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
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 said to him, I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.
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.
And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of [reading] many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh. (Ecc 12:12)
I’ve been off work for most of the past several weeks with an abscessed tooth and a severe infection. During this time, I read a number of books just to try to keep my mind occupied with something else than my pain. But that got me to thinking about books…
I like books with complex characters and plots. Books like
Moby Dick that are an allegory if you read below the surface. That is a kind of
writing that seems to be almost extinct. Ted Dekker is one of the better ones
left, but he’s been straying into left field with his theology in his recent
I don’t read a lot of theology or doctrine anymore. Partly because I have a harder time following the complexity of writers like NT Wright since my TIA a few years ago. I do enjoy practical books and if I write a nonfiction book, that is the course I take. Theology is isn’t a lot of value to most people unless it is made simple and applied to everyday life. For instance, a friend sent me some books about the PSA view of the atonement versus the Cristo Victor view. It was a good discussion and answered some questions I had for a long time, but for most people the discussion is not really that practical.
But, like I said, I got to thinking about all this.
Right now, I’m reading a book, Except Ye Repent, by HA Ironside. Good book with some valuable insights. But I can’t help but notice how focuses change from book to book, and author to author, and preacher to preacher. For some, grace is everything. Any kind of work, including repentance or obedience is legalism. For others, repentance paves the way for grace. For still others, grace paves the way for obedience. Some wash their hands of it all and consider God malevolent, and irrelevant.
If you are the kind of person whose thinking reflects the last book you’ve read, this can be a real problem and put you on a spiritual roller coaster. Maybe I’m too cynical, but I’ve sort of shelved many of the debates I mention in the last paragraph. I know that I came to Jesus as a teenager and gave Him my heart. Theology wasn’t any part of that decision. I was an unhappy sinner and I wanted rid of the load of guilt. Jesus gave me peace and changed my life.
But in my library I have books that emphasize repentance, grace, obedience, eternal security or it’s opposite perspective (is there a name for that?), etc. I look around and see people who claim to be Christian but who live in evident sin. I see others who seem to have caught the essence of living for Christ. But none are perfect and if you watch long enough, they disappoint you as well. I even disappoint myself. Its easy to become bewildered by it all and wonder if it wouldn’t be better doing like Dan Barker and walking away from it all.
But then I look at the alternative. And I realize that it
isn’t even a consideration. So, I look back to Jesus, and suddenly life becomes
so much simpler. Jesus loved me and died for me so that I could be a child of
God. He forgives me when I fail and guides me through life. I can trust Him
when my favorite authors disappoint me. I can trust him when my favorite
preacher falls into sin. I can trust Him when my church or other Christian
structure lets me down. I can leave the theology to him, and I can trust my
eternal future into His hands. If I go astray, I can trust Him to gently bring
me back. I can even trust my family into His care.
Keep your eyes on Jesus!It makes life much easier.
Therefore… let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb 12:1-2 CSB)
What do overcomers need to overcome in order to be an overcomer? Not sin according to many of today’s evangelicals…
First, let me raise a question. Is it even possible for a
mortal to “overcome”? And a second question: If it isn’t possible, why does God
speak about it? Is He presenting us with a tantalizing target that he knows we
will never hit?
Think back to the Old Testament for a little. Peter told the
crowds in Acts 15 that the church should not put a yoke on the neck of the
gentiles that neither the Christian Jews or their forefathers had been able to
bear. In other words, the Jews had never really accomplished what the Law
required. It was always a step beyond human capability. But Peter went on to
say that both the Christians and their forefathers would be saved through the
grace of Christ.
So, God’s people never were overcomers in the truest sense
of the word. But it’s different now. Or isn’t it? When you read the Sermon on
the Mount, it appears that the target has moved. And it seems to be as far out
of reach as it ever was.
But would God give us a target that was out of reach? Let’s
consider a few more thoughts. In 1 Cor.
9:27 Paul wrote, “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when
I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” He seems to be
taking the concept of overcoming literally. In fact, this passage is in the
context of running a race and running it with the assumption that he could win.
So, is the target out of reach? Paul didn’t seem to think
so, though he realized that he could miss it.
John also talked about overcoming. In 1 John 5:4 he wrote, “For
whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has
overcome the world—our faith.”
Does this mean that the idea of overcoming is just an
abstract concept? Is he saying that if you are a Christian you will overcome—
but you actually won’t? That your faith will bridge that gap between what you
should be, according to the target, and what you really are, in the human
To add to the dilemma, let’s go back to Revelation. John
used the word “overcomes” eight times in Revelation. Each case appears to be a
caveat. Let me list them…
Those who overcome will eat of the tree of life (2:7)
Those who overcome will not be hurt by the second death (2:17)
Those who overcome and keep God’s works will have power over the nations (2:26)
Those who overcome will wear white garments. Jesus will not blot their names out of the book of life. He will confess their names before the Father and the angels. (3:5)
Those who overcome will be a pillar in God’s temple, will receive the name of God and the New Jerusalem, and the new name of Jesus. (3:12
Those who overcome will get to sit with Jesus on his throne (3:21)
Those who overcome will inherit all things and be the sons of God.
Those who don’t… ???
God hates sin because He is holy. He hates sin even if one of His children commits sin. Isaiah 59:2 states this:
“But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear.”
People have written entire books on this question. I haven’t
found anyone that gives an answer that seems satisfactory to me. I’m not
planning to write still another book about this, so let me summarize how I deal
with this in my own life.
First, I know that God loves me so deeply that I can’t even
comprehend it. He assures me in His word and by His Spirit that He absolutely
wants me to be an overcomer and join Him in eternity. He proved this to me by
sending His Son, Jesus, to die for me.
Second, I know that I can trust God. He knows my heart and I
believe that He will do His part in this whole scenario. He tells me to
overcome, so I believe that He will help me in the battle with sin and evil. He
has also promised me that His strength will be made perfect through weakness
and that His grace is sufficient to deal with my weakness (2 Cor 12:9).
Job put it this way: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust
Him.” Can I do any less?
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. Php 2:12, 13 (NKJV)
To summarize once again, to me this seems to be saying this.
I do my part by obeying Christ and He does his part by showing me what that
means. He also gives me the desire and the power to do so. I can safely trust
Him to make these reach together even though I can’t quite understand how they
One evening King David went for a walk on the roof of his palace. Close by the palace was another house, and a young woman was taking a bath on the roof. His lust got the best of him and he had his servants bring her to the palace. He committed adultery with her. When she told him she was pregnant, he tried to manipulate circumstances so that it would appear as if her husband was the father. When that didn’t work, he had her husband killed and married her. It seems he thought everything was covered up. But one day the prophet came to visit him and he realized that God knew.
David faced a lot of reaping. But the worst part was the guilt he felt. He had sinned against Bathsheba. He had sinned against her husband, Uriah. But most of all, he had sinned against God, and he loved God more than anyone else. He wrote this Psalm when this finally sank in and he realized the depth of his sin.
Read this passage carefully and note the verbs David used. They tell a story about the depth of his anguish, as well as the depth of his repentance.
Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your loving kindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight—That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me. Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me hear joy and gladness, That the bones You have broken may rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins, And blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners shall be converted to You. Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, The God of my salvation, And my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, And my mouth shall show forth Your praise. For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart—These, O God, You will not despise. Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion; Build the walls of Jerusalem. Then You shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, With burnt offering and whole burnt offering; Then they shall offer bulls on Your altar.
This is our only hope. When we realize the depth of our sinfulness, mercy is our only way out.
The very memory of sin brings back the memory of our guilt. I can’t blame David for wanting it gone.
Blotting it out still leaves the stain. David is saying, please God wash away the stain, and…
So that I can forget. And so that I never do such a thing again. [Can you sense his agony?]
There was no use in denying it any longer. He had sinned and he would need to face the repercussions.
He had already asked God to wash him and cleanse him. Purging is stronger. Use a stronger soap please, God. Scrub me.
Again. It seems that the stain just won’t go away.
Make me hear…
In case I’m tempted to forget the sinfulness of sin.
Again. Is there no end to regrets? No way to get rid of guilt? No salvation? Yes there is…
Create in me…
Already you can see the hope growing in his heart. A hope for a clean heart once again.
Renew within me…
He had peace at one time. He had God’s spirit in him. He wants it back, no matter what the cost. Only by having God’s spirit can he shake off the horror of his guilt.
Restore to me…
Joy? How can he hope for joy? Every again. But the blight of sin doesn’t last forever for the person who repents. David will laugh again. He will rejoice. He will lift his hands to heaven in praise. Because he has been restored.
The Spirit of God can do for us what we can never do for ourselves. He can blot out the past and cleanse us. Even the very memory can lose its edge in the joy of forgiveness and the presence of God.
Take away the guilt. Take away the memory. Take away the very desire to sin. I don’t want to fail you again God. Deliver me.
Open my lips
I will no longer be quiet. I will tell others what you have done for me. I will show by my life that you have forgiven and delivered me. I have been broken, Lord. I am not the man I thought I was. I failed. I hurt people around me. Most of all, I will praise thee.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart—These, O God, You will not despise
One day a Pharisee named Nicodemus came to talk to Jesus. Jesus told him that unless a person is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. This confused Nicodemus. How could he, as an adult, be “born” a second time?
Nicodemus didn’t realize that Jesus was speaking about a spiritual birth, rather than a second physical birth. Jesus clarified that — first you are born of water (a natural physical birth), then you are born of the spirit (a spiritual birth). He even restated this — your flesh is born of someone else’s flesh, and your spirit is born of the Holy Spirit.
By now Nicodemus was more confused than ever. Maybe you are too.
Born of the Spirit?
Jesus explained to Nicodemus about the Spirit. The Spirit is like the wind. You can’t see the wind blow, but you can feel it blow. You can also see the results of it blowing. So, the wind blows, and the tree branches move. Or the shingles fly off your house. Or garbage blows across your lawn. You can’t see the wind, or where the wind is coming from, but you can see what it is doing.
That is one way to know if you are born again. Is the Spirit doing things in your life? Things that you can’t tell where they are coming from? For instance, something might tell you to give a twenty-dollar bill to a homeless person. Or to pick up a hitch hiker and speak to him about Jesus. Or apologize to someone for something you said about them.
By default, we do bad things, ugly things, selfish things. But when we are born of the Spirit our default changes and we want to do good things.
A Child of the Light?
Jesus also talked to Nicodemus about the Light. A person who has not been born of the Spirit doesn’t like Light, because it exposes him. It shows clearly how selfish and evil he is. But when a person has been born of the Spirit, he embraces Light. The Light helps him to see. It leads him to do good, to be unselfish, to be unafraid of being seen.
If you are born again, other people will see it by the changes in your life. And you will see it because you are no longer afraid of the Light revealing you.
“Whoever believes in Jesus will not perish but have eternal life.”
Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace. (Matthew 6:6, The Message)
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.
Lord, I have shut the door, Here do I bow; Speak, for my soul intent Turns to Thee now. Rebuke Thou what is vain, Counsel my soul, Thy holy will reveal, My will control.
In this blest quietness Clamorings cease; Here in Thy presence dwells Infinite peace; Yonder, the strife and cry, Yonder, the sin: Lord, I have shut the door, Thou art within!
Lord, I have shut the door, Strengthen my heart; Yonder awaits the task— I share a part. Only through grace bestowed May I be true; Here, while alone with Thee, My strength renew.
… over the question of suffering and evil. They ask, “Why would a goodGod allow such badthings?” They assume that this question forces us to accept that either God isn’t good, or He isn’t God.
But it isn’t good for finite people to make rash assumptions about an infinite God. We end up either making fools of ourselves or turning God into an enemy. So, let’s consider this question for a bit.
We live in a broken world. But it is a world that looks forward to better things. Pain, evil and suffering are merely the birth pangs leading to a better world. (See Romans 8:16 – 22)
Romans 8:16 – 23
… uses the concept of suffering to explain what it is like to be a Christian. It also gives us some reasons why suffering is important. Notice the two pictures that Paul gives us here. On the one hand we have suffering Christians. On the other hand we have nature, also suffering.
For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. (Rom 8:16-23 NLT)
Here are some concepts
… from this passage.
If we expect to share in the glory of Christ, we need to accept his suffering. Why should we expect the one without the other?
Any suffering we might face is nothing in comparison with the glory we look forward to. So why should we balk at paying the price?
God had created man and woman perfect. He had also created nature perfect. In this perfection there was no evil, no pain, and no suffering.
Sin changed it all. It broke us, and we died spiritually. God also cursed nature, because broken humans needed a broken home to live in. Now nature is broken too. Broken beings and broken things suffer.
God told Eve that she would be saved by child birth. I’m sure that every time that she conceived a child she looked forward eagerly to her labor pains. Maybe this child would be the savior! Nature too is suffering labor pains. Suffering reminds us of better things coming. It is a very foolish mother who thinks that she can have the joys of child-birth without suffering labor pains.
It is through suffering that we give birth to the glory in store for us. Nature will also be reborn someday and will be part of a new heaven and a new earth—perfect once more. It will the perfect home for a perfect people who have been reborn with perfect bodies and perfect, sin free spirits.
No mother enjoys the pain of delivering a child. But through that pain she receives a “new” son or daughter. It makes her a mother!
My grand daughter was delivered by C-section. She didn’t go through the pains of being born. But the painful experience of birth is necessary for the health of a child. She suffered later because she didn’t suffer those pains. Even so, we wouldn’t become perfect people living in glory without the labor pains we suffer here on earth.
Join the society of the broken
… living in a broken society on a broken earth. But birth pains never last forever. The time is coming, and coming soon, when the pain will burst into GLORY!
Every writer knows that active voice is better than passive voice. The same is true in our spiritual life. Here is a short list of spiritual active voice elements and their passive voice opponents. Let God work in your heart to eliminate your passive defaults.
Darkness is not the opposite of light. Rather, it is the absence of light. God is the source of all light, and He wants to share His light with you. In turn, you should share light with those around you, so that darkness can be driven out of their lives.
"You are the light of the world.... Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. (Mat 5:14-16)
Evil is not the opposite of good. Rather, it is the absence of good. Just like light will always overpower darkness, so good will overpower evil. So if you struggle with evil, allow good to fill your life. If you feel as if darkness is taking over your life, flood your life with light!
Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. (Rom 12:9)
Hate is not the opposite of love. Rather, it is the absence of love. Like light overpowers darkness and good overpowers evil, so love will always outdo hatred. Allow God to fill your heart with his love and hatred will need to flee.
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. (1Co 13:4-8)
Turmoil is not the opposite of peace. Rather, it is the absence of peace. Like light, good, and love, peace is active and will always overpower turmoil. Let the peace of God fill your heart, and turmoil will go.
Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (Joh 14:27)
Where God offers good things to us, the devil usually comes up with a counterfeit to sidetrack us. He gives us positive thinking instead of good, and transcendental meditation instead of peace. He promotes toleration to replace love, and social reform to replace goodness.