Great place for a quick excursion.
Do you have Faith in your Feelings?
In 1952, Norman Vincent Peale wrote a book entitled, The Power of Positive Thinking: A Practical Guide to Mastering the Problems of Everyday Living. It’s at least forty-five years since I bought it and I have no idea what I did with it. But the book promoted positive thinking as the antidote for about everything between being depressed and being over-weight.
The book was popular at the time, but I haven’t heard anything about it for years. It is true that attitude is a powerful motivator and there is nothing wrong with being a positive person. But I’ve noticed during my lifetime that this idea has filtered strongly into Christian teaching and theology. Only we call it “assurance of salvation.”
In some circles a lack of assurance is one of the worst sins you can struggle with. It seems that God will forgive about anything except that. I suspect that lots of Christians try to whip themselves into enough of a spiritual frenzy often enough that they can assure themselves that they are okay. But does this actually open any doors into heaven?
I’ve often wondered about that. Positive thinking doesn’t change facts. I was unacquainted with grits until I was an adult. One day we visited a conference and stayed with a young couple for several nights. The man of the house regaled me with stories about the wonderful breakfasts his wife made, and I looked forward to it all night long. I hopped out of bed licking my lips.
To understand this story, you need to know several things about me. One is that I like good food. Another is that I have never, even as a baby, liked to eat baby food or anything of that texture. Cream of wheat, wheat-lets, and even oatmeal porridge were NOT something I enjoyed. So you might understand why my heart dropped when I got to the table that morning.
Grits, I discovered, are what we called cornmeal mush when I was growing up. I could keep it down if I had to, but it was hard for me to stomach. I have only been served grits twice in my adult life, but I remember both times very vividly. And all the positive thinking I could produce, and all the anticipation I had, made no difference.
Similarly, I doubt that God will be impressed with the sinner who has drummed up a lot of good feeling in his life. Jesus talked about people who claimed they had healed the sick and cast out demons in His name. But He brushed them aside. He called them workers of iniquity. I imagine those people had wonderful testimonies about assurance. They probably looked down on the poor Christians who, like the tax collector, would not even raise their eyes to heaven but struck themselves on the chest saying, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner!’ (see Luke 18:13 CSB)
I believe that a Christian can find peace in Christ. He doesn’t need to wake up in fear in the middle of the night. But our faith needs to be placed in Christ, not in our feelings.
Jesus, my Lord and Master
Many things about tomorrow,
I don’t seem to understand,
But I know who holds tomorrow,
And I know who holds my hand.
The beginning of a new year tends to make you stop and evaluate where you have been and where you are going. Self-evaluation is a good exercise. It can also be a troublesome or discouraging one.
For instance, am I walking closer to God than I did a year ago? Am I more victorious over temptation than I was a year ago? Am I putting my heart into the Kingdom of God like I did a year ago? Is my love for my fellowman growing or diminishing?
I suspect that most of us feel we fell short in these areas last year. But what are we going to do about it? Write up a list of resolutions which will fall by the wayside during the next month or so? I’ve been there and done that. I know one or two people with enough self-discipline and determination to make a change in their lives if they decide to. But that is not true for most of us, and we may as well admit it. I will not become a better person this year than I was last year without some help.
That help may come from my brothers and sisters. I am not discrediting that because we all need that kind of help. But I’m troubled with our increased dependence on accountability groups and counselling centers. In the long run, human helps will only help us if we have allowed God’s grace to operate in our lives. Ephesians 2:4-10 is a wonderful passage that should be precious to every Christian. But unfortunately, so many people stop reading at the end of verse 9. According to verse 10, grace turns us into a new creation. We become God’s workmanship not our own.
This doesn’t happen overnight. All of us need to continue to grow. But that growth will only come as we allow God’s grace to work in us. Our victory and our spiritual development are intrinsically linked to the closeness of our relationship with God. This coming year will be one long progression of tomorrows. At this point we have no idea what those tomorrows hold for us. But if we walk with God today, we can leave tomorrow in His hands. At the end of 2020, we can look back and say, “I have walked with God this year.”
He holds tomorrow in His control. He holds this year in His hands. I can face this year with the power of His grace, because I know He holds my hand. If I fall, He will help me up. If I lose my way, He will guide me back to the right path. If I face grief, He will comfort me. If I find new victories, He will rejoice with me.
He holds tomorrow because He holds my hand today.
Lord, I have shut the door,
Speak now the word
Which in the din and throng
Could not be heard;
Hushed now my inner heart,
Whisper Thy will,
While I have come apart,
While all is still.
Worship can spring from many things. For instance, watching the beauty of a sunset or holding a new baby might trigger worship. Or a Bible verse we read or a song we sing might spark it. But these things just plant the seed for worship. Worship can grow from these things, but they are not worship themselves.
God will respond to worship. When King Solomon prayed, fire fell from heaven. When Elijah worshipped God spoke in a still small voice. When David worshipped, he wrote psalms expressing the feelings in his heart. When Jesus worshipped—spending whole nights in prayer—He was strengthened for His work.
I get the feeling that too many Christians seldom worship. They may go to church and call it a worship service, but how many people really worship in church? I suppose worship can be many different things to different people. Personality can influence our concept of worship and so can our background or culture. But genuine worship is more than a formula. It doesn’t come and go in deference to our schedule.
But what is worship? It is one of those indefinable things; almost impossible to explain. But when you worship you know it. Worship will always change you and draw you closer to God. About the best parallel I can think of is a nursing baby. A hungry baby lives to nurse, and lives because they nurse. Nursing is more than a physical experience for a baby, it is a time of spiritual union with its mother. It is important for the mother to realize this and to take time for her little one, because the child’s future depends on that bonding.
I think we could describe worship as a time of spiritual bonding between us and God. It moves both our heart and God’s heart. Unlike some human mothers, God will always take time for our worship. He never rushes through it, and He gives us his complete attention. I believe that the Christian who never worships will eventually die spiritually.
To be genuine, worship needs to include emotion, but not all emotions are genuine worship. For instance, I can feel the emotion of a Hillsong musical piece, but I don’t feel as if I’d worshipped after listening to it. I am more sympathetic with the Quaker concept of worship being quietness; a time of communion with God—a time when God speaks to you, and you listen and a time when you speak to God and He listens, though that is often secondary.
Worship is a merging of natures—our nature becoming more blended with God’s nature—and we come away from it spiritually renewed by our contact with God’s presence.
Author: Rodney Stark
Format: Paper back, 246 pages
Abstract: A history of the early church writen from a socialogical perspective.
I ran across this book during my research for the current project I’m working on, and it is quite intriquing. The author was Professor of Sociology and Comparative Religion at the University of Washington when he wrote this book toward the end of the 20th century.
Stark was especially interested in explaining the growth and development of Christianity in the first three centuries after Christ. He notes that the Roman Empire didn’t consider Christianity a political threat or it would have wiped it out very quickly in its earlier stages. He tosses around various growth rates. That was what drew me to the book in the first place–I wanted an accurate estimate of the size of the Christian population at the end of the third century.
If you are like me, you have been told that Christianity was mostly a religion appealing to the poor and the slaves. Stark makes a convincing argument that this wasn’t really the case. He feels that Christianity had a lot of friends in high places and that the cult-like status of Christianity would have appealed to part of the upper class of the Roman population.
I was also quite interested in his discussion of the animal-like behavior of the general population that led them to be interested in killing as a spectator sport. Christians were thrown to the lions or slaughtered by gladiators to the cheers of a blood-drunk crowd. He also notes that had all of those Christians recanted and been cleared, the spectacle would have continued. The authorities would simply have found other people to be slaughtered. This was part of the essence of being Roman. But he goes on to note how the pressure of Christianity forced this to change gradually.
In our world today, Christianity is often degraded. I enjoyed reading a positive book by a scholar who gives good reasons for not feeling that way about my faith.
This book is well worth reading, if you enjoy reading an accademic level treatise.
What happens when a man writes his worst secrets in a journal but dies before he can burn it?
I have finished the work
God gave me.
I have fought the good fight,
I have finished the race,
I have kept the faith.
I wonder what last words people will remember me by…