Category Archives: Spiritual life

Powerful Prayers: Prayers God Loves to Answer

Colossians 1:9-12 http://lockwoodchurch.org/media (Listening time: 23:04) Most of us don’t see obvious answers to our prayers as often as the New Testament might lead us to expect. While the Bible offers insight into why prayers are sometimes not answered (without … Continue reading

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Why Religious Conversion Is More Than Joining a Church

A Muslim man once confidently told me that everyone born in the United States is a Christian, unless his family is Muslim or Jewish. I did not ask him what that means for people from Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist, Sikh, or Baha’i families, nor did I ask what it meant for people who intentionally convert to one of these religions later in life.

A convert is, simply, a person who has been converted – that is, a person who has chosen to be altered or transformed. In religious conversion, a person who believed certain things about God and existence comes to believe other things and adjusts his or her life accordingly.

I know little about the way other religions view conversion or the expectations they consider appropriate for converts. If they are anything like those placed on Christian converts, they vary widely from group to group. Among the many groups that claim allegiance to Jesus, some require only a verbal profession of faith. Others expect regular church attendance, participation in instructional classes, and personal accountability in an ongoing relationship with a spiritual mentor.

Whether a simple confession or many months of intensive training, most Christian groups see the process of conversion culminating in the admission of the prospective convert into the church family, usually at baptism. This, I think, is a mistake, which does not serve the convert or the church, and does not align well with the biblical data on the nature of transformation. Continue reading

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Was Shakespeare Right: Is Love Blind?

Okay, so someone is bound to tell me it wasn’t Shakespeare but Chaucer who coined the phrase that love is blind. I’ll give you that, but Shakespeare popularized the phrase by his repeated use of it: The Merchant of Venice, Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Henry V all include it.

Before someone has the chance to object that some Persian poet who predated Chaucer really composed the line, I’ll concede the point, but the question remains. Was Chaucer and Shakespeare (and whoever else) right? Is love blind?

The answer depends on what one means by love. Eros, I think, is often blind. Friends and family watch the lover as he ignores glaring signals and stands poised to fall into a deep ditch. Love has made him blind to his situation and deaf to his friends. Continue reading

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I AM the Vine

But what is our part?

It can be stated in three words: Abide in Jesus. That’s job one. If we do that, we will be okay, no matter what else happens. We will produce abundant fruit. Christ’s life will be apparent in the fruit that grows from us. Our greatest danger doesn’t arise from trials but from failing to abide.

Jesus says in verse 4: “Remain” – that’s how the NIV translates the word the King James has as abide – “in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”

To abide is to stay or remain or reside. According to Jesus, this is the key to being fruitful – that is, the key to experiencing fulfillment. Verse 5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit…”

Is abiding something mystical? Not really. I abide in my home. When I go somewhere – whether to town or across the country – I come back to my home. My life is oriented around my home. That’s where I eat meals, where I sleep, where I work, where I communicate, where I relax. I know how long it takes to get from my home to most all the places I go. I know how long it takes to get back. I plan my life around my home.
To be homeless is an enormous trial. It disorients a person. It throws everything off. Some people are spiritually homeless. They are disoriented in their spirits. They are not abiding – not residing – in Christ and so everything for them is unsettled. Continue reading

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Nostalgia and Faith: Can They Coexist?

No one needs faith for something that has already happened. Faith, by its nature, requires a future component, a measure of uncertainty. In situations where there is no uncertainty – the package has already arrived, as promised, the test has been scored – faith is superfluous.

Does this imply that people of faith, like myself, will not be nostalgic, since nostalgia is about the settled past and faith is about the unsettled future? I hope not, because I sometimes wax nostalgic, particularly around the holidays. I remember winter mornings when my brother and I would run out on the front porch in our bare feet to retrieve the foil-topped bottles the milkman had left. We’d pour ourselves a glass, then chew the frozen milk crystals that collected on the top.

Such memories are pleasant to me. Nostalgia is not about times of loneliness and sorrow, but about times of peace and camaraderie. The past I remember seems simpler, gentler, and more manageable. Unlike the future, the past never incites fear.

When the term “nostalgia” first came into use in the 17th century, it denoted a kind of mental illness. The doctor who coined the term described it as a “neurological disease of essentially demonic cause.” It was thought to be a type of home-sickness – the term coming from the Greek roots for “returning home” and for “pain.”

In recent years, however, social scientists have discovered various benefits that accompany nostalgia. Continue reading

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You Probably Won’t Keep Your Resolutions: Here’s Why

Most Americans who make New Year’s resolutions don’t keep them, according to polls taken over the years. When they made the resolution, they hoped (if not intended) to keep it. Nevertheless, the failure rate for New Year’s resolutions hovers around 70 percent.

Some common resolutions are: Exercise more; lose weight; get organized; save more money; quit smoking; spend more time with family. No one makes a resolution in the secret hope of failing, yet most people will fail. Why?

In a word: Most people fail because of habit. Our habits can carve such a deep rut that we can’t get out of it in a single leap; it will take a long climb. We resolve to eat a healthier diet, for example, but our resolve wavers in the grocery store when we see the potato chips display and realize chips and dip would be the perfect thing for our little get-together on Friday night.

Of course, when there is dip left over after the party, rather than throwing it away (a clear misuse of our money, which would break resolution number two), we decide to buy a small bag of chips – just to finish off the dip. But of course there will not be enough dip, and so it’s back to the store. Before long, the rut is deeper than ever and we are further from getting out of it than we were when we started. Continue reading

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Christmas Surprise: What We Weren't Expecting for Christmas

By the end of the Old Testament era, many people were impatient for the Creator to fulfill his promise and make right what had gone wrong. When would the serpent’s head be crushed? Where was God’s promised king (things could … Continue reading

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That's What Christmas Is All About

God intended the humans to rule his world but now they were at its mercy. Under God’s rule, they could rule, but the moment they stopped being subject to God, they became subject to fear (Gen. 3:10) and were ruled by desire (Gen. 3:16). The earth that once cooperated with them no longer yielded to their touch. On the very day of their revolt, there began a struggle between man and God, man and earth, and man and man. They were expelled from the garden, and the world began to fall apart. And so did the humans. And, to all appearances, so did God’s plan.

But the Creator is not easily stopped. In fact, he is not stopped at all. Ever. It was his plan that the world fall apart, should the humans turn away from him. It was a safeguard and a mercy. The recalcitrant earth, the relational conflict, the pain and fear and, above all, death were God-designed consequences of man’s rebellion. Why? Because God wanted revenge? No. Because God wants us. Sorrow and failure and struggle are a mercy. His judgments are a kindness. The Creator knows we will not come to him without them. And if we don’t come to him, we cannot come to ourselves, to our rightful place, and to our joy. Only when we have fully come to God, can we fully be ourselves. Continue reading

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So This Is Christmas

It was in the Garden, not the stable, that the Creator first became Immanuel (God with us). (“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day…” Genesis 3:8). The Creator, a being of unimaginable power, who brought into existence the visible universe and, along with it, realities that are not visible (at least to creatures like us) was with humans: with them in ways they could readily perceive and in ways that caused them to flourish. He was Immanuel.
The Creator made the earth to be a place that would beautifully and remarkably sustain biological life. It was perfect. And on the earth, he made a place (Eden) that was supremely suited to a particular kind of biological life: the human. He placed two humans, a man and a woman, in that ideal environment. Continue reading

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The Good Shepherd, Part 2 (John 11)

We’ve got to learn to live backwards. That is, we need to learn to live out of our future and not just out of our past. Most people are driven by the unalterable past into an unknowable future, but Jesus’s people can be pulled into the future by the call of the knowable – though always more than comprehensible – God.
People who are driven by the unalterable past are frequently filled with regrets over former days and fears over future ones. They are haunted by would-haves, could-haves, and should-haves and threatened by might-be and could-be possibilities. Only people who learn from Jesus how to live out of the future can be fully alive in the present.
That future can be summed up in a word. No, it’s not “heaven”; it’s “resurrection.” Continue reading

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