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. 

Friday, June 10, 2016

'Good' Christians

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.

Blameless and Pure

Can a parked car avoid the yellow film of pollen as it seemingly descends from all creation upon all creation? Or can the west-facing screens of the sanctuary fail to catch floating dandelion spores as they seek their next garden? No, they can’t. It is almost as though they were designed for exactly that purpose.

And so, we may fairly ask, “Can a human person living in this dirty world stay pure?” Can we breath polluted air and not feel the effects in our lungs? Can we drink contaminated water and not retain the poisons in our system? Can we be surrounded by moral decline, and remain untouched?
But slow down. We have begun to confuse categories. You are not a polished surface, nor a wire mesh. The material parts of our bodies are not to be confused with our rational and spiritual capabilities. You are a human person, created in the image of God, designed to reflect His glory as we duplicate His character in finite ways.

And so, yes, you may breathe in pollen and suffer the affects of allergies. But you can also avert your eyes from that which would be tempting or compromising. You can turn your thoughts from an offense to a song of praise and thankfulness. You can bow your knee and confess your sin and chart a new course for the moments ahead. We are not stationary objects, nor victims. We are trained and capable disciples of Jesus who follow our hearts – those hearts that we devote to Jesus each morning, and as many times during the day as needed.

So stop with the whining and excuses. You are not an oil filter. You, by faith in Jesus, are a child of God, with His Word in your hand, and His Spirit in your heart, and you need not “let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey its lusts.”


The Old Testament saint named Job was not afflicted as a punishment for sin, but was tested, even as an upright man. He was able to say, “I am pure, without transgression; I am innocent and there is no guilt in me.” Daniel, again, not as punishment for sin, but due to persecution, was able to say from the lion’s den: “My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths and they have not harmed me, inasmuch as I was found innocent before Him; and also toward you, O king, I have committed no crime.” May we, blameless and pure, be able to say the same.

‘Excessive’ and ‘Exceeding’ are not the Same

If one eats in excess, he may well eat to the point of making himself sick. He doesn’t eat exceedingly. He eats excessively. And isn’t that our problem with so many things? We just don’t know when to stop. And so it happens with drinking, and spending, and even exercising. If a little is OK, the a lot must be better. But it’s not.

“Exceedingly” is an adverb used in older translations of the Bible. We don’t see it often in our common communication. One instance that comes to mind is in evaluations. “She exceeded expectations.” It is not A work. It is A+ work. It is over and above. But it is not too much. It is surprisingly good.

This is why we often apply the word “exceedingly” to God. He consistently surprises with exceeding goodness; exceeding grace; exceeding forgiveness. And that is difficult. Because once we experience some kind of service that “exceeds expectations,”, well, then we come to expect that kind of service in the future, and so, the same service no longer exceeds. It simply meets. But with God, there is something that we suspect about ourselves, that we do not naturally deserve such goodness, or grace, or forgiveness; and, we do not find such goodness and grace and love so consistently and extravagantly expressed from other persons – that we are constantly surprised by the surpassing goodness of God.

Again, let’s be clear. Excessive and exceeding are not the same. We would never say, “God is so good, it just makes me sick.” Just as a grown person reflecting on his childhood would never say, “I grew up in a home where love was so abundant, it just about ruined me.” No, there are some things with a bottomless depth whose value only grows and grows. We must learn to distinguish from those other things which may be permissible in moderation, but which become a monstrosity in excess.

Psalm 119:4 says, “You (God) have ordained Your precepts, that we should keep them diligently.” I think the word “diligently” is too weak for the Hebrew term that it translates. Often, we would choose the word “exceedingly.” That is, “You have established and revealed to us these slab stones, so that we would be surprising, even shocking, in the way we build our lives firmly on these truths and principles, especially when they run counter to the values of the world around us.

Monday, June 06, 2016

It’s About Time



Last week we thought about our need for both grace and truth. Not just a slice of each, or a balance - but a full measure of grace (mercy, love) and truth (faithfulness). This week, as Henry Cloud has shown in his book “Changes that Heal,” we also need time.
Al and I were talking recently about how our approach to life learning and discipleship are very classroom oriented and bookish. Now, we are not against books, and especially The Book - but God has so designed our learning that it requires a lab - a place to put the theory into practice - an arena in which we can fail, and try again, all in the context of grace and truth. I fear that we are giving out information which is not being integrated into daily life, and as a result, we are wasting valuable days - times for you to grow in the application of grace and truth tested and proven by experience.
Cloud suggests that the verse at the top of the page taken from Jesus’ parable includes all three of these elements. The failure to produce fruit on the part of the fig tree is only an illustration of our own failures and fruitlessness. His promise to “dig” corresponds to the application of truth, and his promise to “fertilize” speaks of giving grace. And then he begs for time; another year in which to properly administer grace and truth in order to bring about healing and fruitfulness. If it could help a fig tree, do you think it might help you?
If we could understand that as followers of Jesus, every day is designed by God in such a way - that every experience is a lab; every people-contact an opportunity; every inconvenience a training session or a test; every pain a sign of God’s breaking pride and stiff necks in order to bring us into conformity with His Son, who is the very image of God. We can try and run away from these experiences, Jonah-style. Or we can try to plow through life without thinking and without feeling, strong man-style.
But why would we do so? What are we afraid of? Afraid of truth? Afraid of having to admit that we are wrong, and that God is right? Or is it grace? Are you afraid of grace? Afraid to admit that you have sinned and failed; or forgotten and wandered? Afraid to be forgiven?
There may be an area of your life that is stuck in time, brittle and fruitless. It’s about time to do a little digging (truth); time for a little fertilizing (grace), so that, in God’s good time, you can be alive and bear fruit.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Christianity to be Practiced in a Political Season

At this stage of the presidential game, it would be difficult to argue that we are left with any good candidates for President. All candidates in all eras are flawed, but these are worse. When two leading candidates who are strangers to decency, civility and virtue face off against one another, we can safely predict that this is going to get ugly. We should not be surprised.

But we should be Christian; and we should act the part.

If you have a favorite candidate, then I question your judgment. But if you have a despised candidate, then you will be tempted to delight and, worse, join in, when the slurs begin to fly. You must remember that this is not Christian behavior, and not only should Christians not take part in it, but they also should not even listen to it.

We should not repeat the cleverly crude lines, whether with our lips, or in our posts. We should not whisper them to our buddies, and chuckle under our breaths. Let’s listen as Scripture speaks:

“But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” (Ephesians 5:3–5 NAS95)

The media is going to make a killing off this, in more than one respect. The more vulgar it becomes, the more money they will make. And their celebration of the whole sordid affair will only serve to erode, to kill, any remaining sense of decorum and decency that exists in our culture.
I believe Christians should stay out of it - away from it. I am not saying who you should vote for, or against - or if you should vote at all. Just don’t tune in. Tune out. Shut if off. The holiness and righteousness of God does not and will not take a leave of absence for something so exceptional as presidential politics featuring such unexceptional candidates.

Finally, when this drama is played out, there will be a President elected, whether from the existing candidates or someone as yet unforeseen - and we will be called upon as Christians to pray for the person who fills that office, and to honor him, or her. 

Grace, and Truth


Some Christians are big on grace and love and forgiveness. You can’t have too much of this. This is the right response in every situation. And, there is also a group of non-Christians who believe that this is exactly what Christians should be about.
There are also Christians who are big on truth. They believe that there are right’s, and there are wrong’s, and that you should be able to tell the difference. And they are more than willing to help. And, there is a group of non-Christians who fully expect Christians to be exactly like this.
So would it surprise certain Christians, and certain non-Christians, that Jesus is full of both grace and truth? And would it surprise you that the themes of grace and truth have been intertwined through the whole Bible story, both old and new testaments?
God revealed Himself to Moses on the mountain in Exodus 34:6,7 - identifying Himself by both Name and description. This description contains both grace and truth, translated variously as loyal love or lovingkindness, and faithfulness. He is true to His covenant promises; and He is true to His Word. 
C.S. Lewis, in the quote on the back page, reminds us that if God truly loves us, then He will not leave unaddressed or untouched that which is unlovely in our lives. That is, in His grace, He will apply truth. He exercises grace in a way that does not treat sin as though it is invisible or unoffensive. And He also exercises truth in ways that graciously illuminates what is right and what is wrong; what is good and what is evil. 
One church-or-the-other’s over-emphasis on either grace or truth does great damage. And we are continually learning how to balance. And, it is not as though one can ever have too much grace, or too much truth. It is just that they must be joined. I love this verse that says it well: Psalm 85:10 “Lovingkindness and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.”

So let’s get rid of the idea that we can go to a “grace” church, or a “truth” church.” Let’s reject the idea that women are for grace, and men are for truth. Let’s not accept a theory that truth is for beginners, and grace for the more mature (or the other way around). Why? Because of this: John 1:14 “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.