Monday, December 29, 2008

A Prayer of Faith

Dear Lord,  

Thank you so much for the gift of faith, which you offer to each and every person. 

Thank you so much, God, for the gift of your presence, which you promise will be ours now and always. 

Thank you so much, Lord, for the gift of your Word, the Bible, which builds up our faith and assures us you will never leave us or forsake us. 

We love you, Lord. Please strengthen our love, our hope, and our faith. 

Please use us to encourage and come alongside those who are struggling. 

Help each one of us to “keep the faith” until the very end of our days. 

We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Prayer for All of Us

O gracious and holy Father,

give us wisdom to perceive you,

diligence to seek you,

patience to wait for you,

eyes to behold you,

a heart to meditate upon you,

and a life to proclaim you,

through the power of the Spirit

of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

--Benedict of Nursia (Italy/480-547) 

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Good Tidings of Great Joy

How radical is the idea behind Christmas? The religious leaders at that time scoffed at the shepherds’ report of the angelic announcement of Jesus’ birth. They no longer believed in angels. They certainly couldn’t imagine God Almighty—Creator and Governor of the universe—humbling Himself to visit planet Earth.

Yet the Bible predicted this. Among other things, Isaiah had proclaimed 750 years earlier that Jesus would be born of a virgin and would be called Immanuel, which in the original Hebrew language means “God with us.”

Furthermore, God sent an angel to convince Joseph, Jesus’ adoptive father-to-be, that his fiancée’s unbelievable story was really true: “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21).

So profound were the events of that first Christmas that thousands—perhaps millions—of angels celebrated. As the Gospel of Luke tells us in words immortalized by Linus each year on A Charlie Brown Christmas:

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:8-14 KJV). 

“Fear not,” the angel told the shepherds. Why? “For, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” So great that Luke, himself a Gentile, would be asked of God to write the longest and most detailed of the four Gospel accounts. And what was the great news? That on the first Christmas, two thousand years ago, God became one of us. 

But of course, that’s only the beginning of the story. Christmas isn’t the climax of history, merely the opening chapter of the greatest story ever told.

By itself, Christmas is miraculous. But it’s not miraculous enough. In Scripture, the “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” is never understood in terms of Christmas alone. The Gospel according to Luke immediately goes on to say, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”

The Good News is always to be understood in terms of Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter. You see this not only in the Gospels, but throughout the New Testament.

In other words, God’s greatest gift wasn’t simply sending His Son, but sending His Son to live among us, to die for us, and to rise again…to offer us the forgiveness of sins, redemption, and adoption into His family forever.

May we never grow too old to contemplate the wonders of the greatest story ever told.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Risking Everything at Christmas

The birth of Jesus ben Joseph haunted those who knew his true identity. Last in a series of six meditations.

 

If you’re married, what risks did you take to win your spouse’s heart? How long did you seek his or her “I do”?

The Magi risked everything. The Wise Men became holy fools—desperate, compelled, finally obsessed. They traveled perhaps 1,000 miles or more, probably in a small camel train, to find “the newborn king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2).

These men may have come from a prestigious city of the ancient Medes, Persians, or Caldeans—almost certainly not Jews. Why then their intense dedication to find Jesus Christ?

Somehow, they knew that God in heaven had sent his Son to earth. Nothing more spectacular had ever happened in human history. They felt driven to welcome this child and to present him with exquisite gifts of great wealth.

Braving extreme heat, sand storms, and the constant threat of thieves, these Magi traveled for months through many foreign lands to the far west—to within a day of the great Mediterranean Sea.

Why such persistence and risk? What in the world did they hope to gain? A story? Yet who would believe?

Like the Magi, you and I have a terrible, haunting choice to make.

Are we willing to risk it all? For what?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Waiting a Very Long Time

The birth of Jesus ben Joseph haunted those who knew his true identity. The fifth in a series of six meditations. Special thanks to my wife, Renée, for writing this one.

 

Simeon and Anna were quite elderly, but they certainly weren’t waiting around to die. Instead, every day they woke up with the expectation that today could be the day they’d dreamed about for decades.

Simeon had the Lord’s promise that he would not die until he saw the Lord’s Messiah. Anna had no such guarantee but, like many others, she knew the time of the Messiah’s coming was near (Daniel 9:20-25a). While they waited, they lived righteous and devout lives, walking with God in obedience and worshiping him with all their hearts.

When Mary and Joseph entered the Temple one morning with baby Jesus cradled in their arms, they looked like any other devout couple fulfilling their duty to God. But to an old man and an old woman, both led by the Holy Spirit, they stood out like a beacon. The small child and his parents were welcomed to God’s house as no family had ever been greeted before.

Like Simeon and Anna, you and I can wake up each day looking forward to the promise of Jesus’ coming—again (Titus 2:11-14; 1 Peter 1:3-13). But unlike them, we don’t know when.

We very well may not see Jesus Christ’s return in our lifetime.

It’s so hard to wait.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Who Would Believe?

The birth of Jesus ben Joseph haunted those who knew his true identity. The fourth in a series of six meditations.

 

God had visited the fields of Bethlehem with singing before. A thousand years earlier, his Spirit inspired a shepherd boy to sing dozens of great melodies of praise (many of the Psalms in our Bibles today). Every Israelite knew that shepherd boy left the fields to become Israel’s greatest king.

But no one had such hopes for these particular shepherds. Much more important people—King David’s descendants—filled the rooms of Bethlehem’s inns as they came back to be counted in their ancestral home.

Yet it was not to any of the VIPs that God sent his angel and the armies of heaven to announce the birth of the Savior, the Son of David. Instead, God displayed his extraordinary concert and light show to these shepherds—and invited them to come and see the Messiah everyone else had been waiting for.

Although initially stunned by the glory of God and the message of the angel, these shepherds immediately ran to see this miracle. There lay the baby, swaddled in cloth and snuggled in the hay—just as the angel said. This baby fulfilled every Israelite’s deepest hope and answered every Gentile’s greatest longings. His birth was “good news that will bring great joy to all people” (Luke 2:10)!

The shepherds couldn’t stick around all night, of course. But as they headed back to the hills and their sleeping sheep, Scripture tells us that they told the miraculous news to everyone they met. Sadly, I’m sure they were mocked. After all, who would believe a bunch of shepherds?

Yet, after disappearing for four centuries, God had just announced the Messiah’s birth with multitudes of angels. Then this ragtag bunch had seen the Christ child with their own eyes.

It mattered not if others believed. They knew.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Risking Everything for the Sake of Christmas

The birth of Jesus ben Joseph haunted those who knew his true identity. The third in a series of six meditations.

 

Have you ever been credited—or blamed—for something you didn’t do? Have you ever wished you could change your reputation?

Only after Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection did people come to think of Jesus Christ as “the son of the virgin Mary.” For more than thirty years Jesus was commonly referred to as “Jesus, the son of Joseph” (Luke 3:23, John 1:45). The assumption was obvious and the social stigma great.

In all probability, for many years only Mary’s elderly relatives Elizabeth and Zechariah, and Mary and Joseph themselves, knew (beyond question) that Joseph wasn’t Jesus’ real father. After all, no one else had received a divine revelation announcing this spectacular miracle. Not surprisingly, many chose to believe the rumors whispered about Joseph, Mary, and Jesus (John 8:41).

To his credit, Joseph believed what the Lord revealed to him in a series of dreams —no matter how incredible those revelations were. Each time, Joseph quickly translated his belief into action—at great personal cost.

Consider what Joseph lost:

          * his reputation as a godly individual

          * his extended family relationships

          * his home and country

          * his security

Not once, however, does Scripture record that Joseph hesitated to instantly follow God’s leading. He took to heart the reality that “just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so  my [the Lord’s] ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).

Like Joseph, you and I have a choice to make. Each day, will we choose God’s will and ways no matter what the cost? Or today will we decide to go our own way?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What God Asks Us at Christmas

The birth of Jesus ben Joseph haunted those who knew his true identity. The second in a series of six meditations. Special thanks to my wife, Renée, for writing this one.

 

How many young women have trembled with trepidation or delight when their doctors announce, “You’re pregnant”?

It’s almost too hard to believe that a child is growing inside when everything still looks the same. Even the most ordinary, well-planned pregnancy seems like a dream at first. No wonder the angel’s announcement in Luke 1:26-38 left Mary astounded.

How could Mary really fathom becoming pregnant when she knew beyond question that she still was a virgin? Of course, she couldn’t figure it out—but she could believe the Holy Spirit would fulfill the angel’s words. And she could eagerly anticipate mothering the baby who would fulfill the prophets’ promises from long ago.

While her elderly relative Zechariah couldn’t fathom the angel’s announcement that his wife was going to bear a baby, Mary readily believed God could do something new and unheard of. Mary willingly accepted the miracle of this unique pregnancy and all the consequences that followed.

In all likelihood, the Lord could have asked Mary to do anything. As a humble servant of the Lord God, she was dedicated to doing whatever she could for him.

Whether it’s a high calling or difficult chore that the Lord gives us, are you and I ready to respond like Mary?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Unanswered Prayer and the Meaning of Christmas

The birth of Jesus ben Joseph haunted those who knew his true identity. The first in a series of six meditations.

 

Who is more anxious to see our most heartfelt prayers answered? You and me? Or God?   

In the very last paragraph of the Old Testament, the Lord declared: “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse” (Malachi 4:5-6).

Four hundred years later, it’s time for that prophecy to be fulfilled. By lot, a priest named Zechariah, a revered relative of the virgin Mary, is chosen to enter the sanctuary and burn incense to the Lord. He’s probably waited his entire adult life for the privilege of approaching God’s presence to pray. What’s foremost on his mind? The deep yearning he and his wife, Elizabeth, have for her to bear a son.

Of course, Zechariah isn’t expecting God to answer him audibly. But answer him he does by sending the angel Gabriel—the same angel who had explained part of the Lord’s timetable to the prophet Daniel six hundred years earlier. Gabriel announces to Zechariah that his wife indeed will have a son who “will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17).

Even though he was a righteous and godly priest, Zechariah’s first response is one of unbelief. Like Zechariah, you and I may find it hard to believe that God will ever answer some of our most important prayer requests.

Have you felt like Zechariah yet this Advent season?

Then again, imagine how Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, must have felt a few months later when his young relative, Mary, came for a surprise visit.

God hasn’t finished writing His story yet…in your life or mine.

Still, it’s so hard to believe, isn’t it?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Q & A -- What if God Left?

One question I hear a lot is:

Q. What if it’s God who did the leaving?

A. I know some people talk about when God “left” them. Experientially, that’s what it feels like to them. But it’s how they feel—it’s not what really happened.
            God never leaves us. Instead, God disappears. There’s a big difference.
            In Scripture, God sometimes disappeared for 400 years at a time. But people of faith still believed and obeyed the Lord. And God was still actively involved in their lives. He still spoke to them through the Scriptures, meditation, music, and silence. He still answered prayer and performed miracles.
            I never have to worry about God leaving me. I never have to worry about God disengaging from my life. Instead, when I don’t feel the Lord’s presence, I need to go back to the “faith builders” that help me experience God at work in and through me for His glory and my good.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Tchere--Faithful to the End

My wife and I have had the privilege of trekking through the Amazon jungles, hiking through the Andes and Alps, and traversing the Sahara desert. The most daunting and memorable of all those travels, of course, was traveling west to east across the middle of the Sahara desert.

The sub-Sahara desert west of Sudan and south of Libya is no-man’s land. Travel nine hours by truck due east from N’Djamena, capital of Chad, and you’ll come to the tiny village of Korbo. There you’ll meet Tchere Ouday.

Tchere Ouday is dressed in a long white robe. His face is weathered and his mostly bald head sports some white stubble. He sits cross-legged on a mat inside his mud hut.

More than 35 years ago, Tchere became the first Christian among his people, the Dangaleats in the Guera region of Chad. For many decades he worked as a mason. He is more than 70 years old now and has reduced his activities—yet he still continues to serve as an elder of the Korbo church.

In the past two years drought and caterpillar infestations have substantially reduced the amount of food the Dangaleat people have been able to raise. Typically Tchere would offer guests a meal. But on this day he offers a small cup of sweet tea, a bowl of peanuts, some washed lettuce, and a few slices of tomato dipped in salt and ground red pepper.

“How can we pray for you, brother?” you ask him.

Usually Dangaleat Muslims and Christians say the same thing: Please pray that God will give us more food. That is on Tchere’s mind too. But it’s not the first thing. Instead he says, “Pray that we might remain firm in our faith in our old age.”

Who could be more faithful than Tchere? Even against threat of death he refused to recant his faith during the horrific Chadian civil war that raged through the Guera in the late 1970s. He’s served the Lord steadfastly ever since. Still, Tchere knows better than to take his Christian faith for granted.

Although Tchere doesn’t have the complete Bible in his language yet, he knows that one of the greatest temptations you and I will ever face in this life is to spiritually drift away from the Lord. No one is immune—no matter how long and faithfully they have walked with the Lord.

My friend Tchere is one of several godly men who have helped motivate me to stay in the race until the end.

My prayer is that when I am Tchere's age, I will still be serious about staying firm in the faith. I know I am not immune to other challenges and spiritually dry points ahead, but I want to be faithful to the end--just like Tchere.

Monday, December 8, 2008

It's Never Too Late

Through my intensive study of Scripture, church history, and contemporary experience, I have become convinced that it’s never too late for someone to come back to God – whether he or she walked away from the faith or felt God was the one who left.

Jesus himself repeatedly warned against losing one’s faith—or causing others to lose their faith. In fact, Jesus said it would be better to be drowned (something most ancient Israelites deeply feared) than to cause someone to lose his or her faith.

Of course for many years I thought these biblical warnings didn’t apply to me. Then a decade ago, I was hit with a rapid-fire series of crises. I felt that the hand of God was crushing me in every way. In my despair—and I say this with deep trepidation—I started doubting God’s character.

Experientially I was in danger of losing my faith. Why? Because I’d failed to heed the clear warnings of Scripture. I’d let my circumstances temporarily overshadow what I knew to be true. So, what is true?

Not everyone experientially loses his or her faith. But everyone has or will face crises of life and faith. These pivotal times are part of each person’s spiritual journey.

God allows us to go through deeply troubling, faith-testing periods that can last for weeks, months, years, even decades. The question is always the same: Will we remain true to God no matter what?

If we persevere, God does something remarkable. He blesses our life’s work and impact to an extent we never could have imagined. That certainly is true in my own life and experience. And I find the same thing true all through history and all around the globe. 

Tomorrow, we'll meet my friend Tchere, who lives in Chad, Africa. His faithfulness to God--no matter what--has inspired me and I pray it will inspire you too.

Friday, December 5, 2008

What if God Talks to You?

My good friend Carol just gave me permission to reprint this letter. I hope you find it encouraging!

Thanks so much for sending me your book. I have enjoyed reading it and seeing even more of your faithful and gracious spirit through it. Thought you might enjoy an encouraging story...

Last weekend I was reading it on a cold Sunday evening in front of my fireplace. I had positioned pillows just right on the floor and was enjoying a cozy time. I read the story of the woman who was moved to pull over and pray for a man who was near death following a car accident. As I read the story, I prayed, Oh, Lord, that I might have that kind of sensitivity to Your Spirit.” Just then, I heard the Lord way, Go and read your book at Caribou (the local coffee shop).

Of course, it was easy to deny that it was truly the Lord speaking, as I was quite warm and comfortable. But the thought persisted, and so I finally got up, combed my hair (ha!), and put on my winter coat. As I walked into the coffee shop, I prayed that the Lord would be at least honored by my obedience--even if there was no other purpose in my showing up.

After I ordered my latte, the young man behind the counter said, What book are you reading? I gave him a brief description of your book, which then launched him into a lengthy dialogue about his search for truth. He talked on and on about his exploration of various things, including Buddhism and reincarnation. He also admitted that he had recently purchased The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel, as recommended by a friend. He had't read it yet, but he felt he needed a whole lot more proof that Jesus was the only way.

After several minutes and a few more customers passing by us, I finally wrapped up the conversation by telling him that I would pray for him as he read The Case for Christ. I said that I would pray that Jesus would show up and prove Himself to himif He really is the only way. Then I asked him for his first name. Thomas, he said. I smiled as I thought of his biblical counterpart who also needed pretty specific proof!

Anyway, Thomas invited me back some week to continue our discussion. I'm praying for him in the meantime. Although I am only about a third of the way through your book, I thought you would enjoy hearing of some fruit!


I can’t say “Thank you!” enough to my publisher, Tyndale House, for creating such an attractive, “What book are you reading?” cover design for If God Disappears.

I’m also so thankful that God loves books. He not only uses them as “silent evangelists” when we aren’t around. He also uses them to get us out the door and into coffee shops when we can give an answer for the hope that is within us (1 Peter 3:15).

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Haunted by the Prayer of Mother Teresa

On Monday evening I had the privilege of joining Suzie Slonaker, Dr. Tony Campolo, Dr. Paul Louis Metzger, Clark Blakeman, and about 20 others for dinner at the Aquariva Restaurant just south of downtown Portland. The funny thing about meeting at a hip restaurant on a Monday evening is -- you just about own the place. To say the least, we didn't have a problem hearing each other. And that's a good thing.
 
The discussion over dinner was how we, as followers of Jesus Christ, can be more intentional about loving "the least of these." Suzie and her staff and volunteers and supporters at REACH Ministries are champions at doing just that. Their mission, through the love of Jesus, is to extend compassionate care to those affected by HIV/AIDS and all life-threatening illnesses and situations.
 
I wish I could share a video or audio recording of Monday evening's discussion. It was lively, engaging, challenging -- and deeply resonated with me at every turn.
 
At the dinner, Suzie shared this prayer from Mother Teresa. The words of this prayer continue to haunt me:
 
Deliver me, O Jesus,
From the desire of being loved,
From the desire of being extolled,
From the desire of being honored,
From the desire of being praised,
From the desire of being preferred,
From the desire of being consulted,
From the desire of being approved,
From the desire of being popular,
 
Deliver me, O Jesus,
From the fear of being humiliated,
From the fear of being despised,
From the fear of suffering rebukes,
From the fear of being slandered,
From the fear of being forgotten,
From the fear of being wronged,
From the fear of being ridiculed,
From the fear of being suspected.
 
Amen.
 
If you google "David Sanford" or "If God Disappears," you'll find a wide assortment of rants and raves. Just remember there is more than one "David Sanford" in the world! Still, I've received a lot of harsh words over the past decade and a half since the Internet first went public. I talk about those harsh, angry words in my new book -- knowing, as I wrote it, that I would receive plenty more.
 
Some have wondered why I link to the critical, negative, and even harsh reviews of my new book on this blog. That's easy. I trust you, whether you know me or are visiting my blog for the first time, to decide whether what someone says about me or my book is worth believing.
 
Besides, we've all said things we later wished we could take back. I certainly have. Others have shown me an immense amount of grace. Maybe Mother Teresa's haunting prayer will help me to do the same more consistently and authentically.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

When All Is Said and Done

I thank the Lord often for the godly men and women who have helped motivate me to stay true to God until the end of my days. Probably none has influenced me more than the late Dr. John G. Mitchell, founder of Multnomah Bible College and Biblical Seminary. The late Dr. John F. Walvoord once said Dr. Mitchell reminded him of an aged apostle. Never have I met a man who was more in love with the Savior.

On two occasions Dr. Mitchell made a point of reminding me—more than sixty years his junior—that there are only three reasons Christians die. These reasons are true in Scripture, in church history, and in our experience today. Believers die:

·         because of the discipline of God (1 Cor. 11:29−30; 1 John 5:16)

·         for the glory of God (John 21:18−19)

·         because their work is finished (2 Tim. 4:6−8).

Dr. Mitchell also urged me to make sure, when it comes time to die, that dying is all I have left to do.

Thanks to the influence of Dr. Mitchell and others, I love God’s Word. As a teenager, I started reading it from cover to cover, and before college I had memorized nearly 100 pages of Scripture. I’ve read through the Bible dozens of times. And I’ve discovered that only four chapters don’t talk about sin and temptation. 

From Genesis 3 to Revelation 20 we find that the biggest temptation is for believers to experientially “lose” our faith. How? We stop doing what God says. Why? We stop listening to and believing what God’s Word says.

What are the nine (9) biggest faith wreckers? Based on my research the past decade, they are:

            1. Experiencing evil and suffering

            2. Living recklessly as a rugged individualist

            3. Making our own rules, whatever the cost

            4. Believing that anger is justified when my vision of God is clouded

            5. Neglecting my time with God and failing to see him in my life

            6. Studying about God without heart devotion

            7. Experiencing the most crushing circumstances in life

            8. Giving myself permission to do as I please—especially sexually—pushing reality (and God) out of sight

            9. Being wounded in or by the church

The startling truth is none of us are exempt from such trials and temptations, no matter what our age — 13 or 113. So let’s stop fooling or deceiving ourselves. Let’s sit up. Let’s pay attention. Let’s live differently.

It’s bad enough when the economy messes up our lives. Why in the world would we bring further disaster on ourselves?

Instead, let’s seek God’s favor and blessing and joy and strength and peace. Not material or financial success, but — first — let’s seek a closer relationship with Jesus Christ — and second — let’s seek to be used by Jesus Christ to bless our family, church, and community in His name.

Throughout Scripture in the writings of Moses, Joshua, Job, David, Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and the words of Jesus and his apostles, the same promise is given over and over again: God will bless and prosper us if we actively listen to and obey God’s Word.

Over and over, I have to emphatically dissociate “blessing” and “prosperity” with the material.

It’s what’s currently unseen — spiritual — immaterial — that is most real.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

What Have We Become?

It’s been wisely said: “Silently and imperceptibly, as we work or sleep, we grow strong or we grow weak; and at last some crisis shows us what we have become” (B.F. Westcott). 

In the past 77 days, what have you become?

 

It’s been 77 days since Americans started feeling the massive economic tremors that have rocked Wall Street and Washington and the world at large. Before the tremors hit, were you growing strong or growing weak? Since the massive crisis hit, what have you done?

 

Many of us have discovered that we made the huge mistake of laying the American Dream on top of our Christian faith. Of course, the two shouldn’t go together at all. And for certain the American Dream never should have gone on top. Even if we kept our faith on top, it was a fatal combination.

 

Sadly, I made several mistakes myself. Now, when I look in the mirror, I don’t see myself as an entrepreneur anymore. We enjoyed three good years in business, two bad years when the publishing world slipped into recession, another relatively good stretch in 2008 until mid September — and then boom!

 

Again, now when I look in the mirror, I see myself as a Christian who still loves God and is more humbly accepting the Word of God as my Bible, period. More than ever, I want to experience and enjoy God’s spiritual blessing in my life. Material wealth will come and go. Earthly prosperity will rise and fall. I am currently in the process of selling our business to a larger company. The sale will be final two weeks from yesterday. But it is well with my soul.

 

More than ever, I want to grow stronger in my faith and more actively follow Jesus Christ in the days, weeks, and months ahead. How? By embracing these nine (9) faith builders:

            1. Telling my story to a friend who knows God

            2. Cultivating relationships of humility, trust, and submission

            3. Being courageous enough to make choices based on the truth

            4. Experiencing the power of love with grace

            5. Reclaiming God’s promises even if I have to wait

            6. Asking questions, wrestling with doubt, and embracing hope

            7. Seeing God as he is and believing that he is working behind the scenes

            8. Rediscovering God’s ideal and allowing him to write a vibrant new script for my life

            9. Awakening to our calling as God’s new prophets to the church


I’ve written quite a bit about these faith builders in my new book, If God Disappears (Tyndale). But writing isn’t the same as living today.

I’m not focused on the “good old days” in the past. Instead, I’m focused on what I’m becoming.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Not Forgetting Who We Are

This year I’m joining other friends at my church in an eight-month trek through one of my favorite books of the Bible, the epistle of James.


In recent days I’ve been mulling over the second half of James chapter 1. In verse 19, James urges us to be quick to listen. The idea is to be ready to instantly and actively listen to God and others. Then in verse 22, James warns against passively listening to God’s Word. If we do that, the implication is clear in verses 23-25. We will forget who we are in God’s eyes. And we will fail to make spiritual and moral choices that honor God and bring about God’s blessing in our lives.


Imagine forgetting who we are. Three nights ago my wife, Renée, and I watched the movie Net 2.0. In the movie, the main character, whose name is Hope, accepts a huge salary to take a super high tech job in Turkey, only to arrive there and have her identity completely and absolutely stolen. This main character, Hope, is almost immediately accused of murder, relentlessly chased, nearly killed, brutally arrested, and then psychologically tormented under the guise of an exhaustive maximum security police interrogation. But the main character refuses to give up the one thing the rogue police interrogator can’t take from her. Despite everything, she refuses to deny her true identity. In essence, she says: My name is Hope. My name has always been Hope. Do whatever you want. You can’t make me deny who I am.

What would it take for you and me to deny who we are? Sadly, the greatest crisis in America today is the huge number of Christians who no longer see themselves as brothers and sisters in Christ. When they look in the mirror in the morning, the man they see — the woman they see — is anything but a committed follower of Jesus Christ.

What about you? When you look in the mirror, who do you see?

According to James 1, who you see in that mirror will directly impact what you do and how you live. If you find yourself passively resisting God’s will for your life, James tells us, check the mirror of God’s Word. It’s perfect. It offers true freedom to fully be the man or woman God designed us to be, experiencing His love, joy, and peace in our lives.

Throughout his fast-paced book, James addresses three different kinds of Christians. Some are brothers and sisters in Christ who love God with all their hearts and obey Him in every area of their lives. These individuals know and experience God’s spiritual blessings in every sphere of life. Some, however, have wandered from the truth of God’s Word — and still others are being tempted to wander away from God.

In reality, which of us hasn’t been tempted? Everyday, we face spiritual and moral choices to follow God or slowly start walking away from Him.

It’s been wisely said: “Silently and imperceptibly, as we work or sleep, we grow strong or we grow weak; and at last some crisis shows us what we have become” (B.F. Westcott). 

In the past 77 days, what have you become?