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Our God fights for us. As we read in Exodus, just before Moses and the Israelites crossed the Red Sea they were in a terrible place—hemmed in by the Red Sea on the front, mountains on each side, and a massive Egyptian army behind that was intent on taking them captive. In the middle of all that confusion, Moses spoke to the frightened people and said, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent” (Exodus 14:13-14, ESV).
Each one of us is facing struggles: with sin, with discouragement, with fear and lack; but God is the one who will win our battles. All he wants us to do is listen to him and trust that he will take care of us as we follow him.
The Israelites went on to cross the Red Sea on dry ground as the LORD made a way through what seemed impossible. God will do the same for you. Only trust him. Rest in his love. Obey him. He will be your Savior in whatever difficult circumstance you face.
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”—Psalm 53:1
God is free with his criticism of those who deny his existence. But does God also look askance at those who are not certain enough to affirm his existence? On one hand, I sympathize with an agnostic point of view in that it refuses to affirm something it cannot know. On the other hand, God says that the truth about him is clearly revealed in his creation, and that none of us are without excuse (Romans 1:20). He also says that we cannot please him without faith (Hebrews 11:6). So does God have patience with those who argue that we cannot know Him?
God loves each of us and is patient with us as we struggle to understand him and his revelation to us (2 Peter 3:9). However, the only way to be made right with God is to trust in Jesus Christ as our Savior (John 14:6). He deals with us gently, but firmly leads us towards faith (John 20:27). I am writing this post as part of a conversation with a friend who is struggling to reconcile his doubts with faith in God. Our conversation is taking place as the compelling naturalistic storytelling of Neil deGrasse Tyson is being broadcast on Fox. Tyson, a disciple of Carl Sagan and one of the premier apologists of scientific materialism, claims to be agnostic, and not atheist.
The cosmos is all there is, ever was, or ever will be.—Carl Sagan
Those who claim agnosticism often affirm one of these two propositions:
“God may exist, but I do not know if he does.”
“God—who is spirit—cannot exist, because matter makes up everything that exists.”
Many people who self-identify as scientists and agnostics affirm proposition #2 rather than #1 because their basic assumptions about the universe conform to philosophical materialism. In my opinion, these “agnostics” are not-so-cleverly disguised atheists. Their worldview rules out the possibility of God, and because of this they simply ignore him—and often mock those who trust in God. Though he claims otherwise, Neil deGrasse Tyson certainly appears to be an atheist. At a conference in San Diego in 2006 he said, “I want to put on the table, not why 85% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences reject God, I want to know why 15% of the National Academy don’t. That’s really what we’ve got to address here” (UncommonDescent.com).
However, those who claim to be agnostic and who affirm proposition #1 may be intellectually honest. The intellectual problem we have with God is that we cannot conclusively verify his existence in the natural world. When we try to do so, the effort leads us to a dead-end. This happens because he things of God are foolishness to the natural mind. It cannot grasp them because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14). An intellectually honest agnostic may have reached the epistemological limits of the natural means of investigation available to them about the existence and nature of God. When we reach the end of ourselves, we can either settle the matter by trusting that there is a God or by affirming philosophical materialism.
True agnosticism is not a settled belief; it is uncertainty coupled with a desire to know the truth. We need clear and trustworthy principles to guide our choices, so agnosticism is a difficult position to maintain. Eventually, an agnostic will place their faith in God (Philippians 4:7), or they will adopt the clever disguise of the “agnostic” atheists who attempt to preclude God’s existence by asserting that the material world is all that exists.
It saddens me to hear the often repeated accusation that Christians are unthinking simpletons and “religious nuts” who substitute faith for reason. If you feel this label fits me and those who put their trust in Jesus Christ, I will wear it proudly. But hear me out. Yes, there are simple Christians. Simple faith is not to be despised if it is based on truth (Matthew 18:2-4). I and many other Christians have pushed our search for epistemological understanding as far as we are capable. We have concluded, based on things we do know with certainty, that faith in God is the best choice we can make. Based on the historical person of Jesus Christ and my reading of the Bible, I have concluded that the Bible is the only trustworthy source of truth about God, and that Jesus Christ is worth resting my whole life upon. At the limits of our understanding, we Christians put our faith in God’s all-knowing wisdom and his revelation to us in the life and love of Jesus Christ.
I cannot speak with authority for atheists, but I believe many have followed a similar path—but chosen a different conclusion. They have searched with all their mental powers for truths of which they can be certain. And, when they came to the limits of their understanding, rather than choosing faith in God, they were guided by their own natural understanding . This seems to me to be a form of faith. It is faith that the natural mind is capable of comprehending truth reliably enough to guide it through this life without help from God. This conclusion directly contradicts a Christian worldview which founded on the first principle that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10).
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, ESV)
Anyone who thinks that following Christ means that they will never suffer will be sadly disappointed. We follow Jesus Christ, who suffered and died to pay the penalty of our sin (Romans 5:6-10). Indeed, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:9 that our Christian strategy of postponing pleasure until eternity in the next life means that “we are of all men most miserable” in earthly, temporal terms.
Whatever pain we experience here in the service of God is building for us an eternal home far beyond what we can imagine. This provided Paul comfort as he looked around at his circumstances with an eternal perspective. Where others saw physical suffering, he saw spiritual growth. Where others saw affliction, he saw a temporary setback that was building for him “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17, ESV).
This perspective on suffering came about because Paul refused to judge reality by what he saw around him. Instead, he looked with eyes of faith at what “the Lord has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12, ESV). We can understand this because “We walk by faith and not by sight” (1 Corinthians 5:7, ESV). When we do not rely on our natural eyes and instead fix our eyes of faith on what God has promised, we can put circumstances in their place: under the authority and control of the Lord Jesus Christ (See Matthew 28:18).
If the circumstances of our lives include suffering here for a short time, God can give us the grace to bear it. In fact, the apostle Paul said in Philippians 3:10, “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death” (NLT). Suffering is not easy, and suffering with a joyful attitude is even harder. Yet, “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26, ESV).
It seems that nothing worthwhile is ever really finished. Repetitive tasks are a significant part of our work.
A young mother feeds her baby. In a short while, she will feed him again.
A gardener removes all the weeds from a flowerbed so that flowers have room to bloom. Next week, he will do it again.
It’s likely that you, like most others around the world, just returned from a job where you worked hard, thought well, and produced something of value. Tomorrow, you’ll do it again.
The point of this repetition is to satisfy urgent human needs, create beauty, and contribute something of value that others can consume. The never-ending tasks share a common characteristic: they are other-directed. They are about making life more livable for others. They are not designed to create pleasure for ourselves.
In the process of repeating our endless work, we sometimes feel used, depleted, and discouraged. We forget that our tasks meet vital needs for others around us. Perhaps if remember that our work serves others, we can see our tasks as our greatest contribution. What we sometimes consider drudgery is the very thing that helps us connect authentically with the world around us. It is that hard work that lets us encourage, equip, and feed others physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Moms are building the next generation. Gardeners are creating beauty that feeds our souls. Employees are teammates, builders, and creators of value.
Whatever your role, do it with all your heart. Then, get up tomorrow and do it again.
We looked out over the pounding surf of the Atlantic Ocean from New Jersey’s southernmost shore. Cape May Point’s white sand beach was beautiful, and despite the cool breeze my two youngest children removed their shoes and socks to feel the sand between their toes. We looked around for a few minutes, picking up some shells and enjoying the sound of the surf.
Nearby, a man dressed in hip waders and a sweatshirt was fishing from the shore. I wandered over to where he stood and asked a few questions about our surroundings. I soon discovered that Mike is a veteran charter boat co-captain and avid fisherman who loves to teach. He readily shares the knowledge he has gained during a 30 year career on the waters off of Cape May with anyone who is interested.
My family joined us and participated in the conversation as Mike pointed out schools of fish swimming offshore, a pod of dolphins, and the Delaware shoreline. He hooked and landed a skate, and he turned that event into a biology lesson before he released the unharmed shark-relative back into the ocean. He rooted under water in the sand, found a sand flea and placed it in my enthralled son’s hand. In the course of just a few minutes, Mike thoroughly acquainted us with the beauty and mystery of our surroundings.
Mike mentioned his fishing charter service in passing, explaining what he offers in broad terms, but quickly returned to orienting us to our Cape May Point surroundings. His enthusiasm was genuine, and his interest in us, his work, and the local ecosystem was nearly boundless. He enriched us with his knowledge and single-handedly made our visit to the shore a spectacular success. We were so engrossed by his presentation that we forgot to take pictures, much to our disappointment when we later realized this oversight.
Enthusiasm is contagious
As Mike illustrates, enthusiasm pushes us to share, to empathize with others, and to help them see the world as we do. It helps us close the distance that separates us. In business, it prevents us from slipping into ego-centrism and focusing solely on the “bottom line.” Wherever others see enthusiasm in us, it is magnetic. They wonder, “Why is this person so obviously alive?” It is contagious. When we communicate it to others, they want to share it.
Because it is so uncommon, enthusiasm provides a platform to tell others why we are so passionate. In fact, enthusiasm demands explanation. In the case of our fisherman, he offered information and a nearly priceless experience of the Atlantic shore. As a result, I was curious about him, and this enabled him to explain a bit about what his business can do for those interested in an offshore fishing experience.
Mike’s enthusiasm is why I’m sharing this post with you, and it’s why I can offer an unsolicited endorsement of the fishing charter service he provides aboard the Cape Queen.
I recently spoke with a small business owner who was reeling from a discouraging interaction with a customer. This customer stole merchandise worth several hundred dollars and refused to pay for it or to acknowledge any wrong-doing. When something like this happens to a small business owner, it can be hard to open the doors the next day, emotionally and financially. With no budget for fraud expenses, many small business owners feel such losses in a deeply personal way.
Read on for some good reasons to help you keep going amid discouragement and financial setbacks:
Remember that this is an event, not the sum total of all of your experiences in business. Your business is not a failure. As Zig Ziglar is fond of saying, “Failure is an event, not a person.” Failure does not characterize your business either.
You may be able to prevent this from happening again. If the problem was caused by fraud, what can be done to screen customers more thoroughly? What additional security measures can you implement?
Your business is probably still healthy. Put this episode in perspective. Assuming that there is a monetary loss, divide that amount by your yearly or monthly sales to see how significant it is statistically. While it may feel disastrous and deeply hurtful, it may have no measurable impact on the health of your business.
You are in business for some really good reasons. Remember your mission. Most business owners are not solely working for financial rewards. Good businesses are driven by a compelling mission. What is it that your business does that makes customers happy and keeps them coming back?
Giving up may make you cynical. Keep trusting, and keep going. You may need new security measures, but business is all about people. It is personal. It is about building relationships and creating value. It leaves both the business and the customer enriched. That is worth a few losses along the way.
When you face such setbacks, how do you keep going? If you have advice for other small business owners, leave a comment at the bottom of this post.
If you do creative work that requires prolonged periods of concentration, it can help to have background noise that blocks out the distractions. Today, through some conversations with friends, I found three different services that you might find helpful:
Coffitivity plays coffee shop background noise to help kickstart your creativity. Personally, I think it works best when accompanied by a steaming cup of fresh coffee. I’m not sure if it’s the coffee or the noise that helps.
Rainy Mood helps you concentrate with the gentle sounds of rainfall and optional background music.
Simply Noise offers a selection of background noise: white noise, pink noise, and brown noise. It also offers Simply Rain, a site that allows you to configure the intensity and variability of your own rainstorm.
If you need help focusing, these services just might do the trick. Try them and let me know what you think.
Do you use these or other services to block out background noise and help you focus? If so, leave a comment and share your favorite.
The zany 2003 movie Elf featured Will Ferrill as Buddy, a befuddled human-who-thinks-he’s-an-elf. Buddy’s friend Jovie is afraid to sing in front of others even though she has a beautiful voice. Buddy advises her, “The best way to spread Christmas Cheer, is singing loud for all to hear.”
Regardless of the season, it seems to me that “singing loud for all to hear” may be a an effective way to spread ideas of all kinds. It combines the authenticity of your natural voice with vulnerability in a way that demands acknowledgement and respect. Continue reading →