Tag Archives: Religion and Spirituality

Why does God even bother?

Philip YanceyAs a journalist, I have had occasion to spend time with famous people who make me feel very small. I have interviewed two presidents of the United States, members of the rock band U2, Nobel laureates, television stars, and Olympic athletes. Although I prepare my questions thoroughly in advance, I rarely sleep well the night before and have to fight a case of nerves. I hardly think of these people as mutual friends.

In prayer I am approaching the Creator of all that is, Someone who makes me feel immeasurably small. How can I do anything but fall silent in such presence? More, how can I believe that whatever I say matters to God? If I step back and look at the big picture, I even wonder why such a magnificent, incomprehensible God would bother with a paltry experiment like planet Earth.

A God unbound by our rules of time has the ability to invest in every person on earth. God has, quite literally, all the time in the world for each one of us. The common question, “How can God listen to millions of prayers at once?” betrays an inability to think outside time. Trapped in time, I cannot conceive of infinity. The distance between God and humanity—a distance that no one can grasp—is, ironically, what allows the intimacy.

Jesus, who accepted the constraints of time while living on this planet, understood better than anyone the vast difference between God and human beings. Obviously, he knew of the Father’s greatness and at times reflected nostalgically on the big picture, “the glory I had with you before the world began.” Yet Jesus did not question the personal concern of God who watches over sparrows and counts the hairs on our heads. More to the point, Jesus valued prayer enough to spend many hours at the task.

If I had to answer the question “Why pray?” in one sentence, it would be, “Because Jesus did.” He bridged the chasm between God and human beings. While on earth he became vulnerable, as we are vulnerable; rejected, as we are rejected; and tested, as we are tested. In every case his response was prayer.
~ Philip Yancy in Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?

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© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2014. All rights reserved.

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How many gods? How many worlds?

Meet the BibleA story is told about Rabbi Joseph Schneerson, a Hasidic leader during the early days of Russian communism. The rabbi spent much time in jail, persecuted for his faith. One morning in 1927, as he prayed in a Leningrad synagogue, secret police rushed in and arrested him. They took him to a police station and worked him over, demanding that he give up his religious activities. He refused. The interrogator brandished a gun in his face and said, “This little toy has made many a man change his mind.” Rabbi Schneerson answered, “This little toy can intimidate only that kind of man who has many gods and but one world. Because I have only one God and two worlds, I am not impressed by this little toy.” ~ Philip Yancey in Meet the Bible

By “two worlds” Rabbi Schneerson is referring to the temporary, physical existence that describes this life up to the grave and the eternal, spiritual existence of our soul which we experience now but which continues beyond the grave.

If our only hope is this present world then the people and possessions of this life will easily become the “many gods” that we cling to at any cost. But if we have a different hope, a better hope that comes from trusting Jesus as Savior and Lord then no circumstance of life will pose a real threat.

None of us can be sure of how we would respond in a situation like the one described here, but we can choose today to be a man or woman with “only one God and two worlds.”

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© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2014. All rights reserved.

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Filed under Christ, Courage, God, Hope, Kingdom of God, Loving God, Philip Yancey, Relationship with God, Religion and Spirituality, Trusting God

God can handle anything except…

Philip YanceyGod can handle anger, blame, and even willful disobedience. One thing, however, blocks relationship: indifference.”
~ Philip Yancey

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© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2014. All rights reserved.

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Trusting God’s Opinion

Philip Yancey“According to Jesus, what other people think of me matters very little. What God thinks matters far more. Pray in a closed room, Jesus said, where no one but your Father can see you, rather than in a public place where you might get credit for being spiritual. In other words, live for God and not other people. I keep clamoring for attention and achievement. Jesus invites me to let go of that competitive struggle, to trust that God’s opinion of me is the only one that counts, ultimately.”

“I could summarize my entire spiritual pilgrimage as an effort to move the operating center from myself to God. I ask myself how my life would differ if I truly played to an audience of One, if I continually asked not “What do I want to do?” or “What would bring me approval from others?” but “What would God have me do?” Certainly my sense of ego and rivalry would fade because I would no longer need to worry about proving myself to other people. I could concentrate instead on pleasing God, by living in such a way that would attract people to Jesus’ style of life.” ~ Philip Yancey, Rumors of Another World

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© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2014. All rights reserved.

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Love Starts Small

Mother Teresa“When you know how much God is in love with you then you can only live your life radiating that love. I always say that love starts at home: family first, and then your own town or city. It is easy to love people who are far away but it is not always so easy to love those who live with us or right next to us. I do not agree with the big way of doing things—love needs to start with an individual. To get to love a person, you must contact that person, become close. Everyone needs love. All must know that they’re wanted and that they are important to God.” ~ Mother Teresa, A Simple Path

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© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2014. All rights reserved.

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A Helpful Image of God

Philip YanceyA doctor is probably the most helpful image for me to keep in mind while thinking about God and sin. Why should I seek out God’s view on how to live my life? For the same reason I seek my doctor’s opinion. I defer to my doctor, trusting that we share the same goal, my physical health, but that he brings to the process greater wisdom and expertise. And I am learning to view sins as spiritual dangers—much like carcinogens, bacteria, viruses, and injuries—that must be avoided. I am learning to trust that God wants the best life for me in this world, not some diminished, repressed life.” ~ Philip Yancey, Rumors of Another World

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© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2014. All rights reserved.

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Who is first?

Larry Crabb Capture“As we live our lives, we will either put ourselves first or we will live for God.  And when problems arise, the difference between those two approaches will become especially visible. Either we will devote all our energies to overcoming our difficulties so that we can enjoy life again, or we will be more concerned to trust God in the midst of our problems so that we can better reflect His glory and serve His purposes. ~ Larry Crabb

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© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2014. All rights reserved.

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9 Secrets Your Pastor’s Wife Won’t Say Out Loud

The following article by Christina Stolaas resonated with my wife so I thought it would be a good one to share.

She’s always there. Sometimes in the background, sometimes with a welcoming smile up front, sometimes noticed and appreciated, sometimes being silently judged. Your pastor’s wife: the powerful force behind most church leaders often perceived as a mystery by the rest of the church. It doesn’t have to be that way.

PastorsWifes_605320248What if we just asked our pastor’s wife to candidly, honestly, even anonymously, share some of their secrets? What if we invited them to share their hearts and tell us what they wished the church knew?

I posed a simple, open-ended question to a panel of pastors’ wives in different states, from different denominations, with various years of service: “If you could tell the church a few things about your role as a pastor’s wife, what would you say?”

The women selected are the wives of music ministers, children’s leaders, senior pastors and youth pastors. Some of them serve in churches with large staff and even larger budgets, others in newer church plants, and even some from old and barely surviving congregations. Despite such different backgrounds, their responses were strangely similar and in several cases, almost identical.

I’ve sat for coffee, exchanged emails and had lengthy conversations with many who freely shared their secrets with me in exchange for the promise of anonymity. What follows is a condensed collection of their words.

1) “I wish people knew that we struggle to have family time.”

There was one common response that I received from every single pastor’s wife. Every. Single. One. Over and over again, many pastors’ wives shared numerous occasions where planned vacations had been cut short (wouldn’t that be hard?). They told me tales of family evenings being rearranged for crises of church members, middle of the night emergencies and regular interruptions. A true day off is rare; even on scheduled days off, their husbands are essentially on call 24/7.

2) “Almost every day, I’m afraid of screwing it all up.”

They don’t have it all together. They battle many of the same issues every other woman battles: marriage issues, extended-family difficulties, sickness, finances, children who make poor decisions, fear and insecurities. Some seasons of life are obviously harder than others; but remember, ministry wives are not Wonder Woman with special powers. Please have a little mercy and extend grace.

3) “Being a pastor’s wife is THE loneliest thing I’ve ever done and for so many reasons.”

Personally, I think this is surprising to many (it was to me). Several ladies shared the difficulties of finding friendships that are safe, being looked at (or treated) differently, and even the desire to be invited for an occasional ladies night out. One woman shared, “Invite us to something just to get to know us. We like being known.” People in the church often assume that the pastor’s wife is always invited and popular. In reality, for whatever reason, many ladies fear befriending them. On Sunday mornings, pastors’ wives are often sitting solo, and those with children are essentially single parenting.

4) “It is OK and welcomed to have conversations with me about things that do not pertain to church, or even Jesus. There I said it!”

They have a variety of interests. Believe it or not, many pastor’s wives went to college and had full-time careers before becoming “Mrs. Pastor’s Wife.” They have hobbies, likes and dislikes, and though they often serve beside their husband, they are individuals with their own unique gifts. Do not make the mistake of assuming your pastor’s wife has the same personality as her husband. One wife shared that as newly weds when they announced their engagement, people regularly commented on how good of a singer she must be (because her husband-to-be was a music minister). When she shared that she sounded more like a dying cat than an elegant song bird, the shock on their faces was evident.

5) “Sundays are sometimes my least favorite day. Wait—am I allowed to say that?”

Sundays are hard. And long. And there is no rest. To a pastor’s wife, Sunday means an early morning of rushing around to have the family ready in their “Sunday Best.” Although you may not see your pastor’s wife on the platform, rest assured, Sunday is equally tiring for most (all) of them.

6) “It’s hard to not harbor resentment or to allow your flesh to lash out at members who openly criticize his ministry.”

They hate church criticism more then anything. It’s hurtful, offensive and, yes, it’s very hard not to take it personally. It is one of the most damaging things they witness regularly inside the church, whether it be through emails, social media or gossip. They wish people understood how serious God’s word speaks on the danger and power of our words. And how much it injures the pastor’s family.

7) “Please don’t look down on me or assume I don’t support my husband just because you don’t see me every time the church’s doors are open.”

Most wives are not paid staff. They are wives, mothers, and some are employed outside the home and need to be allowed the freedom to pray and choose ministries they feel called to.

8) “I wish people knew that we taught our children to make good choices, but sometimes, they don’t.”

Jokes about pastor’s kids should be avoided at all costs. The risk of rebellion in a “preacher’s kid” is no secret. They aren’t perfect and never will be (are yours?). They have to learn to walk in their faith just like other children and need encouragement and love to do so. Again, extend grace.

9) “What I can tell you is I have been blessed beyond measure, I have been given gifts, money, love and prayer, so much prayer … by so many.”

They love their church and understand the role comes with special challenges and special blessings; it is fulfilling and brings them great joy.

One Extra Thought

Though it was not a common response, there was one that stood out. The top of the list of one seasoned pastor’s wife simply read, “I deleted my number 1.” Some secrets are so difficult to share, even the promise of complete confidence is not enough to bring them out.

These godly women have something they want us to know, and as a body of believers working together toward the same goal, I think we might gain a better understanding of how to appreciate our leaders by listening. All of these responses point to a singular truth. Your pastor’s wife is a human being that desires to be known, just as you do.
~ Christina Stolaas

Visit Christina at shatteredmagazine.net here.

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© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2014. All rights reserved.

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Christianity is all about…

larry-crabb-photo“Life in Christ is all about relationships, with God, others, and ourselves.  When we reduce Christianity to a series of steps for handling life better or a set of truths to believe or a list of things to do, we miss the whole point of the gospel. God created us (and then re-created us) to enjoy His kindness and loving generosity and, in the strength of that enjoyment, to reflect His character by giving ourselves unselfishly to each other.”

~ Larry Crabb Jr., Understanding Who You Are

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© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2014. All rights reserved.

 

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Defining Grace

God exists outside of time, the theologians tell us. God created time as an artist chooses a medium to work with, and is unbound by it. God sees the future and the past in a kind of eternal present. If right about this property of God, the theologians have helped explain Philip Yanceyhow God can possibly call “beloved” a person as inconstant, fickle, and temperamental as I am. When God looks upon my life graph, he sees not jagged swerves toward good and bad but rather a steady line of good: the goodness of God’s Son captured in a moment of time and applied for all eternity.

I grew up with the image of a mathematical God who weighed my good and bad deeds on a set of scales and always found me wanting. Somehow I missed the God of the Gospels, a God of mercy and generosity who keeps finding ways to shatter the relentless laws of ungrace. God tears up the mathematical tables and introduces the new math of grace, the most surprising, twisting, unexpected-ending word in the English language.

Grace makes its appearance in so many forms that I have trouble defining it. I am ready, though, to attempt something like a definition of grace in relation to God. Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more—no amount of spiritual calisthenics and renunciations, no amount of knowledge gained from seminaries and divinity schools, no amount of crusading on behalf of righteous causes. And grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us less—no amount of racism or pride or pornography or adultery or even murder. Grace means that God already loves us as much as an infinite God can possibly love.

Brennan Manning tells the story of an Irish priest who, on a walking tour of a rural parish, sees an old peasant kneeling by the side of the road, praying. Impressed, the priest says to the man, “You must be very close to God.” The peasant looks up from his prayers, thinks a moment, and then smiles, “Yes, he’s very fond of me.”
~ Philip Yancey in What’s So Amazing About Grace?, p. 69-70

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© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2014. All rights reserved.

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