Monday, October 15, 2012

A "Good" Man Who Was Lost

Two men went to the temple court to pray, the one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector (Lk. 18:9-14).  The Pharisee would be viewed as a pillar within the community, an ardent patriot, and a respected citizen of the highest character.  On the other hand, the tax collector would be viewed as a traitor to his fellow Jews and the off scouring of his community.  However, it was he who was justified rather than the Pharisee.  Why was the Pharisee lost?  Why did God not accept him?
He was lost because he trusted in his good character to save him.  His prayer was an essay in self-congratulation.  He first congratulated himself on his virtues of omission – that he was not a robber, an evildoer, an adulterer, or even as the tax collector.  Having listed his abstentions from wrong, the Pharisee next informed heaven of his virtues of commission – he fasted twice a week and gave tithes of everything he gained.  Measured by other men, he towered above them.  It had not occurred to him to measure himself by the sky.  A mountain shames a molehill until both are humbled by the stars.  The Pharisee’s virtue was so cankered by pride that it was almost rotten.  Good character is an important part of the Christian life, but it is not the basis of justification before God (Isa. 64:6).
He was lost because he trusted in the performance of religious observances to save him.  The Pharisee fasted twice a week though the only obligatory fast was on the annual observance of the Day of Atonement.  It was believed that Moses ascended Mt. Sinai on Monday to receive the Ten Commandments and descended on Thursday; thus, many Pharisees set these two days aside as days of fasting.  In like manner, many people today trust in religious observances to justify themselves before a holy God.  To many, it matters little that the observances may only be mere inventions of men.  The only thing that matters to them is that the activity has a religious emphasis.  Like Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10) they fail to see the importance of doing what God says in the way He says it is to be done.  In the case of others, they are careful to observe only that which is authorized by God.  However, they do not possess the right attitude or disposition of mind in their observance (cf. 1 Cor. 11:27-31; John 4:24).  Both are wrong.  Merely engaging in the observation of certain religious acts does not justify a person before God (cf. Amos 5:21-24).  We must be careful to only engage in religious activities authorized by God and to do so with the proper motivation.
He was lost because he trusted in his good deeds to save him.  Good works are absolutely essential to a vital faith (Jas. 2:26).  It is one thing to do them, but quite another to depend upon them as the basis of our justification (Eph. 2:8-9).  The mercy of God as demonstrated in the gift of His Son is the foundation of our salvation (Tit. 3:5).
All that can be said about the Pharisee’s goodness is that it was negative.  Even his fasting and tithing were negative things because they consisted in giving up certain things.  That is the reverse of true goodness.  Sadly, the religious life of many people consists entirely of prohibitions.  Such results in a negative life and is only half the story.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Christians and Politics

It has been frequently said that this year’s election is one of the most critical in U.S. history. That may be accurate; I don’t know. Of course, I wasn’t alive during earlier years in our history, so I am not familiar with the political climate or many of the issues facing our young nation. In fact, I had not paid much attention to politics until my college years in the early sixties. I remember Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower as leaders of our nation, but don’t know from personal knowledge the issues that were considered critical during their presidencies. The first president to whom I paid much attention was John F. Kennedy. Since then I have tried to have at least a working knowledge of national and local issues and the people running for office so that I can be an informed voter. During the past fifty years I have basically been conservative in my views and have voted accordingly. I have not always agreed with every stance of the person running for office or the one for whom I voted, but I have evaluated their economic, military, and foreign policy views, as well as other considerations before making a decision. I have tried to cast my vote for the person whom I feel would do the country, state, or local community the most good. I have not confined my voting to one political party, but have placed more emphasis on the person rather than the party. The people for whom I have voted have not always been on the winning ticket, but that is the nature and beauty of our political system in which every legally registered voter has the opportunity of voicing his opinion at the ballot box. Sometimes I have been disappointed in the person elected and at other times have been pleasantly pleased. Over the years, as I have matured both in age and as a Christian, the basis on which I have evaluated political candidates has changed, however. At one time, I paid more attention to their economic, military, and tax policies, etc. than anything else. I don’t mean to diminish these considerations as being unimportant. They are important. I think all of us are interested in the employment rate, economic growth, military supremacy, and entrepreneurship continuing in a positive direction in America. They have a profound impact on world peace, national security, and a general sense of optimism. We live in a nation that has been greatly blessed because these causes have been emphasized by our leaders. For that I am profoundly grateful. The concerns I have just mentioned, however, are not the reasons for our national greatness. America’s greatness is not found in her economic might, her military strength, or her scientific achievements. I have come to realize more convincingly that the foundation for any nation’s greatness is based on her respect for God and the moral standards set forth in the Bible. God’s word declares, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). For that reason I have tried, in the past several years, to pay closer attention to a candidate’s moral convictions and the tenor of his life. What are his views about same sex marriage, homosexuality, abortion, and the sanctity of marriage as presented in the Bible? Is he or she an honest person or do they practice deception and self-justification? Do they respect civil law or circumvent it? Do they pay their taxes or do they look for questionable loopholes? Are they able to exercise self-control over their tempers and sexual urges? Are they “legal thieves” as they rob the general public in order to “line their own pockets”? By their example, are they able to lead us as a nation in the direction of righteous conduct? A nation will deteriorate from within and eventually fall, if respect for God and his moral standards are not maintained. The noted historian, Edward Gibbon once stated that 19 of the 22 civilizations that have arisen collapsed when they reached the moral state that America is in now. That is what concerns me. It seems to me that the voting public would be wise to examine the moral principles that guide the various candidates before entering the ballot box during this election year. It was once observed, “America is great because America is good. When she ceases to be good she will cease to be great.” It takes leaders who are good people to establish and maintain goodness in a nation. Give that some serious thought as you enter the voting booth this year.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Heirs of God

Jean Paul Sarte once wrote, "Man can count on no one but himself. He is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth."

That's one view of life…a rather dismal view. If this is the backdrop against which life is painted then there is no purpose, no reason beyond just the few years that we spend here. This is all we have and all there is. This view casts us as orphans into a strange and foreign place.

But there is another view…a contrasting view. We're not orphans on our own, but we can be adopted into the family of God. The apostle Paul wrote in Romans chapter 8, "For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, 'Abba! Father!' The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him" (vs. 14-17).

The fact that Christians are adopted into the spiritual family of God provides a sense of security, and acceptance, and well-being.

Spiritually speaking, there is only one of two families to which we belong – the family of God or the family of Satan. Jesus declared, "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon" (Matt. 6:24). He put it another way in this statement, "He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters" (Matt. 12:30). True discipleship is not a "both-and" proposition; it is an "either-or" one. Either one is a servant of the Lord or he is not. There is no in-between. Have you obeyed the gospel of Christ in being baptized and, thus, been adopted into the family of God? If not, why not?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Shooting Arrows

The poet has written,

I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where.
But long years after in the heart of an oak,
I found my arrow still unbroke.

Once you shoot that arrow, you might lose track of where it is, but that doesn't mean that it ceases to be. And years later you might find it "in the heart of an oak."

There's another mystery. When I share my hopes, my dreams, my thoughts with another person and the years pass, I might forget or lose track, but that doesn't mean those thoughts no longer exist.

When you share life with a friend, it lasts and endures and might even show up again, like that arrow.

Solomon said, "Cast your bread on the surface of the waters, for you will find it after many days" (Eccl. 11:1). A person never knows the ultimate impact of a thought or deed. At first it might not even by noticed, but later it has a tremendous effect. No wonder the apostle Paul urges us to "be careful how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise" (Eph. 5:15).

I breathed a song into the air,
It fell to earth I knew not where.
But long years after in the heart of a friend,
I found my song from beginning to end.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


I don’t want to live in the future, but I do want to be optimistic and hopeful. I want to believe in tomorrow, and to see the potential that it holds, and to face it with joy and confidence.

James gives us a word of caution about tomorrow. "Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.' Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ' If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that'" (James 4:13-15, NASV).

Tomorrow doesn't have to be viewed with arrogance and confidence that it will occur. Neither does it have to be viewed with fear, and dread, and anxiety. That’s not much of a way to face tomorrow…or to live today.

I can anticipate tomorrow with a sense of eagerness – not living in the future, or even trusting the future – but allowing a sense of "what’s coming" to give a special flavor and meaning to the now of "today."

A little red-headed orphan in the musical Annie offers this optimistic view. "The sun'll come out tomorrow, So ya gotta hang on 'til tomorrow, Come what may! Tomorrow! Tomorrow! I love ya Tomorrow! You're always a day away!"

Remember that counting time is not nearly as important as making time count.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


If you are like me, one of the first sections of the newspaper I read is the comic strip section. I enjoy reading the comics because you will find in many of them a humorous, yet penetrating, perception on life. Some are just plain funny.

You take Snoopy, the lovable and affable dog. He is a brave soul. He has a good heart and goes after what he wants with "gusto.” Sometimes his quests backfire on him and he gets into more trouble than he bargained for.

But Snoopy is always trying to be something that he is not – and it creates problems. Sometimes he tries to be a ferocious lion in the jungle. His attempts to do so are not really that convincing. At other times he pretends to be a WWI pilot soaring in the heavens and conquering every foe as he sits atop of his doghouse with his pilot’s hat on. There are times when he portrays himself to be a tennis ace capable of defeating any opponent.

It’s fun to read about his fantasies, but it isn’t real. Aside from the fun of playing, Snoopy needs to be Snoopy…a lovable dog. He’ll be accepted and loved just as he is by those around him.

When I start playing games with my life and try to pretend to be something or someone whom I am not, I need to look at Snoopy and see how he looks in his fantasy world. The possibility of change resides in every person. The apostle Paul recognized that by God’s grace he was what he was (1 Cor. 15:10). That’s one thing, but to pretend to be something we are not is another thing altogether. That’s just plain hypocrisy.

It’s good to have dreams and hopes, but Snoopy needs to be Snoopy (not a lion, or a flying ace, or a tennis pro). And I need to be me and you need to be you.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

In the book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, a little boy, Alexander, has one of those days when nothing goes right.

He wakes up in the morning and the gum in his mouth has dropped out and is in his hair and on his bed.

He gets out of bed and trips over his skateboard. While dressing, his sweater falls into a sink full of water.

After a terrible day at school, he has a horrible visit with the dentist, and a no good stop at the shoe store.

At supper, his mom served lima beans and spinach. Yuk! There was kissing on TV and Alexander hates kissing. His bath water was too hot and he got soap in his eyes. He had to wear his railroad-train pajamas to bed – he hates them!

It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day for Alexander. Do you ever feel like Alexander? And, what do you do? Perhaps it’s time to laugh.

Sometimes it helps to maintain a sense of humor in the midst of unfortunate circumstances. Solomon said, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones” (Prov. 17:22). It is said that humor strengthens your immune system, boosts your energy, diminishes pain, and protects you from the damaging effects of stress. Laughter is far more contagious than any cough, sniffle, or sneeze. When it is shared, it binds people together and increases happiness and intimacy. Best of all, this priceless medicine is fun, free, and easy to use.

Have you had a good laugh today?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Chinese Proverb

You’ve heard the old Chinese proverb: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one small step.” When we look at where we are and where we want to be, it can be overwhelming and discouraging because the distance between them may seem to be so vast. If it appears that there is such a great chasm between them, we might take the easy way and just put off or dismiss beginning to do something about it. After all, where do I start? When I have so far to go, where do I begin?

The old proverb offers the answer. It’s simple and it’s profound at the same time. I begin with one step. Oftentimes our problem is that we want to bite off more than that, don’t we?

It is not by happenstance that the Christian life is described as a walk (2 Corinthians 5:7). It is not a sprint, but a walk. It is not a mad dash, but a steady and progressive walk. We are urged to “walk, not as unwise, but as wise; redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16).

So, where am I today? And, where do I want to be tomorrow – and next year? What can I do and where can I begin? I can begin today, right now, with one step.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Safest Place

The safest place in the world is said to be an underground vault in Iron Mountain, just up the Hudson River from New York City. It was formerly a mine shaft, but now has vaults which are lined with thick walls of concrete and steel. The vaults are covered with two hundred feet of solid rock on all sides. Many large New York banks and national corporations use it to store important records and other valuables. It is even supposed to be safe from atomic attack. PEOPLE WANT SECURITY!!!

I recall that Daniel felt safe in the lion's den. However, the king who had him thrown into the den was unable to sleep that night (Daniel 6:18). The three Hebrews, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, were thrown into a blazing furnace of fire with no effect on their body, their hair was not singed, their trousers undamaged, and they didn't even have the smell of fire upon them (Daniel 3:19-27). Paul and Silas were falsely charged, beaten with rods, and thrown into prison; yet, they prayed to God and sang hymns of praise (Acts 16:22-25). The great security of each of these men was their relationship with God. Isaiah wrote, "The steadfast of mind Thou wilt keep in perfect peace because he trusts in Thee" (Isaiah 26:3).

Have you feared anything today? --- like admitting you were wrong? --- like sharing your faith with someone who might lash back at you? Can there be any place safer than where you are doing the will of God?

"O Lord, if someone misunderstands my intentions today…if I make a mistake and someone cuts me down…if someone close to me is critical, keep me from being afraid. Please live in me so that true love will be my only response to them. Thank you for the victories before they happen. Through Jesus --- Amen."

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Everything Except the "Moo"

Consider this long list of things --- they all have something in common: insulin, glue, fertilizer, dice, buttons, violin strings, soap, chewing gum, piano keys, etc., etc. These are only a few of the products made from a steer. The fats are used in explosives, toothpaste, candy, cosmetics and soft drinks. Even the horns, skin, ligaments and tendons produce a gelatin used in ice cream, cream cheese, desserts and photographic film. A 1,000 lb. steer provides only about 432 lbs. of beef, but every part of the animal except its "MOO" can be used for something.

There’s no telling what kind of tremendous IMPACT for good would happen in a community if the potential of every God-fearing person was put to use. Why would we ever say we don’t have what it takes? Consider these words from 2 Corinthians 9:8: "God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work." All this is ready for you and me today, if we are ready. The response we need to make is to love God supremely and obey Him. We need to have a willingness to use what He has given us so that our efforts for good can be multiplied.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Don't Be A Chameleon

A chameleon is a funny creature. You put him on red and he becomes red; on green and he becomes green. He adapts and fits in; wherever he is. The story goes that a chameleon was put on a plaid blanket and he exploded. He was trying to be "everything" and his body was tugged in different directions.

Now, it’s good to be pleasant and accommodating, but I don’t want to be the kind of person who would be anything or do anything depending on the circumstances in which I find myself. Rather than having my surroundings change me, I would rather influence and change my surroundings. That’s a better and higher way to live.

The apostle Paul said, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind" (Romans 12:2). Phillips' translation renders this passage, "Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God remold your minds from within."

So, I don’t want to be like the chameleon – red on red, blue on blue, "this" or "that," depending on the group with which I associate or the situation in which I find myself. It’s all right for a chameleon, but not for a person.