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

Month: August 2023


I took out a small trash bag early this morning and was pleasantly surprised at the temperature. It was significantly cooler and less humid than it’s been for some time. My wife’s word was “refreshing.”

“Refreshing” means “serving to refresh or reinvigorate someone” (Oxford). “Making you feel less hot or tired, or pleasantly different and interesting” (Cambridge). “Agreeably stimulating because of freshness or newness” (Merriam-Webster). 

I’m not a hot weather fan, so this morning’s conditions were invigorating, pleasantly different, and agreeably stimulating. I was refreshed.

There’s a pair of words in the New Testament which carries the same connotation. Literally, the words meant cooling or to cool. The adjective (anapsuxis) means refreshing or providing rest and repose. Metaphorically, it means to provide breathing room, relaxation, or relief. The verb (anapsucho) means to refresh. Metaphorically, it means to revive or provide breathing room. Each word is used only once in the New Testament.

The adjective is used in Acts 3.19, where Peter said, “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” He was speaking about faith in Jesus of Nazareth, who was raised from the dead by God. Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament promise and prophecy who brought these refreshing times. Peter was talking about finding rest, repose, and breathing room in Christ. From a lifetime of carrying the burden of sin to a new life of refreshment in Jesus.

The verb is used in 2 Timothy 1.16, where Paul said, “The Lord grant mercy to the house of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains; but when he was in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me.” Paul commends his friend and fellow-Christian to Timothy for refreshing him while he was imprisoned in Rome. We don’t know the details, but likely Onesiphorus provided food and presence when the apostle was isolated and forsaken by others. 

Apart from Christ there is no refreshment, no rest, no repose, no breathing room. Sin has a way of smothering us and amplifying our misery. As Peter said, there is refreshment available if we’ll just repent and return. 

For those who are in Christ, we must remember what that refreshment felt like when we first experienced it, then make every effort to refresh others. We should want others to experience the breathing room, the rest, and the comfort we have known.

May God help us to find refreshment in his Son and extend it others in the name of his Son.

Your Happy Place

“Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. 
Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute 
with love, grace and gratitude.”

Denis Waitley

Waitley is a popular, long-time motivational speaker and writer. I remember attending a “Seeds of Greatness” seminar in college sponsored by his organization. If memory serves me correctly, I think his Seeds of Greatness was the first motivational book I ever bought.

His quotation is a good starting point for thinking about happiness. First, happiness isn’t a thing. It’s not something apart from us that we go and get. It’s not something to be purchased or acquired or traded. 

Second, as Waitley says, it’s a “spiritual experience”. Happiness is the melding of our experiences and our beliefs. Whatever we experience: good things or bad, success or failure, sickness or health, wealth or poverty, good relationships or bad, all of these are shaped by our belief system. Happiness is looking at our experiences in a biblical and constructive way.

Third, Waitley notes that happiness requires “love, grace and gratitude.” Biblically speaking, we are recipients of the first two, and cultivators of the last one. Regarding love and grace, the apostle Paul said, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13.14). If we receive love and grace, we must learn to extend love and grace if we want to find this thing called happiness.

Regarding gratitude, Paul also said, “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5.16-18). In other words, gratitude is a choice, and an action, and a frame of mind that’s cultivated by means of our relationship to God in Christ. 

We often speak of our “happy place.” Happiness isn’t so much a place as it is a way of thinking. With the right frame of mind, you can be in your “happy place” no matter where you are.

Not What But Whom

You’ve probably heard the old business adage that when it comes to finding a good job, it’s not what you know but whom. You’ve probably known talented, motivated, and honest workers who didn’t have especially good jobs, largely because they weren’t well-connected. On the other hand, you’ve probably known workers who weren’t talented, motivated, or honest, but who had great jobs because Uncle Bob owned the business, or because Daddy knew the CEO.

Before we decry this as being unfair, let’s apply this to our spiritual lives. Is our salvation because of our talents, hard work, motivation, and skillset? Or is it because of something else? Is it because we know Someone?

Near the end of his life, the apostle Paul wrote, “for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (2 Timothy 1.12). He doesn’t say “I know WHAT I have believed”, but “WHOM I have believed”. 

Paul wasn’t discounting WHAT he believed, he wasn’t discounting doctrine. In fact, in the letters to Timothy and Titus, he repeatedly emphasizes teaching and believing “sound” (healthy) words and doctrine (cf. 1 Timothy 1.10; 6.3; 2 Timothy 1.13; 4.3; Titus 1.9, 13; 2.1). WHAT we believe is vitally important.

But as Paul approached death, he wasn’t thinking about SOMETHING, but SOMEONE. Someone who knew Paul better than he knew himself. Someone who had never deserted Paul. Someone whose promises and plans would ultimately prevail. 

Paul had entrusted his work, his plans, and his life to God. He says in this text that God would guard whatever Paul had given him for safekeeping. It would be safe until the day that Christ returned to reward his people. For Paul, knowing his redeemer was the ultimate reality (Philippians 3.7-11). Nor was it simply knowing facts about God but knowing him relationally and intimately. 

For Christians, it’s not about what you know but whom you know. Do you know Christ?

I Am With You

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

Corrie ten Boom

Fear of the unknown haunts so many of us. We’re afraid of what lurks in the future. We’re afraid of sickness. Of financial ruin. Of exposure for some misdeed in our past. Of divorce. Of loneliness. Of government intervention and overreach. Of dementia. Of crime. Of ridicule. Of persecution. Of being forgotten. Of dying. Of dying alone. 

The reality is that I don’t know anything the future holds, and neither do you. I don’t know what’s happening five minutes from now, five days from now, five weeks, five months, or five years. That’s probably a good thing. If we knew what was coming, do we really think we’d be prepared for it? Do we think we could emotionally handle the knowledge of future events? 

I don’t know anything the future holds, but I do know who holds the future. 

In over three dozen places in Scripture, God assured people with the words, “Do not fear [or, do not be afraid] … I am with you.” In virtually every case, he was speaking to people who were concerned with an unknown factor in their future. 

  • When Isaac, son of Abraham, had doubts about his legacy, God appeared to him in a dream and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham; do not fear, for I am with you” (Genesis 26.23).
  • When David was preparing for his son Solomon to assume the throne, he said, “Do not fear nor be dismayed, for the LORD God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you nor forsake you…” (1 Chronicles 28.20).
  • When the prophet Jeremiah was called as a teenager to prophesy against his own nation, God said, “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you” (Jeremiah 1.8). 
  • When the apostle Paul was struggling in the city of Corinth, God appeared to him in a dream and said, “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you…” (Acts 18.9-10).

In each instance, God didn’t promise them an easy road. He didn’t say there would be no problems. He didn’t give them any illusions about the future. 

Instead, God promised he would be there with them. 

When I was a child, I hated going to the doctor. I still had to go to the doctor. What got me through was knowing that Mom or Dad was there with me. It didn’t change the diagnosis or prescription. But it let me know that someone was always with me. May God give us that same assurance.