Encourage to Faith Blog
Musings, motivation, and encouragement for your walk with Jesus.
All men, duty-bound, onward must wend–even if trepidatiously. Momentarily, you will see why.
In most marriages there are times when frustrations build and quarrels are sparked. In the heat of such moments considerable energy is expended affixing blame; he said-she said, woulda-coulda-shoulda, and all the rest of that petty fuss. Petty, I say, for who did or didn’t do something ultimately misses the point. For there is more to this play than two actors (husband and wife) upon a stage.
The sun goes ‘round and ‘round and so do I. I rush to the east to meet the sun as it rises, to fulfill obligations and check off what is expected of me. But no matter how hard I try, I can never get there in time. The sun always beats me to the spot. So I follow its arc and charge to the west, clinging to other men’s dreams, not mine. Then I watch it all vanish, as the sun turns to fumes on a faraway hill.
When I was a new follower of Jesus, exploring the Bible was one of the highlights of my day. Reading the Bible was a brand new adventure, and the ensuing growth trajectory was off the charts. But things began to change over the next several years.
The following dizzying ride through that brewery known as contemporary English doublespeak is not for the faint-hearted. Fasten your seat belts. You’ve been forewarned.
These days we’re scared to death to speak the truth for fear that we might offend somebody and be summarily branded as “intolerant.” Even more troubling, many things that once were morally reprehensible are now called “good,” or at best, are simply shrugged off with an air of indifference. Dare to point out another man’s poor behavior and you are likely to hear the increasingly common retort, “It is what it is.”
“Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19b)
In the year 2014, three men were standing by the shore, deep in discussion. They could be heard arguing over the matter of fishing. One man debated whether it was better to fish in deep waters or in shallow ones; another wrangled over the best time of day to catch fish; and the third man carried on about the correct bait one should use.
When we say God speaks to us through a particular song, movie, or painting, we don’t mean to infer He is the one actually creating the music, acting the role, or generating the image. We recognize these are the works of poets, performers, and artists, who may or may not be inspired by God as they work. What we do mean is, at these moments, we are experiencing the beautiful voice of our Lord calling specifically to us in ways that reverberate deep within our souls.
Once upon a time, there was a farmer who loved God. He was satisfied to have a small plot of land, some chickens scurrying about, a milk cow in the barn, and warmth in his home, wherein resided his loving family. The farmer spent his days with his hands in the dirt. He loved farming and he was good at it. Not everything in his life was a bed of roses: money was often in short supply, and there were many challenges. There always are. But still, he was content in every way.
Not long ago, I found myself to be in what can best be described as a spiritual slumber.
In the film, Awakenings, Robin Williams gives a brilliant portrayal of Malcolm Sawyer, an American neurologist who discovers the benefits of a new drug, L-Dopa. He discovers that by administering precise amounts of this drug to a group of catatonic patients, they soon begin to “awaken” from their slumber.
The saying “behind every face, there’s a story” is, at its core, an invitation.
I noticed a little girl at the airport recently who, by the intensity of her focus, stood out among the crowd. The events that soon unfolded were so tender and affecting that I was moved to write the following narrative, which, though fictional, is based upon the spirit of the actual events.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)
When it comes to where I will spend eternity, sometimes I have doubts. A surprising confession, perhaps. But I have another confession which is bound to confuse the issue: when it comes to where I will spend eternity, I have complete and unrelenting faith. These two statements may sound hopelessly muddled, but all is not what it seems. The solution to this seeming conundrum is found within the nature of the human will.
Self-pity is a ruinous thing. Pride hides therein, cloaked in excuses, each one contending undue hardship. But behind the facade of deprivation, the illogic and pretense of self-pity are easily exposed. Consider: God says He loves us. Thus, we are beloved. And to be beloved by our Maker leaves no room for self-pity. After all, who are we to reject God’s assessment and replace it with our own?
Solomon opens Ecclesiastes with a dismal pronouncement: “Everything is meaningless!” (Eccles. 1:2) After spending much of his life in pursuit of monuments, fortunes, and pleasures, his all-out effort to fabricate meaning out of his own existence failed. Fast-forward to the final chapter and Solomon has grown wise, as he now refashions his formerly grim supposition into a more promising thesis: “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: Fear God and keep his commandments.” (Eccles. 12:13) In the end, Solomon’s soliloquy on the search for meaning led straight to God.
“I pray You, show me your glory.” These are the plaintive words of Moses in Exodus 33:18. These words have also been my prayer in 2013, and God has wonderfully shown His glory in so many ways.
This past year for Encourage to Faith Ministries (E2F) was a full one. Much of my time was spent reaching out to others through personal, one-on-one meetings; serving as a workplace chaplain; co-leading a men’s retreat for a local church; facilitating “faith at work” group meetings; writing the E2F blog to encourage private reflection; and praying daily for all involved.
There is a wall that we all build. We think it protects us. “Tear it down.” The wall was begun when we were a child. We were scared. We were unsure. We were selfish. So we built. “Tear it down.” We accepted Christ, but the wall remained. And we tried to look over the wall, but it was too tall. It kept us safe from the world–or so we thought. “Tear it down.”
Our country is in trouble. No two ways about it. Morality is in decline, self-absorption is on the rise, and the precepts of the Bible are being redefined or ignored altogether. It’s easy to become discouraged.
We are the sheep. He is the Shepherd. We are His. We can boldly go out into the pastures of the world knowing we will be kept from harm. We know that we will be well-fed, for He always provides the nourishment we need. We don’t know how He will do it. But He knows.
The axiom “old habits die hard” is maddeningly accurate. We earnestly desire to do better, yet stumble over the same issues time and again. With each successive failure, the frustration level rises, and not surprisingly, a medley of recurring notions begins to surface: “If I truly loved Jesus, I wouldn’t behave this way.” “It feels like God is always angry with me.” “It’s hopeless. I’ll never overcome (pick your poison).” Common thoughts for many, but all untrue.
When I read Hebrews 10:24-25, I hear God saying, “You are participating in a divine journey that I have called you to. And everyone you meet is a divine appointment–an opportunity to shine the love that I put in your heart and reflect My true nature to them.
There is a point in time when a person with a faulty heart realizes that his only cure is to surrender to heart surgery. There is nothing left for him to do but to allow himself to be put on the operating table, and let the skilled hands of a surgeon mend his wounds.
No art curator would be so naive as to think the Mona Lisa created itself. We know that its exquisite design, form, and beauty all point to a creator–in this case, Leonardo da Vinci. Similarly, given the complexity, grandeur, and design of the universe, how is it even remotely possible to believe that the universe created itself?
In his essay, Meditations in a Toolshed, C.S. Lewis describes an experience that greatly affected him: “I was standing today in the dark toolshed. The sun was shining outside and through the crack at the top of the door there came a sunbeam. From where I stood that beam of light, with the specks of dust floating in it, was the most striking thing in the place.
Most of us appreciate a good conversation with a close friend and the nourishment these talks provide. The opportunity to share what’s going on in our lives, to express our thoughts and feelings, and of course to have a laugh or two, is precious indeed. But have you ever considered visiting with a friend and spending that time together in total silence?
The world tells me that he who dies with the most toys wins. Wrong. He who dies with the most toys dies. The world lies. The world tells me to tune into myself, become self-actualized, and lift myself up by my own bootstraps. Tried it. Can’t be done. The world lies.
There’s an old anecdote about a college student who wrote home, “Dear Dad, No mun. No fun. Your son”; to which his father replied, “Dear Son, Too bad. So sad. Your Dad.”
Years ago, when my family first began attending a local church, the associate pastor invited me to have lunch later in the week. As a new Christian, I was still self-conscious about praying in front of anyone and somehow sensed he might ask me to open up in prayer before our meal.
In the midst of all the hustle and bustle of modern life, the myriad of choices available to us, and the creature comforts we have amassed, why do we so often feel bored?
When you walk into a room full of people, do you say to yourself, “Well here I am,” or instead, “How are they”? Do you open a door for someone and say, “Aren't I thoughtful?” or “I hope this helps them”?
“Do your own thing.” No doubt, this relatively modern catchphrase has had its share of variations since the dawn of mankind. If spoken to express the idea that we have freedom to make choices through God's gift of free will, this saying can convey a modicum of truth. However, these days it is usually meant in an entirely different way–
Remember as a young child, discovering the magic of words and getting lost in reading Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes, or delighting in the zaniness of a Dr. Seuss book? No, it wasn’t Shakespeare. It was just good old-fashioned, creative fun.
After a tough day of being ensnarled in rush-hour traffic, there’s nothing like settling into a favorite chair and immersing your soul in a good book. A few weeks ago, I found solace in an old favorite, The Evidential Power of Beauty by Thomas Dubay. The premise of the book is that beauty in all its variety bears witness to the matchless imagination of the Creator of the universe.
The tragic events of the past week painfully remind us that we live in a broken world and that suffering is an all too common recurrence. This is nothing new. From the beginning, the instigator of suffering, the devil, “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). He thinks he has us debilitated, robbed of our peace, and right where he wants us. He is mistaken.
A man was on his way to Morgantown, West Virginia during a snowstorm and decided to stop at a shopping mall just before closing time to pick up some needed supplies.
• I often drive ten mph faster than I should in an effort to shave a mere five minutes off my commute. Is it really worth the stress?
• Have so-called labor saving devices (car, computer, iPhone) actually given us more margin in our schedules, or are we now busier than ever?
Envy rears its ugly head at the most unexpected times. Recently, I was watching “Shark Tank,” a TV show featuring very wealthy people. The basic premise revolves around a panel of business moguls who evaluate the merits of various business ventures being pitched. The show begins with a montage of several super-rich business tycoons traveling in their private planes and chauffeured limousines.
It’s all too easy to look at prayer as a chore. But when you think about it, it’s actually an opportunity to participate in a dance. A dance where God leads and we follow.
Do you have moments when even in the midst of the most wonderful times–enjoying the holidays, relaxing on the beach with your family, sharing a good meal among friends–an unsettled feeling sometimes creeps in? Do you have moments when there is a gnawing sense that “things just aren’t what they’re supposed to be?”
In one of my favorite movies, The Shawshank Redemption, Morgan Freeman, playing the prison “lifer”, Red, says to Andy, the new inmate, played by Tim Robbins, “These walls are kind of funny. First you hate ‘em, then you get used to ‘em. Enough time passes, gets so you depend on them.”
I’m not sure when my idea of writing changed from being akin to a chore I had to accomplish if I ever wanted a passing grade in English, to becoming something I do for sheer enjoyment, and on some days, even with outright passion.
The other day I was in the drive-thru line at my favorite fast-food restaurant when I noticed, sitting across the way, a homeless man and his dog. My first thought was the same as it had been for years, “This man is too lazy to work and wants to freeload off of the patrons of this restaurant. Well, I’m not going to be the fool who gives him money so he can go buy his booze.”