WAITING ON GOD AND GROUNDHOGS

WAITING ON GOD AND GROUNDHOGS

I got my first groundhog last night. The ten-pound thief was tearing up my farmer friend’s soybean field, and I wanted to help. Plus, I like shooting. But I didn’t realize till later how much groundhog hunting has in common with spirituality.

Several verses come to mind, but these two will do:

34       Wait for the Lord and keep his way,

and he will exalt you to inherit the land[1]

10       Be still, and know that I am God. [2]

Groundhog hunting takes a whole lot of waiting and being still. We waited an hour before we saw one but couldn’t get off a shot. At an hour and fifteen minutes, I was ready to get down and walk. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Brian, the farmer, and Glenn prepared ahead of time. Brian provided intel on their location. Glenn, a lifelong hunter who grew up farming and knows how to stalk them, knew just where to park the truck. He also knows what weapons work best and how to maintain them. When I arrived, I found my gun would not work. Glenn gave me his best groundhog gun, a beautiful Marlin .22 magnum with a scope. I did not have a seat and would not have lasted long sitting on the truck bed. Glenn gave me his best camp/hunting chair. I did not have a rifle prop for the surprisingly heavy .22. Glenn had a high-tech one that took the load off my arms for over an hour. I just showed up. Glenn was prepared.

Waiting on God is not a passive activity. Doing it well requires preparation. We need accurate intel available only in God’s Word. We need to “watch and pray and stay awake,” as Jesus taught. We need to “pray at all times in the Spirit and keep alert,” as the Apostle Paul wrote. And we need to be quiet and keep still for a long time, much longer than the hour and a half I spent waiting for the groundhog.

After watching the old tobacco barn and field across from it for one-and-a-half hours, I laid the rifle across my lap and started talking. That’s how long I can last without flapping my lips. Then, I looked left, and there he was, a little over fifty yards away! I was surprised but not too surprised to level the crosshairs on the critter and pull the trigger.  

When we wait patiently on the Lord, informed of his ways, and prepared to obey, we may be surprised when he reveals himself. That’s ok. Just be ready to act.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 37:34). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 46:10). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

WHERE IS GOD WHEN IT HURTS?

WHERE IS GOD WHEN IT HURTS?

Tragedy has tinted our town the last several weeks. As the world emerges from the pandemic, our small community has lost our excellent high school JROTC leader to sudden death and then one of the high school secretaries to sudden brain seizures. A church member’s son is diagnosed with cancer, and my wife’s brother is suffering from crippling sudden onset brain seizures with no precise diagnosis.

As Phillip Yancey poignantly asked: Where is God when it Hurts?

The Bible is clear about the source of suffering[1]. We live in cursed bodies, with cursed psyches, and cursed spirits, on a cursed planet, under a cursed system in a cursed time. Men will commit crimes against one another. Accidents will burn houses down. Even the earth will oppose us and challenge us at every turn until we return to dust.

We should therefore adjust our expectations accordingly. Of course, we may not like the answer. But the question is not whether we like it. Instead, does it make sense of reality as we know it? I believe that it does.

But all of that is abstract. Suffering is very personal stuff.

Nineteen years ago, I accompanied my friend Phil to the spot where his 18-year-old son Joseph had just died in an inexplicable car wreck. My heart wrenched as I watched my friend implode in grief. I spent the next three months so angry with God that I could not speak to him except on a professional basis. How could He let that happen?! Two years later, I buried one of my best friends, the victim of a car hitting his bicycle. Two years after that, I answered the phone late one night to the wails of a grieving friend and shortly after that buried her twenty-year-old son, a drowning victim. Finally, in August of 2010, I buried my 53-year-old brother, dead from a sudden heart attack. There was no explanation for any of these losses that made any sense. I grieved to the bottom of my soul, just as you do in your losses.

Where is God when that kind of stuff happens? Philosophers offer two answers: There is no all-powerful, all-loving God. Or there is an almighty God. He just doesn’t care.

But the Bible offers a third alternative. We can hear it in one of the most overlooked things Jesus ever said, something he wailed aloud from the Cross: “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me!?” (Matthew 27:46).

God is not up there, distant, aloof, impassive while we suffer. He is down here suffering with us. He has taken every single pain, every ounce of tragedy, every shred of injustice, each moment of mindless terror, “rolled it into a ball and eaten it, tasted it, fully digested it, eternally.”[2] God is in Christ, suffering with and reconciling the world to himself.

Where is God when we suffer? He is suffering with us.[3]

The Cross is stunning proof that God cares about our pain. As the universal symbol of Christianity, we are so familiar with it that we forget how violent, how brutal it was. Our word ‘excruciating’ comes from the Latin for crucifixion. Yet, we wear it around the neck like a trophy. In his death, Jesus, God in the flesh, fully identified with our suffering. He did not have to do that. He chose complete identification with suffering humanity.

When tragedy strikes, words on a page or the lips of a friend cannot fill the breach in our souls. Despite all the things he had promised, all the times he predicted the resurrection, Jesus’ disciples dispersed in depression. Their hope, it seemed, was empty.

But that was Friday. Sunday was coming. The world, suffering, life, and death itself were turned on their heads when it came. The Cross tells us that God fully identifies with all the suffering of the world. The resurrection reminds us that one day he will turn suffering on its head.

God, our heavenly father, is not holding us at arm’s length. He is embracing us. He is beside us, holding us up. He is weeping with us. He knows the emptiness of our grief and the hollowness in our hearts. He knows and shares these things with the whole world of suffering but especially with his people. On the Cross, he absorbed it, and through us, he absorbs it still.[4]

Take the Cross out of the center of Christianity, and you remove its core. It becomes just another system of morals and principles. But if you embrace the Cross, you find a God there who is unlike any other, a God who will go to unimaginable lengths to commune with his creatures. He will commune with us to the death on Friday so that we can conquer death with him on Sunday.


[1]See Genesis 3: 17-19; Romans. 8:18, 22-25)

[2] Peter Kreeft, quoted in ‘The Case for Faith’ by Lee Strobel, pg. 63.

[3] 2 Corinthians 5:18-19.

[4] 1 Peter 5:7; Romans 8:22-26;

THE SECRET KEY TO SUCCESS

THE SECRET KEY TO SUCCESS

“I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence;

I possess knowledge and discretion. [1]

“How have you ridden motorcycles for forty years and never been hurt when seven of my friends have been badly injured or killed on them?” The more I thought about my young friend’s question, the more safety precautions I listed. But then I realized it boils down to one thing, and that one thing is the secret to everything. It’s the secret to motorcycle safety and economic security. It’s the secret to physical health and psychological wellbeing. It’s the secret to a successful life, and it is baked into the universe as surely as gravity.

The secret is margin.

The old word for it is prudence, and its spiritual roots go back to the Garden of Eden when our first parents decided they could do life without God in their hubris. “Cursed is the ground for your sake,” said God. “In pain, you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles it will grow for you. By the sweat of your face, you shall eat bread till you return to the ground.” The need for margin was born that day—the cosmic Murphy’s Law—and whoever observes it reaps the benefits.

An airline pilot and flight instructor who was retiring after fifty accident-free years (we never hear about those guys, do we?) boiled it all down to one simple principle: Always fly with the idea that if anything can go wrong, it will and work hard to prepare for it. For example, most general aviation accidents result from fuel exhaustion. The veteran’s advice? Never assume the gages are correct. Always know exactly how much you put in before you launch and exactly how many gallons per hour that ship burns. Then land and refuel when you think you have one hour of flying time remaining. Simple right? Impose a one-hour fuel margin and NEVER break it. That’s prudence. That’s margin.

It is the same with money. We live in a world of economic hazards. Anything can go wrong and usually will at the worst possible moment. A tornado can blow your house down or flood it. A pandemic can destroy your job. Yet few operate with any self-imposed financial margins. We fly along on credit with little to no reserve, assuming that all will be well. Until the bottom drops out, the sky closes in, and our economic engines start to sputter. Safe landings are hard to come by in those situations.

But the biblical principle (see Proverbs 6:6-11) is simple: Work hard, spend less than you earn, set aside funds for future contingencies, and do it consistently, year after year. Then the poverty tsunami cannot catch you, nor the scarcity bandit overpower you.  

Margin. Prudence. Marriages need it, churches need it, and people need it. With it, we have enough to make it through the inevitable tough times brought on by the fall. Without it, we fall apart.


[1] The New International Version. (2011). (Pr 8:12). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

UNCLE LEWIS and the USS BENJAMIN FRANKLIN

UNCLE LEWIS and the USS BENJAMIN FRANKLIN

He was a small man, wiry, and energetic. A big teaser, that’s how I remember Uncle Lewis, who was not my uncle at all but a long-time family friend. My mother babysat their daughters in the 1950s. She still remembers the day, in 1942, when he came by the house in his dress whites and squatted down to say goodbye to his then six-year-old friend.

John Lewis “Baby” Askew was on his way to war as a fighter pilot in the Vought F-4U Corsair. He served on the Essex Class Aircraft Carrier, USS Benjamin Franklin, the only US carrier to maneuver within 50 miles of the Japanese mainland during the war. And for that maneuver, she would pay a terrible price.

I knew none of that growing up. I just knew that Uncle Lewis was a “card,” as we used to say, who always had a twinkle in his eye and a stick of gum in his pocket. We were always welcome in him and Aunt Jessie’s home. No more so than the last time I saw him in 2003 when he opened up about his war for the first and only time.

The Corsair

“The Corsair had six fifty-caliber guns in the wings, and the two closest to the fuselage were bore-sighted down the centerline of the plane. They were the most accurate,” he explained.

“So, you used those first, right?” I asked.

“No! You saved those till you were returning to the ship and low on fuel when every shot had to count.”

I could have talked about the plane all day, but I remembered something about the Franklin that made me pause. “Were you on her when she was hit?”

A faraway look came into his eyes, and he said, “Yes. We were preparing to launch, and I’d forgotten my side-arm. I went down to my quarters to get it and came back on deck when the bombs hit. My quarters were destroyed.”

Uncle Lewis could not describe what happened next on 19 March 1945, but Wikipedia reports:

“Just before dawn, a single Japanese aircraft approached Franklin without being detected by American forces. As Franklin was about halfway through launching a second wave of strike aircraft, the Japanese bomber pierced the cloud cover and dropped two 550 lb. semi-armor-piercing bombs before the ship’s anti-aircraft gunners could fire. 

One bomb struck the flight deck centerline, penetrating to the hangar deck, causing destruction and igniting fires through the second and third decks, and knocking out the combat Information Center and air plot. The second hit aft, tearing through two decks. When she was struck, Franklin had 31 armed and fueled aircraft warming up on her flight deck, and these planes caught fire almost immediately. The 13 to 16 tons of high explosives aboard these planes soon began detonating progressively. The hangar deck contained planes, of which 16 were fueled, and five were armed. The forward gasoline system had been secured, but the aft system was operating. The explosion on the hangar deck ignited the fuel tanks on the aircraft, and a gasoline vapor explosion devastated the deck. The twelve “Tiny Tim” rockets aboard these planes ricocheted around the hangar deck until their 500 lb (230 kg) warheads detonated. Only two crewmen survived the fire.”[1] 

“I was evacuated with other surviving pilots to a destroyer that came alongside to assist, then took up station astern,” he said. “The Franklin crew saved the ship, just barely. But they ran out of body bags and had to start throwing the dead overboard. Seven hundred fifty shipmates (later records put it over 800). Watching those bodies float by was the worst thing I’ve ever seen.”

We sat quietly for a minute, and I finally said, “Thank you doesn’t seem like enough. But thank you.”

He just smiled and said, “Hey, do you know anything about Weedeaters? I’ve got one out in the shed that you can have if you can get it running.”

We lost Uncle Lewis in 2004. I wore that Weedeater out over the next ten years, and every time I cranked it, I thought about Uncle Lewis and the USS Benjamin Franklin.  

Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Franklin_(CV-13)

RE-CENTERING SPLINTERING EVANGELICALS

RE-CENTERING SPLINTERING EVANGELICALS

“Have you heard this podcast going around Christian circles?” My friend asked, referring to the Holy Post Podcast, Why We’re Divided & Positive Pluralism with Bob Roberts. Full disclosure, I have not listened to it. But Roberts references The Splintering of the Evangelical Soul, by Christianity Today Editor in Chief, Timothy Dalrymple, which I have read. My friend continued, “I have a close group of Christian college friends where this divide is blatantly evident. I would be curious to hear your thoughts as I think it is a big issue facing the Church.”

Dalrymple frames the issue in his lead:

New fractures are forming within the American evangelical movement, fractures that do not run along the usual regional, denominational, ethnic, or political lines. Couples, families, friends, and congregations once united in their commitment to Christ are now dividing over seemingly irreconcilable views of the world. In fact, they are not merely dividing but becoming incomprehensible to one another.

This blog is too short to cover all the issues Dalrymple raises in his 3000-word article. But I can tell you three fundamental things that are missing. And without those fundamentals, evangelicals have no center.

First and foremost is Christ and his gospel. But we immediately have to ask, whose Christ, whose gospel? Is he the Jesus of the New Testament who created the world, came to die a substitutionary atoning death for sinners, rose from the dead, and ascended to the right hand of God?[1] Is he the head of the body, the Church, the firstborn from among the dead, who has supremacy in everything?[2] Is he the same Christ who said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”?[3]

The first thing that is missing is the centrality of Christ. Is he the Christ that Christians must obey, or is he only someone whose opinion we should consider? Dalrymple says the “sense of commonality grew increasingly strained as groups not formerly identified as evangelical came to be lumped together, defining the category “evangelical” less in theological terms and more in social, cultural, and political terms.” But “Evangelical” divorced from its fundamental theology is not evangelical at all.

The second thing that is missing is the influence of our sinful nature.[4] Dalrymple talks about how desire and experience shape our “plausibility curve” but makes no mention of the spiritual forces shaping our desires.

“The heart has reasons reason knows not of.” When our sinful nature wants something, and it always wants something other than God’s way, it will cling to any rational explanation for abandoning the Biblical Worldview.

One college course questioning the authorship and authority of scripture is not enough to unravel a young believer’s moral code unless that code was already under assault by the sinful nature.

The third missing piece, already alluded to, is a commitment to the Biblical Worldview that flows from a commitment to the authority of scripture as inspired by God. Our world and everything in it, including humankind, was created good. But men and women rebelled and brought all of life on earth under the curse and fell into bondage to sin. That is the source of all of our problems. Christ’s mission, and thus the mission of his Church, is to redeem what was lost: men, women, children, civilization, and the earth. He will return one day to restore all things and bring all who oppose his righteousness to account.[5] We should analyze every social, moral, ethical, political, and personal issue through that rubric. Without that, evangelicals have no common ground, only the vagaries of experience and whichever information stream we tap on a given day.

As John Stonestreet often says, evangelicals need to walk and chew gum at the same time. If we subject everything we hear to the Lordship of Christ through the biblical worldview, we will arrive at conclusions that upset right and left, moderate and progressive, but we will be faithful to Christ.World News Group avoids these extremes and holds itself accountable to the biblical worldview. Its process for doing so is very well-defined. They write as people who know that they will give an account to God, and it shows. I commend them to you.


[1] Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 4:10.

[2] Colossians 1:18-20.

[3] Matthew 24:35

[4] Romans 7:18

[5] Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:9-11

REPAIRING THE AMERICANIZED CHURCH

May 14, 2011, Winnipeg, Canada. We’d just stepped off the plane, collected our baggage, and loaded up in the two Chevy Astro vans Johnnie and Alex drove over from Camp and settled in for the five-hour trip back. As our van pulled away from the curb, we heard a horrible scraping sound. SKRRRRRR!

“Oh yeah, that’s just the brakes, eh?” said driver Alex, “Finny the fish-whisperer,” Finlayson. “It quiets down once we get going a bit, eh.”

Every time Alex touched the brakes, SKRRRRRRRR! I used to be a mechanic. It was like hearing fingernails grate across a chalkboard.

The problem was: The brakes were Canadianized.

The Canadian environment is tough on cars. Salt Corrosion destroys metal. Brake rotors disintegrate. Brake pads get stuck in the slides. Calipers stick and won’t release. Preventive maintenance is essential.

Something similar happens to churches that go too long without proper maintenance. They become Americanized. And just like that van needed an annual inspection and maintenance on its brakes; churches need a yearly inspection. We need to examine ourselves and make repairs. The founders of our Church built in our annual membership renewal so that we would have to take a look at ourselves as a church, see where we might be corroded and hanging up, where we’ve become Americanized, and make some repairs.

Americanized churches have three characteristics.

The Americanized Church is About the Individual

The Church is ‘of the individual, by the individual and for the individual’ to paraphrase Mr. Lincoln. The feelings, rights, and preferences of the individual supersede every other value. Forget sound doctrine. Forget obedience. Every spiritual value is weighed against personal peace and prosperity. If it adds to my sense of self and well-being, I embrace it. If it challenges my comfort zone or, God forbid, calls me to change my thinking and behavior, I reject it.

But that kind of church “doesn’t work,” there’s a scraping sound when it’s focused on the individual.

The Americanized Church is Optional

We show up when we feel like it. We participate when it’s convenient. We give out of our surplus. We serve until it no longer feels good. It’s optional.

Christ’s Church is his body, His physical presence on planet earth.[1]

Sometimes people say to me, “I can’t feel God in my life.” And I say, “What am I, chopped liver?”

Jesus works through the Church, his body, to meet each other’s needs. He nurtures us, cares for us, gifts us, cleanses us, and matures us for his purposes. He appointed us to do good works planned before the Church began.[2] But it doesn’t work that way if it is optional.

The Americanized Church is Cliquish

It has in groups and out groups, super-spiritual groups, and not so spiritual groups. It breaks down into socio-economic layers.

Former Christianity Today Editor, Andy Crouch, related a conversation with a 25-year-old pastor who “appeared to drive up the average hairstyling bill in the room by several dollars. ‘Yeah,’ he says, ‘we’re starting a church for cool people.’”

Cool people?

“Yeah, you know, people like us.” (He doesn’t mean himself and me; he means himself and his friends—all of whom do indeed exude a level of coolness that I could only dream about.) I fleetingly envision spot checks at the door—Old Navy allowed only on probation, white sneakers politely referred to the contemporary service down the street—but decide that coolness is probably self-enforcing.”

“Later in the weekend, after one of my presentations, he admiringly says—I swear this is an accurate quote—’You know, dude, you may not have cool hair, but you have some serious clue.’ (What a relief—the cool kids like me!).”[3]

Cliques have the right to decide who is in and who is out, who gets included, and who is excluded. SKRRRRR! But here’s the fix:

Commit to the growth of others.[4] We ask, “What’s it doing for me? If it isn’t meeting my need, I’m not going to go.” Instead – with balance – we should evaluate: will my presence be an encouragement to a weaker brother or sister? Will my service edify someone other than me?

Church membership is a commitment to do all these things and more in a community of others who are also doing them. That preventive maintenance will keep any church working well for a long time to come.


[1] Eph. 1:22-23.

[2] Eph. 2:10

[3] CT Mag. March 2002 Andy Crouch

[4] Rom. 15:1-2

FIVE REASONS TO CANCEL COHABITATION

FIVE REASONS TO CANCEL COHABITATION

Breakpoint, Christianity Today, and the Institute for Family Studies recently reported on a new Pew Research survey indicating that American evangelicals embrace premarital sex and cohabitation in increasing numbers. Writing for IFS, David J. Ayers says, “It is stunning that this has quietly come to pass among adherents to a form of Christianity that emphasizes radical obedience to an inerrant Bible, forbids all sex outside marriage, and emphasizes being distinct from “the world.”

You can read the research using the links above. But more is at stake than who is shacking up and who is not. As Ayers mentions, the first issue for Christians is obedience to Christ.  We want that to be enough, but experience tells us that it helps to have other reasons to support our choices. As a marriage counselor for 25 years, I can tell you that the most potent reasons have to do with negative relationship dynamics set in motion with premarital sex and cohabitation.

In his 2011 book, The Ring Makes All the Difference, Glenn Stanton cites five reasons everyone, not just Christians, should consider.

  1. Marriage matters, not just because it is preceded by a wedding that costs tens of thousands of dollars, but because the nature of the relationship itself makes a difference in ways you probably never imagined. Bottom line: A solemn vow made before a supportive community is a surer foundation than economic convenience and sexual passion any day.
  1. Even if (cohabiting) couples consider themselves essentially “married,” they know that they are freer to exit the relationship at any time without a marriage license. This lack of security in the mind of each partner affects how they deal with each other before the wedding and unconsciously carries over later.
  1. Marriage involves things the cohabiting couple–or at least one of them–would rather not address. Financial values, child-rearing values, and relational exclusivity—that part about “forsaking all others”—are among them.
  1. People with cohabiting experience who marry have a 50 to 80 percent higher likelihood of divorcing than married couples who never cohabited. Those conclusions are disputed but dig down in the data, and you will find enough reason to push pause on cohabitation.  
  1. All of those findings are important, but the one that stood out most, because it is the one that I deal with most often in counseling, is that cohabitation–even with someone you eventually wed– sets up unhealthy relationship patterns that carry over into the marriage. Cohabitors have fewer and weaker conflict resolution skills. They are less likely to be supportive and self-sacrificing. Most notably, “the lack of relational clarity is likely to foster more controlling and manipulative interactions to try to keep the relationship together and get the partner to do what the other desires. As a result, cohabitors are much more likely to report a sense of relational instability than their married peers.”[1]

No wonder the Apostle Paul warned us about wronging each other in these matters.

For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. [2]


[1] Glenn T. Stanton’s The Ring Makes All the Difference: The Hidden Consequences of Cohabitation and the Strong Benefits of Marriage.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Th 4:2–8). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

RIGHTEOUSNESS TESTS Additions that Subtract and Divide

RIGHTEOUSNESS TESTS Additions that Subtract and Divide

A dear friend from a nearby town visited and shared a story all too common among evangelicals. Less than three years into his tenure and without warning, his new pastor imposed a righteousness test on the congregation. If the church refused to follow his lead, he would resign.

Few things surprise me after thirty years in ministry, but some just burn my biscuits. This is one of them.

What’s a righteousness test? Righteousness tests are additions that pastors, elders, and other church people make to the New Testament requirements for church membership, personal holiness, or spirituality. Like the legalists that pestered Paul’s church plants from Cyprus to Corinth, Christians who impose these tests subtract from the finished work of Christ on the Cross and divide the Church.

The Church at Galatia was a good example. Even though the first Church council had ruled to the contrary, certain Jewish believers were trying to impose circumcision on Gentile believers as a requirement for salvation.[1]

Self-designated “super-spirituals” in Corinth followed a similar pattern. Evidence of the supernatural spiritual gifts like prophecy, speaking in tongues, and words of knowledge weren’t confused with salvation. Still, they were considered signs of who was really spiritual and who wasn’t.[2]

We conservative evangelicals are no better. Consider a few of the righteousness tests we have imposed on each other over the past thirty years.

If you don’t vote Republican, you cannot be a Christian. If you don’t speak in tongues, you aren’t as spiritual as I am. If you weren’t baptized by immersion, you probably aren’t saved. If you aren’t a five-point Calvinist, you are probably a heretic. If you are a five-point Calvinist, you are probably a heretic. If you don’t participate in the latest program outlined in (insert famous Christian author here)’s book, you are a second-class church member. If you don’t believe in the pre-wrath rapture of the Church, your salvation is suspect. If you didn’t walk the aisle and pray the sinner’s prayer with visible tears of repentance, you probably aren’t saved. If you aren’t a 24-hour day, six-day creationist, you have denied the gospel. If you don’t homeschool your kids, you are worldly. The list is endless.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Simply put, we are so insecure that we need something to make us feel superior to others. Paul said it well in 1 Corinthians 4:6-7.

Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other. For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? [3]

The pastor I mentioned above submitted his resignation last week. The church split and my friend is grieving. My guess is, so is God.

I am not encouraging sinful self-indulgence, doctrinal ambiguity, or compromise with our post-Christian culture. But I do appeal to all evangelicals: stop imposing righteousness tests on each other. We have more important things to do and more significant problems to solve.

For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written:

“ ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,

‘every knee will bow before me;

every tongue will acknowledge God.’ ” z

12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.[4]


[1] See Acts 15:1-29.

[2] See 1 Corinthians 2 – 4

[3] The New International Version. (2011). (1 Co 4:6–7). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] The New International Version. (2011). (Ro 14:7–13). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

WHO ARE YOU? Identity is Destiny

WHO ARE YOU? Identity is Destiny

The question stumped me. I was in my early thirties, wrestling with deep disappointments, anxieties, and frustrations. Phil was a retired pastor and WWII vet who had become my mentor. Ever so gently, he asked again, “Who are you?”

My mind flashed back to some things my father had said to me in anger, to memories of singing in church and musicals, to adventures with friends, and failures as well. But did those things define me?

“I guess I don’t know,” I said.

The answer I found over the next couple of years changed my life for the better, and it can change yours too.

Some of us look in the mirror and see only disappointment. Some of us see failures or victims of childhood abuse or at least parental malpractice. Some of us see the unlovely and unloved. But that is not what God sees. Consider what scripture says about us when we become believers.

  • Col. 2:13 – You have been “made alive with Christ” and are no longer “dead in trespasses and sins.”
  • Col. 3:1 – You have been “raised with Christ,” and your life is now “hidden with Christ in God.”
  • Heb. 10: 10 – You have been “made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Christ once for all.” 
  • Rom. 5:1 – You have been justified – completely forgiven and made righteous in the sight of God. (See also 5:19)
  • Rom. 8:1 – You are free forever from condemnation.
  • 1 Cor. 1:30 – You have been placed into Christ by God’s doing.
  • 1 Cor. 6: 19-20 – You have been bought with a price; You are not your own; You belong to God.
  • 1 Thess. 1:4 & Jude 1:1 – You are loved by God, chosen by him, and called by him.

In Christ, you are a righteous, complete, accepted, beloved, and chosen person. You may not feel like it all the time or act like it. And it is not an excuse to indulge in sin.[1] But this is what God says is true of you and every believer.  This is what Christ accomplished for us. Christ exchanged your life with his. Christ secured your future in him. We were taken out of Adam’s lineage, adopted as God’s children, and given the inheritance of Christ.

But some of us have a hard time accepting that. We see ourselves as something less than God sees us, something inferior. That stifles our development because what we believe about ourselves determines our destiny.

An example.

Tom Friends of The New York Times asked Coach Jimmy Johnson what he told his players before leading the Dallas Cowboys onto the field for the 1993 Super Bowl.

“I told them that if I laid a two-by-four across the floor, everybody there would walk across it and not fall because our focus would be on walking the length of that board. But if I put that same board ten stories high between two buildings, only a few would make it because the focus would be on falling.”

Johnson told his players not to focus on the crowd, the media, or the possibility of falling, but to focus on each play of the game as if it were a good practice session. The Cowboys won the game 52-7.[1]

What kind of people will we be if we see ourselves as unholy, unlovable, unworthy, and incompetent: depressed, insecure, resentful, and angry, right? Why? Because life for a defeated Christian feels like a script you can’t remember in a play where you don’t belong, a set of expectations that are impossible to meet. It feels like crossing a two-by-four ten stories high. Jesus didn’t rise from the dead to leave us feeling like that!

Depressed people don’t dream dreams. Insecure people won’t take risks. Angry people can’t build loving relationships.

But what happens when we believe in our worth, value, competence, and goodness? We become world changers. We invest ourselves in life, in dreams that change things, and make life better for everybody.

What does God think of you? Is he proud of you? Does he love you? Who are you?


[1] See Romans 6.

 

WHO’S IN & WHO’S OUT?

WHO’S IN & WHO’S OUT?

In his novel, A Painted House, John Grisham describes a Sunday school teacher eulogizing a mean character named Jerry Sisco, who had been killed the night before in a back alley fight after he picked on one person too many.

In the words of the little boy who had seen the fight with his friend Dewayne: “She made Jerry sound like a Christian and an innocent victim. I glanced at Dewayne, who had one eye on me. There was something odd about this. As Baptists, we’d been taught from the cradle that the only way you made it to heaven was by believing in Jesus and trying to follow his example in living a clean and moral Christian life… And anyone who did not accept Jesus and live a Christian life simply went to hell. That’s where Jerry Sisco was, and we all knew it.”

Did you grow up believing that? I did.  But growing up with a belief is not the same as coming to grips with it in adulthood. Is what we learned as children valid? Is Jesus himself as categorical and exclusive as all that? 

Many years ago, I sat across the table from a man who almost lost his faith over this issue. He had friends – people he loved and respected – who had a much broader view of things. They told him he was very narrow-minded to believe that Jesus was the only way.  Would they be lost, damned for all eternity, if they refused to believe like the boys in Grisham’s novel?

We don’t have to wonder. Jesus made it crystal clear in Matthew 7:21-27.

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

24 “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” [1]

He followed that up with an even more exclusive statement in John’s gospel:

 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”[2]

Membership in the kingdom does not depend on what we say, how religious we are, or how moral we are. Membership belongs to those who believe and from that belief obey. Membership in the kingdom is not about creeds or images. It is about heart and action. Membership does not depend on what we think of Jesus.  Membership in the Kingdom of God and where we go when we die depends on what Jesus thinks of us.

What does he think of you?


[1] The New International Version. (2011). (Mt 7:21–27). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] John 14:6 NIV