Don’t worry about anything. Rather, in every area of life let God know what you want as you pray and make requests, and give thanks as well. And God’s peace, which is greater than we can ever understand, will keep guard over your hearts and minds in King Jesus. ~Philippians 4:6-7
William Barclay, born in 1907 in Scotland, is a favorite Bible commentator of mine. I find it very helpful how he relates the teachings of Scripture to real life, and how pithily he does so. Looking at his interpretation of Philippians 4:6-7 the other day, I found some reminders that are definitely worth sharing.
When we pray, we must always remember three things. We must remember the love of God, which only ever desires what is best for us. We must remember the wisdom of God, which alone knows what is best for us. We must remember the power of God, which alone can bring about that which is best for us. Everyone who prays with a perfect trust in the love, wisdom and power of God will find God’s peace.
I have found these three simple reminders so helpful to keep consciously in mind as I pray over “every area of life.” Remembering, and believing, that God wants, knows, and can bring about what is best for me is supernaturally comforting–going beyond human understanding. How wonderful it is to know we have a God like this….giving us ultimate perspective at every divine moment.
Barclay ends the section with:
The way to peace is in prayer to entrust ourselves and all whom we hold dear to the loving hands of God.
I pray this is an encouragement and an enhancement to your prayer life.
“No one can come to me unless the father who sent me draws them...” ~JESUS in John 6:44
This has long been one of those slightly unsettling verses for me. It sounds as if God chooses to draw some people to Himself, but not everybody–only some. Now God is God, and so God can do whatever God chooses, therefore, I am not going to pretend to sway God over to my puny thinking. Yet, thanks to my solid Bible-study Baptist upbringing, I was always taught to “compare Scripture with Scripture.” And that’s where some of the rub comes in I suppose. A God who wills some to come to Him, but not others, doesn’t seem to jive with the tenor of the New Testament where we see that God does not want any to perish, but for all to come to Him, to the eternal kind of Life (2 Peter 3:9).
Meditating upon this verse, I received another view of it which I trust and hope was from the Holy Spirit. Perhaps an aspect which John the Evangelist was intending to communicate, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is that if it is something other than the Father which draws us, therefore something less than God, then we will not come to Jesus.
We will gravitate toward whatever it is that we’re actually drawn to.
For example, if you’re drawn merely by an eloquent speaker, then you are drawn to that speaker, who is not God. Or you might be drawn by a social justice cause. That is a good thing, but it is not THE THING. You will pour energy into that cause, maybe even for Jesus, but still not genuinely come to Jesus. You can be drawn by a great community of people, or the beautiful worship music and style of a particular church, but if you’re not drawn to the Father, then you will not come to Jesus and experience true salvation for your soul, or participate in Yahweh’s Spirit-powered Kingdom Life.
Now, we must state the obvious–God the Father can use whatever means He chooses to draw us to Himself–preachers, causes, music, churches, billboards, etc. And this happens every day. We have a good friend who was authentically drawn to God via one of those old school Bible tracts. Don’t think for a second that God can’t use those! What we’re saying, as a caution, is to make sure you check yourself to see what you’re actually captivated by. At the end, it must be God Himself, for God’s sake alone (see Mt.7:21-23 for one of the scariest passages in the Bible). So many times we’re taken up with an experience or a person or an event or an author, and we may think we’re drawn to God, but in actuality, we’re only drawn to that creature or created thing–which is a far cry from the Creator, from being filled with the only One who has all authority.
Therefore, I have to wonder if John had this thought at least partially in mind when writing this passage–to be a sort of litmus test; for if we’re truly drawn to God, we will see the light which is Jesus, the exact imprint and reflection of the Father, and submit to Him. In the context of our verse above, this was around a time when many were leaving Jesus. And not just peripheral followers, but disciples were leaving Jesus. Some were just there for the miracles, some for free bread, and thankfully a few were drawn by God Himself and stayed.
Ten years ago today was an extremely unique and life-redirecting day for me. There have been very few days since that nite in which I have not thought about this experience. Sometimes, on the anniversary, I like to share it in this medium to hopefully encourage, uplift, or assure others through what I was privileged to see, hear, and feel. And being a full decade now, how could I not?! Never do I share this lightly. Also, I just love that this took place on what is traditionally Inauguration Day, for it inaugurated in my life something more grand than any human leader could ever dream of accomplishing. I sincerely hope, in some respect, this is comforting and inspiring for you.
Coming off the very difficult year of 2010 in which my dear dad passed away, one of my Outreach kids was sentenced to 35 year six in prison, my close high school friend Jeff passed away from leukemia at barely 40 years old, and Ana and I were, let’s just say, not at the high point of our marriage, I entered 2011 depressed, and at my lowest point. And then this happened.
It was January 20th, 11:45 pm. I was waiting for my very close friend Miguel to arrive at my house from Michigan for a weekend visit. I decided to lie down and rest before he got there because we inevitably stay up late catching up and laughing at all things profoundly ridiculous. I didn’t want to sleep, just rest my eyes and mind for a few minutes. And in this moment I wanted God. I wanted Him more than I’ve ever wanted Him before in my life. I felt my need for Him more than ever in my extremely low state. I knew in my soul that He was the only possible real answer to my depression from the past year. I knew nothing else would work, that there is no plan B. There is God. And so I called out to Him, this nite, in a sincerer way than ever before. Not having much capacity, I kept it simple and started praying the ancient Jesus Prayer over and over to put all my focus and yearning on Him, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I cried out to Him in earnest for comfort, for help, pleading for Him alone.
And He answered.
Suddenly, I found myself in Grand Teton National Park, sitting on a rock at a lake which was at the base of a mountain. And sitting across from me on another rock, was Jesus Himself. He looked up at the mountains around us and said, “I remember when I made this, thinking we’d be having this conversation one day.” I was reverentially awestruck, unable to speak. Mouth open, it took every ounce of my available energy to slightly nod. Then He began to speak the simplest and most affirming words to me. “Rob, I love you so much.” He spoke my name. “I’ve known you for so long.” At this, the Scripture stating that “Before you were in the womb I knew you” came to mind, as if it were downloaded into me as He spoke. “I only want what’s best for you.” There was so much affirmation going on with so few words, it was unreal. Actually, it was very real. The most real. Like experiencing real for the very first time. Then He admonished me, with penetrating love: “You never would have put Me first had you kept going down that path.” Wanting to put to rest any doubt about His complete care I still may have, He simply said, “You know I’m in control.” He then smiled at me and held up His hand. A rock flew from the ground into His hand. He was playing with me. In an instant, I felt being totally known. I felt Him knowing my sense of humor, even, I kid you not, my love of Star Wars, and He embraced it. He embraced all of it. He embraced all of me. Everything that is me, He embraced and loved in a moment. I’ve never experienced being so known and so accepted. It was the most healing experience I’d never imagined. To be fully known and be fully accepted is the height and depth of love I believe. And that is what I felt from the Person responsible for my very existence.
Continuing His play, He threw the rock into the lake and it skipped many times side to side, defying laws of physics. He was having fun with me. Finally I was able to unlock my voice enough to actually speak, and all I could get out was, “How do you do that?!?” Seems like a ridiculous question looking back, but then came His answer which was the most penetrating takeaway of my life. He stopped, looked me in the eyes, held up His right index finger, and said, “Because, I and the Father are one,” then slowly, He pointed His finger at me, “as should you be.” It was the greatest sermon I’d ever heard. Again, a slow nod took all the strength I could muster while in the presence of the Master of the universe. i skipped some rocks. It was awesome. Suddenly, He and I were walking together to “go back” and I did ask, “What about dad and Jeff?” out of utter curiosity, wondering where they were and what they were doing, I guess. “Another time,” He said gently, yet firmly, letting me know that it would be too much for me right now. I got what I needed at this point and any more would overload my circuits. Next thing I know, I was back in bed next to sleeping Ana. I sat up, completely sobered by the experience, then Miguel arrived. I let him in and told him what just happened. “Whoooa, duuuuude!” he said in his classic Cuban tone. We both felt and shared the gravity of what had just occurred.
I didn’t realize it until some time later, but this experience sent me on a trajectory to pursuing God like never before, which involved a reading and meditation frenzy. About three weeks after, I finally picked up The DivineConspiracy by Dallas Willard, and that book started a new phase of intense study for me. I so wanted to know God. To pursue Him. To serve Him. A couple weeks later I met Dave, who would become my spiritual partner, and the next year the ministries of The Ripple Effect and IRON MEN of Oaks were birthed. And along the way, Ana and I have grown closer together through Him.
Everything good of the last ten years has been born out of that nite of calling out to Jesus from the depths of my heart and experiencing His profound, soul-shifting, Life-giving answer to my call.
Jesus heals. This I know.
Thank you, YHWH. Thank you, Ruach. Thank you, Yeshua. Thank you so much.
Looking at a calendar a couple months ago I noticed that it was the year 2020, and that if my calculations are correct (and they pretty much always are), it is the 15th anniversary of our first Christmas letter we sent out. So we thought between that and all the insanity of this year, how fitting it would be to bring back our penned year review and update manuscript.
A crap ton of craziness has transpired this year, and it can be quite challenging to wade through the information overload and navigate these choppy waters. What can be especially maddening is running into those who want to talk about it nonstop, analyze it, study it, yell about it until my eyes are glazed over, my shirt’s drenched in drool, and I forget my own name for about six minutes. Sometimes worse than the 2020 tensions themselves is the constant notch-above-pointless reminding, rehashing, and debating that goes absolutely nowhere positive. So we Pallikans thought we would do you a solid and give a few helpful hints for maneuvering through this obstacle course of confusion we call 2020.
For sake of time and space, we’re gonna have to skip over what are probably the two biggest and hottest topics, and save them for another day. Those would be, obviously, Kanye’s conversion to Christ, and two astronauts being launched into space from American soil for the first time since the space shuttle program was retired in 2011 in the first ever commercially built and operated spacecraft. Sorry, we know you want to read our wisdom-filled musings on these historic happenings, but there’s just too much to say about them, and not enough ink in the printer.
On to less popular yet vitally important matters. So how to charge through some tricky situations, especially for us introverts (in my case recovering extrovert), when you’re about to get pulled in to a time-wasting, soul-sucking debate over some current issue.
Let’s say you’re out and about, maybe at the store, the laundromat, lunch, or even a dinner party, and someone asks you the terrifyingly divisive question,”How do you feel about the election?” Uhhgg. Don’t panic, all you have to do is go with the old classic of pretending you misheard the question, and answer immediately, “Oh I think erections feel really good, I’m a big fan, but that’s an extremely personal question don’t you think? I’m not very comfortable talking about this.” Even if they correct you and come back with, “No, I said ELECTION”, you just keep plowing forward with, “Yeah I’m really uncomfortable.” There should be enough ambiguity and, hopefully, discomfort on their part by now that they’ll probably let you off. Or you can storm off pretending to be upset.
What if someone tries to dive into the mask controversy? They work, they don’t work, they’re a violation of freedom, they show you care, blah blah blah. What I do in this precarious situation is respond with something along the lines of, “Well I’m glad these masks finally got mandated because my doctor has been after me for years to wear one, worried I’m gonna spread something awful ever since a little incident I had in a wildlife preserve five years ago. With everybody wearing one, I don’t feel so alone, you know?” This is usually enough to not only quiet people down, but help them forget what they even asked in the first place. If for some reason the person is annoyingly persistent, and the debate comes back around, just keep going on about how lonely you’ve been feeling for the past several years–people can’t handle that! Most want to blather on about things they can’t or won’t ever do anything about. Now they will be looking for a reason to get away from you.
Hope this is helpful!
In other news, Zayra is in her 10th and final year at The Oaks Academy. She’s been accepted to Cathedral HS class of 2025. I’m happy because it has the word CAT in it. Gaby is racing through her curriculum at her own pace in her first year at Purdue Polytechnic HS just three blocks down the street from our house. At this rate she might graduate before she turns sixteen. Next month will mark ten years for Ana working at Allison Transmission. She’s very much enjoyed working from home most of this year, being able to spend a lot more time with the girlies. And me, well, I set a personal record by going to the gym 53 days in a row, from Ukrainian Independence Day (August 24) through October 15. I was sore. On November 12 I wept joyously when our cat of six years, Dr. Bucko von Spankenfloppy, was returned to us after he’d been missing for seven months and nine days. We gave him a new birth/baptismal name of Denarius because he was our little coin who was lost but has been found (Luke 15:8-10).
I’m excitedly preparing for my 2021 “Year of Silence” which, I could say more about, but that would kind of defeat the purpose.
If you’ve received this letter, there is a very high probability that we love you and pray blessings all over you.
Always endeavoring to stay knowingly ignorant and wisely uneducated, Rob…on behalf of Ana, Gabriela, & Zayra
Do not give the devil a way to defeat you, a foothold, an opportunity, a loophole. ~Ephesians 4:27 [various translations combined]
One early crisp morning I was walking downstairs to perform my daily coffee making ritual, and as I made my way to the kitchen in the pre-dawn darkness, I was halted by what felt like a frozen, icy vortex hitting me in the face. “Why is it so cold down here??” I thought as I raced to the thermostat to see if the heat was off or, heaven forbid, the furnace was on the fritz. The heat was indeed on, and all seemed to be running well. My next immediate thought was that someone must have left the front door wide open last nite, judging by the steady breeze still hitting my chilled body. Front door shut tightly and locked. That’s not it. This is weird. There is definitely a steady stream of cold air blowing in the living room and no obvious reason for it. Finally, I decided to just stand still and feel and look around the room slowly. Calmly, I felt the air, scanned—And there it was! An open window! As I quickly closed it, I remembered that the previous day saw an unusually warm afternoon, so I had opened a window about 10 inches so that our doggy Atticus could enjoy the smells of the outdoors for a few minutes. And I obviously forgot to close it.
Pretty much immediately the Holy Ghost impressed upon me the spiritual metaphor: Do not leave any openings for evil influences to corrupt you; these are not always obvious and easy to detect. Now, sometimes we do leave the front door open. I think of wide open doors as the easy-to-see ajar portals allowing in a hurricane of dark forces. For instance, if you’re sleeping with your next door neighbor’s spouse, it doesn’t require a rocket surgeon to figure out that there’s probably gonna be some trouble up ahead for you. Or if you punch people right in the mouth whenever they don’t agree with you, or sell meth to children on playgrounds, you’re probably at least halfway aware that you’re doing something wrong and that there’s gonna be some hell to pay. But again, these are those big gaping wide open doors that are easy to notice and understand how the toxic draft is getting in.
What about open windows–those more subtle openings which can equally allow in so much poison and give the devil a foothold? I think open windows can represent habits of thought that are far from healthy, as well as far from detection. One of these habits of thought can be the toxicity of comparison, tempting you to see how your life measures up against the lifestyles of others, giving much energy to how you appear, or perhaps prodding you to look down your nose at those who are “clearly beneath you” socially, intellectually, physically, or even spiritually. Another open window may be harbored resentment or held-onto anger. This dangerous venom can course through your veins, distorting how you see everybody and everything, if allowed to steep long enough. Like the old saying about unforgiveness goes: It’s like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. And then there’s gossip, that not often preached about but clearly ruinous evil in the Scriptures. If you want to give ample opportunity for spiritual cancer to spread–this is it!
I’m sure you can come up with plenty of other “open windows” through some healthy examination. Hopefully this is a helpful springboard toward taking a critical look at how you might unknowingly be giving evil influences a handle to grab onto and steer you in the wrong direction.
Also, kinda cool, the Holy Spirit, as has happened so many times before, affirmed this experience the very next day–through this sentence I read by Henry Scougal in his book The Life of God in the Soul of Man:
There are still some worldly desires lurking in my heart, and those vanities that I have shut out of the doors are always getting in by the windows.
Advent simply means “arrival.” It is the season to celebrate and reflect on God’s breaking into His creation in the form of a human life approximately 2,020 years ago.
This is the first season of the Christian Church year, beginning on the fourth Sunday before Christmas.
During Advent, we reflect upon, meditate upon, even work at what it means to be watchful. To be hopeful and watchful. To be ready for Christ’s coming, His advent, the most important and significant event in our human history.
It is also quite important for us to keep in mind being ready for Christ’s little advents everyday throughout each day. Christ’s coming like a thief in the night, or even His standing at the door knocking are His unexpected anytime moments of calling on us for service, worship, listening, or changing. The more attuned we become to the Shepherd’s voice, the more often we will open the door to God’s messengers, no matter what they may look like or sound like.
I have come to believe that God is pretty much always speaking through everything and everyone around me. But am I always listening for the Spirit’s voice? Or am I shallowly tuned in to only the surface of what is before me?
We Christians do believe Christ will return as King, but the meaning has been cheapened over the years to the provocation of a response by some with the bumper sticker, “Jesus is coming, hide the bong.” That’s what it sadly turns into. But (hopefully) it’s much deeper than that. It is to always be at the ready for Christ’s calling upon you. He may very well tell you to put the bong away, I don’t know. But I do know, and have experienced, many times the beautiful call to His work of listening to someone, to sending a message of encouragement, to stop reading and just be with Him, to stop staring, or whatever.
There is such a beauty I now appreciate greatly of the Christian calendar. We are not of this world, we are of God’s kingdom. Therefore, isn’t it good and right to base our seasons upon the true Center of the universe Jesus Christ, and not on ourselves?
So I was reading some Meister Eckhart yesterday morning. If you’re not familiar with him, he lived 1260-1328, and was a German theologian, philosopher, professor, and mystic. He became professor of theology at the University of Paris and took a leading pastoral and organizational role in the Dominican Order. I came across a section of a sermon that has been kind of haunting me, in a holy way. A Holy Spirit haunting, if you will. Here’s the section from his sermon entitled Nothing Above The Soul with Proverbs 31:27 as the text:
“I have said often that those who fast much, and watch much and do great things, but fail to correct their faults or improve their ways–which alone is true progress–deceive themselves and are the devil’s laughingstock. A man once had a hedgehog by which he got rich. He lived by the sea. When the hedgehog sensed a change of wind, he tapped his hide and turned his back to that direction. Then the man went to the sea and said to them [i.e., the people who lived there]: ‘What will you give me to show you how the wind is going to turn?’ And he sold them [the means of foretelling changes of] wind and got rich on it. Thus too a person may grow rich in virtue by discovering the point at which he is weakest and correcting it, and by turning his chief care to overcoming his weakness.”
I’ve heard it said that if you just eliminate one bad habit (be it a physical one or a habit of thought) per year, then you are growing at a very fine rate. The same goes for obtaining a good habit every year. I do believe we are designed to grow, to mature as human beings throughout our short time here. To stagnate and flounder in the same old habits does not ring of abundant life.
I hope this gives you something meaningful to ponder as it did for me!
What’s more, don’t let yourselves be squeezed into the shape dictated by the present age. Instead, be transformed by the renewing of you’re minds, so that you can work out what God’s will is, what is good, acceptable and complete. ~Romans 12:2 [NTE]
“The ultimate freedom we have as human beings is the power to select what we will allow or require our minds to dwell upon.”
This quote by Dallas Willard is one of my favorites of all time.
We can choose what we dwell on in our thought life. God would not have told us to “set your mind on things above, not on things of the earth” if it were not possible to do so. No mere human has the authority to dictate what I should think about. No entity of this world has the God-given right to command my direction of thoughts, let alone my allegiance. Rather, we are to trust in the Lord with all our heart, and lean not on our own understanding. We must in all our ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct our path (Proverbs 3:5-6). He will direct your neural pathways. He has every right and every good intention to do this.
Now God may use people, organizations, or even the news media, to bring your awareness to an issue, or to where He would like you to direct your thought, but just because something is making headlines does not automatically make it worthy of my attention.
Oh it is the magician’s trick, so often employed by the evil one, to draw your focus to one hand while the other is doing what he doesn’t want you to see.
I am convinced that the devil’s number one strategy is to keep us away from constant conversation and contemplation with God. For in spiritual warfare, just as in physical warfare, your enemy will always try to cut off your supply lines so that you run out of energy and can no longer put up a fight.
The thing is, our enemy can’t cut off our supply line–only distract us from connecting to it. You always have a choice of where to direct your thoughts and energy. Even if something is in your face everyday, you can still pray, though it may not be as easy as, say, when you’re sitting by a beautiful lake all alone.
“Conformity to this age is to be wrapped up in the things that are temporal, to have all our thought oriented to that which is seen and temporal…If all our calculations, plans, ambitions are determined by what falls within life here, then we are children of this age.” says commentator John Murray on our verse Romans 12:2.
It can sometimes feel like that lonely daffodil up there–everyone around you might be doom and gloom, worrying constantly about getting sick or who’s in office, and you just try to continue to shine. And that gets lonely, but don’t give in and succumb to directing your precious focus where others try to steer you just because you think you should. Guard your immensely valuable attention that it is not given away, at great cost, to the magicians always selling something. Keep your focus where God would have it be–on Him. Seek God first, and He will direct your thoughts, which may or may not be what everybody else is screaming about.
As three of you know, I’m a huge Rambo fan. I really love what Sylvester Stallone did with the fourth installment in 2008. He researched all over the world for the greatest atrocities with the least amount of media coverage. This he found to be the genocide in Burma, or what is now called Myanmar. And he made his movie in order to bring awareness to that devastation. He did not simply go with what was most popular, or what everyone was talking about. He shed light on what was mostly hidden.
Verse 2 may be translated: “Do not let yourselves be shaped by what everyone else does, but rather let yourselves be transformed by a whole new way of thinking, so you can discern what conforms to God’s will, namely what is good, and pleasing, and perfect.” ~Paul Achtemeier
Can Donald Trump separate us from the love of God?
Can Joe Biden separate us from the love of God?
My goodness, some of us Christians sure act like they can, don’t we?
I am convinced that no president shall ever be able to separate us from the love of God.
How does the president of the United States change your relationship with God?
How does the president affect your personal interactions with the risen Christ?
How does political leadership prevent you from doing good to your neighbor who is right in front of you?
How does congress make you pray less?
Does the senate block the Holy Spirit from being the great Comforter?
No matter who our leaders are, I keep praying everyday. I continue to interact with Jesus about everything throughout each day. I keep loving the person the Holy Spirit places in front of me. Leaders may be able to change some of our outer circumstances, but they will never be able to take our inner freedom to experience the love of God. No leader can affect our personal relationship with God through Christ Jesus, or prevent us from loving our neighbor.
Do not be drunk with wine, which will ruin you, but be filled with the Spirit. ~Ephesians 5:18
I remember reading the above comic strip when I was about ten years old. Someone had bought several of the Garfield books for me, and this one in particular has always remained memorable for some reason. Perhaps it’s the vivid spiritual lesson that has drawn my mind back to this little strip again and again.
The more we fill ourselves with God, the less we want of anything else.
It’s a very wise diet.
I find that when my priority is to first ingest Christ, that there is automatically significantly less room for other much less meaningful thoughts and activities. Not only less room, but less desire. For example, this past week I’ve made a commitment to begin each day with 45 minutes of silent waiting upon, and listening to, God. I cannot adequately convey just how peacefully tone-setting this one simple non-negotiable practice has been for me. Another aspect of my “5 lbs. of carrots” is making sure to pray thoughtfully and specifically every day for about a dozen people close to me. Also writing down the three things I’m most thankful for. Making sure I eat these carrots first, or at least as soon as possible, I find that my perspective is shaped in a more appreciative, open, and clear-headed manner.
I really like how Matthew McConaughey said it in a podcast recently about the first thing you do in the morning:
“Check in with yourself before you check in with the world.”
Upon waking, check in with Jesus, with yourself, eat your 5 lbs. of carrots, whatever that is for you, and go to bed (hopefully after going over your day with God) giving so little room for anxious thoughts, cares of this life, and the worries of 2020, that you drift off quickly in heavenly peace.
Now I must confess that I’m not exactly sure of the spiritual significance of that third frame up there, other than maybe that’s how we treat God or holy messengers of divine wisdom.