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Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Does God Care If We Are “Excellent”?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears.” (Hosea 6:4)

It’s difficult keeping up with the latest buzz words of contemporary establishment Christianity, although reading through Linked-In business posts is useful. It’s a given that, within a few years of a word or concept or fad being pushed through the seminar-speak sector, it will make it into the corporate religious community — hence, we have, “ownership of a project,” or “pursuing a goal with intention and excellence.”

The Evening Ahead inspirational original oil painting of young woman preparing for dinner out in front of mirror by Steve Henderson

When we prepare to do things for God, what are we concerned about? That we impress others? or that we are excited and happy about the time we spend with our loving Father, learning from Him, growing under His teaching, just resting, blissfully, in His company? That latter – it’s excellence. The Evening Ahead, original oil painting by Steve Henderson

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“Excellence” factors strongly in present-day corporate Christian teaching, as in, “Strive for success in Christ through a passion for and commitment to excellence,” 13 words which many of you may be relieved to know are not, in that order, anywhere in the Bible.

What Does Success Look Like?

“Success in Christ” is itself a puzzling concept since one wonders, “What does it look like? Are successful Christians outrageously rich?” an idea that seems at variance with Matthew 6:24, the whole God and mammon thing.

Or are they powerful? — power being a concept that God uses extensively to describe Himself, but not necessarily His created sons and daughters.

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How about, that they get their prayers answered, 80-90 percent of the time? This universal wish of mankind, to somehow “tap into” the mind of God and bend it to our will, goes back long before the prosperity preachers turned it into a cash cow. Simon the magician, in Acts 8, echoed the attitude of many false “ministries” today when he offered Peter and John money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

That did not go over very well.

Excellence, Defined

“But God tells us to seek excellence,” misguided acolytes reply. “It’s in Philippians 4:8-9!”

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Well, let’s look:

“Finally, brothers, whatever  is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.” While “excellent” is the term the NIV translators chose to use for the Greek word that also means virtue, the context of the verse should be a strong clue that what Paul is talking about has little, if anything, to do with the way our corporate culture interprets the word, “excellence.”

Morning's Glory inspirational original oil painting still life of rose flowers in sunny window by Steve Henderson

Mountains, lightning, a baby’s cry, a vase of flowers — all of these things are far more excellent than any of the obligations placed upon us by the business, or religious, community. Morning’s Glory, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

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God is not interested in our ambition, our striving, our pushing toward a self-made goal, our accomplishments to which we point and say, “This is excellent! WE are excellent!”

“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings,” we are told in Hosea 6:6, two verses after the Scripture at the head of this essay.

God’s wistful observation, “Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears,” is an indication that what our Father looks for in His relationship with us is not what we, in our surface-level pursuit of truth, are too easily satisfied by: He is far less concerned that we have memorized huge chunks of Scripture as He is that we ask Him what it means, and wait for His gentle teaching.

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God, Unimpressed

He is unimpressed with our impeccable, well structured, public prayers and waits for us to go into our room, close the door, and commune with Him one on one (Matthew 6:6), honestly, openly, and humbly.

He knows that we often have big dreams and big desires and does not fault us for having them; He just wants us to put Him first, and trust that His fulfillment of the latter will be even better than what we can imagine. (“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.” — Matthew 6:33)

But even in seeking first His kingdom and righteousness we stumble over our insistence upon man-defined excellence, convinced that, if things don’t work out the way we think they should, it is because we haven’t arisen early enough, prayed hard enough, stepped out into some ministry that we are uninterested in but the board of elders needs filled, spoken boldly enough, or stood up and announced,

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“I pursue EXCELLENCE in my relationship with God!”

Just speaking the words and determining to do them is enough, we reason.

Love Conquers All

But Jesus says, “If you love me, you will obey what I command,” (John 14:15), and when we tear away all the fluff, that’s ultimately what it’s all about, isn’t it — Love? Ours is too often like the morning mist, that disappears with the dew, but quite fortunately, the love of our Father — which is the true manifestation of excellence — is perfect, unconditional, merciful, eternal.

If there is any excellence worth pursuing it is this — the excellence of God — and this we find not by looking within ourselves and pushing ahead to be something that other people are impressed by. We find the excellence of God by looking for God — calling to Him, because He answers; seeking Him, because He allows Himself to be found; reflecting upon His love and grace and mercy because He delights in us, and wants to embrace us in that love.

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It is God’s excellence, not ours, that matters.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I consistently marvel at the businesslike attitude of contemporary corporate Christianity, and encourage true seekers to leave the office cubicle behind and get out into the free, open meadow.

Posts complementing this one are

Contemporary Corporate Christianity

Corporate Christianity: Five Ways to Stop Thinking Like Office Workers

The Misfit Christian (my book for believers who seek something better than conventional, corporate Christianity)

 

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Do We Treat Fellow Christians Like Servants?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.” (Ephesians 6:9)

We like to say that a sign of civilization is that we do not have slaves. It’s an odd misconception, especially in the country in which I live, the United States, which bases its system of government upon one of the most wretched, controlling, authoritarian regimes of all, the Roman Empire. (Their method of capital punishment seems particularly lacking in the “civilization” aspect.)

One does not have to live in early 20th century British aristocracy to fall into the trap of treating other humans as lesser beings. Image from the television show, Downtown Abbey, copyright ITV and PBS

One does not have to live in early 20th century British aristocracy to fall into the trap of treating other humans as lesser beings. Image from the television show, Downtown Abbey, copyright ITV and PBS

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The Romans had slaves. So did the Greeks. And the Jews. Any “civilized nation” that convinces its populace that the subjugation of a particular group of people is justified — whether the rationale is based upon the color of a person’s skin or their place of birth or their status in war or their accent or their religious preference or their culture — seriously puts into the question the theory that mankind evolves, morally, as much as it does physically, beyond apes. I know. The economy just doesn’t run the way it’s supposed to unless we can access cheap, replaceable, unprotected labor. I would call this a realistic example of financial evolution if it weren’t that some things, throughout history, never change.

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“But we no longer have slaves!” citizens of first world countries cry out. “It’s only those third world countries, which produce the goods that we buy, and we can’t help what goes on there.” No, we have little influence upon the mega-corporations that run our global economy. But we buy their goods.

Slaves, and Servants

In our definition of slavery, which is alive and well in any world in which men rule, we limit ourselves, however, and many an employee of poorly-run corporations — with their multi-layers of insecure managers wielding control — no doubt feels the powerlessness of one who is maligned, disrespected, and verbally abused.

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“I feel like a slave,” they say, half-jestingly, but they’re really not joking.

Afternoon Tea inspirational original oil painting of mother and child at tea party in meadow by Steve Henderson, licensed prints at Great Big Canvas, iCanvas, Framed Canvas Art, Amazon.com, and art.com

The character of a man, or woman, is defined by how they treat those who are more vulnerable than they (when nobody else is looking). Afternoon Tea, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, licensed prints at Great Big Canvas, Art. com, Amazon, iCanvas, and Framed Canvas Art

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While bad managers are one thing — like death and taxes they seem to be a part of life — within the ordinariness of everyday first-world civilized existence, all of us have the potential to treat our fellow human beings as servants, and it generally involves nothing more than going shopping.

“Hello, how are you?” I was purchasing groceries yesterday when the clerk gave her standard greeting — one she is required to give by management, but also the conventional salutation of decorum within our culture. An extension of this etiquette is that the person greeted responds in kind.

“I am fine, thank you,” I replied. “And how are you?” We then embarked upon the gentle chit-chat of strangers brought together for the few minutes it takes to conduct a transaction. Some of these conversations involve nothing more than the weather; others get deeper, depending upon either speaker, but at essence, they involve two human beings — equals in the sight of God — interacting with one another.

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Unfortunately, many people dealing with our brothers and sisters on the planet who work in retail — an especially emotionally brutal place to work —  forget that they are interacting with equals, and there is a tendency to ignore, criticize, berate, or be downright rude to the person who is bagging their groceries.

Church Behavior versus True Courtesy

“Don’t put those in that bag!” one woman, who has a reputation for being demanding and imperious, commanded the clerk behind the check stand. “Put them there. And hurry up!”

Interestingly, I know this woman. In our days of church attendance she was Mrs. Sunshine, friendly and direct with those in the congregation with whom she chose to interact, but outside of the building — where life actually happens — she apparently does not make Romans 12:10 a part of her belief system:

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“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” In the eyes of a woman like this, the people “below” her — those who process her purchases, take her bank deposits, answer her questions on the phone, write down her order and/or cook her food at restaurants, clean the hotel room before and after she uses it — are of a different class, and while she would deny this, those who suffer the existence of her presence would no doubt say that they feel the servitude.

“My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism,” James exhorts in 2:1, 3. “If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there,’ or “Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”

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God does not judge us by how much we make, where we work, and whether or not the world considers our work “important.” Neither, then, should we. Indeed, we are called, as Christians, to treat all of our brothers and sisters as equals, and it is a testament to the love of Christ within us that such love flows out of us into the world around.

“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another,” John 13:35 tells us.

It’s not in church buildings where people are watching us, and drawing conclusions about Christianity by our behavior there. It’s in the real world, where real people live.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I have a heart for ordinary people, because I am one of them. I am grateful that God has made so many of us, and that we are precious in His sight. May we treat one another with the grace and mercy with which He treats us.

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Posts complementing this one are

Three Things God Wants Us to DO

Does It Bother You That People Lie to Us?

Corporate Christianity: Five Ways to Stop Thinking Like Office Workers

 

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Are You a Brave Christian?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” (Ephesians 6:13)

How many of us, in our minds, live a movie? It's more important, in reality, that we live our lives -- the ones that God gave us, and will shape into what they are meant to be. Montage of Lord of the Rings, courtesy New Line Cinema.

How many of us, in our minds, live a movie? It’s more important, in reality, that we live our lives — the ones that God gave us, and will shape into what they are meant to be. Montage of Lord of the Rings, courtesy New Line Cinema.

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We have just finished our every-few-years marathon of watching the Lord of the Rings movies, 11 hours worth of good versus evil, honor and bravery pitted against malice and hate. Every evening for a week we went to bed inspired with a sense of nobility and valor, and one can’t help but stand taller and think, “Yes, I can do great things for Christ, even though I am small, like Frodo, or proud, like Boromir, or insecure, like Aragorn. But wow, I wish I could be cool, awesome, and mysterious like Legolas!”

Life on this earth is a battle, and as Middle Earth fought against the forces of Sauron, we, too, fight against enemies we frequently cannot see:

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“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12).

Reality Generally Isn’t Epic

It is an image worthy of any epic film, but the problem is, in the earthly reality in which we live, there is no stirring soundtrack, catching us in slow motion as we give a mighty yell and swing a heavy sword. Most of us, in our day-to-day battle against the rulers and powers of this dark world, do not go dressed in armor nor mounted on horses. Many of us wear whatever uniform is expected at our place of work.

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Our day-to-day activities are hardly exciting, ranging from changing a baby’s diaper to ringing up someone’s groceries, from tapping our foot in traffic to biting our lip at the rude comments of a customer or manager. Much of what we do — for work or life in general — we would classify as mundane and meaningless, the essential activity of existence that must be done to keep things going: we must eat, dress, mend things that are broken, wash dishes that are dirty, be in places when we would prefer to be somewhere else, perform little tasks when we long to achieve great ones.

Ending the Day on a Good Note inspirational original oil painting of 1940s vintage nostalgia woman in Victorian house next to victrola by Steve Henderson

The 24-hours of each regular day consist of surprisingly few sword clashes on battlefields, but within the ordinary, is valor. Ending the Day on a Good Note, original oil painting by Steve Henderson

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“Is this it, God?” we ask, echoing a paraphrase of King Theoden’s line during the Battle of Helm’s Deep. “Is this all there is to life?”

When Theoden, or any other heroic movie character, utters his line, it gains dignity surrounded by a musical score, set off against dramatic lighting — a clipped, short, vignette that provides no justice at all to the hours and hours we spend on the little, commonplace events of life. In a movie, even the mundane is grand, but in real life, it just seems . . . mundane.

Are We Brave?

And we wonder, “Am I brave, God? When the day comes when Christians are thrown to the lions — on reality TV — will I be a coward and fail? Do I have it in me to be as brave as the martyrs were?” because, even in the “safest” of countries, the densest of us is vaguely aware that believing in God and following Him is something that eventually needs to be circumscribed, dictated, controlled and managed, all in the name of counteracting hate speech and bad thought, of course. This illicit superintendence of our lives is actively and already happening, but because it doesn’t involve lions, just regulations and rules, petty traffic laws and societal censure, we don’t think we are fighting any battle.

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But we are, and when we wonder, as ordinary people who live, laugh, love, and cry, “Do I have it in me?” the answer is, yes — when we follow Christ as our Eldest brother, who teaches us about the love of our perfect Father — we have what we need to meet life’s challenges, because those challenges — which seem so ordinary, so prosaic, so frustratingly non-epic — are what train us to be good and wise and brave and valiant.

Day to Day Courage

It takes courage to get up early and dress for a job we really don’t like. It takes valor to walk when we’re tired, to be kind when we feel impatient, to channel the righteous anger we feel against the many injustices imposed upon us by man-dominated authority into wisdom, discernment, and grace. The bravest and most noble people out there are those who do what it is they are called to do because they have a family to feed, children to protect, an older parent whose short-term memory loss means that their caregiver will repeat, within 20 minutes, the same information eight times. They fight, constantly, the message that they are not smart enough, expert enough, educated enough, credentialed enough to do what they do everyday for no other reason than that they love the people whom those who seek to control others disdain.

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Valiant warriors get up when they’re knocked down — and when real people, not in movies, do this, it means that they have a dream, a desire, a love,  for which they are ultimately working, and a little failure (or a lot of it) isn’t going to keep them from pursuing a goal that they have set for themselves — whether that goal is to own a business, feed hungry people, paint artwork that inspires hope in its viewers, or raise children to be decent adults despite so many influences set to attack them.

Real people, living real life, and fighting against financial, political, educational, religious, and corporate powers who see them as nothing more than units to further their own ends, are the brave ones, because in this day of evil — which is now — we stand our ground, and when we have done everything set before us, we still stand.

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Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage ordinary people to recognized that they are loved, deeply, by a truly awesome God. He made you to be the unique special person that you are.

Posts complementing this one are

Family and Friends Are Not Dysfunctional

Four Important Men You’ve Never Heard Of

Why Ordinary Christians Can — and Should — Speak Up

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Is God Keeping You on a Short Leash?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“You hem me in — behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.” (Psalm 139:5)

Have you ever felt as if God were keeping you on a very, very short leash?

Working Trigger inspirational original oil painting of horse whisperer cowboy in meadow by Steve Henderson

Reins are for horses and leashes are for dogs, but the principle is the same — the master is the one in charge of leading, training, and teaching. Working Trigger, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

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I know, it’s not a good image, since the primary animals associated with leashes are dogs. The verse above, in Psalms, implies sheep, sent through the chute — again, not a particularly complementary image — but a descriptive one.

Sometimes, in our walk with Christ, our options are very few, and when we seek to turn around, step aside, or hop over an obstacle, we find that we have no room to move but one, and even then, the step allowed is small.

It’s frustrating, or, as the Psalmist continues,

“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.”

Frankly, “wonderful” isn’t the adjective that immediately comes to mind, but the attendant observation that what God is doing, and how He works in my, and your, and our, lives, is too lofty for us to attain, is oddly comforting. Why?

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We Are Not God

Because we don’t have to understand.

And while it’s vexatious being in the dark, it’s reassuring to know that our lack of understanding isn’t a road block to our moving ahead — we don’t have to — and indeed simply can’t — know everything in order for God to work in and through our lives; we just have to belong to the One Person who does know everything and who, just as importantly, never abandons us, ever:

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” the Psalmist continues

Clouds inspirational original oil painting of meadow and sky by Steve Henderson

Up to the heavens and down to the valleys — we simply cannot find a place where God is not. Clouds, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

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“If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.”

Within our Christian lives, which too often are intertwined with a teaching and doctrine of men that has nothing to do with God’s actual words, we battle with the idea that we are, always, the central problem behind each and every single issue we have:

“You don’t have enough faith,” we are told, or,

“You just need to trust God — your lack of belief in Him is blocking Him,”

or,

“If you’d simply submit and rest in Him, your prayer would be answered.”

“But I AM submitting and resting and waiting and believing and trying my very best!” we cry out, in which case we are informed,

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“Well, you’re trying too hard.”

Well, that’s just really encouraging.

Man’s Teaching Discourages

Men’s words and teachings generally aren’t encouraging, which is why it’s important for each one of us to seek, read, and understand Scripture for ourselves, and Psalm 139, the whole thing, is a great place to spend some time.

The Psalmist begins by recognizing God’s sheer omnipresence and omniscience in his life, acknowledging God’s deep familiarity with all the writer’s ways. It is after these thoughts that the writer mentions being hemmed in, limited, we would say, and while being limited isn’t generally thought of as a positive thing, it’s not so bad if God’s hand on our shoulders keeps us from falling over a cliff, for example, or embarking on a path that leads to a place we ultimately do not want to go.

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In other words, if you find yourself in that most exasperatingly frustrating place of not really being able to move, ANYWHERE, then don’t automatically assume it’s because you’re a Bad Dog, and you need to be leashed up in the yard until you’re a Good One.

Frustrated by Evil

Verses 18-22 of the Psalm express the Psalmist’s frustration with evil people, who speak of God with evil intent, adversaries who misuse His name:

“Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord, and abhor those who rise up against you?”

(“Aren’t we on the same side, God? Don’t you want me to use the gifts you’ve given me to do something good, to counteract all that bad?”)

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When you find yourself in a hemmed in place, frustrated because you want to go somewhere, DO something to make a difference in this sad, wretched world of ours, do not passively accept the admonition of those whose standard, conventional, and unvarying outlook is vapidly:

“It’s you. Your thoughts are bad and proud and wrong and evil, and God won’t answer your prayers because of this.”

Instead, finish the Psalm, which, after the lament against the wicked, concludes:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

The Psalmist knows that, many times but not all the time, we do block things, and in a tremendous step of faith he asks our Father to test those anxious thoughts, bringing the writer to a point of not being an obstacle, if indeed he is. The entire Psalm is a song of trust to our Creator, the one who made us and who knows precisely how we think and who we are, but chooses, with delight, to invite us to walk with Him and do His work, anyway.

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Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage readers to stop focusing on and trying to obey the words of men (the fruit of which, frequently, is discouragement and a sense of being overwhelmed) and instead, seek out — at its source — the words of God.

Yes Or No — Does God Hear Our Prayers?

Do Negative Thoughts Affect Your Prayers?

Don’t Worry: It’s NOT All up to You

 

Previous Posts

Does God Care If We Are "Excellent"?
"What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears." (Hosea 6:4) It's difficult keeping up with the latest buzz words of contemporary establishment Christianity, although reading through Linked-In business posts

posted 3:01:33pm Apr. 01, 2015 | read full post »

Do We Treat Fellow Christians Like Servants?
"And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him." (Ephesians 6:9) We like to say that a sign of civilization is that we do not have slaves. It's an odd misconception,

posted 1:50:23pm Mar. 27, 2015 | read full post »

Are You a Brave Christian?
"Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand." (Ephesians 6:13) [caption id="attachment_1532" align="alignleft" width="361"] How many of us, in our minds, live a movie? It's more imp

posted 1:29:24pm Mar. 25, 2015 | read full post »

Is God Keeping You on a Short Leash?
"You hem me in -- behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me." (Psalm 139:5) Have you ever felt as if God were keeping you on a very, very short leash? [caption id="attachment_1526" align="alignleft" width="349"] Reins are for horses and leashes are for dogs, but the principle is the s

posted 10:38:46am Mar. 20, 2015 | read full post »

Without God, We've Got 10 Minutes, Tops
"The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being." (Genesis 2:7) I never see this verse without thinking of the AWANA program, regarding which, after 10 long years of heavily participating in it, I still

posted 2:09:55pm Mar. 18, 2015 | read full post »

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