The Pilgrim’s Progress written by John Bunyan and published in February 1678 has been a favorite read among Christians ever since it was first published. According to Wikipedia, it “has been translated into more than 200 languages, and has never been out of print” throughout the 335 year span since it was first printed. If you’ve read it, you know that it is an allegorical tale of the Christian journey through this life, related as a journey along a treacherous path. Using the device of a journey to describe many of the challenges Christians face in life was very effective since life is, indeed, like a journey. There are many obstacles along the roads of our various lives, some of them from outside, from other people or from difficult circumstances that we have to fight through, and some of the obstacles coming from within ourselves, from our weaknesses of character or the sins of the flesh to which we may succumb. We have a life-long struggle against this weakness within us as, bit-by-bit, God reclaims our sinful nature and replaces it with His Spirit. The amount of growth we experience depends on how submissive we are when God confronts us about our sin, and it depends on other factors such as how much time we spend with God, in meditation on His Word, in fellowship with other believers, and in doing acts of service. But, nonetheless, as we all walk this “pilgrim road” we will, all of us, have a lifelong struggle against the weakness within us, in our flesh.
It is all too easy to sin since we have this “treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Corinthians 4:7), the treasure being the Spirit of God within us which has resided there ever since we have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, and the earthen vessel being the frail flesh which houses our immortal soul. Because of our flesh, we will always have a battle with temptation, always be subject to failure. But there is a reason that God has allowed us to remain in this weak state so that “the excellence of the power may be of God, and not of us.”
II Corinthians 3:5 puts it another way, stating “[n]ot that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God…”
II Corinthians 1:9 puts it still another way, stating, “we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead.”
And, of course, most people are familiar with Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” in II Corinthians 12, in which Paul has some sort of infirmity or weakness that He has requested three times for God to remove, but this is one prayer that God does not answer in the way that Paul requests (i.e. delivery from the problem). Paul is not delivered from this “thorn” for a purpose: so that Paul may be kept humble and so that God may be glorified in Paul. II Corinthians 12:7 explains that this “thorn” keeps Paul humble: “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.” And II Corinthians 12:9 explains that this weakness is for God’s glory since God will fill in with spiritual power in the void where Paul is weak: “And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” Not only does God promise to give Paul power in his weakness, but it also suggests that the weaker Paul is, the greater God’s power will be within him.
Of course, all these verses are applicable to everyone since “[a]ll Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16). Moreover, this passage and all the ones cited above apply to all people, not just men. When the Bible refers to “man” in such passages, it is in the generic sense as in all of mankind, men, women, and children.
I pray that you would find God’s sufficiency in your life, as He gives you power in your weakness to overcome the obstacles along the road of your life.
I had a wonderful visit this last weekend with my two older sisters and my brother-in-law who drove up from Georgia and Tennessee to visit us at our home in Kentucky. My brother-in-law is a hard-working, devoted man of God who has exemplified the ethos of Christian service in his life, doing so many services for family and others over the years. And both of my sisters are very sweet Christian women. I can see so much of Jesus in them as they have both tried to do the right thing and have grown in the Lord despite significant challenges in their lives over the years. I always enjoy visiting with my sisters and brother-in-law since we share so many experiences and theological and philosophical viewpoints. In the course of our many conversations during the visit, the topics touched on the many people in our lives over the years and at present. One theme that God kept bringing to my mind during the discussions was the growth or stagnation of some people in their walk with God.
From the experience of years, I can now look at my life and see the tremendous changes God has made in my character, my thinking, and my feelings as well. Sometimes it is hard for one to see the changes God makes in you in the present because He works so subtly, changing each person in small steps. But the small steps begin to mount over the years, if you remain committed to a Christian walk, submitting to God in all things, and remain committed to loving service and to prayer and meditation on His Word. Eventually, you reach a point that you can look back on the years and not recognize the person you once were. However, from the experience of years, I can also look around me at other people that I’ve known over the years or people that I know at present that are around my age, and I can see that there are people that do not change or change very little. God usually does not force himself on us, so we have to be willing to change. We have to be submissive to His touch when he tries to mold us just as a potter molds the clay (Isaiah 64:8 and Jeremiah 18:1-7).
But it is clear that some do not submit willingly to the touch of God and resist all change, as if they have told God, “This is as far as I go, and I will not go any further.” I see and have seen many that harden their minds, becoming “willingly ignorant” of the truth (2 Peter 3:5). Also, many harden their hearts and wills, not allowing any work of God’s Spirit (Ephesians 4:18). It is truly a mystery to me why people would choose ignorance and sin over the freedom that God gives us when He works in our lives, but there are many who do so. For some, it is because of fear and unwillingness to sacrifice or submit; they are comfortable in the place they are in and believe it is enough. They are not willing to risk anything further, not willing to have any discomfort. Some are simply lazy and are not willing to do the work or risk the pain of going through those difficult experiences that result in growth. Still others are full of pride and have darkened their consciences, not seeing the truth because they think in their pride that they know everything they need to know and will not listen to wisdom from God and from others. There may be still other reasons for people choosing sin, but it is hard for me to understand, knowing how richly God has blessed me by His work in my heart and mind, why anyone would reject the riches of God for the treasures of this world which can be corrupted and stolen (Matthew 6:19-21).
I pray that you would discover the riches of God in your life and that you would be submissive to His touch, growing in Him more every day.
And as we take part in His work, we must always remember that ALL the work is important, no matter how great or small. All of us have a contribution to make in God's work, and all of us and our contributions are important to God. One caveat that we should remember so that we remain humble in spirit is that God does not "need" us to get the work done. He is great enough and powerful enough to do all the work by Himself if He so chooses. We know from the story of Balaam's donkey (Numbers 22:21-38), in which God made an animal speak, that God can use any method He chooses to do His will (He is completely sovereign) and that He has power over all things. However, He desires to use us because He knows we will grow in spiritual character through the process of service, and He wants us to share in the glory with Him even though He deserves all the credit. The important thing is to make a difference in whatever large or small a way in your circles of influence, and to do so always with love while walking in the center of His will and being guided by him so that our work will have the greatest effect. We are not wise enough or powerful enough to figure out what work is the most important, what work makes the best of our talents, abilities, and capability given our spiritual maturity at the time, how to fit our work into the greater scheme of God's work for humanity, nor even how to best approach the work when we are led to a task by God. But Jesus promised in John 14:26 that we would have the guidance of the Holy Spirit to teach us “all things.” The Holy Spirit will guide us into what work needs to be done, and when He has led us to the work or to the person we are to serve or witness to, He will show us what to do and give us the words to say (Luke 12:12). Moreover, the Holy Spirit gives us the spiritual power for our spiritual work on God’s behalf (Acts 1:8). Additionally, we can do nothing without the power of God within us helping us, guiding us, and empowering us (John 15:4-6).
But every Christian has the Holy Spirit within them to help them. Some denominations teach that salvation and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit are separate events. But my understanding of scripture is that the Holy Spirit comes in at the moment of salvation. Romans 8:9 tells us that if we do not have the Spirit of Jesus (the Holy Spirit), then we do not belong to Jesus. I believe that Jesus enters our hearts at the moment that we ask Him to save us, and that He takes our sin upon Himself (2 Corinthians 5:21) and supernaturally applies His blood shed in sacrifice from the cross to our hearts to absolve us from sin (Romans 3:25) past, present, and future (Hebrews 10:14-16). Then, He leaves His Spirit within us as His seal of ownership and as a guarantee of our future inheritance (2 Corinthians 1:22) and for the purpose of the lifelong work of sanctification (Philippians 1:6).
Furthermore, as we grow over time through the work of the Holy Spirit within us, learning more how God views the world through His eyes of love, how His heart of love feels toward the people of the world, and even how God thinks – as we grow in character more and more like Him every day with His Spirit built up in us greater every day through His work of sanctification, then in time, we will hear His voice more clearly. Then, hearing His voice more clearly, we will respond more readily each time as our selfish will and desires shrink within us, and His will and character build up in their place. Moreover, as we become more like Him each day, we will begin to respond instinctively in Agape love, simply knowing the heart of God and automatically knowing what needs to happen given the situation and knowing what would please God. Also, as we are more capable for the spiritual work God gives to us, God will use us more and more throughout the day. We will become more useful instruments in His Hand as we are molded to His Will and His Ways (Isaiah 64:8 and Jeremiah 18:1-7). As we become more useful, there will be days when we will be used by Him almost every moment of the day with small and large services to others: perhaps simply smiling at this lonely person we pass on the sidewalk, perhaps listening patiently and lovingly to this lonely elderly person who starts talking to us in the supermarket, perhaps letting someone out in traffic, perhaps even patiently bearing a slight from someone who is angry, frustrated, or hurting without responding in kind. There are so many ways God can use us and so many services that are needed in God’s work.
I pray that you will be attentive to and hear the guidance of the Holy Spirit in your life and that you will be blessed with opportunities not just to preach, teach, and witness, but always to model the wonderful love of our Amazing God by acts of service to your fellow man or woman.
But getting back to Cain’s question, there is supreme irony in the question. God does not respond directly to Cain’s question, but it is clear in God’s law, and in what Jesus explained were the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:37-40), that we are, all of us, our brother’s keeper. We are all responsible for, not just our siblings and immediate family members, but also our extended family in the human race, every human being that we may encounter throughout our lives. So, it is the job of all of us to help out our fellow person wherever we may be able, as is within our power, and as led by the Holy Spirit. Moreover, since we as Christians represent our Lord wherever we may go in life (2 Corinthians 5:20), then we are called to a higher standard than the people who are in and of this world, who do not know God in a personal way as we do through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.
My job as a Christian, representing my Lord, is to have compassion on the downtrodden and to help them in whatever trouble they have when I am confronted with such a situation where someone needs help. As James 1:27 tells us, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” We are also taught in Matthew 25:31-46 and Isaiah 58:6-12 that the truest expression of Love for our God is to help our fellow person in their troubles. If we have real faith, it will be accompanied by actions. It is not enough to simply have compassion for such downtrodden people and to say a prayer or to give them a blessing, but if it is within our power to help them, our faith in such situations should be accompanied by deeds (James 2:16-17). But as with these situations and with all things that we do for our Lord and all things that we accomplish throughout the day, we should listen for the guidance of the Holy Spirit who will tell us what is appropriate to do or say in these and all situations.
As a younger Christian, I was sometimes overwhelmed with the many opportunities for service and the many needs that I would see in the news or hear about at church, etc. It is easy to be overwhelmed. But it is important to remember with all the wealth of needs across your community and even the world, that it is not your responsibility to meet them all. Your only responsibility is to listen for God’s still small voice directing you to the small piece of the gigantic pie that you are responsible for and then, upon recognizing God’s guidance, to obey. God is responsible for the entire pie, all of the needs of all humanity, and He is powerful enough, wise enough, all-knowing, and compassionate enough to handle all this responsibility all by Himself if He so chooses. But He wants us to be part of His work so that we can learn and grow and become more like Him every day. And He can break down into smaller pieces the tremendous complexity of this gigantic work for meeting all the needs of humanity, and He can thus divide out to His children small pieces of the work for our benefit and blessing.
We finish on this topic tomorrow. May God bless you with peace and rest on this Sunday.
While on a recent family outing to Louisville, as we were walking along the riverfront walk, a man approached me asking for a quarter. I’ve often been approached over the years by panhandlers asking for money, and I usually give them something. I’ve heard many people over the years discuss how they address such situations. Some are skeptical about giving money to such people, expecting that perhaps the money will be used simply to buy drugs or alcohol. There is simply no way to know for sure how such money will be used just by looking at a person. It may be true that the people asking for money will not spend it in the way that they say (they always approach with some kind of story about dire need for something). After thinking long and hard about these situations in the past, I finally came to the conclusion that, since I have no way of knowing for sure in a short encounter whether the person will use the money appropriately, then I simply must go with my conscience and heart, showing compassion for the person who has obviously fallen on hard times, and I give the money, leaving it up to God as to how the money will be used.
After giving a dollar to this man on the sidewalk in Louisville, more than he had requested, I afterwards explained to my family why I had given the money and explained that I usually do respond to such people by giving them something. I explained that I believe as the quote goes, “There but for the grace of God go I” (attributed to John Bradford while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London). This old saying contains much wisdom because it is so easy to judge our fellow person when we see them in hard times and think that we would never let ourselves fall to such a state. But thinking in this way dismisses the tremendous role of God in blessing us such that we never fall to such conditions. It is because of the grace of God that we have so many blessings and that we never get to such a state of misfortune. As such, I never take pride in my own situation and judge others that are not so fortunate, remembering the admonition from 1 Corinthians 4:7: “For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”
Another reason that I gave to my family for always giving money in such situations is that I believe I am “my brother’s keeper.” We all know the story of Cain and Abel and how Cain murdered his brother out of jealousy over God favoring Abel’s sacrifice over Cain’s, most likely because of the spirit in which the gifts were given, with Abel giving out of the abundance of joy in his heart, loving God, and Abel simply giving out of obligation and the expectation of something in return, i.e. God’s favor or God’s blessing. In other words, Cain was giving not purely out of love but as a kind of quid pro quo, hoping to gain something back, sort of a bargain with God. We also know after he murdered his brother, and was confronted by God about the act, Cain uttered those famous words, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). Of course, we know that Cain was just being sarcastic, which indicates that he had absolutely no guilt over the act, thinking himself justified. He was playing with fire, of course. It is bad enough to sin, worse yet to take the life of another human being, but to act as arrogant as this to God’s face was inviting the wrath of a Holy and Righteous God. I think that God’s response, while certainly punishing Cain, was an example of His Amazing Compassion since He didn’t just flame Cain right there on the spot.
More on this tomorrow. I pray that you will walk in close fellowship with God today and be filled with His peace, joy, power, and wisdom.
In the course of training our children, there will inevitably come times of discipline. I want to emphasize that corporal punishment or any such harsh measure is only appropriate with younger children who don’t yet have the moral reasoning abilities needed to drive home important moral lessons. And even when our children were very young, my wife and I only used such punishment for the very worst infractions, such as a thoughtless, dangerous act that put their life, safety, or security in jeopardy, or an egregious breech of the moral rules for kind and respectful treatment of siblings and others, such as hitting someone or a thoughtlessly cruel joke or other act. Furthermore, we abandoned corporal punishment as soon as we saw signs that they were mature enough for other corrective measures to work.
I truly believe in a parent's right to employ corporal punishment or spanking for discipline or corrective training, but such force should always be used sparingly, calmly, with very limited, precise measures, using only the minimal force to get the child's attention, inflicting the minimal amount of pain to enforce the moral lesson. I also believe it should be done in the spirit of love, knowing that you are only using this measure because nothing else will work, nothing else will be as effective in driving home the lesson due to their immaturity. The most important principle in this situation is correction toward the right moral principles, the right behavior that you expect of the child in the future. You should always explain why you are giving them the punishment, what moral principle was breached, and you should end the act with an expression of reassurance and love, showing the child that you still love them even though you did not like their behavior.
Spanking should never be done in anger because that leads to abuse when we are not in our right minds. And we should certainly never derive any pleasure or satisfaction in the spanking. If your heart and spirit are right, if you are walking with God in the center of His will, living by His principles of love, then you will be emotionally wounded as well by having to carry out this act of punishment. Loving your child, as you should, you should find the necessity of inflicting pain on your child distasteful. You should hate the necessity of spanking but desire above all that the child should be trained in right moral principles as found in Scripture. Of course, we are well beyond the days of disciplinary training with my children, needing only corrective counseling in certain circumstances. Our moral training of our children has taken hold, and they desire to do the right moral thing now as much as we desire it of them.
But like all people, including me, our children have their bad days in which things aren’t going so well for them or they are moody, and like all people, they sometimes make mistakes in how they treat each other, but they are growing and learning and, for the most part, they are becoming wonderful, intelligent people of character, with kindness, love, and respect for each other as well as all people, possessing great critical thinking skills, and displaying much wisdom and theological knowledge in word and action. But this did not come about by accident. My wife and I have invested many thousands of hours into our children during homeschooling, family outings, time doing chores, time driving to activities, time over meals, etc. We’ve had so many countless conversations with our children, using the time to further develop our relationships with them, to listen to them, to help bear their burdens, to teach them, to mentor and counsel them, and just to enjoy their company. We have been teaching them diligently (Deuteronomy 6:5-7) all this time in the correct path to walk, and our job will continue until they are on their own, building their own homes and families.
Moreover, as my children have been growing up, my wife and I have been steadily growing as well. I think perhaps this is the reason that many people think of the teen years as difficult or bad years. I think it might be because the parents don’t grow along with the children. When you stay stagnant as a person and a parent, it is likely that you will unnecessarily lean on a small set of parenting skills without changing, and thus you will end up using these skills on your children long after they are appropriate. From my experience, I’ve seen many parents using control measures over their children that were appropriate for the younger years but which cause unnecessary conflict as the child grows older. Such control measures, when not loosened up gradually as they grow and show more responsibility, give the child the impression that you do not respect them, that you do not honor their unique personality, character, and talents, and that you do not love them so much as you view them as a possession to control and manipulate. Of course, these things are probably not true, but when your actions give such an impression, then the child cannot be blamed for coming to such a conclusion or interpretation of your actions. Words are cheap. Actions come at more cost to you and are more valuable.
I pray that you will be filled with wisdom, patience, and gentle love for your children, remembering the great responsibility that you have to God for their proper upbringing, and that you will remember always that your children belong to God, not to you. If you do not have children but have young relatives or friends in your life that you can influence and serve for God, I pray that you will be led by God in wisdom and love in impacting that child for the better, perhaps encouraging and loving him or her in situations where there are no other adults in their life doing so.
Recently, my family and I made an excursion up to Louisville to celebrate our oldest daughter’s birthday. We went to a restaurant recommended by a family friend and then afterwards walked on the riverfront. It was nice family time and a special, rare time these days in which all six of us could be together with my children involved in jobs, friends, boyfriends, and other activities. It’s so hard to believe that my oldest daughter is now 19. It seems like only yesterday that she was a beautiful, spunky, smart, and funny little girl with a big heart. Now she is much older, but still beautiful, courageous, smart, and hugely compassionate. And she loves the Lord with all her heart as I’d always prayed she would. Like all my children, she seems to be growing up so quickly. They’re all growing into people with strong, compassionate character, creativity, intelligence, independence, confidence, and a sharp wit. But seeing them all now as young ladies and a young man, it’s hard to understand where the years went.
Parenting is such a blessing as I’ve written about before. Many people look on the teen years as a burden, and teens have been stereotyped and unfairly maligned sometimes in various media as being moody and rebellious. To be fair, these are very hard years for them. There are so many life lessons to learn during the teen years, and many of them are very hard, difficult, and even painful lessons. Moreover, although they do have much leisure and play time during these years, as appropriate, they are also working very hard at school and other activities. We can’t look at these years and think in terms of how we, as adults with years of experience, and with the benefit of hindsight, could manage that time better. If we are hypercritical, we should be honest and humble enough to admit that we did not do any better than they did at their age, so we should not demand more from them than their best effort. Since they don’t have the experience we do, we have to remember that they are most likely doing the best they can with what they know. Instead of criticizing or nagging them into doing better, it is more beneficial to model the behaviors we want in them. We should gently guide them toward right moral action founded in love, giving them an example, and encouraging the good things they do, dwelling on those positive things in our conversations with them. In doing this, we will build their confidence and courage, always gently guiding them towards better behavior, better treatment of family and other people, and a right relationship with God. Remember that God is extremely patient with us as adults when He teaches us, so we should be just as patient, kind, and gentle with our children when we are training them.
Sure there is a time for discipline or corrective counseling, but this should be done in love, only using the minimal force or negative action to get the lesson across. For the older teens, we should increasingly prefer corrective counseling rather than punishment, withholding of privileges, or grounding since they should have displayed increasingly better character over time and since we are training them to be adults. That said, I'm sure there are unique situations in which such methods are appropriate as guided by the Holy Spirit within us. But since we are preparing them to function as adults, we need to gradually prepare them for the adult world by treatment that they would encounter anywhere else in the workplace, community, market, etc. from other adults. This requires that we respect them as individuals and unique creations of God, that we respect their personal choices that are still within the boundaries of moral rules, that we give them freedom and privilege as appropriate, and that we respect their opinions and their interests, so long as they don’t violate any of the major religious or moral principles we’ve trained them on from Scripture. They are not "mini me's," not simply carbon copies of ourselves in miniature. They are distinct, separate, and unique creatures created by our Amazing God for a unique mission in this world, just as we, ourselves, were created for a unique mission in this world. More on this tomorrow. I pray that you will be blessed by the children around you and that you will be a blessing to them as well.
At the end of every prayer that I pray, I always end with the words, “In Jesus name.” This is something that many people do. It is not an incantation as in a special magic spell that immediately infuses all the rest of my words with power. My prayers already have power because I am a child of God, having been saved by Jesus, covered in His blood for the remission of all my sins past, present, and future. Moreover, I know that God hears all my prayers, and I know that He will answer my prayers based on my past experience with countless prayers answered. 1 John 5:14 tells us, “if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” Additionally, 1 Chronicles 16:11 invites us to seek God always, “Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His face evermore!” So, why do we pray in Jesus name this way? In John 14:13, Jesus tells us to pray in His name, “And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”
But praying in His name is more than just saying the words at the end of the prayer. Without our relationship with Jesus, we would not even be able to come to God the Father as His children. In John 14:6, Jesus tells us, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” It is only because of the sacrifice of Jesus that cleanses our sins that we are able to have a relationship with our God and to come before a Holy and Righteous God in prayer. Moreover, we can do nothing without Jesus (John 15:5). So, we can do nothing in our own power. It is all done through the power of His Spirit within us that teaches, empowers us for His work, and gives us His wisdom and His words to do His will. It is not only the reconciliation of Jesus to God and the power of Jesus in us that allows us to do His work. We also come in His authority as His representatives to do all that we do. 2 Corinthians 5:20 tells us that we are His ambassadors, that all things that we do, we do on His behalf, representing Him as if we were Jesus Himself. As His ambassadors, we are His projected presence on this earth, just as ambassadors on this earth are the projected presence of their nations and those nation’s leaders.
There is yet one more reason why we pray in Jesus’ name. It is a constant reminder to us of our Lord. For the same reason that we regularly have the communion service at church in remembrance of our Lord and of His sacrifice for us, we should also be in constant remembrance of His great love, a greater love than any man or woman on this earth ever had or could ever have, sacrificing everything He had for us and doing so at great expense of pain and humiliation and even His very life. Knowing how much Jesus loved us and how much He paid for us, we should be in constant remembrance of His sacrifice in all things that we do and reminding ourselves with these simple words at the end of every prayer: “In Jesus Name.”
I pray that you will always remember the great love that Jesus has for you and the great love that the Father had in sending His only Son to die on the cross, redeeming us to Him forever.
While on our family trip to New Hampshire for my brother-in-law’s wedding to his beautiful, intelligent, and very talented bride, I had many opportunities to talk with members of my extended family on my wife’s side. I enjoyed this special time with all my wife’s family, her brothers, their wives, and her parents. They feel more like my nuclear family than they do my in-laws. Among the many conversations we had was a discussion with my mother-in-law about visiting sites in the Holy Land. She had just completed a trip recently with her church to many of the sites which she had read about for years, and she now had the amazing experience of walking where Jesus walked and where many Biblical events took place. My wife and I were fortunate to have taken a similar trip in May 1990, so I was able to share in and discuss my mother-in-law’s experience. It really is an amazing experience to walk in these various places where Biblical and historical events took place.
Visiting these places, you are reminded of the truth of these stories. They are not just stories or myths, but rather real events that took place, and as you find out from visiting these places, despite what the naysayers and skeptics might try to tell you, there is a mountain of archeological evidence backing up the Biblical stories, proving that they really happened and that they happened exactly as the Bible tells us they did. It is too easy to be a skeptic, though, and there seems never to be an end to such skeptics. I remember years ago in graduate school studying the writings of certain skeptics that founded the deconstruction school of thought, starting with Jacques Derrida in 1967. Derrida used exalted sounding language and complex arguments that awed the unwashed masses of academics who were lured into his theories without a peep of resistance like wide-eyed neophytes. But when you look at his theories in the clear light of reason and truth they are just an application of socialist theory and class struggle to the subject of linguistics. And his followers then expanded on his theories to tear down and criticize all traditional values and especially Judeo-Christian values and ways of thinking.
I struggled through graduate school with many people who accepted his theories without question, yet they would question everything else, which made no sense. Any claim to truth should be questioned because God made us creatures of curiosity and intellectual reason. The claims of Derrida and his followers have no more claim to truth than anyone else and are subject to the very same questions that they mischievously inflicted on everyone else. I learned from studying the German philosopher Fichte that all claims to truth have a foundation somewhere, and for worldly knowledge, that foundation is usually based in assumptions that are hidden away and are unquestioned. For the Christian, though, our claims to truth are founded in the source of all truth, God. As Jesus told us in John 14:6, He is “THE TRUTH.” Since truth is founded in Him, it is unshakeable. Moreover, the validity of the truths in our God and His Scripture have been attacked for millennia without effect. The Bible, its people, its events, its continuing effect on people up to the present, and its unblemished record of prophesies that have come true and continue to come true give us an unassailable mountain of evidence as to the truth of its words and the God behind them. Josh McDowell has written a series of books which examine the truth of the Bible in exhausting detail for anyone who ever wants to examine the claims of the Bible’s truth. But truth, real truth, such as found in the Bible and in our God, can never be damaged or taken away, and it will never go away because His Truth is as eternal as He Is.
I pray that you would rejoice in the unshakeable truths of our God and His Scripture and that you would find courage and strength in your life from these truths.
This weekend, I unwittingly got sucked into a project that seemed like it was never going to end. I had known for a while that I needed to do some maintenance on the mower deck of our riding lawn mower. Three years of hard duty had taken their toll on the machine. The mower blades were chipped, rutted, and bent such that the grass was less being cut than ripped off by blunt force of the spinning jagged edge of the blade. In addition to the damage to the mower blades, bit by bit, a layer of grass and dirt as dense as a black hole had compacted on the entire underside surface structure and had continuously been building ever thicker for three years. I knew from the sound of the mower’s engine that it was having to work progressively harder for each successive episode of grass cutting. So, I knew that I had finally reached the weekend that I unavoidably had to accomplish the maintenance on the mower deck or risk having a mower that would just stop working altogether.
When I started the procedure to drop the mower deck, things seemed to proceed relatively easy. There were only five points of contact that held the mower deck to the underside of the “tractor.” All five points were held in place by lynch-pins that were easily removed, and the metal arms or bolts that were held in place by the lynch-pins could then be pulled from their attachment point, dropping the mower deck free. Then all I had to do was to slide the mower deck a little further forward so that I could remove the drive belt, then slide the whole apparatus out from under the tractor for service. This whole process took about 10 minutes, so I thought I would have an easy time with my maintenance task, followed shortly by the reattachment to the tractor. But from that point on, it seemed like everything that I attempted to do turned into a much larger chore by unanticipated problems such as missing tools or equipment breaking down (the pressure washer crapped out on me) or each small task in the cleaning requiring much more effort than expected, including the removal of several nuts that had apparently been screwed on at the factory by an angry 800-pound gorilla on steroids. So a job that I thought would take maybe an hour or two at most turned into a chore of several hours over two days with frequent breaks since I was having to do most of this in the hot summer sun with high temperatures and high humidity, getting drenched with sweat and covered with filth each time.
But the time finally came when I got most of the chore done and everything reassembled complete with new cutting blades for the mower deck. As I began to reattach the mower deck to the tractor, the seemingly easy task of taking it off was not nearly as easy as putting it back on. I had already forgotten how the attachment arms were supposed to be positioned, and the pictures in the manual were not very clear. Moreover, every step was made harder somehow by some difficulty that I had not anticipated. But after a couple more frustrating hours, I had the mower deck back on the tractor and had only to reattach the drive belt. One last summit to conquer. That was when I realized that I had no idea how the belt was supposed to be routed, and there didn’t seem to be any obvious way to do so. When I consulted the owner’s manual, I found that none of the diagrams or pictures matched the structure that I saw in front of me. Somehow, the model I owned had been left out of a manual that covered every other model in the series quite thoroughly. So I searched on the internet for a diagram of the belt routing because practically everything is on the internet these days, right? Unfortunately, the only things I could find on the internet simply matched the useless pictures in my owner’s manual that had no correspondence with my situation.
I finally decided to just sit in front of the mower deck and try to reason through how the belt would have to move, given the positioning of the pulleys on the deck. This worked for a few minutes, and I was able to solve all issues save one. I still didn’t know at which point on the front of the belt’s path that the belt was then pulled out to attach to the main drive pulley on the tractor. Nothing seemed obvious to me. After several minutes of trying to figure this out, I knew I had reached the limits of my knowledge, patience, and strength. So I began to think of what options I might have on the following day for resolution, such as returning to the shop where I had purchased the riding mower and asking whether they had a diagram for the belt routing or at least some advice on how to proceed. As I was thinking through these options, it occurred to me that I had not prayed about it. So as soon as this thought came to me, I said a quick prayer asking for the Lord’s guidance. And as soon as I finished praying the words, a thought popped into my head to try pulling the belt from a particular point which I had not tried, had not thought of before, and which did not seem obvious to me, but sure enough this was the right place to thread the belt forward, and within seconds, I had the belt reattached and had finally completed this seemingly gargantuan task which had consumed most of my weekend.
There have been so many times over the past couple of years that I have increasingly turned to God for help in every conceivable little situation that seemed impossible or simply beyond my knowledge, patience, strength, courage, time available, or capability to solve or which was a dire need in the moment. Countless times, I have lost things, and have had to pray to God for help in finding the lost item. Each time, He directed my steps right to the object, or he directed my eyes precisely to the point in the room that the object lay despite my having searched the room multiple times and not being able to see the missing object, and many times putting my eyes precisely on the edge of the object that was barely sticking out from under a pile of other things (I most definitely would have never found it). There was even one night when my wife and I struggled for 45 minutes to get a passenger seat reattached in our mini-van without any success. When we reached the end of our ideas and patience and had paused for a rest, sweaty and tired, I prayed out loud, “Lord, we could use a little help here.” As soon as I had finished the prayer, I then grabbed the back of the seat and slid it just the right way into just the right place immediately, and it locked effortlessly into place. We both laughed at how easy this difficult task had become once we asked God for help.
Too often we struggle through tasks big and small and don’t think to ask God for help. Or we ask Him as a last resort, thinking that He doesn’t want to be bothered with such mundane matters as this. But God loves each of us with an all-consuming, boundless love. And because He loves us this way, He wants to be involved in all areas of our lives. He loves to help us and enjoys helping us because He wants us to be happy and successful. He is just a prayer away and is willing to help us in anything we ask. Psalm 46:1 tells us, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” What kind of trouble will God help us in? Any kind of trouble, big or small. If you think it is a problem, and you need help solving it, then that is enough for God to be concerned as well and to be willing to help us. Of course this most likely would not apply to areas of sin. I don’t think God would help one to solve the problems involved in robbing the local bank for example (James 4:3). But in all the usual, normal, even mundane matters of our lives, God is there to help us if we only ask. James 4:2 tells us “[Y]ou do not have because you do not ask.” Jesus tells us to ask, and when we ask, “it will be given to you” (Matthew 7:7, Matthew 21:22).
I pray that you will learn to use God’s help in all matters big and small, “casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).