The Light of a Small Candle

No amount of darkness can overcome light, not even the tiny, flickering light of a small candle glowing in the hand of a child.

In northern Arizona, there is a famous slot canyon called Antelope Canyon. It sits in Navajo land and has both an Upper and a Lower Canyon, both of which can be toured and photographed by permit. The Navajo name for Upper Antelope Canyon is “Tse’ bighanilini,” which means “the place where water runs through rocks.” The natural, sandstone walls have been carved into incredible, rippled waves over many years by erosion.  They have an orange coloring that glows as light enters in bright rays during specific times.  Shades of pinks and blues also grace the upper surfaces of rock.  It is, to say the least, impressive!

Some years ago I photographed both the Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons.  I timed the visit so that the sunlight would be coming down through the vertical walls which can be as high as 120 feet above the canyon floor.  The featured image in this post is one of many that I took, and it is perhaps my favorite.  The verse from the Gospel of John came to mind immediately once I was able to look at the image on my computer.

In comparison to the exquisite light of Antelope Canyon, Cindy and I took our children into a lava tube near Mount St Helens in the State of Washington in the 1990s.  There, we walked through an ancient tunnel in which lava once flowed through, leaving a massive, hardened exterior of lava rock.  Once inside, you are confronted with total darkness.  It is absolutely pitch black and you can’t see your hand in front of your face or anything else for that matter.  You take headlamps and/or flashlights to navigate your way through the hardened, undulating floor of the tube which runs for over 2 miles.

The contrast between the two locales is striking.  Antelope Canyon’s brilliant light and colors are spectacular and exciting.  The lava tube, in contrast, was dark and oppressive, yet still quite interesting to see – although once was enough for me.

Light is an amazing thing, and how thankful we are for it. As a photographer, my goal is to capture images in which the light is at its best for the subject at hand. For landscapes, that is in the early morning or late evening. So I think about light a lot.

There are creatures on this earth that God has placed in areas of total darkness. Whether it be at the bottom of the ocean or deep inside caves, such creatures often develop unique characteristics over time where they might lose their natural pigmentation and eyesight or develop the ability to create their own light source. God obviously loves to create and I love all that He has given to us to enjoy with our eyesight.

How marvelous the blessings that we all can be thankful for, that we live in an age when we can see the wonders of the world through television or computer monitor, without the requirement to travel to remote corners of the world.

As the title of this post states, no amount of darkness can overcome light, not even the tiny, flickering light of a small candle glowing in the hand of a child. We pray that you will always be thankful for light. As a believer, remember that the light of God shines within you.

Consider the words of Jesus:

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Your thoughts and comments would be appreciated.

Photograph by John J O’Leary

Selfless Love

There are four primary words in the Ancient Greek language that have been translated into our English word “Love” in the New Testament of the Bible. One of them is quite important to a person who calls himself or herself a “Christian”.

When Americans use the word “love” they might use it in multiple contexts, sometimes with a wry smile. In our house, if one of our children would have said “I just love this spaghetti!”, another might have responded with “Well, why don’t you marry it?” Corny but cute.

In 1995, the phrase “I love you man!” was used in a comical Bud-Light beer commercial. The son wanted a beer from his father, so he professed his love for him in what was an obvious-to-all ploy. But the commercial was funny with an endearing “Hallmark Card-like” tone. As a result, it became a huge hit in pop culture at the time.  Perhaps it hit home with some about how we profess love while actually seeking something for ourselves.

Of the words translated to “love” from the Ancient Greek language, the first three are not the subject of this article:

  • The Greek word “Eros” we translate as love, but it has sexual tones of passion.  Our word “erotic” comes from this.
  • The Greek word “Philia” means love, but it is the love of friendship.  The city we know as Philadelphia was named by William Penn, and the name means “brotherly love”.  As an aside, among the many historically signficant accomplishments of that city, it was the birthplace of the United States Marines, to whom I have the greatest respect.
  • The Greek word “Storge” also means love, but it is the type of love that parents have for their children.

Yet the Greeks used one other word for love that signifies an even greater love, a “selfless love”. The word is “Agape”. What is agape love or selfless love? It is a love in which one intentionally puts the good of others ahead of oneself. Such love was demonstrated in its ultimate form by Jesus Christ. It was His intentional willingness to suffer, to be crucified and to die for the good of mankind.

Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.
~ John 15:13

To be a Christian, one believes that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and that He bore the sins of man on His shoulders on a cross at Calvary.  Also, that He rose again on the third day and sits at the right hand of the Father.  Such faith is a saving faith. But a Christian is to not just believe, but also to follow the example of Jesus by loving God and loving others selflessly.  That is the difficult part.  It requires work, diligence, and agape love for others.

And He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
~ Matthew 22:37-39

You might respond “Love my neighbor as myself!? How is that possible? You clearly haven’t met my neighbors!”

Yet when we look at the love that Jesus brought into the world, we see such love. It was the poor and downtrodden that He came to save. He didn’t reach out to the rich, the beautiful or the powerful of that time in history, but to the destitute, the leper, the tax-collector that most people shunned or despised. He led by example. We are to follow His example, to follow Him.

One of the most quoted verses in the New Testament is this one –
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
~ John 3:16

This verse describes God’s action of “giving” His Son, Jesus, for all who would believe in Him. That takes “selfless” to a new level. We would almost certainly be more willing to die for someone than to sacrifice one of our children for them. Can we even begin to understand the love of God?

It frankly isn’t possible for a man to achieve such perfect, selfless love, but Jesus promised His followers that He would send a “Helper” in the person of “The Holy Spirit” to them. Through the study of His word in the Bible, through prayer and through the power of the Holy Spirit within us, we can follow the example of Jesus.

There is much darkness in this world.  We only need to do a quick scan of the latest news to see the terror and cruelty that men inflict on each other.  Yet love prevails.  Christians are to be “set apart” for the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We pray that you will believe, trust and follow Him.

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
~ 1st Corinthians 13:4-7

Photograph by John J O’Leary

I Hope You Know What You Are Doing!

Hope is an expression of an outcome desired, but not yet attained…

We hear the word hope in many contexts. We have no doubt heard the following expressed:

  • “Well, I would certainly hope so!”
  • “I hope you know what you are doing!”
  • “He is hopeless!”
  • “That was my last hope.”

Hope is an expression of an outcome desired, but not yet attained. It is used to express a belief, one in which we have a reasonable expectation that it is true. As an example, we hope that our friends will be there for us in a time of need. We believe they will, but we aren’t certain.

In the language of a Christian, hope is one of three aspects of a believer’s character.

“But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” ~ 1st Corinthians 13:13

Hope can also represent the very person of Jesus Christ to us. “He is our hope.” “Put your hope in the Lord.”

One thing is certain.  If you have hope you will act much differently than if you have no hope.

We are all faced with challenges, both large and small. Misplacing our car keys is small. Realizing someone has stolen our car is large. Some challenges are common (I often misplace my car keys). Some are uncommon such as losing your car.

While in San Diego on a photography trip a few years ago, I parked my car and walked a number of blocks to see the galleries of a couple of famous photographers in La Joya. The streets aren’t laid out in a nice north/south grid. There are some winding streets and others at angles. In returning much later to where I had parked, I found it gone. Had it been stolen? It took me a considerable time to realize that I had simply failed to recall the exact location I had parked it. In my time of searching, you can imagine the thoughts that went through my head. Initially, I had hope. However, that started to fade as my fruitless searching dragged on and on. Once I found it I was extremely relieved.

We know that the word of God says to “be anxious for nothing”, but we tend to be anxious for many things. Even as I write this, I think about the potential to be unclear or to use poor grammar. Yet there are truly monumental challenges that await us in life that will require a hope that cannot be easily lost.

What if you get a call from your child letting you know they have been arrested for possession of illegal drugs? What if you get a call from a hospital telling you that your child has been in a traffic accident, and the caller is dodging your key question about how your child is doing?

As believers, whether we are looking for our car keys or our car, how do we remain hopeful and not turn to anxiety and despair? Whether we receive a call from the jail or the hospital, how do we put our hope in Jesus Christ and hold on to the hope we have in Him?

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe…
~ Ephesians 1:18-19

These words of Paul in his letter to the Ephesians tells us that our heart can actually be enlightened – so that we will understand the hope we have in Christ. Paul says that this enlightenment can be obtained through prayer.

My understanding of this is that we can ask God for the ability to hope, through a greater understanding of how trustworthy He is. We have “a living hope” in the person of Jesus Christ, one that is not frail or perishable. Thus through prayer and through reading the word of God, we can strengthen our ability to more clearly understand the basis for our hope in Him.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. ~ 1 Peter 1:3-5

Your thoughts and comments would be appreciated.

Photograph by John J O’Leary

Forgiveness is Crucial!

One of the most difficult things in life is to be faced with monumental unfairness.

One of the most difficult things in life is to be faced with monumental unfairness. There are basic reactions that we naturally have when we determine that an event is unfair. Examples include being cheated, being punished for another’s crime, and even something as mundane as someone else’s car pulling into a parking spot you had signaled to be waiting on.

Consider this scenario: Bank robbers brutalize a pregnant teller, pistol-whipping her in anger and frustration when they notice she has pressed an emergency switch notifying the police of a robbery in process. A police car happens to be just down the street and they get the call to proceed to the bank. As they pull up to the front entrance, the robbers flee the bank, running to their left to get to their waiting vehicle. The policeman riding in the passenger seat leaps from the slowing police car, yelling “Stop, police!” One robber pulls a gun and shoots back blindly at the police car, the bullet striking an older man on the other side of the street. The policeman on foot pulls his gun and shoots back at the robbers. But a six-year-old boy was cowering beside a freestanding mailbox, unseen by the policeman. The bullet strikes him instead of the robber. The robbers flee to safety with the cash, leaving behind a wake of carnage. The boy’s mother, shocked and in tears, kneels over her young son. The policeman frantically searches for a pulse on the wrist of the older pedestrian and finds none. Inside the bank, the patrons are trying to give aid to the injured teller and her unborn child.

All the injured or killed in this scenario were innocent. It is so incredibly unfair! That’s what makes it so difficult to accept. The guilty party, the robbers, are unscathed, leaving behind a wake of death and grief. Unfairness can be a huge mountain for us to scale when we try to come to grips with a scene like this.

So the question that I would pose to you is this: “How on earth does forgiveness occur in such a scenario? Who would be able to forgive? Could the husband of the teller, the mother of the young boy, the wife and children of the older man? What about the policeman who accidentally shot the boy, could he forgive himself?

The answer is yes. Please read on.

You may be unable to fathom how that could be. But let me point you to an incident that occurred in Prescott Valley, Arizona. The date was July 9th of 2010. Two neighbors in an apartment complex were talking and having a few drinks. One lived above the other. The discussion turned into an argument. The neighbor from downstairs went back to his apartment and grabbed a knife. He charged back upstairs and in a drunken rage attacked the other by stabbing him repeatedly. The victim tried to fend off and flee his attacker. Yet he was unable to do so and was killed by multiple knife wounds, collapsing near his front door.

Let’s now advance in time to the murder trial in a courthouse in Prescott, Arizona. I was there. So was my wife, Cindy. It had been her brother, Steven Ogle, who had been killed by his neighbor. Think on this a second: If it had been your brother who had been killed, what would you have said to the murderer, assuming you would have had the chance?

The trial was conducted. After sentencing, if you had been there with us in court, you would have seen my wife arrange with the Victim’s Advocate to say a word to the man who had brutally stabbed her brother multiple times. He had just been found guilty and had been told by the judge that he was sentenced to the maximum 29 years in prison for his crime. You would have seen the murderer turned around by the Deputy to face my wife. You would have then easily heard my wife say to him “I forgive you’ [pausing then repeating again] ‘I forgive you.” You would have seen tears flow down the murderer’s face as my wife and I walked away.

When we were driving from Prescott back to Scottsdale, I told Cindy that I was so very proud of her having the courage and the grace to forgive. It had impressed me so much. It was as if I had seen the hand of God upon her at that moment. By forgiving the man who murdered her brother, she had lifted any burden of bitterness, hate, anger or resentment from her own shoulders. She was free of such consequences. Forever. It truly was God giving her the ability to forgive in such circumstances.

Cindy had experienced the healing power of forgiveness in the loss of our son in 2003. She believes that a key part of her healing was the forgiveness we both had for the driver who had pulled out in front of our son Brian that year. We both knew it had been an accident, and we were able to forgive completely. We believe God had blessed us with the ability to immediately forgive. It wasn’t any merit on our part. We both heard several years later that our forgiveness (given to us by God) had been spoken of for several years afterward. A dear Pastor had shared with us how the story had been a blessing to others.

Cindy feels that the forgiveness in the death of our son led to her being able to turn to God for forgiveness for the murderer of her brother seven years later.

If we are unwilling to forgive, it may be because we equate forgiveness with condoning an action. That isn’t the case. Cindy believed the conviction (and lengthy prison sentence) was just. Forgiving the murderer was simply saying that she would never hold on to all the negative feelings and stress that come along with unforgiveness.

If we don’t forgive, we are unwilling to let God work in our life. We have all probably heard the expression “Holding a grudge.” That is an accurate statement. If you hold on to it, instead of letting it go, you aren’t hurting the guilty party, you are just hurting yourself.

Reading this, you may understand the concept and see the benefits to you and others, but just can’t find a way to actually forgive. Might I suggest prayer? God is the source of all good things. Forgiveness, or the ability to forgive, is a gift that you can ask God for.

Here is an example of a prayer that you might consider and personalize:

“Lord, you have forgiven me for all the wrong things I have done. I seek to follow your example. Grant me the ability to forgive those who have wronged me, those who have hurt the ones I love, and help me to also forgive myself for the things I have done wrong. Free me from the burden of unforgiveness, and let me see the blessings that can occur when forgiveness is in my heart rather than bitterness. In Jesus name, I pray, Amen!”

A few scriptures on forgiveness from the Bible:

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
~ Ephesians 4:32

Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.
~ Romans 12:19

But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.
~ Matthew 6:15

But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves.
~ Luke 23:34

For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive,
And abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon You.
~ Psalms 86:5

Photograph by John J O’Leary

To Those Who Love God

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

One of the most popular, most comforting, scriptures in the Bible is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
~Romans 8:28

Some reading this may not know the Bible well and perhaps don’t know who Paul was. Imagine then, that you are a man who is highly intelligent and devout, having a set of beliefs about God that you not only cherish but defend. You are known as Saul of Tarsus by your Jewish brethren. You are a Jew and also a Roman citizen. From early childhood, you have spent your life studying the Torah, the written law of God. Your reputation is based on your beliefs. You have gone so far as to seek out heretics who are claiming that God has come in the person of a man from Nazareth, a carpenter’s son. Blasphemous! Later, you become a leader in the search for these heretics so that they can be brought to justice. You stand on the sidelines and watch as one of them is stoned to death. Then one fateful day, as you are traveling to a city called Damascus in your search, God stops you in your tracks. Literally. You are blinded. You fall from your horse into the dusty road and hear the voice of God: “Saul, Saul, why you are persecuting Me?”

Saul had been hunting disciples, or followers, of Jesus Christ, who had apparently proclaimed Himself to be the Son of God. Saul was known as “the Pharisee of Pharisees”. A Pharisee was one who was “separated from others” and they were often self-righteous and arrogant. You can imagine the outrage of such a man when confronted with people saying that this Jesus was supposedly God in the flesh.

There are 13 “Principles of Faith” that Orthodox Jews believe. The 12th states: “I believe with full faith in the coming of the Messiah. And even though he tarries, with all that, I await his arrival with every day.” There was a belief that a “Messiah” would come to liberate the Jewish people and bring world peace. He would be a powerful king, ruling here on earth! Yet when He came, instead of coming as a king here on earth, He came as a gentle, loving man who would say that His kingdom was not of this earth. Instead of being recognized as the Messiah, He would be mocked, beaten, spat upon, and crucified upon a cross. Then those who had been His disciples would be summarily hunted down and killed. And Saul was a leader of the pack of hunters pursuing them.

With that backdrop of a man who was vehemently against Jesus and His followers, how on earth is it possible that he would be the one who would risk his life innumerable times to tell the story that Jesus was, in fact, the Son of God? Wouldn’t God have struck him down with a bolt of lightning, killing him on that road to Damascus to show others what would happen to them if they persecuted and killed his followers? Wouldn’t God smite those who had killed His Son, Jesus?

God is God, and His ways are not our ways. That’s a very good thing indeed. Instead of killing Saul, He dramatically showed him the error of his ways and turned him from his path of self-righteousness and destruction to a path of true righteousness and salvation. Saul would come to be known as Paul, as his life would take a complete reversal in direction. He would go on to write many letters, revealing the story of Jesus Christ and declaring His message of love, grace, and sacrifice.

The longest of Paul’s letters would be to the Romans. It was when Nero was the Emperor. His letter to the Romans was written around 57-58 a.d., while Paul was most likely in Corinth. Paul had never met those he wrote to but knew of their faith in Christ based on the testimony of others. They were of differing backgrounds. Most likely there were Jews among them who believed in Jesus. Others would have been heathens who had also come to believe in Him. There would have been contentious beliefs about how to be a follower of Christ. Paul’s letter would be written to encourage them and instruct them on his inspired knowledge of the sinful nature of man, the sacrifice that Jesus made in our man’s behalf, and that salvation is through faith alone.

When we read that “God causes all things to work together for good”, we must recognize that this pertains to just one group of people. It is “to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” No such statement is made to those who do not love God and who are not called according to his purposes. Nor is Paul saying that we can cause things to work together for good. Only God can do this. “Looking on the bright side” may be helpful to us, but that is not what Paul is saying here.

What does the verse mean? How can we apply this in our life? First, we should love God.

There is a scripture in Mathew 22 in which Jesus had been asked a very important question by the Pharisees. When they hoped to entrap him, asking Him what the great commandment in the Jewish Law was, He replied:

“ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment.”
~ Matthew 22:37

In 2004, several months after the death of our son, Brian, I was in my car on the way to work. It was early morning and I was alone on a highway. I felt very alone indeed. My thoughts were of Brian and how much I missed him. I thought of Matthew 22. Understanding what it meant, knowing the scripture, was one thing. Being able to do it, I felt, was something altogether different.

Speaking out loud, I asked God “How is it possible for me to love you more than I love Brian, Daniel, and Katie? More than I love my wife? More than I love my mother and father, my sister? More than my friends? More than the amazing beauty of this world with its majestic mountains, rivers, ocean beaches, sunsets, and wildlife? More than starry nights, the twinkling of fireflies, the feeling when a large trout takes my fly in a Wyoming stream?” I stated emphatically “That is not possible for me God! I can’t just want to love you more than all that, it isn’t simply choosing to love. I have to really love You that much to obey that commandment!”

It would be misleading to say God answered me. More accurately, I believe He gave me a revelation that would change my understanding. I suddenly understood it as if He had said out loud to me: “John, every person and everything you just listed are gifts that I have given to you in your life. You love my gifts, can you not love Me, the One who gave you every good thing?” That was eye-opening for me. God had given me everything I had ever loved, ever cherished, throughout my entire life. And yet, here I was asking Him how I could love Him more than those people, those things. He had given me those things out of love for me. I was very appreciative of the gifts. But I had been missing the opportunity to love the Giver.

Cindy and I would see many evidences of God in our lives. We would be told that the forgiveness we had shown after Brian’s accident would be a blessing to others, and had even been shared by missionaries on trips to other countries. Cindy would tell the murderer of her brother to his face “I forgive you, I forgive you…” He would break down in tears as she said these words.  He would also go to prison for many years.  Perhaps her words would lead him one day to seek to know God, to surrender his life to the One who actually was in control of it?  We would see God working, bringing good out of the loss of our son, out of the loss of her brother. Yet the pain was also real, and the healing took a long time.

My belief is that we take so much for granted in this life and our love for God is far too shallow. We have expectations that things will go well, especially if we think we are being “good people”. We have simplistic views on the things that really matter, such as where we will spend eternity and the purpose of our very existence. We must remember that God causes all things to work for good – “to those who love God.”

Can we not cry out to God to help us out of the depths of His love?

“Lord, help me first to love You in a more profound way!”

“Open the eyes of my heart Lord!”

“Help me to see beyond the material world and the daily grind of activities and chores, so that I can see You at work in my life and the lives of others.”

“Help me to understand the depth of Your love, a love that would cause You to sacrifice Your Son to save a sinner like me.”

“Help me to love others, to extend Your love to them, and to not be focused on myself.”

“But most of all Lord, thank You! Thank you for loving me and for all the gifts you have given to me throughout my entire life. I am eternally grateful.”

My encouragement to you is that, no matter what has happened in your life prior to now, you are free to choose to follow after Jesus Christ at this very moment. Humble yourself, recognizing that you really aren’t in control of much in this life. But you can make choices! You have the freedom even in the midst of the most hostile countries in the world to choose to believe in Jesus, that He is the Son of God who came to take away the sins of the world. My sins. Your sins. You can believe that He rose from the grave after three days and sits at the right hand of God. You are free to turn from sinful ways and follow Him, trusting Him with your very soul.

Blessings in Christ,
John

Photograph by John J O’Leary

Turning Back in the Day of Battle

When the going gets really tough, will we be able to stand or will we flee?

When the going gets really tough, will we be able to stand or will we flee?

One of the most influential pastors in my life over the last four years has been a man who preached in the 1800s in England. When I get to heaven, I will thank him. But today I thank God for him and how He graced the pastor with tremendous wisdom and a heart yearning for God.

His name is Charles Haddon Spurgeon. You can read every one of his sermons (that would take a very long time) at “The Spurgeon Center”. The link is https://www.spurgeon.org. He is referred to as “The Prince of Preachers” and there is no question that he followed Christ devoutly. I highly recommend him to you.

Four years ago I read one of his sermons titled “Turning Back in the Day of Battle” –https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/spurgeoncharles/sermons/0696.cfm

This particular sermon caused me to take a very hard look at my life. I could see where I turned back and did not stand firm. That is the title I’ve borrowed for this article and I hope Spurgeon doesn’t mind.

Before I speak about large battles, let me talk about small ones. We face small battles every day in which we can choose to act like Christ – or not. For example, you are driving down the highway at 70 miles an hour and a car almost runs into you. You swerve out of the way and notice they are texting at the wheel. Do you curse, letting your anger and frustration show? That would be the natural reaction. Been there, done that. It’s not easy controlling our emotions when we see people doing foolish, dangerous things that endanger other’s lives, especially our own. If you have your children in the car with you that makes it doubly hard. Yet, every time we have patience and act like Christ, we are allowing Him to work in our lives. We deny our self and are transformed into His likeness, in just a small way.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans he wrote:

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
– Romans 12:2

My personal belief is that God weaves lots of little battles in our lives to prepare us for the larger ones to come.

What are the bigger battles? Here are some examples:

  • You get fired from your job unfairly
  • You lose someone you love
  • Your spouse asks for a divorce or you decide the marriage is dead and ask them for a divorce
  • Someone tells you that believing in God is believing in a fairy tale
  • Someone at work dishonors your company and you are left to deal with the aftermath
  • The love your life cheats with your best friend
  • The doctor comes back into the room frowning at your x-ray

If we habitually allow the Holy Spirit to work in us, and we stand for our beliefs on a day by day basis, it transforms us and strengthens us.

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
~ Romans 5:3-5

Spurgeon’s sermon, based on Psalm 78:9, centered around a group of men that were armed and carrying bows. Sounds like a formidable group and one that I might want at my back in a time of trouble. But the scripture tells us that they turned their backs, away from the battle. And it is very possible that they were armed and equipped with bows to protect the ark of the covenant! In regards to turning away from the battle, Spurgeon states “This, I am sorry to say, is not an unusual thing amongst professing Christians.”

Spurgeon goes on to look at all aspects of the encounter and raises some astonishing points about it that can directly apply to us in this day and age. He talks about bravery, especially about how brave some men act when the battle has not yet started, or when on holidays when the trumpets were sounding and all around are acting patriotic and proud.

We each have a purpose in God’s plan. Can we stand for Him, or will we be like Peter, his disciple, and say “I do not know Him!”?

Here is an excellent passage from Spurgeon’s sermon which seems to me to be relevant to any who want to make a difference:

“The soldier wants to distinguish himself; he wants to rise out of the ranks; he wants to be promoted. He hardly expects an opportunity of doing this in time of peace, but the officer rises when in time of war he leads a successful charge. And so it is with the Christian soldier. I make no advance while I am not fighting. I cannot win if I am not warring. My only opportunity for conquering is when I am fighting. If I run away when there is a chance of winning the crown, then I am like the ship that does not come out of harbor when there is a fair wind, or like the man who does not avail himself of the high tide to get his vessel over the bar at the harbor’s mouth. I cannot win without fighting, and therefore I thank God when the trial comes, and count it a joy when I fall into manifold temptations, because now I may add to my faith one virtue after another, till my Christian character is all complete. To throw away the time of conflict is to throw away the crown. Oh, simple heart! Oh, silly heart! to be afraid of suffering for Jesus! “

We should not be deceived by the pastors who preach the “Prosperity Gospel” such as Kenneth Copeland, Joyce Meyer, and Joel Osteen. They are achieving their own prosperity by deceiving others in the name of Christ into giving them money. They will tell you that God’s plan is to make you rich and that you will have perfect health if only you do certain things (like giving them money). This life isn’t a bed of roses and you can’t “Name it and claim it!” as these people claim. There is a battle going on all around us each and every day.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. ~ Ephesians 6:12

Going into battle isn’t comfortable. Recognizing that following Jesus Christ requires each of us to be willing to suffer isn’t comforting. What did Christ say about it?

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”
~ Matthew 16:24-25

Let me close with a strong word of encouragement. I’ve never felt more joy in my life than when I’ve followed Christ. Let me encourage you to take a stand for God and not to turn back in the day of battle!

Photograph by John J O’Leary

Gifts From God

We are both taking for granted things that others can only dream of…

As I write this, and as you read this, we are both taking for granted things that others can only dream of. It is not material possessions that I refer to. How many things, for example, are in my possession simply allowing me to write my thoughts down and my words to reach you? Just a short list would have to include the following:

  • Language skills
  • The ability to type/write
  • Hands
  • Eyesight
  • Access to the Internet
  • Freedom of Speech
  • Freedom of Religion

How often do we pause to consider how truly blessed we are? Using the word “blessed” implies that I have been given something. Think on each item in my short list above. Did I create any of those? Did I choose to be born and raised by a family living in the United States with the financial ability to provide me with an education? Did I fight for the right to freely express my opinion?

As a believer in Jesus Christ, I believe that every good thing I have now, or have ever had in my entire life, has been a gift from God. Even if I “earned” things, my very ability to earn them was due to prior gifts from God. Is that biblical?

“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”

~ James 1:17

How thankful should I be? A loving wife, three children, parents who loved me all their lives, a caring sister, friends, church, good health, an amazing dog named Baxter, on and on and on. I could literally go on for hours. But so could you!

How long is your list of things to be thankful for? Your life may be extremely difficult. You may have cancer. Your parents may have been cruel to you. Your spouse may have passed away recently. You may live in a country ruled by a dictator with oppression all around you. Yet, can you not still be thankful for many, many things?

Here is a thought to ponder: If you only would have things in your life tomorrow that you thanked God for today, what things would you start thanking Him for right now? I’ll pause here and give you the rest of the day to put your list together.

May God bless you richly! May we all recognize the many gifts we have been given and be thankful.

Your comments and thoughts would be welcome and we thank you for them in advance.

Photograph by John J O’Leary

Fight the Good Fight, Finish the Course, Keep the Faith

Why then do we insist on trying to go it alone?

No matter our determination, our drive, or our desire, there are times in which we know we have reached the limit of our ability to continue in a pursuit or a dream. We absolutely know we can’t do it. We don’t have the skill, the strength, or the wisdom needed. It is exactly at such times that we must look outside of ourselves for additional strength, new ideas, new ways in which to continue moving forward. Why then do we insist on trying to go it alone?

To “finish the course”, as Paul wrote to his dear friend Timothy, we have at our disposal the wisdom of the ages through libraries of books. Many of these are available with a simple Google search on the Internet. The one book, however, that speaks directly to our heart is the Word of God in the Bible.  We also have our friends, family and our community of people who care for us. We can reach out to them for help and assistance. But even more, if we have faith in Christ, we have the unlimited power, strength, and wisdom of God at our side to carry us forward.  Through prayer and reading His Word, we are often able to find answers to the most difficult problems facing us at any moment.

Reach now for your Bible and read Philippians 4:13. It doesn’t say “There is a chance I might be able to do it with God’s help.” Rather, it saysI can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

All things? Is that really true?

Read again the scripture at the top of this article. It ends with “I have kept the faith”. There were just a handful of common men that Christ sent out into a hostile world to spread His good news, His gospel. In some cases, they were fishermen or tax collectors. How then, is it even possible that now, according to the Pew Research Center, there are over 2 billion Christians in the world which will grow to 3 billion by the year 2050?

Cindy and I pray you don’t give up when you “hit a wall” as the saying goes. Instead, you may find the power to continue forward simply by falling to your knees in prayer.

Photograph by John J O’Leary

Knowing Not Defeat or Fear

Faith that brings the triumph

“Oh, for faith that brings the triumph
When defeat seems strangely near!
Oh, for faith that brings the triumph
Into victory’s ringing cheer–
Faith triumphant; knowing not defeat or fear.”
  ~ by Herbert Booth

About the Author
Herbert Henry Howard Booth (26 August 1862 – 25 September 1926) was a salvation army officer. He was the writer and director for “Soldiers of the Cross”, a recruiting show that featured stories of early Christian martyrs.
Source

May our faith never waver, never falter, never fail.

“Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”
~ 1 John 5:5

Photograph by John J O’Leary

The Reasons Why

Oftentimes He does not reveal His reasons to us.

“For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
~ 1 Corinthians 13:9-13

The poem “The Weaver” by B.M. Franklin has wisdom drawn from this section of scripture. When Paul, the author of this first of two letters to the Corinthians in the Bible, states: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face” it is similar to the following section in the poem:

“Oftimes He weaveth sorrow,
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I, the underside.
Not till the loom in silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Shall God unroll the canvas
And explain the reason why.”

If you have ever looked at the underside of a tapestry, you may see many threads and loose ends that obscure the pattern that is only visible from the other side. We may wish to know more about God’s reasons for what He brings into our lives, but oftentimes He does not reveal them to us. It is part and parcel of our need to trust in Him, even in difficult times. By doing so, we open ourselves up to the blessings to come.

Photograph by John J O’Leary