A Faith Forged in Relationship

Waiting for the Word, Flickr
Waiting for the Word, Flickr

God’s way is the best way—do you believe that? I am certain that his commands to humans are grounded in a consuming love for them. What he orders us to do, whether spoken in the written Word or in the quiet of our hearts, is purposed for our benefit and joy, never burdensome or appeasing his need. God has no needs; instead, he only seeks to give us his best.

The scope of God’s directives transcends mere rule; they reveal him (Ps. 19:7-9). They explain so much about his intent toward us, which is only good and loving. Here is where some will quickly add, “Yep. This is not a religion, but a relationship”—and I’ll only partly agree, because Christianity is religion…is a religion, but one emphasized in relationship. The two are conterminous, for the one leads to the other.

Setting Our Spiritual Priorities

Relationship is the goal, however, life-changing, radical relationship. It has always been the basis of Judeo-Christian faith. God doesn’t ask us to trust him blindly. In Scripture and in our lives, he has always revealed himself…revealed his character and made sure that we never have to trust in One we don’t know or understand.

Wholesome, dynamic relationship is the clue we gather from the succinct reference to Enoch in Hebrews 11:5, relationship so wonderful that God whisked Enoch out of this life into another—and then come these words: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

In my post entitled “Getting Faith Right”, I write about this passage and myself: “I knew God was there, but I didn’t understand that before all the great possibilities of his power and my obedience was our relationship and that it is the touchstone to everything.”

When our relationship with God is strong, we’ll have no problems with his commands. And we can be used powerfully like Philip, Ananias, and others who were simply told “Go!”; and despite being given no further instructions, their confidence rested not in results or their own well-being, but rather in their Commander.

It All Points to Him

God tells us to do nothing without orienting it to himself, his character and purpose. He never just says “Believe”; instead, he says, “Believe me.” He doesn’t say “Love,” but “Love me.”

Don’t believe the many slogans—“Love is all that matters” and “Just believe”, or at least judge them by the scriptures. Jesus exemplifies a life with every sensibility aligned with his Father and his purpose. No love exists in a vacuum without the potential for abuse; there is no worth in a faith in ourselves.

Furthermore, ours is a caring Father peering into our faces giving his instructions, which is especially important when the orders appear dreadful or are tough to our will.

God is all. He guarantees what is done for him and achieved by his strength. And if we do all for his glory, we’ll accomplish his will and discover incredible joy doing so.

Read more: The Goal of Religious Practice

The Most Persnickety Writer You Might Know

CC BY, Drew Coffman, Flickr
Drew Coffman, Flickr

Kevin Daniel of The Number Kevin has turned the tables on me by asking “What is your writing process?” as part of a blogroll. As you know, here lately I’m the one asking the questions…this one particularly. Nevertheless, after retracing my writing history—something you don’t care to know—I’m happy to give you a look at how I compose for A ‘Mike’ for Christ.

Whatcha Got, Stephens?

An idea: that’s how it starts—the way it does for most of us. But that idea is produced one of three ways: I’m inspired; I need to work the skill; or I have an opinion.

I prefer inspired writing. My blog is devotional, so usually my content derives from scripture. There’s nothing like being gripped by a verse or spiritual concept. This writing flows easily.

CC BY-NC, Jonathan Kim, Flickr
Jonathan Kim, Flickr

I should probably add that although my blog is devotional, it’s very much the outlet for a serious writing avocation. I write to edify, but I also write to practice writing. I am one who reads books on writing and completes online writing courses. I’m not the best writer, by far, but I take the craft seriously and I’m picky about it. (Ever noticed your comment nipped and tucked?)

When the inspiration faucet isn’t running, I obligate myself to write. Sometimes that’s tough and I have taken time off; but I’ve learned ways to combat the ho-hums. For instance, I will require myself to explore the verse of the day (“Wow! What a Head!”) or I will reimagine or restyle something from Scripture (“The Book of Malchus” and “The Many Faces of Jesus”).

My most creative and most commented posts often spring from these drought seasons. I also like to use magazines—any kind—to jumpstart my mind. My fragrance series…well it was inspired by a Martha Stewart Living!

Opinion pieces are rarer. I hold opinions like everyone else, and I don’t shy away from expressing them. But opinion hardly appears on The ‘Mike’ since my intent is devotional. Plus, I’ve discovered that Christians can be defensive and unloving in their conservatism and prove themselves to be stranded of deep thought on matters. Discussion is always a growth opportunity. Still, this usually means little-to-no current news or hot-button topics…just let Scripture speak.

You, Words—Out of My Head!

CC BY-SA, Ritesh Nayak, Flickr
Ritesh Nayak, Flickr

I may tote ideas around for days or weeks until I know how I wish to approach them. This means I maintain a small stack of ideas and prompts at all times. In-depth Bible study may or may not be part of the process. It depends on what I’m writing and how much I care to say.

Outlining comes next, which can be very formal and has been, usually for large pieces, or it can be chicken-scratched notes of things pouring out of my head.

Then, I talk out what I wish to say—yes, aloud. Call me looney, but that probably helps me most. It pulls everything out of my head and off the memos to be organized verbally. This is the point when I can write, but not without a good hook, or evocative sentence that throws everything into gear. Many posts have been stalled or scrapped because I couldn’t get the first line right.

Man, You’re Picky!

Now the hard but rewarding work begins. The best writing always appears in the revision stage. C’mon, it’s the most creative and enjoyable part of writing! For me this includes extensive dictionary and thesaurus use, copy and content editing, fact-checking, Bible version selection—the whole kit and caboodle. And I must state that writing is as much about “fondling” words and hearing their cadence as it is communicating an idea. Thus, diction is very important.

It’s not uncommon for me to spend full days revising a single post. Yet any lover of words and decent writer will tell you that a composition is never “finished.”

Joan M. Mas, Flickr
Joan M. Mas, Flickr

You write to make it look simple and common, but it’s rewarding when someone notices the skill and effort. Nathaniel Hawthorne says it best: “Easy reading is damn hard writing.”

I try to start the week’s posts on the previous Friday and be done by Sunday afternoon. Ideally, all the major editing should be completed. I write in total silence and by word processor; then I transfer the work to WordPress and start a second phase of revision. I can only guess how many times an article is read and reviewed. Then, having a post scheduled for 12:01 a.m., I watch it go live, reread it and give a final look, and then go to bed.

Blogroll Call-ing

Now it would be nice to learn the writing process of the following writers: J.D. Blom of A Devoted LifeMel Wild of In My Father’s House, and Heather Jenkins of Inside Heather’s Head. Let’s hope they’re reading!

* Read about Heather’s writing process: “Writer in Training”

What Job’s Friends Did Right

"Job's Friends" by James Tissot (CC-PD)
“Job’s Friends” by James Tissot (CC-PD)

Once word spread about Job’s tragic misfortune, three of his friends—Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar—traveled to visit and mourn with him. Generally, nothing wonderful is made of these men due to the flawed counsel they offered Job. But their companionship is something they model that we should emulate.

The Pervasiveness of Trouble

Hard times hit us all…no one is immune. Sometimes trouble comes crashing in on us unexpectedly; at other times we bring it upon ourselves. Whatever the case, the toll on a person can be significant in every way.

Job didn’t have just a single problem that stressed him; instead, he dealt with compounding heartaches—financial ruin, the tragic deaths of his children, a hideous and disfiguring disease, and the loss of a supporting wife. We need not wonder about the toll it took on him because he tells us: “May the day of my birth perish and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’…may it turn to darkness” (3:3-4).

How to Help Others

Fortunately, Job had people who cared enough to come see about him, folk who let him know that he didn’t have to face his cares alone. And thousands of years later, the necessity of a ‘crying shoulder’ or person to lean on hasn’t changed. No matter how spiritual we may be or how much faith we possess, we have limitations and will experience emotional pain. But hardship is eased by meaningful relationship.

Here are some pointers I’ve learned helping others and needing that help.

  • Don’t be silent. In high school I had a friend whose mother was killed in a car accident. I never spoke to him about the situation, although I really wanted to but didn’t know how. The problem with silence is…it’s so loud. It becomes the evidence that everything is known, but for some reason you’re not acting; and then it becomes stigmatizing. It shames the one who is hurting, the one who wants to be heard and have his burden shared. Find a way to show care, even if it seems awkward at first. You’ll find your feet as you go.
  • Don’t pity people. Pity makes us feel sorry for folk and glad that we don’t have to live as they do. It is love from a distance, which is no love at all; and it keeps us from feeling people’s pain. Pity disgraces people and makes them feel bad about themselves. It is not the love of God, and it restrains us from getting involved.
  • Don’t turn people into their trouble. Regardless of an individual’s predicament or how they got into it, they are still persons whom God loves and those he requires us to love. If we’re not careful our moral stances can make us calloused toward folk we identify as offenders. But people are not their problems and they can change. If we don’t believe this, then we don’t have authentic Christian faith.

Read more: Helping Others Grieve

How to Live for God

CC BY-NC, Richard Yuan, Flickr
CC BY-NC, Richard Yuan, Flickr

While working the cash register one day on a former job, I met a guy who worked for the Minor League Baseball team in the area. I inquired about his role and he said he cut the field grass. It was the ultimate moment for me to get a longstanding question answered, so I asked him.

“How do you make those patterns in the grass?” His reaction was classic, if not a little embarrassing for me. That’s because he locked eyes with me for about a second or two and his face sneered “Are you serious?” Still, I was too eager for the answer.

“You just go the other way.”

Talk about an anticlimactic moment! I’ve learned since how simple it really is. It’s called lawn striping, but that’s not my point here (see video).

Finding Our Way

That incident makes me reflect on the godly life. Some people see living for Jesus as the hardest thing they could ever do. That’s because in their estimation they must read tomes of Bible and literature, publish all their secrets, go to church several days a week, and be a good and sweet individual.

There is much to be undertaken and none of it is anything like who they are or what they are trying to be at that point.

Sometimes veteran Christians make it difficult for seekers and new believers. It’s not that converts don’t wish to live godly or desire the true religion they understand of Christian faith; but we do them an injustice when we don’t cooperate with the Holy Spirit to form Christ within them in the way it must happen for them.

Each of us has his or her own process. When I comprehended living for Christ, I immediately shut off all secular music and TV and built from the ground-up with routine prayer and Bible study. But that won’t be everyone’s path, and only in time might the Spirit expose and excise certain hindrances.

But what any of us must do first is the least complicated thing: turn and go the other way. And herein we discover the depravity of our hearts that makes us fixatedly walk to our eternal demise, because in ourselves we don’t care to turn.

The simple things are often the profoundest. Thank God that the Holy Spirit working in the hearts of those who need Christ knows how to convince them that going the other direction is the better way.

More on this: How We Engage the Lost and Reflections on Evangelism

Be Careful Little Eyes…

CC BY-NC-SA, Peter Nederlof, Flickr
CC BY-NC-SA, Peter Nederlof, Flickr

I’d like to share a humorous story I read in a local magazine written by a pastor.

He reminisces about an encounter he had with some cattle ranchers from the Midwest. The pastor grew up in the city, so learning about the ranchers’ way of life excited him. He describes himself as being “mesmerized” by the details of their work and underscores the immense skill and dedication the job requires.

One of the ranchers vividly recounted helping one of his cows give birth several years before. Yet the focal point of his detailed account was not the process; instead, it was something unexpected: the rancher’s young son. While the rancher eagerly midwifed the cow, the boy, maybe five years-old at the time, stood by a fence absorbing the whole event.

The rancher dreaded that he would have to explain the birds and the bees to the preschooler; but maybe the boy wouldn’t care to talk about what he saw at all. When everything was over, the rancher approached the little one, fearing he was “too traumatized” by the event, and asked him if he had questions.

The boy, still gazing at the newborn, nodded and said, “Yeah, just one: How fast was that calf going when he hit that cow?”

The pastor explains, “At some point in life, we are each faced with some experience that exceeds any rational explanation.” You can read the entire article here: “Musing About: Rational Skepticism”.

The Known Universe

The following is an extraordinary video detailing the dimensions of our universe. It’s entitled The Known Universe. If you haven’t seen it, then prepare your mind: you’re headed for the boggle point! Unfortunately, I must leave it in a smaller format while it’s on my main page because my theme uses columns. View it directly on YouTube and you will be able to expand the screen. Enjoy. You’ll be singing “God of Wonders” when it’s all over!