This blog 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, March 31, 2018

Something Real

In recent years, many have wondered why so many young people are leaving the church. While often viewed as a recent phenomenon, there is nothing new in the disparity of Christian fidelity from one generation to the next.

In American history the First Great Awakening (1730s-1750s) primarily targeted church members who had never embraced true Christianity. That revival did not mark a permanent adherence to Christianity in America, however. The Second Great Awakening took place in the 1790s to 1830s, and the Third Great Awakening occurred in the 1850s to 1890s. Many cite another great revival on the heels of World War II. Why have these revivals been needed so frequently? Why has Christianity, once ignited, not persisted?

The same questions easily apply to biblical history. Israel had great revivals interspersed with periods of egregious wickedness. The book of Judges highlights this repeated cycle. Revivals happened during the reigns of Asa, Jehoshaphat, and Manasseh; outstanding spiritual awakenings occurred under both Hezekiah and Josiah. After the years of captivity, another great revival happened under Nehemiah, but that one didn't last either. Jesus decried the empty worship in His day, and the book of Hebrews was written to Christians considering a return to Judaism.

Wikipedia shares surprising insight in its article "Great Awakening": "Pulling away from ritual and ceremony, the Great Awakening made religion intensely personal to the average person." God stated the problem this way: "This people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote" (Isaiah 29:13). That truth is illustrated poignantly in the book of Malachi, and Jesus applied Isaiah's assessment to His generation (Matthew 15:8).

The bottom line is that Christianity has to be based on something real; it must be internally genuine rather than externally compliant. The genuineness of Christianity starts with salvation, when a person begins a new relationship with God, but this is only the beginning. Many people have started there, yet never progressed into deep Christianity. Many have been saved for years with only marginal effect on their overall lives. Others have walked with God, perhaps even rendering some level of Christian service, but eventually ended up in complacency and ambivalence. Why do some Christians waver or remain anemic, while others are steadfast and dynamic?

Again, the answer is that Christianity must be based on something real. This is true for the ongoing relationship just as it is for the initiation. Sadly, too many believers do not comprehend the significance of the relationship aspect. They see Christianity merely as an eternal redemption or a life philosophy, but not as a constant practical relationship.

Christians' initial ability to appreciate the "something real" aspect of the ongoing relationship with God comes with knowledge of the Bible. Christians must be exposed to and challenged with biblical truth. They must be taught about life-long growth in their faith. For a new Christian, this may involve discipleship. For some Christians, this may involve counseling or one-on-one Bible study. For every Christian, this must include regular church attendance and personal Bible study. Someone will not achieve a life-long and life-impacting relationship with God if he does not know that such a relationship exists.

Beyond merely understanding that such a thing can happen, the "something real" must be modeled so a believer sees what the relationship should look like. Christians should encourage others toward meaningful relationships with God by demonstrating such a genuine walk themselves. This allows newer or less mature Christians to translate theoretical knowledge into deeper awareness. This is what happened for the author of Psalm 119. As he observed other believers, he noticed, "How blessed are those whose walk is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD. How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, who seek Him with all their heart" (vs. 1-2). As he observed the deeper relationships of others, this man desired the same for himself. "Oh that my ways may be established to keep Your statutes!" (v. 5).

Paul taught, "Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have seen in us" (Philippians 3:17). "Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ" (I Corinthians 11:1). Every sincere Christian should desire for his walk with God to inspire and encourage others toward a deeper walk. "Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds" (Hebrews 10:24). The dangerous mantra that "Christianity is personal, and I don't talk about it" must be abandoned; believers must speak biblical truth and must share testimonies. Believers must exercise some transparency in actively displaying their Christianity, beginning with their own families.

In understanding the "something real" of practical Christianity,  first-hand experience is even more powerful than second-hand example. No one desires adversity, but it is the most powerful venue for revealing the precious relationship that exists with God. There is no greater confirmation of God's character and faithful support. After Job passed through adversity, he admitted, "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You" (Job 42:5). Looking to God during hard times clearly reveals the genuineness of the relationship and provides a platform specially designed for deepening that relationship. "After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you" (I Peter 5:10).

Even believers who already have a lasting, significant relationship with God should earnestly desire to strengthen their relationship by seeking God's truth, by being encouraged by others, and by seeking communion with God through their own trials. Furthermore, they must let others know by their words and by their examples that such a special relationship is possible. Christians who refuse to share their own "something real" have no grounds for bemoaning the weakness of Christianity around them.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Book Review: To the Golden Shore

I have read Courtney Anderson's biography of Adoniram Judson more than once, and it has been a blessing and encouragement each time. Although the book extends to five hundred pages, it is compelling and interesting.

The author begins by relating Judson's background. Judson was brought up with great spiritual advantage, as his father was a pastor. Judson's father was a man of conviction, often finding himself under disapproval from nominal churches and in conflict with anemic congregations. Judson saw the example of a man who stood for truth.

Judson was incredibly bright even from a very young age. His father encouraged his abilities and tried to provide him with opportunities to develop and learn. Judson was regularly confronted with the expectation of doing something exceptional with his life.

When Judson went to college, he became friends with a godless young man, and with no strong convictions of his own, Judson soon turned from God. For four years, he walked his own way, mostly trying to hide his lack of belief from his parents. After some dissatisfaction, he reached a crisis point where he faced his immortality and finally turned to God.

With his new-found faith, Judson's background, intelligence, and ambition became great tools in the hands of God. Judson still desired to please his father by doing something great, but he also desired to serve God. These ambitions came into conflict when Judson declared his intention to become a foreign missionary.

The path toward missions did not proceed smoothly. Foreign missions was unheard of in America and was actually opposed by some of the church leaders that Judson approached. With a group of similarly-minded friends, Judson continued to pursue this goal and finally embarked for the mission field. The young men had little guidance or preparation. They were not able to make arrangements with foreign governments and were unaware of where they would be able to go or what it would take to get there.

One-and-a-half years were consumed with ocean travel, government opposition, threats of deportation, roadblocks, and closed doors until Judson and his wife finally landed in the inhospitable country of Burma. Almost no missionary work had been done in Burma, and foreigners were not welcome. Religious intolerance was high. Judson had been told that missionary work would be impossible.

In fact, the missionary endeavor was not easy. Judson faced fear, superstition, and obstinacy, as he was viewed with suspicion. Without any official welcome, people were afraid to even talk to him; government and established religion provided strong opposition. It took about five years to see the first convert, nine years to see eighteen converts, and nearly twenty years before the number of converts extended into the hundreds and interest became widespread.

During the long and fruitless years, Judson faced isolation, illness, and the deaths of several children. All three of his successive wives died. Judson spent a few years in a seemingly fruitless effort to gain approbation by the government to carry on his missionary work. Ultimately, he ended up in a "death prison," from which his survival and release were truly miraculous.

God did bless the labors of this faithful servant. Eventually other missionaries joined the endeavor, and the country of Burma was opened to the gospel. Judson was able to publish multiple writings, including tracts, a dictionary, a grammar, and Scripture portions. Judson was able to translate the entire Bible (the manuscript for which was providentially preserved) and do revisions. The extent to which Judson contributed to gospel outreach in Burma was phenomenal - a testament to God's gracious work through a willing and gifted man.

Judson was not perfect. The biography reveals areas of both struggle and growth. Perhaps most notable in terms of growth were Judson's coming to understand Biblical baptism and his later evaluation of his tainted motives in becoming a missionary.

This book provides inspiration regarding Christian growth, the importance of missions, and dedication to God. It provides wonderful examples of God's providential control and His ability to accomplish His work in seemingly impossible situations. 

Saturday, March 17, 2018


I like to plan. When I taught school, I had yearly plans for each class before the school year started, sketching out which units I would cover and how long I would spend on each. When I teach Sunday school, I have each week's topic planned before the course starts. At work I have a planned schedule for each day. At home I follow careful budgets. Each week I write down my grocery list before going to the store. I like to know about activities ahead of time so I can look forward to them and prepare for them.

Life does not always allow for such precise plans.  Sometimes life takes one by surprise, spinning out of expected patterns and leaving the comfortable realm of predictability. Sometimes life doesn't even reveal whether chaos or stability are likely to prevail. For the moment, life holds steady, but it flashes warning signs that upheaval might be coming; whether that upheaval will materialize or not is quite unknown.

I currently find myself in the last of those possibilities. Life might continue on its familiar path, but a strong possibility of significant upheaval also looms. While that upheaval is not guaranteed, and may be only temporary if it does happen, I nevertheless face the reasonable prospect of an uncomfortable and challenging season of life.

Since the warning alarm a few days ago, my mind has processed some unwelcome vocabulary. Overwhelmed. Faint. Drowning. Floundering. Fearful. Tense. Daunting. Helpless. Crushed. Frail. Discouraged. Impossible. At times my thoughts have spun wildly, resisting control. I have tried to come up with solutions and figure out the possibilities. I've gone through denial, ignoring, wishful thinking, and hopes.

This has created chaos - a noisy and busy mind. In the midst of that, I have been aware that it is not where I want to be. I want peace and victory. I want to rest. I want to trust God. I suppose it is natural - human, for sure - to need time to adjust. If a rock is thrown into a pond or a bucket is kicked, the water does not still immediately. I yearn, however, for that stillness to come quickly.

Many things can help to bring peace and calmness. Prayer, God's promises, His Word, knowing my God, the maturity brought through previous storms. All of these things help. Something else has helped to calm me as well. It is my Ebenezer.

In the days of Samuel, the children of Israel were in a time of spiritual renewal. As they came together to confess sins and worship God, the Philistines chose to attack. The children of Israel were afraid. They asked Samuel to pray and ask God to save them. God answered Samuel's prayer in a mighty way. "The Lord thundered with a great thunder on that day against the Philistines and confused them, so that they were routed before Israel" (I Samuel 7:10). A great victory followed, and Samuel marked the victory with a memorial. "Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, 'Thus far the Lord has helped us'" (I Samuel 7:12). This was just one of many times that Israel set up a visible marker to remind them of something God had done for them.

A number of years ago I created an Ebenezer - a visual testament to God's provision. I had been abruptly let go from my job mid-school year, leading to total upheaval. In addition to losing my job, I lost my ministry, my church family, my friends, important spiritual support, my home, and my familiar life. I moved several states away to the challenge of living with my parents, while remaining unemployed or semi-employed for twenty months. My search for a new ministry led me through multiple possibilities that seemed exciting and definite, but each in turn crashed in disappointment.

It seemed that those months would never end. I didn't see how I could make it through. I made a miniature calendar with a box for each day, lasting until when I thought I would have a new teaching position. Each day I colored in a box, changing colors each month. When my unemployment extended an extra year, I made more cards to track the additional months. Finally, I colored one tiny box in a bold contrasting color - the day I got my new job and my life finally moved on.

When I emerged from that experience, I thought to myself, "After what God has done for me, I never have reason to doubt Him again." I have kept those calendar cards on my refrigerator. I notice them from time to time, but I rarely focus on them. This week, however, I was thankful for them. They have been a reminder that has helped to redirect my thoughts.

Those calendar cards have reminded me of many important truths. God knows what He is doing. He will take care of me. He has amazing power to orchestrate people and events. No situation is out of His control. He can and will do exactly as He has planned. He can give me enough grace. He can give me strength. He can help me do what seems impossible. He can carry me through. He can take things that look really bad, and He can use them to accomplish things that are really good.

I don't know what will happen through the rest of this year, but even if the worst scenario that I can imagine should develop, that will not change who God is. It will not diminish His love, limit His power, nullify His wisdom, or trump His control. God will do what is right, and He will help me. That doesn't mean life will be easy, fun, comfortable, or preferred, but it does mean I can trust Him. He has already proven that to me.

"Your lovingkindness, O Lord, extends to the heavens, Your faithfulness reaches to the skies" (Psalm 36:5).

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Things to Say in a Funk

A funk. The blues. The doldrums. At one time or another, everyone experiences a mood that is simply not pleasant. Low points that extend beyond the normal ups and downs of life can come for a number of reasons: great disappointments, persistent frustration, continuing stress, uncomfortable uncertainty, or ongoing discouragement.

Recently I had another birthday. I wasn't expecting any major celebration, but until almost the last minute, I didn't have even the prospects of plans. There was some disappointment and discouragement in that unwelcome absence of anticipation. As it turns out, some friends spent the evening with me, which redeemed the day, but after I got home and the following day, I found myself extra discouraged.

As I evaluated why, I realized that my despondent mood didn't actually have much to do with the birthday itself. Rather, I was discouraged because I had reached another milestone in life without seeing desired changes. I was another year older and still alone. More disturbing was that I was another year older and my health had still not turned around.

As soon as my mind came to those conclusions, I knew I had discovered the source of my discouragement. I also knew that the needed response was for me to say some things to God. While someone may not immediately recognize it as such, being in a funk is usually closely related to one's thoughts and attitudes toward God. I was unhappy with what He was doing and allowing in my life. Instead of retaining those negative thoughts, I had to say four things.

1. I thank You.
"Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name" (Psalm 100:4).
"Always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father" (Ephesians 5:20).
"In everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (I Thessalonians 5:18).

There is never a time when it is not proper to give God thanks. There is never a situation for which it is not proper to give God thanks. God gives to His children only what is for their good and only what will accomplish His good work. Humanly speaking, individuals may not see that good or even be able to imagine it, but everything that God does or fails to do is worthy of thanks.

2. I praise You.
"Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation" (Habakkuk 3:17-18).
"Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name" (Hebrews 13:15).
"Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance" (James 1:2-3).
"In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials" (I Peter 1:6).

There is never a time when it is not proper to praise God. He is always in control. He is always doing His work. He is always good. He is always faithful. He is always working to accomplish His work in the world and in the lives of individuals. His amazing character and works are worthy of praise.

3. I trust You.
"Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him, and He will do it" (Psalm 37:5).
"You are good and do good" (Psalm 119:68).
"Therefore I esteem right all Your precepts concerning everything" (Psalm 119:128).
"The LORD of hosts has sworn saying, 'Surely, just as I have intended so it has happened, and just as I have planned so it will stand'" (Isaiah 14:24).
"And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28).

There is never a time when a believer cannot trust God. God knows exactly what He is doing. God always does what is right. God can orchestrate plans that man cannot comprehend. God can bring to fruition everything that He has planned. With a God so wise, so powerful, and so loving, there is no reason for man not to trust Him.

4. I yield to You.
"And Mary said, 'Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word'" (Luke 1:38).
"On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, 'Why did you make me like this,' will it?" (Romans 9:20).
"Submit therefore to God" (James 4:7).
"Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time" (I Peter 5:6).

There is never a time when it is not necessary to yield to God. Man does not have the wisdom or power of God. Man doesn't know what is right and would make the wrong choices on his own. Instead of stubbornly resisting and insisting on his own way, a Christian must yield to the One who truly knows what is best and who solely can accomplish His plans.

These four statements help to put life in perspective. They help someone to put himself in correct relation to God. They help a Christian to focus on proper, stabilizing thoughts instead of improper, variable feelings. Even if future birthdays go completely unnoticed, even if I am always alone, and even if my health never improves, I must deal with those disappointments by telling God, "I thank You, I praise You, I trust You, and I yield to You."

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Under His Wings

William Cushing wrote a wonderful hymn, "Under His Wings," which centers around a precious picture that God Himself revealed in the Bible. God compares Himself to a mother bird who gently holds her chicks close, providing them with protection, comfort, stability, and undying love.

Under His wings, God provides protection.
Under His wings, I am safely abiding,
Tho' the night deepens and tempests are wild;
Still I can trust Him - I know He will keep me,
He has redeemed me and I am His child.

"Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me, for my soul takes refuge in You; and in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge until destruction passes by (Psalm 57:1).

"He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark" (Psalm 91:4).

God's protection knows no boundaries. Consider some of the situations under which He affirms His ability to protect.

·         the ends of the earth and the farthest sea (Psalm 65:5)
·         terror, arrows, pestilence, destruction (Psalm 91:5-6)
·         night and day, coming and going, now and forever (Psalm 121:6&8)
·         raging waters (Psalm 124:4-5)
·         the remotest part of the sea (Psalm 139:9)
·         the overwhelming darkness of night (Psalm 139:12)
·         waters, rivers, fire, and flame (Isaiah 43:2)

Under His wings, God provides comfort.
Under His wings, what a refuge in sorrow!
How the heart yearningly turns to His rest!
Often when earth has no balm for my healing,
There I find comfort and there I am blest.

"For You have been my help, and in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy" (Psalm 63:7).

"But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall" (Malachi 4:2).

God can help and comfort and heal like no one else can. He often describes this comforting quality.

·         as a solicitous shepherd (Psalm 23:4)
·         like a compassionate father (Psalm 103:13)
·         like the mother of a newborn (Isaiah 49:15)
·         as the Great Physician (Mark 2:17)
·         as the Father of mercies and God of all comfort (II Corinthians 1:3-4)
·         as One who gives peace beyond human comprehension (Philippians 4:7)
·         as a sympathizing High Priest (Hebrews 4:15)

Under His wings, God provides stability.
Under His wings, O what precious enjoyment!
There will I hide till life's trials are o'er;
Sheltered, protected, no evil can harm me,
Resting in Jesus I'm safe evermore.

"May the LORD reward your work, and your wages be full from the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge" (Ruth 2:12).

"Keep me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of Your wings" (Psalm 17:8).

God is the only one with power to hold people throughout their entire lives, and He is certainly the only one who can keep them for eternity.

·         He keeps His children before they are born (Psalm 139:15-16)
·         He keeps His children from birth (Psalm 71:6)
·         He keeps His children from their youth (Psalm 71:5)
·         He keeps His children in the trials of life (Psalm 25:20)
·         He keeps beyond the limited capacity of man (Psalm 127:1)
·         He keeps His children when they are old (Psalm 71:18)
·         He keeps His children for eternity (John 10:28-29)

Under His wings, God provides undying love.
Under His wings, under His wings,
Who from His love can sever?
Under His wings my soul shall abide,
Safely abide forever.

"How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings" (Psalm 36:7).

"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling" (Matthew 23:27).

God's love is unmatched to a degree that man cannot comprehend. His love is incredible.

·         God defines Himself as being love (I John 4:7-8)
·         There is no greater love than self-sacrifice (John 15:13)
·         Jesus died for those who were His enemies (Romans 5:8)
·         God's love is not based on any human merit (Titus 3:4-5)
·         God openly declares His love (John 14:21&23 and 16:27)
·         God's love is beyond comprehension (Ephesians 3:17-19)
·         Nothing can separate believers from God's love (Romans 8:35-39)
·         God loved first (I John 4:19)
·         God's love is everlasting (Jeremiah 31:3)
·         God wants believers to abide constantly in His love (John 15:9-10)

When one realizes the tremendous blessing of abiding under the protecting, comforting, stabilizing, loving wings of God, his heart should respond by earnestly desiring to remain in that position. There is no better place!

"Let me dwell in Your tent forever; let me take refuge in the shelter of Your wings" (Psalm 61:4).