A Christmas Prayer

This post is for anyone like me, who sometimes struggles to not only get into the Christmas spirit but fight through the cultural holiday distractions to focus on the meaning of Christmas. This is a prayer I will pray often as the big day draws near.

Heavenly Father,

How quickly the Christmas season comes upon us. We get up from the Thanksgiving table, where we rightly pause to share our gratitude for your good gifts (James 1:17), only to be bombarded with all manner of Christmas music, most of which has nothing to do with your Son and a constant barrage of commercial reminders about getting that perfect gift for everyone on our lists.

It’s distracting. I confess it causes my mind and heart to focus more on the trappings of Western Christmas traditions than on the miracle that we celebrate that day.  I want my Christmas spirit to be rightly focused on You, and the glorious incarnation of Your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who came down and humbled Himself in human flesh to fulfill the prophecies set in motion in the Garden of Eden. To activate Your perfect, incorruptible, unstoppable plan to make a way for humanity to be redeemed.

Christmas is a wonderful time of year. The most wonderful, according to not only a song, but reality as we consider its unmatched significance. So while I conform to the cultural traditions of Christmas, allow me to keep my heart stayed on Christ.

As I decorate and enjoy the tree, let its beauty remind me of His far superior beauty.

As I shop for gifts, may I meditate on the perfect gift of Christ’s example, life, teachings, death, and resurrection.

As I spend time with friends and family, grant that I would appreciate them, love them as myself, and be thankful for them, as a gift from You.

As I consider the financial sacrifice of year-end giving to the church and other worthy organizations,  remind me that Christ sacrificed Himself, for our salvation.

Finally, as I dwell on my undeserved adoption into Your family, let it move my heart to compassion and action, to share the Good News of Christ to those who do not know, who go through the motions of Christmas detached from its true meaning.

These things I pray, in the name of Christ Jesus, Whom we celebrate. Amen.

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In Defense of Sola Scriptura

I can’t put my finger on what has caused it as a society, but I’ve seen it countless times. Professing Christians using sources other than Scripture as their go-to for understanding how to make sense of God and any matters about life:

* Motivational speakers

* Popular books (some billed as “Christian” that range from lightly esteeming the word of God to subtly or outright rejecting it)

* Media figures/celebrities

* TV preachers (some who are nothing more than motivational speakers or prosperity anti-gospel teachers)

* Personal experiences

There is nothing inherently wrong with gathering inspiration for life from other sources. There is an infinite amount of great material out there that can help you be more productive, manage your time better, develop your confidence, be a better spouse, parent or employee. These are all good things.

The trouble comes when we let human wisdom become more valuable to us than wisdom from God Himself, as revealed in the Bible.

My introduction into this type of thinking came several years back. I had pointed out on social media the biblical contradictions of a “Christian” book that was popular at the time. I received immediate rebuking from more than one individual who took me to task for criticizing the book because they liked it and it made them feel good. It brought them comfort in light of an experience they had previously.

I was stunned by the reaction. Yes, I understand how an emotional attachment to some person or form of media that has brought comfort would be held close to one’s heart.  Again, there is nothing wrong with that. But if the said item can be refuted or proven false by the teaching of Scripture, then we are left with the choice of which source we will believe. This is where the rubber meets the road. Or to use another car analogy, this is often where the wheels fall off, unfortunately.

In the years since that exchange, I’ve begun to see extra-biblical sources used as a primary authority more and more in Christian circles. As a Christ-follower who seeks to contend earnestly for the faith (Jude 3), it is alarming to me to see such a departure from Sola Scriptura: the view of the sufficiency of Scripture as our supreme authority in all spiritual matters. For more info on this topic, this article is an excellent resource.

It is my prayer that true Christians everywhere begin to see the crucial nature of this topic and return to a view of Scripture has been held by the church down through the ages.

Let Scripture speak for itself

Concerning the topic at hand, let us turn to some key Scriptures to shed some light on the subject. Who better to start with than the Lord Jesus Christ:

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who build his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell – and great was its fall.” – Matthew 7:24-27

When Jesus was challenged by the Pharisees, he assumed they knew the Scriptures and cited them to prove he was not in error, “Have you not read…?” (Matthew 12:3)

Similarly, when Jesus was tempted by Satan, he quoted the Old Testament:

“But He answered and said, ‘It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”” – Matthew 4:4

More verses that give us insight into the authority of God’s written word:

He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day.”  – John 12:48

Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other. – 1 Corinthians 4:6

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17

These are a few key verses that demonstrate that Jesus Himself, as well as the men He appointed to write the New Testament all point to Scripture as ultimate authority. This theme is woven throughout the Old Testament as well.

Application

Considering these things, we would do well as the Christian church, both corporately and individually, to return Scripture to its rightful place as the first authority by which we should order our lives. It is not a popular thing to do, in a culture that rejects and mocks the Bible, and those who hold it to be authoritative. But we must ask ourselves what our highest priority is, and to what or whom do we look for approval and moral authority?

Jesus’ words tell us the fate of those who look beyond Him. It is not a pretty finish. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t interpretive challenges, or that we won’t have questions about certain things that the Bible teaches. There are, and we will. But as His redeemed ones, He expects that we will seek out those answers diligently (2 Timothy 2:15).

Let us be like the Bereans, who test every teaching by “examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11)

Furthermore, let us heed the command, “no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.” (Ephesians 4:14)

The subject of Sola Scriptura, I believe, is one of the most important to face as Christians. It is my prayer that you, the reader, will consider these things with the weight they deserve. If you have anything to add or any questions, I would love to hear from you. Thank you so much for reading!

 

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Theology of Gratitude

As those of us who are fortunate enough to reside in the United States of America prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, we find a seasonal opportunity foisted upon us to reflect upon the blessings we have in our lives. Those things for which we give thanks. Social media posts abound with hashtags such as #30DaysofThanks, #AttitudeofGratitude, #Thanksgiving #Blessed, #Grateful, etc.

It is touching to see people express their thanksgiving. No matter what your perspective, I think we can all agree that gratitude is a beautiful thing. For Christians, however, it not only takes on a much more significant role in our lives, for the work God has done for us through Christ, but we also find that instructions for thanksgiving are stated often in Scripture.

Gratitude needn’t, or shouldn’t, be limited to one day or month per year. Instead, God lays out the blueprints for a life that oozes gratitude every day. Below I’ll point out some key verses about thanksgiving that indicate for us a pattern that I believe God intends for our daily lives. I’ll offer some thoughts as well, but let primarily God’s word speak for itself.

Giving thanks all the time

To underscore the importance of consistency in thankfulness:

“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

This verse can be a tough one for Christians, myself included. “In everything give thanks???” one might question. A key distinction I picked up in this verse is that it instructs us not to give thanks for everything but in everything. In all circumstances, not for all.

In other words, forcing an insincere “thanks” for that flat tire is not the point. The takeaway, as I see it, is that we cultivate attitudes that filter everything through the gratitude of having a right relationship with God. It makes being thankful regardless of what happens to us possible. Which leads me to my next point.

Giving thanks even when times are rough

God never promises us a comfortable life as Christians. Quite the opposite, in fact. He promises that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12) Not really warm fuzzies, is it?

Job, whom God had blessed with great wealth and a wonderful family, had everything he held dear to him taken away, including his health, in an account that is a rare insight into the workings of the devil. Nevertheless, when he was at his lowest, he still had a right attitude:

“He said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.'” – Job 1:21

Will we as Christians look to God and give him thanks, even when life hands us terrible things?

Giving thanks for what God has done

“It is good to give thanks to the Lord and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High; to declare Your lovingkindness in the morning and your faithfulness by night.”
– Psalm 92:1-2

“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” – 2 Corinthians 9:15

“Every good thing given, and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” – James 1:17

There is not enough time (nor human knowledge) to write, even as a summary, all of the good things God has done. For one very substantial thing, He has provided a way for us as sinful humans to be right with Him, through Jesus Christ (a.k.a. the Gospel).

Throughout the New Testament, we see a theme of giving thanks to God for His saving work. It is easy to see how that attitude is to permeate our lives.

Giving thanks for what God is doing in the lives of others

Having gratitude for what God has done for us is the first step on the road to maturity in thanksgiving. Next, we see that it is modeled for us to be thankful for the magnificent work God does for others.

“But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed,” – Romans 6:17

“We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints;” – Colossians 1:3-4

Giving thanks to God for who He is

This is a critical, yet joyful lesson to learn. God deserves our thanks simply on His own merits and glory.

“Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations.” – Psalm 100:4-5

“Therefore, since we have a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.” – Hebrews 12:28-29

No exclusion clause

Even the godless will be held accountable for their attitude toward God. Romans chapter one goes into damning detail about those who suppress the truth they know about God in unrighteousness. Keeping within the theme of this post:

“For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” – Romans 1:21

Conclusion

Not to end on a negative note, as the last heading might appear, I want to sum up in a way appropriate for the topic. As Christians, no matter what our life circumstances, family, income level, wardrobe, job, or education level, we have been given an eternal, priceless gift in the redemption of souls through Jesus Christ. Our hope is secure. We have everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Christ has given us the Holy Spirit to guide us into truth, and He is with us every step of the way (Matthew 28:20) until we see Him face to face in eternity.

With these truths in our minds and our hearts, becoming thankful 365 days a year suddenly becomes more natural.

Regardless of your personal belief system, I’m curious what you are most thankful for. I welcome your comments and questions. As always, thank you so much for reading!

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An Easy Way to Keep Your Boss Happy

I’m willing to assume that most people who report to a boss are interested in ways to make sure their boss is happy. After all, when the boss is happy, he is easier to get along with, she may treat you better, and you may even find yourself getting promoted sooner. What is not to like?

I recently learned a trick that goes a long way in keeping the boss pleased with what you are doing. It is so obvious, yet effective, I wish I would have thought to implement it years ago. Are you ready?

It is simply this: do first the thing that the boss will notice the most. Or on a related note, choose to first tackle the task that is the boss’s highest priority.

This is a battle-tested theory. Allow me to provide a few examples.

For a physical job, such as construction work, the illustration could be the most striking. If you and your team are building walls to a home, and you can get them complete and erected by the end of the day, that work will be seen due to its visibility more than spending time studying blueprints, planning how to build out the second level. (I’ve never done construction work, so if this example is bunk I apologize.)

If you work retail and are tasked with putting up new signage and organizing the back room, putting up the signage first shows that you’ve accomplished something that the boss can see with her eyes.

As an aside, the person from whom I heard this concept called it “eyewash.” I thought that was amusing.

For the office worker, accomplishing something visually obvious may not always be an option. However, you can be sure to note what the boss finds the most urgent and move that to the top of your list. It is a great feeling, rather than dreading when your superior returns back to the office and asks if “it” is done, to be able to say, “Yes, it is! Have a look.”

Similarly, “eyewash” for the office worker might include adding some graphic touches and/or a nicely designed cover page to a report to make it look more visually appealing, rather than just the contents of the project.

You get the idea.

This concept can also be applied by homemakers or those who work remotely, who are looking to wow their spouse or roommate. If an area of the house is exceptionally messy or dirty, take a few minutes before your housemate’s arrival home to straighten up and thus provide an improved atmosphere.

Conclusion

It is easy to get buried in to-do lists, meetings and other distractions at work and forget to prioritize that which your supervisor deems most essential. By taking time to think through what the boss finds most urgent (you might have to ask), or alternatively, doing something that impresses visually, you may just find your boss is happier with your performance. I dare you to try it. If you do, please comment below and let me know what happened!

All comments and questions are welcomed. Thank you for reading!

 

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Thoughts From a Forgotten Demographic: Conservative Christians Who Didn’t Vote for Trump

I am troubled by the precipitous decline in civility amongst people in the United States who hold opposing views. This topic has been on my mind for some time. While I don’t often write about politics, I’ve stated before my thoughts on how to address this decline. This article is just my way of sharing my observations.

Before I get too far, I’ll point out that I didn’t vote for Trump or Hillary. They were both firmly untenable candidates to me, for different reasons. I voted for a third party candidate, not that it matters.

During the 2016 campaign

As I stated in the title, I am in fact a conservative Christian who did not vote for Trump. I found his antics, character, lack of statesmanship and decorum, and lack of any apparent interest in improving those shortcomings to be such an affront to my sensibilities that I was horrified at his candidacy. I was far from alone in that sentiment.

I saw many friends and acquaintances of similar beliefs share their sentiments early and often: he is unqualified and so painfully unpresidential. The fact that he was even running felt like a bad dream from which I couldn’t awaken.  Friends frequently shared articles and opinions with the same concerns.

I recall wondering to myself, “What is happening? Trump has supporters – but WHO ARE THEY?? Who are these people that attend his rallies? Do such people even exist, or is this some elaborate media prank?”

It began to dawn on me what was happening. Trump figured out how to market himself to the disenfranchised; those who were angry about what was happening in this country, but felt powerless to do anything about it. People who had seen the distant breaking wave of political correctness gather momentum over the last few decades, to the point in recent years where it had picked up enough height and velocity to turn into a terrifying tsunami, destroying (or wanting to destroy) everything in its path that offered dissent.

Others who boarded the Trump train were small business owners who were looking for tax and regulation relief, with a Commander-in-Chief who could empathize with them, as a businessman himself.

While I sympathized with those viewpoints, they weren’t enough for me to overlook his shortcomings as a candidate, which is why I didn’t vote for him, nor did many people I know.

Since the election

With the election two years behind us, the bitterness and adversarial spirit that plagued this land during the campaign season only seems to grow worse, not better. As one who admittedly spends too much time on Twitter, reading the viewpoints from people all over the political and moral spectrum, I’ve noticed something troubling to me.

The substantial base of Christians who identified more with #NeverTrump seem to be a political afterthought as if we never existed. More specifically, the progressives/leftists became transfixed on citing how the majority of “evangelicals” voted for Trump.

As an aside, I put “evangelicals” in quotes because it is unclear to me their definition of the term. For that matter, I wonder how clear that term is overall based on polling data. Does anyone who watches Fox News and goes to church once in a while get defined as an “evangelical”? But that is a separate discussion.

Leftists pound the drums of this trend so relentlessly that any voice of dissent feels as though it gets lost in the noise. They use that as their rallying cry that “evangelicals” have lost all moral credibility in voting for Trump. I take every opportunity I get to remind someone of that mindset that nearly 30% of evangelicals do not fall into that camp. They don’t seem to care, because that position doesn’t fit their narrative. It is much easier to push the stereotype that all Christians are Trump supporters than to take time to engage the nuances in people’s views. There is only so much shouting into the wind one can do before a sore throat to no effect becomes too discouraging.

A vicious cycle

It is not lost on me how the cycle of incivility has played out. Conservatives and working class folks, tired of being bullied into silence over the years by an ever more demanding and forceful progressive presence in society, had gotten to their wit’s end. They were disgusted by outrageous demands and infringements on religious liberty by a zealously leftward sprinting government under the Obama administration.

Along comes Trump; a crass loudmouth that knew exactly what to say and how to win over this crowd. It was so startling that many found it refreshing. Not knowing how to respond, just knowing that the bland, mostly spineless leadership of the GOP offered no hope in its current state, they embraced Trump – a hero that could represent them in Washington. That is my assessment of the otherwise astonishing fanbase he gathered.

The left, incensed that such a scandalous character had taken office, who was not afraid to viciously attack his enemies in tweets and verbally, ratcheted up their hate for everything Trump stands for, including all those who are loyal to him or approve of anything he does.

Incidents of sheer intolerance for dissent are on the rise. Public figures are being chased out of restaurants, homes are being threatened by mobs, even children of such folks have been targeted for the audacity of having parents who push back on a leftist agenda.

It seems the left even growls with disapproval at folks who won’t share their hate, want to remain neutral, or hold the traditional position of respecting the office of the President regardless of political agreement (see: Tiger Woods incident from August 2018). That appears to be a thing of the past in today’s political climate.

I see how the tone and rhetoric that Trump brings to the fight only serves to add fuel to the fire. But I also can’t help but observe that the left’s reaction tactics; openly calling for incivility, disruption and violence towards dissenters, ironically drives more people to support Trump who would not have otherwise.

Tactics mentioned above are so distasteful to the moderate, reasonable person, that even if they are somewhere in the middle ideologically, they may be inclined to ally with the other side, even if uncomfortably so.

It seems that neither side is backing down. Both seem prepared to fight until the finish, cranking up the heat with no end in sight.

A call to civility

There are a lot of things I miss about the way things used to be. High among them is the opportunity to have a conversation about politics that doesn’t end in a shouting match or dissolve into unsubstantiated name-calling. I remember a time when it was more widely normal and safe to talk about dissenting ideas and policies without fear of being unfairly labeled various unflattering titles.

How refreshing it would be if national discourse were more about discussing and weighing ideas than pointing fingers, more about trying to get along than trying to vilify other viewpoints.

In closing, I’ll suggest a few things that would help for both sides of the political spectrum. As we discuss politics, let us:

  • Know the true definition of words we are using to describe others. E.g., calling someone a “racist” is a pretty serious charge. It has lost some weight because it gets thrown around so much.
  • Be prepared to back up arguments with examples. This is an area in which I could certainly improve. Just calling someone, or a whole class of people, a name without citing specifically why you think they deserve that name has no validity as an argument.
  • Respect all other humans as having equal value as yourself.
  • Respect the right of others to hold different viewpoints.
  • Realize that we are never going to be entirely unified, but that we can still respect one another.
  • Remember that our political system was set up to win battles civilly, at the polls.

This post covers a lot of ground concerning things that have been on my mind for the last few years. I embrace the sentiments behind the bullet points above and welcome respectful conversation with others who hold different views. As always, thank you for reading!

 

 

 

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To My Friends Who Vote Differently Than I Do: Election Thoughts

Social media has afforded us many benefits as well as drawbacks as a society. One thing that could be viewed as either, depending on your perspective, is the ability to post opinions and all manner of multi-media about topics such as religion and politics. Not only can we easily post controversial items, which may or may not ever be brought up in polite face-to-face conversation, but we can sound off from the comfort of our keyboard, without ever having to speak a word or see the reactions of people who may disagree with us.

This can be both good and bad. For one, it allows us to more clearly see the political leanings of those we follow on social media. It is enlightening in that regard. I for one rarely bring up politics when talking to people in person, but if you want to know where I stand on various issues, a quick look at my Twitter profile says a lot. Similarly, I learn volumes about the leanings of friends from all stripes of life on social media – information that I might not otherwise ever know.

I have many friends and acquaintances, for whom I have a great deal of respect, who hold vastly different views on key issues. The reason I know of it is because of social media. I largely keep to myself about politics on Facebook, because 1) I used to be overactive, and all it got me was being unfriended by a bunch of people and a constant feeling of anger and 2) I’ve found that some who disagree feel free (as I suppose they should) to chime in and argue and make counterpoints, sometimes relentlessly. Frankly, it is tiresome. Of all the things I could do with my most valuable resource, time, arguing with people online about politics ranks rather low on my priority list. So I just don’t do it much.

That being said, with the midterm elections upon us, it occurred to me that a message of unity could be a cool drink of water to soothe the metaphorical sore throats amidst all the digital screaming and shouting going on.

Some of my friends and acquaintances know where I stand politically and morally. Others may not. Some of you may not know anything about me. That is OK. The message is the same.

If we have differences of opinion, even if we are both passionate about our respective conflicting stances, I still respect you.

If we’ve fellowshipped before, have had or still have a close relationship, I care about you.

Even if we’ve only ever been acquaintances, or maybe we’ve not met, I am well aware that you add value to the world.

If you have at one time been in my inner circle and through various shifting influences have altered your worldview to take on one that differs from one that we may have once shared, I still enjoy your company.

If you find my stances horrific, chances are, the feeling is mutual. But I still honor and respect your right to hold those views, and expect that you will extend the same courtesy to me.

If you happen to engage in name-calling and/or arguments based on emotion over fact against those who disagree with you, I will fight with every fiber in my being to not return the favor.

No matter what you believe politically, you and I have one important thing in common. We were both created in God’s image, and we are both loved deeply by Him. Because of this truth, I owe you all the respect and honor worthy of one hand-crafted by the King of Kings (see Psalm 139:13-16).

Should we cross paths in the future, or perhaps share a meal or get together for coffee, I promise you this. I will treat you with kindness, respect, and warmth. Should our divergent ideas come up in conversation, I will listen with the goal of understanding your viewpoint. I hope you will do the same for me.

 

 

 

 

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On Christian Hypocrisy: A Helpful Way to Identify & Sort Out Unseemly Behavior

“Christians are hypocrites.”

I’ve heard that phrase uttered many times, often as a stated reason why someone has no interest in attending church or examining Christianity for themselves.

To be sure, it is not difficult to find people who claim to be Christians (“professing Christians” to put it more succinctly) who engage in behavior and speech that is more befitting of a demon than of the Savior. They are easy to spot. They might have “Christian” in a descriptor on their social media profiles, they might even go to church and have spiritual bumper stickers on their vehicles. Yet, the way they live their lives gives no evidence of Christ’s redeeming work.

As one who loves and follows Christ, I want to facepalm hard enough to bruise my forehead when I see, for example, a professing Christian engage in an insult-loaded or obscenity-laced exchange with someone on Twitter with whom they disagree. I want to scream until my throat hurts, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! YOU ARE PROFANING THE NAME OF CHRIST!”  It is often that I have seethed with frustration at seeing something like that. I just can’t understand how a Christian could behave in such a way.

I recently heard a distinction in a few sermons from John MacArthur at Grace To You that helped clarify a couple things for me. They were so helpful that I thought they merited summarizing in a post.

The Visible and the Invisible Church

The first item is as stated in the heading above. The visible and the invisible church. MacArthur shared the concept in a sermon I listened to recently.  To paraphrase, the visible church is what the world sees as the church: all the buildings where folks gather for church, and attendees and clergy of all those churches, professing to be in the faith.  These people and buildings can be observed.

The invisible church, by contrast, is made up exclusively of the true believers. MacArthur states it best himself:

Now, we who love Jesus Christ are the church.  We are the body of Christ.  We are redeemed.  We are invisible in the sense that the world cannot see us.  And very often we can’t even see ourselves.  Sometimes, you know, we struggle over whether somebody’s really a believer or not.  But, we belong to the collective one body.  Whether we’re alive or in glory, we’re still a part of the one body of Christ.  We are Christ’s church because we love Him.  We are His ekklesia, His called out ones.  His assembly of beloved sons.  The church basically is people called of God to be His children.  We have become one, positionally, by being united by faith in Jesus Christ.  And it was Jesus who said, “I will build My church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”  And when He said that, He meant He would gather together His body.  He wasn’t talking about buildings.  He was talking about people. 

Internalizing that distinction was helpful for me because it brought to light the idea that there is a separation between the two: the visible and the invisible church. While there is overlap, often the visible church deviates wildly from the true body of Christ.

The visible church could include those people who you’d be shocked to find out they attend church.

The invisible church consists of people who are truly called, redeemed and living in the grace and power of God for His glory in the world.  They hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6), and work actively to put to death their sinful habits.

The Reality of the Narrow and Wide Roads / False Christians

The second point that I learned, also from John MacArthur, is even more stunning. It is the reality, stated by Christ himself in Matthew 7, that there are many who consider themselves to be Christians, who in fact are not saved. They are deceived about their salvation and will be unpleasantly surprised when they face Christ in judgment.

(To watch the two-part sermon series, click here and here.)

These sentiments were both terrifying and clarifying.

So what is the takeaway of all this? It depends on the camp in which you identify yourself.

For Christians

If you consider yourself a Christian, this information can provide some illumination as to why professing, yet false Christians act out the way they do. It can and should also give you pause to examine yourself:

“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you-unless you indeed fail the test?” – 2 Corinthians 13:5

“Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble.”
– 2 Peter 1:10

For Non-Christians

If you’ve found yourself disgusted by the unholy behavior of people who call themselves Christians, I pray this will provide some enlightenment to you as well. Just because someone claims to be a Christian, does not mean that they are. You can spot a true Christian by:

  • Their love for other believers (John 13:35)
  • The fruit of the Spirit in their lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23)

A word of caution, however. It should be stated that even if someone is a true Christian, they will still sin and disappoint. After all, Christians still struggle with the sin inherent to human nature. The process of sanctification, or becoming more like Christ, starts the moment one repents of their sins to trust in Christ for salvation and continues throughout the rest of their life. As one continually seeks Christ, they sin less often. This is truly the work of God.

Conclusion

I hope that these distinctions have provided some insight for you, as they did for me. Furthermore, I hope and pray that you will examine your own heart to see where you stand with God. It is the most valuable exercise you can do in this life, if it leads you to trust in the God of the Bible. The sermon resources I linked to above are most helpful, regardless of your spiritual status.

I welcome any comments and questions. Thank you for reading!

 

Posted in Bible / Christian Living, Biblical insights, Opinion, Self-Improvement, Theology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

When It is Time to Replace Running Shoes (A Personal Account)

Sometimes I can be slow to internalize things. I might need to learn a lesson a few times before it gets through my skull and into my decision-making process.

Pair that quality with a frugal mindset and a hesitation to spend money on myself, and you have someone who is likely to use things longer than they should be used.

Exhibit A, running shoes.

I’ve blogged before about my love for running (here and here are a few posts). Now that I’ve gotten back into the groove of hitting the road multiple times per week, one downside is that running shoes wear out faster when they are being used regularly. Shocker, right?

My occasional slow-to-internalize tendency has reared its head in the past when running shoes are ready to be chucked, but I either don’t recognize it or am in denial. If anyone else out there shares my dilemma, here are three things to look out for:

  1. Shin pain/shin splints
    If you can run pain-free for months, then suddenly running brings sharp pains to your shins during the duration of your runs, shin splints are a likely culprit. Worn out shoes are the likely culprit for those. If the shin pain goes away after your run is over, congratulations, the mystery is likely solved without bringing in a private investigator. New running shoes will almost certainly help.
  2. General body aches
    This one was the warning sign I recognized but ignored recently. I’ve worked hard to get back in shape after letting my fitness slide for a few years and was pleased that I could put in miles regularly with no adverse effects. Then I started noticing various pain throughout all my joints. I figured it was time to get new shoes, but I forgot about it for a few weeks and continued to run. An indication of my thick head: allowing myself to be in pain for multiple runs before doing something about it. New shoes cost money, people! If you’ve experienced this, don’t cheap out on yourself like I did. Get some new running shoes.
  3.  Wear and tear on shoes
    I find this to be the trickiest of all. Because of the frugal tendencies I mentioned above, I find it difficult to convince myself that my shoes are worn out unless they are starting to fall apart or the tread on the sole is worn smooth. As it turns out, running shoes can lose their valuable shock absorption qualities, bringing the symptoms mentioned in #1 and #2, without the shoes looking too worn.

Case in point, the shoes I finally retired:

When is it time to replace your running shoes

But, but, they still look fine!

When is it time to retire running shoes?

OK, maybe these DO look worn out.

I looked at these soles and figured they still had some life left in them, especially since the upper part of the shoe was perfectly intact. As they say, looks can be deceiving. I learned the hard way that listening to your body tells a much more compelling story.

As far as official recommendations on how long to use running shoes, it varies to some degree. But the standard advice is that running shoes should be replaced after you put 300-500 miles on them. The shoes pictured above have close to 500 on them.

After going for a 4.5-mile run late last week, and feeling for the next 24 hours like I got slammed around in a mosh pit of sumo wrestlers, I finally decided enough was enough. As I write this, I am wearing my new kicks inside to break them in. Can’t wait to get back out on the trail and keep logging those miles, now without pain!

Any runners out there have anything to add to these recommendations? Anyone else ever allowed being too cheap to keep you from replacing shoes?

 

Posted in Advice, Opinion, Running, Self-Improvement | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Thoughts on Overstated Enthusiasm in Language

I have a problem. It seems to be a problem, anyway.

Too much enthusiasm. To the point that perhaps its value is diluted.

Does that sound like a problem to you? Allow me to explain further.

I am a naturally enthusiastic person. Particularly as it relates to interacting with others. In person, or in writing, even on the phone. When left to my own devices, and not distracted by a burden, I tend to emit enthusiasm with vigor. Is there any other way? 🙂

Now, I am not saying that in person enthusiasm is a problem. On the contrary, I find that to be a good thing.

What I have been mulling over is forcing that enthusiasm to carry over to my writing. Particularly texts and emails. I use more exclamation points than what might be appropriate. It is true!!! Couldn’t help myself just then.

I find myself texting things like “Thanks!” over the receipt of mundane information, as well as good news. It occurs to me that I use overblown words like “awesome” and “fantastic” regarding things that are quite ordinary. I think a lot of this is cultural; Western culture seems to have adopted a widespread ratcheting up of descriptive language beyond what is the appropriate use of some words.

Prime example: epic. It is overused to the point that its meaning is completely separate from its most common uses.  But I digress.

The thing that bothers me most about this habit I’ve developed is that I feel locked into it. Since I always write “Thanks!” or “Great!”, excluding the exclamation point seems too bland and even rude. Am I alone in this?

It is true that one’s personality often comes out in their writing. When I get notes that end with a seemingly flat “Thanks.”, I have to recognize that not everyone is a slave to blasting eagerness at every turn like I seem to be.  If I don’t take the time to acknowledge that, I am sometimes even taken aback by matter-of-fact, non-emotive written communication. Not everyone writes or thinks like you, Summer. Chill out. On the flip side, I have a deep appreciation for fellow enthusiasm enthusiasts.

So there is my quandary. Worrying about too much zeal from my own communication, then unfairly expecting it from others. Double standard much?

I don’t have an answer. I don’t know what the solution is. Not sure there is one. There might not even be a problem. Maybe it is all in my mind.

I would be most interested to hear what you, dear reader, have to say on the issue. Is there such a thing as too much enthusiasm? How do you handle matters like this one? What advice do you have for me?

As always, thanks so much for reading! <– To illustrate my point.

 

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Unpacking a Piece of the Most Important Commandment (If You Don’t MIND)

When I learn something significant or a truth hits me in a new way, especially when it pertains to knowledge of God or spiritual life, it can feel like an earth-shaking moment. Has that ever happened to you?

Today, I want to share with you one such discovery I made some years ago, that impacted my life for the better as it pertains to my pursuit of loving God more fully. The truth is one that was hidden in plain sight, right there in Jesus’ telling of the most important commandment:

“And He said to him, “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.'” – Matthew 22:37

The key word I am highlighting, and the main point of this post, is Jesus’ instruction to love God with all your MIND.

It’s easy to blast past that without thinking about it. But to do so, would, ironically, be disobeying the command in the verse.

The light bulb came on in my mind when reading about that concept in some Bible study curriculum I was going through at the time. It suddenly became clear that it is inherent in the command to actively use my brain activity for God’s glory. That means:

  • Thinking deeply about what I was reading, rather than just hurriedly skimming so I could “check off” my Bible reading for the day
  • Doing more research to find solid answers to questions raised in the text of Scripture
  • Being diligent to find answers to questions others asked about my faith if I didn’t immediately know (1 Peter 3:15)
  • Dwelling on the Person of God and His attributes and works
  • Taking time to pray thoughtfully, again, not rushing through it
  • Thinking through each area of life, asking God to reveal sinful attitudes and actions I may be holding onto
  • “Taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). That is to say, going on the offense against stray evil thoughts (we all have them), and actively directing my mind back to “whatever is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellent, worthy of praise” (paraphrase of Philippians 4:8)

There are also applications for life outside of strictly spiritual pursuits:

  • Doing my best at work, and fighting against a wandering mind that negatively impacts productivity
  • Refusing to engage in gossip about others
  • Embracing complex, necessary tasks rather than avoiding them
  • Thinking biblically about others, even those with whom I fiercely disagree. We are all made in God’s image (James 3:9)
  • Even entertainment choices are subject to scrutiny. Is what I am watching, listening to, or reading helping my walk with God? Is it possible it is not helping or even hurting it?

When I began to think through all these things, it started to become clearer how much junk and sin gets in the way of obeying that command. It is a difficult truth, but its importance cannot be overstated.

Like so many important truths from Scripture, the light bulb coming on was just the beginning. Over the years, as God has mercifully continued working in my life, I’ve been able to flesh out the points above. I am not claiming that I do these things without fail. I certainly do not. But that is the wonderous blessing of sanctification. God continues to work in us throughout our lives. For that, I am most grateful and humbled.

If you have anything to add to my list of applications, please share a comment. Or any other questions or comments – I can’t wait to hear from you! My prayer is that this helps you in your walk with God in some way.

Thank you for reading this post!

 

 

Posted in Advice, Biblical insights, Opinion, prayer, priorities, Theology | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments