It seems that it is now de rigueur for blogs to give a list of the top 5, 10, or even 20 or more posts from the past year - those obtaining the highest number of pageviews or downloads. For our own site, the winners are given below. If you are new to the site, or missed any of these top ten posts along the way, check them out and enjoy:
The previous blog post, “A Direct Private Line,” is meant to be lightly written, and basic, but the points it makes are ones for which we can all be seriously thankful. I hope it gives you food for thought as you do "phone home."
Speaking of phones, the TacticalChristianity.org webpages are optimized for viewing on phone size screens as well as on the computer, so you can use your smart phone to check for new content or to catch up without feeling you are trying to navigate all over a large page with a small device. If you are not using the site’s RSS feed to check for new content, setting your smart phone’s browser bookmark at the Blog page is probably the quickest way to see what’s new - and you can jump from here, of course, to articles or other pages as you wish. If you are like me, you may prefer to do most of your reading on a larger screen, but it’s good to know you can use your phone to check out the latest blog posting while on your lunch break or to catch an article on the train commute!
I was never in business, so the ways of the business world are often news to me. Take, for example, when I found out that some businesses have a direct private line to the CEO that is made available to the most important clients. Not to the rest of us, of course. We have to go through the recording with a raft of choices only to hear “There are twelve people ahead of you” then perhaps eventually be transferred a couple of times and perhaps put on hold for several minutes before we finally get an answering machine. All this to call companies with only a few thousand callers. Can you imagine what it would be like if we had to reach our Heavenly Father by phone? “There are four million three hundred and twenty five thousand seven hundred and fifty six callers ahead of you.”
The truth is we all have a direct private line that is always there. It’s humbling to think that we are each, individually, important enough to Him to have a direct line to the CEO of the universe. We don’t have to wait on hold in order to get through eventually – the line we are given is direct and instant. At any time. There isn’t even a weekend plan where we have to wait to call because we are low on minutes. It’s really a wonderful thing that we so often take for granted. No downed or bad lines, no poor satellite signal, no answering machine or dropped calls – ever. We can actually reach our heavenly CEO faster than we can get through to our doctor’s office or the manager of the local grocery store. Have you ever given thanks for that?
The fact that we have direct access to our Heavenly Father is truly a great gift – and it is sad that many do not understand that the access is there, but believe they can only call on God through various intercessors. Jesus’ words are clear on this, however, that although we ask in His name (John 16:23) and are only able to approach through His sacrifice (John 14:6), we do not need any intercessor, but may pray directly to the Father (John 16:26, Mat 6:9).
Another thing to remember is that our calls are always answered. Although we talk about answered prayer and unanswered prayer, I find it helps to remember that prayer is like a phone call that’s always answered. God is always there and the “phone” is always on. He may not give us what we ask for, or as quickly as we ask for it, for our own good, but we should remember the sincerely made call is always answered (Psalms 86:7, Jeremiah 33:3). Something else for which we should be constantly thankful.
There’s only one catch to the direct private line package, and it’s a relatively small one. We have to use it or we lose it. It’s not like that legendary “hot line” between the leaders of the US and the old Soviet Union – there to be used if circumstances become desperate enough that it is needed. Remember Paul shows we should pray in all things. But it’s not hard to do. In fact, we don’t even need a reason to call, God is always desirous to hear from us and happy to take our call. So if you haven’t done that recently, why not make the call and give thanks for your direct private line!
I owe the origin of this thought to Philip Shields who recently wrote “Learning is for Transformation – not just Information.” It’s an important idea in Christianity, and sometimes we need to remember this basic concept. The thought grew in my mind after recently visiting a Christian website where dozens of well-researched and well-meaning articles pondered scores of technical points and minutiae of the Scriptures. I came away impressed and better educated, yet feeling that in no way had I grown. If anything, had I been sidetracked? So Philip’s recent article “WHY Do We Study the Word of God?” resonated with me, and we reproduce a slightly condensed version of it on our site this week as the second article in our series on Bible study.
As Philip writes, the apostle Peter stressed that we should grow in grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18), and the two go hand in hand – or should do. Focusing on growing in grace alone can be problematic in many ways. We can end up limiting ourselves and even hurting others through misunderstandings and lack of real knowledge. On the other hand, developing only the cerebral aspects of our religion and filling only our “encyclopedia” cells can be even more limiting and ultimately damaging to Christian growth.
We do need to grow in both knowledge and grace, information and transformation. Just knowing is never enough - facts should lead to change or they are little more than Bible trivia. Paul shows this goal clearly: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is …” (Romans 12:2). Notice that the goal is to be transformed by the renewing (not just the filling) of our minds. The changes accomplished are more important than the memorized facts.
Simply put, we need information and we need transformation; but if we err to one side of the road, it's better if our wheels are more solidly on the transformation side of the highway.
How do your words taste? Normally we would say that words have sound rather than taste, of course, but there is a difference between the actual sound of a word and the effect it has on its hearers. We get by in English by saying “that doesn’t sound too good” when words have a negative or disturbing impact, but perhaps “taste” makes more sense in such situations.
Words can certainly taste good: “How sweet are your words to my taste,” David wrote – “sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103), but words don’t always taste sweet at all. Recently, I couldn’t help hearing a parent berating her child in a store, for what appeared to be a very minor thing. It wasn’t just the words that were used, but also the tone and the obvious effect on the child and on others in the store - which was something like tasting a mouthful of vinegar.
That is something Job discovered when he was subjected to the negative, doubting and finally judgmental words of the “friends” who supposedly came to comfort him. Notice what Job says in this regard after tasting a few helpings of his friends' words: “Does not the ear test words as the palate tastes food?” (Job 12:11). Job is confirming what most of us come to know as we go through life – a person’s words can truly have a good effect on us, or they can be something that leaves the equivalent of a bad taste in our mouths.
It is something we all should consider. Bad "tasting" words don’t just include curses and profanity, they can be any words that pull down or discourage others. We may not mean them that way, but unless we think about the effects of our words, we may not realize what they are doing. On the other hand, restrained and carefully chosen words can help those who need guidance or encouragement. The proverb that tells us “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Proverbs 25:11) really makes this point. The original Hebrew may actually mean “apricots” rather than apples, but the specific fruit hardly matters (unless you greatly prefer one over the other!). When our words build up and encourage rather than just convey raw facts – or worse yet, pull down those around us – then they might indeed be said to taste like honey or sweet, ripe fruit. It’s something to remember. Next time you are tempted to say something negative or critical, think about the fact that the words we use have a “taste” that affects others by building them up or pulling them down. Only you can decide what the taste will be - whether your words will encourage or discourage, whether they will have the taste of vinegar or the taste of honey.
The recent hoopla over comet Ison, which many astronomers thought might become the comet of the century, died quickly with the comet’s ignominious end, or as one astronomer quipped – as “the particles formerly known as comet Ison.”
The hoopla reminded me, however, of a comet I saw in my teens. It was an incredible sight as an object no larger than a speck in astronomical terms glowed as a beautiful lamp in the darkness around it. Since seeing that comet, the cosmic travelers have always fascinated me, not least in the way in which they shine. Nothing more than small lumps of and ice and other frozen matter, comets orbit around the sun, of course, and are relatively invisible till they come close to the solar orb. Once comets come close enough to the sun, however, the power of the solar wind begins to give them the visible lamp-like tails which stream out behind each comet's body and glow by reflected light. The closer they get to the sun, the brighter they shine.
For the Christian, the comet is an obvious metaphor - an analogy for a truth we all know but need to remember. Although we may be spiritually insignificant of ourselves, the closer we move to the One who is the center of our spiritual orbit, the closer we come to the One who scripture calls the “Rising Sun” and the “Day Star” (Luke 1:78, 2 Peter 1:19), the more we become visible as a light in the darkness which may surround us.
If, physically, even a “failed” comet such as Ison can attract as much attention as it did, perhaps we can see the spiritual potential in moving ever closer to the One who, through His power working in us, can make us a light in the dark.
“The Positive Commandments” article uploaded to this site a few weeks ago looked at the two “positive” commands in the Ten Commandments - those telling us things we should do as opposed to things we should not do. But there are many other positive commands found throughout the Bible. The Old Testament contains over 600 commands with some 248 being positively worded, and the New Testament actually has far more positive commands than negative commands.
But all the “interpersonal” positive commandments found in the Bible have some things in common. "More Positive Commands," uploaded this week, looks at those commonalities and how they can better help us understand the principles behind the commands.
A tremendous amount of progress can be made in Christian growth by understanding the difference between the negatively and positively worded biblical commands, and what that teaches us. Check out the articles to see how we can grow in applying the love of God and of each other in ever more positive and effective ways.
One of the upgrades we gave the site this week is a new page: "Books in Brief." The books featured on this page will range from older classics, which deserve to be brought to the attention of those new in the walk, to more recent and new books you might have missed. Every detail of the theology and approach of some of these books may not be ours or yours, but all have something - and often a great deal - to offer. There are so many thousands of books out there; we hope the new page will help you narrow down the list to ones that are particularly worthwhile. New (and old) books will be added periodically. Speaking of books - check out this week's short new article on the Tactical Christian Living page: "Give Yourself a Lift - Try a New Translation."
“Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest’ “ (Matthew 9:37-38).
Although these verses are usually interpreted to mean that we should pray for more people to come to the knowledge of the truth who could join the work, it seems to me that they may just as well mean that we should pray that laborers who are available, but not in the field, should get involved in the harvest. If that is the case, then we should all be praying for help to see what we can be doing, not just for others to come along who will do the work.
In any event, it is clear that we are told to pray earnestly (the Greek word is a form of deomai signifying “beseeching” or even "begging"). We can hardly pray in this manner without personal involvement in the need for which we pray. How? We can pray earnestly for more workers to be called, or to become involved, for their needs, and for the success of their work. What else can we do? Certainly we can help financially, as we are able, to support good work where it is being done [Note: TacticalChristianity.org does not accept donations or gifts], but prayer always must be the first priority. That’s what Jesus stressed. On the other hand, other scriptures do show the necessity of helping those workers who “go out” into the harvest. Notice the words of John in this regard:
“Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are … You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name … Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth” (3 John 1:5-8 ESV).
So, even if it is not our calling to personally go out into the “harvest field,” there is much that we can do to support those who do go and to be “fellow workers.” The “advertisement” for help needed has already been published. It is up to us to respond today!
The Bible may be an open book accessible to all of us, but how much we get out of our study of it can depend on a number of things. This week we begin an ongoing series of articles (to be interspersed with other topics as we go along) that aims to provide basic through more advanced information on getting more from your study of the Word.
The introductory article for the series, “Choosing a Bible Translation,” is uploaded to our Strategic Understanding page and may be helpful whether you are looking for a new translation or would just like to evaluate the one you are currently using. Future articles are planned on understanding the context of biblical verses, tools for effective study, and our underlying approach, as well as various other aspects of successful study.
Asking and giving may seem like polar opposites to us, but when it comes to asking something from God, or even giving something to Him, these actions have something in common in that they involve our relationship with our neighbor.
Two verses in the New Testament show this fact. It’s easy to see one of them and then to think the other is just a parallel account, or a slight variation, but the two verses make two distinct statements:
“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mark 11:25).
“… if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).
Notice that these situations are not the same at all. Mark 11 speaks of occasions when we are asking something from God – specifically forgiveness in this case – and shows us that we cannot receive this from God (and perhaps anything) if we ourselves are not willing to give forgiveness. In Matthew 5, the occasion is one in which we wish to give something to God, but He makes it clear that He will not accept the gift (perhaps any gift) if we know others have something against us and we are not willing to accomplish reconciliation.
Taken together these verses show how important right relationships with our neighbors are for a right relationship with God. In both these cases, God does not want to accept something - a request or a gift - from someone who is estranged from another, who is holding back something from another – whether we are holding back forgiveness or reconciliation.
In the case of our forgiving others, nothing must stop us doing this, though God understands that in situations where others have something against us we can only do our best to reconcile with them. Sometimes, others are not going to hear our attempts at reconciliation and there is nothing we can do about that, other than to pray for them.
Normally, however, in our relationship with God, whether we are asking or giving, if we hold back from our neighbor, God holds back from us. On the other hand, if we are giving forgiveness and attempting reconciliation where it is possible, God does not hold back from us in accepting that which we are asking or giving.