faith

Real Harmony

Photo credit: lightstock.com So those of us who have a strong ⌊faith⌋ must be patient with the weaknesses of those whose ⌊faith⌋ is not so strong. We must not think only of ourselves. We should all be concerned about our neighbor and the good things that will build his faith.

Christ did not think only of himself. Rather, as Scripture says, “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”

Everything written long ago was written to teach us so that we would have confidence through the endurance and encouragement which the Scriptures give us.

May God, who gives you this endurance and encouragement, allow you to live in harmony with each other by following the example of Christ Jesus. Then, having the same goal, you will praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, accept each other in the same way that Christ accepted you. He did this to bring glory to God.  (‭Romans‬ ‭15:‭1-7‬ (GW)


It's easy to overanalyze things. Action item lists are popular and success formulas are sought by many. A lot of time is invested to figure out what makes one thing successful where another one fails.

In doing this, we tend to overlook what's obvious and simple. The realm of spiritual truth is no different. The secret to unity among believers doesn't require psychological tests or deep theological treatises.

First, we need to be patient with others who don't measure up spiritually to our expectations (verses 1-3), and learn from the example of faithful believers before us (verse 4).

But the most important thing is to follow the example of Jesus together (verse 5). We need to accept one another as Jesus accepted us (verse 7).

Think about it. That may seem a tall order, but the simple focus is Jesus—His gracious, humble example.

The key to real harmony among followers of Jesus is treating one another with the gracious humility we see in Jesus. ©Word-Strong_2016

Food Is Not the Problem

Photo credit: lightstock.com So let’s stop criticizing each other. Instead, you should decide never to do anything that would make other Christians have doubts or lose their faith.

The Lord Jesus has given me the knowledge and conviction that no food is unacceptable in and of itself. But it is unacceptable to a person who thinks it is. So if what you eat hurts another Christian, you are no longer living by love. Don’t destroy anyone by what you eat. Christ died for that person. Don’t allow anyone to say that what you consider good is evil.

God’s kingdom does not consist of what a person eats or drinks. Rather, God’s kingdom consists of God’s approval and peace, as well as the joy that the Holy Spirit gives.  The person who serves Christ with this in mind is pleasing to God and respected by people.

So let’s pursue those things which bring peace and which are good for each other. Don’t ruin God’s work because of what you eat. All food is acceptable, but it’s wrong for a person to eat something if it causes someone else to have doubts. The right thing to do is to avoid eating meat, drinking wine, or doing anything else that causes another Christian to have doubts.

So whatever you believe about these things, keep it between yourself and God. The person who does what he knows is right shouldn’t feel guilty. He is blessed. But if a person has doubts and still eats, he is condemned because he didn’t act in faith. Anything that is not done in faith is sin. (‭Romans‬ ‭14:13-23‬ GW)


Are you a vegan, or are you into a paleo diet? Are you concerned about what you eat? Do you try to eat organic, non-GMO, local sourced, gluten-free, wild caught, free range food?

We Americans are especially focused on the quality and cost of food. Fast-food restaurants are even adopting "healthier options." This may be good, but more important concerns ought to occupy followers of Jesus.

As Jesus said, it's not what goes into a body that defiles a person, but what comes out of the heart (Matt 15:11). Paul reminds us that the Kingdom of God isn't about what we eat or drink, but our relationship with the Lord and one another.

We have freedom to eat or drink whatever we choose, but not at the cost of others and their consciences. As said nowadays, "it's not about you." Nor is it about the food.

We need to live with a clear conscience before the Lord and without intentionally hurting the conscience of others. When we have doubts about all this, we're not living in the freedom of true faith. ©Word-Strong_2016

The Desires of the Heart

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We all want life to make sense and to have purpose. Yet, many things that take place in the world and impact our life bewilder us.

We have no control over most of what goes on around us. The more out of control life seems the more we want to get things under control.

But we can't control others, nor can we set everything in order around us. And yet, we have options.

Scripture

Of David

Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.

Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. [vss 1-4]

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.

Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil. For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land. [vss 5-9]

(Psalm 37:1-9 NIV) [Context– Psalm 37]

Key phrase— Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart 

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Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

What are we not to worry about and who should we not envy? Why is this so?

What are we to do? What are the specific things we're encouraged to do?

What are the results we can expect when we do these things?

What is the final thing we're encouraged to do? How do you think we are to do this?

Reflection...

When life around us seems overwhelming, we tend to do one of two things. We try to take actions to bring things into order, or we withdraw to hide from it all.

The first thing often leads to frustration, while the second brings a sense of hopelessness.

Looking to the Lord for what we can't control helps us gain perspective on it all. Setting our mind and heart to trust the Lord this way brings internal peace and order.

But how can we do this when we're overwhelmed? It's not something we do once and it's finished. It involves a commitment and consistency to continue doing what we know in our heart to be right and true and good.

The psalmist gives ways to do this, which are expanded on in the rest of the psalm. Each one results in some type of blessing from the Lord.

Here are those five ways to overcome what we cannot control—

  1. Trust in the Lord and do good (verse 3)
  2. Take delight in the Lord (verse 4)
  3. Commit your way to the Lord (verse 5)
  4. Be still before the Lord (verse 7)
  5. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath (verse 8)

In my next post, I'll unpack these five things a bit more, so check back!

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

Are there times when you're frustrated and angry about the state of things in your life or the world around you?

When do you feel most overwhelmed? What seems to trigger this, or precede this sense of being overwhelmed?

How do you handle angry feelings, worry, frustration, or fears? Are you able to bring these feelings to the Lord in prayer?

How often do you try to settle your heart and mind by trusting your concerns with the Lord? 


Would you like a free study guide for your study of Psalms?

Click Here to get a Free Psalms Study Guide

Tolerance and Intolerance

Photo credit: lightstock.com Welcome people who are weak in faith, but don’t get into an argument over differences of opinion. Some people believe that they can eat all kinds of food. Other people with weak faith believe that they can eat only vegetables.

People who eat all foods should not despise people who eat only vegetables. In the same way, the vegetarians should not criticize people who eat all foods, because God has accepted those people.

Who are you to criticize someone else’s servant? The Lord will determine whether his servant has been successful. The servant will be successful because the Lord makes him successful.

One person decides that one day is holier than another. Another person decides that all days are the same. Every person must make his own decision. When people observe a special day, they observe it to honor the Lord.

When people eat all kinds of foods, they honor the Lord as they eat, since they give thanks to God. Vegetarians also honor the Lord when they eat, and they, too, give thanks to God.

It’s clear that we don’t live to honor ourselves, and we don’t die to honor ourselves. If we live, we honor the Lord, and if we die, we honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this reason Christ died and came back to life so that he would be the Lord of both the living and the dead.

Why do you criticize or despise other Christians? Everyone will stand in front of God to be judged. Scripture says, “As certainly as I live, says the Lord, everyone will worship me, and everyone will praise God.”

All of us will have to give an account of ourselves to God. (‭Romans‬ ‭14:1-12‬ (GW)


Jesus said His followers are to be known for their love for one another (John 13:35). Sadly, Christians have a reputation for being self-righteous and judgmental, not to mention hypocritical.

Why? Because of disputes about beliefs and practice, and other petty disagreements. This tends to create an "us versus them" mentality towards believers and nonbelievers.

As Paul points out, this has gone on for years. Intolerance towards others is nothing new. Christian believers get outraged by the intolerance of non-believers towards us, but we don't realize the log in our own eyes (Matt 7:1-5).

How we live out our faith shouldn't be focused on what we do or don't do, but how the Lord shines out through our lives towards others.

We are to be examples of the cross—the Lord Jesus' redemptive death and resurrection—by walking the way of the cross (Matt 16:24).

One day, sooner than expected, we will be held accountable for how we live. Everyone. That Day will reveal how we've honored the Lord with our daily lives now. ©Word-Strong_2016

Mercy and Faithfulness

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It use to be that you could easily tell the good guys from the bad ones. In older western movies, the good guys wore white hats.

But the public image is not always the private reality. Nowadays, image and branding have become an important industry. Much emphasis is put on projecting the right public persona.

No matter how a person appears on the outside, the heart of a person reveals their true self. God is far more concerned with the heart of a person than their image. If we're wise, we ought to be as well.

Scripture

For the choir director; by David, the Lord’s servant.

There is an inspired truth about the wicked person who has rebellion in the depths of his heart: He is not terrified of God.

He flatters himself and does not hate or ⌊even⌋ recognize his guilt. The words from his mouth are ⌊nothing but⌋ trouble and deception.

He has stopped doing what is wise and good. He invents trouble while lying on his bed and chooses to go the wrong direction. He does not reject evil. [vss 1-4]

O Lord, your mercy reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the mountains of God, your judgments like the deep ocean. You save people and animals, O Lord.

Your mercy is so precious, O God, that Adam’s descendants take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They are refreshed with the rich foods in your house, and you make them drink from the river of your pleasure. 

Indeed, the fountain of life is with you. In your light we see light. [vss 5-9]

Continue to show your mercy to those who know you and your righteousness to those whose motives are decent.

Do not let the feet of arrogant people step on me or the hands of wicked people push me away.  Look at the troublemakers who have fallen. They have been pushed down and are unable to stand up again. [vss 10-12]

(Psalm 36:1-12 GW) [Context– Psalm 36]

Key phrase— O Lord, your mercy reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies

[bctt tweet="O Lord, your mercy reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies" username="tkbeyond"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

How is the "wicked person" characterized? What does this person do and not do?

How do all these descriptions reveal the core problem of someone who is wicked?

How is the Lord described in contrast to the wicked? How do the images used make these descriptions more vivid and memorable?

What are the benefits for those who are not in rebellion, but trust in the Lord?

Reflection...

Most people have difficulty with faith in God, because He's not readily visible. We want to see Him to believe in Him. One of Jesus' followers, Thomas, was of the same mindset (John 20:25).

Yet, many things are accepted and believed in that aren't visible, such as thoughts or gravity. Thoughts are made known through words, and we all experience the effects and impact of the earth's gravity.

Faith in God is similar. We know about God through the words and experiences of others, but also the intelligent design of the natural world (creation).

In a similar way, a person's heart is revealed by their words and actions. This is true for each of us and in relation to one another.

When we find ourselves filled with pride and deception without a sense of guilt, it's time to change the direction of our life. This often requires God helping us change our heart to make wiser choices.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

What is your typical response to flattery (of any kind), deception, and wrong-doing?

How do you handle guilt? Do you learn from it or ignore it?

Are you aware of and appreciate God's great mercy and faithfulness?

Do you have a healthy respect for God's power and righteousness?


Here's a link to a favorite song of ours taken from Psalm 36– Your Love Oh Lord (but skip the ad ;-)


Would you like a free study guide for your study of Psalms?

Click Here to get a Free Psalms Study Guide

Taste and See

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Personal experience is powerful. It speaks louder than suppositions and theory. Everyone may be entitled to their opinion, but it doesn't make it true or right. Experience has a way of exposing half-truths and falsehoods.

At one point in history, leading scientists and thinkers believed the world was flat. If a person were to sail a ship towards the horizon, they thought the ship would fall off the edge of the world.

These leaders were proven wrong by the experience of the early explorers, who sailed beyond the horizon and lived to tell about it.

Scripture

By David when he pretended to be insane in the presence of Abimelech; Abimelech threw him out, so David left.

I will thank the Lord at all times. My mouth will always praise him. My soul will boast about the Lord. Those who are oppressed will hear it and rejoice. Praise the Lord’s greatness with me. Let us highly honor his name together.

I went to the Lord for help. He answered me and rescued me from all my fears. All who look to him will be radiant. Their faces will never be covered with shame. Here is a poor man who called out. The Lord heard him and saved him from all his troubles. [vss 1-6]

The Messenger of the Lord camps around those who fear him, and he rescues them. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the person who takes refuge in him. Fear the Lord, you holy people who belong to him. Those who fear him are never in need. Young lions go hungry and may starve, but those who seek the Lord’s help have all the good things they need.

Come, children, listen to me. I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Which of you wants a full life? Who would like to live long enough to enjoy good things? Keep your tongue from saying evil things and your lips from speaking deceitful things. Turn away from evil, and do good. Seek peace, and pursue it! [vss 7-14]

The Lord’s eyes are on righteous people. His ears hear their cry for help. The Lord confronts those who do evil in order to wipe out all memory of them from the earth. ⌊Righteous people⌋ cry out. The Lord hears and rescues them from all their troubles. The Lord is near to those whose hearts are humble. He saves those whose spirits are crushed.

The righteous person has many troubles, but the Lord rescues him from all of them. The Lord guards all of his bones. Not one of them is broken. Evil will kill wicked people, and those who hate righteous people will be condemned. The Lord protects the souls of his servants. All who take refuge in him will never be condemned. [vss 15-22]

(Psalm 34:1-22 GW) [Context– Psalm 34]

Key phrase— Taste and see that the Lord is good—Blessed is the person who takes refuge in him

[bctt tweet="Taste and see that the Lord is good—Blessed is the person who takes refuge in him" username="tkbeyond"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

Why is King David thankful to the Lord? How does he express this gratitude?

What is David's encouragement about the Messenger of the Lord? What are his exhortations concerning the fear of the Lord?

How does the Lord relate to those who are righteous and humble? How does He deal with those who are evil?

What are the promises and assurances given throughout this psalm for those who trust God?

Reflection...

The fear of the Lord is often misunderstood. At times it's minimized as respect, but it's more than that. Some people view it as something negative.

This psalm gives some good insight into the fear of the Lord. It's based on experiential relationship with God, a relationship built on trust.

It includes gratitude and awareness of God's goodness and faithfulness. It motivates a person to walk in the light of God's truth, so we honor Him and become a reflection of His nature.

Does the fear of the Lord involve respect? Yes, but it's a recognition and acceptance of who God is and of His power and might and holiness.

Great blessing comes with fearing the Lord in a right way, but there's a great cost for those who choose not to humble themselves before God.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

When you face troubles in life—Do you cry out to God with a thankful heart or only questions?

Have you learned the difference between an anxious fear and the fear of the Lord?

Have you experienced the blessings in life that the fear of the Lord brings?

In what ways have you experienced God's goodness when you've looked to Him as your refuge?


Would you like a free study guide for your study of Psalms?

Click Here to get a Free Psalms Study Guide

Unconquered by Evil

Photo credit: lightstock.com Don’t pay people back with evil for the evil they do to you. Focus your thoughts on those things that are considered noble. As much as it is possible, live in peace with everyone.

Don’t take revenge, dear friends. Instead, let God’s anger take care of it. After all, Scripture says, “I alone have the right to take revenge. I will pay back, says the Lord.”

But, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him a drink. If you do this, you will make him feel guilty and ashamed.”

Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil with good. (‭Romans‬ ‭12:‭17-21‬ (GW)


A refusal to seek revenge or payback of some kind is often viewed as weakness. We live in a reactionary world. The capacity to defend and protect one's self is typically viewed as a strength.

But life in God's kingdom, governed by the nature and character of God, often appears at odds with the world around us. Why? Because it is!

Our perception of the world is naturally limited, we can only be in one place at one time. Even with a global view through the worldwide web, we still only see a very small slice of all that goes on in the world.

When we choose to follow Jesus as our Lord, we gain His all-knowing, all-seeing, ever-present perspective. We don't see it on our own, but when we surrender our hearts and lives to Him, Jesus gives us glimpses of His eternal view of things.

It's only by faith we're enabled to see beyond the evil and wickedness that invades our lives. When our confidence and trust in God is genuine, we can trust the Lord to settle our accounts when we are insulted, slandered, or defamed. Even when worse things happen to us.

God's strength is far greater than ours and His reach far exceeds our own. We can choose to retaliate or forgive. We can choose good over evil, or take things into our own hands.

I seek to trust in God, not myself. ©Word-Strong_2016

Authenticity

Photo credit: lightstock.com Love sincerely. Hate evil. Hold on to what is good. Be devoted to each other like a loving family. Excel in showing respect for each other. Don’t be lazy in showing your devotion. Use your energy to serve the Lord.

Be happy in your confidence, be patient in trouble, and pray continually. Share what you have with God’s people who are in need. Be hospitable.

Bless those who persecute you. Bless them, and don’t curse them. Be happy with those who are happy. Be sad with those who are sad. 

Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be arrogant, but be friendly to humble people. Don’t think that you are smarter than you really are. (‭Romans‬ ‭12:‭9-16‬ (GW)


At present, authenticity is highly valued in our culture. It's become a popular value connected to relationships, experiences, even to sell products.

As with so many things, words take on different meanings as culture changes. Current American culture tends to view things through an individualistic and relativistic lens. In other words, we frame things the way we want to see them.

Paul enumerates several ways Christian believers are to be authentic—real, genuine, reliable, true, and trustworthy. He begins with love for others, moral honesty, and true commitment to whatever we do, regardless of our circumstances.

The last few admonitions describe godly tolerance—tolerance from God's point of view. This includes blessing, not cursing, those who oppose us and humility instead of arrogance. All of these reflect the nature of Jesus.

Paul reminds us to not lose our focus on who we are within a world in rebellion towards God. We are to reflect the very nature of Jesus whom we claim to follow. He is gentle, humble, and full of grace and truth (Matt 11:29; John 1:14). ©Word-Strong_2016

Who Is There to Fear?

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Fear has a way of paralyzing or inhibiting us. Of course, some fears are based on real events and seem reasonable, like earthquakes, tornadoes, or perhaps a terrorist attack.

One fear that tends to inhibit us is related to people. This can take many forms. Some people are afraid to be in a large crowd or to speak in front of a crowd. We all have a fear of rejection in certain situations.

There is also a fear that causes dread and anxiety, while another fear is born out of respect.

Scripture

By David.

The Lord is my light and my salvation. Who is there to fear? The Lord is my life’s fortress. Who is there to be afraid of?

Evildoers closed in on me to tear me to pieces. My opponents and enemies stumbled and fell. Even though an army sets up camp against me, my heart will not be afraid. Even though a war breaks out against me, I will still have confidence ⌊in the Lord⌋. [vss 1-3]

I have asked one thing from the Lord. This I will seek: to remain in the Lord’s house all the days of my life in order to gaze at the Lord’s beauty and to search for an answer in his temple.

He hides me in his shelter when there is trouble. He keeps me hidden in his tent. He sets me high on a rock. Now my head will be raised above my enemies who surround me. I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy in his tent. I will sing and make music to praise the Lord. [vss 4-6]

Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud. Have pity on me, and answer me. ⌊When you said,⌋ “Seek my face,” my heart said to you, “O Lord, I will seek your face.” 

Do not hide your face from me. Do not angrily turn me away. You have been my help. Do not leave me! Do not abandon me, O God, my savior! Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will take care of me. [vss 7-10]

Teach me your way, O Lord. Lead me on a level path because I have enemies who spy on me. Do not surrender me to the will of my opponents. False witnesses have risen against me. They breathe out violence.

I believe that I will see the goodness of the Lord in this world of the living. Wait with hope for the Lord. Be strong, and let your heart be courageous. Yes, wait with hope for the Lord. [vss 11-14]

(Psalm 27:1-14 GW) [Context– Psalm 27]

Key phrase— Wait with hope for the Lord

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Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

What is the confidence David expresses in respect to his circumstances?

What or who is this confidence based on? Why do you think David has this confidence?

What is the one thing David asked of the Lord? Why does he seek this?

What are David's appeals in the latter half of this psalm? What are his confident hopes and encouragements at the end?

Reflection...

King David had several enemies who tried to kill him. Most of them were afraid of him. Throughout his psalms we see a confidence in his personal relationship with the Lord.

This is the bedrock of his faith, not the Law or religious practices, but his very personal relationship with God. God honored this in David's life.

Some times, the people we fear or are intimidated by are people who are intimidated by us for some reason. Many fears, especially that of people, are groundless and based on faulty assumptions, even ignorance.

What was the secret to David's confidence in the Lord? He knew God was greater than any enemy, far greater. David feared the Lord more than anyone or anything. Not a fear of dread that causes anxiety, but a fear of respect, awe, and wonder. This is why he trusted in and worshipped the Lord.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

Who or what types of people intimidate you? Why is this? Are you willing to learn more about them to help relieve you of this fear?

Are there certain events or things you fear but have never experienced? If so, have you brought this to God in prayer and trusted Him with it?

Have you developed a level of trust in God that frees you from fear of people and things?

How have you learned to respect God for who He is—to fear Him in a biblical sense—so that your view of life and people is in right perspective?


Would you like a free study guide for your study of Psalms?

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Gifted for a Purpose

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Because of the kindness that God has shown me, I ask you not to think of yourselves more highly than you should. Instead, your thoughts should lead you to use good judgment based on what God has given each of you as believers.

Our bodies have many parts, but these parts don’t all do the same thing. In the same way, even though we are many individuals, Christ makes us one body and individuals who are connected to each other.

God in his kindness gave each of us different gifts. If your gift is speaking what God has revealed, make sure what you say agrees with the Christian faith. If your gift is serving, then devote yourself to serving.

If it is teaching, devote yourself to teaching. If it is encouraging others, devote yourself to giving encouragement. If it is sharing, be generous. If it is leadership, lead enthusiastically. If it is helping people in need, help them cheerfully. (‭Romans‬ ‭12:‭3-8 (GW)


The mark of a life impacted by God's grace is humility. Jesus is our prime example. We can only comprehend God's grace in its fullness because of Jesus. He is the personification of grace.

Jesus also personifies humility (Matt 11:29; Phil 2:5-8). This is our starting point for considering the gifts of God. The gifts of God are just that—gifts. They are not skills or abilities. They cannot be taught or caught.

These gifts are the extension of God's grace—His undeserved kindness. They are of spiritual origin, not some embedded DNA code in a person.

The primary purpose of these gifts is to strengthen the church, the Body of Christ. They are not the possession of an individual person. These gifts are given by God (through the Holy Spirit) to fulfill God's purposes for His church.

This exhortation reminds us that when God distributes a specific gift to a person, he or she is to exercise this gift in humility for the benefit of others in the church.

Has God gifted you in one of these seven gifts? Then use it well under the Lord's guidance with gracious humility. ©Word-Strong_2016

How good is good?

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Ask people if they'll go to heaven after they die and many will say, "Yes." If asked why, they often say something like, "Because I'm a good person, and I try to do good."

It's just possible that, much of the time, a person may look pretty good in comparison to some others. But other comparisons are not so favorable.

Ask Christians how to please God, and you're likely to get a similar answer. But how good is good?

The problem of comparisons

Comparing ourselves to others is an inherently weak and futile effort. Though you may find favorable ones, unfavorable comparisons are inevitable.

[bctt tweet=" Comparing ourselves to others is an inherently weak and futile effort" username="tkbeyond"]

Of course, when we compare ourselves with God, we lose every time. Think not? Try comparing yourself to Jesus, the Son of God. It shouldn't take long to see your dilemma.

A common Christian test is inserting your name in place of "love" in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.

We're told by the Bible, mentors, psychologists, and talk-show hosts, not to compare ourselves with others. But try as we may, we still make comparisons to see how we measure up.

"Am I better looking than... smarter than... thinner than... kinder than...?" And on it goes. We seem powerless to stop it. As the apostle points out, it's an unwise thing to do.

We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. (2 Co 10:12 NIV)

Trying to measure up

Not long ago, I did a home inspection that had height measurements marked off with dates on a wall. This helps answer the question, "Am I growing taller?"

But how do we measure ourselves when it comes to spiritual growth? If we compare ourselves to others, it's only a matter of time before we don't measure up in some way.

Trying to measure ourselves on the basis of behavior or habits, or any similar metric, is also futile. Why? Because we're using the wrong metric.

Evaluating a person's moral behavior is not a measurement of their spiritual growth. As the common saying goes—it's like comparing apples to oranges. Morality is based on performance, while spiritual growth can only be measured by eternal qualities.

So, how do we determine spiritual growth? Perhaps a better question is, why do we need to measure it at all?

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Beyond our reach

A young, wealthy man came to Jesus with a question about how to inherit eternal life. He addressed Jesus as, "Good teacher (rabbi)..." (Mark 10:17-25).

Jesus asked back, "Why do you call me good? No one is good—except God alone" (Mark 10:18 NIV).

True goodness is out of reach for us mere mortals. It is an eternal quality.

So, should we just give up on all of this? Yes and no.

We need to give up measuring and comparing ourselves when it comes to spiritual growth. But we need spiritual growth. Spiritual growth is the indicator we have that spiritual life is going on within us, but how do we gauge it?

In the story with the young wealthy man, Jesus instructs him to leave all his wealth to become one of His followers. This young man claimed to have kept the Mosaic Law since childhood.

Jesus didn't debate Him on this, but went to the core of what the man trusted in—himself and his wealth.

Even if we claim to be righteous in a moral sense, we still fall short of God's goodness (Rom 3:10-12).

Some good news

Thankfully, no one needs to obtain moral perfection to gain entrance into God's presence. Jesus did this with His life on earth and through the cross—His death and resurrection (Matt 5:17; Rom 10:4; Heb 9:11-14; 10:10). This message of redemption (the gospel) is echoed throughout the Scriptures.

But... how do we know if we're growing spiritually?

As pointed out before, we don't need to measure spiritual growth, but we need to grow spiritually. But, how can we tell if it's happening?

The answer is pretty simple. If we go back to the story of the young rich man (Mark 10:17-25), we see what Jesus said to him—to sell all he had and follow Jesus.

Many messages based on this story focus on what the man was to give up, but this misses the main point. Jesus was inviting this young man into relationship.

When we enter into a genuine relationship with God, spiritual growth comes naturally (John 15:5-8).

[bctt tweet="When we are in relationship with God it will be obvious to others" username="tkbeyond"]

We don't need to make comparisons, we need to continue in a personal, fruitful relationship with Jesus—the Vine (John 15:1). Then our spiritual growth will be natural and evident, even to others.


This is a revision of an earlier post a couple of years ago, as a follow-up to last week's post—What Does It Mean to Flourish?

How I Got Theology– Part 3

Photo credit: unsplash.com_NCollins American evangelical churches have worked hard to reach out to younger generations over the past couple of decades. It's not gone that well.

Sure, more mega churches dot the landscape, but a great many people, especially younger ones, have left the organized church, or simply left the Christian faith.

Much effort has gone into attracting and drawing people into church, while others focus on being missional. Sadly, the foundation for faith is often neglected with these efforts.

An assumption

Aristotle is credited with the postulate that nature abhors a vacuum. A vacuum existed in the mid-sixties—a lack of spiritual integrity and substance. This vacuum got filled with philosophy, religion, and cultural trends. Life is cyclical. There is an ebb and flow to everything on earth.

An assumption was made by organized churches in the years preceding the Jesus People Movement. It was assumed that young people had no interest in studying the Bible. I see a similar assumption at present. It was a wrong assumption 50+ years ago and it's wrong now.

The opposite is true. Many young people are seeking the truth and are interested in the Bible. And, many people want mentoring, but they reject authoritarianism.

[bctt tweet="Many young people seek truth and are open to be mentored" username="tkbeyond"]

A hunger

A great biblical ignorance exists today. Not a lack of Bible knowledge or resources, but ignorance. Why? Much of what is presented and promoted is not processed thoughtfully and spiritually by those who receive it. The truth of God needs to be processed in our mind and meditated on in our heart.

[bctt tweet="The truth of God needs to be processed in our mind and meditated on in our heart" username="tkbeyond"]

A great hunger and interest in the truth existed when I came to faith over 45 years ago. Yep, I'm old. I'm a holdover from the Jesus Generation, as it was called.

I remember hours of shared engagement studying the Bible with other people of my generation. We did it in churches, often sitting on the floor, in homes, on our own, or outside in public. We couldn't get enough. I couldn't get enough.

It wasn't listening to well-crafted messages from the Bible, it was a personal encounter with Jesus. He (Jesus) has a lot to say about the value of digging into the Scriptures—

You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me (John 5:39 NIV)

It is the Spirit that gives life. The flesh doesn’t give life. The words I told you are spirit, and they give life. (John 6:63 NCV)

“If you continue to obey my teaching, you are truly my followers. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31, 32 NCV)

 “Use the truth to make them holy. Your words are truth. (John 17:17 GW)

A personal encounter

Is there a difference between attending a Bible study and studying the Bible? Yes. I've seen many people attend a Bible study, taking in what is said as valuable information. But, if that information doesn't become life-giving truth for them, it is simply Bible knowledge.

Bible knowledge isn't a bad thing, but it doesn't transform a person, it informs them.

[bctt tweet="Bible knowledge doesn't transform a person, it informs them" username="tkbeyond"]

If our study of the Bible isn't a personal encounter with Jesus, but only a pursuit of truth, we miss the most important thing. As Jesus said, "these very Scriptures speak about me!" (John 5:39 GNTD)

So, how does Bible study become a spiritual encounter with Jesus? Here are some things that help build a good foundation for your own personal theology to develop—

  • Prayer—perhaps too obvious, yet so vital it must be mentioned—we need to ask God to reveal His truth to us (Matthew 16:17).
  • The Holy Spirit—the Spirit of Truth (John 14:16-17)—How can we receive God's revelation apart from His Spirit?
  • Reading and listening to the Scriptures—there is nothing that can replace this. No one else can do this for us (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
  • Regular study of the Bible—if not daily, weekly—a consistent digging into the Scriptures so your faith is founded on a solid foundation (Matthew 7:24-27)

Need more?

This is the final of a 3-part series that began with How I Got Theology– Part 1. It's my personal answer to three questions posed in a previous post called Got Theology? where I look at how we all develop a personal theology.

If you'd like more guidance on how to study the Bible in a personal, yet systematic and objective way, you can download my 7-page Primer on Inductive Bible Study. It is a simple guide to Inductive Bible Study (IBS) developed from many years of training pastors, leaders, and other followers of Jesus, here in the US and overseas.

Just click on the link below, fill out the short form, then download it.

Click Here to Download the Basic Primer on Inductive Bible Study

Finished!

Photo credit: lightstock.com

Despair leads to desperation. It gives up. It is the opposite of hope. When we're in a state of despair, we see no end to our condition—trapped in a dark tunnel.

Hope sees beyond an end point. It sees beyond despair or disappointment. Hope sees an end to difficulties and trusts.

Hope isn't just light at the end of the tunnel, it's confidence in life beyond the tunnel of darkness.

Scripture

For the director of music. To the tune of “The Doe of Dawn.” A psalm of David. (part 2)

But, Lord, don’t be far away. You are my strength; hurry to help me. Save me from the sword; save my life from the dogs. Rescue me from the lion’s mouth; save me from the horns of the bulls. [vss 19-21]

Then I will tell my brothers and sisters about you; I will praise you in the public meeting. Praise the Lord, all you who respect him. All you descendants of Jacob, honor him; fear him, all you Israelites. He does not ignore those in trouble. He doesn’t hide from them but listens when they call out to him. [vss 22-24]

Lord, I praise you in the great meeting of your people; these worshipers will see me do what I promised. Poor people will eat until they are full; those who look to the Lord will praise him. May your hearts live forever! People everywhere will remember and will turn to the Lord. All the families of the nations will worship him because the Lord is King, and he rules the nations. [vss 25-28]

All the powerful people on earth will eat and worship. Everyone will bow down to him, all who will one day die. The people in the future will serve him; they will always be told about the Lord. They will tell that he does what is right. People who are not yet born will hear what God has done. [vss 29-31]

(Psalm 22:19-31 NCV) [Context– Psalm 22]

Key phrase— People who are not yet born will hear what God has done

[bctt tweet="People who are not yet born will hear what God has done" username="tkbeyond"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

After his final plea for rescue, what is the psalmist confident that he will do?

Why does he have this confidence? What does say about the Lord?

What are the other things the psalmist is sure will take place?

What does he speak of that will come in the future? Would this include our present time?

Reflection...

Despair leads to desperation and death brings sorrow. But hope—a genuine trust in God—sees beyond despair and death. We're told that Jesus "endured the cross" and its shame because He a had joy greater than both (Heb 12:2).

What joy did Jesus have? A joy born out of confidence in His resurrection from the dead. Christ's resurrection is the cornerstone of the Christian hope in eternal life.

In the latter half of this psalm, many encouraging things are declared. What a reversal of tone from the beginning of the psalm!

King David saw an end to his desperate situation because of his confidence in the Lord. Jesus saw an end to the deadly consequence of sin when He declared on the cross—"It is finished!" (John 19:30)

Jesus brought an end to the hopelessness of death through His own death on behalf of all humanity. Now there's a living hope (1 Peter 1:3) available to all who will embrace it in Jesus.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

Have you experienced the hope of God in Jesus?

Is your confidence in God sufficient to help you see beyond trying times?

Have you experienced the freedom of God's forgiveness and restoration in the Lord?

Do you trust in God with confidence and joy?


Would you like a free study guide for your study of Psalms?

Click Here to get a Free Psalms Study Guide

Receiving God's Approval

Photo credit: lightstock.com Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God on behalf of the Jewish people is that they would be saved. I can assure you that they are deeply devoted to God, but they are misguided.

They don’t understand ⌊how to receive⌋ God’s approval. So they try to set up their own way to get it, and they have not accepted God’s way for receiving his approval.

Christ is the fulfillment of Moses’ Teachings so that everyone who has faith may receive God’s approval.

Moses writes about receiving God’s approval by following his laws. He says, “The person who obeys these laws will live because he obeys them.” However, Scripture says about God’s approval which is based on faith, “Don’t ask yourself who will go up to heaven,” (that is, to bring Christ down). “Don’t ask who will go down into the depths,” (that is, to bring Christ back from the dead).

However, what else does it say? “This message is near you. It’s in your mouth and in your heart.” This is the message of faith that we spread. If you declare that Jesus is Lord, and believe that God brought him back to life, you will be saved. 

By believing you receive God’s approval, and by declaring your faith you are saved. Scripture says, “Whoever believes in him will not be ashamed.” (‭Romans‬ ‭10:1-11‬ (GW)


God's purpose and plan for Israel was for them to be a people who would represent God on earth to other nations. They were to be a light to the gentiles [nations] (Isaiah 49:6; Acts 13:47). As a nation, they failed to fulfill this purpose.

When Jesus came—the long-awaited Messiah—He fulfilled the Law of Moses and established a new covenant—a new relationship with God. This relationship is based on faith—a trust in God and His loving kindness.

Acceptance and approval with God is not gained by attempting to lead a good moral life, but by trusting in God's gift of forgiveness and restoration, referred to as redemption or salvation. It is not just a belief held in the mind, but a confession of trust within the heart and declared by our life and speech.

When a person believes in the Lord Jesus' redemptive sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection from the dead, his or her life will be transformed. Then, each of us who trusts in the Lord by faith can fulfill God's original purpose and plan for Israel.

As we experience God's acceptance and approval, we become a reflection of His light for others. ©Word-Strong_2016

A Rock in Zion

Photo credit: lightstock.com As God says in Hosea: “Those who are not my people I will call my people. Those who are not loved I will call my loved ones. Wherever they were told, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called children of the living God.”

Isaiah also says about Israel: “Although the descendants of Israel are as numerous as the grains of sand on the seashore, only a few will be saved. The Lord will carry out his sentence on the land, completely and decisively.”

This is what Isaiah predicted: “If the Lord of Armies hadn’t left us some descendants, we would have been like Sodom and Gomorrah.” So what can we say?

We can say that non-Jewish people who were not trying to gain God’s approval won his approval, an approval based on faith. The people of Israel tried to gain God’s approval by obeying the laws in Moses’ Teachings, but they did not reach their goal. Why? They didn’t rely on faith to gain God’s approval, but they relied on their own efforts. They stumbled over the rock that trips people.

As Scripture says, “I am placing a rock in Zion that people trip over, a large rock that people find offensive. Whoever believes in him will not be ashamed.” (‭Romans‬ ‭9:25-33‬ (GW)


Belief in God is a hurdle for many people. One they can't get over because it involves faith. How do you trust in a God who can't be seen, or touched, or heard? But God's inherent, yet invisible qualities are not the real problem. It's pride.

The people of Israel waited century after century for a promised Messiah. When He came—divine and human in nature—they would not accept Him. Why? Pride. They could not accept the humble Jesus as their Messiah. They rejected Him because He did not fit their expectations.

God's plan was not to choose one nation of people to be exclusive and superior to all other nations, but for them to be a light—a reflection of His glory to other nations. When God's chosen people rejected God's Son—the Messiah—God made Himself known to other people. People who would believe in Him.

Approval and acceptance by God is only gained by faith. It requires enough humility to see God's humble extension of love through sending His Son Jesus. Then He accepts us as His children, His people. A people unashamed of the Rock that causes the proud to stumble, and who reflect God's light to others. ©Word-Strong_2016

Projects and Posts

Photo credit: unsplash_JSheldon Projects. I like working on projects. However, I've learned it's easier to start projects than finish them. That's probably true for most of us.

One of the reasons I like projects is my tendency to lose interest in doing just one things for a long time. I like new things, different things, and I like challenges.

Recently, I've been working on a new project. It's connected to a couple of other projects that are revisions of previous projects I've completed. I hope to make it available next week.

What's make these popular?

For this week's post, I've collected a few of the more popular posts on my blog. I'd like to get some feedback on what makes them interesting or engaging.

Is it the topic? Is it the title? What is it a link on social media? What is it recommended by someone?

Whatever the reason, I'd like to know. So, here's the list of the top 5 posts, let me hear your feed back and thoughts.

Top 5 posts

  1. The Art and Value of Encouragement
  2. 5 Basic Foundational Truths of the Christian Faith
  3. Acronym-ically Speaking
  4. About the Beginning of the Story
  5. Who Needs Fellowship?

Again, as you check these posts out, let me know what interests or engages you most about them.

  • Is it the topic?
  • Is it the title?
  • What stands out to you?
  • What is most valuable or helpful for you?

Thanks! And please feel to comment on or share any of these posts!

Horses and Chariots

Photo credit: lightstock.com

Thoughts and words are powerful. They can have a strong positive influence and impact or a negative one. They are rarely neutral.

Countless book, blogs, and workshops tout the powerful force of thoughts and words. This was understood in ancient times long, long before the printed word.

Prayers and pronouncements of blessing are an important form of expression where this is true. The Scriptures are full of examples, especially the Psalms.

Scripture

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

May the Lord answer you in times of trouble. May the God of Jacob protect you. May he send you help from his Temple and support you from Mount Zion. May he remember all your offerings and accept all your sacrifices. Selah

May he give you what you want and make all your plans succeed, and we will shout for joy when you succeed, and we will raise a flag in the name of our God. May the Lord give you all that you ask for. [vss 1-5]

Now I know the Lord helps his appointed king. He answers him from his holy heaven and saves him with his strong right hand. Some trust in chariots, others in horses, but we trust the Lord our God. They are overwhelmed and defeated, but we march forward and win.

Lord, save the king! Answer us when we call for help. [vss 6-8]

(Psalm 20:1-8 NCV) [Context– Psalm 20]

Key phrase— Some trust in chariots, others in horses, but we trust the Lord our God

[bctt tweet="Some trust in chariots, others in horses, but we trust the Lord our God" username="tkbeyond"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

How are thoughts and words expressed in the first half of this psalm? How would you describe the way they're expressed?

What are the six specific blessings spoken in this psalm? How are these blessings also a form of prayer?

What is the basis of confidence that this prayer of blessing will be answered?

Where do many people put their trust? How is trust in the Lord shown to be better?

Reflection...

Prayer is simply communication with God. A conversation of our soul and spirit to a personal, living God. How amazing is that!

This is the beauty of the Psalms. They capture various emotions of the heart and soul in an honest, open expression.

This psalm not only expresses blessings, but is an affirmation of faith. It's a confident confession of trust in God.

Other people put their trust in things with limited strength. King David—a mighty warrior—chose to trust in the Lord who is omnipotent. God's strength is unlimited.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

When you pray, how often do you speak from your heart with confidence?

Do you make a point to pray for the spiritual well-being of others?

How confident are you that God will answer when you pray?

Do you consciously choose to trust in God more than anything else?


Would you like a free study guide for your study of Psalms?

Click Here to get a Free Psalms Study Guide

Life Reflections

IMG_0819 What significance do life events have? Are they just random, or is there a distinct meaning and purpose for every life event that takes place?

These types of questions keep philosophers and theologians in business, so to speak. All people tend to wonder about such things.

I'm sure some events and situations have a purpose in our lives that have significance to us, but I admit, many life events can seem pretty random or insignificant.

Planned events and purposes

This past month, my wife and I spent time with our youngest daughter, husband, and now, two daughters. Our purpose in spending a month with them had two primary goals—being present for the arrival of our fifth grandchild and be of some help to our daughter and son-in-law.

We enjoyed our time immensely and fulfilled those two primary goals. But other life events took place while we were there.

I won't enumerate them all, but I want to note a few of them, then consider whether they are random, planned, or if their timing matters.

Random or planned?

Two births

The week we arrived, our granddaughter did not. If fact, it was the beginning of week three when she arrived.

The week we arrived, the pastor where my daughter fellowships announced his wife was pregnant. He shared with the church on the next Sunday about their miscarriage. It was a bittersweet morning, but the pastor handled it well.

But still, we awaited the arrival of our granddaughter, our daughter was overdue by a week or so. We were waiting with expectant joy and the pastor and his wife were grieving.

A death and a birth

Soon after our arrival in Germany, I heard of the passing of a dear friend in the US. I had been praying for her for several years, now I would pray for comfort for her husband and their three grown children.

They were a significant family in the life of the church we planted in the late 70's. They are good friends of ours and were some of our supporters while we were missionaries in the Philippines.

Over a week later, we welcomed little Brielle into the world and into our family. One person leaves this life, while another comes into it.

Timing

It's not so much the events, but the timing of these things. Is there significance to this timing, or is it just random?

Just before we left Germany to return to the US, I heard about a long time friend receiving a devastating diagnosis, and another friend passed away.

It's normal, maybe typical, for us to wonder about the timing of certain life events. But do we need to know or understand everything? Do we need to have a definitive answer and insight into it all?

Faith, randomness, and destiny

Some people see everything in life as random. I'm pretty sure that most believers in God, regardless of religion or theology, don't hold that opinion.

Still others see every event in life as part of a grand plan, even destiny. I suppose this can include people who are into conspiracy theories (I'm not one of those people, btw). The idea here is that every single thing is preordained (predestined) and has a meaning.

I don't doubt that life events have significance, but I've stopped trying to figure out how it all fits together, or whether certain events even do.

It's not because I don't care or don't think about all of this. I do. But I accept that some things are just beyond my capacity to figure out, and I've realized I don't need to know everything about all life events—mine, yours, or anyone else's.

Faith and reflection

An inherent quality of faith is trust. Not theological belief, but an implicit trust in God (Hebrews 11:6).

In 1997, a tragic fire took the lives of five children under our care, and nearly took the life of our youngest daughter. Everything we had in the orphanage building was reduced to rubble and ashes.

Remarkably, God sustained us in the aftermath. That's a long story all its own, but not for now. So many things didn't make sense, and yet it all made sense somehow.

Indeed, our family was in shock for quite a while, something like PTSD. All I know is this. God sustained us in ways we can't explain, through many people and a series of events that's followed that tragedy.

Why do we need to know?

People reached out to us, prayed for us, and cared for us. We, along with many, had the usual questions summed up in, "Why God?"

We don't have a clear answer to it all, but we clearly saw the hand of God upon us and the ministry for years afterwards.

I needed to come to a place of trust more than understanding. I accepted that I didn't need to know why.

It was a lesson in faith, in trust. Either God is God, or He's not. I believe God is sovereign and living and personal. I also believe in free will. I choose to exercise my free will to trust in the Lord without having to figure everything out.

That's faith. It's what Abraham was recognized for that brought him friendship with God (James 2:23). The Bible is full of similar people of faith, and I choose to be among them.

How about you?

Have you learned to trust God this way, or do you think you need to understand it all? 

(Please feel free to comment!)

Is God Unfair?

Photo credit: lightstock.com Now it is not as though God’s word has failed. Clearly, not everyone descended from Israel is part of Israel or a descendant of Abraham. However, ⌊as Scripture says,⌋ “Through Isaac your descendants will carry on your name.”

This means that children born by natural descent ⌊from Abraham⌋ are not necessarily God’s children. Instead, children born by the promise are considered Abraham’s descendants.

For example, this is what the promise said, “I will come back at the right time, and Sarah will have a son.” The same thing happened to Rebekah. Rebekah became pregnant by our ancestor Isaac. Before the children had been born or had done anything good or bad, Rebekah was told that the older child would serve the younger one.

This was said to Rebekah so that God’s plan would remain a matter of his choice, a choice based on God’s call and not on anything people do. The Scriptures say, “I loved Jacob, but I hated Esau.”

What can we say—that God is unfair? That’s unthinkable! For example, God said to Moses, “I will be kind to anyone I want to. I will be merciful to anyone I want to.” Therefore, God’s choice does not depend on a person’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. (‭Romans‬ ‭9:‭6-16‬ (GW)


"Who says life is fair?" That's the response a parent might say when a child complains about something. Of course, it doesn't set well with the child and it's not a helpful answer.

Fairness is something we all tend to expect, but it's not a realistic expectation. Too many variables exist in everyday life, especially when it comes to the collision of free wills of billions of humans in the world.

Still, when things seem unfair we often wonder why it's so. Then, God becomes an easy target for blame. I think this is not only because of our selfish free will, but our penchant for reducing relationship with God to a set of laws.

When people construct clever legal reasoning to explain what God does and why He does it, they've reduced God to a set of rules and expectations. But God cannot and will not fit into any box of laws, rules, or expectations we might construct.

God is far more merciful than we can comprehend, and far more just than we like to accept. God is not unfair, but our expectations of Him and others often are. ©Word-Strong_2016

A Man and His Faith

Ayele_teaching_Omo Last week, I took a quick look at theology—our beliefs about God. We've all got theology, but we all don't believe the same things. By "we," I mean humanity.

Why don't we believe the same things? Because we're all different, with different backgrounds, and different life stories.

This week, I want to look at the intriguing life story of a friend of mine.

My Ethiopian friend

I first met Benjamin (pronounced Beny-a-min) at a church service and liked him immediately. He was the first Ethiopian I met, but not the last. His life story intrigued me, yet it stirred some controversy. He has a common name, but his life story is far from common.

He was born in rural Ethiopia into a muslim family. When he came home from school and saw smoke rising from his home, he was happy. He knew his mother was cooking a special meal for his father, who had other wives than his mother.

He came to faith in Jesus through dreams, as I've heard take place for many of Islamic faith. Because of his choice to follow Jesus, he was ostracized by his family, which sent him on a search.

Benjamin set out to find help to learn about his new faith and was directed to missionaries in Kenya. Along the way, he was captured by Communist soldiers who tortured him for his faith in brutal ways. Eventually, he found the guidance he needed, and came to America for education.

A passion for his people

I met Benjamin as he raised support to work with a mission in Kenya. He became a missionary to Ethiopian refugees gathered in neighboring Somalia. These were his people and he wanted them to know the Lord Jesus.

I had him preach at our church a couple of times in the mid-eighties, so I heard much of his story. We also spent time talking about his mission and passion for reaching his people with the gospel.

I found Benjamin to be a man of great faith and integrity. He was childlike in the ways of American culture and social norms, but well-read and intelligent. I trusted him.

An interrupted testimony

He told me of a time when he shared his testimony at another church. The pastor invited him on the recommendation of someone in his congregation. As he told the story of his conversion from Islam to Christ, the pastor interrupted him and had him sit down.

The pastor told him he didn't believe in such things (the supernatural experiences), and discounted his life story. This stunned my friend Benjamin. It saddened me as he told me of it. Needless to say, this pastor was not one of his supporters.

Here was a man of integrity and without deceit who shared his personal encounter with Jesus, but he was not believed. Why? Because the pastor couldn't get past his own theological filters.

I'm glad for my encounter with Benjamin. His life added more depth and fullness to mine. He was one more encouragement for my own missionary experience. Years later I would visit his homeland (see photo above).

When we moved to the Philippines and he moved to Kenya, we lost contact with each other. But I will never forget Benjamin and his faith.

We're not all the same

Our experiences and encounters in pursuit of the truth shape and impact our faith and understanding of God. Identical experiences don't produce the same results. A simple reading of the gospels reveals this.

All of the apostles were afraid of Jesus as He walked on the water. Only Peter got out of the boat to walk towards Him (Matt 14:22-33). The Roman centurion who witnessed the death of Jesus realized He was innocent, unlike his fellow soldiers (Luke 23:47). After Jesus healed ten lepers, only one came back to thank Him (Luke 17:11-19).

Each of us view things differently. We often draw different conclusions with different perspectives from similar experiences. So, how can we possibly have any unity in the Christian faith? Benjamin and I shared the same faith in Jesus, but our life stories were very different.

The Christian faith is a personal faith because it's centered on the person of Jesus. The closer we grow in our relationship with Jesus, the more unified we become as a group. This can be seen during a worship service, as the Lord intends (1 Cor 12:12-14, 25).

A question and a challenge

Last week, I mentioned two things I hoped to get more response on, so here it goes again.

Would any of you reading this post be interested in learning more about inductive Bible study? If that sounds interesting, let me know.

Here are 3 things I want to challenge you to do—

  1. Review your own life as a believer in Jesus—What stands out as most important to your spiritual growth and why?
  2. Who is the most influential spiritual leader in your life, so far? Why?
  3. What’s been most helpful to you in your pursuit to know God?

I'd love to hear your responses to any of the above. You can post it in the comments for this post, or post it on the Word-Strong Facebook page.

Thanks for reading and please feel free to share this post!