Category Archives: Growth

Attentive to God

This is a sight test! Look around the area where you are now sitting, probably a familiar scene. Look hard. Look until you find something you’ve never noticed before. Go ahead, try it. Look until you can say, “I never really saw that before.”

This is a hearing test! Listen carefully. Listen through the familiar and obvious sounds. Listen until you hear a sound you would have missed if you hadn’t been taking this hearing test! Listen until you can say, “I would never have heard that.”

I’m reading a book by Leighton Ford titled The Attentive Life, subtitled Discovering God’s Presence in All Things.  One of the characteristics of God is that He’s omnipresent (all places present). There is no place where He is not. You could have fooled me!

There are times I forget God’s around. Oh, I don’t forget to the extent that if you asked me, “Is God here?” I wouldn’t give the proper theological answer, “He most certainly is!”

Practically speaking? That’s another matter! In the busyness and distraction of moment-by-moment living it’s easy to forget God’s around, or at least it’s rather easy to ignore Him. The result is that we often think, speak, act, and even feel as if God’s not there. Our life’s response is little different from the person who doesn’t have an active faith. We can be practicing atheists!

Ford writes, “Perhaps inattentiveness is our greatest sin.” He might be right. So far this day I’ve faced several stressful, challenging situations. You too? Are we facing those situations with the awareness that God is near? Are we handling those situations with an attentiveness to God’s direction and help?

Stop! Look! Listen! It’s up to us whether we’ve seen and heard from God today, throughout today!

How about affirming what King David did in one of his psalms. “Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” (Psalm 25:4-5)


Three Ways of Looking at Jesus

Author and pastor John Ortberg spoke at the recent REVEAL conference that I attended at Willow Creek church near Chicago.  He described three places we can be on our spiritual journey when it comes to Jesus Christ.

Some people are admirers of Jesus.
They consider Him to have been a great teacher and religious leader.  My personal thought is that they may even consider Him to be the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior of the world, but perhaps simply have never engaged in thoughtful reflection on the ramifications of that truth.

Some people are users of Jesus
They cry out to Jesus in time of need.  Their prayer life consists primarily of asking for things from Jesus – “Dear Jesus, help me with this.”  “Dear Jesus, bless my aunt Tilly.”  “Dear Jesus, please….” Of course we all need the constant help of the Lord, but people who are at this place in their spiritual journey don’t have much more in their prayer repertoire than prayer requests.

Some people are fully committed followers of Jesus
They want their lives to be Christ-centered and not self-centered.  They want everything in their lives to reflect this total commitment.  Of course this does not mean that those who are at this place carry out this commitment perfectly; no one ever does.  It just means they are committed to this as their goal.

We all need to ask ourselves where we are on this spiritual continuum.  Are we essentially an admirer of Jesus, a user of Jesus, or a committed disciple and follower of Jesus?  Just asking.

Disappearing Money

Last Saturday Diann and I received in the mail our regular financial update of our retirement/pension/investment funds.  The figures were not pretty!  From January of this year to the end of September (note: this does not even include what happened so far in October) we lost 20% of its value!  That money simply disappeared into thin air — POOF!

Our experience is, unfortunately, the norm.  Most of us have taken a serious financial hit, and will continue to be battered, from all that’s happening in the financial realm.  What are we to make of this as followers of Jesus Christ?

I’m seeing that the Lord is teaching Diann and myself two key messages.  First, that we should never put our confidence in the material, and that includes the financial realm.  Most experts say that the money we thought we had socked away was only on paper, that it was only really there if we chose to cash it in at that particular time.  This reality serves to remind us that what we thought was so real (our hard-earned money) is not so real after all and that we’d better be depending on that which will be real for all eternity, the things of God.  Laying up treasure in heaven is making more sense as each day passes!

Second, we’re learning to trust the Lord for all of our needs, including financial.  God is the same today, yesterday, and tomorrow.  He does not vacillate like the ups and downs of the stock market!  He will always be there for us.

Yes, these are tough financial times.  But, as often happens under these conditions, they will undoubtedly turn out to be the best of spiritual times!

The “Gift of Noticing”

Suart McAllister writes, “Bill Smith, a friend of mine, often exhorts people to cultivate the ‘gift of noticing.’  By this he means actively looking for God’s presence and grace in the everyday things we often ignore… when we work at noticing, we begin to ‘see’ more, to enjoy more, and to celebrate more.”

(Beyond Reason, Ravi Zacharias, quoting Stuart McAllister, p. 270)

Picture of our grandson, Caleb

Disillusionment with People

Are you ever disillusioned with people? Silly question, right? Of course we all have been disillusioned with people at one time or another, perhaps even today! 

I’m reading through Oswald Chambers’ classic devotional My Utmost for His Highest, and today’s reflection was all about dealing with disillusionment when it comes to other people. Chambers references one of the most intriguing statements about Jesus. Jesus was near the beginning of His ministry and the miracles He had done were drawing large crowds who liked Him. Speaking of these large and largely adoring crowds, the gospel writer John states, “But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men.” (John 2:24) 

Most people would have felt honored by all of the positive attention, but not Jesus. He had a realistic view of people (“he knew all men”) and realized they could be fickle and could easily do a 180 in their opinion of Him. Jesus was not cynical of people, but on the other hand He didn’t have a Pollyanna view of people either. It was a wonderful balance that we too should adopt. 

If we feel people can do no right then they sense we don’t believe in them, that we are always suspect of them. Such an attitude will certainly poison our relationships. On the other hand, if we expect perfection out of people we are going to be bitterly disappointed. They will, sooner or later, disappoint us. We need to adopt Jesus’ view of people for, as Chambers writes, it is He who “brings us to the point where we see people as they really are, yet without any cynicism or any stinging and bitter criticism.” 

Part of our problem is that we want people to satisfy our ultimate need for someone totally trustworthy and so we expect perfection from them. Chambers writes, “We are demanding of a human being something which he or she cannot possibly give. There is only one Being who can completely satisfy to the absolute depth of the hurting human heart, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ.” 

So, when it comes to those we work with, recreate with, live next door to, go to church with, or live with — let’s lighten up! Let’s cut them some slack. Sometimes you just have to whisper a prayer upward with rolled eyes, “People, ya gotta love ’em. Help me to do so, Lord.”

Stoking a Holy Fire Within

How do you put out a campfire? You kick the sticks, the logs, and the embers to spread them out.

How do you stoke a fire? You pile up and push together the sticks, the logs, and the embers.

Remove one of the sticks or logs from the fire and it will quickly go out. Pieces of burning wood need each other to keep burning.

This imagery of how to put out or build a fire has always helped me appreciate the value of other people to my own spiritual pilgrimage and faith walk. We live in a time when individuality is valued, perhaps over-valued. More and more we watch movies in our homes on DVD rather than going to a theater with a hundred other people. More and more we watch sports on TV with our wide screen TVs rather than going to the sporting event and watching it in person with thousands of others. Personal listening devices with the ever-present earphones allow us to be in our own little world with our music. Faith Popcorn, a trend forecaster, coined the phrase “cocooning” to describe this phenomena of going it alone.

We can do the same when it comes to our faith. We can content ourselves with watching a TV preacher, checking out a faith-based web site or reading a faith-focused blog like this one!

I know, being a part of a church, or even getting together with two or more other people who are serious about God can be messy business! People are so imperfect, so annoying, so hurtful, even so-called people of faith! Having pastored the same church for 33 years I know it’s not always easy getting along with others. But the price is worth it!

God created us to ultimately be social creatures. People need people. Jesus called twelve disciples to follow Him, and He didn’t call them to follow Him alone but together!

There are some spiritual realities we learn and some some spiritual ways we grow that can only happen when we put ourselves in close proximity to other people who also claim to want to learn and grow spiritually. If we want to catch fire spiritually and have a burning, passionate faith, we’re going to have to find some other people to do it with!

One of my favorite verses that applies to this subject is Hebrews 10:25. “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another…”

Exercising Faith

There seems to be only one way to build stronger muscles, and that’s by exercising them, which means pushing them beyond the point where they start complaining to us.  It’s not fun!

It seems to me that exercising faith presents us with much the same experience.  We have to trust, have patience, put ourselves out on a limb and in other ways live out our faith in God that takes us beyond our comfort zone.  Faith is not something that can usually be described as cozy and comforting as much as it can be described with terms such as blood, sweat, and tears!  It’s not easy exercising faith.

The results, however, are worth it!  We end up having a closer walk with the Lord, seeing a higher degree of Christ-likeness in ourselves, and rejoicing in seeing fruit to our lives that would not have been there if we had not put forth extraordinary effort.

Addicted to the Spectacular

J. I. Packer references something fellow author Dallas Willard wrote with the theme of being “addicted to the spectacular.”  I found the phrase intriguing — “being addicted to the spectacular.”  Earlier Packer refers to it as “lusting after the spectacular.”

We read the Biblical accounts of the great saints and we yearn for the kinds of miracles they experienced.  It must have made God seem so obvious, so real.  How we wish for miracles today!  Certainly miracles can still occur, no doubt about that.  Should we yearn for them?  I think we should keep a couple of facts in mind.  First of all, the Bible collects together stories that happened over centuries.  It’s not that they happend every day.  Even the spiritual greats of the Bible sometimes went a long time without a miracle.  Second, since we have their accounts and can have our faith strengthened by those recorded miracles, God shouldn’t have to repeat Himself if He doesn’t want to.

Again, God can and does do miracles (I’m convinced that life itself is an ongoing miracle that we’re just so used to seeing that we no longer see it as miraculous).  What I’m getting at is that we can miss so much of what God is doing and wants to do because we’re waiting for something bigger to happen.  Packer quotes Dallas Willard who comments on how the desire for always wanting a big and obvious miracle “generally goes along with the less mature levels of the spiritual life…”  We’re sort of like children, always wanting to be wowed and impressed, otherwise we’ll lose interest and be bored.  Ouch!  I don’t want to be immature in Christ but mature in Christ!

Most of our life in Christ will be played out on the stage of ordinary days.  The day-to-dayness of life offers abundant opportunities to sense God’s presence, to be guided by Him and to seize occasions to carry out His will.  This was even true of the Biblical greats.  The apostle Paul had many exciting experiences with healings, being led out of prison, etc.  What we also need to keep in mind, however, is that he spent many a day trudging on foot or sailing by ship to get where he was going on his long missionary journeys.  It wasn’t all excitement.  Then, again, who wants some of the excitement he had — being beaten, jailed, going hungry, dealing with a storm at sea, etc!

Sometimes ordinary days aren’t so bad.  Sometimes they give us the best opportunity to live for the Lord.

Continuing Our Conversion

“Conversion is a process” writes Kathleen Norris in her book Amazing Grace: a Vocabulary of Faith.  It’s a good reminder for all of us.  Frequently we think of conversion to Christ as an event.  There’s that moment when a person decides they need God’s forgiveness and that this comes through Christ’s redemptive work that was accomplished for them on the cross and that now they are to live for Him and no longer for self.  That is, indeed, often a once-and-for-all decision.

But conversion to Christ does not end at this point.  It’s only the beginning!  We keep on converting to becoming more and more like Christ, at least that’s to be the idea.  Norris writes, “In living out my conversion as a daily and lifelong process, I treasure most the example of my grandmother Totten, who dwelled in one marriage, one home, one church congregation for over sixty years.  Her faith was alive for anyone to see; her life demonstrates that conversion is no more spectacular than learning to love the people we live with and work among.” (p. 44)

Our ongoing conversion to being more and more like Jesus is going to have to happen in our ordinary day-to-day experiences, as humdrum as they might seem to be.  It will be played out among the people and in the midst of the circumstances we find ourselves today, for where else can it happen?

Norris concludes her thoughts on conversion by quoting the apostle Paul.  “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed — not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence — continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13)

“Work out your salvation,” Paul says.  Of course he doesn’t mean we work to gain our salvation.  What he does mean is that once we enjoy the Lord’s salvation we commit to working it out in our day-to-day lives.  We act as if we really believe He’s acted in our lives, and continues to act in our lives!  Yes, conversion is more than a once-and-for-all event.  It’s an ongoing process.  Let’s keep converting!

Delayed Gratification of a Divine Order

I’m writing this on Wednesday morning because I’ll be in surgery for the removal of my gall bladder this afternoon (1:30). I appreciate your prayers! 

It’s rather strange preparing for surgery and hospitalization (hopefully, just one night) when I feel perfectly fine. The gall bladder’s caused me extreme pain on three occasions, however, and so needs to come out. 

This business of voluntarily subjecting myself to surgery when I feel great got me to thinking about how this is so much like our experience with the Christian walk. Following Jesus often seems to require of us that we think and act in ways that are difficult and seemingly costly. The easy way would be to follow our own whims and wishes which, often at the time, seem to be just fine, even desirable. The Lord’s teachings that we follow warn us, however, that we should know better. 

We try to teach children about the value of delayed gratification. Sometimes you have to put off what seems to be the good that is at hand for the very best which is in the distance. We call it part of growing up. This, it seems to me, is what the Lord often asks us to do. 

God frequently calls us to work hard and wait long. We, on the other hand, prefer results now, instant satisfaction and immediate gratification with a minimal of work involved. It may be something as simple as wanting to tell a person exactly what’s on our mind at the moment instead of holding our tongue and giving it some prayerful thought. It may mean we want to buy an item we really don’t need with money which we really don’t have, putting it on the credit card. It may mean fantasizing about the ideal friend, relative, co-worker, or mate instead of investing the time and effort in the relationships the Lord has put into our lives. 

Jesus is the ultimate example of seeing beyond the moment who“for the joy set before him endured the cross…” (Hebrews 12:2) Part of faith is trusting God when He says time and time again in His Word that we are to deny and resist that which would be easy to give in to and aim, instead, for His best that will take some time, effort and sacrifice. Jesus tells us, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24) 

The doctor says that the surgery should take care of my problem. I believe him. I’ll go through with it, though it won’t be easy. I believe Jesus even more! I want to carry through with His plans for me, though I know it won’t always be easy. You too?