Saturday, March 04, 2006

On Reading 'Team of Rivals': The Dangers of Sanctimony

I read at a glacial place even under the best of circumstances. But recent demands on my time mean that for several months now, I've been working my way through Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin's group biography of Abraham Lincoln and the people who surrounded him in his Cabinet.

Some of the less complimentary critics are right when they say that Goodwin doesn't cover any new ground here and doesn't advance some revolutionary thesis. But having read many biographies of Lincoln--including those by Sandburg, Lorant, Oates, and Donald--there is one thing to be said for Goodwin's portrait of Lincoln: No one has done a better job of giving us a sense of the sixteenth President as a person. Donald's biography is the best one out there still, I think, but Goodwin's Lincoln is supremely accessible. You can see him and hear him as though he were in the room with you.

And the close-up is flattering. Goodwin doesn't focus our gaze on an icon, but on a real, imperfect human being. Nonetheless, we see that Lincoln was, no matter what misgivings others may have had about this successful backwoods lawyer with no executive experience when he came to office, the ablest, wiliest, most honest, and most tactful of the Republicans who vied for the party's 1860 presidential nomination. (All of whom he invited to be part of his administration.)

Before reading Goodwin's book, I hadn't known much about the men in Lincoln's Cabinet. New York's William Seward, to me, is the most extraordinary of the lot, a cigar-chomping proto-Al Smith who one might have expected to have adopted an attitude of bitterness toward Lincoln as Smith would take up seventy years later toward Franklin Roosevelt. Instead, Seward and Lincoln became great friends, bound together by a commitment to the country, common sense, and good humor.

The person I come away from Goodwin's book disliking--a sentiment she obviously shares--is Salmon P. Chase, the one-time Ohio governor who served as Lincoln's first secretary of the treasury.

I had been prepared to like Chase. As a young Cincinnati lawyer, he courageously fought against slavery. But the brush with early fame must have gone to his head. It infected Chase with such overwhelming ambitions for the presidency that he acted duplicitously during his political career. Although many were able to see through him, Chase lived in such denial that he seems never to have understood what a sinister character he had become, hiding the truth from himself behind a veneer of sanctimony and faux-Christian righteousness.

Of all the temptations to which Christians can fall, the most destructive may be self-righteousness and spiritual pride. Righteousness, from a Biblical perspective, isn't moral perfection. It's about having a right relationship with God. And that is a free gift God grants to all who turn from sin (repent) and trust in Christ. The bumper sticker has it exactly right: Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven.

Chase thought he was perfect and proceeded to act duplicitiously in advancing his ambitions, even encouraging a campaign for the 1864 nomination that attacked Lincoln while he served in Lincoln's Cabinet.

Yet, like another prominent hypocrite of American history--this one not of a religious, but a philosophical stripe--Thomas Jefferson, it would never have done any good to confront Chase for his hypocrisy. That's how high his walls of denial and self-delusion became.

Jesus once said that only one sin was unforgivable, the sin against the Holy Spirit. Generations of Christians have wondered what that means exactly. In a way, the sin against the Holy Spirit isn't a specific sin. It's really just the wall we erect between ourselves and our conscience when the Spirit tries to point out deficiencies in our characters and are the wrong we've done.

According to Jesus, the Spirit tries to do two very important things to us. The first is to convict us of our sin, showing us our need of a Savior. The second is to convince us that by simple confession and surrender to Christ, we can have a right relationship with God.

But because of our very human desire to "be like God," Christians can sometimes become self-righteousness, convinced of their own holiness, and unable or unwilling to pay heed when the Spirit tries, sometimes through our best friends, sometimes through our reading of the Bible, to convict and convince us.

Chase, whose career started out with such promise, appears to have built up such walls within himself. The picture of him that emerges from Kearns' book reminds me of something Irving Stone wrote of a later sanctimonious politician, William Jennings Bryan, who was nominated for President three different times by the Democrats:
To one of his political lieutenants who showed him his facts and figures which proved that his stand [on a particular issue] had been wrong, Bryan replied calmly: "I am always right."
That seems to have been Chase's attitude as well.

Lincoln, like Chase, had ambition--a friend once said that Lincoln's ambition was "the little engine that never stopped." He also had, as Kearns demonstrates, great self-confidence. And though Lincoln was no Christian, he had that greatest of all Christian virtues, which Chase apparently lacked, humility.

I'm not done reading Goodwin's extraordinary book even now. But I'm finding it not only enjoyable in itself, but enjoyable too for the lessons it teaches.

Friday, March 03, 2006

First and Only Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Mark 1:9-15

[At least once each week, I try to share some of what I've been studying and thinking about as I explore the Bible lesson the congregation I serve as pastor will be using for our weekend worship celebrations. Because of an heavy writing schedule--I'm working on our congregation's daily Lenten readings--and the Ash Wednesday start of Lent, I am late in getting these notes online this week. I hope that both the folks of Friendship Lutheran Church, the congregation I serve as pastor, and others will find it helpful.]

The Bible Text:
9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Some Comments:
A good chunk of this text for the First Weekend in Lent has already appeared in Bible lessons appointed for earlier weeks of the Church Year that began on November 27. My focus this weekend will be the verses we haven't touched on yet, Mark 1:12-13.

Remembering a basic principle of Biblical interpretation, context impacts content, let's consider context. This entire lesson is sandwiched between Jesus' Baptism, where the voice of the Father affirmed Jesus' status and ministry to Jesus, and the beginning of His ministry.

Jesus' temptation in the wilderness has something to do with both sides of that sandwich. The heavenly affirmation fortifies Him for the wilderness and all the challenges to come, including the cross.

The Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness. The verb is evocative. Jesus is driven away from what must have been a comfortable and comforting moment into the wild places. (There, he will even be met by what Mark describes as "wild beasts.")

Pastor Brian Stoffregen suggests that Mark's account of Jesus' Baptism describes our lives after we are baptized. I think that he is onto something!

Though, in Baptism we're assured of God's affirmation and presence in our lives, we still must face life in the wilderness. The Spirit-driven person--the person who has surrendered to Jesus Christ--won't always have it easy. Check that, will almost never have it easy. This is true even if the outward circumstances of their existence are comfortable. There will still be "wild beasts" with which they must deal. I'm not referring to struggles with "infidels" out there. Most people, honestly, couldn't care less about the spiritual struggles of those committed to following Jesus Christ. Many friends of Martin Luther King, Jr., for example, found it quaint that he actually recoiled at his own marital infidelities. No, I'm talking about the interior spiritual struggles that are a constant part of the lives of anybody who is intent on following God. Get closer to God and you see just how perfect He is and how hard it is without utter dependence on Him. The temptation is to throw up our hands and say, "Sod it all!" Without constantly renewed dependence on God, that's exactly what we'll do!

Pastor Luke Bouman, based on lectures he heard given by Professor Fred Neidner of Valparaiso University, offers the intriguing suggestion that our traditional understanding of "the wilderness" in reading about Jesus' temptation may be all wrong. Because Moses was called to lead the people of Israel while watching his sheep in the wilderness regions of Midian because God shaped His people in their forty-year wilderness wanderings, Bouman suggests, the wilderness is "a holy place."

While I understand where Bouman and Niedner are coming from in their interpretations of the wilderness in the Biblical witness, I find their arguments unconvincing. In the Genesis 2 account of creation, the disordered chaos from which God makes life and on which peace and order are imposed, is not a roiling, stormy sea as in the Genesis 1 account, but a wild and dangerous desert wilderness.

God can carve Edens from wilderness, of course.

God can also meet us in the wilderness. That was what happened to Moses and the people of Israel.

But it doesn't alter the basic estrangement from God and danger to humanity, spiritual and otherwise, represented by the wilderness.

Jesus was driven into the wilderness, I believe, in order to taste something of the estrangement of humanity from God that came after the fall of Adam and Eve when they were driven east of Eden.

The fact that the wild beasts apparently don't assault Jesus doesn't represent the re-establishment of Eden-like harmony between human beings and God's creation, although it may foreshadow the Old Testament prophecy about the lion living at peace with the lamb. (Question: Which is Jesus? The lion? The lamb? Both?) But I think that the beasts more likely represent all the opposition Jesus will face, including that from Satan and from evil. In First Peter, Satan is described as "a roaring lion searching for who he may destroy."

Understanding why the Spirit drove Jesus into the foreboding wilderness can be seen in that phrase, "tempted by Satan." The verb--peirazo in the Greek of the New Testament, is like a coin with two sides of meaning:
  • Temptation: Allurement by Satan into rebellion from God's will and ways.
  • Testing: God using the circumstances of a life in order to test faithfulness, not so much for God's benefit, but for that of the one being tested.
One of the things I tell my Catechism students is: Either God gets His way or God gets His way. God can even take the shenanigans of those who might try to lure us into wrongdoing and turn the experience of resistance and struggle into something that will strengthen our characters. As Martin Luther points out in The Small Catechism, God never tempts someone into sin. But God will use whatever temptation we face to prepare us for the next steps in our lives.

In the wilderness, Jesus was driven to utter dependence on the Father. In our after-Baptism lives, we too will either depend on the Father or experience spectacular failure, the result of relying on ourselves, others, or our feelings in the face of being assaulted by the wild beasts of life.

In the midst of being tempted and tested, Jesus was served by angels. The word angel, in Greek, means messenger. The angels are messengers from God. The New Testament tells us also that they can bring ministry (diakosune) or service, calling them "ministering spirits."

God always sends help to us in the wilderness. Sometimes that help may be supernatural, as was true of Jesus. Often, it comes in the form of people. In the movie, The Color Purple, one character tells another, "When you walked in the room, I knew there was a God."

Psalm 23 says: "Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me." In the wilderness, a place of danger and temptation, Jesus fortified Himself for a ministry of loving self-sacrifice by relying on the Father and experiencing the help of the angels. Surely, there is a message in that for His followers.

My Battle with Cliff Clavin Disease

A confession: I suffer from Cliff Clavin Disease. You remember Cliff Clavin, the insufferable mail carrier played by John Ratzenberger on Cheers.

Cliff loved factoids. Even if they weren't factual. Especially if they weren't factual.

A sampling of Clavinisms:
"If you were to go back in history and take every president, you'd find that the numerical value of each letter in their name was equally divisible into the year in which they were elected. By my calculations, our next president has to be named Yellnick McWawa."

"It's a little known fact that the tan became popular in what is known as the Bronze Age."

"I wonder if you know that the harp is a predecessor of the modern day guitar. Early minstrels were much larger people. In fact, they had hands the size of small dogs."
To tell the truth, I was afflicted with Cliff's Disease before Cheers premiered in 1982. While I hope that my factoid-spouting has had a bit more credibility, I was deluging people with "little known facts" almost from the womb.

I'm sure that more than one person muttered in my direction words similar to those of Frasier Crane, another Cheers regular, who once told the Boston mailman, "Hello in there, Cliff. Tell me, what color is the sky in your world?"

It's a little known fact that Cliff Clavin Disease is genetic. And I can prove it. My grandfather, for whom I'm named, used to love clipping items from the newspaper that he found fascinating, tucking them into his wallet, and then expounding on them. When met with disbelief, he could quickly display his evidence.

But, just like Cliff, that didn't stop him from slipping in more than a little fiction with his facts. Like the times he claimed that while serving as a lowly Army NCO in Panama in the 1920s, he had seen military intelligence outlining Japanese plans for attacking Pearl Harbor.

Or his assertion that, in fact, Franklin Roosevelt had not died of a cerebral hemorrhage, but shot himself with a small pistol while posing for his portrait in Warm Springs. (When I presented this assertion as gospel truth during an elementary school history class, my teacher looked at me as though I had two heads and proceeded to correct me.)

Unfortunately, my mother may have been an enabler for my own surrender to this penchant for factoid (and fictionoid)-sharing. When I was little, she maintained a scrapbook of A.O. Leokum's "Tell Me Why" features from our local newspaper just for me. After you've wowed people with your knowledge of a few "little known facts," it becomes addicting and sometimes, you can't resist throwing in a few clinkers.

Through the years, my affliction has been both blessing and bane, mostly bane, I suppose. When the game, Trivial Pursuit, first came out, my friends were caught up in the fad and so, were eager to play. It didn't take long before they stopped the mere mention of the game in my presence, though. That's because when we did play, once it came to be my turn, that was pretty much the end of the game. People would screech at me in disbelief and disgust: "Who knows junk like that? You're not human!"

But, like Cliff and my grandfather, those clinkers--at times, big ones--have gotten thrown into my pronouncements on little known facts. When I was about eight, friends visited my family and at some point, I made an assertion about Abraham Lincoln that was wildly untrue. My parents might have let the whole thing slide had I not been so all-fired pushy about it. My mother finally pulled out an encyclopedia and showed me the facts. I paused for a second and pronounced, "They wrote the book wrong."

I'll never forget the day, back in my twenties, when I argued vehemently with a co-worker that a certain insurance company was owned by JC Penney. When she told me that she had just left a job with said insurance company and knew what she was talking about, I was in too deep, I guess. I told her that she was simply wrong.

Thankfully, in recent years, I tend to try to only assert things I know to be true. Experiences with being wrong, growing up a little, and my faith have probably all played a role in this "softening."

But, occasionally, haplessly, unintentionally, the Clavinisms slip out.

Last weekend, my wife and I went out to dinner at a local Max & Erma's with some old friends. As we waited to be seated, I saw a poster for a concert by the Chieftains. "Oh, the Chieftains," I said knowingly. (Or so I thought.) "Who are they?" one of our friends asked. "They're an Irish group," I said. (So far, so good. They do play Celtic music.) Then came the clinker: "They did that song, 'I Would Walk 500 Miles.'" "Oh."

Nothing more was said. No harm, no foul, I guess. But as articles about the Chieftains' upcoming concert in Cincinnati appeared in the local papers, no mention was made of 'I Would Walk 500 Miles.' I went to the Chieftains' web site. No mention of the song there either. So, I went to Google and learned that it wasn't the Chieftains who did this song.

Sometimes for me, it isn't a matter of "open mouth, insert foot," but of "open mouth, see what comes out."

Fortunately, I've learned that there is a cure for Cliff Clavin Disease: When you don't know what you're talking about, it's always better to keep your mouth shut!

And be prepared to be corrected when you're wrong.

UPDATE: Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for unleashing another one of his instalanches on this site. To all visiting by way of Instapundit, feel free to roam around here for a time. You might find other interesting stuff. Thanks for dropping by!

ANOTHER UPDATE: Dr. Melissa Clouthier, whose web site is called Dr. Melissa Clouthier, has linked to this post. (She refers to me as "a guy." It's the same designation given to me by the husband of a woman whose car I hit some thirty years ago when, tired and distracted, I ran a red light. As we sat in the back seat of a police cruiser, I heard him say to his wife, "This guy probably doesn't have any insurance." I did. In spite of eliciting that bad memory, I really appreciate the link, Melissa!)

Melissa said that she laughed out loud at my post and went on to talk about her own battle with CCD. Very funny! By the way, the truly funny person in my family can be found here.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Thanks to Meep Meep Meep Meep Meep and Steve Baxter of Things That Make Me Think for linking to this post!

STILL ANOTHER UPDATE: Joe Sherlock at The View Through the Windshield has linked to this post. Thanks, Joe!

AND STILL ANOTHER UPDATE: Bobby Rozzell was kind enough to link to this post. Thanks a lot!

AND STILL YET ANOTHER UPDATE: (This one being added on the evening of March 19.) Phil Gerbyshak has linked to this post. Phil challenges readers to "make it great!" Thank you, Phil.

A Treat: Listen to Lewis

Justin Taylor of Between Two Worlds has several links to radio talks given by C.S. Lewis. The first of the presentations to which Taylor links became Mere Christianity, my favorite book of all time! (Thanks to John Schroeder of Blogotional for linking to BTT.)

Bolsinger: Of Repentance, Ash Wednesday, and Lent

Writes Tod Bolsinger, one of my favorite bloggers:
Repentance is literally to “change your mind.” In the famous words of Dallas Willard, “To reconsider your strategy for living based on the news of God’s Kingdom that is available in Jesus.” And that is what Lent is for, to reconsider your strategy for living. To begin a new process of deep consideration and reflection about your life. To reconsider what it means to follow Jesus, to plumb the mystery of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. To reconsider what your strategy for living should be, based on this good news.

And it all begins with this: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. You are not an angel. You are not a mere soul or disembodied spirit. You are human, you are mortal, you are deeply dependent on the God who formed your body from the humus of the earth and breathed life into you with his kiss. God has come to you, in Jesus, O Creature, and called you to have life eternal with him. And so, with ash on our foreheads and the taste of bread and grape on our tongues, we begin a holy lent.
I'm late in linking to this piece. But read the whole thing!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

So, We Look Like Dorks: An Ash Wednesday Message

[The following message was shared with the people of Friendship Church on Ash Wednesday night, March 1, 2006. It was inspired, in part, by a message first published in 2003 at]

Matthew 6:1-21

I can remember, back when I was in elementary school, seeing the Catholic kids who had gone either to early or noontime Ash Wednesday services and then shown up for class. They’d have these ash marks on their foreheads and I thought how dorky they looked! I thought to myself, “I wouldn’t want to have that on my forehead!” I was dorky enough without giving the other Protestant kids another reason to make fun of me.

Years later, when I attended seminary, the Imposition of Ashes happened during the chapel service on Ash Wednesdays every year. One Ash Wednesday, I missed the service. Everybody else in all my classes had the mark of the cross on their foreheads for the rest of the day. There I was with a naked forehead! I felt like a dork for not having ash marks on my forehead then.

In both instances, I was more concerned about what others thought of me than about where I was in my relationship with God.

In His words to us tonight, Jesus has a few things to say to people like me, people more concerned with appearances than with the substance of their lives and their relationships with God. Here’s a sampling:
“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven...

“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others...

“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others...

“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting...”
In other words, Jesus says, no show-dog religion in His Kingdom!

Lent, which we begin tonight, is a time of spiritual renewal. As we prepare to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus on Easter, Lent, this humanly-created season, is designed to help give us something to really celebrate when Easter Sunday morning rolls around.

Tonight, we agree together to use the next forty days to crucify the things that separate us from Christ and in doing so, to experience the birth of a new self.

Or at least, to begin to catch sight of the new selves we who follow Jesus will one day be.

Those new people God is making of us won’t worry about making good impressions on others or whether we look like dorks or not. Our new selves will be motivated simply to respond to the free gifts of forgiveness, life, and love that God gives to those who surrender to Jesus.

In a movie called, The Apostle, Robert Duvall plays a Southern preacher who revitalizes a church in a Louisiana town. I won’t go into the whole plot. But in the scene that I remember most fondly, Duvall and others in the church bought bags and bags of groceries for people who couldn’t afford them, then went to their houses, placed the food on their front porches, knocked at their doors, and then ran like crazy to avoid detection. Every time they ran away, they had to stifle giggles with each stride.

That scene conveyed something of the joy that belongs to those who respond to God’s love for them with acts of service and sacrifice, not to be noticed, but just to tell God, “Thank You.”

Quaker theologian Richard Foster is right, I think, when he says that every hidden act of service to others and of devotion to Jesus Christ, “sends ripples of joy and celebration through any community of people.” During our ‘forty days to servanthood,’ you and I are going to explore and I hope experience, what it means to be a people who send those ripples of godly joy and Christ-rooted celebration through this community!

When we come forward for the imposition of the ashes on Ash Wednesday, we...
  • acknowledge that without Jesus’ grace and our faith in Him, we would stand under God’s condemnation;
  • that we’re completely dependent on God; and
  • that repentant, we can turn away from the sin that would kill us and turn to the God Who loves to give us life.
Anybody who wears ashes on her or his forehead isn’t making much of a fashion statement and frankly right now, as I look out at all of you, you are sort of dorky-looking. That’s okay.

Dorky or not, “ashes to ashes and dust to dust” is an honest statement that we make about ourselves tonight. But we also confess our faith that all who believe in Jesus Christ will rise again to live with God forever! Like Job in the Old Testament, we can say that after all our skin has been destroyed, our own eyes will see God!

Tonight, we wear the ashes and we remember both our mortality and the resurrection that belongs to all who follow Jesus.

What Are Ash Wednesday and Lent About?

I tackled that question a week ago here.

Two Things to Give Up for Lent: The View from Her

Jan, at TheViewfromHer, has suggestions for two things that Christian bloggers can give up for Lent. In fact, they're two things of which all of us in the Christian camp, bloggers or not, are guilty. We would do well to deep-six them not only during Lent, but all the time!

A Song About Grace for This Ash Wednesday

Here are the words to another song, apart from those mentioned here that get at what grace is like:
Wide open are Your hands
To pay with more than gold
The awful debt of guilt and sin,
Forever and of old.
Ah, let me grasp those hands,
That we may never part,
And let the power of their blood
Sustain my fainting heart.

Wide open are Your arms,
A fallen world to embrace,
To win to love and endless rest
Our wayward human race.
Lord, I am sad and poor,
But boundless is Your grace;
Give me the soul-transforming joy
For which I seek Your face.

Draw all my mind and heart
Up to Your throne on high,
And let Your sacred cross exalt
My spirit to the sky.
To these, Your mighty hands,
My spirit I resign.
In life, I live alone to You;
In death, am Yours alone.
[The text was written by Bernard of Clairvaux, who lived from 1091 to 1153. It was translated into English by Charles Porterfield Krauth, who lived from 1823 to 1883. The melody, Leominster, was composed by George W. Martin, 1828 to 1881.]

More on Don Knotts and Barney Fife

Danny Miller has a wonderful post on Don Knotts and the character he played on The Andy Griffith Show, Barney Fife.

Danny was kind enough to link to my post on Knotts, here.

But I had to respond to his characterization of what I wrote about Knotts' comic persona. "Following Knotts’ death," Danny wrote, "Christian bloggers [and here, he linked to my piece] weighed in on the spiritual impact of Barney Fife."

I wrote to Danny:
Actually, though I appreciate the link, Danny, I don't think that I "weighed in on the spiritual impact of Barney Fife."

What I was trying to say, perhaps ineffectively, is that if one wondered at the appeal of a faith that calls on us to admit our foibles and weaknesses, as both Judaism and Christianity do, one might consider the appeal of the Barney Fife character.

There is nothing heroic about him, at least not as heroism is classically defined. It's his transparent weakness that gives him his appeal. And Barney is at his most lovable when, his humanity on full display, he acknowledges the weaknesses he tries so to hide and breaks through to some new insight about himself and about life.

For the Jew and the Christian, faith and life begin when we can, like the Twelve Steppers whose program was taken straight from the Bible, admit that we are powerless to overcome our own compulsions and that we need our Higher Power.
I recommend Danny's personal appreciation of Knotts.

[By the way: What is it with my Twelve-Steps obsession today? It's like the unintended theme of the day, probably appropriate on Ash Wednesday.]

Ash Wednesday Ruminations on Grace

Richard Lawrence Cohen has a clever story, The Grace Store, about a guy who looks for grace online. I urge you go to his site and read it right now. Go ahead, I'll wait for you here.

Okay, wasn't that good? Richard is a terrific writer.

But, of course, Richard's wonderful bit of microfiction begs the question, "What is grace, exactly?"

I took that as my topic in a micro-sermon that I wrote for the Comments section of Richard's blog [additions or revisions are bracketed]:
Okay, since I consider "grace" sort of my specialty, get ready for some preachifying, Lutheran-style.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, martyred by the Nazis [for his opposition to Hitler] said that God's grace is free, but that it will cost you your life.

I've always pictured it like this: Our arms are filled with all the stuff that we falsely think can give us life. You know, stuff like status, power, a reliance on money to measure self-worth, sexual conquest, racial or ethnic domination, and so on. These are things which the world, at various times and in various places, tells us will help us to "earn" a sort of transcendent, meaningful, or at least, a "comfortable" life.

In fact, we like the thought of earning life through this stuff because if that's the way things operate, then we are in control. We become our own Gods.

But then along came Jesus, Who--if you believe the New Testament's witness about Him--was sinless and yet, on the cross, voluntarily accepted our separation from God the Father and the life He gives. (Separation from God, in the end, is what sin is.)

On Easter, Jesus shows up, risen back to life--something seen by more than 500 people--and He says, in effect, "You can have life from the only One Who capable of pulling off resurrections. All you have to do is let go of the dead idols you're holding and take hold of my living hand."

Dead idols imprison us, causing us to do horrible things to others and to ourselves. Renouncing them, giving up on the life we once thought held so much meaning, is a kind of death. (The New Testament speaks of crucifying the old self.) But when we throw in with Christ, the NT teaches, we grab onto the only one who can give life and proved it on the first Easter.

You can't earn the life Jesus offers. All you can do is put down your dukes and quit fighting.

The word for grace in the Greek of the New Testament is "charis," from which we get the word, "charity." That word pretty well sums up the Christian notion of "grace."

It also sums up the Jewish notion of grace, as witnessed to in the first testament. This goes all the way back to Abraham of whom Genesis says, "Abraham believed and God reckoned it to him as righteousness."

In other words, like everyone who puts down her or his dukes and surrenders to God's free offer of life, Abraham didn't earn God's grace. Abraham wasn't righteous first, obeying a holy rule book, and then, lo and behold, found himself accepted by God. Things happened in reverse order: Abraham trusted God's acceptance of him, willing to go to some unknown country at God's direction. and God said that his trust was all he needed.

When Jesus says, "“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news,” He's effectively saying, "Grace is available. Drop all that stuff you're carrying, the stuff that you think gives you life but actually sucks it out of you, and latch onto me! I'll give you the life you've always been looking for."

The Twelve Steppers have it right in their first two steps, which really just summarize this business of emptying one's arms of idols and then, filling up on God: 1. We admitted we were powerless over [fill in with your favorite idol here]; 2. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Three songs really convey what I mean by grace better than I have here:

Grace by U-2.

Carry the Weight, composed by Larry Norman. It's been recorded by Ringo Starr and by Lost and Found, among others.

Amazon... I mean, Amazing Grace, written by the former slave ship captain, John Newton, who lived everything he writes about in that song. [You'll have to read the Comments on Richard's blog to understand the allusion here.]

This is how I picture grace.

End of sermon.

UPDATE: Richard and I have continued our dialogue on this subject of grace. He responded:
Mark: Thank you. The Bonhoeffer quote is the perfect expression of the idea I was trying to approach in the post. And in mentioning people who have had to pay for grace, I was specifically thinking about people who have recovered from longterm addictions that ruined large percentages of their lives. Your picture of laying down idols is a most appealing one; I'm wondering, though, if there isn''t a negative side of renunciation too -- having to give up the ordinary joys and pleasures and loves of a decent worldly life -- giving up one's family, as I think Jesus said, in order to follow God.

I know "Amazing Grace," of course. Embarrassed to say I don't know that U2 song or the other one. Musically I'm trying to return to the 80s -- the 1780s.

Again, Mark, I thank you for making this wise and serious -- and hoped-for, frankly -- contribution to the discussion.
I replied:
First of all, I was wrong about the title of the Larry Norman song. It's actually, "Weight of the World." I love the chorus:

You carry the weight
The weight of the world
It's breaking you down
On your back like a boulder
Before it's too late,
Get rid of it, girl,
Get it off of your shoulder
I know you've been used
But you gotta lose the weight of the world.

You raise an interesting point when you write, "I'm wondering, though, if there isn''t a negative side of renunciation too -- having to give up the ordinary joys and pleasures and loves of a decent worldly life -- giving up one's family, as I think Jesus said, in order to follow God."

The passage to which you refer, I think, is the one in which Jesus says, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:26). Those words are jarring until we learn that the word translated in English as "hate" is a Semitic comparison. Jesus is talking priorities here. He neither wants us to give up our families or the pleasures that family living affords. (Thank God!)

The Gospel of John says that as He was dying on the cross, Jesus Himself thought about His mother, commending her to the care of "the beloved disciple," almost universally thought to be John, the Gospel writer. Here is a post in which I tell the story of a woman whose "dedication" to her family amounted to a kind of God-obscuring and I would say, joy-killing, idolatry that was harmful to her family. I was so taken with her words when she told me this true story twenty-five years ago!

The connection between addiction and idol-worship is so close that as I grow older, I'm becoming more convinced that they're synonomous. Life can be so painful and challenging sometimes, that the allure of addictions is understandable. So is their intractability. All of which makes grace more amazing. (Or amazon, as the case may be.)

I love your post and I'm so thankful that we can have these sorts of discussions on your blog, Richard!

God bless you!

Then, Richard wrote:
And you, Mark.

Your comparison between addiction and idolatry is very apt, I think. And not only addiction in the literal sense, but the "soft addictions" (TV, work, spectator sports, entertainment, pets) that so many of us depend on to get us through the days.

Yes, that was the Gospel verse I was thinking of.

And now to read that post of yours...
I thought that Richard's point about "soft addictions" was important and told him so:
Your identification of what you call "soft addictions" is profound.

The Genesis account of humanity's fall into sin says that the serpent was the most subtle of all creatures. Sin is subtle.

It happens whenever otherwise benign or even wholesome pursuits are done at the wrong times, in the wrong ways, in the wrong places, with the wrong people, or to excess.

The difficulty in dealing with "soft addictions" is that they appear so benign. They don't seem like addictions or like sins.

But their effect on us is like that of the small amounts of water that flow through the Grand Canyon, slowly and inexorably wearing the rock down.

One example of "soft addictions" is what Neil Postman was talking about in his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death. The otherwise benign and necessary impulse to relax and to be entertained or diverted in the midst of a busy life slowly gives rise to a mentality of always wanting to be entertained and of impatience with anything that doesn't please us...and immediately.

The result can be an indifference to others that is coldhearted and in effect, hatred. Or, we can become inveterate thrill seekers, searching for a new "buzz" in our relationships, in our purchases, in the stuff we put into our bodies, and so on.

Yet, the entertainment addiction is so soft, so subtle, that suggestions about its dangers are seen as downright weird.

These are subtle evils and hard to overcome.

But, I believe, grace can and does overcome them.

Conversations like this are what make blogging so unique and special.

By the way, I think that my favorite lines in the Norman song are in the bridge:
It all comes down to who you crucify
You either kiss the future or the past goodbye

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Does Our Praying Do Any Good?

I've urged prayer about the Darfur situation repeatedly. Does such praying do any good? I believe that it does. In one of the posts from my Power of Encouragement series, I talked about a fantastic book on prayer, written by the late Frank Laubach, whose launching of the worldwide Laubach Literacy Movement began as a practical result of prayer.
In his book, Prayer: The Mightiest Force in the World, first published in 1946, Laubach shared some of his passion for praying for world leaders:

We do not "persuade God to try harder" when we pray [for world leaders]; it is our world leaders, our statesmen and church men [sic] whom we persuade to try harder [through our praying]. We help God when we pray. When great numbers of us pray for leaders, a mighty invisible spiritual force lifts our minds and eyes toward God. His Spirit flows through our prayer to them, and He can speak to them directly [italics mine].

We can do more for the world with prayer than if we were to walk into Whitehall, London, or the Kremlin in Moscow, and tell those men what to do---far more! If they listened to our suggestions, we would probably be more or less wrong. But what God tells them, when they listen to Him, must be right. It is infinitely better for world leaders to listen to God than for them to listen to us.

Most of us will never enter the White House and offer advice to the President. Probably he will never have time to read our letters. But we can give him what is far more important than advice. We can give him a lift into the presence of God, make him hungry for divine wisdom, which is the grandest thing one man ever does for another. We can visit the White House with prayer as many times a day as we think of it, and every such visit makes us a channel between God and the president.
Laubach is right, I'm sure. Just as I feel that the prayers of people both inside and outside of the Eastern Bloc finally brought an end to the evil of Soviet Communism, I believe also that prayer, which calls down the power and grace of the God we know in Jesus Christ is our most potent weapon in seeking that God's will is done "on earth as it is in heaven"!

"You may have thought the terrible situation in Darfur couldn't get worse, but it has."

That's the assessment of Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch, quoted in today's New York Times. Already, more than 200,000 civilian people have been killed in the Darfur region by the murderous janjaweed, ill-disguised functionaries of the Sudanese government, in a campaign of genocide. Many thousands more have been displaced.

Now, the janjaweed are carrying their campaign of terror into Chad. Still, the international community does little. The African Union has a force there, but as the Times article notes:
The United Nations Security Council has agreed to send troops to protect civilians, but they will take months to arrive. In the meantime, President Bush has said, NATO should help shore up a failing African Union peacekeeping mission there, but a surge of violence has chased tens of thousands of people from their homes in recent weeks.
The janjaweed are now apparently intent on taking advantage of the chaos in Chad, where a civil war is already happening.

The Times article goes on chillingly:
If unchecked by international intervention, this complex and volatile mix of government forces, allied militias and at least a half-dozen rebel groups in a remote region awash with weapons will almost inevitably lead to disaster, said John Prendergast, a senior adviser at the International Crisis Group, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization, and an expert on the Darfur conflict.

"The principle strategy of all these actors, both state actors and proxy militias, is to displace people in order to destabilize and undermine the support base of your opponent," he said. "We are going to see an increasing spiral of displacement on both sides of the border and an increasingly dangerous environment for humanitarian workers."
Something must happen to stop this expanding slaughter. Somebody must lead. All of us must speak out. Some suggestions:
  • Write to NATO, asking the group to act now. (
  • Write to the President, asking him to push NATO on a circumstance he has already described as "genocide." (
  • Pray for peace in that part of Africa and that once restored, aid workers can get relief to the victims of genocide in Sudan and Chad. Because our wisdom is limited, pray that God will send His wisdom and counsel to all the leaders in this situation, including those of the outlaw Sudanese government and their janjaweed allies and that He will also open their wills and minds to His guidance. Ask that God will similarly guide the leaders of the NATO nations, the United Nations, and our own country in this matter.
UPDATE: Thanks to Andy Jackson at Smart Christian for linking to this post!

ANOTHER UPDATE: John Schroeder of Blogotional has linked to this post. I appreciate it, John, and I enjoy the rich diversity of posts on your site.

"How To Write Good"

Alex and Brett of Rebelution share 24 Tips for How to Write Good. Very funny. (Thanks to Matt Brown of Good Brownie for leading me to this post.)

You're Invited to Participate in 40-Days to Servanthood

40-Days to Servanthood is the not-so-original name we've given to a special Lenten emphasis at the congregation I serve as pastor, Friendship Lutheran Church near Amelia, Ohio. (In suburban Cincinnati.)

Starting with the First Sunday in Lent, March 5, members of Friendship will be using short daily readings, which they'll be urged to read twice each day: once in the morning and once before going to bed at night. Each of the readings, almost all less than 400-words in length, will explore a single, important teaching about Christian servanthood and be capped by a Bible passage to prayerfully consider.

There will be other activities at our congregation throughout Lent, each designed to help us adopt Christian servanthood as our lifestyle.

But I hope that readers of Better Living who aren't Friendship members will find the daily readings helpful. I believe that even small acts of service, rendered in the Name and with the love of Jesus Christ, can transform our world.

I hope that you'll join us as we strive to live as authentic servants of Christ!

Monday, February 27, 2006

Your Right to Be Wrong

[Steve Goodier of Life Support Systems has written another gem, copied below. Steve is a gifted writer. You can read other things he's written, sign up to receive his emailed inspirations, and order one of his books here.]
A humorous story has it that a newly appointed young clergy person was contacted by a local funeral director to hold a graveside service at a small country cemetery in Iowa. There was to be no funeral, just the committal, because the deceased had no family or friends left in the state.

The young pastor started early to cemetery, but soon became lost. After making several wrong turns, he finally arrived a half-hour late. The hearse was nowhere in sight and cemetery workers were relaxing under a near-by tree, eating their lunch.

The pastor went to the open grave and found that the vault lid was already in place. He took out his book and read the service. As he returned to his car, he overheard one of the workers say, "Maybe we'd better tell him it's a septic tank."

Why is it we make our biggest mistakes in public? And some people can't avoid it...former hockey goalie Jacques Plante wonders, "How would you like a job where, if you made a mistake, a big, red light goes on and 18,000 people boo?"

But we should never give up our right to be wrong. Good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment. It is your right to be wrong. "No (one) ever became great or good except through many and great mistakes," said William E. Gladstone. Great mistakes are opportunities for great learning. And great learning makes for great living.

You have a right to be wrong. And if you are to build a great life, you have a duty to make great mistakes. If possible, laugh at them. Always learn from them. And try to make sure your next mistake is one you haven't made before!
[This message is found in Steve Goodier's book, Deciding How to Live]

The Appeal of Don Knotts' Comedy Persona: The Last Gets to Be First

Virginia Heffernan writes insightfully of the appeal of Don Knotts' comedy in The New York Times:
One by one, Mr. Knotts mocked the pretenses of the comic actor who often has his eye on nobler pursuits. In the nervous man, he reveled in the discomfort that most comics tend to pass off as indignation or savoir-faire. As Barney, he satirized swagger and self-importance. Finally, on "Three's Company" in the late 70's and 80's, he sent up the comedian's hypersexuality, which is often his pride. Mr. Knotts, over and over, was willing to play the desperate, pathetic low-man-on-every-pole. He did it so well — never forsaking his persona and trying to seize the lead, as nearly all major comedians do these days — that his talent for abasement became a source, paradoxically, of great authority. By revealing but never indulging these pretenses, he enlightened everyone he worked with, and his audiences.
Even in his performance as the TV Repairman in Pleasantville, a character endowed with the inexplicable power of being able to send Toby Maguire and Reese Witherspoon into the faux-world of a 1950s sitcom, Knotts was the "desperate, pathetic low-man-on-every-pole." In the end, he was unable to order Maguire back into the real world or to do anything about the changes which Maguire and Witherspoon wrought in Pleasantville. Barney Fife would have understood.

And so can we all, because in spite of our achievements or our pretenses to the contrary, we must recognize that, in the end, we aren't in control of our lives very often.

For the Christian, about to enter the Lenten Season of spiritual renewal, Heffernan's assertion that Knotts' "talent for abasement became a source, paradoxically, of great authority," displayed in the comedic persona he developed, resonates.

We follow a Savior God, Jesus, Who, "though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:6-8). Jesus' authority was underscored by His surrender to the will of God and the limitations of humanity.

He shows us and also tells us that the last will be first and the first, last.

I'm not trying to baptize either Knotts or his characters as some models of Christian discipleship. I have no idea where he was at spiritually.

But if you're wondering why anyone would find Jesus' call to put God first, others second, and ourselves last compelling, the enduring appeal of Knotts' comedy persona may help to explain things. Barney et al. were at their worst when they tried, against all reason and common sense, to be masters of the universe. We laughed at the absurdity of it.

It was when these characters accepted their lots and considered what they could do for others that they were at their best. They became heroes not by heroic pretense, but by submission to their own limitations. Think of The Incredible Mr. Limpet, in which Knotts' hapless character was consigned to live the life of a fish, a life for which he initially wished partly to get away from a badgering wife. Yet in his fishiness, improbably, Limpet became a hero.

Or, consider this episode of The Andy Griffith Show, cited by Heffernan:
On "The Loaded Goat," a winning episode of "The Andy Griffith Show," it's Barney who saves the day. Playing an achingly melancholy song on his harmonica, he leads a dangerous goat, which has swallowed dynamite, out of town.
When you think about it, this ultimate acceptance of who they were, a staple of Knotts' characters, mirrored a decision he must have made about himself early in his show business career. He wasn't good-looking. He couldn't sing or dance. His voice could be grating. So, he laid aside pretense and fashioned himself into the best version of himself--at least on screens large and small--that he could be.

It worked. For a decade-and-a-half in the sixties and seventies, the last did become first as Knotts carried off best-supporting-actor Emmys and had a run of successful movies that his friend, Andy Griffith, didn't get.

Good job, Don!

UPDATE: Thanks to those who've come this way via Hugh Hewitt's site and thanks to Hugh for linking! Feel free to...ahem...explore this site. (That's a subtle hint.) You're likely to find some stuff you enjoy or that will at least, I hope, make you think.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Thanks to Pastor Jeff for his link to this piece!

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Thank you to Julana of Life in the Slow Lane for linking to this post!

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Darren McGavin Dies

My favorite McGavin role was that of the cynical and manipulative professional gambler in The Natural.

Christians Not Acting Like Christians

Christians are recovering sinners. But it appears that some would rather not recover.

Smart Sex

Jan at TheViewfromHer has some interesting things to say on what constitutes "smart sex." It reminded me of an Arthur Rouner book I read a number of years ago (Struggling with Sex) and of a message that incorporated Rouner's ideas, which I shared two-and-a-half years ago. The message was called God and Sex and you can find it here.

Called to Clarity

[This message was shared with the people of Friendship Church during worship celebrations on February 25 and 26. The theme was suggested by the work of the staff at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Burnsville, Minnesota.]

Mark 9:1-10

A few days ago, as I was preparing for today’s worship celebration, I told my son, who was working on the Keynote presentation for today, that I was considering using the song, I Can See Clearly Now, written and first performed by Johnny Cliff back in 1972, at the end of the message.

That’s because as our Bible lesson opens, Jesus tells the twelve apostles “there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come [into this world] with power.” Then, lo and behold, Jesus takes His three closest followers, Peter, James, and John, up on a high mountain with Him and they do see God’s kingdom come to them with power. I could just imagine them singing, "I can see clearly now..."

The only problem with cuing up the song for you today, though, is that while Peter, James, and John did see Jesus transfigured before them, and they did see two figures from the ancient past, Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus, and they did hear the voice of God the Father telling them to pay attention to what Jesus had to say, it would be awhile before they saw clearly. Some things would have to happen before they understood just what they were seeing.

Those of us privileged to be living today have the benefit of being on the Easter side of Jesus’ cross. The result is that you and I can look back at the Transfiguration of Jesus, or as the original Greek of the New Testament puts it, the metamorphosis of Jesus, when the glory of His God-ness shone, and we can see some things clearly that Peter, James, and John couldn’t see at all. I want to talk about three of them with you today.

The first is this: We can’t capture God! We woke up this past Wednesday morning to the news that the Askariya shrine, one of the holiest places in the world for Shiite Muslims, had been bombed. It was apparently the act of Sunni Muslim insurgents. Immediately, thousands of Shias hit the streets calling for revenge. Others took that revenge and since the shrine was bombed, a tit-for-tat war has resulted in more than 90 mosques being attacked. Several Islamic clerics have been killed or kidnapped.

As I read and heard this news, I thought of the members of those Alabama churches whose places of worship were recently destroyed by arsonists’ fires. None of those folks demonstrated or called for revenge. In fact, in all of the press accounts I’ve read, the members of those churches have said one thing repeatedly: We pray that God will forgive the people who did this.

Why did they react in this way? Jesus’ call to forgive as we’ve been forgiven is one reason, to be sure. But there’s another one, I think: These Christians understand that those buildings were just buildings. God doesn’t live in buildings made with hands, King Solomon said at the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem back during Old Testament days.

This is a truth that Peter didn’t understand on the Mount of Transfiguration. “Teacher,” he said, “let’s build three dwellings, one dedicated to You, another to Moses, and the third to Elijah.” The word Peter uses that’s translated as “dwelling” is skene in the original Greek. It can mean booth, house, tent, tabernacle, or place of worship. Peter wanted to create a place that would somehow capture the glory of God. Then, presumably, people could go to this place and soak up the glory whenever they wanted it. But that simply can’t be done. God’s glory is seen not in buildings or the trappings of religion. It’s seen in the lives of those surrendered to God.

Maybe that’s why, as soon as Peter started babbling about putting up some buildings, God the Father set him straight, pointing Peter to Jesus and saying, “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him.” We can’t capture God. But we can allow ourselves to be captured by Him. We can surrender to God-come-to-earth, Jesus Christ, and experience Him living with us every moment of every day!

Here’s another thing that Peter, James, and John couldn’t see up on the Mount of Transfiguration: We can’t say that we really know Who Jesus is until we submit to the cross. As Jesus and the three apostles were coming down the mountain, He ordered them not to tell anybody about the amazing thing they had just witnessed until after He had risen from the dead.

This past week, I received a note from the grandmother-in-law of a young woman, Kendra, for whom we’ve been praying. She reported that Kendra is now in remission from her cancer and doing well. She said that it’s wonderful to see Kendra holding her baby, living a normal and happy life. While each of us can be grateful that God has answered our prayers for this young woman and her family, unless we or members of our families or close friends have been through similar experiences, we can’t really know the sheer joy and relief that Kendra and her loved ones are feeling these days.

On the mountain, Peter, James, and John saw the glory of the coming of God’s kingdom to the world. But they couldn’t yet fathom how wonderful it would be when that kingdom came into their own lives. That’s because they couldn’t see the terrible price that Jesus would pay so that the kingdom could come to each and every one of us. “The wages of sin is death,” the Bible tells us. Though He was completely sinless, Jesus took those awful wages--our wages--on the cross.

And what the three apostles weren’t yet ready to know that day was that the only way for the free gifts of forgiveness and everlasting life to come to us is if we go to Jesus’ cross and say, “Lord Jesus, crucify everything in Me that isn’t as pure and holy and wonderful and pulsating with life of God as You are. Every ambition, every desire, every impulse, every thought that doesn’t come from You, kill it off, and keep killing those things off, even though it may pain me to part with them, for as long as I’m living. I don’t want anything to prevent Your kingdom from being mine for all eternity!”

There is a final thing that the three apostles couldn’t see clearly, which we can see, if we dare. In his book, Ruthless Trust, Brennan Manning speaks of a man named John Kavanaugh who sought clarity about what to do with his life.

As part of his search, he volunteered to work for three months at "The House of the Dying" in Calcutta, India, a place founded by Mother Teresa. The very first morning he was there, Kavanaugh met Mother Teresa. She asked him, “What can I do for you?” He paused to think and then asked that she pray for him. “What do you want me to pray for?” she wondered. “Pray," he said, "that I have clarity.” Her abrupt response took him aback. “No," she told him, "I will not do that.” When he asked why not, she told him, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.” When Mr. Kavanaugh observed that she seemed to have the kind of clarity he wanted, she laughed out loud and told him, “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.”

Jesus, Peter, James, and John had a mountaintop experience that was so beautiful they may have wanted to stay there forever. But there was life to be lived. There were crises to be weathered, hardships to be endured, relationships to repair, diseases to heal, tears to dry, abuses to be confronted, wars to be faced, decisions to be made. What they needed and what we need in facing the everyday challenges of life here in the lowlands, away from the mountaintop, isn’t clarity. What we need is trust, trust in the God Who has proven the infinity of His love for us through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The third thing that we can see that the apostles couldn’t see that day is this: This side of heaven, God isn’t going to show us the future. Nor will He give us a time on earth free of problems. But if we will trust Him, He’ll guide us and empower us.

God will give us lives which at their end, will be worthy of those words which I’ve already told you many times I long to hear from our Lord more than any others. They're words of which I know I will be completely unworthy if I'm forced to stand before God alone in my sins. But, I dare to believe that I will hear Him say them if I trust in Christ: “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

Johnny Cliff sang that he could see clearly now the rain was gone, along with all pain and bad feelings. In Christ, we can see those things will be true for us eternity.

For now, though, there are three other things we can see clearly:
  • that we can’t capture God, but we can be captured by Him;
  • that we can only know Jesus when we submit to the crucifixion of our sinful selves; and
  • that in this life, few things will be clear, but our call will always remain the same, to trust the Savior Who died and rose for us.
As we prepare for the spiritual renewal of the Lenten season, I hope that we will keep seeing these things clearly and so, be ready to truly live life, whether our living takes us to the mountaintops or to the valleys or to that place beyond this world where all who follow Jesus will gaze into His glory for all eternity.

[The true story about Mother Teresa is in a message prepared for this weekend by Pastor Paul Gauche.]