). "This I pray, that your love may abound still more and more" (Philippians 1:9). "May the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another" (I Thessalonians 3:12).

God wants believers to love one another fervently, increasingly, and demonstratively. One might argue (correctly) that he can do that without physical displays of affection, but even the Bible encourages physically-expressed love. "Greet one another with a kiss of love" (I Peter 5:14). Hugging is an appropriate and common cultural equivalent.

Hugs (and other touches) communicate, usually positively. Hugs can communicate each of the following Biblically-appropriate sentiments.
  • I greet you as my sister in Christ.
  • I'm glad to see you.
  • I love you.
  • I'm sorry.
  • I forgive you.
  • Thank you.
  • Congratulations.
  • I'm happy for your good news.
  • I sympathize with your loss.
  • I care that you are hurting.
  • I realize it's hard to be in a spiritual (or emotional) battle.
  • I'm here for you.
  • I'll miss you.
  • Goodbye.
Hugs can also communicate negatively. Some people's hugs are so stiff that it seems they are trying to hug from across the room. Other hugs are obviously obligatory. Hugs can be given from mindless routine, without even looking at the recipient, or while already moving toward another person or activity. These hugs can actually be hurtful. Beyond failing to communicate the positive sentiments in the list above, they actually assert, "I don't want to hug you. I felt trapped into this. I don't really care that much."

An absence of hugs also communicates. Even human psychology recognizes what God declared as true. "That their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love" (Colossians 2:2). "Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity" (Colossians 3:14). Hugging promotes unity and trust by allowing and even welcoming another person into one's personal space. Without that expression of acceptance, trust is curtailed, acceptance is questioned, and the ability of the relationship to grow is hampered.

People come from different backgrounds and therefore different comfort levels and different expectations regarding physical touch. While Christians should grow into this aspect, it is important to be sensitive to other people's preferences and to the growth process. "Huggers" should not inundate "non-huggers" with frequent and lengthy hugs, while "non-huggers" should be sensitive to the needs and feelings of "huggers." It is important to note that meaningful hugs are an outgrowth of a meaningful relationship. Hugs without a supporting relationship have little meaning, but as a relationship becomes more established, hugs should become more frequent and more meaningful.

Many fellow Christians especially need hugs from their church family. There are widows and singles. There are people with alienated or unsaved family. Older couples, empty-nesters, and "church widows," (those whose husbands don't support them spiritually), need hugs. Children and teens need hugs. People who work in a secular workplace need hugs. Those who are sickly or shut in need hugs. Most people particularly welcome hugs in times of trial, bereavement, or tears.

Sometimes a brief hug is sufficient, while at other times a sustained hug is needed to do the job. Considering the positive and healthful benefits listed in the opening paragraph, believers should recognize hugging as a legitimate and valued Christian expression.  

"Let love of the brethren continue" (Hebrews 13:1).

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Spicing Up Devotions

My most recent posts have examined various frustrations that can occur regarding daily devotions. It is hard to continue any activity that is viewed as difficult or profitless, so I have attempted to give guidance to make devotions more accessible and productive.

The final of the six considerations I presented was "I am discouraged from having devotions because I get bogged down or bored." I discussed the need for variety in devotions, essentially for balancing slower, more in-depth study with quicker and broader but more shallow reading.

In addition to varying the format of actual Bible reading/study, a Christian can add many other activities to complement his structured reading of the Word. Obviously, he cannot do all of these every day, but maybe he could do a few of them regularly and others sporadically. The beauty of the following activities is that they can help to extend a devotional attitude throughout the day. They can also provide something meaningful to do on a day when extra time is available.

1) Pray.
This should be a fairly obvious suggestion and a regular part of any Christian's life. The presentation can vary, however. Whether it is regularly structured or "extra" prayer time, different categories (self, family, church family, friends, leaders, missionaries, ministries, country, etc.) could be prayed for on different days. A day could be dedicated to a particularly pressing need. Special prayer could be focused on one's own growth and revival. Various Bible passages could be used to provide the content of the prayer.

2) Memorize Scripture.
This is a valuable practice for various reasons, including being able to properly focus one's own thoughts during challenges as well as being able to help others. In my experience and observation, memorization works best with some purpose and structure. There are programs available that compile lists of especially pertinent verses. Memorizing a passage (or even a book) can be more profitable than scattered verses. One can choose a favorite, familiar passage and memorize it.

3) Keep a journal.
There are multiple types of journals and journal content. Some people write down inspirational thoughts and quotations, perhaps from books or sermons. Others keep track of special blessings and answered prayers. Some include sermon notes or Bible study notes. Others focus on verbalizing their struggles, aspirations, or soul thoughts. There isn't really a right or wrong thing to record, and certainly a journal could include any combination of the above. A related activity is to go back and read past journals, perhaps even typing ones that were previously hand-written.

4) Listen to hymns.
It is helpful to listen to quality recordings or radio. Better yet, one can play hymns on a piano or other instrument or sing hymns mentally or out loud. He can make his own recordings of special hymns. He can memorize favorite hymns, which is great preparation for times of challenge or for the middle of the night. Another related activity is to read hymns, perhaps purposefully identifying Bible truths or underlying Scripture texts.

5) Read books.
No book is a substitute for the Bible, but many books can apply or enhance the truth of the Bible. There are many resources available, both in print form and electronically. One could read a theological book (gasp!), a Christian growth book, a devotional book, or a biography about a missionary, Christian leader, or ordinary Christian. (As a word of caution, Christian books come from many different backgrounds; not everything promoted as Christian is fundamental or Biblically sound.)

6) Listen to sermons.
While most effective when one can give his full attention to the message, recorded sermons can also accompany driving time or household tasks. Many churches offer recordings of their sermons; this is a good way to reinforce sermons, either on a regular basis or perhaps just for messages that had particular impact. Not all sermons come from a church setting; conferences and retreats are a source of much life-changing teaching that could be reinforced by listening to recordings. As with books, there is a lot of variety (and false teaching) on the online realm. Therefore, it is best to choose sermons from a pastor, church, or other resource that is known to be fundamental.

7) Type old sermon notes.
Many people who take sermon notes never refer to them again. This does not deny the inherent benefit in taking notes, but that benefit can be enhanced by reviewing the notes. One way of doing this is to type the notes, which not only reminds a believer of the content, but can also translate that content into a more accessible and neater format.

8) Write a Bible study.
It has often been stated (accurately) that the teacher learns more than the student. A Christian can learn much by pretending to be a teacher. He can write a Bible study as if he is the one who would be teaching it. For ideas, he could think of the topic for next week's sermon or Sunday school lesson, a Bible study or retreat that he was unable to attend, or a class that merely surveyed a topic.

9) Personalize a psalm.
Other passages of Scripture can be used also, but psalms are probably the easiest. Either verse by verse or concept by concept, one can write down a personal parallel to the passage. The believer can insert his own struggles and situation, thus leading to applying in his own life the lessons learned or the truth rehearsed by the original writer.

10) Be creative.
When a truth is especially meaningful to a Christian, he can sink more deeply into that truth or extend his time considering that truth by writing a poem or an essay or a song about that truth. He doesn't even have to be a professional, since he and God are the intended recipients.

Each of these methods can enhance or extend devotional time, while adding some variety or spice to a believer's spiritual life. Try something new!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Reasons for Not Understanding the Bible

Some Christians say they don't read the Bible (or read it only with frustration) because they don't understand it. This is sad, because God intends for the Bible to be of great benefit to the Christian, benefit which cannot be fully attained in one or two sermons a week. Self-study of the Bible is a necessity. Increased understanding of the Bible generally comes with increased study, but there are various reasons why some people really do struggle to understand the Bible.

1) A Christian could have a preconceived notion that ordinary Christians can't understand the Bible. A believer who is convinced that the Bible is only for church and only to be explained by the pastor has erected a barrier to understanding. God intends the Bible to be for all believers. God commends the believers in Berea, stating, "Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11). Far from relegating Scripture to the church setting alone, these believers went home and studied the Bible to make sure the preacher was instructing correctly.

2) A Christian could be limited due to his intellectual ability. God has not given every individual the same abilities or opportunities. Someone with more education and a higher reading level is better equipped to understand anything he reads, including the Bible. This does not mean, however, that a less educated person cannot understand the Bible. "The unfolding of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple" (Psalm 119:130). If the wording of the King James Version is restrictive, a believer might consider using a reliable modern translation, such as the New American Standard Bible or the English Standard Version.

3) A Christian might not be using profitable reading techniques. I have discussed this elsewhere, but a few general guidelines are that a reader should pause to absorb what he has read, should summarize content in his own words, should read passages within their context, and should approach the Bible systematically.

4) A Christian could struggle due to limited Biblical background. Understanding of the Bible builds over time. The truths found throughout the Bible interconnect with and support each other. As a reader gains understanding of one portion of the Bible, he will be better prepared to understand other portions. As his understanding of those other portions then increases, he will be better equipped to increasingly understand the initial portion. Understanding the Bible is an ongoing process that constantly contributes to increasing understanding. Even new Christians can have some understanding. "Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation" (I Peter 2:2).

5) A Christian might be troubled by his inability to understand certain parts of the Bible. Some parts are harder to understand than others. Peter describes Paul's writings: "In which are some things hard to understand" (II Peter 3:16). The Bible deals with eternal and divine concepts; mere mortals won't be able to understand completely. Limitations in understanding some portions of Scripture should not prevent a believer's continued sincere attempts. In some cases, a Christian might simply need to set aside a certain passage and focus elsewhere. "But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil" (Hebrews 5:14).

6) A believer might struggle to understand because he has "become dull of hearing" (Hebrews 5:11). The author of Hebrews rebukes certain Christians: "For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food" (Hebrews 5:12). The problem is not with the Bible, but with the reader.

There are indeed people who can't understand the Bible. "But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised" (I Corinthians 2:14). This ought not to be true of a Christian, who has the Spirit of God to enable him to understand spiritual truth (John 16:13). A failure to reasonably understand the Bible can be an indication of carnality. While Christians have a spiritual nature, they can allow their carnal natures to squelch their spiritual natures; when carnality rules, spiritual discernment wanes.

Carnality can be expressed through a love of the world. "Do not love the world nor the things in the world" (I John 2:15). "Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?" (James 4:4). An obsession with, desire for, and following of the world's lifestyle, philosophy, and pursuits creates a great barrier to spiritual discernment by putting a believer in opposition toward God.

Carnality can be expressed through distraction by earthly things. Life contains necessary "distractions," such as family and work; life can also be filled with unnecessary, chaotic, and detrimental distractions, like technology, entertainment, and activities, which quench spiritual appetites and sensitivity. II Timothy 3:4 refers to those who are "lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God." No man can effectively love both (Matthew 6:24).

Carnality can be expressed through resistance to God. A believer can "quench the Spirit" of God who wants to give him understanding (I Thessalonians 5:19). A believer can fight with God over some issue, thus introducing a barrier. "God is opposed to the proud. . . . Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God" (I Peter 5:5-6). Un-confessed sin also introduces an obstacle (I John 1:6-9).

The Bible is powerful and effective (Hebrews 4:12), and God intends for it to be a source of light and understanding (Psalm 119:105). A believer who struggles to understand the Bible should examine these potential areas of limitation and should earnestly ask the Spirit to aid his understanding.