“Is it I, Lord?”

When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?”

Matthew 26:20-22

I’ve been listening, and am nearly few through the Christianity Today podcast, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. It’s a head scratcher, not always easy to listen to, keep listening to, or get through. But well done, and one begins to see the value of doing so, I think. For me, it’s a reminder of how having a stage can be dangerous and go to the head, so that the leader grasps for and holds on to power. I also think of the need for accountability for all, including those at the top, and the importance of proper submission, being willing to submit.

The podcast tells of a quite gifted (though I never was interested in any of his messages or books, and didn’t connect with any of that both because of the theology, as well as the tone in which it was presented) pastor, and truthfully I have a hard time using that word for this man, but one who got the movement of Mars Hill in Seattle started, really Mars Hill being his in his mind it seems, instead of the Lord’s. It is a head shaker, as you go through the account well documented of one who seems a narcissist through and through. At the same time it is remarkable how God did seem to use what was going on there to bless many. But even more quickly than its exponential rise, it came to a crashing end.

While I could hardly believe my ears both from the leader and other leaders talking about their time there, I found myself beginning to squirm a bit. I was wondering to myself, how much of that is in me. What I was hearing was perhaps helpful in the sense of making it clear what I and others don’t want to be. But it was also like a picture, which might become a mirror. Did I recognize myself, even a little bit of me in any of it? Maybe not much at all the way the leader was, but wanting to know.

So I found myself wondering, a good place to pray and ask the Lord, “Is it I?” And maybe that’s where the Lord wants me to be for a time, so that he can more and more sift out what is not like him, opposite really, opposed to him. Something helpful for myself, which I continue to reflect on from listening to the podcast. In and through Jesus.

the opinion/knowing that matters

This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.

1 Corinthians 4:1-5

I think it’s wise when a church does not rush into judgments “where angels fear to tread.” At the same time the church does have responsibility to make judgments on cases involving sin which violate covenant faithfulness. We see that in this same letter, soon following this passage (5:1-13). So this passage has nothing at all to do with that.

What Paul was getting at here is judgment of the heart: the motives, why people, specifically in this case Christian leaders do what they do. Whether it’s for the glory of God, out of love for God and for others. And that standard was not just for leaders, though they were to exemplify it.

The older I get, the less trusting I am of either my own motives, or my ability to judge them. It has been well said, people have mixed motives for what they do. Some may be good, some not as good, and some even bad. It it’s to call any attention to ourselves, or somehow to make us think we’re better than others, than of course it’s no good. I am skeptical of the idea that whenever we do something, it is bound to have mixed motives. I’m not sure that’s sound Biblically and theologically. By grace it seems to me that we can do something out of sheer love. But in the end I would go where Paul goes in this passage. I can’t judge the heart on any particular instance. Only God can do that.

Sometimes I do need some straightening out along the way. That can come indirectly through others, and always directly from the Lord through the convicting, convincing work of the Holy Spirit. Often though for me, I’m muddling along in the messiness of life, aware of perceived deficiencies, sometimes seeming to crush me in a kind of condemning way, a sure sign that God is nowhere near such a judgment.

Anything like that we need to let go of. Realizing that in the end it’s God who will make the final judgment, and in the meantime will help us along the way. The bottom line is that we need to trust in God. Sometimes in this life someone like a needed surgeon, can help us discern issues underneath the surface which are harmful to us, and likely to others (Proverbs 20:5).

In the end, it’s God who makes all the final judgments. And note that then, each person will receive praise from God. Not condemnation at all, nor even censure. The text says, praise from God. We can’t make an argument from silence, but this is encouraging. I take it that the Father will want to sound that note for each of his children, when it’s all said and done.

Does this thought lend itself to carelessness? I surely hope not. God’s grace is at work in our lives to give us a heart to follow him in love and service for others. In and through Jesus.

law or grace?

No matter how you shake it, and it’s not an easy passage to interpret or understand, Romans 7 makes it clear that there’s a strong human tendency to buck law, especially when it’s in your face, or one’s well aware of it. Law in Scripture is given for the good of people to show them how they ought to live in a flourishing free way, but it also serves to show people their sin and therefore their need of God’s grace. Grace here I refer to as both forgiveness and new life as in ability to keep the law. And by keeping the law, I’m referring to keeping the requirements of the law not by law keeping, but by a life which in a way is above the law in that it transcends mere law keeping, the life naturally doing what God requires.

One of the most memorable portions of Philip Yancey’s classic book, What’s So Amazing About Grace is the story about the man who sought to escape the evil of western society to what he saw as a society in which law and therefore righteousness could flourish. The only problem was that he got entangled and overcome by his own sin in stark, dark and troubling ways. His Christianity fell by the wayside because it was not formed by grace, but simply informed by law.

Law is important in its place, and in societies good laws are needed, for example against the taking of life, or practices which might endanger life such as driving when intoxicated. Law as mentioned in Scripture serves to convict one of sin, though the Spirit is needed to make that conviction more than condemnation and instead a life changing repentance.

I remember Christian schools that made a lot out of rules to the point of more or less micromanaging the students’ lives with the presupposition that such would keep them out of harm’s ways, curb their sinful tendencies, and even form them into godly people. The only problem is that it is grace which changes us, not law. Though it should be noted that God’s grace changes us through the law. God’s grace does the changing apart from law, but uses the law to help us see our guilt, need, and utter helplessness.

Grace and law in Scripture are not easy subjects. But having lived through some sad scenarios in the Christian world, I would say that one has to be aware of the place of both. And how our lives are truly transformed only by grace, God’s gift to us of forgiveness and new life. And how this is both in terms of a point of conversion and ongoing conversion in a process by the Spirit in and through Jesus.

45 years ago today when I surrendered my life to Christ

On October 22, 1973, on a Monday afternoon after school, my senior year in high school, in the bottle washing room at Hefner Dairy, all alone, I surrendered my life to Christ. I still remember that day rather vividly. I think I remember musing at school over the thought of that possibility in something like these terms: “What if I would commit my life to God because of what Christ has done for me on the cross?” Something like that. And the Holy Spirit was working on me, convicting me, and helping me see the truth of the gospel. That Christ died for our sins, and was raised from the dead to give us new life.

That had been going on for some time. I was tired of my life. Friendships seemed empty, and whatever I amused myself with, such as smoking pot when I could get my hands on it, just wasn’t enough, or more like, didn’t matter.

I was raised in a church in which we were faithfully taught Bible stories in Sunday School as children growing up. And whenever Billy Graham was going to be on television, our church bulletin would let us know. And our mother regularly read Bible stories to us, and prayed for us, along with her singing of hymns. I had made a profession of faith I think in my early teens, which I don’t think was real, because it didn’t stick. And I was pretty rebellious in those days in something of the spirit of the 60s, even if I wasn’t quite old enough to join that when it was most compelling (the Woodstock era).

The change in certain ways was immediate. I used to routinely cuss up and down, but that was now gone. And I really cared about everything, especially in terms of doing what was right and good. Whereas before, I would do what I had to do, but diligently enough because I was trained by hard working parents to work hard.

Of course it was a new love that hit me, a deep love for Christ which spilled over into an indiscriminate love for others, which was probably misunderstood in those days by women, because of my naivete. I was fortunate, because I was able to quit my cigarette smoking, which I had done for a year immediately, and was never tempted to smoke the weed.

Since then, the Lord has been faithful to keep me on the straight and narrow, though for a time I was off track in some ways. And I know I can easily get off track now. But God’s grace continues to be at work in my life. For which I am thankful. And I long to see that same saving grace break through into the lives of others. In and through Jesus.

God’s grace received where we’re at

It’s more complicated than that: right? Yes it is. One has to get serious about sins in one’s life which actually violate love for God and for human beings, as well as respect for God’s creation. And yet scripture makes it clear that in and of ourselves, we can’t fix the problem. And yet we’re called to be grieved over it, but not just because of it’s destructive effect on others, as well as on ourselves, but bottom line, because it’s against our Creator.

Sometimes I have been nailed down in defeat, perhaps in part due to a condemning finger pointing at me from the enemy in an actually confusing, unclear way, but strong and relentless, just the same. Or perhaps there is a sense in which I’m undergoing God’s disciplining love over attitudes that I know aren’t right, but seem to have me in their grip, sin seeming to be a power over me at the time, which won’t let go.

It is good, even important to pray to God during such times, to grieve, mourn and wail, as James puts it, as we seek to cleanse our hands (acts) and purify our hearts (attitudes). Even to confess our faults to one another, and pray for each other, so that we might be healed (James 5).

In the end it’s only God’s grace which will prevail in our lives, and make the difference needed. God certainly accepts us where we’re at, but just as certainly, God won’t leave us there. And we have to leave the convicting work of the Spirit in God’s hands, as well as the final judgment of everything. Paul refused to even judge himself, much less someone else. That’s not at all talking about dealing with sin along the way, but probably referring to the final judgment to come, when God will make known all our hidden motives. But along with that thankfully is God’s grace in Christ, so that God does indeed convict and convince us of our sin, so we can confess such sin to God, and receive God’s forgiveness and cleansing. And go on, not at all competent or confident in ourselves, but trusting in God, and God’s promise to us to always meet us where we’re at as we seek to come near to him, in and through Jesus.

Billy Graham: a faithful servant of Christ

Christianity Today has an excellent issue on the life of Billy Graham. I consider it a must read even if you’re just into US history, because of his often intimate relationship with twelve US presidents. And all the more so if you’re a Christian, especially with spiritual roots in God’s working through Billy’s ministry.

Between my mother’s witness and prayers, and the preaching of Billy Graham, the Holy Spirit brought deep conviction of sin and conversion of life through the new birth. And I am indebted to the ministry of the Mennonite church I was raised in, as well. I used to not want to hear Billy’s preaching, and yet I was captivated by it. I came to Christ, committing my life to God because of his death on the cross on that October afternoon in the milk bottle wash room at the dairy. And I more or less knew then, and know even more now the powerful impact of Billy’s preaching of the gospel on my life through the work of the Holy Spirit.

If Billy was active in ministry today, as he was for decades, you can be sure that he would not be known as either a Republican or  Democrat, liberal or conservative. And fundamentalist churches of varying degrees refused to participate in his campaigns because he would partner with Catholic and mainline Protestant churches. I remember all of that well. I believe Billy was right, and we have good fruit from that, as well as other roots contributing to God’s work in that, I think of the writings of Karl Barth, and the Second Vatican Council.

I am thankful to God for the life and ministry of Billy Graham. And I look forward to meeting him someday. Until then, we want to press on by the same Holy Spirit, and be faithful to Christ and to the gospel, to the very end. In and through Jesus.

Lent and the Holy Spirit

What keeps us keeping on in the following of Jesus? What keeps the gospel and the scriptures alive? Why did Judas Iscariot continue on even though he used to help himself to the money given to Jesus and the disciples for their work? Why did the rest continue on? What made the difference?

One key, perhaps more basic than any other: the Person and work of the blessed Holy Spirit.

We need the Holy Spirit to give us light in our darkness. We are created and therefore finite and lacking of the eternal life of the Triune God. And we are sinners, essentially cut off from God and from each other due to our sin in not loving God with our entire being and doing and not loving our neighbors as ourselves. We have both done what we shouldn’t have done in thoughts, attitudes and actions, including of course our words, and we have left undone what we should have done. And even as Christians turned 180 degrees through repentance (and of course in need of ongoing repentance), we still haven’t arrived in that, and we won’t in this life, even though we should be growing deeper in fulfilling it. And so we’re in need of conviction of our sin so that we can confess our sins and experience the ongoing salvation of God in our forgiveness and cleansing. Again, hence the need of the blessed Holy Spirit.

When Jesus opened up the scriptures concerning himself to the disciples on the road to Emmaus at their home, what made the difference? Certainly having the Lord teach them was wonderful in itself. But without the Holy Spirit, it would have made no difference at all. Their hearts would not have burned and they would not have believed.

This gives me much pause when the things of God seem far away and everything seems to have lost life. There could be other reasons, and yet one possibility looms that is dangerous. I have to ask myself if I’ve sinned against the Holy Spirit in some way, and find my way back through the grace of God. Scripture doesn’t warn against sinning against the Holy Spirit for no reason at all. It applies to followers, to real believers no less. See here in Hebrews 6 and even clearer, here in Hebrews 10.

And so we must go on in our following of Jesus in the life and power of the blessed Holy Spirit.

the failure of character

A couple articles (here and here) recently have called my attention to the importance of character development. Even though giftedness is important, it ends up meaning little or nothing if the person is lacking in character.

When a line is crossed, fallout is inevitable. But what too often is not duly considered is the life which led to that failure.

Of course it is true (Luther has a point) that we are all sinners, even the righteous sin and struggle with it. And so regular confession needs to be made ideally both general in public and specific in private to God and to one’s trusted friend or pastor/priest. And we need to be open to the convicting work of the Spirit as well as to the disciplines needed to keep us from sin. The great sin is always preceded by “small” yet willful sins which all too often are excused or rationalized away so that the person ends up deceiving themselves when they actually know better.

Jesus Christ needs to be front and center and God’s gospel for us and for the world in him. When that is the case we will be regularly confronted with our sin, and fundamentally with who we are. If we’re true followers of Jesus we should indeed becoming over time more and more like him.


how well do we love?

The Lord encourages what faith we have. We can have something of the sense of having arrived even though at the same time we should know better. We need not worry though because just around the corner we will be confronted with the realization of our lack.

That happened to me. I realized recently how I can get so caught up in my work that people and their non work related problems I can fail to take into consideration . I was convicted at how I can lack in love.

A major part of our growth in grace is the humility that comes with an increased sensitivity to sin, more openness to the convicting work of God’s Spirit. And so paradoxically for us in Jesus there is progress in the realization of our lack of progress. As well as understanding something of how far we have come.

How well do we love?  A good question for us to ask ourselves and God. As we continue on in the way of Jesus.



the joy of the Lord and sorrow

Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

The people in the story had every reason to be filled with sorrow because of their sin, a sorrow that would lead them to repentance. And that would necessarily follow. But before that, the Lord knew these people needed to experience joy over him. And surely something of his joy, themselves.

At the core of our existence there needs to be a reverential awe as well as awe-struck wonder in God. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” And the revelation that comes to us in Jesus is one of love: God’s love for us and for the world. It is not merely intellectual, but something to be experienced by the Spirit. Of course it is in and through the cross, Jesus’ death, that God’s love is made known. God is not wanting humans to cower in his presence, though that is necessarily so when they are judged because of their wickedness. In Christ by his death God takes on himself our judgment and reveals himself as the God of consummate love and never ending beauty. And again this is not just like appreciating a great work of beautiful art. It is somehow being included ourselves, so that we can begin to experience something of the beauty of the Lord. Our sins being forgiven, so as now to be included among God’s people in God’s presence in which there is fullness of joy.

The joy of the Lord and sorrow are not necessarily mutually exclusive. In a sense they are not at all. Even in the deepest sorrow, the joy of the Lord is present, yes even in those depths, though we likely are not thinking of that at the time. It is a grace to weep in this world, borne by the joy of the Lord. The two can go hand in hand. In the case of the passage quoted above in Nehemiah, the people were beginning to develop a healthy sorrow over their sin, as scripture was read. Such conviction of sin is a companion with the joy of the Lord. Paradoxically we experience joy over the Lord, and the Lord’s joy as we have proper conviction over our own sins, and even as we share in the sorrows and suffering of Christ in this world.