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

GOOD FRIDAY AND THE PROBLEM OF EVIL

GOOD FRIDAY AND THE PROBLEM OF EVIL

One of the great questions of the skeptic, the greatest objection to Christianity as we know it is: How can a good God let bad things happen to good people? How does Christianity deal with that question?

The standard answers run something like this:
 He loves us but he isn’t powerful enough to do anything about it.
 He’s powerful enough to do something but he really doesn’t love us.
 He’s not there.

But when we look at Psalm 22 and see that David prophesied all of it 1000 years before Christ quoted it from the Cross, it opens up an answer that we hadn’t considered:

God is doing something to overcome evil that we never would have dreamed.
• He is wrestling evil to the death in the body of the king of goodness.
• He is swallowing all injustice in the suffering of the just one.
• He is putting out the fire of death in the unquenchable life of the Living One.
• He is breaking the power of sin and the curse by nailing it to the Cross of the sinless one.

What did God do with the problem of evil? He absorbed it all in the person of his son who sang the great question out of the depth of his soul while nailed to a cross.

PREPARE FOR CULTURAL ICE STORMS

PREPARE FOR CULTURAL ICE STORMS

Our rural Virginia county got hit hard by the recent ice storms. It wasn’t as bad as Texas, but many people who had generators were still running them and hauling “flush water” a week later. And good luck buying a generator if you weren’t prepared.

Another storm is coming, a cultural ice storm that, like Narnia’s Ice Queen, is already freezing free speech, intimidating the weak, and punishing dissenters. Most of us are unprepared. Rod Dreher is and his recent books, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post Christian Nation (2017), and Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents (2020), will alert readers, all readers, not just Christians, to what’s ahead and help them develop a plan.

I know that sounds sensational. Alarmist rhetoric across media has made us wary of all warnings. But when all the signs indicate a storm is coming, it is time to ring the bell and make a plan.

Some recent examples: A friend and tenured professor at a state university tells me his department’s deputy director is pushing a diversity statement—Dreher calls it “a formal statement of loyalty to the ideology of diversity”—all faculty must sign. The situation is serious enough that he has retained legal counsel. The Virginia Values Act, which threatens freedom of conscience for all Virginians, was signed into law last July. Amazon just blocked the sale of Ryan Anderson’s When Harry Became Sally, the most scholarly, well-researched, and unpretentious book—every parent of a child in public school should read it—on the subject of transgenderism. School teachers tell me that their social media accounts are being watched, and somebody will punish them for any speech deemed out of line by school boards who are rapidly adopting state diversity guidelines. The Equal Rights Amendment will soon enshrine in Federal Law what the Virginia Values Act does on the state level. Attorneys who work in the religious freedom arena tell me that Christian business owners are increasingly at risk for business-destroying lawsuits. Politicians and policy wonks tell me the laws pursued by the left in general and the LGBTQ lobby, in particular, are meant not to secure equality of access—they already have that—but to “punish the wicked,” i.e., religious and other conservatives who disagree with them.

Meditate on that for a moment. It means using state and federal law to force agreement. Read thought police.

Dreher says, “As a journalist who writes about these issues, I often hear stories from people—always white-collar professionals like academics, doctors, lawyers, engineers—who live closeted lives as religious or social conservatives. They know that to dissent from the progressive regime in  the workplace, or even to be suspected of dissent, would likely mean burning their careers at the stake.”[1] He calls what’s happening “soft totalitarianism” and defines it thus:

Back in the Soviet era, totalitarianism demanded love for the Party, and compliance with the Party’s demands was enforced by the state. Today’s totalitarianism demands allegiance to a set of progressive beliefs, many of which are incompatible with logic—and certainly with Christianity. Compliance is forced less by the state than by elites who form public opinion, and by private corporations that, thanks to technology, control our lives far more than we would like to admit…Today in our societies, dissenters from the woke party line find their businesses, careers, and reputations destroyed. They are pushed out of the public square, stigmatized, canceled, and demonized as racists, sexists, homophobes, and the like. And they are afraid to resist, because they are confident that no one will join them or defend them.[2]

Samuel James, writing for Christianity Today, finds Dreher’s thesis unconvincing, commenting, “prophecy is tough work, and people who share the deepest religious and social convictions can nonetheless interpret all the moving parts differently.” I hope he is right. But Dreher’s cultural analysis has been dead on target so far.

Jesus rebuked his enemies by telling them, “You can read the weather, but you cannot read the signs of the times.” Rod Dreher has read the signs. Christians and others who believe in truth, reality, freedom, and justice need to prepare for what’s coming. Dreher’s insights are an excellent place to start.


[1] Rod Dreher, Live Not By Lies, p. 58.

[2] Ibid, p. 8-9.

THE PLOW An Ash Wednesday Reflection

THE PLOW An Ash Wednesday Reflection

Every summer, we enjoy another of the benefits of living in a rural community: garden-fresh fruits and vegetables. I thought I knew what a fresh tomato was before I moved to the country. But then I ate an Abbott tomato. I thought I knew what sweet was, but then I tasted a Turbeville cantaloupe.

One such garden was across the street from our house. But none of its fruit would’ve been possible without Mr. Rice from down the street. He didn’t water the ground. He didn’t plant the seed. He didn’t even help in the harvest. He just appeared on his tractor every spring with the thing every garden needs: the plow. 

The plow is hard and sharp. It rips through weeds, punctures the hard surface, and breaks up the clotted dirt. The plow prepares the ground for the beginning of life-giving things.

The spiritual life has a parallel in the plow: repentance. Repentance penetrates hardened hearts, breaking up clods that clog our souls. Repentance opens the way for the word of God to work down into the soil of personality and bring forth the sweet fruit of a life empowered by the Spirit. Repentance is the first step in ‘putting off the old life’ and ‘putting on the new.’ Nothing happens without it.

Today is Ash Wednesday when some Christians mark their heads with an ashen cross to begin the season of Lent, a concentrated period of personal repentance before Easter. That’s good if it helps. Like an unused plow in an abandoned field, repentance has rusted away in our “self-esteem is everything” culture. But repentance is a spiritual discipline that requires regular practice if it’s to do us any good.

Nehemiah shows us how to do it.

Repentance Reviews the Offense

Repentance calls sin, sin. Nehemiah said, “I confess the sins…we have committed, including myself.” Neh.1: 6b-7.

There goes that plow blade, right into the toughest part of the ground, the hardened surface of self. We come before God and say, “Lord, I did it. It wasn’t my environment, it wasn’t my job, it wasn’t my family, I did something wrong, and I’m responsible for it.”

Repentance Is Specific 

Nehemiah confessed sins of commission, doing what we know is wrong. “We have acted very wickedly toward you,” he said. We might say it this way: “God, I have been corrupt in my dealings with you. I’ve played the religious pretend game. On the outside, I look fine. On the inside, my heart is far from you.”

Corruption is a heart hardening thing. It needs a sharp plow.

Nehemiah also confessed sins of omission, failing to do what we know is right. We have not obeyed the commands… you gave to Moses.”

Finally, Nehemiah confessed to group sins. He used the plural pronoun, “We.” We don’t imagine ourselves responsible for what our culture is doing. But when we fail to speak up for the defenseless unborn, are we not responsible? When we fail to care for the poor, are we not neglecting our responsibilities?

Repentance reviews the offense and takes responsibility, putting everything out on the table between God and us. That is essential if we want a response.

It has been a long time now since we ate the fruit of the garden across the street. The neighbors who tended it died or moved away, grass and trees now fill the lot. I chatted with Mr. Rice about that. He said, “I’ve been plowing gardens for folks in town here for decades. At one time, there were thirty-five that I plowed every spring. Now there are less than five.”

When I observe our culture and see the poison it produces, I wonder if the reason is that we have stopped tending the garden of the soul, we have stopped turning over the soil of the spirit with the plow of repentance. 

READY-MADE PRAYERS Spiritual Meat for Hungry Souls

READY-MADE PRAYERS Spiritual Meat for Hungry Souls

Some days my mind is scattered as a caffeinated squirrel, and my heart is as flat as a pancake. Ready-made prayers are helpful then.

Growing up Baptist had some definite advantages for my spiritual life. The clarity and importance of personal repentance and faith in Christ alone for salvation remain paramount. Add to that the emphasis on singing in worship and participation in choirs. The songs I sang then still bubble to the surface today. And eventually, personal Bible study, the conversation with God one develops when digging deep in the word, became important. The fried chicken (aka gospel bird) wasn’t bad either.

But among the things that my spiritual development lacked was a robust prayer life. We Baptists were great at potlucks. But if prayer is like chicken, we were getting the skinny bird every time. “Lord, we just want to praise you for this. And Lord, we just want to ask you for that, and Lord, we ask you to bless so and so.” That kind of praying will leave you spiritually hungry after a while.

The prayers of the Bible are much meatier, as are the prayers of many other denominations. For example, the Anglican Book of Common Prayer (1928 edition) has some wonderfully deep and theologically robust prayers. But as a young believer, I thought written prayers were for people who lacked a real heart relationship with God. They can be abused. Reciting a written prayer will not save an unrepentant sinner or deepen a spiritual life through the mere repetition of elegant prose. But that doesn’t make them useless.

That became clear when I learned that scripture contains many formal prayers and praises. Everyone is familiar with the Psalms and The Lord’s Prayer. But it happens in other places in the New Testament as well. 1 Peter 1:3-5 is a good example. With the help of his friend Silas, Peter begins with an expression of praise that is almost identical to the wording of 2 Corinthians 1:3 and Ephesians 1:3. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.[1] Push on down through verse 13 of Ephesians 1, and you find the same themes Peter stressed: Election or choseness, redemption through Christ’s blood, our spiritual inheritance, and hope in Christ’s return.

From that foundation, Peter builds out his prayer and links it to his readers’ specific situation. So he isn’t just repeating empty words. He is taking a form of praise widely used in the Church and building it into his prayer and exhortation to his readers.

As I got older, I realized that C.S. Lewis’s experience on this topic, provided in an essay whose title I borrowed, reflected mine. Some days my mind is scattered as a caffeinated squirrel, and my heart is as flat as a pancake. Trying to pray spontaneously on days like that was “counting on a greater mental and spiritual strength than I really have,” he said. I was making “what Pascal calls Error of Stoicism; thinking we can do always what we can do sometimes.”[2] The latest news headline or political crisis will always loom larger if we let it and have us praying about only those things instead of the strategic mission of the Church. And, left to the vagaries of our weary minds and momentary emotions, we can easily drift into some pretty shallow spiritual puddles. Praying the ready-made prayers of scripture and the great traditions can help us stay on the right path.


[1] The New International Version. (2011). (Eph 1:3). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Ready-made Prayers. C.S. Lewis, The Joyful Christian: 127 Readings

GENESIS 2021 Building Our Future on Stable Ground

GENESIS 2021 Building Our Future on Stable Ground

Fans of the first Star Trek movies remember that in The Wrath of Khan, the villain tried to destroy the Starship Enterprise by detonating an experimental terraforming device called Genesis. We learned in The Search for Spock, that the planet that emerged from that explosion was beautiful but unstable, doomed to devour itself in earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. David Marcus, a key scientist on the project, revealed the reason. He had used a restricted substance, “proto-mater,” to speed up the process. What should have been a utopia was doomed from the start by the hubris of its creator.

By 1984 standards, the special effects were excellent. But that is not what made me think of Star Trek movies at one o’clock this morning.

2020 has been an epic disaster. People will make movies about it. Heroes and villains will emerge. Everyone hopes 2021 will be better than 2020. But the biblical worldview warns us that we dare not anchor our hopes here. It tells us that God made us good, but in our hubris, we inserted an element to make life better. We rebelled and corrupted all our capacities in the process. We took earth with us when we fell, and because of the fall, we can count on two things.

First, the earth itself, in the form of earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, and yes, pandemics, will oppose us. “Cursed is the ground,” God said to our first parents and earth’s first stewards. “Thorns and thistles, it will produce for you till you return to the dust from which you were formed.”  

Second, our best Utopia-building efforts will be fatally flawed because we are fatally flawed. Like Dr. Marcus in Star Trek, we cannot resist the temptation to hurry-up success. In our hubris, we add ingredients to life guaranteed to produce catastrophic, if unintended, consequences.

We need a savior, someone who can break the curse and reverse the consequences of the fall; someone who can cancel our corruption and restore true goodness to men and women. And the good news is, we just celebrated his arrival at Christmas.

The babe of Bethlehem became the man on the mountain who began his ministry by saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” His recipe for success, called The Sermon on the Mount[1], has no shortcuts, no place for hubris, only humility, faith, and love. He ended that sermon with this practical application.

“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.”[2]

The vaccines may work. Life might return to something like normal. But because of the fall, we can count on two things: something else will come along to destabilize the world, and in our hubris, it might be us!   Build your house on the rock. Put your hope in Christ in 2021. He is the only savior.


[1] See the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 5-7.

[2] The New International Version. (2011). (Mt 7:24–27). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

A POST ELECTION PRAYER FOR ALL BELIEVERS

A POST ELECTION PRAYER FOR ALL BELIEVERS

I woke this morning and found about what I expected, an undecided election fraught with the potential for significant conflict in our country. As one commentator said last week, “This is going to make Florida’s hanging chads in 2000 look like a cake-walk.” Thankfully, as a result of that debacle, the Supreme Court rendered a decision that all ballots must be counted and turned in by December 8, six days before the electoral college meets. So, we should have a decision, if no less conflict, by then.

I grieve for our country and pray for it daily, but my chief concern is for the Church of Jesus Christ. We are “the support and pillar of the truth”[1] and cannot stop speaking it even when the world would rather not hear it. But we are also required by our Lord to be peacemakers in this world.[2] We are also commanded to “make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” within the Church.[3]

With those three tasks in mind, I offer the following prayer, adapted from 1 Peter chapter 1, and I ask you to pray it with me for ourselves and for all who bow the knee to Jesus Christ over the next month.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade—kept in heaven for us, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

Though we have not seen him, we love him; and even though we do not see him now, we believe in him, and are filled with inexpressible joy, for we are receiving the goal of our faith, the salvation of our souls.

Therefore, Father, we ask that you help us prepare our minds for action, be self-controlled, and fully set our hope on the grace to be given us when Jesus Christ is revealed. Please help us, Father, as obedient children, not conform to the evil desires we had when we lived in ignorance of you and your Son. Please help us, Father, to be holy because you are holy.

Since we call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, help us live our lives as strangers here in reverent fear. For, we were not redeemed with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

Finally, because we have been purified by obeying the truth, help us to love one another deeply, from the heart, recognizing that we have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

For, all men are like grass, and all their glory like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.

Amen.


[1] 1 Timothy 3:15

[2] Matthew 5:9; James 3:18

[3] Ephesians 4:3

THE PARABLE OF VANNA WHITE

THE PARABLE OF VANNA WHITE


Vanna White needed a new transmission. I guess I should explain that.

Tradesmen often name their trucks. The maintenance crew I worked with in the early nineties was no different. The ancient, white Ford Econoline 150 panel van that the carpenters used was so reliable, doing the same simple tasks day after day, well past her prime, that they called her Vanna White. Only now her transmission was slipping. It was time for a rebuild.

I put her on the lift, removed the big automatic tranny, dismantled it, cleaned it out, installed a rebuild kit in the case, and hoisted it back into place; a six or seven hour job. Then I filled it with transmission fluid and took it for a drive. It slipped, right between first and second gear.

So I did it again, looking carefully for mistakes, and it slipped again. So I did it again. And again. And again. And again. It kept slipping! I was ready to drive it off a cliff!

Now let’s pause this parable and ask a question: Is there some part of your spiritual life that isn’t working? Are you continually disabled by a slip into sin whose source is invisible to you? Have you gone over the details again and again, tried as hard as you can to solve your problem, and failed?

Good. Coming to the end of our resources is the best place we can be because only then are we ready to receive the power to overcome the “sins that so easily entangle us.” The Apostle Paul explained it as the difference between living in the “flesh,” translated “sinful nature” in the NIV, versus living in the “Spirit.” (See Galatians 5:16-25). Jesus spoke similarly in John 6:63 when he said, “The flesh counts for nothing. The Spirit gives life.”

Everything about us, our bodies, our minds, our emotions, and personalities were permanently weakened by the power of sin. We “slip between first and second.” Until the day we die that power will remain. In fact the only way to conquer the power of sin is through death. 

That is the beautiful thing about the gospel. In Christ we did die, not a physical death, but a spiritual one. We died with him to the power of sin. When the Holy Spirit baptizes us into Christ his death and his resurrection become ours in spiritual fact (See Romans 6). The trick is to learn how to live in the power of those things.

Remember Vanna White? The sixth time I pulled the transmission from the old van I remembered another Ford E 150 in our fleet. The engine had died and we junked it, but not before harvesting all other usable parts, one of which was the transmission. Automatic transmission casings are cast with hydraulic control circuits inside. If the case cracks in the right place, a place invisible to the naked eye, those circuits will leak under pressure and the transmission will slip. I pulled the new parts out of Vanna White’s original transmission case and installed them in the one from the van that had “died” and Viola! No more slipping between gears!

The problem most of us face in overcoming sin is that we try to stuff new parts into our old life. We need new parts in a new life. By the power of the Holy Spirit within us we can overcome by exchanging our life with Christ’s.  Only when we have given up on trying to improve ourselves by our own will power are we able to begin operating in the power of the Spirit. Only when we have exchanged Christ’s life for ours are we able to know his power to overcome.