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.

TRUE SCAM STORY and how to avoid it

TRUE SCAM STORY and how to avoid it

It started with a friendly phone call about software support. It ended up costing the church over $700 and a boatload of trouble. Just to relieve your mind, no church member’s Social Security numbers were exposed, and we’ve contacted the half dozen employees and former employees that might have been.

On May 20, 2019, our office received a call from a nice guy named Matt Roberts, claiming that he was our new Quickbooks account representative and providing a phone number for product support (note: Intuit owns Quickbooks). We wrote the number down and thought nothing of it. In March of 2020, we had an issue and called Matt. They forwarded us to Lisa, who explained that we had a corrupted file, and to fix it, we needed a new software support subscription. We thought we had all the support subscriptions we needed but, I was in a hurry that day, we couldn’t issue a payroll check until the problem was solved, and software support is always expensive. We had just switched to Windows 10 and knew that there were potential issues with corrupted files. Finally, we believed we were talking to Intuit.

We weren’t. We were talking to a shadow software support firm called QB Support Solutions. But we still did not know that. They required a $700 one year subscription and remote access to our computer to fix the problem. My office admin assistant said, “Something doesn’t seem right about this.” I should have listened. But Quickbooks is not my thing, I don’t know how to fix corrupted files, the people sounded genuine, and as I said, we were in a hurry. We paid with an e-check straight from our bank, gave them access to the computer, and they fixed it—end of the story.

Except it wasn’t. Two weeks ago we had another issue with the computer. The office admin called QB Support and got the run-around. In the meantime, we thought we had evidence that someone was trying to access the office computer without permission remotely. We finally started digging. We called Intuit directly. They fixed the problem in about an hour. That’s when we discovered that Intuit won’t call you unless you request it and they will always leave a case number for the call. QB Support Solutions is not an Intuit company or contractor, Matt and Lisa are not and never have been Intuit employees, and their phone numbers have never been Intuit numbers. We also discovered that the physical address on QB Support Solutions letterhead did not match the same on their website, GoogleMaps cannot find their physical address, and they won’t return our phone calls.

We froze all outgoing checks from our account for two days, opened a new account, consulted with an IT specialist, closed the old account, and got the computer fixed.

We got scammed. But it could have been worse

Software scams are much like spiritual scams. Jesus said the devil is a thief and a liar. The Apostle Paul warned us to be wary of the devil’s schemes. He deceived us in the garden, and he is still deceiving today. A few parallels with our spiritual lives might help us avoid both kinds.

Deception is most potent when we have a pressing need, we don’t know how to meet it, and we’re in too much of a hurry to think it through. We’re lonely but can’t find the relationship we need. We need money and don’t know how to get it. We’re goal-oriented but feel stifled. Or we need to process a paycheck but can’t make the software work.

Deception looks like the real thing and sounds genuine. It fits a pattern that worked in the past and fulfills a need in the short term. It plays on our trust. Alarm bells may sound, but we don’t have time. A short-cut appears, and we take it. In the end, it “bites like a serpent and stings like an adder.”

These may seem obvious, but a few things to do if your alarm bells are sounding:

  1. Listen to the alarm. Pay attention to what it is telling you. (Gal. 5:21; 6:7-8; Acts 20:31).
  2. Slow down. Postpone whatever is next on your list—it probably wasn’t that important anyway—and work the problem. (Prov. 19:2; 25:8).
  3. Dig deeper. Go to the source. Read the Scriptures. (Matt. 22:29; Acts 17:11).
  4. Take action. (Prov. 6:1-5; 1 Cor. 6:18; 10:14; 1Tim. 6:2-12).

WHO DO YOU TRUST?

WHO DO YOU TRUST?

Years ago, preachers learned to do their work with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. If we are not connecting the sacred text to what is happening in the world, we aren’t doing our jobs. Now the internet, smartphones, and tablets substitute for physical newspapers, but the task is still the same. We need a steady stream of reliable reporting, relevant stories, and biblical worldview analysis of events to speak with any relevance.

But, as John Stonestreet recently wrote, “Information comes at us in waves, with conjecture in the place of facts and assertions in the place of arguments.” Who can we trust?

Last week’s blog, READING THE TIMES, explains how to sort the wheat from the chaff in our media. Today, I thought it would be helpful to recommend a few of the sources I count on each week to inform my sermons and this blog.

THE WORLD AND EVERYTHING IN IT is the daily news podcast from World News Group whose mission is biblically objective reporting. Often referred to as NPR from a Christian Worldview: Each weekday morning, enjoy daily radio news, interviews, commentary, and original features reported from the field. Today’s Washington Wednesday interview, Beijing Unmasked, with foreign policy analyst Will Inboden is a great example. Nine minutes with no commercial interruptions. You won’t get that in-depth on any evening news broadcast. Inboden served in the State Department and the National Security Council under former President George W. Bush. He’s now executive director of the Clements Center for National Security at the University of Texas at Austin.

I’m a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and have confidence in the integrity of their reporting. Find their main website at https://world.wng.org/ .

Breakpoint, the five-minute daily podcast from John Stonestreet and the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, is not a news service because it does not provide original reporting. But it does offer daily biblical worldview analysis on all kinds of things in our world. Producing the consistent quality of analysis and biblical commentary they provide is not easy, but they do it daily. Their April 17 article, The Viral Pandemic of Distrust and Misinformation, is a great example. I highly recommend it.

Christianity Today, the magazine and media organization founded by Billy Graham, is also a reliable resource for reporting on things of concern to believers around the world. It sometimes lacks the stringent objectivity that Editor In Chief Marvin Olasky imposes on World. Still, they have a broader scope than World publish authors from a larger cross-section of the Church than World.

Other news and analysis sources I follow online include NPR, National Review, Foxnews.com, The Wall Street Journal, CBSNews.com, WDBJ7.com, and news.google.com, which aggregates news from several sources. These require much more scrutiny for fact-checking and editorial point of view but can be useful in gathering multiple perspectives.

“He who answers before listening, that is his folly and shame…The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out.” Proverbs 18:13 & 15.