How D.L. Moody Won a Little Girl to Christ

For many years, R.A. Torrey helped famed evangelist D.L. Moody in Moody’s work. Torrey himself told the following story about one of Moody’s converts. I offer Torrey’s account verbatim:

On one occasion in Chicago, Mr. Moody saw a little girl standing on the street with a pail in her hand. He went up to her and invited her to his Sunday School, telling her what a pleasant place it was. She promised to go the following Sunday but did not do so.

Mr. Moody watched for her for weeks, then one day saw her on the street again at some distance from him. He started toward her, but when she saw him, she started to run away. Mr. Moody followed her. Down she went one street. He went after her. Up she went another street, Mr. Moody after her; through an alley, he was still following; out on another street, Mr. Moody after her.

Then she dashed into a saloon, and he dashed after her. She ran out the back door and up a flight of stairs, Mr. Moody still following. She dashed into a room, with him following; she threw herself under the bed, and he reached under the bed, pulled her out by the foot and led her to Christ.

He found that her mother was a widow who had once seen better circumstances but had gone down until now she was living over this saloon. She had several children. Mr. Moody led the mother and all the family to Christ. Several of the children were prominent members of the Moody Church until they moved away. Afterward they became prominent in churches elsewhere.

This particular child, whom he pulled from underneath the bed, was, when I was pastor of the Moody Church, the wife of one of the most prominent officers in the church. Two or three years ago, as I came out of a ticket office in Memphis, Tennessee, a fine-looking young man followed me. “Are you not Dr. Torrey?” “Yes.” “I am So-and-so.” He was the son of this woman. Now he was a traveling man and an officer in the church where he lived. When Mr. Moody pulled that little child out from under that bed by the foot, he was pulling a whole family into the kingdom of God. Eternity alone will reveal how many succeeding generations he was pulling into the kingdom!

Torrey’s story should inspire us Christians to be more determined in our efforts to win others to Jesus. When it comes to evangelism, we are so easily stopped, aren’t we? That is assuming, of course, that we’ve even started! Surely every empty pew in our churches is the seat of an individual whom we could have won to Christ if we had displayed half of D.L. Moody’s determination in winning that little girl.

Tell me, Christian, have you ever lead anyone to Jesus? “No,” you say? Well, have you ever tried to lead someone to Him? If you haven’t, then feel free to consider this post God’s alarm clock to wake you out of your evangelism slumber. Maybe He has even already laid some lost person on your heart. If He has, then don’t stop until you’ve shared the gospel with that person. And if He hasn’t, then ask Him to do so, and don’t be the least bit surprised when He takes you up on the request.

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The Rattlesnake of Addiction

In his book Quest for Character, Chuck Swindoll tells an incredible story from the life of Tom Rathman, the NFL running back who made a name for himself playing for the San Francisco 49ers. Rathman was hunting deer in the Tehema Wildlife Area near Red Bluff in northern California when he climbed up to a certain ledge in order to peer out over it. What he didn’t know was that there was a rattlesnake lying at the edge of the ledge. Startled by the sudden appearance of Rathman’s face, the snake wildly struck at him and just missed his right ear.

That was the good news. The bad news was that the snake’s fangs got snagged in the neck of the thick turtleneck sweater that Rathman was wearing. Not being able to pull its fangs free, the snake immediately wrapped its entire body around Rathman’s neck. At that point the best that Rathman could do was grab the snake behind its head and try to work its fangs loose. He would later say that he could feel the snake’s warm venom running down the skin of his neck inside the sweater.

Sometime during Rathman’s struggle to extradite the snake from his neck, he lost his balance and fell backward down the steep slope. The fall left him lying wedged between some rocks but still holding the snake behind its head. Unfortunately, the fall also allowed the snake’s fangs to break free from the sweater. This meant that the snake could now crudely strike at him again even though Rathman still had it by the neck.

Eight times the snake struck, and four of those times the fangs found Rathman’s nose. The only thing that saved Rathman’s life was the fact that by now the snake’s venom had all been released. Still, though, each time those fangs sank into his nose it was like being pierced with a needle. Finally, after a lengthy struggle, Rathman was able to choke the snake to death. Afterward, he said that he literally had to pry his fingers from the snake’s neck.

Like that rattlesnake that wrapped itself around Tom Rathman’s neck, addiction wraps itself around the addict’s neck and refuses to let go. According to the website transitionsrecovery.com, the ten most common addictions worldwide are: tobacco (nicotine), alcohol, drugs (prescription and non-prescription), gambling, food (including all types of eating disorders), sex (including addiction to watching pornography), video games, internet (including social media), risky behavior, shopping, and work.

While these are certainly ten of the major addictions, the truth is that almost anything can become an addiction. Under the heading “Ten Strange Addictions,” the internet site health.howstuffworks.com lists the following addictions from #1 to #10: internet and the Blackberry, gaming, eating dirt, tattoos, hair pulling, ice chewing, cosmetic surgery, tanning, exercise, and shopping. Yes, you read that right: eating dirt was #3.

So, how can the addict pull the rattlesnake of addiction off his or her neck and kill the snake? Believe me when I say that the most reliable way is through the power of Jesus Christ. As 2nd Corinthians 5:17 tells us:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new. (N.K.J.V.)

Likewise, Philippians 4:13 says:

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (N.K.J.V.)

Of course, simply quoting Bible verses to an addiction will never be enough to kill it. The source of the empowering for the slaying is not the words of the verses themselves but the Savior of whom the verses speak. If the addict doesn’t have an eternal relationship with Jesus and a daily fellowship with Him, the words become useless. The individual might as well be spouting words from Shakespeare.

If, however, the addict is willing to submit to a wholehearted reliance upon Jesus for not only eternal salvation but also empowerment for daily living, then the snake can be choked to death and uncoiled from the addict’s neck. Really, what it comes down to is the addict must fall more in love with Jesus than the addiction. No, it’s not easy to break an addiction, even if you are a born-again Christian. It can be done, though, if you want it badly enough, and Jesus promises to help you all the way.

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Selling Your Soul to the Devil

Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-38, N.K.J.V.)

The story of Robert Johnson is certified legend among fans of the music known as “the blues.” What makes the story so tantalizing? Oh, it might have something to do with the theory that Johnson literally sold his soul to the devil in exchange for becoming the greatest blues guitarist in the world.

Johnson was born in Hazleton, Mississippi, in 1911. Many of the details of his early years are sketchy, but it is believed that he received his schooling in Memphis, Tennessee. He married a sixteen-year-old named Virginia Travis in 1929 and fathered a child through her, but both child and mother died during the attempted childbirth. Virginia’s family believed that the deaths were God’s punishment upon Johnson for the fact that he was already beginning to play secular music, blues music, in the “juke joints” that dotted the south.

By all accounts, Johnson started out with little or no talent for the guitar. He frequently tagged along with Son House and Willie Brown, two of the most famous blues players of the time, but it was obvious that Johnson wasn’t in their league musically. In interviews later given by House, he said that absolutely no one wanted to hear the young Johnson play the guitar.

House also admitted, though, that at one point Johnson disappeared for about a year and a half, and when he rejoined House and Brown he was a completely different player. In the span of a little over a year, Johnson had gone from being a terrible guitar player to playing the instrument better than anyone else could. The mystery surrounding Johnson, how he had gotten so good so fast, gave rise to the suspicion that the supernatural must have been involved. From there came the infamous story of how Johnson had gone out to a certain crossroad, had met Satan there, and had sold his soul to Satan in exchange for Satan granting him the talent to become the best guitar player of them all.

Johnson, for his part, seemed to relish all the intrigue surrounding him and did nothing to downplay the story. He spent his life on the road, moving from one city to the next, playing here, there, and everywhere. He never married again, but there were women, lots of them, and he loved to drink and have a good time. In all, he wrote and recorded 29 songs of his own, most of them featuring lyrics that were thematically dark, but he would play and sing anything that people wanted to hear. His habit was to hit town for a few weeks, stay with a local woman, make some money playing the local sites, and then move on. The road was his only true home. He was even known to frequently travel and play under different names.

Johnson died on August 16, 1938, at the young age of 27. That made him one of the earliest members of the so-called “27 Club,” a group which includes all the musicians who died at the age of 27: Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, etc. Eyewitness accounts have long asserted that Johnson died from drinking whiskey that was poisoned by the jealous husband of a woman with whom Johnson had been flirting. That story, like so much of Johnson’s life, is somewhat disputed and impossible to completely verify, but for the most part it is accepted as part of his eerie legacy. Even more than that, the story seems like an appropriate ending for a man who had supposedly sold his soul to the devil.

Despite the fact that Johnson was considered the best guitarist and blues man of his time, his death was not widely reported. That omission played a role in his genius not being recognized nationally until several decades later. It wasn’t until 1961, when Columbia Records compiled sixteen of his recordings into the album King of the Delta Blues Singers, that Johnson began to receive his due as the blues great that he was. Rock stars such as Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Robert Plant, and Bob Dylan were influenced by his music, and he has since been consistently ranked by various polls as one of the top ten greatest guitarists of all time. Clapton reworked Johnson’s song Cross Road Blues, which played off the idea of Johnson going down to a crossroad, into his classic song Crossroads. Also, in 1986, Ralph Macchio starred in the move Crossroads, which told the fictional story of how fellow blues man Willie Brown followed Johnson’s example in selling his soul to the devil for musical talent, but then tried to get out of the deal when he came to the end of his life.

Still, all this brings us back to the fundamental question: Can a man actually sell his soul to the devil in exchange for the granting of a request? The closest thing to such a story in the Bible is Satan tempting Jesus by showing Him the kingdoms of the world and saying, “All these things I will give you if you will fall down and worship me.” Admittedly, that story does smack of a crossroads type of transaction, doesn’t it? Jesus rejected Satan’s offer, of course, but have there been others throughout history who have accepted the offer to lesser degrees? That certainly makes for a fascinating possibility.

As for me, I doubt that Robert Johnson became a genius guitarist by selling his eternal soul to Satan. I favor the explanation that he learned his craft from another recognized genius, a blues player named Ike Zimmerman, during practice sessions that he and Zimmerman were known to have in (of all places) graveyards. What does seem obvious to me is that Johnson wanted success enough to make practicing, playing, and performing his god, and turning any endeavor into a god to which you devote all your time, energy, and passion can propel you to great heights of success in that field.

In this way, there are all kinds of Robert Johnsons out there right now. I’m talking about people who have in a figurative sense sold their souls to become successful. Whatever success they find must come at the expense of God’s will for their lives, and for all intents and purposes they are little more than rank idolaters who do Satan’s bidding rather than God’s. That bidding might not be playing the guitar, singing the blues, chasing women, and drinking whiskey, but missing God’s will is missing God’s will regardless of what the specific details of the miss happen to be.

Whatever else we might say about Robert Johnson, what isn’t in dispute is that he didn’t live his life for God. He didn’t have to sell his soul to the devil to be lost; he was lost without Jesus Christ anyway. And as for his enduring legacy, well, influencing other musicians to follow you in your non-Christian music and ungodly lifestyle isn’t exactly something that is going to lessen your eternal punishment. If that sounds unnecessarily harsh, I don’t mean it that way. I’m simply trying to keep things in proper perspective here.

At the bottom line, once we get past the stylized, glamorized take on Johnson’s life, we aren’t left with anything that is desirable. He lived hard, spent his nights in unholy establishments entertaining unholy people, and died young. If he did sell his soul to Satan, Satan definitely got the better and longer lasting end of the bargain. Perhaps the best thing we can pull from Johnson’s life is the lesson that worldly success, apart from God and His will, can never be true success. As Jesus said in another passage, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” That’s a question that can be put to anyone who is making an idol out of working fanatically for success in any given field. And no crossroad or pact with the devil is required to erect such an idol.

Posted in Balance, Contentment, Covetousness, Desires, Entertainment, Eternity, God's Will, Hell, Idolatry, Money, Priorities, Satan, Sin, Temptation, The Devil | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Spiritually Minded vs. Carnally Minded

For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. (Romans 8:6, N.K.J.V.)

We don’t have to wonder what the apostle Paul means when he uses the descriptive phrase “spiritually minded.” The man himself explains it. In Romans 8:1 and Romans 8:4, he contrasts walking according to the flesh with walking according to the Spirit. In Romans 8:5, he contrasts living according to the flesh with living according to the Spirit. Also in Romans 8:5, he contrasts setting the mind on the things of the flesh with setting the mind on the things of the Spirit. Therefore, to be spiritually minded is to walk in the Holy Spirit, live in the Holy Spirit, and set your mind on the things of the Holy Spirit.

You’ll notice that Paul’s definition of spiritual mindedness is exceedingly practical. We’re talking “Christianity in shoe leather” here. It’s walking. It’s living. It’s setting your mind. How different this is from some people’s weirdo version of spirituality, which includes: meditation, quests for enlightenment, horoscopes, tarot cards, seances, incense burning, cleansing baths, hallucinogenic drugs, following supposed gurus, etc.

Rather than promote any of that new-agey stuff, Paul says, “Apart from God the Holy Spirit, it’s impossible to be spiritually minded.” This means that the only people on earth who can authentically be spiritually minded are born-again Christians, the people who have God the Holy Spirit dwelling inside them. Everyone else, by default, is relegated to being carnally minded.

And what exactly is it to be carnally minded? The word “carnal” translates the Greek word sarkikos, which can be defined as “having the nature of the flesh.” Okay, so what is the “flesh”? The Bible uses this term in two different ways. First, there are passages in which “flesh” simply refers in a non-judgmental way to the human body. For example, John 1:14 says that Jesus (The Word) became flesh. Second, there are other passages in which “flesh” is used in a judgmental way to refer to the inborn, sinful, God-resisting nature that every human being inherits from Adam, the father of our race. Clearly, Paul is using the latter definition in Romans chapter 8.

What is interesting about the entire chapter is that Paul asserts that the born-again Christian can never again be classified as being “in the flesh.” As he says, “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you” (Romans 8:9, N.K.J.V.). This explains how he can also make the statement that anyone who is “in Christ Jesus” will walk according to the Spirit and not the flesh (Romans 8:1). What he’s saying is that even though the born-again Christian will at times manifest some of the deeds of the flesh (the inborn Adamic nature) and in so doing behave carnally (1 Corinthians 3:1), that believer can never again be totally “in the flesh.” Think of it this way: If the Spirit is in you, then you are automatically “in the Spirit.”

Getting back to this business of being carnally minded and acting in the flesh, have you ever heard one person accuse another person of “acting like an animal”? Well, actually, that accusation gets to the heart of how carnal mindedness manifests itself in daily affairs. The carnally minded person is one who moves through life by resorting to the basest of personal instincts just the way an animal does in the wild. An animalistic lifestyle is a self-centered, self-glorifying way of living that relies solely upon the individual’s own desires, abilities, reasoning, and logic. It says, “I’ve got to make my own way in this world and get ahead by any means possible.” It says, “I’ve got to do it to them before they do it to me.” It makes the individual the ruler of his universe, and while the unrestrained freedom and self-expression of that kind of lifestyle might seem appealing, Paul says the end result of it is “death.”

Warren Wiersbe, in his commentary remarks on this passage, writes:

The unsaved person does not have the Spirit of God (Romans 8:9) and lives in the flesh and for the flesh. His mind is centered on the things that satisfy the flesh. But the Christian has the Spirit of God within and lives in an entirely new and different sphere. His mind is fixed on the things of the Spirit. This does not mean that the unsaved person never does anything good, or that the believer never does anything bad. It means that the bent of their lives is different. One lives for the flesh, the other lives for the Spirit….To be ‘”in the flesh” means to be lost, outside Christ. The unsaved person lives to please himself and rarely if ever thinks about pleasing God. The root of sin is selfishness — “I will” and not “Thy will.”

Now let’s talk about how we, as Christians, should apply all of this. While there are many different ways by which we can make application, let’s be sure that we don’t forget about the realm of decision making. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard Christians say in regards to making decisions, “God expects us to use our common sense to make decisions.” Every time I hear that a chill runs down my spine because that whole approach to decision making is so much more carnally minded than spiritually minded. It’s so fleshly. As a matter of fact, it’s the same way a lost person makes a decision.

The Christian, on the other hand, should always let God the Holy Spirit do the deciding. This is accomplished by paying attention to the burdens the Spirit gives and by heeding the warning bells that He sets off. Furthermore, no decision should be finalized until the Spirit has provided a deep-settled inner peace regarding the course of action. In this way, the Holy Spirit can control the Christian from the inside out, and that is precisely what He wants to do. Even if what the Spirit is compelling the Christian to decide cuts against the Christian’s carnal, fleshly, leftover impulses from the Adamic nature, he should trust the Spirit to steer him into God the Father’s will. That, of course, is always the best place to be, and it’s a place that simply can’t be reached by being carnally minded.

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Have You Forgiven God?

That title is not a misprint. I’m guessing that you’ve heard a lot of preaching about God forgiving you. For that matter, you’ve probably also heard a lot about you forgiving others. But when was the last time you heard anything about you forgiving God? “Never,” you say? Then pull up a chair and let’s talk about it.

Maybe a spouse died. Maybe a child died. Maybe a test result came back bad. Maybe a surgery didn’t produce the desired results. Maybe a marriage never happened. Maybe one ended in divorce. Maybe a job was lost. Maybe a business went bust. Maybe a terrible injustice occurred. Maybe a dream turned into a nightmare. Whatever it was that happened (or didn’t happen) to you, all you know is that you prayed your guts out for God to come through for you but He came up small, very small. At least that’s your assessment of what happened.

And you’ve heard the well-intentioned advice of family, friends, and colleagues. “You need to get over this.” “You have to move on with your life.” “You’ve dwelt on this long enough.” “It’s time to let this go.” For your part, though, such words fall upon deaf ears. Why? Well, may I suggest that you just flat out aren’t ready to move on? And may I further suggest that you and your situation have unfinished business, some of which involves you forgiving the God whom you think failed you?

If you do feel disappointment or anger toward God, the chances are that you’ve expressed it by attempting to get back at Him. Basically, you’ve tried to hurt Him the way you believe He has hurt you. Such attempts at revenge usually take the form of quitting church, failing to pray, letting dust collect on your Bible, purposefully engaging in some sin, or any and all of the above. These things (and some others I didn’t list) are your way of saying to God, “Hey, if You didn’t care about doing what I wanted You to do for me, why should I care about doing what You want me to do for You?”

One of the great problems with the thousands of “Christianity lite”, “health-and-wealth,” “prosperity,” “self help” sermons that pass for preaching these days is that they only convey one side of God’s nature. These sermons tell you over and over that God is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all that you can ask or think. They tell you that He is an all-powerful God who never met a problem that He couldn’t fix. They tell you that your miracle is on its way. What they don’t tell you is that God being able to do something doesn’t mean that He’ll do it, and Him having the power to fix a problem doesn’t always translate to Him fixing it. And as for your miracle being on its way, well, let’s just say that some miracles evidently get lost in the mail.

I’m talking now to the person, even the Christian, who had faith that God was going to save your day, only to discover that He opted not to do it. Mary and Martha received their miracle when Lazarus was resurrected, but you didn’t get yours. Jesus walked on the water to keep the chosen 12’s boat from sinking, but you rode yours all the way down to the bottom. David felled his Goliath, but your Goliath body slammed you, put his foot in the middle of your chest, raised his sword in victory over you, and has been enjoying the accolades ever since.

I truly believe that God has you reading this right now because He doesn’t want you to abort the work He is doing inside you in the aftermath of your traumatic event. While He’s not asking you to put on a fake smile and act like nothing happened to you, He does want you to stick with Him. Rather than burying your disappointment/anger toward Him and cutting off all communications, He wants you to acknowledge that disappointment/anger and convey your emotions to Him by way of prayer. His offer to you is, “Let’s talk about what you are feeling toward Me, and in so doing begin the process of bringing you out the other end of it.

Of course, it’s along about here that someone might say, “But who are we to second-guess God? He is the Creator and we are mere dust. He doesn’t have to explain Himself to us. And since He cannot sin, He never makes a mistake and therefore never needs to be forgiven.”

My comeback to that is that it’s possible for a person (or God) to disappoint someone or anger someone without actually committing a sin or making a mistake. You see, the disappointment or anger occurs within the mind of the person who considers himself or herself the victim. So, even as God remains authentically innocent of any charges the person might level toward Him, He is gracious enough not to take offense at the charges. Even more than not take offense at them, He’s loving enough to actually come to the person and say, “Let me help you take what you’re feeling and weave into a deeper experience with Me than you’ve ever had.”

Actually, the Bible provides us with numerous examples of people who became disappointed/angry with God. Here are a few names from that list:

  1. After patiently waiting for years for God to give him and his wife Sarah a child, Abraham finally expressed the disappointment/anger he was feeling toward God about the delay. (Genesis 15:1-3)
  2. After Moses had been leading the Israelites for a while, there came a time when he expressed his disappointment/anger toward God because of all the problems that were associated with leading such a group. He even told God, “If you are going to keep treating me like this, please kill me now.” (Numbers 11:10-15)
  3. David got mad at God for striking Uzzah dead when Uzzah touched the Ark of the Covenant as it was being transported to Jerusalem. (2 Samuel 6:1-8)
  4. Jonah got mad at God for sparing the citizens of Nineveh. As a matter of fact, he got so mad that he asked God to kill him. (Jonah 3:10;4:1-4)
  5. Jeremiah once reached an emotional low point in his ministry and expressed his disappointment/anger toward God by asking Him, “Why is my pain perpetual and my wound incurable, which refuses to be healed? Will You be to me like an unreliable stream, as waters that fail?” (Jeremiah 15:18)
  6. John the Baptist became disappointed that Jesus hadn’t ushered in the glorious Messianic Age for Israel yet and even openly questioned whether or not Jesus truly was the Messiah. (Matthew 11:1-3)
  7. When Jesus first told the chosen 12 that He was going to Jerusalem in order to be put to death there, Peter took Him aside and actually rebuked Him for saying it. (Matthew 16:21-22)

If you think that all of these servants of the Lord didn’t have to work through these complicated feelings they were feeling toward Him, you don’t have the first clue about human nature. It’s not that these men didn’t understand that God is sovereign, holy, and doesn’t make mistakes. The problem each of them had is that their emotions didn’t ask for permission to pop up inside them. This is how we humans are wired. Instinctually, we feel what we feel, and even though self-control can prevent us from expressing those feelings or acting upon them, what self-control cannot do is change the feelings themselves.

This is where the admittedly strange idea of forgiving God comes into play. Staying disappointed in Him or mad at Him is your choice, but that mindset will never get you to a better place spiritually. At some point you’re going to have to enter into some uncommon times of prayer with Him, prayers in which you vent all that toxic stuff that is bubbling inside you. Trust me, God can take it. If He took it from Abraham, Moses, David, Jonah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and Peter, He can take it from you. Then, once you are finished with your venting — and that might require numerous rounds of prayer — you and God can begin to rebuild the fellowship between the two of you. Afterward, once that fellowship has been rebuilt to an adequate extent, the two of you can start to rebuild your “followship” to walk hand in hand with your fellowship.

Am I saying that any of this process is easy? Certainly not. The truth is that it’s so hard that many people never complete it and consequently spend the rest of their lives disappointed/angry with God. Others try to race through the process like it’s some kind of speed course and consequently fail to glean its full benefits. Neither outcome is desirable.

But then there are those precious few who slowly, carefully, methodically put in the time and effort to max out the course and in so doing reach an intimate fellowship with God that is deeper and more multilayered than any they ever planned to have with Him. These are the people who understand God about as fully as He can be understood, and they incorporate that understanding into ministry. In particular, they are able to counsel others who find themselves disappointed/angry with God. I won’t close this post by asking you to become such a counselor — that would require you yourself to first become disappointed/angry with God, and I wouldn’t wish that on anybody — but I will close it by asking you to become such a counselor if you’ve lived firsthand what I’ve described in the preceding paragraphs. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I myself am in that group, and so what I’ve written here has been my attempt to be that kind of counselor. As for how God uses all this in the lives of others, I guess I’ll just leave that to Him.

Posted in Adversity, Anger, Complaining, Contentment, Disappointment, God's Omniscience, God's Will, Perseverance, Personal, Prayer, Problems, Suffering, Trials, Trusting In God | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

What’s Your Excuse?

Excuses are a dime a dozen, right? So, I thought I’d share a few “excuses” stories with you. Here we go.

Story #1: Mrs. Smith gave her class of high school students the assignment of writing a term paper that would be due in a couple of weeks. But as the days clicked off toward the deadline, she noticed that one student, Tom, didn’t seem to be working on his paper. She wasn’t the least bit surprised, then, when she started collecting the papers and found that he didn’t have one. She said, “Tom, didn’t you write your paper?” He answered, “Yes, but my dog ate it.” A disbelieving stare from Mrs. Smith followed, after which Tom explained, “It’s true. I had to force it down him, but he did eat it.”

Story #2: A young man was trying to help his date sneak into her bedroom after the two of them had stayed out way past her curfew. Her father met them at the top of the stairs and said, “Young man, didn’t I hear the clock downstairs strike three when you brought my daughter home?” The young man answered, “Yes sir, you did. It was going to strike eleven, but I grabbed it after a couple of bongs so it wouldn’t wake you.”

Story #3: A farmer asked his neighbor if he could borrow the neighbor’s rope. The neighbor answered, “Sorry, I’m going to use that rope to tie up my milk.” The farmer said, “You can’t tie up milk with a rope.” The neighbor admitted, “I know, but when you don’t want to do something, one excuse is as good as any other.”

Story #4 (my personal favorite): While a wife got ready for church one Sunday morning, her husband remained in bed. Finally, she asked him, “Aren’t you going to church today?” “No,” he said. “Why not?” she inquired. “I have three good reasons,” he said. “One, the congregation is cold. Two, no one there likes me. Three, I just don’t want to go.” Now the wife was mad. “Get out of that bed,” she boomed, “because I have three good reasons why you are going. One, there are a few warm people in the congregation. Two, some of them do actually like you. And three, YOU ARE THE PASTOR!!!”

Okay, so you’ve got that thing that God has been burdening you to either stop doing or start doing. Instead of yielding to His will, though, you’re making your excuses. Maybe those excuses make sense in your mind, or maybe they sound about as off the wall as these from these stories, but either way the result is the same: you are bucking God. All I can tell you is that you will never progress any further in your spiritual life until you lay aside your excuses and obey God’s command. James 4:17 tells us that it is sin to know to do good but not do it. So, until you do that “good” that God is telling you to do, you are in sin. Call it a sin of omission, call it disobedience, call it rebellion, or call it whatever you like, but don’t ever stop short of calling it sin. And don’t ever think that your excuses are cutting it with God.

Posted in Choices, Church, Church Attendance, Decisions, Disobedience, Doing Good, Dying To Self, God's Will, Lying, Obedience, Pastors, Rebellion, Sin, Submission | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Spiritual Leaders & Preachers’ Kids (post #2 of 2)

People tend to think that being called of God to spiritual leadership somehow causes the called to put on a magic cloak that miraculously changes everything about the person. The cloak corrects wrong thinking, fixes longstanding problems, strengthens weaknesses, and creates immediate repentance of all sin. If such cloaks existed a typical conversation with a candidate for spiritual leadership might go like this:

(the called person): “I have emotional scars from how I was raised. I’ve always had low self esteem. I have a problem with lust. I’ve never been able to manage money well. I have a quick temper. I don’t take criticism well. I’ve never read all the way through the Bible, and quite frankly I’m still a little fuzzy on certain points of doctrine.”

(the reviewing committee): “No problem, here’s your cloak. When can you start?”

The hard, cold fact of the matter is that billions of seriously flawed individuals are walking around out there, and some of them become Christians. From that pool of Christians some are tapped to become Christian spiritual leaders. The takeaway is that Christian spiritual leaders share more flaws in common with the masses than either the masses or the leaders themselves realize.

This problem is made worse when well-meaning Christians willfully overlook the obvious flaws of potential spiritual leaders. I once heard a deacon say of a certain man who was being considered for deaconship, “I know that he has some issues, but I think that if we make him a deacon he might rise to the challenge.” I didn’t like the sound of that statement then, and I like it even less all these years later. Sure, maybe that candidate would have risen to the challenge. Then again, maybe he wouldn’t have. Was it worth taking the risk? No way. As any pastor will tell you, a bad deacon can do more harm to a church than ten good deacons can fix.

Let’s do a little test, Christian. Think back to the fault lines and sinful tendencies that marked you before you became a Christian. Now tell me, did all those go away the moment you got saved? If you are like the rest of us, the indwelling Holy Spirit is still working inside you to fix your shortcomings. So, do you honestly believe that anything different happens within those who even in God’s will become spiritual leaders? I’ve been an ordained minister for 27 years and I still struggle with sin’s temptation every day. And God help me, sometimes I give in to that temptation.

You see, every spiritual leader sins. What’s at issue here is the type of sin. For example, if I get mad at a weed eater that won’t start and throw it twenty feet, there won’t be a public outcry for me to step down as pastor even though a pastor is supposed to be self-controlled and not quick-tempered (Titus 1:7-8). Since troublesome weed eaters usually have it coming, launching one in a momentary flash of rage is considered within the acceptable boundaries of sin in a pastor’s life. On the other hand, if I get caught cheating on my wife or embezzling money from the church, that puts the public outcry into full throat as each of those sins would probably prevent me from having a good reputation with people outside the church (1 Timothy 3:7).

Maybe you’ve heard the expression “God doesn’t rate sins.” That expression promotes the idea that one sin is every bit as bad as another. In other words, a man who looks at a woman lustfully but doesn’t have sex with her is every bit as much a sinner as a man who commits adultery (Matthew 5:27-28). Likewise, a woman who has anger in her heart toward an enemy but doesn’t kill that enemy is every bit as much a sinner as a woman who murders an enemy (Matthew 5:21-22).

Admittedly, the expression “God doesn’t rate sins” does align with what Jesus taught. However, what must be understood is that even though God classifies not only actual adultery but also lustful looks as sin, and even though He classifies not only actual murder but also hatred in the heart as sin, the earthly consequences for the two types of sins simply aren’t the same. We see this on full display in that body of law that God once gave to Israel. According to that law, some specific sins were worthy of the death penalty but others weren’t. This means that while the rating of sin doesn’t apply to whether or not an act gets classified as sin in the eyes of God, it does apply to what God deems should happen in the aftermath of any given sin.

Bringing this truth into the realm of spiritual leadership, even as all spiritual leaders are sinners who commit sins, some commit sins that God’s word says should disqualify them from spiritual leadership. You might ask, “But can’t these leaders receive forgiveness for these sins?” Yes, they can. Remember that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for every sin that any spiritual leader would ever commit. Additionally, 1 John 1:9 promises that there is forgiveness and cleansing to be found for any Christian who confesses his or her sins. Obviously, then, the problem is not a lack of forgiveness and cleansing on God’s part. The problem is that some sins carry lifelong earthly consequences. No spiritual leader ever learned this lesson more than David. Even though kings in that day weren’t forced to step down after scandals, God made sure that David paid a heavy earthly price for the sins he committed as part of the Bathsheba/Uriah situation (2 Samuel 12:7-12).

Sadly, David wasn’t the last spiritual leader to fall morally. History’s highway of spiritual leadership is littered with men who committed sins great enough to disqualify them from their roles. If you lived through the 1980s you will never forget the names Jim Baker and Jimmy Swaggart, right? In more recent times, megachurch pastors Ted Haggard, Eddie Long, Mark Driscoll, and James MacDonald have watched their big-time ministries go down in flames because of sins ranging from homosexuality to bullying to misuse of church funds. This is to say nothing of the entire Catholic Church scandal involving pedophile priests and their fellow priests who covered for them rather than expose them. Cardinal Bernard Law, who lost his prestigious position as the Archbishop of Boston, embodies that far-reaching scandal.

All this brings us back to Jerry Falwell Jr., who now seems to have made his way onto this infamous list. No, he isn’t an ordained minister per se, but since 2007 he has been the face of a university that prides itself as being unashamedly Christian. As I said in my previous post, I’m not trying to bash the man. I just want you the reader to understand that Falwell Jr’s sins and mistakes are not necessarily evidence that it was never God’s will for him to serve as the President of Liberty University. Instead, what they are evidence of is the fact that having money and power gave him plenty of opportunity to express the nature of sin with which he was born. As for those ways in which he expressed that nature, they were surely in keeping with his personalized sinful bents.

Of course, what makes Falwell Jr’s sins so much worse in the eyes of many is him being a preacher’s kid (a “p.k.” to use the official term). Here again, though, being the child of a preacher, even one as famous and as influential as Jerry Falwell Sr., doesn’t give a person a special invincibility regarding sin. To the contrary, preachers’ kids face unique problems that other children don’t have to face, and unfortunately these problems can make those kids more prone to stray from Christlike behavior. The old joke is, “Preachers’ kids turn out so bad because they are always hanging around deacons’ kids.” In actuality, however, the reasons why preachers’ kids so many times go astray look and sound more like these:

  • Preachers’ kids grow up under a lot of pressure to be perfect little Christians.
  • Preachers’ kids see how church members oftentimes treat their fathers badly.
  • Preachers’ kids hear their parents discussing the ugly problems of church.
  • Preachers’ kids whose fathers act ungodly at home grow bitter about the hypocrisy.
  • Preachers’ kids often resent the churches for dominating their fathers’ time.
  • Preachers’ kids typically have to relocate multiple times during childhood.
  • Preachers’ kids often have to forego “fun” events because they have to go to church.

At the end of the day, I don’t know if Jerry Falwell Jr. being the son of a preacher helped him morally stay on track longer than he naturally would have or if it actually hastened his fall. Perhaps in some strange way it was a little of both. Irregardless of the answer, what’s for certain is that his case is neither new or uncommon. Spiritual leaders have been sowing the seeds of their own moral demise for centuries, and preachers’ kids have been turning out bad since the days of Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-3), Eli’s sons Hophni and Phinehas (1 Samuel 2:12-17), and Samuel’s sons Joel and Abijah (1 Samuel 8:1-3).

Falwell Jr.’s story hits home with me personally for two reasons. First, I am a pastor, a spiritual leader who brought a ton of sinful baggage into the ministry and still carries some of that baggage around. Second, I am the father of two p.k.s, and I don’t want to ever hear that either one of them has made an immoral fool of himself on Instagram. That, by the way, has a ton more to do with my concern over their spiritual well-being than it does my concern over my reputation as a pastor. Of course, in an ideal world I won’t fall as a spiritual leader and they won’t stray from what Tonya and I have taught them about how to live for God in the midst of a sin-cursed culture. I have to admit, though, that there are no guarantees. After all, I’m sure that Jerry Falwell Jr. didn’t set out to fail as either a spiritual leader or a preacher’s kid. But it happened, didn’t it? And that, I guess, is the scariest part of all.

Posted in Adultery, Anger, Backsliding, Character, Church, Church Attendance, Current Events, Deacons, Depravity, Family, Forgiveness, God's Work, Hypocrisy, Leadership, Lust, Ministry, Pastors, Personal Holiness, Preaching, Sanctification, Service, Sin, Temptation, The Death Penalty, The Old Testament Law | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Spiritual Leaders & Preachers’ Kids (post #1 of 2)

Maybe you’ve heard about the recent troubles of Jerry Falwell Jr. After a string of scandals, he has now been ousted as the President of Liberty University, the school his father founded. The whole story has given Christianity yet another black eye in regards to public opinion.

What I’d like to do with this post is provide the basic information concerning the rise and fall of Falwell Jr. This information will set the stage for my followup post, which is the one that I really want to write. Please know that it is not my intention with either post to bash Falwell Jr. or pile onto him after he has been tackled. Rather than do that, what I want to do is attempt to explain how a Christian leader such as him can get tackled so hard.

Falwell Jr. graduated from the Virginia School of Law in 1987 and worked as a lawyer for twenty years before becoming the President of Liberty University in 2007. Him becoming the school’s President was part of a succession plan that his father, Jerry Falwell Sr., had announced before Sr.’s death. Per the father’s wishes, Falwell Jr. inherited the presidency of Liberty University while the younger brother, Jonathan Falwell, inherited the Senior Pastor role of Thomas Road Baptist Church, the church Falwell Sr. founded. Obviously this was all a colossal case of nepotism, but the plan worked well for several years as both the school and the church flourished under the new leadership. For that matter, the church continues to thrive under the leadership of Jonathan Falwell.

As for the university, however, things have now hit the skids concerning Falwell Jr.’s leadership. Actually, there had been rumors and allegations before about problems with him. For example, in 2019 Politico ran an article that accused him of bringing profits into the school by selling merchandise that promoted Donald Trump’s campaign and of ruling over Liberty like a dictator. A Reuters investigation that same year accused him of taking part in a strange real-estate death whereby he apparently signed over ownership of the university’s sports facility to the personal trainer employed by him and his wife Becki. There was also a letter that certain members of Congress drafted in which they asserted that Falwell Jr. made a habit of personally blocking students from writing student columns that were critical of Donald Trump.

Nothing, however, ever seemed to touch Falwell Jr.’s leadership of Liberty. Whatever issues he had, none of them affected his ability to bring in money for the school. He had been, after all, a lawyer in his previous life and knew his way around the ins and outs of how to conduct big business.

Unlike his brother Jonathan, Falwell Jr. wasn’t an ordained minister and never claimed to be one. For lack of a better term, he was a “player” who knew how to get over with people and make money. His father put his abilities to good use in the mid 1990s when Liberty found itself more than 100 million dollars in debt. Falwell Jr. began the school’s financial comeback by renegotiating financing packages with Liberty’s creditors and pulling off a series of successful real-estate deals, all of which helped the school climb out of its financial hole. Next, he vamped up the school’s online distance-learning programs, a move that caused thousands of new online students and their tuition money to come pouring into the school. At one point, Liberty had over 100,000 students involved in its online distance-learning program.

By 2012, five years after Falwell Sr.’s death and Falwell Jr’s ascension to Liberty’s Presidency, the school had over 1 billion dollars in assets. The school’s Board of Trustees loved Jerry Jr. for the cash cow that he was for the school, and every major Republican candidate made his or her way to him to seek his endorsement. Not only did he regularly hobknob with America’s leading evangelicals and most powerful Republican politicians, he also lived the life of a millionaire king. What could possibly go wrong?

What went wrong was a certain trip to Miami that Falwell Jr. and Becki took in March of 2012. While staying at a posh hotel there, they met a 21-year-old pool attendant named Giancarlo Granda. Shortly after meeting Granda, Becki had an affair with him. Granda claims that Falwell Jr. knew all about the affair, and even enjoyed watching Granda and Becki engage in sexual relations, but Falwell Jr. denies these claims. What isn’t in dispute is that Granda quickly became a part of the Falwell’s inner circle as he began taking frequent trips with them in their private jet. Also, the Falwells put up almost 2 million dollars to buy and renovate a Miami Beach hostel (a lodging establishment similar to a hotel but cheaper) so that their son Trey could run it with Granda.

The deal for the hostel became a problem a few years later when a friend of Granda’s, Jesus Fernandez Jr., claimed that he and his father had helped Falwell Jr. choose the hostel site and that Falwell Jr. had promised them part ownership of the establishment. The father and son sued Falwell Jr., and things turned really ugly when rumors began to circulate that someone involved in the lawsuit was blackmailing Falwell Jr. with some type of sexually compromising photos. At that point Michael Cohn, who was well known as being Donald Trump’s “fixer,” got involved on Falwell Jr.’s behalf and somehow got the lawsuit dropped and the whole scandal buried. (For the record, the lawsuit has now been refiled.)

Then came January 18th, 2016, the day Donald Trump spoke at Liberty University. That was the day he made his infamous gaffe of calling the book of Second Corinthians “Two Corinthians.” Falwell Jr. lavished praise on Trump that day, and a few days later, on January 26th, less than a week before the Iowa caucuses, formally and publicly endorsed Trump as the Republican candidate for the office of President of the United States. Can you see how a cynic might say that Falwell Jr. owed Trump that endorsement for sending Michael Cohn down to Miami to solve the problem of the lawsuit and the reportedly blackmail-worthy photos?

Trump, as we know, went on to become the President of the United States, and everything remained relatively calm at Liberty for the next few years. But then Falwell Jr. served as the agent of his own demise by posting, of all things, a picture of himself on Instagram. The picture was taken during a bizarre yacht party in which the attendants wore outfits in keeping with the mock documentary “Trailer Park Boys.” In the picture, Falwell Jr. had the lower half of his shirt tied up and his pants unzipped low enough to expose not only his belly but some of his underwear, and he had his arm around a woman who was not his wife. The woman, who was later said to actually be pregnant, was wearing a pair of short, slightly unzipped shorts, and she too had the lower half of her shirt tied up enough to show her belly button and midriff. Falwell Jr. was holding a drink as well, which he jokingly noted was only “black water,” as if that was the only disturbing aspect of the whole photo.

The ensuing backlash forced Falwell Jr. to publicly apologize, and on August 7th he took an indefinite leave of absence as Liberty’s President. Even during that leave of absence, however, on August 19th he managed to stir up even more controversy around himself by posting, again on Instagram, a truly disturbing video of himself using a bar to do pelvic thrusts in Liberty’s workout room while two attractive co-eds, one standing on each side, literally stood on top of the bar. Anyone who saw that video had to wonder, “Has this guy lost his mind or what?” Along about that same time it was also revealed that Falwell Jr. had a longstanding habit of “liking” pictures of Liberty’s bikini-clad female students on Instagram.

By that point, the blood was in the water as all the old rumors and stories — stories such as Falwell Jr.’s ease at making crude sexual references and sharing provocative photos of his wife — began to resurface. Just a few days later, on August 23rd, he admitted his wife’s affair with Granda and suggested that Granda had been trying to extort money from him. Finally it all became too much for Liberty’s Board of Trustees, and on August 25th Falwell Jr. officially resigned as Liberty’s President, walking away with a severance package of over 10 million dollars. Since then the Board of Trustees has hired a leading forensic firm to conduct a thorough investigation into all aspects of Falwell Jr.’s days as Liberty’s President. That means they will be looking into not only all the reports of sexual misconduct but also into possible misconduct regarding all financial, real estate, and legal dealings.

Again, I’m not relaying all this information for the purpose of bashing Jerry Falwell, Jr. I’m doing it simply to lay the groundwork for my following post, which will address the twin topics of why spiritual leaders so oftentimes end up embroiled in scandals and why preachers’ kids so oftentimes end up straying from their Christian upbringing. Those are the two pieces of meat that I really want to provide for this meal. The fact is that Jerry Falwell Jr. is just the latest in a long line of spiritual leaders and preachers’ kids whose lives have not gone according to schedule. Hopefully, by dragging these topics into the light, I can provide some helpful insights into why that line is so long. So, until next time, I’ll ask you to stay tuned, and you might consider saying a prayer for Jerry Falwell Jr., his family, Liberty University, and everyone else involved in the whole sordid mess. I seriously doubt that we have heard the last of the story.

Posted in Adultery, Backsliding, Character, Church, Church Attendance, Current Events, Depravity, God's Work, Husbands, Hypocrisy, Lust, Marriage, Ministry, Pastors, Personal Holiness, Politics, Preaching, Service, Sex, Sin, Temptation, Wives | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Jesus On You

“These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11, N.K.J.V.)

A church member caught a wave of excitement about serving the Lord and said to his pastor, “I’d like to do something to help the cause of Christ.” The pastor answered, “Well, if you are really serious, I happen to know that they are in need of volunteers at the Christian homeless shelter.” The man said, “Fine, I’ll go down there and make myself useful.”

Upon arriving at the shelter, which was located in a particularly seedy part of town,  the man told the shelter’s Director, “I’m here to help.” The Director said, “Great, you can start by standing outside on the street corner and inviting passersby to come inside and attend the chapel service that is about to begin.” The new volunteer agreed to do the job, but he was disappointed that he hadn’t been given a more glamorous assignment. To make matters worse, he wore his disappointment like a cheap suit as he extended his invitation to the bums and derelicts who were making their way down the street.

The more the man invited those societal outcasts to come inside, the more they rejected the offer, and the worse his body language and facial expressions grew. Finally, things came to a head when he asked one especially rough looking fellow, “Wouldn’t you like to come inside and hear about the Savior who has made me what I am today?” To that the fellow answered, “No thanks, I’ve got enough problems of my own.”

Christian, in case you haven’t been told lately, you make for a poor advertisement for Jesus when you go around looking like you’ve been reading the book of Lamentations all day. The fact is that people are tired, stressed out, and worn down by life. To quote the famous line from Henry David Thoreau, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” While this is pretty much the status quo all the time, it is especially true in these days of Covid-19, race riots, contentious politics, and all the other bad news that can be crammed into a nightly newscast. Therefore, the last thing people need to see out of you is a doom-and-gloom attitude marked by a hangdog face. Neither one of those conveys the joy that Jesus died that you might have and that others can have once they come to know Him as Savior.

Perhaps you’ve heard that well known acrostic for Christian “joy”: “Jesus, Others, and You.” In the spirit of this post, however, allow me to offer the different acrostic: “Jesus On You.” You see, just as our text verse quotes Jesus as saying that His joy remains in the Christian, that same joy should also remain on the Christian by way of body language and facial expressions. Keep this in mind, Christian, anytime you are dealing with others, and let them see the fullness of the joy that Jesus creates bubbling up from inside you. After all, if they don’t see that joy, why would they be interested in the Savior you claim has changed your life for the better?

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Dead Roses

And we know [with great confidence] that God [who is deeply concerned about us] causes all things to work together [as a plan] for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to his plan and purpose. (Romans 8:28, Amplified Bible)

Tony Evans tells the story of seeing a woman who was holding some dead roses. The site caught his attention because he wondered why she was holding those drooping, lifeless flowers. To him such flowers seemed good for nothing.

Then he watched as the woman began crumpling up the roses. At that point his curiosity was piqued enough to walk over to her and ask her what she was doing. She answered by explaining to him that the roses were sufficiently dead enough and dry enough to crush to create potpourri. Even though the roses were dead on the outside, they still had a sweet fragrance on the inside.

Life can be hard, downright brutal in fact. It can take vibrant, healthy situations and relationships and cause them to become as drooping and lifeless as those roses in that woman’s hand. And truth be told, metaphorically speaking, most of us are walking around carrying some dead roses. But can God use those dead roses to create some sweet-smelling potpourri? You bet He can.

The Bible’s classic passage to convey this truth is Romans 8:28, the text verse for this post. I used the Amplified Bible’s rendering because I suspect that many of us have heard the King James translation’s version so much that the power of the verse has become a little lost on us. You’ll note that Paul, writing under the inspiration of God, says, “We KNOW that God causes ALL things to work together for GOOD in the life of those who love God and are called according to His purpose and plan.” That would be you, Christian. Therefore, you should claim Paul’s statement as an encouraging promise that can be applied to anything that life throws at you.

A divorce, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, the diagnosis of a potentially fatal disease, an eviction notice — these all might be likened to dead roses. Of course, the ultimate example of “dead roses” is the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. But who could even begin to calculate the immeasurable good (the sweet-smelling potpourri, we might say) that God has brought out of that death and continues to bring out of it? I think you’ll agree with me that calling each Christian’s salvation experience “good” is a landmark understatement!

Christian, it is with all this in mind that I encourage you to get alone with God sometime and have a serious talk with Him about the “dead roses” in your life. Ask Him to help you get past the hurt of them. Ask Him to help you get over the bitterness that has settled upon you in the wake of them. And be sure to ask Him to bring sweet-smelling potpourri out of them. Not only does Romans 8:28 guarantee that He can do that and will do it, Christ’s death on the cross proves that the greater the loss, the greater the potpourri will be. This is why I say that you’d be well advised to give God your “dead roses” and let Him start crushing them. If you think about it, all you’ve got to lose is an armful of death.

Posted in Adversity, Anger, Brokenness, Christ's Death, Comfort, Death, Depression, Disappointment, Encouragement, God's Love, God's Omnipotence, God's Work, Grace, Persecution, Perseverance, Prayer, Problems, Reconciliation, Restoration, Revenge, Suffering, Suicide, Trials, Trusting In God | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment