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

Month: August 2022 (Page 1 of 2)

Thinking & Doing

Laurence J. Peter (who formulated the famous “Peter Principle”) said, “There are two kinds of failures: those who thought and never did, and those who did and never thought.”

I suspect most of us had failed in both ways. We’ve all had times when we rushed into action to solve a problem, only to realize that our instincts were misguided. We acted without thinking and created a bigger mess than when we started.

At other times, we ponder a problem to death. We think, we research, we think some more, we look it up on YouTube, Wikipedia, and Amazon trying to find the perfect solution. But by the time we find a solution, either the problem went away, or somebody else fixed it.

We often think without acting, and act without thinking.

Christianity is a religion of both thought and action. Obviously, there’s much about our faith that must be done. As the book of James said, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1.22). It’s not enough to listen to a good sermon or a good Bible class, we must act upon what we hear. James reminds us that it’s not the teacher’s responsibility or the preacher’s, but the listener’s responsibility to act.

I may feel strongly that my congregation needs to be more friendly. But if I never speak to anyone outside my circle of acquaintances, or if I never invite someone into my home, nothing will ever change. I’m thinking about something but doing nothing about it. 

But Christianity is also a thoughtful religion. We must think about certain things and cultivate certain attitudes. The apostle Paul said, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, [let your mind] dwell on these things” (Philippians 4.8). In biblical thought, attitudes precede actions. If you want to do the right kind of things, you need to think the right kind of thoughts. 

When I was a volunteer fireman, I learned about scene safety. Rather than just jumping in to rescue a potential victim, I was taught to look at the situation and determine the safest, most effective way to respond. Jumping into a dangerous situation without looking may make for great movies, but in real life it creates potential disasters. 

So, what God wants from us each and every day is to think about what we’re doing, and act upon what we’re thinking.

Spiritual Metrics

Businesses pour a lot of energy and resources into monitoring and measuring growth. It’s what they call “metrics.” There are metrics for sales, marketing, social media, growth, income, revenue, costs, website traffic, inventory, customer satisfaction, employee turnover, etc.

Regarding metrics, Seth Godin (entrepreneur & author) says, “Just because something is easy to measure doesn’t mean it’s important.” Metrics deal with quantity and not necessarily with quality. Something may be big, but is it good? Is it worthwhile? Is it important?

As Christians we face a similar challenge. As Christians, we’re in the business of spiritual growth. But how do we measure that? The most important indicators of spiritual growth are qualitative, not quantitative. That means that spiritual growth is sometimes hard to measure.

Peter said, “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you” (2 Peter 1.2-11).

Peter gives us a set of spiritual metrics, things we should monitor: faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. He tells us that if we track these things and practice them, spiritual growth will happen. 

He even tells us in this text what that spiritual growth looks like: a true and intimate knowledge of God; looking more like God and less like the world; bearing fruit; and being able to handle temptation. These qualities are the evidence of spiritual growth.

The takeaway is this: God has given us the metrics we need to grow in the right way. Our task is to use them in the right way. 

Remember the Lord

Whenever Christians around the world take the Lord’s Supper, they’re honoring Jesus’ instructions, “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22.19). In this feast we consciously remember that Jesus gave body and blood for us. However, remembering the Lord and his death should be a daily habit, not just an occasional one.

Paul, writing to Timothy to encourage him in his labors, said, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel…” (2 Timothy 2.8). That wasn’t a reference to communion; it was a reminder of the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection to shape Timothy’s life and ministry.

Clement of Alexandria (an early Christian apologist, AD 150-215) said that the apostle Peter and his wife were executed by Nero on the same day. She was executed first, and as she was being led away, Peter called out her name and encouraged her, saying, “Remember the Lord” (Stromata, VII.11).

How different would your day be if you remembered the Lord in each and every moment?

  • Remember the Lord when someone insults you.
  • Remember the Lord when someone ignores you.
  • Remember the Lord when someone angers you.
  • Remember the Lord when someone assails a family member.
  • Remember the Lord when you’re sick.
  • Remember the Lord when you’re struggling at work or school.
  • Remember the Lord when you’re in the middle of a severe temptation.
  • Remember the Lord when things are going well.
  • Remember the Lord when you are blessed.

In other words, remember the Lord always.

What a powerful weapon we’ve been given! The mere memory of Christ Jesus can encourage us, strengthen us, help us, and protect us. 

All we have to do is remember the Lord.

The Blessing of Discomfort

A Benedictine nun, Sister Ruth Fox (Sacred Heart Monastery in Dickinson, ND) wrote this “non-traditional blessing” in 1985: 

  • May God bless you with discontent with easy answers, half-truths, superficial relationships, so that you will live from deep within your heart.
  • May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, abuse, and exploitation of people, so that you will work for justice, equality, and peace.
  • May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you will reach out your hand to comfort them and to change their pain to joy.
  • May God bless you with the foolishness to think you can make a difference in this world, so that you will do the things which others tell you cannot be done.

We rarely think of discontent, anger, tears, and foolishness as blessings. Yet this unusual benediction bluntly reminds us that those are the very things we need if we hope to make a difference in this world. 

I think that Americans are cursed with a microwave mentality about life. The microwave oven (a marvelous invention) has become a metaphor for modern life. It represents what’s fast, convenient, and easy. 

The pace of life is fast and furious, and for this reason we would prefer convenient and easy solutions to our problems. However, the most important things in life don’t come easily, cheaply, or quickly. That’s why the Bible places a high premium on things like perseverance, patience, hope, and even suffering.

In Ecclesiastes 7.1-3, Solomon agreed with this rather harsh view of life:

  • “The day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth…”
  • “It is better to go to a house of mourning than a house of feasting…”
  • “Sorrow is better than laughter…” 

Solomon wasn’t playing the Devil’s advocate. Solomon said these things because they’re true. They’re the realities of human existence. We learn lessons from suffering, privation, and hardship that we can’t learn in any other way. 

I won’t end this devotional by wishing you a lousy day! But my prayer for you this day is that you have just enough difficulties, just enough reality, to see things for what they are, to learn what you should learn, and to do what you can to make a difference.

Full or Cluttered?

“Some people think their lives are full, when really they’re just cluttered.” (Anonymous)

In an affluent society, it’s easy to confuse clutter with substance. 

  • That certain thing I just had to have six months ago is now buried in the recesses of a closet full of other buried treasures. 
  • That event I couldn’t decline is now just one more thing to do in a long list of to-dos. 
  • That article I needed to read two weeks ago is now bookmarked in my browser along with 250 other bookmarked articles I haven’t read. 
  • That badly needed bathroom repair has grown on me: yes, it’s hanging crooked, but it hasn’t fallen off, and nobody’s been injured. 
  • That to-die-for recipe from that cooking show will have to wait until I try that to-die-for recipe from my cooking magazine which replaced that to-die-for recipe from the new cookbook that I bought six months ago. 

Sound familiar?

I’ve just described a cluttered life. It’s a life centered on things, busyness, unrealistic goals and timelines, and endless, unfulfilling activity.

A full life is different. It’s a life centered on relationships, values, priorities, meaning, and joy. The full life puts people above things. The full life bases its priorities on a value system that’s rooted in eternal principles. The full life finds meaning in a relationship with God. The full life is full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

It’s easy to confuse clutter and fullness, but it’s also easy to confuse how we eliminate the one and find the other. De-cluttering your life isn’t primarily about closet space, organizational systems, or planners. It’s ultimately about prioritizing your relationships: your relationship to God; your relationship to family; your relationship to friends; your relationship to work; your relationship to possessions; and your relationship to time and money. When those things are in place, the clutter in life has a way of just evaporating.

Jesus once told a parable about a successful farmer who ran out of storage space for his crops (Luke 12.13-21). He decided to tear down his barns and build bigger ones. He put his trust in his prosperity and not in God. The story ends with him dying that very night. Jesus began the parable by saying “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.” 

That’s the takeaway for us. Every day we should ask if our lives are full, or just cluttered?


Author Jim Rohn said, “I find it fascinating that most people plan their vacation with better care than they do their lives. Perhaps that is because escape is easier than change.”

I’m second to none in my zeal for vacations. When my wife and I take trips, we make plans. We consider the destination, the mode of travel, the route, the accommodations, the meals, the activities, the budget, the weather, and the souvenirs. All those things are elements of a successful trip, and they deserve at least a little bit of consideration before leaving. 

But after vacation comes the return to normalcy and the resumption of ordinary life. What are your plans for your life? 

Growing up I heard a lot of preachers say, “Heaven is a prepared place for a prepared people.” That sentiment is based on Jesus’ statement in John 14.1-3: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (ESV)

There’s a lot about that text I don’t understand. Jesus doesn’t tell us what preparations he’s making. He doesn’t describe the rooms or dwelling places we’ll inhabit. He doesn’t tell us exactly when he’s returning to gather us. But I do understand that he hasn’t forgotten about his followers, and that being in the Father’s house eternally will be a special thing.

But there’s an important implication. If Jesus is preparing a place for us to stay, what plans are we making to be with him? We don’t take vacations without making plans and decisions beforehand. Do we honestly think that the most important destination of all deserves any less?

We prepare for things we think are important. If heaven isn’t at the top of our list, we need a reassessment of what’s important. The most important thing of all is our spiritual wellbeing. Jesus said, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16.26, NASB)

The point is simple: We’re all preparing right now for our eternal dwelling place. The question is whether we’re preparing to be with Jesus in our Father’s house. 

The Value of Scripture

How much do you treasure your Bible? How much is it worth to you? Not simply how much did it cost you to purchase; rather, among all your earthly possession how would you rank it? 

Two comments by the psalmist provide some perspective: 

  • Psalm 119.72 – The law of Your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.
  • Psalm 119.127 – Therefore I love Your commandments above gold, yes, above fine gold.

Almost 500 years, on October 6, 1536, a man named William Tyndale was executed under Roman Catholic authority. His crime? He wanted to translate the Bible into English, so that anybody could read it. 

In about 1522, he heard a Roman Catholic priest say that men would be better off with the Pope’s laws rather than God’s laws. Tyndale responded, “I defy the Pope, and all his laws; and if God spares my life, before too many years, I will cause the boy that drives the plow to know more of the Scriptures than you do!” The rest of his life was dedicated to that purpose.

Tyndale was Oxford educated and was fluent in English, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French, German, and Spanish. He had a remarkable grasp of the English language and an amazing ability to translate fluently, readably, and memorably. By the time of his death, he had translated the whole New Testament and at least half of the Old Testament. 

Tyndale’s translation was the first English Bible to draw directly from Hebrew and Greek texts; the first English Bible to take advantage of the printing press; among the earliest Reformation era English Bibles; and the first English translation to use “Jehovah” as God’s Old Testament name. His influence on the English Bible was so great that recent computer analysis shows that the King James Bible (published in 1611, 75 years after his death) used 83% of Tyndale’s words in the New Testament, and 76% in the Old Testament. 

How valuable was the Bible to Tyndale? So valuable that he spent the final years of his life translating it. So valuable that he traveled all over Europe to find places where his work would be unhindered. So valuable that he was executed for trying to make the Bible accessible to commoners. As he was executed, his final words were, “Lord, open the eyes of the King of England!” Four years later, English translations of the Bible were published and distributed in England by Henry VIII’s order. They were based on Tyndale’s work. His prayer was answered.

Bibles today are plentiful and cheap. Most of us have multiple print copies. Most of us have Bible apps on our tablets, phones, and computers. But it’s valuable only if we read it and use it. 

How valuable is the Bible to you?

What Good is Suffering?

What is suffering? Suffering is pain or discomfort that may be experienced physically, emotionally, or spiritually. It’s associated with adversity, misery, hardship, or affliction.

Physical suffering includes the pain of scrapes, cuts, burns, broken bones, strained muscles, surgery, toothaches, headaches, backaches, or stomach aches. Emotional suffering includes embarrassment, shame, loneliness, depression, abuse, neglect, addiction, emptiness, or stress. Spiritual suffering includes persecution, loss of faith, feeling abandoned by God, questioning one’s beliefs, struggles with temptation and sin.

In other words, suffering comes in all shapes and sizes.

For Christians, the more important question is this: What’s the purpose of suffering? The purpose of suffering is to draw us to God. 

Even when we experience what we might call minor suffering, believers should still turn toward God. I may have a head cold, and my atheist neighbor may also have a head cold. Spiritually speaking, my head cold is no less or no more significant than my atheist neighbor’s head cold. The difference, however, is that while I have a head cold, I pray to God and ask for his help, strength, and comfort. When I’m healed, I thank God for what he did. My atheist neighbor simply blows his nose.

The psalmist said, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn your statutes.” 
(Psalm 119.71, NASB)

The psalmist was simply acknowledging the power of suffering to move us in a Godward direction. Suffering is God’s version of Post-It Notes — reminders everywhere that he’s still there, awaiting our reply.

We all suffer, and we all suffer in different ways and in different degrees. But we all suffer. It could be chronic pain or a terminal illness. It could be a broken marriage, or children who’ve broken our hearts. It could be financial catastrophe or a ruined career. It could be depression, despair, uncertainty, loneliness, frustration, abuse, neglect, or a hundred other things. But it’s still suffering, and for God’s people it’s an opportunity to draw near to him.

As you go through your day, don’t grumble and grouse about affliction and suffering. Be thankful that our God has arranged our world so that even in distress, we have constant reminders of him, and constant invitations to return to him.


Someone has wisely observed that the only constant in life is change.

From the day we’re born until the day we die we change. Our bodies change, our brains change, our relationships change, our jobs change, our families change, our finances change, our beliefs change, our pleasures change, and our pains change. Change isn’t the problem. The problem is our reluctance or inability to adapt to these changes.

In Ecclesiastes 3.1-8, Solomon said: For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

Solomon is describing life. He’s describing the different circumstances and changes that comprise life under the sun. All of us are affected by these changes, none of us are exempt. So, if this is what life looks like, how do we adapt to these constant changes? 

First, we need to accept them. Life changes, often subtly, and sometimes dramatically. It’s completely unrealistic to think that we’re immune to these changes. They’re simply part of human existence. 

Second, we need to understand that the different seasons of life are appointed by God. Verse ten of this chapter says, “I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.” Just as the weather cycles between spring, summer, fall, and winter, our lives cycle back and forth between joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain, fullness and emptiness, and purpose and confusion. This isn’t by chance, but by divine decree.

Third, we need to realize that God uses these changing circumstances to lead us to him. He uses time and circumstance to point us to eternity. Verse eleven in the text says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” He wants us to look beyond ourselves and our circumstances to him. Human philosophy says, “Look within yourself.” God says, “Look beyond yourself.” 

Change can be hard and disconcerting. It can even be painful. But once we see in these changes the handiwork and purposes of God, it puts things into their proper perspective, and allows us to not only endure these changes, but also to embrace them.

Seeking & Serving

“Two men please God – who serves him with all his heart because he knows him; who seeks him with all his heart because he knows him not.” (Nikita Ivanovich Panin; 18th century Russian statesman, advisor to Catherine the Great). 

Whenever I’m pondering something, I like to think in categories. What I like about this insightful quotation is that it describes man’s relationship to God in terms of four categories: Knowing God, seeking God, serving God, and pleasing God. 

In the first category, you either know God or you don’t. To know God is NOT simply acquiring information about him. It IS knowing him relationally, knowing him intimately. The Bible wasn’t written simply to give us information ABOUT God, but to show us HOW to enter a close relationship with him.

In the second category, if you don’t know God, you should seek him. To seek him means to look for him intentionally and intensely. We need God the way we need air, and when we want God as badly as we want to breathe, we’ll have no trouble finding him. God reveals himself to seekers.

In the third category, if you’ve found God, you should serve him. Service to God proceeds from gratitude. We serve God because we’re thankful for what he’s done for us. Obedience to God is our way of saying “Thank You” to the one who has saved and transformed us.

Finally, in the fourth category, when we seek and serve God, we please him. An old hymn says to “trust and obey.” I would suggest that constantly seeking and serving God are how we express those two things.

Hopefully most readers have reached the fourth category. We know God and because of who and what he is, we want to serve whole-heartedly. But sometimes it’s hard to maintain complete devotion. At times, our efforts seem anything but whole-hearted. But as Panin’s quotation suggests, we continue in seeking and serving and knowing. 

Panin’s dictum reminds me of David’s final words to his son Solomon, the future king of Israel. David said, “As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind; for the LORD searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever”
(1 Chronicles 28.9).

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