Reflections on spiritual themes (and a few other things).

Month: May 2022


As a minister, I’ve attended a lot of funerals through the years. One feature common to all is the sharing of memories between family and friends. Often, visitations will feature slide shows, videos, memorabilia, and photos of the departed.

Memories, especially with the grieving, are a bridge between past, present and future. Long after our friends and family are gone, we still remember events, comments, and moments as if we were still experiencing them.

As we get older, we sometimes romanticize the memories, recalling only the best parts, or filtering out the worst parts. We sometimes remember the same things over and over. Sometimes the memories stay in our minds, and we withdraw into that place, and although nobody else can enter that place, those who live there seem content.

Using our memories, we sometimes judge the present by the past. Memories of long-ago are altered to suit our current thinking. Rather than reflecting what really happened, we remember things how we wish they happened. The Israelites were guilty of this after they left Egyptian bondage. In Numbers 11.4-6, they complained, “Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.” “Free” fish? They conveniently forgot they were slaves! Nothing was free!

This makes me wonder about how memory will work in eternity. After Jesus returns and gathers his people home, how will we remember things? I think the apostle Paul gives us a hint. He said there is coming a time when “I will know fully, just as I also have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13.12). I believe he was talking about heaven. 

I imagine heaven as being a place not of perfect memory, but of perfected memories. Not complete recollection, but a proper understanding of what we do recall. Even what we consider to be bad memories will be put into perspective so that we understand, appreciate, and even rejoice in them.

Like so many other things in human existence, memory is imperfect. That doesn’t mean it’s unimportant or something to be avoided. Far from it. 

By all means, build memories. Build good memories. Share your memories. Use your memories, good or bad. Learn from your memories. Thank God for your capacity to remember, and for the memories you have. 

God gives us memory as a way of offering hope. As Jeremiah said, “This I recall to mind, therefore I have hope” (Lamentations 3.21).

What’s Your Thing?

I grew up in the 60s & 70s, and I remember hearing people say, “That’s just my thing.” Or they’d ask, “What’s your thing?”

Doing one’s “thing” is to “pursue one’s interests or inclination; do what one does best or enjoys most.” 

  • A character trait: Ralph Waldo Emerson (1841) “But do your thing and I shall know you.” 
  • A dogged pursuit: “I really admire him for just doing his thing and not listening to the critics.” 
  • Peculiar habit or mannerism: “That’s just her thing. You’ll get used to it.” 
  • If we can’t agree, or if we reach an impasse: “You do your thing and I’ll do mine.”

As a Christian, what’s your thing? What are you about? What is your pursuit? The Bible talks about our “thing”; it says that we need a “thing” to help us pursue the right kind of life.

  • Luke 10.41-42: Martha was distracted by many things; Jesus wanted her to pursue only one thing
  • Mark 10.21 (see also, Luke 18.22): The rich young ruler owned many things; perhaps more accurately, his many things owned him; Jesus said he needed to simplify – “one thing you lack.

Let’s look at three texts that help us define our “thing”; three things worth pursuing. (Note: Based on a sermon by Alistair Begg; SBTS chapel service, 10/29/13). 

“One Thing I Know” (John 9.25)

Here, Jesus healed a man who was born blind. The Pharisees were upset that Jesus did this on the Sabbath. Twice they asked the blind man to explain what happened, hoping to discredit Jesus in some way. He replied, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9.25). He didn’t know who Jesus was or how Jesus healed him, but he recognized the power of God at work. 

“One Thing I Do” (Philippians 3.13)

Here, the apostle Paul talks about the most important thing in his life: knowing Christ in an intimate way. For Paul his suffering as a Christian was simply his passport to the resurrection from the dead. He knew he wasn’t done yet, and that much work remained. So, he said, “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead” (Philippians 3.13). Paul knew that his work in this life was never done, so he pressed onward and upward.

“One Thing I Seek” (Psalm 27.4)

Here, the psalmist is experiencing persecution by his enemies. He has no doubts about the Lord’s willingness to intervene, and his power to thwart his enemies. For that reason, he knows that the presence of God is his best hope for survival. So he says, “One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the LORD, And to meditate in His temple” (Psalm 27.4). He wanted the presence of God.

So, “What’s your thing?” For Christians the answer is simple. “One thing I know” (the power of Christ); “one thing I do” (I press onward and upward); and “one thing I seek” (the presence of God). 


President Franklin Roosevelt hated White House receptions, especially the mindless small talk and chitchat in the receiving lines. At one reception he decided to try something different. When people greeted him, he said, “Good evening. I murdered my grandmother today.” Every person he greeted replied in the same way: “That’s nice. Keep up the good work. We’re proud of you! God bless you, Mr. President!”

Every person except one. A foreign diplomat whispered, “Well, I’m sure she had it coming.”

How do you know if you’re a good listener?”

The answer is simple: by how your respond.

The Bible often reminds us of the importance of listening:

  • Proverbs 1.5 – “A wise man will hear and increase in learning…”
  • Proverbs 18.13 – “He who gives an answer before he hears, It is folly and shame to him.”
  • James 1.19 – This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger…”
  • Matthew 13.9 – “He who has ears, let him hear.”

Listening is so important that one of the New Testament words for sin means a failure to hear. In Romans 5.19 the apostle Paul was describing the effects of Adam’s sin. He said, “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” The word “disobedience” literally meant “to hear amiss; to fail to hear; to hear wrongly.” In other words, Adam wasn’t listening to God.

The issue is NOT whether the sound waves strike the ear drum and register in the brain. The issue is whether we have enough love and respect for God that we really pay attention to what he tells us. 

That’s also the same issue when we listen to others. We may not be listening for the purpose of obedience the way we do with God. But the motive is the same. If we love and respect the other person, we’ll pay attention. We’ll actively listen. We’ll engage the other person in constructive communication. 

Often, we’re listening only for an opening in the conversation: an opening to get out of it, or an opening to give them a piece of our mind. Neither of these constitutes listening.

So, when someone speaks to you – whether it’s God or someone else – learn to listen with love. 

When You Fall

What do you do when you fall?

Let me start by eliminating one possibility: I’m not talking about moral failure, or sin, or falling away from God. That’s a category all its own and deserves more than a 400-word article.

I’m talking about goofs, mistakes in judgment, forgetfulness, ineptitude – everyday, ordinary kinds of failure that aren’t sinful and aren’t usually life-altering.

My answer comes in the form of a quotation by Oswald Avery (Canadian-American physician & researcher, d. 1955) – “Whenever you fall, pick up something.”

What an elegant, simple, and practical answer!

Unfortunately, some people do everything wrong whenever they fall. Let me suggest three things you should NEVER do when you fall.

  1. NEVER PANIC – Panic is an emotional response to a perceived crisis. It makes us project the worst possible scenario. It makes us want to give up before we try anything.
  2. NEVER WALLOW – As sad as it sounds, some people live for failure. They’re into the “poor pitiful me” syndrome. They want your pity and your sympathy, and they’d prefer that someone else fix their problem.
  3. NEVER BLAME – Some people play the blame game because they won’t accept personal responsibility for their failures. Sometimes the other person is blameworthy but blaming them isn’t always helpful. So, YOU do what you can to fix the problem.

Now let me suggest some positive applications. What should we “pick up” after we fall?

  1. PICK YOURSELF UP – Don’t just lay there! Do something!
  2. PICK UP WHAT YOU DROPPED – If you made the mess, clean it up! Take ownership!
  3. PICK UP WHAT SOMEONE ELSE DROPPED – Sometimes we didn’t make the mistake. Help the other person anyway! Help remedy the situation!
  4. PICK UP A FRIEND – Others fall. They need what we all need – companionship.
  5. PICK UP A NEW SKILL OR HABIT – Learn something while you’re down there!

Is there a biblical basis for this? Yes! Proverbs 24.16 says, “For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again, But the wicked stumble in time of calamity.” The previous verse warns the wicked against trying to trip the righteous; this verse gives the explanation. 

Proverbs usually address how to avoid falling. Here, it acknowledges that righteous people do make mistakes and fall. The difference, though, is that they keep picking themselves up.

So, whenever you fall, pick up something, starting with yourself.

A Long Obedience

Americans LOVE speed and convenience. We want things easy, and we want them now. 

  • We want gourmet meals at microwave speed
  • We want to lose 30 pounds before the next holiday
  • We want Olympian fitness in just 20 minutes a day
  • We want instant communications – cell phones, video conferencing, emails, texts, Facebook, news

All these things have their place and are amazingly useful. BUT the problem is that we often expect the same thing in our spiritual lives – we want instant and easy spiritual growth; instant and easy relationships; instant and easy conflict resolution; instant and easy Bible knowledge. However, the reality is that spiritual growth takes time. It takes persistence.

What does persistence look like?

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, “The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; whereby there results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.”

A “long obedience in the same direction” is Biblical perseverance, endurance, or steadfastness. 

  • Jesus said – (Luke 8.15) “But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.”
  • The apostle Paul said – (Romans 5.3-5) “…tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint…”

Worthwhile things take time and effort and perseverance. They require “a long obedience in the same direction.” Whether it’s your career; or your marriage; or your relationship to your children; or your character; or your finances; or your spiritual life – these things take time, effort, and perseverance. They take this “long obedience in the same direction.”

One more thing: If persistence is this “long obedience in the same direction,” we must have a direction. But direction is determined by destination. If there’s no destination, we’re simply wandering aimlessly. For Christians, our destination is the Father, and Jesus provides the direction – “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14.6). 

Do you practice persistence? Do you have this “long obedience in the same direction?”

Stubborn Righteousness

Have you ever tried to get rid of a stubborn weed or a sapling or bush that has sprung up in the wrong place? No matter how hard you try, it seems to win. You pull it; it grows back. You cut it; it comes back. You spray it; next season, it’ll be back!

Why do weeds so often win? Simple. They have deep roots. If you don’t kill the roots, you won’t kill the plant, and if you don’t kill the plant, it’ll always come back. 

However, the same thing is true of desirable grasses and flowers and shrubs and trees. If they have well developed root systems, they’ll also persist. 

I want to apply this to our spiritual lives. Think about the following Scriptures and what they have in common with each other. 

  • “A man will not be established by wickedness, but the root of the righteous will not be moved” (Proverbs 12.3 NASB).
  • “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is the LORD. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit” (Jeremiah 17.7-8 NASB).
  • “Therefore, as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude” (Colossians 2.6-7 NASB).

We all understand persistent, stubborn, relentless weeds. These passages are telling us that we need a persistent, stubborn, and relentless faith. Not an obstinate or self-willed faith, but a resolute and committed faith. Righteous people don’t give up easily because have laid deep roots. 

How do you grow deep spiritual roots? It’s by cultivating the habits of Bible study, Scripture meditation and memorization, prayer, corporate worship, spending time with fellow Christians, and serving others. Whenever we practice these disciplines, our spiritual roots grow ever deeper and stronger.

How deep is the root system of your faith? How well grounded is your righteousness?

Of Bricks & Cathedrals

Two masons were working hard building a wall. A stranger stopped and asked, “What are you doing?” 

One of the men glared at him with a scowl and snarled, “I’m laying bricks! What do you think?”

The other man smiled at him with a gleam in his eyes and said, “I’m building a cathedral!”

The difference between the two men wasn’t what they were doing, but how they perceived what they were doing. One man had vision, while the other didn’t. The same thing applies us. It’s the difference between going through the motions and using imagination in our work. It’s the difference between the ordinary and the extraordinary.

Biblically, it’s the difference between Simon and Peter. In John chapter one, Andrew introduced his brother Simon to Jesus. We’re told (John 1.42), “Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).” The name Peter was the Greek word petros, which meant a rock. In the gospels, Peter is anything but a rock: he’s rash, brash, boastful, cocky, and foolish, and at the end of the gospels, he publicly denies Jesus three times. But John also records that Jesus restored him in the end (John 21). So, when we get to the book of Acts, Peter (the Rock) becomes a source of strength and encouragement to his fellow apostles and fellow Christians in the early days of the church. Jesus had vision – he saw Simon for what he could become.

This kind of vision transforms everything we do. Typing an email becomes an act of communication. Staring at a spreadsheet becomes strategic business planning. Pulling weeds becomes landscaping. Laying tile becomes interior design. 

It also transforms our lives as Christians. Planning your monthly budget becomes stewardship. Sunday church attendance becomes worship. Studying your Bible becomes a spiritual feast. Socializing with other Christians becomes fellowship. Visiting the sick becomes serving the body of Christ.

Whatever your job, and however mundane you may think it is, apply imagination, perspective, and vision, and you’ll completely transform your attitude about your work.

Are you laying bricks or building cathedrals? The choice is yours.

Honest to God

Are you honest to God?

Most of us have heard the phrase, “Honest to God!” It’s like saying, “I swear to God.” It’s an oath. An oath is a solemn promise that calls God as a witness. Even though people abuse oaths, calling God to witness the truthfulness of something is a valid biblical concept, and we see examples in the Bible.

In this post, I don’t want to talk about oaths, but rather about truthfulness. Specifically, I want to talk about truthfulness with God when we pray to him. Are we honest to God when we pray?

For many people, prayer is just polite religious chitchat, the kind of small talk you have with a total stranger. We don’t reveal anything deep or personal or sensitive. We’re afraid God will think less of us, or he’ll be shocked or angry, or he’ll terminate our relationship because of something we said.

However, some prayers in the Bible aren’t polite. And they were spoken by God’s most faithful people:

  • Moses’ complaints about Israel in the wilderness – Exodus 17.4; Numbers 11.10-15
  • Elijah’s complaint about being the only faithful Israelite left – 1 Kings 19.1-18
  • Job’s bitter complaints about his suffering – Job 3
  • David’s prayers for vengeance against his enemies – e.g., Psalm 58.6-11
  • Jeremiah’s complaints to God about his ministry – Jeremiah 4.10; 15.10; 20.7, 14-18

Why could these men pray in this way? Because they had an intimate relationship with God!

Intense prayer is like intense conversation: it’s the outgrowth of intimacy. You don’t talk like this to a stranger – you only talk like this to a friend, to someone whom you know and trust, and who knows you. That’s God! He knows our weaknesses but loves us anyway – “Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psalm 103.13-14).

Grace is God’s side of things; honesty, truthfulness, and integrity are our responsibility:

  • Are you angry (toward others or toward God)? TELL HIM!
  • Are your worried? TELL HIM! (See 1 Peter 5.6-7)
  • Are you bitter and struggling with hatred? TELL HIM!
  • Are you caught in greed or gossip or lust or pride? TELL HIM!

AND ask for his help. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139.23-24).

Today and every day, be honest to God.

Church Dropouts

Why do people quit going to church? It’s an oft-asked question. A 2006 poll by LifeWay Research supplied some interesting answers (see the chart below). All the respondents were adults who had stopped attending church regularly. The average length of time these adults had been out of duty was 14 years.

Several things stand out on this list. First, the majority of the excuses blame someone or something for falling away: family, job, cliques, or church members somehow caused the member to stop attending. It’s the other person’s fault. Second, the excuses seem awfully shallow. They remind me of student excuses for not doing homework: “My dog ate it.” Third, they consistently reflect a lack of proper priorities in life. Work, family, and distance become more important than a deep and personal spirituality; more important than a nurturing environment with fellow Christians in the local church.

Perhaps the most glaring omission on the list was the one thing that would explain virtually everything else: Lack of personal commitment to Christ. Would it be too much for someone to simply say: “I don’t care about Christ. I don’t care about his church. I don’t care to live a godly and spiritual life.” The Lord deserves an honest answer: “Oh that there were one among you who would shut the gates, that you might not uselessly kindle fire on My altar! I am not pleased with you” (Malachi 1.10). Jesus said: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth” (Revelation 3.15f).

Commitment to Christ precedes all other commitments. It’s the absolute denial of self and a whole-hearted willingness to give up all that defines our relationship to him (Luke 9.23-26). But that devotion to him also bears fruit in devotion to others (Hebrews10.19-25). You can’t be concerned about Christ without being concerned about his people.

Thus, those who are committed to Christ are also committed to their fellow Christians in the local church. In Syrian Antioch, those who “turned to the Lord” and who resolved to “remain true to the Lord” were the same disciples who became “the church” in that community (Acts 11.21-26). In Philippi, the Christians there were concerned about needy Christians in Judea. They expressed that concern by a generous financial contribution. Even Paul, who knew them well, was impressed when, “they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God” (2 Corinthians 8.5).

The only effective way to reduce the attrition rate in local churches is to increase the commitment rate. That is, each disciple in the local church must first be whole-heartedly committed to the Lord. When that commitment is in place, things like distance and busy-ness, cliques, hypocrisy, and all other sorts of potential obstacles will not prevent someone from serving Christ.

One other observation from the survey: Over two-thirds of former churchgoers are open to the idea of returning to church. So, there are good opportunities around us to reclaim the lost and to motivate the marginal. All it takes is commitment.

Top 10 Reasons People Quit Church

Simply got too busy19%
Family or home responsibilities prevented attendance17%
Church members seemed hypocritical17%
Church members were judgmental of others17%
Moved too far from church17%
Work situation prevented church attendance15%
Church was not helping me develop spiritually14%
Stopped believing in organized religion14%
Church was run by a clique that discouraged involvement12%
Got divorced or separated12%

*Survey respondents could “check all reasons that apply”, so the answers total more than 100 percent. From Life Way Research ( Conducted summer 2006. Survey of 469 adults who once regularly attended church, but now no longer do. The average length of time the respondents had not reguli1rly attended was 14 years. Two-thirds of the respondents were open to the idea of regularly attending services again.

The Fundamentals of Success

“Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals.” – Jim Rohn

I’m not an expert on motivation, or success, or self-help. Although I’ve read books about success and motivation, I’ve never completely mastered any of them, and in some areas, I’m still not very good. But I’ve studied it enough to know that the principles of success aren’t mysterious, but, in fact, are reasonably obvious. My problem isn’t knowledge, it’s application. Or more accurately, lack of application.

Now, think of this in terms of your spiritual life. I’ll reword this quotation by substituting the word “spirituality” in place of the word “success.” It would then say, “Spirituality is neither magical nor mysterious. Spirituality is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals.” I find it helpful to think of spiritual growth in that way: applying a set of fundamental principles to the problems we face in our spiritual lives.

By way of application, which of these two components do you struggle with the most? Is it with learning fundamental spiritual principles? Or is it with putting the principles into practice?

This is where the discipline of self-examination becomes so critically important. Every day of every week, each of us needs to take a hard and honest look at ourselves to see where we should improve. The only way we can improve is to identify the problem, find the biblical principle that addresses the problem, and then put the principle into practice to eliminate the problem. That’s spiritual success.

As we said at the beginning, there’s nothing magical or mysterious about spiritual success. It’s a matter of applying the principles to the problem.

Jesus said it best of all: “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them” (John 13.17).