WHO’S IN & WHO’S OUT?

WHO’S IN & WHO’S OUT?

In his novel, A Painted House, John Grisham describes a Sunday school teacher eulogizing a mean character named Jerry Sisco, who had been killed the night before in a back alley fight after he picked on one person too many.

In the words of the little boy who had seen the fight with his friend Dewayne: “She made Jerry sound like a Christian and an innocent victim. I glanced at Dewayne, who had one eye on me. There was something odd about this. As Baptists, we’d been taught from the cradle that the only way you made it to heaven was by believing in Jesus and trying to follow his example in living a clean and moral Christian life… And anyone who did not accept Jesus and live a Christian life simply went to hell. That’s where Jerry Sisco was, and we all knew it.”

Did you grow up believing that? I did.  But growing up with a belief is not the same as coming to grips with it in adulthood. Is what we learned as children valid? Is Jesus himself as categorical and exclusive as all that? 

Many years ago, I sat across the table from a man who almost lost his faith over this issue. He had friends – people he loved and respected – who had a much broader view of things. They told him he was very narrow-minded to believe that Jesus was the only way.  Would they be lost, damned for all eternity, if they refused to believe like the boys in Grisham’s novel?

We don’t have to wonder. Jesus made it crystal clear in Matthew 7:21-27.

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

24 “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” [1]

He followed that up with an even more exclusive statement in John’s gospel:

 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”[2]

Membership in the kingdom does not depend on what we say, how religious we are, or how moral we are. Membership belongs to those who believe and from that belief obey. Membership in the kingdom is not about creeds or images. It is about heart and action. Membership does not depend on what we think of Jesus.  Membership in the Kingdom of God and where we go when we die depends on what Jesus thinks of us.

What does he think of you?


[1] The New International Version. (2011). (Mt 7:21–27). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] John 14:6 NIV

GOOD FRIDAY AND THE PROBLEM OF EVIL

GOOD FRIDAY AND THE PROBLEM OF EVIL

One of the great questions of the skeptic, the greatest objection to Christianity as we know it is: How can a good God let bad things happen to good people? How does Christianity deal with that question?

The standard answers run something like this:
 He loves us but he isn’t powerful enough to do anything about it.
 He’s powerful enough to do something but he really doesn’t love us.
 He’s not there.

But when we look at Psalm 22 and see that David prophesied all of it 1000 years before Christ quoted it from the Cross, it opens up an answer that we hadn’t considered:

God is doing something to overcome evil that we never would have dreamed.
• He is wrestling evil to the death in the body of the king of goodness.
• He is swallowing all injustice in the suffering of the just one.
• He is putting out the fire of death in the unquenchable life of the Living One.
• He is breaking the power of sin and the curse by nailing it to the Cross of the sinless one.

What did God do with the problem of evil? He absorbed it all in the person of his son who sang the great question out of the depth of his soul while nailed to a cross.

PREPARE FOR CULTURAL ICE STORMS

PREPARE FOR CULTURAL ICE STORMS

Our rural Virginia county got hit hard by the recent ice storms. It wasn’t as bad as Texas, but many people who had generators were still running them and hauling “flush water” a week later. And good luck buying a generator if you weren’t prepared.

Another storm is coming, a cultural ice storm that, like Narnia’s Ice Queen, is already freezing free speech, intimidating the weak, and punishing dissenters. Most of us are unprepared. Rod Dreher is and his recent books, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post Christian Nation (2017), and Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents (2020), will alert readers, all readers, not just Christians, to what’s ahead and help them develop a plan.

I know that sounds sensational. Alarmist rhetoric across media has made us wary of all warnings. But when all the signs indicate a storm is coming, it is time to ring the bell and make a plan.

Some recent examples: A friend and tenured professor at a state university tells me his department’s deputy director is pushing a diversity statement—Dreher calls it “a formal statement of loyalty to the ideology of diversity”—all faculty must sign. The situation is serious enough that he has retained legal counsel. The Virginia Values Act, which threatens freedom of conscience for all Virginians, was signed into law last July. Amazon just blocked the sale of Ryan Anderson’s When Harry Became Sally, the most scholarly, well-researched, and unpretentious book—every parent of a child in public school should read it—on the subject of transgenderism. School teachers tell me that their social media accounts are being watched, and somebody will punish them for any speech deemed out of line by school boards who are rapidly adopting state diversity guidelines. The Equal Rights Amendment will soon enshrine in Federal Law what the Virginia Values Act does on the state level. Attorneys who work in the religious freedom arena tell me that Christian business owners are increasingly at risk for business-destroying lawsuits. Politicians and policy wonks tell me the laws pursued by the left in general and the LGBTQ lobby, in particular, are meant not to secure equality of access—they already have that—but to “punish the wicked,” i.e., religious and other conservatives who disagree with them.

Meditate on that for a moment. It means using state and federal law to force agreement. Read thought police.

Dreher says, “As a journalist who writes about these issues, I often hear stories from people—always white-collar professionals like academics, doctors, lawyers, engineers—who live closeted lives as religious or social conservatives. They know that to dissent from the progressive regime in  the workplace, or even to be suspected of dissent, would likely mean burning their careers at the stake.”[1] He calls what’s happening “soft totalitarianism” and defines it thus:

Back in the Soviet era, totalitarianism demanded love for the Party, and compliance with the Party’s demands was enforced by the state. Today’s totalitarianism demands allegiance to a set of progressive beliefs, many of which are incompatible with logic—and certainly with Christianity. Compliance is forced less by the state than by elites who form public opinion, and by private corporations that, thanks to technology, control our lives far more than we would like to admit…Today in our societies, dissenters from the woke party line find their businesses, careers, and reputations destroyed. They are pushed out of the public square, stigmatized, canceled, and demonized as racists, sexists, homophobes, and the like. And they are afraid to resist, because they are confident that no one will join them or defend them.[2]

Samuel James, writing for Christianity Today, finds Dreher’s thesis unconvincing, commenting, “prophecy is tough work, and people who share the deepest religious and social convictions can nonetheless interpret all the moving parts differently.” I hope he is right. But Dreher’s cultural analysis has been dead on target so far.

Jesus rebuked his enemies by telling them, “You can read the weather, but you cannot read the signs of the times.” Rod Dreher has read the signs. Christians and others who believe in truth, reality, freedom, and justice need to prepare for what’s coming. Dreher’s insights are an excellent place to start.


[1] Rod Dreher, Live Not By Lies, p. 58.

[2] Ibid, p. 8-9.

THE PLOW An Ash Wednesday Reflection

THE PLOW An Ash Wednesday Reflection

Every summer, we enjoy another of the benefits of living in a rural community: garden-fresh fruits and vegetables. I thought I knew what a fresh tomato was before I moved to the country. But then I ate an Abbott tomato. I thought I knew what sweet was, but then I tasted a Turbeville cantaloupe.

One such garden was across the street from our house. But none of its fruit would’ve been possible without Mr. Rice from down the street. He didn’t water the ground. He didn’t plant the seed. He didn’t even help in the harvest. He just appeared on his tractor every spring with the thing every garden needs: the plow. 

The plow is hard and sharp. It rips through weeds, punctures the hard surface, and breaks up the clotted dirt. The plow prepares the ground for the beginning of life-giving things.

The spiritual life has a parallel in the plow: repentance. Repentance penetrates hardened hearts, breaking up clods that clog our souls. Repentance opens the way for the word of God to work down into the soil of personality and bring forth the sweet fruit of a life empowered by the Spirit. Repentance is the first step in ‘putting off the old life’ and ‘putting on the new.’ Nothing happens without it.

Today is Ash Wednesday when some Christians mark their heads with an ashen cross to begin the season of Lent, a concentrated period of personal repentance before Easter. That’s good if it helps. Like an unused plow in an abandoned field, repentance has rusted away in our “self-esteem is everything” culture. But repentance is a spiritual discipline that requires regular practice if it’s to do us any good.

Nehemiah shows us how to do it.

Repentance Reviews the Offense

Repentance calls sin, sin. Nehemiah said, “I confess the sins…we have committed, including myself.” Neh.1: 6b-7.

There goes that plow blade, right into the toughest part of the ground, the hardened surface of self. We come before God and say, “Lord, I did it. It wasn’t my environment, it wasn’t my job, it wasn’t my family, I did something wrong, and I’m responsible for it.”

Repentance Is Specific 

Nehemiah confessed sins of commission, doing what we know is wrong. “We have acted very wickedly toward you,” he said. We might say it this way: “God, I have been corrupt in my dealings with you. I’ve played the religious pretend game. On the outside, I look fine. On the inside, my heart is far from you.”

Corruption is a heart hardening thing. It needs a sharp plow.

Nehemiah also confessed sins of omission, failing to do what we know is right. We have not obeyed the commands… you gave to Moses.”

Finally, Nehemiah confessed to group sins. He used the plural pronoun, “We.” We don’t imagine ourselves responsible for what our culture is doing. But when we fail to speak up for the defenseless unborn, are we not responsible? When we fail to care for the poor, are we not neglecting our responsibilities?

Repentance reviews the offense and takes responsibility, putting everything out on the table between God and us. That is essential if we want a response.

It has been a long time now since we ate the fruit of the garden across the street. The neighbors who tended it died or moved away, grass and trees now fill the lot. I chatted with Mr. Rice about that. He said, “I’ve been plowing gardens for folks in town here for decades. At one time, there were thirty-five that I plowed every spring. Now there are less than five.”

When I observe our culture and see the poison it produces, I wonder if the reason is that we have stopped tending the garden of the soul, we have stopped turning over the soil of the spirit with the plow of repentance. 

GENESIS 2021 Building Our Future on Stable Ground

GENESIS 2021 Building Our Future on Stable Ground

Fans of the first Star Trek movies remember that in The Wrath of Khan, the villain tried to destroy the Starship Enterprise by detonating an experimental terraforming device called Genesis. We learned in The Search for Spock, that the planet that emerged from that explosion was beautiful but unstable, doomed to devour itself in earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. David Marcus, a key scientist on the project, revealed the reason. He had used a restricted substance, “proto-mater,” to speed up the process. What should have been a utopia was doomed from the start by the hubris of its creator.

By 1984 standards, the special effects were excellent. But that is not what made me think of Star Trek movies at one o’clock this morning.

2020 has been an epic disaster. People will make movies about it. Heroes and villains will emerge. Everyone hopes 2021 will be better than 2020. But the biblical worldview warns us that we dare not anchor our hopes here. It tells us that God made us good, but in our hubris, we inserted an element to make life better. We rebelled and corrupted all our capacities in the process. We took earth with us when we fell, and because of the fall, we can count on two things.

First, the earth itself, in the form of earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, and yes, pandemics, will oppose us. “Cursed is the ground,” God said to our first parents and earth’s first stewards. “Thorns and thistles, it will produce for you till you return to the dust from which you were formed.”  

Second, our best Utopia-building efforts will be fatally flawed because we are fatally flawed. Like Dr. Marcus in Star Trek, we cannot resist the temptation to hurry-up success. In our hubris, we add ingredients to life guaranteed to produce catastrophic, if unintended, consequences.

We need a savior, someone who can break the curse and reverse the consequences of the fall; someone who can cancel our corruption and restore true goodness to men and women. And the good news is, we just celebrated his arrival at Christmas.

The babe of Bethlehem became the man on the mountain who began his ministry by saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” His recipe for success, called The Sermon on the Mount[1], has no shortcuts, no place for hubris, only humility, faith, and love. He ended that sermon with this practical application.

“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”[2]

The vaccines may work. Life might return to something like normal. But because of the fall, we can count on two things: something else will come along to destabilize the world, and in our hubris, it might be us!   Build your house on the rock. Put your hope in Christ in 2021. He is the only savior.


[1] See the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 5-7.

[2] The New International Version. (2011). (Mt 7:24–27). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

THE WAY GOD DOES HOPE

THE WAY GOD DOES HOPE

God delivers hope in the strangest ways. When we want hope, we look for it in large promises made by powerful people. But when God provides hope, it looks like a tiny mustard seed covered in dirt. Like a pinch of leaven in a batch of dough, kneaded to a rubbery lump and left to rise in the dark, God’s hope comes to unlikely people in unknown places. And with it comes a crisis.

That’s the story of Jesus’ birth, well told in New Line Cinema’s 2006, The Nativity Story. The gritty reality of a family from impoverished Nazareth, staggering under cruel Roman oppression, comes through like no other movie on the birth of Christ in recent memory. Nothing is romanticized. Cecil B. DeMille would not recognize the sets or the clothing. The cast learned how to use the era’s tools, build houses, crush grapes and olives, milk goats, and make goat cheese.

Everything feels authentic, including Ciarán Hinds’ (Star Wars, Game of Thrones) menacing, paranoid, ruthless Herod. He reminds us that evil is everpresent when God is at work. Nazareth’s Jews’ stifling legalism is also palpable as Mary returns, obviously pregnant, from her visit with Elizabeth. The three wise men provide comic relief and a cosmic perspective on the birth of the King of Kings. But Oscar Isaac’s smitten, conflicted, and finally, courageous Joseph is the hero of the story. His portrayal of Jesus’ adopted father is a beautiful example of the positive power of a good man who puts others before himself.

Sadly, the weakest performance in the film is Keisha Castle-Hughes’ Mary. It may have been the script, but her portrayal, while authentic in biblical detail, seemed flat. Still, her and Joseph’s steadiness in the crisis of faith created by God’s entrance into their lives is worth the Amazon rental price. It reminds us that that is how God works hope into our lives. Not in big promises made by influential people but through small acts of faith by regular people facing the crises of obedience.

The smallest of seeds an inch deep in the dirt. A pinch of leaven in the dough in the dark. The greatest of kings born in the most humble of places. That is how God does hope. Watch The Nativity Story and find your hope this Christmas.  

STRESSED-OUT CHRISTMAS REMEDY

STRESSED-OUT CHRISTMAS REMEDY

The first Christmas wasn’t all angels singing, shepherds kneeling, and Magi giving gifts. It was also Joseph doubting, Mary wondering, Rachel weeping, and the family fleeing into Egypt. They were stressed out by Christmas too.

Depending on whom you ask, Christmas is either the best or worst time of the year. For some, “it’s those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings when friends come to call!” For others, it is time to sing the blues.  

True, the oft-quoted myth that suicides peak during Christmas is just that, a myth.[1] The rates go down.

On the other hand, WebMD reports that “Holiday blues are a pretty common problem despite the fact that as a society, we see the holidays as a joyous time,” says Rakesh Jain, MD, director of psychiatric drug research at the R/D Clinical Research Center in Lake Jackson, Texas.[2]

In other words, we’re less likely to do ourselves in but more likely to think about it. Especially at the end of 2020!

Those of us who have lost family members in the past few years, or been through the trauma of divorce, are most prone to the Christmas blues. Reminders of loved ones gone come in as many colors as gift wrap, and the complications of conflicts with step-families and feuding parents are well-documented sources of holiday unhappiness. Add to that this year’s pandemic pandemonium, the restrictions on travel, amplified expectations for joy, the stress of preparations, shopping, lack of exercise, and extra eating, and it’s no wonder some of us get grumpy and sad.

So if Blue Christmas is your holiday hymn, here are a few ideas to help you change your tune.

Usually, I would encourage you to change your environment. Humans are creatures of habit and highly sensitive to our environments. When we do the same things, the same ways, in the same places year after year, it can be challenging to associate Christmas with joy, especially if the people who were part of that joy are no longer present. We might not want to travel this year, but we can do different things to celebrate. I’m planning to build a fire-pit outside. We’re going to hang some outdoor lights and maybe drive through the South Boston Speedway light show one weekend. The point is, make some changes.

Change your traditions. Change the routine. Drop some old habits and build some new ones. Never baked Christmas cookies? Try it. Tired of baking? Stow your cookie sheets and try cakes or pies.

Change your attitude about grief. Grief is like the tide; it comes in and goes out on a schedule unpredictable for us. We don’t think it’s appropriate for the holidays, so we try to restrain it. But that’s the worst thing we can do. Like an ocean wave, grief has an energy, and that energy will find an outlet, even if we try to suppress it. Anger, bitterness, resentment, and depression can be the results. Better to adopt a new paradigm for dealing with grief, to ride the wave rather than stand against it. When we learn to do that, grief can help us heal and experience new kinds of joy. “Blessed are those who mourn,” Jesus said, “for they will be comforted.” We can’t be comforted if we refuse to mourn.

Finally, change your theology. Remember that the first Christmas wasn’t all angels singing, shepherds kneeling, and Magi giving gifts. It was also Joseph doubting, Mary wondering, Rachel weeping, and the family fleeing into Egypt. They were stressed out by Christmas too.

And while you remember that, remember this: The food, the gifts, family, and friends are only the celebrants and elements of the celebration. The real joy is in the Christ child who came to “save his people from their sins,” and in the knowledge that God on high has declared “peace on earth to men on whom his favor rests.”    


[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hide-and-seek/201212/is-suicide-more-common-christmas-time

[2] http://www.webmd.com/depression/features/emotional-survival-guide-for-holidays

CUP ‘A JOE WITH A HERO

CUP ‘A JOE WITH A HERO

I was a 25-year-old seminary student trying to sort through the meaning of ministry and leadership in a world without heroes. He was a 65-year-old retired U.S. Army Colonel and decorated combat veteran who had built harbors and airstrips from Normandy to Berlin in WWII. Roads and bridges across Korea, often under heavy fire, and twice wounded in the efforts. In retirement, he led an international security agency, served as a police chief in his hometown, and later became a roaming construction superintendent.

By the time I met Marc Walters on that job site in Memphis, multiple surgeries had weakened his once powerful body. He operated out of an old RV that doubled as his home on the hotel project we were building. I was looking for mentors, and he was John Wayne writ large, a tangible hero and nothing at all like the well-scrubbed theologians I was studying under at the time. Watching him handle the rough men on that job was an education no seminary could provide.

I was his gofer, aide de camp if you like. Every time we met, over every cup of joe, I asked questions and then just listened; questions about men, about values, about leadership under pressure. As winter gave way to spring, he shared his stories, and I worked hard to earn his respect. Their small-town church had scorned him and his wife because of her alcoholism. And though he was the son and grandson of Baptist preachers, he had not been to church in many years.

I knew that his health was failing, and one morning, as we finished our coffee, he got quiet, lit his pipe, and just looked at me for a moment. “I’ve told my family I may not make it through this next surgery,” he said. “And if I don’t, I’ve told them I want you to do my funeral. You’re an honorable young man, and I’m proud to know you.”

It was at once the greatest compliment I’d ever received, and the moment I had been praying about for months, providing the opportunity to talk about his spiritual life and his eternity. God gave us his grace that morning.

My friend survived. Because of our friendship, I think some reconciliation took place in his life and family, for which I was grateful. And I learned three valuable things. First, men who have seen combat, who have experienced life stripped to its essentials, know things most non-veterans cannot understand. Second, there is great value in listening to an older man tell his tale without hastening judgment on his life. Finally, the best ministry is not the kind that comes from pulpits, but life shared between friends over a cup ‘a joe in the quiet spaces.

Remember to thank a veteran today.

A POST ELECTION PRAYER FOR ALL BELIEVERS

A POST ELECTION PRAYER FOR ALL BELIEVERS

I woke this morning and found about what I expected, an undecided election fraught with the potential for significant conflict in our country. As one commentator said last week, “This is going to make Florida’s hanging chads in 2000 look like a cake-walk.” Thankfully, as a result of that debacle, the Supreme Court rendered a decision that all ballots must be counted and turned in by December 8, six days before the electoral college meets. So, we should have a decision, if no less conflict, by then.

I grieve for our country and pray for it daily, but my chief concern is for the Church of Jesus Christ. We are “the support and pillar of the truth”[1] and cannot stop speaking it even when the world would rather not hear it. But we are also required by our Lord to be peacemakers in this world.[2] We are also commanded to “make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” within the Church.[3]

With those three tasks in mind, I offer the following prayer, adapted from 1 Peter chapter 1, and I ask you to pray it with me for ourselves and for all who bow the knee to Jesus Christ over the next month.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade—kept in heaven for us, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

Though we have not seen him, we love him; and even though we do not see him now, we believe in him, and are filled with inexpressible joy, for we are receiving the goal of our faith, the salvation of our souls.

Therefore, Father, we ask that you help us prepare our minds for action, be self-controlled, and fully set our hope on the grace to be given us when Jesus Christ is revealed. Please help us, Father, as obedient children, not conform to the evil desires we had when we lived in ignorance of you and your Son. Please help us, Father, to be holy because you are holy.

Since we call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, help us live our lives as strangers here in reverent fear. For, we were not redeemed with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

Finally, because we have been purified by obeying the truth, help us to love one another deeply, from the heart, recognizing that we have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

For, all men are like grass, and all their glory like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.

Amen.


[1] 1 Timothy 3:15

[2] Matthew 5:9; James 3:18

[3] Ephesians 4:3

FOUR STEPS TO SPIRITUAL STRENGTH

Multiple months of isolation are not good for anyone’s spiritual life. Because of that, I spent the summer—and I’m not done—visiting one-on-one with the men in our church, asking several diagnostic questions. Among other things, I’ve been trying to measure the impact of the pandemic on our spiritual lives and figure out how to help. The first two questions are 1. How has the virus affected your spiritual life? 2. What do you do to keep yourself spiritually healthy?

The answers have sometimes been encouraging, occasionally concerning, and always informative. So, I’ll take a moment here to thank the men for sharing their valuable time as well as their transparency.

The stronger our spiritual life—defined as growing confidence in God and a willingness to follow his lead—the happier and healthier we and those around us will be. But the number one takeaway I’ve gathered from these interviews is how hard it is to maintain spiritual growth in isolation. With that in mind, I offer four practical steps to a healthy spiritual life.

Pray Every Day

Nothing is more important than the ongoing conversation you have with God about yourself, his world, and your place in it. Find a quiet place where you can maintain privacy and engage with God every day. It doesn’t take long. I seldom spend more than twenty minutes praying but rarely less than ten.

Three things are essential with this practice, consistency, reflection, and listening. Do not let feelings distract you. Emotional satisfaction comes and goes. Ignore it. Give God permission to shine his light into every corner of your life. Block out external distractions.

Consume Scripture Daily

Some folks do very well with the Bible In One Year app I recommended last year. I didn’t, and neither did some of the men. “I got lost in Leviticus,” said one. I can relate. If the One Year Bible is not your style, find a different path. For me, deep reflection in one chapter, or even one paragraph, of scripture is much more instructive. Caveat: If you’ve never read the whole Bible, you should. It will provide context for the deep dive. But if you don’t have time or find it challenging to absorb, there are several devotional aids available.

A list follows in the footnote. [1]


Absorb Practical Teaching

Helpful books, podcasts, and sermon series are out there on every conceivable topic. Some months I put the Bible aside and read a good book during my quiet time. Search the Books tab on Christianbook.com  or visit your church library. Aim for a chapter a day, and you’ll cover a lot of ground.

Listen for Specifics

God is speaking to us through his word, but what he says to you might differ from what I hear in the same verse. That’s because we are different people at different stages of life. Listen for things specific to your life. Write them in the margin of your Bible (I often date mine) or in your journal. Go back and review them from time to time.

Put it into Practice  

Take one thing you hear in your time alone with God and try to apply it that day. Take one thing you hear in the sermon that Sunday and practice it that week. Nothing pleases Him better or helps us more than when by faith, we follow his path.

One of the books I’m reading this year is Dr. Robert S. Miller’s Spiritual Survival Handbook For Cross-Cultural Workers. It is only one hundred pages and, as the title indicates, written for missionaries. But it’s lessons apply across the board. Here’s his take on personal spiritual growth.

“The Holy Spirit longs to establish a solid sense of self in every one of us. Talents, skills, charisma, and training are wonderful tools…but if we have not graduated from the identity school led by the Spirit of God, then all our…efforts are built on sinking sand. God’s identity classes are held every day. They are twenty-four hours long. All the classes are practicums. We learn by watching our Teacher and following His example.”


[1] Daily Devos Online – Our Daily Bread has an app! Read, listen, and join in the conversation online. Pastor Rick Warren, author of the bestseller, Purpose Driven Life, has an excellent daily devo at pastorrick.com. Pastor Greg Laurie is one of my favorite evangelists and teachers. J. D. Greear is the leader of Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham and a great teacher.