Day 14: Focus on God’s Powerful Love for You

In our devotions so far, we have examined the meaning and importance of the words our heavenly Father. They describe the Divine Person we pray to and hint at his character and absolute power. We pray to such a God because he is willing and able to answer us.

But what should we ask for first? Too often, we begin our prayers with a perfunctory nod to God and then immediately get down to more important business, namely, ourselves. Such prayers are exercises in sinfulness. In order to experience God through prayer and develop a mature spirituality, we must get over ourselves and focus on him.

Consider the analogy of two young lovers. How far along the path to marriage do you think a man will get if, at the outset of every day, he talks incessantly about himself, never letting the woman get a word in edgewise? (Or vice versa?) Not far along at all! Everyday human conversation begins with a question—“How are you?”—precisely so we can get to know the other person better. A similar dynamic is at work in prayer. Our first request of God should be to know him better. And that, in fact, is what Jesus teaches our first petition is when he prays, “hallowed be your name” (Matt. 6:9).

The British theologian John Stott explains the meaning of this request when he writes: “The name of God is not a combination of the letters G, O, and D. The name stands for the person who bears it, for his character and activity. God’s ‘name’ is God himself as he is in himself and as he has revealed himself. His name is already ‘holy’ in that it is separate from and exalted over every other name. But we pray that it may be hallowed, ‘treated as holy,’ because we ardently desire that due honour be given to it, that is to him whose name it is, in our own lives, in the church and in the world.”

Think, again, of the young lovers. You remember being in love, don’t you? It was—and hopefully still is—a marvelous experience. The amazing thing about it, however, is its near total selflessness. All you think about is the other person. All you care about is the other person. All your time, talent, and treasure go to making the other person happy. Love is the most selfless thing we do, whether the object of our affection is another human or God.

Even more amazingly, however, that selflessness turns out to be self-fulfilling. The young man who puts his girlfriend’s interests ahead of his own finds the happiness he seeks when she agrees to marry him. Spiritually speaking, “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it,” as Jesus said (Matt. 10:39). When we seek God’s kingdom first, we discover that he wants to meet all our other needs (Matt. 6:33).

So, when you pray, focus on God; you will discover his powerful love—for you!

Day 13: Fatherhood, Feelings, Facts, and Faith

God is our heavenly Father. He created us, saved us, and provides for our needs. So, when we pray, we ought to remember and give thanks for his powerful love.

Unfortunately, we do not always feel God’s love. Sometimes, we feel that God is ignoring or neglecting us. When we are anxious about our material needs or disconsolate about our spiritual condition, we want to feel God’s reassuring hand and hear his soothing voice. But we don’t.

What should we do?

First, we should remember that feelings are not reliable guides to reality. In high school, I competed in a speech meet that I felt I had won. I spoke flawlessly. My only real competitor, however, jumbled the opening lines of her speech and started over. I was sure the trophy was mine, but the judges pronounced my competitor the winner. My feelings had led me astray, as feelings often do.

Second, in light of the unreliability of our emotions, we should let facts determine our feelings. God’s Word is the most reliable source of information we have about him, so what it says about him should determine how we feel about him, especially when we go through difficult circumstances. Consider the logic of Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:25–27: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” Jesus replied to his audience’s anxiety by noting two facts: (1) God cares for you more than birds, whose needs are always met; and (2) anxiety is unhelpful. Jesus let those facts shape his emotional life, and he encouraged his followers to do the same.

Third, and finally, we should walk by faith. St. John of the Cross wrote about “the dark night of the soul,” when we do not feel God’s presence or comfort at all. Interestingly, he considered such a night a gift from God. When life is going well and our emotions are all positive ones, it is easy to believe in God and do his will. But take those crutches away, and will any faith in him remain? Are we fair-weather friends to God? Do we love God for God, or selfishly?

Faith is not a leap in the dark. It is not a belief in the bizarre or absurd. It is the simple trust that God can be taken at his word. God loves you powerfully. That is a fact whether you feel it or not. Have faith, and one day—if not today—the facts and your feelings will meet, and you will see God “face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12).

The Flight of the Intellectuals

Paul Berman, The Flight of the Intellectuals (Brooklyn, NY: Melville House, 2010). $26.00, 304 pages.

On February 14, 1989, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa—or legal ruling—against Salman Rushdie, sentencing him to death in absentia for the crime of writing a novel that slandered the Prophet Muhammad. The issuance of the fatwa was taken seriously enough by Rushdie himself and by British authorities that he went into hiding under their protection for several years afterward. The ayatollah has since died, but his fatwa remains in force.

In the years since then, as Paul Berman points out in The Flight of the Intellectuals, Salman Rushdie “has metastasized into an entire social class” who live under protection of police or private security because they have in some way offended Muslims with their words. The class includes Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ibn Warraq, Bassam Tibi, Magdi Allam, Fiamma Nierenstein, Caroline Fourest, Robert Redeker, Flemming Rose, Kurt Westergaard, and Boualem Sansal, among many others.

Intellectuals rushed to Rushdie’s defense in 1989. Some, like Berman himself, do the same for today’s Rushdie class. But others—particularly liberal intellectuals with whose politics Berman agrees and from whom he expects greater resistance to Islamic fascism—find themselves cooing over Islamic “moderates” who are anything but, even as they insinuate the worst about Islamism’s greatest critiques, writers such as Hirsi Ali. The Flight of the Intellectuals is a case study in liberal tergiversation, focusing on the disparate treatment Tariq Ramadan and Ayaan Hirsi Ali have received at the hands of Ian Buruma and other liberal intellectuals.

Tariq Ramadan is the best-known face of moderate Islam in the West. Raised in Geneva and a philosopher, Ramadan has written several books seeking a rapprochement between Islam and the West. He is also the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Relying on the work of Jeffrey Herf and other historians, Berman demonstrates the deep connections between al-Banna, his allies, and Nazism in World War II. Moreover, he points out that the Brotherhood’s chief ideologues—al-Banna himself and Sayyid Qutb—were vicious anti-Semites, not to mention complicit in providing theological warrants for Nazi acts of political violence. In other words, objectively speaking, Islamism has fascist streams flowing into it.

Is this history important? Is Ramadan guilty of the sins of his grandfather? Yes, and no. Berman critiques Ramadan because he consistently and persistently elides and obfuscates the very past in which his own family plays such an important role. Not only that, and history aside, he consistently and persistently supports the theological writings of Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, whom Berman dubs “the mufti of martyrdom operations,” i.e., suicide bombings. Berman wonders whether Ramadan, with his elision, obfuscation, and unwavering support of Qaradawi, can be justifiably considered a moderate.

Throughout the book, Berman rightly distinguishes Islam and Islamism. The former is a global religion. The latter is a particular interpretation of it. He does not attempt to answer the question of how authentic the interpretation of the religion is, again, rightly so. What Islam is is for Muslims to decide. And there are Muslim liberals, people who would like to see Islamic tradition develop in conversation with modern trends

What Berman wonders is why intellectuals such as Ian Buruma and Timothy Garton Ash—men whose liberal bona fides are unquestioned—give cover to Ramadan, even as they critique Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a critic of the brutal treatment meted out to women by the ideologues and practitioners of Islamism. Truth be told, Hirsi Ali believes the fault lies with Islam itself, not just modern political permutations of it. Ash referred to Hirsi Ali as an “Enlightenment fundamentalist” because of atheistic rationalism and searing critique of Islam, a description he later retracted. But who in their right mind, Berman asks, would equate Muslim fundamentalism, which in its political form issues death sentences against writers, with political liberals who wish to see freedom of choice in religion and other matters extend globally to all individuals? Issuing death threats and receiving death threats are not morally equivalent acts, but that seems to be what they have become in the eyes of some liberal intellectuals.

Why? Berman’s answer seems to be cowardice. “Two developments account for it…,” he writes in the book’s concluding paragraph. “The first of those developments is the spectacular and intimidating growth of the Islamist movement since the time of the Rushdie fatwa. The second development is terrorism.”

And thus the book ends, prompting a question: How shall we, its readers, respond to the challenge of Islamism? With clarity and courage, or with obfuscation and compromise? The flight of the intellectuals results from choosing the latter response.

Book Vlog for Thursday, July 29, 2010

In this book vlog, I talk about four books that I’m reading. I also give away five books at part of the 10 Weeks of Free Books contest. Check back to this blog next Tuesday at 2:00 p.m. (CDT) for a list of books that will be given away the following Thursday.

Books I’m Reading

  • Mark Shaw, Global Awakening: How 20th-Century Revivals Triggered a Christian Revolution (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2010).
  • John Dickson, The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission: Promoting the Gospel with More Than Our Lips (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010).
  • Gary B. McGee, Miracles, Missions and American Pentecostalism (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2010).
  • Paul Berman, The Flight of the Intellectuals (Brooklyn, NY: Melville House, 2010).

This Week’s Winners in the “10 Weeks of Free Books” Giveaway

Congratulations to the following AG ministers! The books are in the mail.

  • Kenneth Hoole: Living in the Spirit kit by Dr. George O. Wood
  • Tom Galovich: Politics for the Greatest Good by Clarke D. Forsythe
  • William Otley: Christians at the Border by M. Daniel Carroll R.
  • Brent Braunberger: Coming Back Stronger by Drew Brees
  • John Campbell: Inside the Revolution by Joel C. Rosenberg

Day 12: The Father as Creator

A third and final reason we call God Father is that he is the Creator of and Provider for the entire world. James describes him as “the Father of the heavenly lights” (James 1:17). Paul writes, “there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live” (1 Cor. 8:6). No wonder, then, he writes, “his whole family [literally, ‘all fatherhood’] in heaven and on earth derives its name” from the heavenly Father (Eph. 3:15). Or that, quoting a Greek poet, he remarks: “We are his offspring” (Acts 17:28). God created and provides for us; therefore, he is our Father.

As Creator and Provider, the Father dispenses his blessing with impartiality and expects us to do the same. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:44–45). When it comes to the blessings of salvation and eternal life with him, God requires faith of us. With creature comforts and temporal goods, however, God is an equal-opportunity giver.

God’s creatorship makes a tremendous difference in our prayer life, as Jesus himself pointed out. We spend our lives working hard to get stuff, some of which is good and necessary, some not. But often, we develop acquisition anxiety. We worry about acquiring what we need as well as what we simply want. To paraphrase the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:25–34, we worry about our lives, what we will eat or drink; and we worry about our bodies, what we will wear. We shouldn’t. To see why, we should pay attention to three questions Jesus asks us.

First, “Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?” When we pray, God reminds us of our priorities and helps us see the difference between our needs and our wants.

Second, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” When we pray, God reminds us of our value in his eyes and assures us that he will meet our needs.

Third, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” When we pray, God administers a dose of reality medicine. Anxiety does not prolong life. Medically speaking, it shortens it. So do not worry, God will provide. Only the pagans run after all these things [food, drink, clothing, etc.]; our “heavenly Father knows that [we] need them.”

God is the Father of the entire world. He created us; he will also provide for us. So, let us pray to him!

Day 11: The Father as Savior

The first reason we call God Father is because he is “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:3). The second reason is that he is the Father of all believers. Jesus had a unique relationship with God, but we can have a relationship with him too, although in a different way.

That difference can be expressed as the difference between a natural-born and an adopted child: Jesus is God’s natural Son, but we are God’s adopted sons and daughters. As a natural Son, Jesus shares the Father’s DNA. He is divine by nature. We, on the other hand, do not share the Father’s DNA—we are not divine—but he invites us to enter a relationship with him, a relationship of his choosing.

Please do not stretch this analogy too far. It is only a metaphor. God does not actually have DNA. But by the same token, do not ignore the analogy’s power! It is rooted in the biblical language of salvation. Consider Ephesians 1:5, “In love, [God] predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.”

If you think about it, the adoption analogy is a vivid picture of the gospel. Because of sin, we are orphans. Precisely because we are orphans, however, God has no parental duties toward us. We are someone else’s children, someone else’s problem. But chooses to adopt us anyway. It is his “pleasure and will” to do so. Like all adoptions, the cost to the would-be parent is exorbitant. We become God’s sons and daughters “through Jesus Christ,” that is, by means of his death and resurrection. But God is willing to pay the cost because he loves us.

How does our adoptive Father treat us? Are we merely wards of the state of heaven? Are we second-class members of God’s household? Are we like Cinderella—begrudged by the natural-born children of a heavenly Stepmother and made to do slavish tasks? No! No! No! Listen to Galatians 4:4–7: “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.”

What difference does this change in status from slavery to sonship make for our prayer life? Listen to Romans 8:15–17a: “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.” As God’s children and heirs, we can joyfully ask him for anything we need. He chose to love us in the first place. Will he not also care for us on an ongoing basis?

So, let us pray to God, the Father of all believers!

Ten Weeks of Free Books! and Gospel Publishing House are giving away free books every week through the end of September. Check out George Paul Wood’s blog every Tuesday at 2:00 p.m. (Central Daylight Time) for the list of books and contest rules. Then, come back to his blog on every Thursday at 10:00 a.m. (CDT) for a video announcement of winners and discussion of new and interesting books.

Book Giveaway for Thursday, July 29, 2010

  • Drew Brees, Coming Back Stronger: Unleashing the Hidden Power of Adversity ($26.99 value)
  • Clarke D. Forsythe, Politics for the Greatest Good: The Case for Prudence in the Public Square ($23.00 value)
  • Joel C. Rosenberg, Inside the Revolution: How the Followers of Jihad, Jefferson and Jesus Are Battling to Dominate the Middle East and Transform the World ($24.99 value)

Contest Rules

  • Eligibility: Contestants must be credentialed Assemblies of God ministers and subscribers to Subscription to is free for all credentialed AG ministers. (If you have questions about your subscription, please email [email protected].) For some books, eligibility may be further limited, for example, to senior pastors, youth pastors, children’s pastors, worship pastors, etc.). Employees of the General Council are ineligible for this contest.
  • Entry and Winning: Eligible contestants must email George Paul Wood at [email protected] before Thursday at 9:00 a.m. CDT. Their emails should include the following information: (1) Name, (2) Contact info, and (3) order of preference for books being given away that week. Books will be given away in order of name drawn and highest book preference still available.
  • Promise and Promotion: Contestants who win a book promise to read and post of review of it on their blog within 30 days of receiving it. will promote the book reviews within itself and also on Twitter and Facebook.
  • Multiple Wins: Winning contestants are eligible to re-enter the contest only after they have read and reviewed already won books on their blog.

Day 10: The Father as God

Why did Jesus call God Father? And what difference does it make for our prayers? The New Testament suggests three answers to the first question and one to the second. We call God Father because:

  • as God, he is the Father of Jesus Christ;
  • as Savior, he is the Father of all believers;
  • and as Creator, he is the Father of the entire world.

Because our heavenly Father is God, Savior, and Creator, we can be confident that he loves us and gives us what we need. This is the difference God’s Fatherhood makes to our prayers.

When we examine the relationship between God and Jesus Christ, two things become apparent: (1) Jesus related to God uniquely, and (2) that uniqueness arose from the fact of his divinity. Even a cursory reading of the Gospels shows Jesus’ unique relationship with God. John 20:17 is a prime example: “I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Jesus is not referring to two gods but to two ways of relating to God: his and ours.

The best explanation for this unique relationship is Jesus’ own divinity. Notice what he said in John 5:17: “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” John tells us that this angered Jesus’ religious opponents because “he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (5:18).

We are wading in very deep theological waters when we affirm Jesus’ divinity. If there is only one God (Deut. 6:4), how can two persons—Father and Son—be God? (Or three persons, if we add the Holy Spirit?) And how can a man born in a stable be God? Over the centuries, the Christian tradition has developed the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation to answer these questions. The Trinity teaches that one God eternally exists as three persons—Father, Son, and Spirit. The Incarnation teaches that the Son has two complete natures—human and divine. I do not fully comprehend these doctrines—they are mysterious!—so I will not attempt to explain them to you here. Nevertheless, I believe both are based on the Bible and do not contain any obvious logical contradictions. They conform, in other words, to revelation and reason.

What I will point out is this: Both doctrines give us a powerful reason to pray. Paul writes in Romans 8:31–32: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” If the Father loves us so greatly that he gave the Son to save us, how can we not approach him confidently in prayer? Nothing is “able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:39).

So, let us pray to God, the Father of Jesus Christ!

The Love Song of A. Jerome Minkoff and Other Stories

Joseph Epstein, The Love Song of A. Jerome Minkoff and Other Stories (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010). $24.00, 272 pages.

My taste in fiction is ambivalent.

On the one hand, I enjoy reading stories about the conflict between good and evil, in which the two poles are clearly defined and the former defeats the latter, especially when victory is snatched last-minute from the jaws of defeat. J. R. R. Tolkien called this snatching eucatastrophe. The Lord of the Rings is a masterpiece of this genre of literature. Less mythologically, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan novels and Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels—and what’s up with action heroes being named Jack?—also belong to this genre.

On the other hand, I enjoy reading the short stories of Joseph Epstein, who writes close inspections of “fabulous small Jews”—to borrow the title of his previous collection of short stories. In The Love Song of A. Jerome Minkoff and Other Stories, Epstein meditates on the lives, loves, and losses of professionally successful, late-middle-age and senior-citizen Jewish men, who grew up, were educated, worked, and live in or near Chicago. Epstein himself is such a man. Not knowing him, it’s difficult to know how autobiographical his writing is, but certainly his experiences have colored his stories.

Not much happens in Epstein’s stories. Sauron is not defeated. The bad guys do not get their violent comeuppance. Instead, a widower decides not to remarry a wealthy widow. A literature professor discovers there’s more to life than art. A businessman helps out a homeless man then wonders why the man resents him. A philosopher ponders finding love with a middle-aged woman who works as a check-out clerk at the supermarket. A teacher runs into his high-school tennis partner fifty years later and ponders the difference in the trajectories of their lives. A man sees that a neighbor’s dreams for their daughter blind them to whom that daughter really is, and what she can accomplish.

There is no eucatastrophe in any of these stories, and hardly any catastrophe. Which is what makes them so interesting to me. My life is not, at least in the day-to-day details, a titanic struggle between good and evil, in which large decisions must be hammered out. It is, rather, a minute struggle between good and mediocre, in which small choices must be made. What Epstein’s stories force me to think about is the long-term consequences of these small choices. How to balance home and work. How to work well, even knowing that one’s work accomplishments are ephemeral. How to appreciate beauty without becoming enslaved to art. How to be kind, even to unappreciative people.

If you’re not interested in reflecting on these small questions, don’t read Epstein’s book. But if so, please do.


P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my review page.

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