Thursday, December 22, 2016

All Things By Prayer: Bloom’s Taxonomy for the Christian Life

As a teacher, I happen to love teaching my students how to think--creatively, uniquely, and from varying perspectives.  Bloom's Taxonomy, a personal favorite reference point, is an organizational chart, sometimes depicted in the form of a pyramid, which denotes the various levels of thought:  knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation.   

One discovery I've made is that engaging students in the writing process often triggers action at the top of the pyramid and demonstrates the kind of thinkers individuals are becoming.  Writing draws from the lower parts of the pyramid and provides a handy evaluation tool to note what concepts a student grasps and which ones need further review.

But what does Bloom’s Taxonomy have to do with the Christian life?  In considering the way I have observed Christianity, I was wondering the other day if it’s not a bit like Bloom’s levels.  Spend a lot of time developing Knowledge (that’s good—we know, because 2 Peter 1 says we are to “add…knowledge.”  Read the Word.  Go to church.  Learn much of Christ.  This stage is valuable (and cyclical, as it occurs daily). Indeed, without knowledge of the Scriptures, we will be ill-equipped to function in the Christian life, for we will not know the mind of God concerning truth. 

Knowing the Scripture is not enough, however:  it needs to be comprehended.  For instance, understanding that vision can refer to the Word of God, as in 1Samuel 3:1— “And the child Samuel ministered unto the LORD before Eli. And the word of the LORD was precious in those days; there was no open vision” is a valuable bit of comprehension of the language of the King James Bible.  Thus, verses like Proverbs 29:18, “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he” reach very different conclusions than if the word vision is comprehended in the way individuals use the term today.

But application—where the message hits home, the rubber meets the road, where knowledge must be lived out in life—proves an even higher order Christian living skill.  It means taking that message we heard Sunday and walking in its truth.  It’s knowing that we should meditate on Scripture all day long and then actually doing it.  

Analysis, of course, is the dissecting into parts, the taking of words of Scripture and studying them out, of deeply working through questions about passages, people, paradigms, and discovering how they relate to one another and to the text of Scripture, in general.  It’s also analyzing the truth in our daily lives.

 Synthesis includes walking with Jesus all the time.

But synthesis is how it all works together.  Like all the time.  Like every single minute of the day.  It is an actual living out the Gospel every minute, walking with Jesus 24/7, and watching His Spirit produce His fruit in our lives.  Every Christian can be here.  We can all be synthesizing the sounds of the Christian experience and living in the beauty of Jesus (Psalm 27:4), but I wonder how many of us actually do that.  For myself, synthesis has, for many years, been a strong desire.  It’s been a longing of my heart to live out every biblical truth I know, but I too often have found myself unable to perceive the proper balance of truth in every situation of life.  The synthesis, that beautiful harmony and orchestral symphonic production of just the right mixture of God in my life, can get lost as I chase after the truth I learned Sunday but forgot the one I learned three months before.  So, in my experiential evaluation, what am I seeing as the key to synthesis in the Christian life?


Yes, prayer.

In his Systematic Theology, Wilhelm a Brackel speaks of this very attribute.  He writes, "Have and maintain a soul which is pure and undefiled, fully devoted to God, and finds her existence in communion with God."  He illustrates such a spirit in the person of Nehemiah, who was able to to speak with men while simultaneously praying to God:  

"Then the king said unto me, For what dost thou make request? So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said unto the king, If it please the king, and if thy servant have found favour in thy sight, that thou wouldest send me unto Judah, unto the city of my fathers’ sepulchres, that I may build it"     (Neh. 2:4-5).

When I started this year, I committed to pray at a deeper level than I ever had before.  A number of various influences in my life encouraged it, and I decided to go with it.  As I reflect upon that one decision, I praise God for giving me a small glimpse into the incredible significance and necessity of prayer in a believer's life.

You know Philippians 4:6—“Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God”?  I knew it said “everything.”  But it’s true.  It really means everything. 

In pursuing prayer, I’ve seen even more clearly a life lesson that God has taught me many times throughout the years--how completely dependent I am upon God for everything.  Literally.  Without Him I can do nothing--NO THING.  And it seems to me that no thing can be synthesized, lived out in the right way in the Christian life, without all prayer.  

So now how does life look for me?  Far different than I ever thought it would.  Back in January, my prayers were fervent, but the Lord has continued to reveal aspects in my spirit that need replacement with the Spirit of Christ.  Taking the advice of a book on prayer, I began writing out prayers rooted in Scripture.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” become a regular request in my life.  One area that God has shaped my spirit has been in my response to the sins of other about me.  The sins of others often shot fiery wounds into my own spirit, and the peace of God, which I knew could “keep my heart and mind”—too easily stole away from my heart as these conflicts seemed like mountains to be claimed in prayer.

However, God has graciously made me aware that His plan is that I pray about everything with thanksgiving.  If that praise is missing with every request, then my own spirit can become negatively affected and my goal, God's glory, will not be realized by others about me, who will not perceive in me the praiseworthy God I serve.

Other challenges presented themselves.  I struggled knowing how to deal with critical words from others.  Truth does not reside in what people say or think, because they can misread situations. But if others saw something in me (accurately or not), I wanted respond biblically.  How could I know when people were right and how could I best respond to their words?

How I needed God’s wisdom in sorting this out!  Situations such as these were not ways I had envisioned God answering prayers.  In fact, it seemed the more I prayed, the more prayer was making my life a challenge.  But I knew God was good and I could not stop praying.  Even when I saw individuals departing from God, dear ones for whom I had prayed, I knew God heard my prayers, for the saints in Revelation attest to that truth.

Then I heard a message dealing with another upper level of Bloom’s Taxonomy (not called that, of course):  evaluation.  How do I evaluate my Christian life?  What is the litmus test of my Christianity?  What is the canon, the measuring stick, the rule by which my Christianity will be judged?

Simply put, it’s fruit.

Now I’ve heard preachers talk about all the souls that will be saved if we are right with God.  But when my brother Josh preached a message on spiritual fruit, he noted that the fruit which is 100-fold, 60-fold, or 30-fold is fruit of God's Spirit of righteousness.  He traced the fruit texts in Scripture dealing with the idea of fruit—John 15, Galatians 5:22-23, James 3:18, and others.  Of course, it can include the fruit of souls.  But if we’re going around evaluating how many souls have come into the kingdom because of our witness, we might get pretty bent out of shape, since we don’t actually know that anyway.  (One plants; one waters; God gives the increase.)

Fruit:  the evaluative stage of our Christian experience
That message greatly helped me develop the right kind of evaluation of my Christian life.  The Christian life, I knew, is about what God thinks of me.  But it’s also about how much fruit of the Spirit I’m producing.  Who doesn't long to be a 100-fold Christian?  Someone who bears spiritual fruit continually? And yet, I was reminded, that fruit will not be fruit sourced in us.  It will be entirely from Him.  What’s more, any lack in me is an evidence, not necessarily of something I need to change, but another way I can totally and completely depend upon Him!  As I applied this message to my need to depend on God for the fruits of the Spirit, the Lord began to teach some valuable lessons.

In synthesizing what fruit looks like, I've come to realize that dependence on the Spirit for His fruit production happens multiple times in a day.  At some point during a busy day, I will come to the end of “my” love and every other spiritual fruit.  But the Spirit is never depleted of His love, joy, peace, longsuffering, etc.!  While I desire to do right all the time and manifest God's fruits continually, such a life is impossible without continual dependence upon the Spirit’s help.  Daily.  Moment by moment.  Because God is the Source of our being--not only of our every physical breath, but in our every spiritual breath, as well!

It seems to me that this weapon of "all prayer" hinges the armor of the saint.  Prayer is crystalizing knowledge for me and further clarifying God’s definitions of things.  Because God's Spirit produces peace, confusion need have little, if any, place in our Christian experience as believers depend on the Holy Spirit for everything and walk confidently, looking in faith to Jesus.

Now nearing the end of this year, I look back at the sweet moments of prayer friendships that have developed with others, including a dear godly woman whom I call regularly to share in moments with our Master in prayer, laying everything in the lap of the Savior while claiming His promises to hear and answer.  The incredible freedom of spirit that emerges from such sweet times has been revitalizing!  Various messages on prayer have likewise bolstered the seed that began to grow in my heart last January.  A detailed study of the Lord’s Prayer has provided a road map for meeting God in prayer.  Opening the Psalms or other Scripture prayers to pray God’s thoughts after Him for a particular situation has proved a special encouragement as I reflect on the eternal words from our Lord.  

Some might call certain events mere coincidences--like "running into" the same individual twice in one day-- but I’m seeing those encounters as God’s call to prayer for that one, to lift up that person before the throne of grace.  And watching specific answers to prayer happen in the lives of people I love is yet another beautiful evidence that God is real, that prayer works, and that I am incredibly dependent upon the Lord for anything and everything that happens in life.

What a journey it has been so far!  And, by God's grace, I anticipate continuing it every day of 2017. 

In prayer. 

With thanksgiving.

"Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his 
wonderful works to the children of men!  
For he satisfieth the longing soul, and 
filleth the hungry soul with goodness"--Psalm 107:8-9.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Mansion, Chapter 1

 (Note:  The title of this blog is "Reflections on Eternity."  One day, as I contemplated the topic of eternity, the idea for this imaginary story came to mind.  Any correlation to real persons is purely coincidental.  I will post chapters as they are completed.)

Out door-knocking, both Kayla and Grace whistled under their breaths, awed by the next house which stood before them, grand and impressive--a large, three-story mansion of brick.  Who would ring the bell?   

Kayla agreed to.   

The doorbell's rectangular metal shape accentuated perfectly the limestone cast of the brickwork.  A man in his late fifties opened the massive door.

“Won’t you step in?” he asked cordially.

In this neighborhood, crime watch proved unnecessary, for not a criminal existed in the entire grand city.  Neighbors treated each other with kindness, love, and cordiality.  Never did a sharp word emerge from the lips of these residents; never did they utter an abusive insult.  Everywhere, peace and joy abounded.  The girls, 15 and 13 to be exact, harbored no fear of the older man, who treated them with grace befitting princesses.  And, knowing him to be a saint, they stepped into his lovely home.

The walls were lined with exquisite artwork.

“Won’t you look around?” the man offered, as if accustomed to visitors such as Kayla and Grace.  Taking a seat on his luxurious leather couch, the man opened a large book, took his pencil, and began writing in a journal words that he loved from a large book, which Kayla noticed read Scottish Psalter. 

Kayla and Grace stood before the first magnificent piece.  Once Kayla’s parents had taken her to see an exhibition of Jan Lievens' work. Lievens, a contemporary of Rembrandt, contrasted with the Dutch great in one significant way:  while Rembrandt was noted for his use of darker shades in his paintings, Jan Lievens excelled in the use of brighter colors.  

Pictured:  Lievens' portrait of Anna Maria Van Schurman

Lievens never enjoyed as much popularity as Rembrandt, though they had chosen similar styles and subjects.  Kayla remembered standing before a number of Lievens' works, enthralled at the way the artist so evoked the ambiance of setting as to make one feel as if she were looking at a familiar friend.  For the older subjects, every line and crease told the story of hard work, of kind-hearted laughter, or of intense pain.  Younger subjects nearly breathed with jollity, joy, or sobriety.  “They’re better than photographs,” Kayla remembered whispering to her mother while in the gallery of the Art Museum.

“A good painting is always that way,” her mother had said.  “Artists have a way of capturing the essence of a person in a way a photo just can’t do.” 

Kayla couldn’t have agreed more completely; and now, as she stood in the living room of the man who hummed as he read and jotted notes, the perception was the same. 

“These people—it’s as if I know them!” she told Grace.

“No kidding.  They’re so exact—like the artist captured not only the frame and face of the people as he painted but the very motives of their heart.”

“These people, Sir, who are they?’ Kayla asked.

“Why, that, My Child, is the very reason this house exists.”

Kayla and Grace glanced at one another, puzzled.

“Ah, yes, had it not been for those individuals, Mr. Morton—for that’s my name—would not live at 265 Gold Crest Boulevard in a fine mansion.  No, he would probably be seated in but a grand studio apartment.  You wonder what an old man could mean, don’t you, girls?  Well, let me try to explain.   This girl here—she’s about your age, wouldn’t you say?” and the man looked at Grace. 

“How old are you, young lady?”


“Yes, Shelby was fourteen and a half when I first met her.”

“You mean you knew all these people, Mr. Morton?”

“Definitely.  Their lives and mine are woven intricately.  Like I said, if it hadn’t been for them, I wouldn’t live here.”

“So where did you meet this girl—Shelby?”

“As I recall, Shelby was your typical teenager in the 2000s.  She was what they call an Emo.”

“Shelby—an Emo?” Grace interrupted.  “Her long blond hair, curled in ringlets, her dress—why, I thought she might be from the 1950s, not the 2000s—“

“Let me explain,” Mr. Morton continued.  “Shelby and her mother lived in a lovely home in a small, rural community in the Midwest--across the street from me.  One day, as Shelby sat outside, listening to her I-pod and staring blankly across the street, I felt compelled to speak to her.  I had just arrived home from work at the office in Chicago and wanted to walk into my home, sit in the air conditioning, and just enjoy life for a couple hours; but the feeling was insistent.  I recognized the still, small voice as that of the indwelling Holy Spirit.  So I walked over to Shelby with a cold bottle of soda and asked her if she was thirsty."

'Thanks, Jeff,' she said, calling me by my first name, 'but I’m not thirsty.'

'Is your soul thirsty?' I asked her.

"Shelby looked at me.  Behind her long bangs, I could make out two blue eyes, masked in so much black makeup the girl looked as if she’d gotten seven black eyes, one on top of the other."

'Is this some of your Jesus talk?'  Shelby asked.

'Shelby,' I said, 'you are a sinner.'

'Well, thanks for the encouragement,' she responded, kicking at a rock on the roadside.

'And God says you need Him.  I wanted to give you some cool soda to quench a bit of your thirst on this hot, summer day; but God longs to fill the longing in your heart.  He wants to give you His Son, Who will take away the guilt of your sin and bring you into a relationship with Himself.'

Shelby didn't look up.

'Shelby,' I pleaded with her, 'Your life has no meaning or purpose without Jesus.  Come to Him.  Make Him the Boss in your life.  He will do a much better job running your life than you can.'

'I don’t know why I’m listening to you, Jeff,' Shelby said, 'but your words make sense.  My life sure doesn’t.'

'Listen,' I told her, 'my wife Mandy would love to do a Bible study with you—you know, sit down and talk about Christ and how He can change your life.'

'I might actually like that,' Shelby said.


"Well, that was the beginning of a deeper friendship with Shelby that resulted in her putting her faith in Christ."

“What happened next, Mr. Morton?” Grace wondered.

“Through the course of their Bible studies together, Mandy found out that Shelby had wanted to take her life.”


“Yes—she’d wanted to—and that very day I went up to her and talked to her of her soul, she was sitting there thinking of a way.  That I-pod she was listening to was feeding her desire with some horrible music on the topic.  But then God captured her heart.  She went home and multiple times read through the little pamphlet I had left her.  Understanding her need, Shelby repented of her sins and believed on Christ.  Immediately, she received a new heart.  I almost didn’t recognize the new Shelby.  One day, as Shelby stepped into her new Ford Mustang—a gift from her mother for her sixteenth birthday—I stepped back in shock to consider the once haunted eyes of my neighbor.  


Shelby now looked jubilant.  Her ten-year-old cousin rode in the car with her, and I waved to them.  Shelby had begun attending church, and her entire outlook on life had changed.  Her radiant smile, obedient spirit, and now wholesome appearance glowed with meaning and purpose.  After volunteering to help at that year’s Vacation Bible School, Shelby also served as camp counselor at a local Christian camp.

"Then what?”

"Then, one February day on an icy road, Shelby lost control of her beautiful red car.  It hit a tree.  Tragedy struck the home across the street, for sixteen-year-old Shelby was killed instantly.  Months of mourning followed as her mother and the church family grieved this untimely loss; but we rested in the assurance that Shelby was with her Savior.” 

“You had a part in seeing Shelby come to Christ, then,” Grace said, conclusively. 

“Yes—in a small way, my interest in her resulted in Shelby’s conversion.”

“And the King then granted that this lovely framed artwork adorn your house in His land?”



“If only the folks on the other side knew how lovely eternal things really were, they would live differently!  That fine wall serves as a reminder of Christ’s work through me on earth.  How I praise Him for every work done in my body through the power of His Holy Spirit.  But I wonder—would I have an even larger home adorned with even more beautiful artwork—if every time His Spirit had spoken, I had obeyed?”