Why Jesus Would Be a TERRIBLE Candidate for Online Dating

My friend Joe recently dove headfirst into the online dating world. We had an enlightening conversation about why that approach never would have worked for Jesus.

“The first step in online dating is to post some great photos of yourself,” Joe explained. “If you don’t have any photos, the website will just use one of those generic silhouettes, which always look pretty creepy. No one ever responds if there aren’t any photos.”

We agreed this would present a problem for Jesus, since no photographs were possible back then. And we also debated whether Jesus would have been a fan of selfies or other photos of himself. He never was an advocate of self-promotion. Instead of putting his best foot forward, he often seemed to go out of his way to do the opposite.

“What if we just used some of the artists’ drawings of him?” I finally asked Joe.

“That would be problematic too,” he informed me. “People get outraged when the online pics don’t really look like you. Most of the artwork about Jesus is pretty ridiculous, especially the paintings with the rosy cheeks and a halo. And it would be a real turn-off to include any of the bloody scenes of his torture and death.”

We both paused to think about some of the awful paintings we’d seen of Jesus. Finally, Joe suggested that we might just want to put a description of how handsome the Lord was.

At that point, all I could think of was the description of Jesus in The Message paraphrase of Isaiah 53:2-3: There was nothing attractive about him, nothing to cause us to take a second look. He was looked down on and passed over…One look at him and people turned away. We looked down on him, thought he was scum.” I could envision a line in Jesus’ profile that said, “One of my friends described me as being so ugly no one even wanted to look at me!”

“Joe, I don’t think a description of Jesus’ physical appearance is a very good idea either,” I concluded. “We really don’t know much about what he looked like anyway.”

“Well, what about the line that asks for his age?” Joe wondered. “That might present some problems too.”

“How about this, I offered:

‘Although I’m only 33 in earth years, I’m actually a lot older than that. In fact, one of my nicknames is Ancient of Days.’

“That could be pretty confusing,” Joe said glumly.

I decided to move on to the profile section, hoping things would get a little easier. “We’re off to a bad start on the photos, physical description, and age, Joe. What kind of relevant information could we provide in Jesus’ online profile?”

After thinking about this for a moment, Joe broke into a belly laugh. “That would be hilarious. I can picture it now:

‘My friends say I’m the Son of God and Messiah. My enemies say I’m an imposter and blasphemer. You must choose which of these is correct.’”

“Oh, my,” I groaned. “I’m not sure how people would respond to that.”

“Well, there’s usually a section about the person’s favorite things to do. Maybe that part of the profile would go better,” Joe said. “How about this:

‘I like to take long walks on the beach, hanging out with my 12 friends. Sometimes we attend parties, and I’ve been known to turn water into wine.’”

“Hmm…” I replied. “While that’s all true, it could paint a misleading picture unless we add more.”

“People love to mention visiting the mountains,” he replied confidently. “I guess we could include something about that.”

“Yeah, but in all honesty, we would have to describe it like this:

‘I frequently visit the mountains—either to pray all night or to be tempted by the devil.’”

Joe and I concluded that it might be best not to mention the mountains in Jesus’ profile. We went on to the section that asks about occupation and income.

“I guess Jesus would have to list his occupation as ‘retired carpenter, now an itinerant preacher and miracle-worker,’” I said. “And the income part would turn off most of the potential respondents too. He would have to say something like ‘income variable—living by faith.’”

“Yeah, I’m sure that would go over well,” Joe chuckled. “It would also be impossible to impress people by the kind of house he lived in, because he admitted at one point he had nowhere to lay his head. And people love to show off their fancy vehicles on the online dating sites, but that wouldn’t work either. Jesus would have to say, “I prefer to walk most places but occasionally borrow a friend’s donkey for special occasions.”

“Wow. I guess we better leave those sections blank or say, ‘I’ll tell you later.’ Is there anything else we can include in the profile?” I wondered.

“Most websites ask what people can expect if they get together with you. For example, ‘What would happen on your ideal date?’”

“Oh, that would be fantastic, too,” I said sarcastically. “Jesus would have to say something like this:

‘Those who come with me must deny themselves and take up their cross daily, forsaking all else.’”

After thinking for a moment, Joe came up with another alternative. “I think maybe we should go more with the ‘abundant life’ approach. How about something like this:

‘When you come with me, you will surely experience YOUR BEST LIFE NOW!’”

“That’s certainly more appealing,” I admitted. “But it doesn’t seem to be as accurate.”

Our discussion then drifted further into frivolity as we thought about some possible punchlines for Jesus’ profile. We eventually settled on this one:

“I’ve been waiting for my Bride for thousands of years. Don’t miss out!”

Thankfully, Jesus won’t need to opt for the online dating scene. His personal representative, the Holy Spirit, is actively recruiting prospects for his Bride. It will be a match made in heaven, to be sure.

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4 Tips for Finding the Needle in Your Haystack

In a vivid dream recently, I was frantically searching for something that seemed very difficult to find. A huge stack of stuff was in front of me, but the object I was looking for was very small.

As I was about to give up my search, someone happened to walk by. Sensing my frustration, he asked, “What are you trying to find?”

“I’m looking for a needle in the haystack,” I said in dismay.

Unfortunately, the dream ended there, leaving me to reflect on the profound question: How can someone find a needle in a haystack?

This old word picture is pulled out whenever a search seems daunting, if not impossible. But as I’ve reflected on my dream, I think there are some other insights as well. It’s doubtful that any of us are looking for literal needles, so the issue is more about our quest for the important things in life amid all the superfluous “stuff.”

I’ve concluded that there are four keys for discovering the needle buried in our haystack:

  1. Separate the plentiful from the rare. Hay stands for something very plentiful, while needles are comparatively rare. Plentiful things have less value than something rare, and that’s why coal is less expensive than diamonds. Example: Why was the Proverbs 31 woman worth more than rubies? Because, sadly, a woman like that is very rare! So the principle here is to rid your life of the plentiful, less-expensive things. Instead, focus on the rare and exceptional things that are of much greater value.
  2. Separate the nonmagnetic from the magnetic. If you have a strong enough magnet, you might be able to attract the needle instead of wearing yourself out trying to find So if you’re upset because you can’t seem to find what you’re looking for in life, you might want to change your approach. Instead of working so hard to FIND something, put your focus on BEING something. You just might attract the missing “needle” in your life.
  3. Separate the light-absorbers from the light-reflectors. When light hits a needle, it shines. In contrast, hay merely absorbs the light, with no significant reflection. So in order to find a needle, one tactic would be to shine more light into the haystack. The needle will reflect more of the light back, especially if you do the experiment at night. The point here is that you’re called to reflect God’s light and glory, and you should eliminate the things in your life that don’t enable you to do that.
  4. Separate the temporal from the eternal. One of the other differences between hay and needles is that hay burns up in fire, while needles are purified by fire. That means if you want to find a needle from among the hay, all you really need is to start a fire! You see, when everything else is burned away, the needle will become obvious. However, I’m afraid most of us are far too attached to the hay to take such drastic measures. We have far too much “clutter” in our lives—temporal stuff that wouldn’t survive the fire. If you’re serious about finding the needle you’re looking for, you have to honestly ask yourself: Am I willing to allow the Lord to burn away the hay (the temporal things) in my life in order to reveal more of the eternal?

My dream about needles and haystacks ultimately led me to an even more sobering question: Is the underlying problem that we actually LOVE the haystack more than we want to find the needle? If so, we’ll never allow God to burn up the hay so the needle can be revealed.

If we love the hay (the things of this world) more than we love the needle (the eternal work God wants to do in our lives), we will inevitably face frustration. We’ll find ourselves so attached to the world that we’ll be unable to change the world.

Many of my fellow baby boomers are facing this uncomfortable reality. In our younger days we set out to be world-changers, but now we’re merely adapters, content to blend in with the haystack.

The apostle Paul wrote about this kind of thing in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, when he warned us to be careful about the building materials we use to construct our lives. Will we be content to build with “wood, hay, and straw,” creating nothing more than big haystacks? Or will we choose the more enduring materials instead, “gold, silver, and precious stones”?

Someday most of what we see around us will burn up. What will remain? The answer is being determined by the priorities and values we live by today.

 

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Will You Settle for Less than the BEST?

If given the choice between a meal at the fanciest gourmet restaurant or McDonald’s, which would you choose? There are several reasons people frequently opt for fast food, and this points to some larger issues in how we make important, life-altering decisions in our lives.

Of course, sometimes you might just be having a Big Mac attack, craving greasy, high-calorie food instead of things that are better for you. Yes, there is some immediate pleasure, but how does that make you feel a few hours later?

At other times, your decision to settle for fast food may be a matter of cost. Hey, you can get LOTS of food at McDonald’s for the price of a good steak at Ruth’s Chris. But think about it: You also can buy dog food relatively inexpensively if that’s what you are willing to settle for.

Although I don’t eat much fast food these days, I’m sure it’s main attraction for me was simply SPEED and convenience. Even when I could afford Ruth’s Chris, I didn’t want to spend an hour or two to eat there. Usually, I was in a time crunch, on the way to some meeting or appointment. Sitting down for a gourmet meal wasn’t enough of a priority to carve out time in my schedule.

I’ve been challenged by these principles lately, for they don’t just apply to my diet, but to other priorities and decisions in my life.

For example, am I truly willing to practice delayed gratification instead of indulging my “sweet tooth” for momentary pleasures? Am I willing to patiently pay the price to receive God’s BEST for my life instead of settling for mediocre options and outcomes?

Many Bible stories speak to these issues, but I’m especially intrigued by the prophet Samuel’s quest to find the next king (1 Samuel 16:1-13). The Lord had instructed him to select the new king from among the sons of Jesse, which at least narrowed down his search.

But it turned out that Jesse had many sons, so it potentially could be a long day to determine which of them was God’s choice.

Starting with the oldest son, Eliab, the prophet began his review process. “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him!”  he said enthusiastically (v. 6).

This misguided assumption by Samuel should cause each of us to pause and realize how we might be prone to the same error. Like a McDonald’s drive-through, the easiest decision would be to simply anoint Eliab and be done with it.

Yet as the story continues, God tells Samuel his perspective is all wrong:

Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart (v. 7).

Think of how this might apply to your own life today. If you’re considering a business deal or new career offer, are you content to merely examine how it appears on the surface? If you are seeking a wife or husband, are you prone to be swayed by their physical appearance rather than what God has done in their heart?

One by one, seven of Jesse’s sons came before Samuel, and the Lord surprisingly turned each of them down. From a human perspective, each of these young men probably seemed like good candidates: handsome, strong, and with a good upbringing.

But could you imagine how Israel’s history might have been different if Samuel had settled for one of these first seven options? It would have been quite easy to do so, especially when Option #8 hadn’t even appeared on the scene yet.

Samuel must have been puzzled when God refused to put His stamp of approval on any of Jesse’s first seven sons. “Are ALL the young men here?”  he asked in frustration (v. 11).

No one had even thought to invite David to the big event. After all, he was the youngest, assigned to the menial task of caring for his father’s sheep.

Like Samuel, perhaps you’re looking at your options today on some important matter. Maybe you’ve already discarded the first seven possibilities, and you see no other prospects on the horizon. So…will you wait for Option #8—the option that’s still hidden from your view?

It had been a long day for Samuel, just as our selection processes in life may seem long and arduous. But when David finally appeared, there was no doubt that He was God’s man. “Arise, anoint him; for this is the one!”  Samuel said, certainly with great relief.

My friend, God has wonderful plans for you. He wants to give you His best. But that means you’ll have to be patient, waiting for the other options to pass by.

Your “David” is right around the corner. I hope you won’t settle for anything less.

 

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Politicians, Preachers & the Art of Persuasion

Whether you’re a preacher, a politician, an entrepreneur, or simply a haggard employee in hopes of getting a promotion, you need to understand the fine art of persuasion. We can learn a lot about this from the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384 – 322 BC), who prescribed three fundamental components for effective communication and persuasion: ethos, pathos, and logos.

Aristotle’s analysis will give us insights into why many sermons fall on deaf ears, many political campaigns end in disappointment, many business proposals are rejected, and many people never land the new job they’re after. And we’ll even understand why the 2012 Presidential election turned out the way it did.

Ethos

Ethos is the root of our modern English words “ethics” and “ethical,” so it is closely associated with matters of character and conduct. But Aristotle also used this term to describe the image of a person who seeks to persuade others. Do they seem credible? Are they the kind of person we would want to be like? Are they truly an expert on the subject they are promoting?

This means that if you’re a preacher, the impact of your sermons will be undercut if people don’t believe your life is a good example of what you teach. In order to embrace your message, they first must embrace you.

This is also why many political campaigns are based largely on ad hominem (“against the man”) arguments. Instead of a providing a true response to the other candidate’s positions on the issues, an attempt is made to discredit them as a person.

In the 2012 election, Mitt Romney was painted as a rich, insensitive “fat cat,” who had absolutely no understanding or concern for how 98% of the country lived. Instead of discussing inconvenient issues like the nation’s budget deficits, the Obama campaign constantly voiced the mantra that Romney just wanted to further the excessive lifestyle of his extremely wealthy friends. And the strategy worked, persuading enough people to vote for Obama or simply stay home and not vote at all.

Logos

Logos, of course, is the root of our modern words “logic” and “logical.” Although Aristotle was a big fan of using logic as a basis for persuasion, he also understood its limitations.

Logic only provides the right conclusion if the right assumptions are made. For example, if we assume the federal government has an unlimited pot of money, it may be logical to propose ever-expanding programs to care for people from cradle to grave. However, if we assume it is unsustainable to continue borrowing 40 cents of every dollar the government spends, we will arrive at an entirely different conclusion.

The other problem with logos is simply that many people don’t really care about logic. They may not admit this, but their underlying approach to decisions is “Don’t confuse me with the facts!”

This observation has profound implications:

  • If you are a preacher… you shouldn’t be surprised when many people remain unconvinced by the well-reasoned case you make for your theological positions.
  • If you are a politician…don’t assume that simple logic will convince a majority of voters to support your candidacy.
  • If you are an entrepreneur…you need to learn from Steve Jobs’ marketing technique—not just selling your product’s features, but also its “coolness” and “sex appeal.”

Pathos

If you’ve always depended on logic to persuade people, it’s crucial to add Aristotle’s third vital key: pathos. This indispensable ingredient focuses on the emotions of the person you are trying to persuade. Whether in preaching, politics, or marketing, this element must not be overlooked.

Successful influencers speak to a person’s heart as well as to their head. So the next time you hear a sermon, a political speech, or a TV ad, ask yourself this: How did the message make you FEEL? Even though the “logic” of the message may be entirely deceptive or convoluted, if it successfully engenders an emotional response, it’s likely to influence your behavior.

Pathos is often manipulative. Although marketers may appeal to altruism and self-sacrifice, they more frequently target our lower nature, seeking to influence us through fear, anger, greed, or pride. As communicators, we may not like this fact, but we can’t ignore it. Emotion is an important part of effective persuasion.

People almost never make their decisions based solely on logic. They are influenced much more by the likeability of the messenger and by the emotional reaction the message sparks. In 2008 the prevailing emotions were “hope and change” (positive feelings), but by 2012 the emotions primarily had become fear and anger (negative emotions).

So why did the 2012 Presidential campaign turn out the way it did? I would argue that logic was on Romney’s side regarding the economy and many other issues. But the Obama campaign did a masterful job in shaping Romney’s public image (ethos) and stirring the emotions (pathos) of the Democratic base.

Republicans may bemoan the fact that emotion seems to have won over logic, yet they shouldn’t be too surprised. That’s how things ordinarily work.

What about you today? How do Aristotle’s principles of persuasion apply to the kinds of issues you face? Take some time to ponder how you can use them to influence the people you are seeking to lead.

 

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Leaving Limbo

One of the most powerful sermons I’ve ever heard was based on an obscure passage where we’re told that Abraham settled down between Kadesh and Shur” (Genesis 22:1). After reading this verse, the preacher spent nearly an hour describing the challenges and frustrations of living in-between two different places.

Have you ever found yourself in a place like that—stuck in limbo between where you’ve been and where you’re going? Perhaps you were awaiting graduation from college or grad school…a promotion at work…the sale of your home…the diagnosis of a troubling medical condition…or the finalization of a bankruptcy or divorce.

It’s no fun to live in-between. And this is especially true when your limbo experience comes through no fault of your own.

Abraham and Sarah had a long wait for their promised son. They spent years in limbo between the promise and the fulfillment. Their wait wasn’t because of any lack of faith, but simply part of God’s preparation for the blessings ahead.

In contrast, the Israelites’ 40-year delay in reaching the Promised Land was totally preventable. They could have reached their destination in less than 40 days if they had been willing to trust and obey the Lord.

So what can you do if you find yourself stuck in limbo today? Sometimes all you can do is trust the Lord and wait! But in the meantime you should follow God’s instructions the best you can, and keep sowing seeds of love and kindness to the people around you. In “due season” you will reap!  (Galatians 6:9)

It’s not an exaggeration to say that our entire earthly existence is “limbo” in comparison to our future life in eternity. Even if God has blessed us with a great life today, we surely haven’t arrived at our ultimate destination yet.

Hopefully we’ve left our life of sin and rebellion behind, but that doesn’t mean we’re near perfection. Even the great apostle Paul knew he was still on a journey in-between his old life and his heavenly one:

One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).

No matter how long we live or how mature we become in Christ, this uncomfortable reality will not change until we reach our heavenly home. Limbo experiences are bound to come from time to time.

But notice that Paul wasn’t resigned to passively living in a bleak, unchanging limbo during his lifetime. Yearning for ever-increasing intimacy with the Lord, he was committed to pressing on until he reached life’s finish line.

Recently I worked on an article describing the breakthroughs God gave many of His people in the Scriptures. These inspiring stories demonstrate that we must never lose hope, for the Lord can find us even we’ve been residing in limbo.

How long does it take to exit limbo? Although it sometimes can take months or years, at other times the breakthrough just requires a simple decision or step of faith.

The Bible is full of examples of God SUDDENLY intervening in people’s health, finances, relationships, or emotions—totally changing their circumstances in a mere moment. Often our exit from limbo takes much longer than that, of course, but it’s good to know that God still can work miracles when we give Him the opportunity.

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Unchaining Your Lost Melody

Have you ever found yourself humming a song from the distant past—a song that illuminated a timely issue in your life? That happened a few days ago, when God dropped the old Righteous Brothers song “Unchained Melody” into my heart.

I think this was sparked when a friend texted me to ask if I could help him write a book on how to be set free from addictions. I told him we could discuss this in a few days, but I was inclined to turn him down. After all, there already are countless books about how people can overcome drugs, pornography, smoking, alcoholism, codependence, and all sorts of other forms of addiction. I couldn’t see how one more book would do much good.

A few hours later, however, I found myself thinking about Unchained Melody, and it entirely changed my perspective.

Here’s why…

God has put a unique song (i.e., a melody) in the heart of each one of His children. But let’s be honest: Very FEW people seem to actually be singing the special, God-giving tune they’ve been given. Most seem to be living lives of drudgery, singing someone else’s song instead of their own.

What’s the problem here? If God has given us a special song to sing, why is it so rare to meet people who are truly “living out” that song?

I’m glad you asked…

A good starting place to answer the question is Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32. You probably know the story of the wealthy man who had two sons. He greatly loved both of them, but each son had something blocking his ability to experience the father’s love.

The younger son took his share of the inheritance and quickly squandered it in wild living. Not until his money ran out and he spent time in a pigpen did the young man come to his senses and return home.

The amazing part of the story is that instead of scolding and punishing his wayward son, the father threw him a huge party. Do you see how ironic this is?

The son probably would have returned home a lot sooner if he knew the love, acceptance, and blessings that awaited him. He spent all his money on PARTYING that could never satisfy, when all along, his father had been ready to throw him a PARTY that would change his life forever.

You see, once upon a time, the younger son had a Melody in his heart. But because of his sinful, addictive, wanton lifestyle, the Melody had become chained. Eventually the bondage became so oppressive that he totally forgot there had ever had been a grand Melody and purpose to his life.

When the young man witnessed the joyous music and dancing coming from his father’s house, something resonated in his heart. His song came back to life, and he finally experienced the joy of the Unchained Melody he had always been destined to sing.

Sadly, the older brother didn’t experience such a happy ending. While the Melody in his young brother’s heart was chained because of SIN and WORLDLINESS, the older brother’s Melody was in bondage because of RELIGION and SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS—often much more difficult chains to break.

Do you see how this applies to you and me? God wants each of us to sing our Unchained Melody—unhindered by sin and uninhibited by the stubborn pride of self-righteousness and religion.

So if I decide to help my friend on his book project, I hope the book can do more than just focus on addiction. The truth is, addiction feels good on some level (Hebrews 11:24-25), so we have to point people to something BETTER—the joyous Unchained Melody that God desires for them to sing.

And one more point…

Notice that the song is about Unchained MELODY, not Unchained HARMONY. While it’s a wonderful thing to harmoniously support other people’s dreams and visions, don’t forget about your own dream and vision. Although there’s a time to sing in the “choir,” perhaps this is the season to sing your own Unchained Melody.

But let me ask you…

Do you still even remember the song God placed in your heart many years ago? Or has it become a distant memory, needing the fresh wind of the Holy Spirit to rekindle the fire and remind you of the lyrics once again?

My friend, your Father has scheduled a party in your honor. Don’t let anything keep you from attending.

Can you hear the sound? Then go ahead and put on your dancing shoes!

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Things Too Wonderful to Understand

It seems a person of my age should have figured out everything by now. But in some ways the opposite is true—I’m more aware than ever of life’s mysteries.

The writer of Proverbs 30 seemed to have a similar experience, marveling about the things he couldn’t really understand:

There are three things that amaze me—
no, four things that I don’t understand:

how an eagle glides through the sky,
how a snake slithers on a rock,
how a ship navigates the ocean,
how a man loves a woman
(vs. 18-19 NLT).

This man was humble enough to recognize he didn’t “know it all.” He was still in awe of God’s wonder-filled creation.

First, he watched an eagle soaring high in the sky, without even flapping its wings. That’s impossible!  the writer thought to himself. The eagle is flying higher and higher, without exerting any effort at all.

Of course, eagles are a picture of our lives as believers. The Bible says we can gain new strength and rise up as eagles when we wait on the Lord, relying on His power rather than our own (Isaiah 40:28-31). Just like the mystery of an eagle’s flight, the Christian life is meant to be supernatural and amazing, rather than a matter of strain and struggle (Colossians 1:27).

Next, the writer of Proverbs 30 sees a snake rapidly slithering across a rock. How does it do that?!  he wondered. Snakes have no legs, after all. Like the effortless flight of eagles, the movement of a snake seems almost magical.

The ability of ships to navigate the oceans was also bewildering for the writer. If ships could only go in the direction of the winds, that would be understandable. However, he observed that ships frequently travel against  the headwinds and the ocean currents. They are able to make progress toward their intended destination even when circumstances make matters difficult.

This is another great picture of the Christian life. We don’t have to drift helplessly in the water, nor must we be blown about by the shifting winds of our culture. Against all odds, we can set our sails to catch the breeze of God’s Spirit, and we can set our rudder to achieve our life’s purpose.

Finally, the writer comes to the most humbling, most baffling, most incredible mystery of all: love between a man and a woman. Even if you can figure out the wondrous mysteries of eagles, snakes, and ships, only a person of extreme hubris claims to fully understand the dynamics of male-female relationships.

Well, actually, I used to understand women pretty well—when I was in my twenties and still single! I even recorded a Bible study message explaining it all. Yes, I had women figured out back then, and I was happy to tell anyone who would listen.

Oh well…

Hopefully I’m not the only one who is still struggling with life’s mysteries. Are there still some things “too wonderful” for YOU to understand? If so, that’s fantastic! May you never lose your sense of wonder and amazement. And may you always recognize your need to rely on the Lord rather than on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Remember: In this life we’re destined to merely know “in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9). Someday in heaven, though, we’ll be able to ask God about all the mysteries we were never able to figure out.

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