A Favorite for When You’re Discouraged

Have you ever had a faith crisis? Who hasn’t? Something bad happens and we think, “This isn’t right; where is God in all of this? Doesn’t he see what’s going on?”

My friend Bill was asking those questions recently. After several treatments of chemotherapy and many prayers for healing, the tests came back showing no improvement. He wondered aloud, “Where is God in all of this? Doesn’t he hear me? Why doesn’t he do something?”

And then there’s Laura. She is upset because she feels her church is in a mess. She read in the paper that the national assembly had set aside God’s Word in some of their decision making. Her church was starting to be of the world instead of just in the world. “God, where are you? Can’t you do something about your church? It is getting run over by the culture,” she wondered. It is a faith crisis.

God’s people, Israel, were having a faith crisis in today’s scripture reference. Rattled and feeling alone, they were an exiled people, living in a foreign land Ð the land of Babylon Ð wondering to themselves, “Are we out of God’s reach? Yes, we were disobedient, and we probably deserved this. But has God written us off for good? Why isn’t he doing something? Can he do anything to help us?” I imagine they were homesick and tired of waiting on God to do something. After all, Jeremiah and some other prophets had promised that God would bring them home someday. Yet nothing was happening.

So the people began to wonder among themselves, “Maybe the Babylonian gods are more powerful than our God.” In their minds, God was beginning to look smaller and smaller. They were living out the title of J. B. Phillips’ book, “Your God is Too Small.” It was a terrible, hopeless feeling.

It is in the midst of that crisis that the voice of God, through the Prophet Isaiah, spoke to them. It’s as if he was saying to them, Now wait a minute. Isaiah 40, verse 27 reads: “Why do you say “O Jacob and speak O Israel . . .”

“O Jacob, O Israel,” there is a personal, intimate note in using these terms. It is God’s way of saying, I know you; we have a long history together. You are mine. I named you. How could I possibly forget you?

“My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded.” People of Israel, do you think that I can’t see you or that I have turned my back on you? “Have you not known, have you not heard?” he goes on to say. Wake up, people, and remember that you heard and experienced God at work in your life many, many times in the past. Remember your history of the faithfulness of God who has never deserted you.

Then Isaiah goes on to give us a description of God. He says in verse 28, “The Lord is the everlasting God.” Notice the present tense Ð The Lord IS. He is the beginning and the end. The alpha and the omega. Always here, ever present, all knowing. This God is much bigger than you are giving him credit.

“He is the Creator of the ends of the earth,” Isaiah goes on to say. He put this whole planet into place. He is the God of the cosmos, and so he is not limited by natural boundaries as you might wonder. He is present and able to help you where you are. And Israel, He doesn’t get tired and weary of you.

Jay Collins Smith writes on this little verse, “Have you ever watched a young child with too many toys? He plays with one for a while and then discards it. He gets weary of it and wants to play with something else. Isaiah says, ÔWhatever you do, don’t ever imagine that God is like that. He will not tire of you. He will not lose interest in you or put you aside. God will never become weary of you.’ You may find that God allows circumstances that will change the direction of your life so that you might wonder what he is doing. It may look as if the problems you face would make it impossible for His purposes to be achieved in your life. But don’t be so sure. God never becomes weary of you.”

O people of God, if you ever wonder about that, just pause and focus a bit on that cross. God never got tired of you. He came after you through the person of his Son, Jesus Christ, to make you his own.

Isaiah goes on to say, “His understanding is unsearchable.” He is infinite; we are finite. Our little minds cannot keep up with His. His ways are not our ways. They are so above us.

Then what does he do? Verse 29: “This God gives power to the faint and strength to the powerless.” He always has throughout history. In the exodus from Egypt, God took care of his people in the wilderness as he led them to the Promised Land. He took care of Gideon as he fought the Mideonites and David as he fought Goliath. On and on the stories go of a God who gives power to the faint and strength to the powerless.

As Christians, we’ve learned that God continues to give throughout our lives. He continues to work in us through the working of his Holy Spirit, doesn’t he?

Then comes that great promise in verses 30 and 31. It’s the crown jewel of this text. “Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men will fall exhausted.” Isaiah is saying, Yes, we have limited resources as human beings, “but those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.”

What does he mean Ð to wait? It means to trust, to hope in the Lord. Trust your entire life to the Lord’s care; surrender yourself to him. You will find that your strength will be renewed as only God can renew it.

Isaiah uses a powerful image to describe that renewing strength. “They shall mount up with wings like eagles.” Have you ever watched eagles soar? I live near the St. Croix River in Minnesota. What a site it is to see majestic eagles soaring upon the wind! If you have ever wondered why they were chosen as America’s national symbol, it is because they are a sign of strength. Isaiah says, “You shall mount up with wings like eagles.”

Lloyd Ogilivie comments on that verse: “The eagle does not soar on its own strength, but when it is caught in the stream of the wind. So it is with us when we wait for God. God’s Spirit has the power to infuse the tissues of our impotent minds, our depleted emotions, our wayward wills, and our weary bodies.”

Dear friends, isn’t it interesting that in the New Testament the Holy Spirit is often referred to as the wind. We can ride upon the wind of the Spirit as we turn ourselves over to God’s care.

Isaiah goes on to say, “They shall run and not grow weary, walk and never faint.” You are going to be able to keep going and face all things in Him. As the Apostle Paul says, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.”

This passage is so much more than beautiful poetry. Isaiah is attempting to give his people an adequate theology to face their life’s situation; to restore the magnificence of God in the minds of the people; to give them a renewed perspective of that magnificence; to face discouraged moments with confidence. He is trying to give them this great picture and help them by saying, “Don’t give up. Don’t cave in. Keep your eyes on the magnificence of God.”

How does one go about retaining that sense of God’s magnificence?

First, by being still. As the psalmist says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Henri Nouwen tells the story about some friends who were trapeze flyers. Not long before his death he wrote a book called, “Sabbatical Journeys” in which he talked about some friends called the Flying Rudellas. They told Henri Nouwen, “There is a special relationship between flyer and catcher on the trapeze. The flyer is the one who lets go, and the catcher is the one who catches. As the flyer swings high above the crowd on the trapeze, the moment comes when he must let go. He arcs out into the air. His job is to remain as still as possible and wait for the strong hands of the catcher to pluck him from the air.”

One of the Flying Rudellas told Nouwen, “The flyer must never try to catch the catcher. The flyer must wait in absolute trust. The catcher will catch him, but he must wait.”

Sometimes life is like a trapeze, and we feel as if we are caught in midair. When did you last take quiet time to just focus on God, on that cross of Jesus Christ, and his great love for you?

Then next, we start looking for God. We start our day with a “God-consciousness.” How do you start your day? With the saying, “Good morning, Lord” or “Good Lord, it’s morning!” We walk through our day with a God-consciousness, knowing that God is present with us, and we begin to look for his hand.

Gerald Weber writes, “Spiritual experiences are not a matter of finding God, nor are they a matter of waiting till God screams, ÔLook! Here I am!’ Spiritual experiences surround us. We fall over them dozens of times a day and can’t avoid them if we try. A spiritual experience is simply a matter of recognizing and acknowledging our relationship to God in whatever is going on in our lives at the moment. God is involved in all we do. He does not pop in and out of our lives. We live surrounded by God. We live and breathe God just as we live and breathe air. To know that both air and God is present, we need only to pause and reflect for an instant to see that we are immersed in them. Sometimes it’s a friend; sometimes it’s a phone call Ð God shows up in the most ordinary ways.”

John Ortberg tells a story concerning the mystery of God’s presence and help. He writes, “God does come, and he may come in unexpected ways. Louis Smedes was a teacher of mine in seminary; one of the best writers and preachers I have ever known. Although he was brilliant, accomplished, and devoted to God, he suffered from a sense of inadequacy that, at times, grew into deep depression. At one point in his life he stopped preaching because he felt unqualified. God came to him through two avenues: One was a three-week experience of utter solitude where he heard God promise to hold him up so vividly that, as he put it, he felt lifted from a black pit straight up into joy.”

The other avenue he describes this way: Smedes says, “I had not been neurotically depressed since that day, though I must be honest and tell you that God also comes to me each morning and offers me a 20 mg capsule of Prozac. He clears the garbage that accumulates in the canals of my brain over night and gives me a chance to a fresh morning start. I swallow every capsule with gratitude to God.”

Ortberg says, “I love the picture that Louis paints. I used to think that taking Prozac would be a sign of weak faith in God. But what if Prozac might be not a substitute for God, but his gift? What if refusing might be spurning his hand because of personal pride? Maybe God is present in wise doctors and medications that make synapses and neurotransmitters work right. Maybe weakness is really refusing, out of our own blindness and stubbornness, the help that God is already offering.”

Dear friends, are you discouraged? God knows. God is present, God cares, and God can lift you up on wings like eagles.

It Could Be So Different

Jesus tells many sad stories that have happy endings.

The story of the Prodigal Son is a sad story. This young man left home with his share of the inheritance. The money was soon used up by unrighteous living, and he ended up as a homeless person caring for pigs in a hog lot. Up to this point in the story it is sad. But then the son came to his senses and returned to his father, saying, “I have sinned against you and am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me one of your hired men.”

Seeing his son, the father received him with open arms and had a great celebration rejoicing because his son who was dead was now alive, he who was lost had been found. It is a sad story with a happy ending.

But today’s text is Jesus’ parable of the Shrewd Manager, which is a sad story that lacks a happy ending. It is recorded in Luke 16:1-9.

There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, “What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.”

The manager was shocked and realized he had to make quick preparations for his future. He realized his problem: “I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg.” He lamented that his dishonesty had caught up with him, but he was not repentant for what he had done.

The manager’s best plan was to make some quick deals with the debtors so that when his income was gone they would feel obligated to him. The man who owed the rich man 800 gallons of olive oil was told to reduce it to 400 gallons. Another man who owed 1,000 bushels of wheat was told to make it 800 bushels.

With his adjusted records, the manager went to the owner of the business with his final financial report. The story reads: “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted so shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than the people of the light.”

The story ends there, and it does not have a happy ending. How sad. It could have been so different. How, you ask? Let’s see what could have happened.

When the master said to his manager, “What is this that I hear about you?”, he should have repented of his sin. I am truly sorry for my dishonesty. You have given me a fine job with many challenges. I was blessed with a good salary, but my greed got the best of me. I wanted more money and less work, time to play.

How do you think the master would have responded if he had been given no excuses, just an honest confession from a penitent spirit? What if he was lamenting, not just because he had been caught in the act of stealing, but because he had done wrong and was an unjust steward?

How do you think the master would have responded? I believe he would have forgiven the manager and given him a chance to start over and learn from his sin.

Why do I believe this?

Who was this rich man Jesus talks about in the parable (13:1)? Most commentaries believe the reference is to God. This was the father who forgave the prodigal son. Could he not have forgiven the unjust steward also? God is a forgiving God. He is a God of grace. The picture is so pathetic, because the poor manager was trying to work out a deal to cover up his sin when God would have forgiven him and all would have ended happily.

Such thinking is not real to those who have never tasted of God’s grace and forgiveness, which comes through Jesus Christ alone. The world would have said, “An eye for an eye. He stole, now make him pay!” Jesus says, “I paid for him.” That is the Gospel. Our Lord is the healer of broken lives. If we will confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us.

This is a tremendous message that needs to be applied to all our lives. So many sad stories in our lives can end either in great tragedy or with a happy ending. Many of the bad experiences could have ended differently had we turned to the Lord Jesus Christ, confessing our sins and trusting him to forgive us and send us on our way again.

How many marriages could have been saved if people had not been so hasty to jump into divorce court and get the union over, being convinced that they were never meant for each other? Had God ever been given the chance to remake the lives of both the husband and the wife? In most cases, the answer is no.

How many problems in our churches could be solved if we only put into practice those words of Jesus that tell us to go to the person with whom we are at odds. Then we can let Christ guide us in settling our differences. But how much easier to hire a consultant to help us understand the reason for the conflict and say little about repentance and forgiveness. Then we would be given a thousand rules to follow, most of which we could not follow. Or still, how much easier it would be to let the power struggle go on, feeling that our position was right and theirs was wrong. The cause of Christ and the ministry of the Church is hurt. Then come these sad words: it could have been so different.

How we need to pray the concluding prayer, which some of us learned years ago at a Bible camp:

Open mine eyes, O Lord,

Open mine eyes.

Into my darkened heart,

Let your light arise.

Show me myself, O Lord,

Show me Thyself, O Lord.

Show me Thy truth, O Lord.

Open my eyes.

The Church in the World

A month ago I was asked to preach at the anniversary of a congregation. The suggested scripture passage chosen was the lectionary text of the day, recorded in Luke 12:49-53. After reading these verses, I wondered if it was a good text for a congregation celebrating its fiftieth anniversary. However, after more thought, I concluded it was a wise choice, for it talks about the Church in the world.

What did Jesus mean by these words, “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed!”

Fire, division, judgment. Those are hard words. Had he not prayed to his Father, “That they might be one”? Now Jesus is saying that where he is, there are divisions. Is this not a contradiction?

No. When Jesus talks about unity in John 17, he is praying for his Church Ð those who are believers in Christ Jesus. In our churches, we should have a spirit of unity, not necessarily uniformity, but a oneness in Christ. Yet when the Christian steps into the world, he will find hostility to Christ and his committed followers. It is in this culture where the Church lives that we find division. Let us point out some of these words of Jesus that bring division with the world.

You all know the Bible verse, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

This is a favorite verse of many. God loves the world. This is a beautiful thought that warms our hearts. But read on and you find out that this love and salvation is for those who believe in him. The Bible does not say that all people will be saved. We wish it could be that way, and so does God. No. His plan says that salvation is limited to those who receive him as their Savior and Lord.

Try that on some of your unbelieving friends and you will understand what Jesus means when he talks about division. Your friend asks, “You believe my father is lost and is not going to heaven? He died as an unbeliever. He was a good man, but had little time for religion.”

And you reply, “God has not made me the eternal judge of anyone, but Jesus says ÔNo one comes to the Father but by me. I am only to proclaim this truth.”

Your friend, with strong emotion says, “Well, I doubt that and if you believe it, this is where we divide.”

Jesus once said, “No man comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6). Again, it is the same thought: Christ is the only way to heaven. One member of your card club says, “We have some wonderful people moving into our neighborhood. They are Moslems and Islam is their religious faith. What do you think about the Moslems?”

Imagine your answer. “I am sure they are nice people and should have all the rights that any American citizen has. We should respect them and be kind to them. We can also learn many things from these people that will benefit us. Yet there comes a place where we have to draw the line. These people will acknowledge Jesus as a great teacher like Mohammed, but they will not confess him as their Savior. This is a major disagreement that goes to the depth of the Christian’s soul. We will share our faith with them and pray that the Holy Spirit will go to work and convert them to faith in Christ.”

All is quiet around the bridge table until your friend says, “I do not agree. There is more than one way to heaven, and it is wrong for us to believe that Christ is the only way.” Suddenly there is a division in your club, and the game is over for the afternoon. At the next gathering of the group, it is decided that apologies are in order, but you cannot apologize for something that you believe as strongly as you do. Christ alone is your Savior. The group is still together, but a division exists in your group that will never heal. It is far stronger than a division over political parties.

This is what Jesus meant when he said, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” Jesus neither taught, nor gave the impression, that the Church is going to be a cozy group, where each can believe what they want to believe, and they are not challenged because unity is all important.

In some circles today it is taught that we must give a little and take a little, not to upset others no matter how far from the scriptures their ideas are. We are to keep the congregation and the denomination united.

If this happens Ð peace at any price Ð we soon will have weakened the biblical message and congregations and denominations will have little to offer the culture. This is happening and is a major reason that so many thousands of people are leaving mainline Protestantism.

Bishop Ryle of England wrote in his commentary, “How useless it is to expect universal peace and harmony from the preaching of the Gospel. Thousands of well-meaning people now days are crying out for more unity among Christians. To attain this, they are ready to sacrifice almost anything and throw even sound doctrine overboard, if by so doing they may secure peace. Peace is useless if purchased at the expense of truth. Certainly they have forgotten the words of Christ, ÔI came not to send peace, but division.'”

Living a Full Life

Most people want to have a full life, but have not discovered how to attain it. They have tried to enrich their lives with an excellent education and employment that is challenging and rewarding. They have married well, and their family brings them much joy. They enjoy a good social life and are faithful members in their church home.

Should all of this not equal a full life?

Some of these people say, “You would think so, but something is still missing that is difficult to identify.”

Listen to a man who made the great discovery of what it means to have a full life.

Early in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he wrote, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” He was saying that living on this earth was exciting, worthwhile, and filled with great challenges as he became an instrument in building God’s Kingdom on this earth. However, there was so much more. When his days on this earth were over, something better awaited him. He would be with the Lord, and that was gain.

Years later Paul also wrote, “I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13).

Paul says that contentment is important if we are going to have a full life. It does not mean we become complacent or lazy. Contentment answers the question, When is enough, enough? Contentment tells us that, while the monetary treasures of life can bring many joyous moments, life is so much more than material possessions. Jesus said it best: “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?”

The Apostle had many happy times in Philippi. He saw people coming to Christ and claiming him as their Savior. He saw the church of Jesus Christ being built. After an exciting day, he and his friend Silas could return to Lydia’s house for an enjoyable meal and a good bed. Lydia was a part of the congregation. She was a new convert to Christianity who offered Paul and Silas a place to stay while they were working in Philippi.

Now, at the writing of this letter to the people in the Philippian congregation, Paul was being incarcerated in Rome. This was not as pleasant, especially for a person who wanted to be up and going, doing great things for Christ.

Life changes and those changes are often difficult to accept. The young person says, “I can’t seem to put it all together. Life is so different.” She has moved away from a loving home with all of its security. Now she finds herself out in this big world and wonders where she can go for help. Life is competitive. In high school she was the valedictorian of her class. Now she is still a high-ranking student, but she studies with others who have equal or more talent than she does. That is a change.

While she is away from home, mother and dad are learning to live with an empty nest. The cookie jar does not empty nearly as quickly as when their daughter and her friends were around the kitchen. They no longer have a curfew at their house. Their daughter is on her own.

Meanwhile, grandma and grandpa are learning that the golden years are not always golden. They have new aches and pains, and their friends are dying. They go to many more funerals than weddings.

Even life in the church changes. You attend other congregations Sunday morning to see if their worship feeds you better spiritually then back in the old home church. You have another question that you never expected to be asking yourself, and it is simply this: Where shall we go to church next Sunday?

While changes surround us, we discover that contentment, which is so necessary for the full life, must be built on a foundation that never changes. That foundation is Jesus Christ. This was Paul’s great discovery, and it is the message he passes on to us.

Young people face a day with many temptations and an immoral culture that they really do not like. For example, how do you react when your roommate is entertaining her boyfriend in the next bed? You chose to attend a church college, but soon learn this is no escape from the world.

A parent comes home from the church convention and is beside himself. He expected to be spiritually edified, but returns to tell his wife and friends that it is one of the worst experiences he has ever had. The assembly could not decide whether same-sex marriage is contrary to God’s Word and if practicing homosexuals should be ordained. The Word of God speaks clearly on this subject and its sinfulness. This is the church he loves. It is the church where he was raised and received Christ as his Savior. Now things are changing so fast!

Grandpa has only a few weeks left before he will die. His pastor comes and visits him. He has a fine personality, so grandpa asks the minister about the heavenly home. He expresses his assurance that Christ has forgiven his sins and soon he will see the Savior. Then he shares his concern for one of the children who has no faith in Christ. The pastor holds grandpa’s hand and says, “Don’t worry, John. God will bring us all to heaven. A loving God would never damn anyone.”

Grandpa disagrees and becomes verbal. “The Bible says our salvation is in Christ alone, and only those who believe in him will be saved!” The pastor replies, “It is all how you interpret the Bible, John. Today we think more about universal salvation. All will be saved.”

As sick as grandpa is, he gets hold of himself and says to the minister, “You might as well leave now, because you have nothing to offer me!”

Life presents its anxious moments. However, if we build our lives on Christ and His Word, we will have a sure foundation. The Savior says to us, “Fear not. I am with you. I will comfort you and strengthen you. I will direct you.” Then you can say with St. Paul, “I have learned in whatever state I am in to be content.”

That is the secret of living a full life.

What Occupies Your Thoughts?

A penny for your thoughts.

That is a question you might ask someone who is deep in thought. They are looking into space and you simply wonder what this person is thinking about. To me this is especially interesting when a little child is deep in thought. What occupies the mind of that little boy or girl? This question once haunted me as I watched a three-year-old boy sitting at his mother’s funeral with a blank expression on his face.

The mind is powerful. Someone once said, “We are what we think.” We know our thoughts can often become very confused and produce some sick behavior. But we also know that same mind can think great thoughts, which bring forth a lot of joy and good.

As St. Paul was closing his letter to the Christians at Philippi, he counseled them to keep their thinking healthy. Here are his words:

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8).

Why did Paul close his letter with these words? Remember, he was under house arrest. He had been taken out of the stream of society and his schedule was not busy. His appointment book was empty, he had plenty of time to think, and Satan would not leave him alone.

What were some of Paul’s thoughts when he reminisced about his visit to Philippi? He must have had some negative thoughts, because he had called some of the people living there dogs. To quote Paul, he said, “Look out for the dogs.” Now a dog in our day has an exalted position. I know a lady who just paid a bill of $3,000 for her dog to have a new hip. Wow!

Not so in Paul’s day. Dogs traveled in packs. They would snap and bite as they prowled around looking for food. Nothing could be any lower than a dog. Well, who were those people Paul referred to as dogs? They were the enemies of Christ who wanted to destroy the faith that dwelt in the hearts of new converts to the Christian faith.

Paul had thought about what these people were doing to his Philippian brothers and sisters in Christ. The longer he thought about these “dogs,” the more angry he got. His thoughts controlled his speech.

But Paul had other thoughts about his stay in Philippi. Lydia became a Christian under Paul’s ministry. She had invited him and his coworker, Silas, to stay at her house while they were in Philippi. No one was more genuine than Lydia, and he thought of her often.

Paul and Silas had also been beaten by a Philippian jailer, who had thrown them into an inner cell for casting an evil spirit out of a fortune teller (Acts 16:16f). As they sat in the jail, an earthquake opened the cells, and the prisoners’ fetters fell off. The jailer was about to kill himself when Paul said, “Don’t do yourself any harm. We are all here.”

In desperation the jailer asked, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31). To their surprise, Paul and Silas were invited to the jailer’s house where their wounds were washed and Paul taught them the way of salvation. It was a happy group who gathered around the table after Paul had shared with them the way of salvation and the family had been baptized. They were now a part of the family of God.

You can be sure that Paul thought often about that night and the jailer’s conversion. They were good thoughts that made him rejoice. What did it matter that he had to suffer for the cause of Christ if people were being saved? These thoughts kept Paul going, and so he encourages believers to see what the Gospel can do in the lives of those who have no hope.

One night I sat down on our davenport and picked up a news magazine. The news was pretty sad, and I didn’t need that, so I put it down and picked up an attractive book my wife had just purchased. It’s title was, “An Artist with the Corps of Discovery.” It told the story of Lewis and Clark’s journey to the northwest.

Yet this book is unique. It not only tells this fascinating story of the expedition that unlocked the mystery of what the northwest was like, it also gives an artist’s vision of the expedition, the people they encountered, and the land they traveled through one of the country’s most respected western artists, Charles Fritz. He did his work right out in the territory where Lewis and Clark walked.

What makes this book extra special for us is that, while we do not know Mr. Fritz himself, his mother is a college friend of my wife. They are in regular contact together with several other college friends. Can you imagine how proud this mother is of her son and how personal this book is for all the friends of the Fritz family?

The point of this illustration is to remind us that, even in the secular world, we need to immerse our minds on that which is good, noble, lovely, and gracious. After spending an hour with the book, I went back to my study completely refreshed. What if only the news magazine had been on the coffee table? The news would not have been nearly as refreshing.

The same is true when our thoughts turn to the spiritual life of our nation. There is an indifference to what God is telling us in his Word. The pews in many of our churches are empty. People are biblically illiterate. This age of relativism Ð where absolutes have gone out of style and pluralism makes Christianity just another religion among many Ð produces moral decay.

Do we have to expose ourselves to these depressing realities?

Yes, they cannot be avoided. We must address them and expose the danger of becoming a part of this culture that can spiritually corrupt our thinking. We must make our voices heard even though leaders in our congregations shut their eyes to the spiritual decline and say that all is well.

But there is another side to this picture. We need to be thrilled with the many people in our churches, not least the youth, who are vocal about their faith. They will not be tied to a congregation that fails to feed them spiritually, and they are not hung up on denominations.

Think on these things and become involved. This is St. Paul’s counsel.

A healthy person is not only physically well, he or she is also spiritually well. They take these words seriously: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable Ð if anything is excellent or praiseworthy Ð think about these things.”