All posts by ponderosapapa

Papa to five grandchildren, Dad to two daughters and two sons-in-law, Husband of one wife. Leaving a legacy of thought and perspective worth carrying through the generations that follow.

Faith and World Events

Today is the 14th anniversary of the comandeering of four commercial aircraft. Three of them crashed into (1) World Trade North Tower, (2) The Pentagon, and (3) World Trade South Tower. The fourth hijacked over Pennsylvania, presumably to head for the White House. That hijacking was subverted by some very brave people and the plane crashed in a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania killing all aboard. Thousands of lives were lost that day as the World Trade Towers crumbled from the heat of the fires created by the planes flying into them. It was a horrific scene.

I remember that I had just concluded a meeting at Starbucks near our home and had returned home, clueless to what was going on. As I turned on the television in our family room, I was watching a reporter talk about the plane that had crashed into the North Tower. The North Tower was engulfed in flames in an area quite near the top. As he talked, I noticed a plane flying across the skyline and thought little of it until the South Tower exploded before our eyes on live TV. As the horrors of the scene continued to unfold, we learned that a commercial airliner had crashed into the Pentagon. The pieces then began to fall into place that our country was under attack. We later learned of the fourth plane that crashed in Pennsylvania.

We had no idea how these events would change our world. During the ceremonies of remembrance today, one person being interviewed commented that unlike Pearl Harbor which was attacked by Japan, there was no country or political entity that had created this event. What we were dealing with was a fanatical Islamic religious group that worked out of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and some of the middle eastern countries. We found ourselves at war with an ideology rather than a country that could be punished or counter-attacked for such an attack. This was a new world and we knew little about how to combat an ideology. To this day we know little about maintaining a safe world, given the challenges of identifying the enemy. So where does this leave us?

Our God is a sovereign God. Nothing happens in this world that surprises Him. Could He have stopped the attacks? Yes, but throughout history, He has chosen to give man a free will. And guess what? Despite many who want to believe that man is inherently good, the Bible tells us that we are ALL sinners (Rom 3:23) and that through Adam (one man) sin entered into this world. From the time Eve believed the serpent and gave Adam some of the apple, sin has been a part of who we are. Even Adam’s son, Cain, killed his brother Abel. From those tragic beginnings, the Bible tells us that everyone has sinned and the devil has been allowed to “prowl around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) We are in a season where the devil who is called “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience,” is being allowed to roam this earth. As long as he is allowed to roam free, we will have a battle on our hands. Ephesians 6:12 says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers and authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present  darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” So there is a spiritual battle going on for which we need to be prepared. The rest of Ephesians 6 describes for us the “whole armor of God” that helps us withstand the spiritual forces that will attack our hearts, minds and souls. Romans 5:6 tells us that “While we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly.” God has a plan and that plan is at work. He says that Jesus will not return until every nation has heard the gospel. While we are fast approaching that milestone, know this. God’s timing is perfect and He will come to claim those who believe in the name of Jesus.

I said above that God is a sovereign God which means that He is in control. The Bible tells us that He even puts the political powers in place. Romans 13:1 says, “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement.” An appropriate warning for our day, when Christians are so prone to protest and not comply with the law. It is important to remember during the days of Christ, the Roman government was as corrupt and debased as any in the history of man. In that light it is interesting that scripture does not record Christ railing against the government. He repeatedly chastised the church leaders, but never spoke about those in government. In fact, even after he had been anointed as the next king of Israel, when David had opportunity to kill Saul, he refused to kill the man who was out to kill him, because he was the Lord’s anointed. Another man’s wrong does not justify wrongdoing on our part.

How then should we live? In the U.S., our government has long approved and funded abortions, more recently it has approved the marriage of gay and lesbian couples. We see many in the Christian community at a point of rebellion against our government, to the point that our speech has become hateful and unloving toward sinners just like us. God calls us to love Him with all our heart, and soul, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. If we focused more on loving our neighbors and less on hating the government that was put in place by God, perhaps we’d have a more attractive faith. Perhaps we’d be viewed not in the same light as the radicals Islamic terrorists. I’m not suggesting that we condone sin. Christ never did that, but still He loved the sinner. He told the woman who was about to be stoned for adultery to go and sin no more.

A man asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus gave him the list of several of the commandments, to which the man replied, “All these I have done.” The next words are stunning … instead of berating and correcting him, the book of Mark records that “Jesus, looking at him, loved him …” and told him to go sell everything he owned and give the proceeds to the poor. I fear that in today’s Christian community we would be prone to show our skepticism and dismiss the person out of hand by saying something to the effect, “Yeah, right!” Our challenge is to be Christlike. Be a Berean by studying the scriptures so that you know how to respond.

In the context of today’s world, most people of middle eastern descent and especially followers of Islam are viewed with suspicion and often with disrespect. We’ve come through a Civil War which started this country on the path to respecting all races. We still have a ways to go. In light of the radical Muslims who attacked us on 9/11/01, we need to be careful not to paint all people of Islam with the same brush. Is it hard to tell who can be trusted and who cannot? Sometimes. But suppose we started from a position of trust until proven otherwise. Suppose that we followed Christ in loving even those who railed against us. Suppose we really were able to love our neighbors as much as we loved ourselves. Just suppose …

Christ told us to love those who hate us and to love our enemies. That is not a model I’m seeing widely practiced in the public arena today by “Christian” politicians or even those who are posting on the social media. We are throwing the Bible at these sinners and expecting them to live up to our standards without the help of the Holy Spirit! Let’s think about our rhetoric and vitriol before denouncing unbelievers and trying to hold them to biblical standards. 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 tells us that it is not our job to judge those outside the church. That is God’s job! Our job is to love those outside, so that they will come into the church. The Holy Spirit then convicts men of sin.

Just suppose that we loved our enemies and those who hate us. Might there be fewer, then, who hate us? We’re doing a fantastic job of making new enemies with each self-righteous statement that we make.

Something to think about.

What Do We Make of ’90 Minutes in Heaven’?

Don Piper’s story, now made visible in the movie 90 Minutes in Heaven (out this weekend), records his experience of “dying” as a result of a head-on car crash and experiencing some moments (90 minutes of them) of glorious encounter with “heaven” where God, a suffusing and overwhelming light, resided in the middle of the heavenly city.

In that near death experience (NDE), Piper saw and heard the voice of many of his fellow Christians as they were journeying toward the gate of heaven—but he never entered. A fellow pastor was praying for his recovery at the crash scene, and he found himself singing along with the pastor, back on earth.

The slow-developing movie focuses far more on the pain both Piper (Hayden Christensen) experienced and his family, especially his wife (Kate Bosworth), endured as he lay in hospital beds for months—suffocating with a desire to return to heaven and unwilling to communicate either about his NDE or what was happening in his soul. The slowness of the scenes accentuates the slowness of his recovery. But recover he did, to find a purpose in life—to tell people that heaven is real and that prayer really works.

Piper’s story is encouraging, and surely in the top two or three of hundreds of NDE stories I have read.

I do not disbelieve Don Piper’s story. He seems credible, and his experience is far from unusual. Mally Cox-Chapman, a skilled journalist, read and interviewed and tracked down one story after another. In her book The Case for Heaven: Near-Death Experiences as Evidence of the Afterlife, we read the fairly common pattern of near-death experiences:

  • Feelings of peace and quiet
  • Feeling oneself out of the body
  • Going through a dark tunnel
  • Meeting others, including one or more beings of light
  • A life review
  • Coming to a border or limit
  • Coming back
  • Seeing life differently
  • Having new views of death

Not everyone has each element. But the pattern is so common, and spans the religious spectrum so noticeably, that we can speak intelligently of the “NDE Pattern.” Christians of all stripes, Muslims, Buddhists, and others tell similar stories. In fact, there are NDE stories going all the way back to ancient Egypt and ancient Rome. Many of those stories have similar elements, though each religious orientation causes a reshaping of those elements.

Piper experienced the first two, not the second, the fourth, not the fifth, clearly the sixth and the seventh, and from that point the last two elements have reshaped his life and ministry. And the movie shows far fewer specifically Christian themes than his book did.

My concern is neither the movie nor Piper’s story; my concern is what to do with NDEs. What are we to make of them? Are they all true? Are they all bogus? How do we know?

And I have another concern: If death is irreversible, how can these be seen as experiences of what happens after death? Most would say these people have not, in (scientific) fact, died. Instead, they have entered into a pre-death experience that may glimpse heaven or the afterlife (or it may do neither).

But is not the deeper ache for an “after-death” experience? One where someone has scientifically died and told us what is in the Beyond? (We have such an account in the Gospels of the New Testament.)

The issue then is what to make of NDEs. After studying story after story of the NDE Pattern, Cox-Chapman landed on at least three conclusions, and these conclusions need to be considered before we rush to affirm too quickly the truthful witness of NDEs.

First, Cox-Chapman concludes that those who have an NDE become believers in an afterlife or in some kind of heaven. This is surely Piper’s experience.

Her second conclusion ought to warn those who find their faith most confirmed by these NDE stories: those who have NDEs become more universalistic in their faith. (I have not read anything by Piper that would indicate this, but there is plenty of evidence in NDE collections that this occurs.)

Cox-Chapman’s final conclusion startled me: the diversity of the experiences and the variety of religious ideas at work in those experiences lead her to conclude that “we will be provided with the Heaven that is right for each of us.”

That is, NDE studies make us think each person gets the heaven they want.

This is where our deepest concern breaks through the surface: the variety of NDEs, if they are true experiences of the afterlife or heaven, may well be a deconstruction of all faiths.

So a very serious issue arises for anyone who cares about how Christians determine what Christians are to believe about heaven and NDEs. In other words, if many Christians—the numbers who buy NDE books, the numbers who go to this movie—believe a story like Don Piper’s because it confirms their faith, a faith that comes from the Bible, then they are only believing what the Bible says, and don’t need the NDE story. In which case, let’s focus more on the Bible and bring the discussion back to what the Bible clearly teaches.

But we can turn this around slightly and look at it from a different angle: if many Christians disbelieve elements of many NDE stories because they don’t cohere with the Bibleand the elements that don’t cohere with the Bible are legionthen they don’t need the stories either! In which case, let’s focus on what the Bible teaches, not what NDEs suggest.

There is a more negative undercurrent to the NDE stories: if you believe the NDE stories because of the power of the experience being told, then you don’t need the Bible. If the experience itself is what determines what you believe, then you will believe the experience regardless of what the Bible says about heaven.

My reading of hundreds of NDE stories is that they in fact often don’t confirm what the Bible says. In fact, they bring into the light the faith and convictions and suspicions and hopes and dreams of what that person already believed. In this case, the Bible is being pushed to the side for the sake of the experience.

Again, this more negative consideration can be stated from a slightly different angle: if you believe the elements of the NDE stories because of the power of the experiences, you will need to believe every element in these stories. Which leads me to a question that haunts me every time I hear fellow Christians clap so loud about NDEs: How then does one distinguish which elements in these NDE experiences is what heaven is really like from what is not? I just don’t know that there’s a way of believing in the experience of the NDE, filtering out what is unbiblical and affirming as a witness to heaven what matches the Bible.

It seems to me in the flourishing of these NDEs, many Christians will want once again to take a whole new look at what the Bible says about heaven. What they will find, in almost all cases, is a view of heaven that is quite unlike what is experienced in the NDEs.

Scot McKnight is a New Testament Professor at Northern Seminary, the writer of the popular blog Jesus Creed, and author of the forthcoming book The Heaven Promise: Engaging the Bible’s Truth About Life to Come, (Oct. 6, WaterBrook Press).

Faith – Heritage and Legacy

In the picture below, are Bibles and a worship book. The worship book (bottom) belonged to my great grandmother and dates back to 1873. Of the four Bibles, the top one belonged 20150720_213816-2to my grandfather, the  next two to my father, and the fourth one down was mine. Naturally, there are stories that go with each of these Bibles, but the important point for this article is that they are symbols of the past, present and future. You see, the Bibles and the worship book were carried by men and women who were people of faith. The Bible that is the second from the bottom was given to me by my parents as a Christmas present when I was 12 (ok, 1958 so you don’t have to do the math). This Bible represents one of the ways that my parents delivered to me a heritage of faith. They put me in a position to make my faith my own by giving me a resource for use in church, yes, but their intent was that I would study God’s word for myself. As you can see by the worn cover, I took them up on the challenge to learn to apply God’s word to my own life. It was with this Bible that I developed my views on the church’s position on serving in the military during the season that I was being drafted for military service. It was with this Bible that I learned the intent of baptism and why I should be baptized. It was with this Bible that I engaged in numerous Bible drills, a competition to see who could find a particular passage first. I actually got pretty good at it because I knew my Bible and where the different books would be just by looking at the closed book. Most importantly, this Bible served me well as I built a platform for my faith and theology, those thoughts of God that determined how I would view life on this earth.

So what is the title all about? The title, “Faith – Heritage and Legacy” means that we learn about faith from our parents and grandparents. We have a choice whether to adopt their faith or become convinced of our own faith. But here is the key, (1) we all have a view of God (faith) whether it is right or wrong, and (2) we will all leave traces of our faith with family, friends, and others in our sphere of influence. Thus, we will all have a legacy which we will leave behind. I can hear some saying now, that their legacy will be completely neutral permitting others to conclude truth for themselves. Any of us who interact with other people (human beings) leave an imprint, a fingerprint that is uniquely ours. After each interaction, people decide (a) whether they like us or not, (b) whether they agree with us or not, (c) whether they care to see us again, or not, (d) and the list goes on and on.

The human mind is a fascinating thing and is able to make value judgements while interacting with another person. We all do it without even trying to be judgmental. We get down on people who are judgmental. We like people who make us laugh. We tend to like people who see society and matters of faith very much as we see them. Whether we want to admit it or not, we will leave an impression, a legacy, that encourages people to see things as we saw them or they may be so disenchanted by us that they will avoid adopting any similarities to us. Either way, it is a legacy. It should come as no surprise to you that my view of God (faith) played a significant role in my life, my work, and my interactions with family, friends, and business associates. I pray that my life has had a positive influence that invited others to examine their relationship with their Creator.

The book of Proverbs is filled with exhortations to a son to heed the instruction of his father and mother. Chapter 1:8 says, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction and forsake not your mother’s teaching.” This theme is repeated over and over again. The Ten Commandments tell us to honor our father and mother so that our days may be long in the land that God is giving to us. Paul says to Timothy (2 Tim 1:5) I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.” The role of the parent and grandparent in encouraging the next generations in the faith is clear. So many of us have heard the testimony of Rachel Scott who was killed in the Columbine High School shootings in 1999. Still today, after being killed at age 17, her testimony is being told.

My friend, Crawford Loritts, pastor of Fellowship Bible Church in Roswell, GA, said in his book “Unshaken,” “Faith is both our heritage and our legacy.” We may have received a strong faith passed down from our parents, or we may have received a confusing set of theologically conflicting concepts. In the scriptures, Hebrews 11 gives us a list of people and how they expressed their faith. The scriptures are a resource to help you define and declare a true faith in God. The major point, however, is that we are and will be held responsible for that faith which we pass along to those who follow us. Think about how you build your reputation. Think about how you are known.

A distant relative recently passed and someone close attended the man’s funeral. As the event was being described to me today the comment was made that much was made about the man’s work accomplishments and his hobbies. While that is not bad, the next words of the story were troubling. They said, this was so different from this man’s dad’s funeral where his dad was described as a man who loved God and recollections were made of that man’s walk with the Lord. As for the man who was just buried, there was passing mention that he had placed his faith in Jesus Christ. The contrast between the two was striking. How will you be remembered? About what things were you most passionate?

Significant to My Faith Journey

This morning I posted three Bible verses written in my mother’s Mom's Verseshandwriting. The three verses were Luke 6:31, James 5:16 and 1 Corinthians 6:20. Obviously, the fact that these are in Mom’s handwriting brings back a lot of memories. Memories of her notes all around the house. I always admired the artistry of her handwriting. I thought is was delicately feminine and elegant at the same time. But beyond all that, the fact that she chose not to memorize from her Bible, and rather to sear these words in her mind by writing them first and then committing them to memory. This was a habit she continued until the day she went into the hospital where she transitioned into heaven two weeks later. As the years wore on, she took to memorizing chapters and then entire books of the Bible. She hid God’s word in her heart, she meditated on God’s wisdom day and night. When one of us would be feeling down, or acting up, she could draw from memory a verse that aptly applied to the situation on our minds or that would have the effect of easing the tension in our home.

She encouraged us to memorize as well. In our small town in Manitoba, there was someone who was impassioned about children’s need to learn the scriptures. So he made an offer to anyone who wanted to go to summer camp. For anyone who would memorize 100 verses, he would pay their camp fees. This prompted my parents to encourage me to take up the challenge, which I did! I remember to this day, saying the last 5 verses to the person in charge, as we were literally loading the kids onto the truck. I had made it! I had memorized 100 verses and earned a free week at camp! I jumped onto that truck feeling as high as the sky! Many, if not most, of those verses still stick with me and I can recall them when I hear the reference or am able to finish them when I hear the pastor begin to cite a verse. Thy word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against thee. Psalm 119:11.

All this memorization was done in the King James version in those days, so quite frequently when I think of a verse that applies in a current situation, but can’t remember the reference (address), I’ll have to look in the King James version of my electronic Bible to find it. What a boon to my faith and to my grounding in the faith. The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Jeremiah 17:9 is one of those passages that has regularly provided a word of caution in assessing my own motives and desires.

A quick word about the truck mentioned above. In those days we didn’t have the luxury of things such as school buses. While this will horrify moms and dads today, we would get probably 30 kids up on the back of an open box 5-ton truck, and ride the 93 miles to the camp in a standing position. Great times were had in those trucks and we thought nothing of the safety aspects. This was the transportation available to go to camp! Another truck followed behind with our bags containing a couple of changes of clothes and swim suits for the week.

The teachings we had at those camps were often times evangelistic, but also instructional for spiritual growth most often. It was in the woods of that camp where I would go to reflect and think about what God wanted with me. I wasn’t worried about my friends, but I sensed from those early days that God had His hand on me. All part of the journey. God wants to have His hand on you as well, if you’ll invite Him to lead you in the way that you should go.

Just a brief reflection in the rear view mirror …

The Path of Faith is Smooth Sailing (Not!)

Despite what some people may want you to believe, the path of faith doesn’t always come with a smooth ride. You may hear things like “Ever since I gave my life to Jesus, life has been wonderful!” Folks, the Bible tells us that we are aliens and strangers in this world (1 Peter 2:11). The ESV calls us sojourners and exiles. That same passage tells us we live in an evil world that wages war against our souls. In addition to the spiritual warfare that is going on in this world these days that includes things like abortions, men and women pursuing unnatural relations with one another, a society in which over half the country is on the government dole, and so on, we have the daily stuff of life. The need to work to provide for one’s family, the beautiful thing that is called marriage where two distinct individuals are to become one flesh, raising children in the way they should go and all that is entailed in these endeavors is enough to make some days feel pretty daunting.

I’m reminded of the days early on in our marriage when the manufacturing world seemed to have a limited future. After praying together about what God might have for us, we were led to an opportunity at IBM. Interestingly, the IBM opportunity called for a 25% cut in pay. This caused us to pray more earnestly about what God wanted us to do as we had a 2 year old daughter, a new home and a new car. Yet, in faith, we felt God was leading to this new job. I was attending the University of Omaha at the time which placed additional demands on my time available with the family. But we were convinced in our hearts and minds that God had led us to the IBM opportunity and that He would provide. Little did we know that His provision and the path ahead would include taking on two additional jobs and dropping out of college to make the financial pieces fit and family life work.

You know, Abraham’s journey from the land of Haran and his father’s people to another land he didn’t know, was based on a promise from God. Rom 4:20ff says “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” In the same way, we were convinced that God had taken us to IBM. This next bit will give you pause about my maturity, experience, and wisdom in those days. To be perfectly honest with you, I did not know that IBM made office equipment. That was the division where I had my first jobs in IBM. God literally led me to a place in which I had no idea what God would do with me there. I only knew that He had led us to this place. Even, after the first 90 days when my manager told me I would never amount to anything at IBM, I knew God had brought us there and would see us through. I had no idea what this was going to look like. I only knew what faith in God had brought about in our lives and I knew that He was faithful! When the Bible says He uses the simple things of this world, I was and still am a living example of that truth!

But God, brought us through those days and blessed us. But God put people into my path and took a few out as well, to accomplish His work in and through my life. My story never ceases to amaze me. When we sing the song “Amazing Grace” my mind begins to wander over the years to see his grace at work in my life and I am left in tears of gratitude, crushing humility, and just falling at His feet in adoration for the great things He has done. Hallelujah!

In the walk of faith, there are many challenges, both from inside and outside the faith. As Paul says in Romans 14:5, “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” Everything we do should be to honor the Lord. Being fully convinced means that we have been Bereans (Acts 10) looking into the word of God to see what He says to us. Only by prayer and searching God’s word can we walk confidently in faith. When we are challenged, we go back to God’s word as our consistent source of strength and truth. Then we can put on the full armor of God and are prepared to do battle with a world that rages against the truths of God.

As we navigate this world in which we are aliens and strangers, Philippians says, “with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Does the path guarantee smooth sailing? No, because the world is filled with trouble and we, ourselves, are not sin free. But if we lean in to God and throw our cares on Him, by making our requests known to Him, He will give us peace in the midst of the storm.

Growing and Getting the Idea

In the previous post, I shared about my beginnings on the journey of faith. Based on my understanding of scripture, there is no doubt that in spite of my herky-jerky beginnings (think albatross, think gooney bird) that I was, in fact, completely and totally covered by the blood of Christ and my sins, past and future, were washed away. I had the behavior patterns of a young boy growing into his teen years with all that entails. But as I grew older, I was also growing in the knowledge of God. When I was 16, I attended a series of meetings (known in those days as Deeper Life evangelistic meetings) in Meade, Kansas. It was during those meetings that I was gripped with the need to make my faith my own. To own my faith meant to me that I needed to rely less on what my parents thought and more on what God would teach me through His word, the Bible.

A few years later, I would undergo a significant test. Part of being Mennonite, also meant that I was taught that war and the killing that was part of war was not for Christians. There came the time after registering with the Selective Service System (SSS) as a conscientious objector (one who was willing to serve, but in non-military capacities) that I felt I needed to come to my own conclusions in this matter. I studied and prayed and studied some more and prayed some more. After searching the scriptures that were held by the church to lead one to the conscientious objector conclusion, and various other passages that also provided insight and instruction in my search, I came to a conclusion that was different from the view held by my church and my parents and would have to be communicated to my father. While it was a dramatic setting that I’ll share more about later, I was proud of my father as he listened to my heartfelt confession of the soul. He knew that I had been searching the scriptures out for quite some time and that this was not from a rebellious heart, nor was it an arbitrary decision. Effectively, the result of my decision would cause me to be drafted (twice) for the Vietnam war so this was not a decision without consequence.

From my childhood days I had heard the stories of Solomon and how he gained his wisdom. What grabbed my heart was that God was pleased with this request. So, I too, because this pleased God, began praying for wisdom. At the same time, my mother had been praying Colossians 1:9-12 over me nearly every day. Among the many aspects of that prayer, a couple of parts were that I would grow in the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and knowledge and that I would grow in the knowledge of God. Without being prideful, I believe that God has honored those prayers. He has put me into situations for leading churches in seasons when He knew I needed a growth spurt, when I needed to learn what it was like to depend on Him. At times my learning was by observing how men of God walked by faith and at other times, I was in situations where I literally made sure the passenger seat in the car was empty so that He could be there with me and we would talk about things that were heavy on my heart.

I’ve found it interesting how He has insisted on using this ragamuffin guy with all his imperfections (just ask my wife) to carry the good news and to be a voice both inside the church and outside. I’m reminded of Samson and Peter as I think about my journey. I also think of David too. Now that I’m approaching my 69th birthday (in two weeks) I wish I could say that I’d figured out the air pockets and downdrafts in this walk of faith. But God is my source and my strength. He gives me a word for this person and that person who know me and my imperfections. Yet His word is true and when He gives us a word, it will strike the chord that God wants to be struck in another person’s heart and mind. Paul’s second letter to Timothy chapter 4 comes to mind where he says, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season, correct, rebuke and encourage with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine, instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” Paul goes on from there to tell how men will turn aside to myths and false teachings.

Our task is to be like the Bereans (Acts 10) who tested everything they heard against the scriptures. Even the things that Paul taught them were tested. They made their faith their own and they learned to grow in the knowledge of God as a result.

God grant us steadfast hearts that pine for You and You alone!

Starting the Journey of Faith

In my last post I commented that some of us grow up in a Christ-centered home and others grow up in homes that are almost the antithesis of that Christ-centered home. Those who actually go to the point of professing belief in the salvation that comes from Christ alone, however, set out on the same journey of faith. For some the embarkation on that journey is indiscernible and for others the transition is a marked transformation as the Holy Spirit begins to shape our minds to be more Christ-like. The degree of change seemingly has little to do with our upbringing. It has more to do with behavioral modification brought about by the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds.

The interesting piece of this is that while changes may be less or more noticeable by others, the real change and the change that matters is what God sees in the heart. Our behavior and speech patterns are driven by the heart. So to some degree, the heart change is seen by others, but we must acknowledge that some of us have inherited mountains of pain, of degradation, and violation. It’s what we call baggage. Just like the picture above, we bring that baggage into our relationship with Jesus. It has often been said that our relationships with our earthly fathers will influence how we are able to relate to our Heavenly Father. It is also true that troubled homes, bad marriages, dysfunctional churches and all the rest weigh heavily in our journey of faith.

These things are all part of our complex personalities and broken lives that we bring to Jesus when we come to faith. He understands all that. He knows where you’ve been. He can redeem the most desperate sinner who comes to Him in simple faith. I’m reminded of Rahab, the prostitute, who let the Israelite spies down in a basket from the wall of Jericho. God not only spared her, but gave her a place in the lineage (genealogy) of Christ. She was the mother of Boaz who married Ruth! Talk about redemption! That simple act of putting herself at risk to save the spies who came from God’s people, showed us that her heart was faithful to Jehovah God. He knew her heart and not only spared her miraculously when He brought down the wall of Jericho, but gave her an honored place in the line from which Christ would be born.

So how does it look when one embarks on this journey? For me, it was praying to receive Christ at my mother’s bedside at the age of 7, and then not living a perfect life from that point on. Rather, because I grew up in a legalistic setting, it was a life filled with rules and judging people who played by the rules and those who did not. In retrospect, I became really good at judging people by their merits or sins for standards that were not consistently applied to myself.

There was a saying among the young girls in our church circles that said, “I don’t smoke, I don’t chew, and I don’t go with  boys that do.” Interestingly, in the middle of all this judging and my private life, God had my heart. I always pined for God. I wanted to be like David, a man after God’s own heart. In my private moments, While I wanted to live by the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount, I didn’t play so well at the stuff like judging and trying to get away with things, for example, smoking. Smoking wasn’t the real issue. The real issue that I had to resolve was this deep seated rebellious heart. The smoking was only a symptom of the rebellious heart. While in many ways I sought God’s counsel on matters of life’s decisions, I was a classic example of a young man committed to being in control and no rules or authority was going to tell me otherwise. To some degree, I was blind to that control or authority issue. Today, my wife calls it a stubborn streak. As has been passed down by the women in our family, they say that I inherited that from my dad. Dad is with Jesus now but he probably would have denied having that stubborn streak, just like me!

Suffice it to say that the word picture I would use is that of an albatross learning to fly or then learning to land. The beginning of my faith walk bore a striking resemblance to these feeble attempts. Check this out. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lVmoYVTZTXU)

I hope this doesn’t discourage you from attempting to fly. One parting thought for this leg of the journey. God loved you before your were conceived, at which time, He formed you in your mother’s womb. He knew what would happen with each of your days before one of them came to be. He knew how each day would effect you and guess what? He has a plan for you as a person that will cause you to flourish to be a light and a help to others trying to find their wings. But you must take the step of faith, like Abraham had to take the first step to start the journey. The writer of Hebrews tells us that, “without faith, it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” (11:6)

Until next time …