What is good should feel good

Paul Brandt, in his book “The Gift of Pain” points out in proper usage, pain warns us from things we should not do and pleasure draws us to things we should do.

Pain warns us not to leave our hand on a hot stove.  Without the presence of pain, we would quickly cripple ourselves, as is illustrated by the deforming results of leprosy removing a sense of pain from its victims.

Likewise pleasure draws us to activities we need for survival.  When our body needs food, it is a pleasure to eat.  When we are thirsty, relief and pleasure come from drinking.  There is pleasure associated with acts of reproduction.  Without the motivation of pleasure these activities would likely be neglected with deleterious effects on us and our posterity.

There is certainly times, many times, when a greater good requires us to endure pain or forego pleasure.  But this requires us to balance the cost of increased pain or foregone pleasure for something of greater value–perhaps less pain in the future or a future pleasure that is greater than what we turn away from.

When structuring a quiet time and habits for a quiet time, it is good to keep in mind how God made us.  If we structure a quiet time so it is painful to carry out or that it requires foregoing pleasure, there must be the promise of something far better to motivate us to get through the pain or deny the pleasure.

But why is it necessary to fight against our natural pain avoidance and pleasure attraction?  Why not have our natural inclinations work for us.  If you want to establish a quiet time, choose it in such a way that it brings you pleasure and not pain.

Is it painful for you to rise up early?  Schedule your time with God at an hour that is easier for you.  On the other hand, if you delight to be up and watch sunsets, plan to meet the Lord in that time and enjoy it together.

Do you love to read?  Make reading a large component of your meeting with God.  Do you like to sing?  Include a singing/worship component in your worship time.  Are you a creature of habit?  Establish a daily pattern of walking with the Lord.  Do you like spontaneity?  Leave a little extra time to go on adventure with the Lord, exploring different places and scenery for your meetings with God.

Think with the Lord about when it would be most enjoyable and efficient to meet.  Schedule your time with Him then.  This will increase your pleasure, reduce your pain and make your meetings with God more frequent and rewarding.


Build Structure, Fill with heart, add fellowship and service

The message of my upcoming book on devotions outlines a process for building a rich relationship with God.

It starts with structure.  This is the daily time set aside and reserved to meet with God.  There are practical tips here on how to build this structure to fit your personality, your schedule and your unique life stage and circumstances.

The structure is not the end in itself.  The structure is merely a tool to build relationship.  Your heart, the very center of your existence, is poured into this structure to develop a one-on-one intense friendship with the Lord of heaven and earth.

The Christian life is not meant to be lived in isolation.     Our personal relationship with God expands into the lives of others, creating rich tapestries of connection with others that enrich our lives.

Finally, the love we receive from God directly and through others, overflows out of our lives into acts of kindness and service.  We love as we have been loved.  This tangible communication of Gods love to others, flowing from our lives, encourages others to know God so they too can be a source of living water to others.

Brennan Manning

I recently read the memoir of Brennan Manning, entitled “All is Grace”.  Brennan is known by many as the author of the best selling book “Ragamuffin Gospel.”

Brennan had many seasons in his life.  In his teen years he started to binge drink, following an entrenched family pattern of alcoholism.

At twenty-one he had a clear call from the Lord into relationship.  He followed the call into priesthood in the Catholic church.  He had a lot of success serving the Lord.  Lives were positively affected towards God.  But after several years Brennan began binge drinking again.  His drinking spun his life out of control.  By the age of forty-one he spent time at a Hazelden a rehab center in Minnesota.

He began to speak about his alcoholism and the grace of God at Catholic retreats.  He was very well received.  When he married, the speaking opportunities at Catholic events dried up.  He began speaking at Protestant events on the grace and forgiveness of God.  He had significant influence and impact in Christian organizations such as Young Life.

But the specter of binge drinking never left him.  Between speaking engagements he would sometimes be lost for days in an alcoholic fog.  It eventually cost him is marriage and badly affected his health.

I believe Brennan had a genuine relationship with God.  He had a dynamic ministry speaking to others about God’s grace.  He experienced that grace first hand  But there was a lot of darkness in Brennan’s life.

There are others I have known like Brennan.  Those who experience great high points of grace and effectiveness in their lives.  But their life also contained shipwreck and tragedy.  How to you have the highs without the lows.

I believe the secret lies in the daily component of the relationship with God.  It is not enough to have isolated periods of great communion with God.  If we do not have fellowship with the Lord every day, our hearts soon becomes cold.  The world, our flesh and the devil gets claws into us, deceives us, and leads us away.  The burdens keep us from returning to the mountain top experiences.  Soon our faith grows cold and we drift away.

When the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they were to gather manna every day.  It was only fresh for one day.  The exception was the Sabbath, when the whole day was given to focus on the things of God.

In John 6, Jesus explains that God gives us the true manna, the bread that comes down out of heaven and gives life to the world.  We need to daily gather and partake of this bread out of heaven.  This blog, and the accompanying book, are meant as  instruction and encouragement for your daily gathering and partaking of this bread.

Who this is for

Most people are not interested in knowing God better.  As Jesus Himself pointed out: “the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction and many are those who enter by it.  But the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it.”

But perhaps you are an exception.  If you have entered through the small gate into a relationship with God, there is help for you here.

Do you struggle with establishing daily disciplines?   You will receive here the tools you need to establish and maintain a daily rich legacy of heart-to-heart time with God.

Perhaps you already have established a habit of daily meeting with the Lord.  Are looking to go deeper?  Do you want your time with the Lord to move from the mundane to vital and powerful?  There is guidance here, practical suggestions for continued breakthrough in your relationship with God.



The power of 15 minutes

When I was a young Christian, still in High School, I began my first Bible reading program.  It was fairly modest.  I got a schedule that listed Old and New Testament readings, that if followed, would traverse the entire Bible in one year.  It took about 15 minutes a day to carry out the reading plan.

It was extremely difficult to establish the daily habit of reading my Bible.  Every day it was a struggle.  By nature I was a lazy person, and doing anything every day, regardless of how limited the time, required discipline that I had never exercised before.

Eventually, after a few months, the habit was established.  A habit established is easier to maintain than it is to start.  There is a momentum that builds.

Since that time, there are other habits I have added to  the Bible reading program.  While it is always hard to get something new going, it is much easier than starting the initial habit.   This is because the pattern is already established, and the change (adding another 10 or 15 minutes) is incrementally not that significant.

After Bible reading for fifteen minutes, it is not that difficult to tack on 10 minutes of prayer.  Once you prayer for 10 minutes, it is not that difficult to add another five or 10 minutes.  And so on.

You may find it helpful, as I did, not to rush it.  We are in this battle for the long haul.  The long haul in this case may be years, not months.  Your quiet time may be multiple years at fifteen minutes before you are ready to bump it up to 30 minutes.  It may be years again at 30 minutes before you bump it up to an hour.

Initially the goal is to get the habit established.  Once it is established and you are enjoying daily fellowship with the Lord, you may eventually feel the hunger to increase the time of fellowship.  It is at these times it is best to plan your next revision of your quiet time.

If sometime, because of life’s circumstance, you need to cut back on the time spent, do what you need to do to manage your life.  However, never cut out the habit completely.  This will have the double consequences of cutting off the fellowship with the Lord that motivates you to spend the time with him, as well as raising the cost to restart the time.  It always takes more energy to start from a dead stop, then to merely increase momentum of a moving fellowship time with the Lord .


Beyond Habit to Relationship

Establishing and maintaining a devotional habit is a very useful tool in developing a heart-to-heart relationship with God.  But habits are not the goal.  A habit is only a tool.  It is a structure that helps to build relationship.  It is not the relationship itself.

Relationships require time.  A habit provides regular time in which to seek God and build relationship.  When the habit becomes the focus, rather than the relationship, the profit of the habit diminishes significantly.

In my experience, the advantage of a habit is that it assures a regular daily time to meet with the Lord.  The potential liability of a habit is that there is a tendency to make my relationship with God a matter of rote–that is focussed more on completing a daily regime than in pushing in to a deeper relationship with God.  Despite this potential downfall, I press on in my habits.  My rationale is this.  If I stop my devotional habits, I may remember to put very little time into a relationship with God.   It least with the daily habits, I am available to meet with God.  Even though I do so only inefficiently, it is still better than not meeting at all.

While I rely on habit to create opportunities to meet with God, there are other ways this can be accomplished.  For example, if one has established a habit of careful planning of each day’s or each week’s activities, daily and weekly scheduling of meetings with God can provide sufficient opportunities for deeper relationship with God.  While the devotion itself may not be a habit, the meetings with God are still facilitated by the habit of planning days and weeks.

Consciously making times to meet with the Lord is the important ingredient.  Whether you reserve this time through habit, planning or merely as a result of a love for the Lord’s presence, the important thing is to make and use time for heart-to-heart relationship with God.

Enduring to the end

If you start on the path of following Jesus, how do you know you will stay on the path?  How do you know you will not drift away?

Over the course of my life I have known many who have been faithful through the years.  I have also known many who started to drift and then had their lives crumble.  How can we be assured that we will be on the right side of the divide?

I have two comments for you.  The first is right answer, given by directly from the mouth of Jesus.  The other is my observation.

First the right answer.  As recorded in Matthew 7:24-27:

Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock.  And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded upon the rock.

And everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not act upon them, will be like a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and it fell, and great was its fall.

Jesus indicates that it is not enough to merely hear His words.  We need to act upon them.  If we do so, when the troubles of life come and our faith is tried, our house will stand.  But if we hear but don’t act, then when the trouble comes, our house will collapse.

Now here is my observation.  I do not remember anyone that met daily with God in heart-to-heart fellowship that lost their faith.  There may be some out there, but I cannot list any.

Another way of saying this is that of all the people I know that their faith crashed and burned, an early warning that their faith was loosing altitude and their life was headed for a crash is that they were not meeting daily with the Lord.  Some were keeping up appearances, but then their lives crashed.

Have a heart-to-heart with God daily.  Be a doer and not merely a hearer.  You will enjoy a long lasting relationship with God that will last through the difficult times.

How Creation leads us to worship

God communicates to us through His creation.  When we consider God’s handiwork we are confronted with characteristics of God such as His creativity, His power, His glory and His wisdom. He is clearly far beyond anything we can image.

Psalm 19 in poetic language tells us how the creation instructs us about God:  “day to day pours forth speech and night to night reveals knowledge.”

Christians should never fear the study of God’s creation.   It is designed to produce wonder.  The deeper our knowledge becomes, the more we realize we are only scratching the surface of the depths of God’s creativity.

In is unfortunate that the scientific establishment, at least in the United States, has adapted the perspective of natural materialistic philosophy that tries attempts to describe everything as the result of non-personal and purposeless interactions.  The explanations given are best speculations that often seem non-sensical when compared to a relative cogent and complete explanation based on belief in a preexistent all powerful creator God.

Consider, for example, whether theism or materialism offers a better explanation for the following questions:

Why is there something, rather than nothing,

Why is there such a gulf between non-life and life?

How do you get life from non-life

Where does consciousness come from?

Where does freedom of  living things to make choices come from?

What are morals and where do they come from>

The study of the natural world is more coherent when it is recognized that the natural world is the result of an eternally preexistent creator.  Life, consciousness and freedom of choice result from the fusion of spirit and a physical body.  Morals are indications of the value system of God reflected by beings created in God’s image.

There is a place for Christians to use results of study of the creation as an apologetic to those who deny the existence of God.   However, there is also a place to reflect on the creation as an act of worship.  In considering God’s handiwork and honoring Him for it, we receive communication from Him that He gives to believers and unbelievers alike.  Theologians call this the General Revelation.  It is meant to bring all to a place of worship of the Maker and Sustainer of all things.



By the work, one knows the workman

As a teenager, after my second year in high school, I took a backpack trip with two other  friends for three weeks in the John Muir Wilderness of the Sierra Nevadas.

This was meant to be a life changing adventure for us, as we were on our own and carrying on our back everything we needed for our time away from civilization.

While the trip was a rite of passage event in my life, something even more significant occurred during that time away.  One night, laying in my sleeping bag in the open next to a lake high above the tree line, I was gazing at the stellar display.  The moon illumined the landscape around me.

As I was considering the heavens above and the earth  around, I had an epiphany.  All that I saw was not some purposeless organization of matter, as I had been taught in school and by the media.  There was something behind all this.  There was an orchestrator, a creator of all that is.  The knowledge was intuitive, from the creation itself.

This glimpse of God, or at least the necessity of God, started me on a journey which I am still on today.  The most important highlight along the way was encountering the risen and living Jesus Christ.

Structuring Your Life around Worship

“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.”  Matthew 6:33

Jesus encouraged his disciples not to be worried about the mundane things of life that everyone needs.  Our food, our drink, our clothing and the length of our life are all matters the Father is aware of and has under control.  If we focus on the heavenly things first, God will take care of all these mundane things.

It is one thing to read these instructions given to men living two millennium ago.  Do these words hold true today? Would not this mentality be terribly risky today?

The simple answer is that if God said it, we can rely upon it.  However, our experience and wisdom tells us that  no formula, even one taken directly from the Bible, is fail safe.  Truth and life are simply more organic that following simple formulas, even those we find in the Bible.  Often we need to use our wisdom to balance different teachings in Scripture and to select which principle of Scripture should be followed in a particular circumstance.

The necessity to apply wisdom reminds me of an incident that occurred to me when I was just learning to play golf.   I was traveling in British Columbia, Canada, when an acquaintance invited me to play at a nearby course.  When we got to the course, we were joined by an experienced local player.  As the day wore on,  the patience of my playing companions must have been sorely tried by my many mishits.  But they bore up with good humor.

At one point, very much out of position, I faced a short golf shot that needed to carry over some bushes and water to the putting green.  Rather than chance losing another ball, I lined up to hit the ball sideways to a place I could get to the green without having to carry the hazard.

As I was about to take my swing, a booming voice, rang out from the other side of the fairway:  “AND YOU KNOW….WHAT THE GOOD LORD…SAYS ABOUT COWARDS.”

I looked up and noticed that the sound appeared to come from the local player who had joined us.  I thought, “How does this guy know I’m religious, the topic hasn’t even come up.”  But being reminded that God does not want His followers to lack courage, I went back to my bag, got a more lofted club, and prepared for my shot directly to the green.”

As I was about to take my swing, again the booming voice rang out, “AND YOU KNOW….WHAT THE GOOD LORD…SAYS ABOUT FOOLS.”   After composing myself, I took the shot and lost my ball somewhere in the bushes and water.

My lesson on the golf course about weighing and applying different principles in the Scriptures had relatively little cost associated with it.  The price was a lost golf ball and a little embarrassment.

However, rearranging our lives to accommodate investment of time in developing a Heart-to-Heart relationship with Jesus can have life-changing risks associated with it.  You will want to make such changes carefully, with wisdom, with an eye to other principles of Scripture encouraging responsible living and within the leading of the Holy Spirit that is recognized from time seeking God’s particular will for your life.

My experience has been that words of Jesus, in Matthew 6:33 are completely trustworthy.  In all the major decisions of my life including choosing a profession, choosing a wife, choosing hobbies, choosing ministries, and so on, I have been careful to make no decision that impacted my ability to give abundant time to maintain my heart-to-heart time with the Lord.  While my life has not been all roses, I have lacked no necessities, and indeed can say with sincerity that my hearts desires have all been met and I cannot imagine a life any richer or more fulfilled in the things that I value.