Sunday, March 26, 2017

from Jason Nightengale, Wordsower Weekly Update, Mar 26-27


(I love how Jason knows Scripture so well, that it oozes out of him. In this short article he draws from Ephesians 4 and Philippians 3 with a dash of 2 Corinthians 5, and ends with a most excellent translation of Ephesians 2:10.)

God is working all things together for good, for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

His purpose is that we should be shaped into the image and likeness of His son Jesus Christ; that He might be the eldest of a large family of brothers and sisters. He has birthed us in Christ to grow to maturity measured by the full stature of Christ Himself. We are not to stay children any longer, thrown about by every wind of doctrine, dupes of crafty rogues and their deceitful schemes. In the past He overlooked such ignorance. No. Let us speak the truth in love. So shall we fully grow up into the likeness of Christ. Bearing much good fruit and so giving the Father the Glory. Jesus' purpose in dying for us, was that we, while still in life, should stop living for ourselves and start living for Him Who for our sake died and was raised to life.

Who are you living for? The question resounds in my ear... Who am I living for? For as I have often told you before, and now tell you with tears in my eyes, there are many whose way of life makes them enemies of the cross of Christ. Their appetites are their god and they glory in the things they ought to be ashamed of. Their minds are set on earthly things.

We are to live in contrast to this; living as citizens of heaven, with our eyes set on heavenly things and the immanent return of Christ. Suddenly our disputes about earthly things and distinctions will pass into insignificance. Only that which really matters will be our conversation. We can fill our time and give ourselves to building upon the one foundation, (which is Jesus Christ) with that which will stand forever even the testing by fire. We will build with the deeds of the Spirit not the deeds of the flesh. Building with gold, silver and precious stone, not wood, hay and stubble. For the flesh counts for nothing.

Do you love God? Are you called to His purpose? Who are you living for? "We were created in Christ Jesus to walk in the good deeds which He created beforehand for us to walk in" (Eph. 2:10).

Friday, March 24, 2017

It's the Fruit; not the Foliage

They have these trees in Florida - they call them oak trees. But they can’t be oak trees, because their leaves are different.

It’s kind of strange. The so-called oak leaves, little bitty things, are falling off the trees now. And it’s not even Fall. They’re all messed up here. It probably has something to do with the Central Time Zone.

So I’m not sure why they call them ‘oaks’ when they look so different. But I did notice as I was walking along that there were acorns. Acorns! So, maybe they are oaks after all, with deformed leaves.

And it struck me that Jesus did not say, by their foliage you will know and recognize those who are God’s children, but by their fruit. And it struck me again that I am better at recognizing foliage than fruit.

So what is the fruit of a follower of Jesus? We should not expect that it would be something primarily material, but rather, spiritual; not something primarily outer, but inner. The fruit of the Spirit would fit this description, which is a pretty good summary of the whole character of Christ. That’s the fruit that should be evident in the lives of believers both in the North and the South, the east and the west. 

And what might be the foliage that grabs my attention at the expense of the fruit? If it’s the leaf on a tree, well, it can’t be the hair, can it? Who would get caught up using someone’s hair as an indicator of one’s standing and walk with God? It’s not the version of the Bible, nor the lingo of the prayer language, though the Bible and prayer are pretty basic for the Christian. It’s not the latest Christian book that you read, or the preacher that you prefer. Some are better than others, but then, some people actually read and listen to people they disagree with, both to strengthen their own positions, or perhaps even to learn about other people’s points of view. I find that I really like oak leaves. You know, the real ones. Though I find now that the other, little oak leaves are no less real. They’re not necessarily deformed. Just different.

Oh, there is such a thing as bad fruit. I’ve seen it, in myself. And in a world where the religious landscape is continually changing, and when religious convictions are increasingly contested, it would be good if we would learn to look for the fruit, not the foliage. Do you love the Lord Jesus? And are you becoming more like Him? Let’s learn from each other, and learn to love each other.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Little Boys; Big Lesson

On two separate Wednesday evenings I have attempted to help two different 6 year old boys memorize and understand a verse: “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” (James 2:10 ESV) For some reason the children’s book uses the UK edition of ESV, replacing the word “guilty” with “accountable.”

As you can guess, that’s a mouthful for a young kid. Rarely does he use the word “accountable,” much less read it at this age level. But hey, we are here to learn. And, the boys, amazingly, have little trouble understanding the concept.

If I tell you that I’ll pay you $10 to go out in the yard and pick up 100 sticks, would you do it? The boys say yes, and would like to go out right now and work on the project rather than sit in this room and work on this verse. And so I ask, “If you put in front of me a pile of sticks, and I count them, and there are only 99, do I owe you $10. They instantly understand that the “counting” matters (the core of the word “accountable”). I’m surprised that they have not suggested just breaking the longest stick in half and solving the problem, but that’s another article. And they get it. 100 means 100.

When mom bakes cookies and says, “Don’t eat the cookies!”, are you in trouble if you eat just one. The boys know. “Yes.” The more sophisticated among us might say that we didn’t eat cookies (pl.), just cookie (sg.), and mom should have said don’t eat any of the cookies if that’s what she meant. But the boys know that such sophistry will not fly with mom, nor with God.

The point, then, of the verse, is clear, though the memorizing and the saying of it, for 6 year olds, is quite a chore. And the point is vital. My condition before God as a sinner, which the Bible assures us is universal, is not due to the biggest, baddest sin that you or I have ever committed. And if you happen to have avoided certain big, bad sins, you are in no less peril. Since, for instance, that unnoticed offense of doing good from wrong motives or with a bad attitude can be the one failure that renders you guilty or accountable of violating the whole law. 


The point is not that I have to work harder to clean up the lesser messes, since I am clearly not even aware of all my failings as accurately measured by God’s law. No, the point is that I need a Savior who will pay my penalty and forgive all my sins. And that’s a point that 6 year old boys can grasp, and perhaps grasp better at than at 60, when we grow up into practices of parsing and sophistry.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Forty Days and Nights

The blues band Shirley Jones and the Dap-Kings used to sing the song “100 days, 100 nights To know a man’s heart. And a little more Before he knows his own.” She goes on and sings “You know a man can play the part of a saint just so long. For a day comes when his true, His true self unfolds. Yes it does.” Poor Shirley wasn’t so sure a mere “40 days and nights” were sufficient to avoid getting taken. But the Bible indicates that 40 days and nights reveal quite a bit about what one truly believes; and whom one truly worships.

We first come across God’s use of “40 days and nights” in Genesis 7, when God sends a worldwide rain to wash the earth of its wickedness. It is devastating. All the world populations perishes except for those eight from Noah’s family preserved on the ark. An implication of “40 days” is that this period is useful for cleansing, though not ultimately, since Noah and his family remained flawed.

In Exodus, Moses spends “40 days and nights” on the mountain, fasting, and receiving from God the 10 commandments. One could associate this as a suitable time period to spend seeking to study and discern God’s will. We also note that in Moses’ re-telling of the story in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses came down from the mountain only to find the people immersed in idolatrous sin, and so he broke the tablets of stone containing the Law. After dealing with the people, her returned to the mountain again and spent another 40 days fasting and meeting with God. Again, 40 days may help us in knowing God’s will, but it does not deal effectively with the sin problem.

The Bible goes on to speak of “40 days” in relation to Elijah and Ezekiel; Jonah, and then Jesus. God uses these periods of time to rest, and test; to preach, and to prepare. There is nothing magic about 40 days. But time spent with God, in the absence of a hundred other distractions, is a deep soul-need for all us who suffer from our condition of being over-marketed and under-meditated.

Our church tradition doesn’t do much with Lent, that 40 day period this year, which began March 1 through April 15 (excepting Sundays) in which many Christians seek to invest time with God in order to practice cleansing, or attentiveness, etc. Perhaps you need to take some time as well.


By the way, Shirley Jones died this past year. I hope that she was able to take 40 days, or 100, to explore the depths of her own soul, and to find the only One upon whom any of us, man or woman, can truly count.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Mean what You Say

Traveling home from Togo, I was sitting and waiting at JFK for the plane that would bring me home to Detroit. I watched a young couple speaking a language I did not understand instruct and warn a young boy, 3 or 4 years old, to behave. It seemed as though the boy did not understand the language either, because whatever they said, he paid no mind in the least.
The mother was so tender with him. She would instruct; he would ignore. A sad look would come on her face, but there would be no consequence. He kept throwing his toy to the floor, over and over, into that paths of hurrying people. No matter. Just repeated words, spoken, and ignored.
The mother was not so tender when the husband/father sought to get involved. He was going to take the toy away. The boy squealed. The mother came to his aid, and started reprimanding the father for being so demanding. Then she would again instruct the boy, and he would do what he always did, looking at the father with glee that he had the upper hand, and the father glowering with resentment, both toward the boy and the woman.
If as parents we do not mean what we say, then why speak at all? And if our children are not taught to respond properly to our words, with consequences attached and enacted when those words are ignored, do we really think they will respond to our words when they are age 8, or 18? But the point which is even more important is this: if we do not teach our children to obey our words because they know that we do not mean what we say, then we are also teaching them to ignore God’s Word, thinking that He also does not mean what He says. But, He does. And our children will not be prepared to be obedient and submissive to Him, and will suffer the consequences. And you will have contributed to the situation. Your pretended tenderness is a sham. Let’s do our job.
I realize that this applies not only to parents, but to pastors. And I have been challenged to make sure I mean what I say, and to follow through.

One more thought: To mean what you say does not mean that you have to be mean. I condemned fake tenderness above, but to cross over to that which is malicious and mean is not the better part. Rather, “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” (Colossians 4:6 NAS95)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

To Africa (and Back)

There is some evidence that says I am not a good traveller. My wife is much better at it, and so I’m better with her. But nonetheless, I’m going with a group, to Togo, W. Africa, for the purposes of medical missions (I’m more missions than medical), and so once I get to NYC, I guess I’ll just follow the leader.

Togo won the prize a couple of years ago as the least happy nation on earth. Another group ranked poverty among African nations, and Togo also came out on top (or, bottom). I expect that one of the outcomes of this trip will be a renewed sense of gratefulness that, for some reason, with no credit to me, I happened to be born and live in the US of A. But there are a couple of caveats.

I am completely sure that we can find many people in our country more miserable than most individuals who make up the Togolese population. I expect to find a lot of joy in Africa, and a lot less worry about some of the things we worry about. Yes, the Togolese people may have very real concerns that have to do with life and death issues. But which misery is worse: that of lacking opportunities for improving one’s life? or that of having wasted many kinds of golden opportunities that have been afforded us? It’s a different kind of sadness, or frustration, or despair.

Which is why rich people, like Americans, can be most miserable. We have the best of education and health care and tons of choices, and yet many look back and find that they have only chased the wind, and are reaping the whirlwind. In no way am I trying to make light or less of poverty. To go to bed hungry, or to have no options for finding relief for your child’s disease, is fearsome. 

Do we remind ourselves often enough that those who are poorest monetarily can be among the most rich psychologically and spiritually? And likewise, are we challenging ourselves often with the thought that those who are the most well off in economic terms can be among those who are the poorest psychologically and spiritually? The pursuit of the dollar which is far from almighty guarantees neither real wealth nor happiness.


Further, if happiness and real wealth are not directly tied to the number of dollars we have, then we can be free to pursue true happiness and real wealth where they can be truly found. Here is my suggestion: Find  them in Jesus. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).

Saturday, February 11, 2017

A Sober Individual

If someone is described as “sober,” in our present parlance, he or she would be regarded as “not much fun.” That person might be regarded as being serious and cautious, not fun-loving or funny. 
Of course, talk of “sobriety” in our culture also reflects a widespread struggle with substance abuse. But if we are to understand the New Testament’s use of “be sober,” it is certainly not referring merely to a dependence on alcohol. It would also include being drunk with any number of things, alcohol included. Certainly we can find ourselves likewise “under the influence” of a mood, a passion, a desire, an agenda, etc. And when any of these things makes me forget my “first principles,” then I have lost my ‘sobriety’, and I am in danger of falling away from my calling and convictions.
So let’s back up for a moment, and get this straight. A sober person is not one who hates fun, and who cannot smile or crack a joke. He need not be a negative person who sees everything in the dimmest of lights. We should not expect him to be carrying signs that say “Woe is me” or “The End is Near.” 
Lawyers think like lawyers. Maintenance men think differently, but with a stamp on their thought processes that reflects their training and their daily concerns for the ongoing operation of systems and equipment. Mechanics may be problem solvers, and engineers, well, they have a way of thinking but I’m not sure what it is. Pastors probably have a mind-stamp as well (insert joke here). 
My point is that we are taught to think in a way that serves our calling, and we are generally pretty good at sticking to that mindset. Except when it comes to faith. In that case, we have not done so well in integrating the “first principles” of our faith into every area of our lives, so that we approach family and finances, work and play, with this amazing truth that we have been saved by grace and that our aim is but to believe and value the grace-gifts that are given. 
We easily revert to a ‘works’ or ‘points’ mindset that supposes that God will love us more on our good days than our bad; that in some way we earn God’s favor, and are thus in a position to lose it. 

But when the Gospel writers and preachers of the New Testament tell us to “be sober,” they are simply telling us to stick with a Biblical understanding of the Gospel, that we are not saved by our good deeds, but rather, by God’s good grace, which sent Jesus to be our Sacrifice and our Savior.  He, when sober, is my First Principle.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Beginning and the End

There are some unhappy parallels between the beginning of life and its ending. When we are infants, we come into this world largely dependent on others for the basic activities of life. And for many, it ends up that way as well. But there is a sad difference.

Babies are gradually introduced to new foods: first, mother’s milk, and then soft foods, and on from there. The process of feeding is a mess. All over their face, and down their front, and under their chairs at the table. Part of the mess is due to their enthusiasm to taste new foods, or to react to the ones they don’t like. At the end of life, we may also need help eating, and we may have to resort to gentler foods. But we also hear, “nothing tastes good any more.” There is a difference.

And think about communication. Every new sound from a baby, which corresponds to no recognizable word, is examined and repeated with anticipation for what comes next. And the box of words will only grow. There may come a time when we would wish for a little quiet. But then, how many conversations have you experienced with your elder friend, who stops in frustration, because he/she cannot retrieve a word that they have always known, but cannot grab hold of now. You can feel their frustration.

And we at first have little minds that are becoming ever more active and inquisitive, contrasted with older ones that are sometimes content to sit in silence. “What are you thinking about?” And the answer comes back, “Nothing.” That’s where we came from. And that’s where we are headed, should we live long enough.
But the good news is this: in Christ, our best days are always ahead of us. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, and then, there will be no pain or disability; no fear or frustration. At the resurrection, those in Christ receive new bodies that will enjoy heavenly foods to the fullest. We will get up and get down, and jump for joy without hindrance; no fear of breaking a hip. We will be whole. Forever new. Better than at birth.

We may grown at the hardships of old age. We realize that the pathway to death is often beset with pain and indignity. But, in Christ, who died and rose again, we also have a rock-solid hope that this is not all there is, and that the end is only the beginning. And thank goodness, we don’t have to go back to being babies again. It’s better than that.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Getting out of the Gloom

I guess it’s kind of gloomy around here. If you have only lived in Michigan, perhaps you don’t know. We have more gray than most any other state. During the (long) winter, we may not see the sun for days on end. We may need to get our Vitamin D in pill form from November to March. It can affect our mood. We get gloomy.

But there is hope of a sunrise. I’m not referring to a change in weather. There is something that has happened that can change the gloominess of our souls, no matter if we live in some sun-baked state, or one surrounded by water and covered with clouds. Jesus is come, and Zecharias sings out from the midst of these events and says, “the Sunrise from on high will visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.”

These words were not original to Zecharias. He was quoting (Old Testament) Scripture. “The Sunrise from on high” is taken from Malachi 4. This is the last chapter of the last book in the Old Testament. That is, this is the last thing God said through His prophets, followed by 400 silent years in which the people had not heard from God. They lived in darkness and soul-gloom, and could only hope that one day, the Sun would come up. And now, here it is! The Lord is coming! His advance herald, John the Baptist, has just been born, and Jesus, the Sun Himself, is six months from birth. The gloomy fog is about to be cleared away!

This must have an affect on followers of Jesus. We are not to be gloomy, because we do not live in darkness. Another Old Testament passage, Daniel 12, says this: “And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” It is not that we, in our brightness, become sources of light. No, we become the reflectors of the Light that has shined upon us: “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life”” (John 8:12). 

Paul teaches us in Philippians 2 to “do all things without grumbling and disputing.” Don’t be gloomy. Why? Because we live in the light. We live as children of God in a world that does not know God, “among whom you shine as lights in the world.”

Tired of the darkness? Come to the Light. Living in darkness? Get out of the shadows, and notice that Jesus has paid us a visit.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Self-Control

It is difficult to do marriage counseling. You sit with a couple and listen to their stories, and then give them some advice. Then you go home and realize that often times you don’t follow very well the advice that you give. We find it is easier to give advice than to practice it. 

It is also difficult to teach children. In children’s Sunday School, we have been studying together “The Fruit of the Spirit,” a list of nine qualities created by the Spirit within the lives of believers, features of our union and relationship with Christ. The list starts with “love,” which is expected, and not all that painful to talk about. But it ends with “self-control.” That is the quality for this coming Sunday, when I will be explaining to the children how self-control is really God-control, and when we don’t practice self- or God-control, then we have to admit that there is some other factor, some other power at work in us, perhaps called the flesh, and maybe even the devil. That sounds pretty strong, but if we admit that a spiritual force, the Holy Spirit, can influence us for good, then why should it be so difficult to admit that another spiritual force, Satan, could influence us for bad? But then, maybe we don’t even need the devil’s help to resist handing control over to God, and instead man-handling ourselves, which, oddly, does not result in self-control.

So, before my own children tell you the story, I will tell it myself, on myself. We were traveling somewhere, the four of us, and were in a motel room. This was several years ago, and the kids were younger, watching TV or something. I had to get an email sent out on my laptop, something dreadfully important, I am sure. In that era, the mystery of establishing a working internet connection in motel rooms was buggy at best. And I tried, and I tried. I was muttering away, and the kids did their best to ignore me, at least until I slammed the lid of the laptop down in disgust. That got their attention. And so they were watching closely when I opened the laptop again to find that the screen was now a ruined, fractured mess. I’m pretty sure God-control was not much involved in my actions.

So pray for me this week, as I sit with this class of children and teach them about the Spirit and the fruit He produces, especially self-control. And pray that I would learn the lesson as well, and maybe you too. And then, maybe I can come over and give you some advice about your marriage. I know it will be difficult.

Prayer and Purity


The two, prayer and purity, seem to go together. Samuel certainly thought so.

Samuel, from the Old Testament of Scripture, was one of a long string of prophets, and the last of a shorter line of judges. He served as a bridge between the tribal setting of the early occupation of the Promised Land, and the national identity that came with the anointing of a king. He fought the idea of kingship, and yet was the instrument God used to anoint, not just the first king of Israel, but also the second.

At the end of his ministry, Samuel addresses the people of Israel, and charges them, no matter what the politics or leadership, to commit themselves to purity. One translation reads, “Don’t turn away from following the Lord with all your heart. Don’t turn away to follow worthless things that can’t profit or deliver you; they are worthless.” 

Purity for the people of God is non-negotiable. God insists on it, and He will bring it about, even though the process may be slow and difficult. Have you and I heeded Samuel’s direction? Are we pursuing purity in fervent worship of God?

Then Samuel says, “I will not sin against God by ceasing to pray for you.” His prayers and their purity must go together. So must ours. When Paul says to Timothy, “fan into flame the gift of God that is in you,” this ‘fanning’ must include both prayer and purity. Without both, the flame dies.

What do we have when a man prays, but without purity? Impurity can be a life of sensuality or immorality. But it can also include malicious thoughts. It can be the pursuit of things, of stuff. It can be the admiration of that which is worldly and against God, or even, absent of God. But the man prays, right? Isn’t that good? Probably not. His are not real prayers. They don’t make it even through the roof. He is a liar, and his prayers are lies. Prayers must be accompanied by purity.

And then, what about the man who is pure, but who does not pray? Here we have a moral man who must be so proud of the morality that he has achieved apart from God’s help. He is self-righteous and a Pharisee. Why? Because prayer is the key indicator of one’s dependence on God. The fire of God’s purity must needs be supplied with the oxygen of prayer to God. They go together.

Friday, December 30, 2016

The State of Christianity

Every year, we seek to assess the happenings of the past year, and then try to extrapolate some conclusions. It seems like a good thing to do. I was reading a little bit about “The State of Christianity.” This is a tough one. I’m not sure what I learned. 
For one thing, I’m pretty sure that “The State of Christ” and “The State of Christianity” are two very different things. Christ is doing well. His first mission was a success. He was born, lived, and died, according to divine plan. The devil was defeated. Redemption was accomplished. Sinners are being saved and sins are being forgiven. Jesus is ascended and glorified in heaven, at the right hand of the Father. He is preparing a place for His followers, and, when ready, according to plan, He will return to gather these to Himself and render judgment and exercise justice in a kingdom in which there will be no sin or evil. The State of Christ is excellent!

Christianity, - we’re not really sure what that even is. The Bible admits that followers of  Jesus were called Christians, and though it most likely was not intended as a compliment, it fits. But the Bible doesn’t speak of Christianity as an abstract concept. It speaks of believers, and the churches in which they gather. Without a Biblical faith in Christ; and without churches in which these Christians gather, there is no Christianity. The Bible acknowledges no such thing as a Christian radio station, or a Christian camp, or a Christian nation. Just believers, and their assemblies, doing what they do.

So when an assessment on “The State of Christianity” speaks of the growing trend among younger generations to pursue Christianity without theology and apart from church, they must be talking about something different than I know. It seems that they are reaching into the realm of subjective experience, undistracted by the hard edges of beliefs defined as doctrines, and safely separated from having to deal with older generations whose convictions are born out of painful battles. This sounds like youth group - which may or may not be good for youth. But if you are 30 or 40 and still in youth group, something is amiss. 

G.K. Chesterton is famously quoted: ‘The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried. The State of Christianity will be just fine as believers actually believe, and as churches work hard at making disciples.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Mercenary Ministry


There is a cryptic story late in the Book of Judges of the Old Testament Scriptures that describes a priest, a Levite, on the road, looking for work. He had left home, “Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,” in search of another spot. Evidently the “church” that he left wasn’t doing too well. Perhaps the mutual admiration between pastor and people had soured. Maybe a new assembly had started up in town, and a bunch of sheep opted for greener pastures and stiller waters. 

In his travels, this wandering priest meets up with Micah (not the prophet). This Micah had stolen money from his mother, but then returned it, and when he did, she was so pleased she gave him some silver and they made an idol out of it. He decided to build a church around it, and now all he needed was a pastor/priest. The Levite enters, stage left, and they strike a deal. “You work for me, I’ll take care of your expenses; I’ll call you ‘father, so long as you do what I say.” It sounded like too good a deal not to pass up.

Things went well until a gaggle of Danites passed through looking for a place to live. They were seeking new digs, because they had not been able to clear the original territory allotted them by Joshua. We are not sure how hard they tried. They also were looking for greener pastures, and, they knew they would need a priest when they got there. So they struck a deal with Micah’s Levite, and promised him something bigger and better.

This doesn’t sound much like a Christmas story for a newsletter dated December 25. But the connection is this mercenary minister from the same town where one day, centuries later, a baby would be born who would be more than a priest - he himself would be the sacrifice, for all our sins, once and forever.

This baby born in Bethlehem was no mercenary minister. Jesus, in contrast to our Levite, departed the heights to live and die in the depths. He left behind the riches of heaven for the poverty of homelessness and false accusation. He sacrificed the love of the Father for the hate of mankind.


Followers of Jesus are fellow-servants; fellow-ministers. And following Jesus’ pattern, it’s not about what we get; it’s about what we give. It is not a pursuit of bigger and better, but how we can serve best.

Friday, December 16, 2016

No Easy Thing

This step that Mary was asked to take - it was no easy thing. She no doubt had some sort of vision for how her life should progress - marriage, children, an active member of the community. And this angel-visit put all of it at grave risk. It must have been no easy thing.
Imagine her conversation with her parents and family. “Hey, I’ve got to tell you some difficult news, but it’s not what you think.” The disappointment would be matched by the outrage of actually trying to “deify” her immoral actions. “How dare you blame God for what you have done?” I just don’t believe that family members would swallow her far-fetched explanation.

And then there is Joseph. Who would expect him to stick around? His proximity to her situation could only be condemning for himself. He was considering what to do, and it did not involve a future with this young woman. Now another angelic visit stopped him in his tracks. Amazingly, he was willing to embrace Mary as his wife, choosing to act according to the angel’s message over against public opinion. But, when Mary offered her testimony of submission to the will of God, she could not have known at that point how Joseph would respond. But she could have guessed. And so her step of faith was no easy thing.

And then there is public opinion. I don’t know how long it took her first family to come around. They might have changed their minds when they heard the testimony of shepherds or wise men, or watched this unusual young man grow up, sinless and all. But maybe not until thirty years later, which might not have come before Mary’s parents died. But then, how long did the public hold against her what they must have believed about her - that she, and Joseph,  were fornicators, and liars? Some would have changed their minds when they believed. But others never believed; nor would they have ceased to condemn.

We know that the story turns out all right in the end. The story always turns out well for those willing to submit to the will of God, in the end. But it is getting to the end that is so difficult. It may involve months, or years, or a lifetime of being different, of suffering disavowals, or enduring condemnation, or experiencing persecution.  And that does not apply only to Mary. It applies, in some measure, to every follower of Jesus. Paul says to Timothy “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” It is no easy thing. But, it is worth it in the end.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Christmas Wonder

What if a person could see Christmas with new eyes? What if a person, shaped and schooled by this world system, all of a sudden found in Jesus forgiveness of sins, and meaning, and love?

If that were to happen, then I would think that this person’s approach to the Christmas season would change, dramatically. For instance, what about those angels?

Nobody really believes in angels, do they? I suppose fruitcakes do. But no, the Bible is full of angels - heavenly messengers who break into the program with an important message that one could not possibly know without help. It happened to Zecharias, the father of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus; it happened to Mary, the young maiden who would be plucked from normal life and made the vessel for a divine operation. All of a sudden, our new believer will look around with a sense of new sensibilities - not that most of us, or any of us, will actually be visited by angels - but that God has a plan that is so important, that he sends “angelic alerts” at key times. God actually has a plan, and is working it. Who would have thought?

This new believer will see that the magic of Christmas is not based on a mere myth. He will see that there is a story of which Christmas is ‘only’ the beginning. That this Jesus lived, sinlessly. And then he died, blamelessly. And then, he rose from the dead, miraculously. He seemed crushed at the bottom of the world order, and then he turned that whole world order (of which a key part is this: you live, and then you die), upside down. He was born to die, so that we could be born again, to live, forever. And so it will dawn on this new believer that the ‘magic’ of Christmas is not a sentiment, but a wonder, that God so loved the world, that He sent His Son. 

And then, amazingly, he will begin to ponder how it is that the Creator could become a creature; how the King of the Universe would sacrifice His life for unruly subjects; how the High Priest of Heaven actually stoops to become the sacrificial lamb; how the Prophet who knows the mind of the Father actually comes to become the Word, so that this new believer does not just believe what He says - He believes in Him.

The new believer is surprised to learn that this Jesus has been foretold centuries before. But he will not be surprised that the prophet, 600 years in advance, called him ‘Wonderful.’

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Disagree without Disgust

We live in a free society which allows for you to disagree with just about everybody about one thing or another. We are not forbidden to express our opinions and positions (that is, until recently). Because of that, we can listen to people who think differently, and, we can learn from them. Or, we can hate their guts.
It seems we are opting for the latter option rather than the former. Rather than honing our own positions, having properly understood the other’s position, and then clarifying the points at which those positions rub - we stop listening, and we demonize those with whom we disagree. We develop an attitude of disgust. This is not good practice for citizens of a free society. It is not acceptable for those who profess to be followers of Jesus.
Let’s take this problem off the street and see how it plays out at home. Picture a husband and wife. They have a disagreement. Maybe it’s about the kids and what freedoms or disciplines to enact. Maybe it’s about how to communicate boundaries to a zealous in-law. It doesn’t really matter. Disagreements happen. They are allowed. And you would think that this couple could talk and disagree, and talk some more - give it some time - go on a walk together, and listen, think around the issue, and talk some more. Or, on the other hand, they could just stop listening and talking. She (in her head - not out loud) calls him a bonehead, or worse. He (in his head - not out loud) calls her a witch, or worse. And, not surprisingly, they begin to despise each other.
In the first instance of disagreement, the couple eventually comes to an understanding. And, they end up loving each other all the more for having gone through the difficult process. But in the second scenario, they get a divorce. You don’t live long with someone with whom you are disgusted. But know this. The decision to allow disagreement to proceed to disgust was yours, and yours alone. We can absolutely disagree without disgust, whether at home, or on the street.

Are you disgusted with someone who was a political candidate? We disagree with all of them at some point. But are you disgusted? You have then crossed a line that is not civil, nor Christian. The points of disagreement might reach to areas that are very serious, even sacred, like disagreements about the value of human life. But allowing the disagreement in your mind to give way to disgust in your heart - that spillover is your problem. And, it’s a problem.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Prone to Wander

“All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.” (Isaiah 53:6 NAS95)

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love; 
Take my heart, O take and seal it; Seal it for Thy courts above.
from the hymn “Come Thou Fount” by 22 yr old pastor Robert Robinson, 1757

Wandering is a problem for all of us. We know that it was for Moses’ followers - those poor souls of the wilderness wanderings. At first, having just exited slavery in Egypt, they made a beeline from Mt. Sinai’s covenant to the Land of Promise. But no, at the Jordan River’s edge, they would not believe the Lord’s promise and take possession of the land. And so God punished them by forcing them back, to wander in the wilderness for 40 years, until all that adult generation died.
And our author of Psalm 119 - that longest chapter in the Bible, and most amazing piece of poetry -  in which most every verse in the psalm, nearly all of the 176 verses, hold a reference to the beauty and cruciality of God’s Word - that psalmist saw fit, in the last verse of this psalm, after all of his diligence and devotion, to confess: “I have gone astray like a lost sheep;” and then to beg of the Lord: “seek Your servant.” Even this disciple/follower had a problem with wandering.
So do you. It can happen in the busyness of life. You flit here and you flutter there. Before long, life has gobbled you up, and you can’t tell whether you own your life, or if your life owns you. One way to describe this behavior is “aimlessness.” The old proverb says, “Aim at nothing, and you will most surely hit it.” Sounds like wandering to me. This does not mean that you have done or will do nothing significant. You just will never know the ‘why’ or ‘what for.’
We often wander due to bad directions. In a world where ‘true truth’ is drowned out by the roar of ‘good lies,’ we pursue our paths with hopes of a happy ending at the end of the rainbow, missing the clues that indicate that we have been fooled by the advice of fools. Sophistry never demands that its professors show their work or reveal their sources.
Have you ever been lost in the woods? I have, up at the Dennis’ cottage when I was a boy. I did what many of us do when we wander and are lost. I started to run - to wander harder and get lost even deeper. Yes, I made it out of the woods. But have you? The verse at the top implies how. Turn to the good shepherd, Jesus, who gave His live for the sheep.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Let’s Go Kill Somethin’

It’s the time of year when the hunters head to the woods, intent on killing somethin’. They wear bright orange, just so they don’t go killin’ each other. Seems like a good idea. And just so you know, this isn’t a diatribe against hunting, or, as some wrongly call it, harvesting. It would only be harvesting if they were hunting squash. But killing deer, that’s called hunting. And for a variety of good reasons, go for it.

Not everyone gets into the whole hunting thing. But there’s other killing that should be done. Now don’t mistake, I’m not at all talking about killing people. But we ought to be killers of ideas - bad ideas, that is. We talk and discuss and think, and then we conclude that there are just some ideas out there that should be put to rest. Yes, it might hurt someone’s feelings if we disagree with them. But they need to get over it. You’re not killing them. You’re killing their idea.

We need to teach ourselves, and we need to teach our children, to say ‘no’ to ourselves at the appropriate times. Every urge we feel is not to be obeyed. Some of those passions and desires need to have a stake put through them. Why? Because it has been proven over and over by one sad case after another that the indulgence in certain desires and passions is not freedom of expression, but rather submission to slavery. ‘Sins of the flesh’ (so-called in Bible) don’t prove that you are the master of your life. Rather, they will be the killer of your soul, and do damage to those around you as well. What is needed is a sharp spear in the hand of a zealous Phinehas to nail the sin to the ground and stop the plague in its tracks.

John Owen said, “Be killing sin, or it will be killing you.” It’s a daily battle, always in season, so that we might be free to live according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh. This Spirit is available through faith in Christ, and nowhere else, and provides the only alternative to dying in our sins. This alternative to dying in our sins - Jesus thought it was worth dying for; and we should think it worth killing for.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Arrogance


A wave of populism swept across the United States with surprising results. A similar wave recently shocked Great Britain, and there are populist rumblings in such places as France and Spain. Populism wells up when the experts forget whom they serve. Experts often operate from their bubbles, assuming they know best for people they do not know; for people they do not understand. In short, it is easy for experts to become arrogant.

In a way, the formula is not that hard to understand. Experts make things work. They pull the levers of culture and technology and finance in such a way that there is progress, and people enjoy the fruits of the their genius. But when there is no progress, it then becomes apparent that the experts are not so expert. After all, an expert who cannot figure out the puzzle can hardly be called an expert, can he (she)? And when the so-called experts do not perform, well, it’s time to throw the bums out.

It seems that had those experts adopted the mindset of humble servants from the beginning and throughout the process, they would have been better listeners, learners and guides. They would have taken leave for a time from the university campus in order to mix with those on the shop floor; or left the financial district to walk through the slum. Perhaps they would have even wept when faced with the unintended consequences of their latest, great idea and policy. But as we know, these are rare occurrences. More often than humility, we find arrogance.

There is no such thing as an arrogant servant. If he is a servant, then he cannot be arrogant; and she is arrogant, she cannot be a servant. The two words are antithetical to each other.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to humble service. This applies to our lives at home, with spouse and children and parents; it applies to school, and our treatment of schoolmates and teachers; it applies to work, and our interactions with fellow workers, and those above us, and below us. We are to love others, which requires us to consider what is good, not just for ourselves, but for others, and to go out of our way to make your wife’s life richer; your teammate’s role more fulfilling; the custodian’s job more satisfying.

We need to remember that it takes but 2 minutes for the populist to secure a supposed victory, and to go from being forgotten or ignored, to being arrogant and insufferable. Let’s, instead, be like Jesus, and live lives of humble service.

Friday, November 04, 2016

For No Good Reason


Our Scripture passage for this Sunday begins, “Princes persecute me without cause.” That is, they are giving me a hard time “for no good reason.” This complaint is repeated over and over in Scripture, and the the same thing happens repeatedly in our world. Perhaps you have felt it yourself. Someone has done something to you “for no good reason.” 

One verse in the Old Testament Scriptures uses the word twice: “For without cause they hid their net for me; Without cause they dug a pit for my soul.” The phrase “without cause” can hold a variety of implications - legal, financial, personal, etc. My rendering, “for no good reason,” says, “Hey, I don’t deserve this treatment.”

The truth is, there may be no good reason from your point of view, but there may be a very good reason from the other person’s point of view (not “good” as in “moral goodness,” but “good” as in “it suits my purposes, whether noble or ignoble”). Why does someone do something to you “for no good reason?” Well, maybe you have something they want. Or maybe they are paying you back for some real or imagined offense. Or maybe they are just feeling mean, and you are an easy mark. Those may not be good reasons for you, but they seem to work for the perpetrator/persecutor.

But maybe their reasons are not all nefarious. Maybe they know what is good for you, when you don’t yourself. A kid may say that his parents took his phone away “for no good reason,” while, in fact, there may be a very good reason. Maybe there are factors at work that you don’t understand, and it falls to you to suffer something relatively minor for the the sake of some greater good. Maybe when you complain that you have been mistreated “for no good reason,” there actually is a good reason, and that reason is actually good. 

So let’s all slow down the martyr talk about how we are constantly mistreated “for no good reason.” Yes, it happens, and all too often. But here is something else that has most assuredly happened: God has reached out to you in Christ “for no good reason.” He is extending mercy to you that you did not deserve. Jesus died for your sins “without cause.” You, by faith in Jesus, have the privilege of being called a child of God through no fault of your own. In fact, the verse at the top of the page implies that God had every good reason to execute the judgment that rebels against the King deserve, and yet He withheld His hand, and gave His Son - for no good reason, except that He loved you. 

Friday, October 28, 2016

Which Beatitude are you Best at?

Last Sunday was review week for children’s Sunday School. We reviewed the 6 stories from Daniel 1-6, and each child picked their favorite (ch. 6, Daniel in the lion’s den was the runaway favorite). We talked about the 10 Commandments, and which one was hardest for us (honoring parents is a struggle, but so also is truth-telling). And then we reviewed the 8 Beatitudes from Matthew 5, and asked which one each person was best at. It’s a tough list. 

To be “poor in spirit” means to be humble. Once you say that you are best at humility, it seems you no longer are. But who is truly good at being poor; at being dependent? Who would boast that life is a continual struggle, just to keep your head above water?

We defined to “mourn” (#2) as being sensitive to sin. I hope those who thought they were good at this remain so. And #3, being “meek,” means that you don’t demand your own way, but give way to others. That’s hard. It’s a different kind of strength. I pray the young lady who thought she was good at this stays soft, and strong.

To “hunger and thirst after righteousness” (#4) means to have a heart for God. It means that you want what God wants. That would be a great trait for any/all of us. 

To be “merciful” (#5) means that you are willing to forgive others, even as God has forgiven you. It was impressive to see young minds grasp the gravity of this obligation. It is not easy, for any of us. But it is necessary, for all of us.

“Blessed are the pure in heart” (#6). Even 5 year 0ld’s were careful not to rush in on that claim. They’ve been caught being naughty often enough to know that there are behavioral battles to win.
#7 is “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Peacemakers are not instigators. But neither are they those who hide in their own yards and refuse to face the conflicts of the neighborhood. Peacemakers are those willing to speak up for what is right, and to defend those being wronged. It is dangerous business, blessed by God.


Not surprisingly, not one person in our group, including the teacher, claimed to be best at #8: “Blessed are the persecuted.” We don’t even want to be best at that one. But let’s pray that, with deep roots of faith and faithfulness, we will be ready to stand for Christ, even now when it is not popular, and even some future day when it is no longer permitted.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Augustine of Hippo


Augustine was one of the last Christian leaders that we know much about from the classical era. He ministered in N. Africa during the sack of Rome (ca. 400 A.D.), and while education was still available during the fragmentation of the empire, the opportunities for travel and interaction with other Christian scholars and thinkers eroded.

What this means is that Augustine is an important link to the theology of the early church. Peter Lombard (1100’s) quoted Augustine more than any other early theologian, as did Martin Luther, and as did John Calvin (both in the 1500’s). What we find is this: Augustine’s theology was amazingly evangelical. The issues of his day were different. But we share with him wide areas of agreement, because both of us, evangelicals and Augustine, find our understanding of God’s truth in Scripture.
Augustine was trained in rhetoric first, and then became a teacher and preacher. That is, he was skilled in shaping his words and argument to reach and persuade the audience. He could read the congregation, and would alter his approach and message according to how they were receiving the message.

One difference was that, in those days, the preacher would sit, and the congregation would stand. We should try that some day! If he noticed that he had lost the interest of his congregation, he would dismiss early, to be continued later. On the other hand, if he found that they were engaged with him, he would continue the sermon, sometimes for two hours. Should we try that as well?

He was ministering to a congregation whose world was falling apart. Rome, despite its deficiencies, had established an amazing stability through many, far-flung territories. Travel and trade was possible. Tolerance of different ideas was typical, though not guaranteed. But now, Rome was falling apart - from the inside out, with corruption and failed, self-interested leadership; and from without, as the Goths continued to invade from the north, coming closer and closer to the very city of Rome.

It seems that we live on the precipice of a similar situation today. We have enjoyed tremendous prosperity and stability. And yet, as our leaders shrink before our eyes, and self-interest and corruption grows, along with the erosion of Christian values and morality, we see cracks in the foundation of the world that we have enjoyed; the civilization that God has blessed. One of the things that we learn from Augustine is that God is still on the throne, and His truth stands, even when the empire falls.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Looking for Mr. Right

Maybe you are a woman who spent a long time looking for “Mr. Right.” Some of you would say that you found him. And some say that they settled for something less. 

There are some who thought at one time they had found “Mr. Right,” only later to be sorely disappointed. Maybe it had to do with his temper, his drinking, or some secret sin. But what had looked so good at the beginning is now shadowed by a disturbing dose of reality. 

Even for those who say they found Mr. Right, they would admit that there are deficiencies that have been discovered. You have accepted these things; or, you regularly forgive these things. You understand that it is part of the bargain. After all, he has agreed to live in harmony with Mrs. Right, in spite of your shortcomings. 

The truth is, there is no Mr. Right when it comes to romance. But there is when it comes to redemption. In fact, if there were no Mr. Right, there could be no redemption, because the purchase price for our forgiveness and salvation requires right-eousness. And so we find that there is, after all, one, and only one, Mr. Right. Jesus.
He is the one in whom we are not now and never will be disappointed. He will never let us down. He has no ugly side to be revealed. He has no secret sins or hidden agendas. Familiarity does not make him more ordinary; rather, knowing him better only makes him grow on us. His love is an everlasting love, and nothing that a follower of his can do will cause him to give up or turn away. He always keeps his promises; He never forgets a responsibility; He is always available and ever attentive. He always does what is right. He is righteous. 

The problem with being married to Mr. Right is that the spouse suffers by comparison. And that would be true of those who are followers of Jesus as well. Except for one thing. In order to even become a follower of Jesus, as we humble ourselves in confessing our sins and our need for a Savior - it is in that acceptance by faith that he gives to us a most remarkable gift - He gives to us the gift of His righteousness. 


Oh, it is true that we often do not wear that righteousness well. It fits us about as well as Saul’s armor fit young David. And yet, unlike David, we dare not leave the room without it. We can only enjoy our relationship with Mr. Right as we wear his righteousness. 

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Hypocrisy, and Honesty

Things are often not what they seem. Not just things; people also. Like sod, the pretty side faces up or out, and the ugly side stays covered. We do this in spite of what Jesus says: “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.” (Luke 12:2 ESV) We sincerely hope that his words do not apply to us. We are sadly mistaken.
The well-known word for our problem is “hypocrisy.” It is the common habit of putting a pretty face on an ugly situation. It is the covering up of what we are ashamed so that we can maintain our dignity or our pride. Jesus shows little tolerance for it, especially among those who are religious (cf. Matthew 23).
Consider with me two things: most amazing, I think. The first is Jesus himself. There was not a hint of hypocrisy in him. He had no ugliness to hide. No resentments. No selfish motives. No hidden agendas. He came to do the will of the Father, which required him to love sinful people sacrificially, and to have himself turned quite literally inside out for them. He said what he was about, and he executed accordingly. It is unheard of in our world, apart from him.
But secondly, I want you to imagine with me the Kingdom of God, when it comes in its fullness, when every enemy is defeated, and every impurity cleansed. At that point, every member of that kingdom will be completely free from hypocrisy. We will have absolutely nothing to hide; nothing to pretend. It will be like Jim Carrey in “Liar, Liar,” but with no ugly truths blurted out, because the ugliness will be gone. Limitations and weaknesses? Yes. And we will freely admit those things. But no sin. One could dig under the pretty, green sod of your life, and they would find no dirt.
Now, if you can meditate a bit on Jesus and his perfection; and if you can imagine an honest world filled with only honest people; - then what is left is for you and me to begin practicing today. We should practice being like Jesus. Oh, we will struggle, and we will fail. But then we must help each other upward and onward. Have the courage to confess your sins to a brother or sister in Christ. Have the compassion of Jesus to listen to the shocking sins of someone that you would never have dreamed … 
There is an extra-biblical adage that says, “Honesty is the best policy.” The Bible backs it up with something like, “Hypocrisy is the worst.”

Driving in the Dark

One of the benefits of serving on the Lake Ann Camp Board is driving north four times a year, once each season. Fall has got to be one of the best. Michigan is a great state for fall color. Even now, where you sit, you can imagine the yellows and oranges mixed in with the evergreens. And that’s a bit of the problem. Most of it is only imagined. 

Lake Ann Board meetings typically begin at 9 a.m. So if you are trekking that direction in the early morning, most of the route is driving in the dark. Meetings typically end at 3:30 p.m. By the time you spend a bit more time talking with board members and staff members - often including dinner - it’s time to go home, again, driving mostly in the dark. If you didn’t know the color was there, then you wouldn’t know it was there. 

And so, yes, there is a little bit of color, at the tail end, or beginning of each leg of the journey; or looking out the window of the board room at the trees on the grounds; or walking from the Welcome Center to the Dining Hall for lunch. But you know there is so much more. 

I liken this to knowing God, and knowing God’s Word. It’s the awareness of God’s grand plan, and a personal relationship with His Son, Jesus Christ. It’s an appreciation of the protection and the provision that He gives each day. We know it’s there, and we catch glimpses, but we always want more. 

But it’s worse than that for others that we know and love. They don’t even know it’s there. They live their whole lives driving in the dark, unaware of God and His many graces. The Bible calls it ignorance, or blindness. The Bible says they are “lost.” They don’t see, because they can’t, until their eyes are opened. We can give information, but they need a relationship with God. They need an experience of His grace. 


Because our God is gracious and merciful, for many, in His time, the light goes on, and the sun comes up. We do our part, pointing out the colors of His grace from under the shadows, and sharing about Jesus. And since we believe and know that God does all the heavy lifting in the redemption of lost souls, we pray and ask that he would open our eyes, so that we can see wonderful truths that He has for us, and that others might see them as well. 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Your Everyday Job

Five days a week, and six for some, it’s hit the road, go to work, do the job, and repeat it all again tomorrow. Why? It’s what we do. If you’re going to eat, . . if you’re going to feed your family and pay the bills, it’s go to work, go to work, go to work.

As followers of Jesus in this present world, we realize that we also have a job to do for him, and yet we are often a little fuzzy about what exactly that job is. Let’s let Noah help us out with an example.
Noah lived in a wicked world as a righteous man, along with his wife, three sons, and their wives. God spoke to Noah and gave him some surprising instructions. “Build an ark!” I’m not at all sure that Noah knew what an ‘ark’ was, but God gave enough details, and I assume Noah figured out the rest. What a project! Some big barge sitting in the middle of a field, with no rain, or water, in sight. And he couldn’t have even known if it would actually float.

So here was Noah, building an ark to save his family from a flood that his mind could not fathom, that would transport him to a washed-from-wickedness world that he could not imagine. And I would suggest that the job of the Christian is somewhat similar. We are to prepare now for coming judgment, and to prepare for life in a brand new world that is not presently within reach. Are we to make an ark? No. Jesus was quite clear. We are to make disciples.

How do we make disciples? Well, the verse linked above gives some specifics. In our scattering (going), we are to make disciples by baptizing and teaching. That is, we are to introduce our families and friends to Jesus with the hope of helping them identify with Him in faith and in life. And then we are use Scripture, God’s Word, to teach them the outlines of God’s plan and Christ’s character in all the ways that good teaching happens - through example; by answering questions; by asking the question that begs asking; by illustrating using object lessons; by persuading; and by listening - realizing that the success of our efforts always relies on God, just as Noah’s family trusted God with this floating barn.


Will others appreciate your efforts? No more than they did Noah’s. They thought he was a crazy fool. Maybe even dangerous. But he and his family escaped judgment. And, if you also escape judgment and embrace salvation in Christ, you’ll one day be able to compare notes on the similarities of building boats and making disciples.

Living Straight in a Crooked World

Can a ‘good Christian’ really be a Christian at all? And further: Can a person be a true Christian, and climb the ladder in politics? Can a person stay true to his faith and be a winning lawyer, or a successful businessman? Or, are there too many deals that have to be cut, corners to be rounded, and half-truths to be told? 

Think about these questions alongside the story of the ruler who came to Jesus and said, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life.” Jesus immediately turned it around and attacked his ‘loose’ use of the word ‘good.’ “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.” 

So perhaps we should put the term ‘good Christian’ to rest. True Christians are all, each and every one, sinners saved by grace. We came to Jesus, not because we were so good, but because we weren’t. He alone, as God, is good. And so we will not find Christians who are true to the Gospel going about telling how good they are. We are to be witnesses to God’s grace, not our own goodness.

Now, as for the other questions: Admittedly, we live in a world that works against Christian integrity, like rushing water eroding away sandstone. It is hard to stand for truth and mercy. It is a brutal battle, always trying to put the other person’s interest first. It requires death to self in order to love the unlovely. And, you and I are not all that good. And if you dare enter a field in which the current of this world blows directly into your face, as in politics, or law, or business - can you really expect to rise to the top? Isn’t it just selfish ambition that is going to require you to make pragmatic choices that blur the lines and blot out the light of His glory? 


Not necessarily. God, throughout history, has placed His men and women, and students, in positions of power and influence. And they succeeded (and often suffered). But we must understand that they did not succeed because they were so good. It was not due to their ladder-climbing abilities, nor their skills at slicing and dicing. It was not their highest aim to be powerful or influential or even successful, at all. It was their goal to walk with God, and to honor Him in the small things - to stick close to His Word and His Son - and then to let God chart the course and win the day. In other words, for a Christian to rise to the top in this world and retain his/ her integrity, well, it takes a miracle. Thankfully, miracles happen.