Saturday, February 19, 2005

A Round-Up of Interesting Recent Posts on Other Blogs

Mark Roberts is writing an excellent series of blog articles immediately inspired on the newly-released The New International Version (TNIV) of the Bible. But it's really expanded to being a set of essays on Biblical translation and why we have so many of them. (Like me, Mark likes this.)

Tod Bolsinger is presenting an excellent series of articles on the spiritual disciplines of the Lenten season.

Columnist and blogger Rob Asghar, as mentioned in my latest article on goal-setting, has done a nice bit of writing on "the vision thing." See here, here, here, and here.

Ann Althouse is an interesting blogger. I just enjoy reading what she writes, even when I disagree with her. I appreciate her honesty.

When Instapundit, Glenn Reynolds, mentioned that Oakland mayor, former California governor, and several-time presidential candidate Jerry Brown had started a blog, I had to check it out. Like him or not, I've always found Brown to be forthright and endlessly interesting. He's never been shy about departing from the hallowed conventions of politics, even those of his own Democratic Party. From the first post, Brown fired off a salvo and I've bookmarked his site.

A post by Jim Jewell on Stones Cry Out about his sense of embarrassment over Jerry Fallwell's televised attack on Jim Wallis began an interesting conversation on Christians and liberalism. I took part in the discussion and think that more dialogues like it need to happen. Let me simply editorialize by saying that Jesus isn't a Republican or a Democrat.

Tom Parsons of Daddypundit wrote this past week about his love affair with baseball. What a wise man!

Goal-Setting, A Christian Approach, Part 4

Joseph Sittler was a great theologian, celebrated around the world. But he never lost his simple faith or his simple touch.

He was one of first twentieth-century Christian thinkers to write about the relationship between faith and concern for the environment. But in a 1975 interview, a portion of which appears in a collection of Sittler’s thoughts and writings, Grace Notes and Other Fragments, he said that this hadn’t come about through deliberate forethought on his part. What he said in explaining this is worth quoting here in its entirety:
I have never found it possible to lay down a program regarding the apparitions of the providence of God. I look at my own life and I cannot be absolutely sure that the things that have happened to me, that seemed to be positive and useful, had a direct line to God’s providence. Some of these seemed to have been accidental. I was in the right place at the right time, and I happened to have been studying a subject just when somebody wanted something said about it. Maybe that’s the way the providence of God works, but I have no mathematics of providence. I feel that I have been providentially led, in that I had motivations I cannot fully understand.

For reasons that have nothing to do with Christian commitment, I have always been interested in nature and I just kept acting on that interest, not out of a service to God but because I enjoyed it. Then I found that what I did for enjoyment served well to help me relate theology to the environmental problem. That may be the way God gets his providential things done; and I hope it is. But I don’t want to stick him with it. You know, people often tell me, “Now I will make this decision, I will pray about it.” I must say (not with pride, because it’s nothing to be proud of) that I don’t pray about such things. When I was called to the University of Chicago, what I did was come down here for one brief quarter and try it out before making my answer to the invitation. Then I woke up one day to discover that inwardly I had already accepted the invitation. There was a thing to be done here; I felt competent to do it; it needed doing; it was worth doing.
Here is the testimony of one faithful follower of Jesus Christ whose notions about how to make decisions and set goals probably would strike some as being less than Christian. These folks believe, not without some warrant, that you first begin with an overall vision of your mission in life, then with dogged determination you pursue that vision through all your goals and decisions. They believe that one must wrest God's will for them out of God's reluctant hands.

I must confess that I have grown wary of such notions. Writer and blogger Rob Asghar agrees and mentioned a discovery he made after recently reading the autobiography of college basketball coach, John Wooden:
...Wooden didn't become the greatest college basketball coach in history by having a vision about being the best college basketball coach in history; he didn't win 10 titles by envisioning 10 titles; he didn't "focus" or "unleash" all his and others' energies on a specific goal.
John Wooden, the Wizard of Westwood, simply set out to build his team and program so that each time his players stepped onto the court, they could win. He took on his job in daily increments and put one foot in front of the other.

Life is composed of a succession of small moments, each one adding up to a lifetime. The goals embraced by some whose achievements are noteworthy or exemplary have been no more cosmic than to put their hands to the next worthy thing needing to be done. That’s what Sittler did. It’s what John Wooden did. The results in both cases were stunning.

This was the same approach to goal-setting taken by God-in-the-flesh, Jesus. Jesus knew full well what His overarching mission in life was. He was to go to Jerusalem where, as the perfect sacrifice for sin, He would die on a cross. The Gospel of Luke says that Jesus was so intent on that mission that “He set His face to go to Jerusalem.” [Luke 9:51]

While Jesus came to save the whole world from its sin [John 3:16], He practiced what I call the principle of the ripple. Jesus worked to have an impact on His own people, the Jews, never deliberately seeking out contact with non-Jews. (These are people described in our English translations of the Bible as gentiles, a word that translates the Greek term, ethnon, literally, the ethnics.) “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” Jesus once explained. [Matthew 15:24] Under this principle of the ripple, Jesus, Who had come for the whole world, seemed intent on first creating an impact through His life, death, and resurrection among the Jews, thereby unleashing the message of forgiveness and new life for all with faith in Him on the whole world. [Acts 1:8]

But Jesus also practiced what has been called a theology of interruptions. When a Roman soldier came with a request for the healing of his servant, Jesus paid heed [Matthew 8]. When a Samaritan woman of low repute asked Jesus for “living water,” He let her in on how she could have a new life [John 4].

When asked to depart from His normal modus operandi, Jesus laid aside His immediate agenda, to pursue His deeper goals. Jesus went to work on the next worthy thing at hand and clearly believed  that no matter whether it was part of His plan for the day, it was always the right time to do God’s will, loving God and loving neighbor. [Matthew 22:34-40] He even took this attitude when confronting arrest and execution. In the garden of Gethsemane, He prayed to God the Father, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup [His suffering and death] pass from Me; yet not what I want but what You want." [26:39]

In fact, Jesus told a celebrated story commending His theology of interruptions:
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’ [Luke 10:25-37]
You can't love others if you're not interruptible and you can't fulfill God's plan for your life if you don't love others.

A friend of mine once told me about a pastor who had gotten himself into so much trouble with his congregation that he felt compelled to resign his position.

“What was the problem?” I asked.

“He was a kook about efficiency,” my friend explained. “He made these pronouncements about his vision for the congregation and about his mission as the pastor. Then he’d spout things like, ‘Plan the work; work the plan.’ “

“So far,” I told my friend, “ with the exception of his being an annoying aper of cliches, he sounds like a good leader.”

“You’re right,” he said, “The problem was that he was so intent on his plan that he forgot about God’s plan. He ignored the needs of people that He could have helped, ignored things that in the long run, would have advanced his mission and vision. He was so focused on the minutiae of his plan that he forgot about the bigger plan of which he was a part.”

I wonder how many of us do that.

How many parents become so consumed with making the money they think is needed to give their children good lives that they become inaccessible and unknown to the kids?

How many managers become so involved in implementing a program they believe will make their company better that they forget to do the basics of leading people and maintaining good relations with their customers?

A good theology of interruption, with its openness to loving God and loving neighbor, even when it’s inconvenient and it’s not on that day’s to do list, serves God, our neighbors, our families, and all of us well.

Sometimes the shortest way to achieving our goals in life is to take a detour from them and put our hand to the next thing life throws our ways.

[Read the first three installments of this series:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3]

[Note: An article on the 'theology of interruptions' appeared in a 1982 edition of the now-defunct, Lutheran Standard magazine. I can't find my copy. I'm sorry that I'm unable to give proper attribution at this time.]

European Elections Bear Watching

Elections will be held tomorrow in Spain, Portugal, northern Cyprus, and the state of Schleswig-Holstein in Germany.

I'm particularly interested in the latter polling and have written about it previously. Conventional wisdom would say that with Germany's high unemployment and continued economic sluggishness, the party of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder would be in trouble. However, little more than a month ago, polls began to show Schroeder's party running neck and neck with the conservative Christian Democrats. A win for Schroeder's party would bode well for his own re-election later.

A fear is that a neo-Nazi party may win more seats in the state legislature. But my own feeling is that while some young people and those in economic distress may find some attractiveness in the easy answers of latter-day fascism, Germans are generally revolted by anything that smacks of the Third Reich.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Goal-Setting, A Christian Approach, Part 3

In the first two installments of this series, I’ve said that...
(1) Conventional approaches to success and goal-setting, even when resulting in success as usually defined by the world, can leave us empty and unhappy. That’s because the finite, dying trophies of this world cannot scratch the itch for significance we all have.
(2) The place to start in establishing goals for our lives isn’t inside of ourselves because we are as finite and death-bound as those trophies. Rather, we must begin with the eternal God of the universe. The God Who designed us and Who, when we had gone wrong, entered our lives in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth to die and rise for us, has every right to call the shots in our lives. In the model for prayer that Jesus gave us, the Lord’s Prayer or the Our Father, the centrally important petition is one that echoes Jesus’ earnest prayer in the garden of Gethsemane on the night of His arrest: “Your will be done.”
The third point to be made about establishing goals for ourselves, be they the overarching direction we establish for our lives or the baby-goals that we jot down in our day planners each day, may be considered a bit objectionable by some. I would have found what I’m going to say objectionable myself just a few short years ago. But prayer, study, and life experience have convinced me of what I will assert here.

Regular readers of this blog know that one of my favorite books of recent years is The Will of God as a Way of Life by pastor and historian Gerald L. Sittser. It’s had a great impact on my thinking and my life.

As a student in college, Sittser was certain that God had called him to be a doctor. But while in college, he got turned on by theology and ministry. A new certainty supplanted the old one. Now, he was sure God was calling him to be a pastor.

To the extent that such things can be measured, he became a successful pastor.

After several years though, he felt that God was calling him to yet another profession. He was sure that he needed to go to graduate school, earning advanced degrees in History so that he could teach at the college level. This he did. Again, he was successful.

As he looked back over his life, Sittser was sure that God had called him to everything he had done. Included in this certainty was his marriage to Linda and their beautiful family. Friends told them they had the perfect life. They were convinced that in it all, they could see the sovereign hand of God.

But then, tragedy struck. One day when his mother was visiting Gerald and his family, a drunk driver struck the vehicle in which they all were riding. His wife, his mother, and one of his children were killed. Was this the will of a sovereign God for a family that had always sought to do God’s will?

Some Christians, particularly those whose lives have never been touched by tragedy or those who have never helped a friend through a tragedy, might answer thoughtlessly, “Of course.”

But such responses hardly do credit to God, to those whose lives have been snuffed out, or to the ones left behind.

After these multiple tragedies, Sittser still believed in the goodness of God. The willingness of God to share in our sufferings on a cross showed that.

Sittser still believed in the power of God. Jesus’ resurrection and His continuing ability to change people’s lives for the better are evidence of that.

But Sittser also believed that he needed to look exactly at what the will of God means.

All of his life, Sittser had assumed that the will of God was about the future. If things he thought were God’s will turned out okay, he assumed this to be God’s affirmation of his having made the right guess about God’s will for his life. I suspect that most Christians take a similar view. It’s the view I held until a few years ago.

But as Sittser looked at the Bible’s understanding of the will of God, particularly as evidenced in the writings of Paul in the New Testament, he made a discovery. In the Bible, the phrase is never used of the future, only of the present.

In other words, the will of God is not some mystery shrouding our futures which we must, through agonizing prayer and discernment, seek out.

Instead, the will of God is about how we live in the present moment. And how we are to live in the present moment is crystal clear. As Sittser writes:
...the New Testament offers no hint that Paul agonized about the will of God as it pertained to the future. He gave himself to the present because he was eager to use what little time he had to do what he already knew God wanted him to do.

If we sense any agony in the heroes of Scripture, it is not in discovering the will of God but in doing it....
The only time we have to know and do God’s will is this present moment.

So, what exactly is the will of God for our lives in the present moments in which each of us live our lives? Even a perfunctory reading of the Bible will give us the answer to that question. It would include these imperatives from Jesus:

“I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in Me, even though they die, will live and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die...” [John 11:25-26]

...”’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind’...’You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” [Matthew 22:37-40]

“This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you...” [John 15:12]

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28:19-20]

“Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.” [Mark 16:15]

“...strive first for the kingdom of God and His righteousness...” [Matthew 6:33]
All these passages make clear what God’s will is and for any given moment of our lives, give us more than ample inspiration for our goal-setting.

They indicate that God isn’t terribly concerned about what profession we enter. Chefs, plumbers, teachers, carpenters, computer programmers, housewives, preachers, and others all have the same mission. So long as the profession is honorable, God’s will is the same for all of us and each of us is equally capable of pursuing it. God calls all to follow Jesus.

The imperatives also indicate that God may not be terribly concerned about who we marry, so long as we submit our marriages to His lordship.

God may not care what we volunteer to do in the Church or in the community, so long as we express His love in whatever we do.

God may not care how many children we have or how we spend our quiet evenings at home either., so long as He is at the center of our lives

God may not care where we live, so long as we seek to live for His purposes.

To all followers of Jesus, God addresses the words found in the New Testament: are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of Him Who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. [First Peter 2:9-10]
As Sittser points out, Jesus doesn’t say that we need to go through a process of discernment to uncover what God wants us to do with our vocations, avocations, relationships, or futures. He writes:
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus exhorts us not to be anxious about tomorrow but to concentrate on what we must do today...[He says] nothing about how to discern God’s will for our lives...Jesus demands instead that we establish right priorities and put first things first...Jesus only requires that we make sure our heart is good, our motives are pure, and our basic direction is right, pointing toward the “true north” of the kingdom of God. We can, in good conscience, choose from among any number of reasonable alternatives and continue to do the will of God.
I agree with Sittser.

This insight complicates, simplifies, and grants freedom to us as we set goals for ourselves.

(1) It complicates because doing the will of God can sometimes bring trouble, challenge, and difficulty to our lives. It necessarily means “dying to ourselves” and our old selfish ambitions so that our new God-selves can rise. [Romans 6:1-8] The martyred Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that “when Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”

We can no longer dodge the will of God as a “someday I’ll” proposition. We know the will of God and we know that it’s something that we can and should do right now.

Doing the will of God isn't always easy. It got Jesus into trouble. Why should those who claim to follow Him be any different?

(2) It simplifies things because the will of God is clear to us. It helps us to know what to say Yes to and to what we should say No.

(3) It grants us freedom because we can plan and live each day in the certainty that if our intention is to follow Christ and do God’s will, our life is being lived God’s way!

In The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren identifies five purposes for every one of us:
  • to worship God with our whole lives
  • to fellowship with other Jesus-Followers
  • to grow spiritually, learning to love God and neighbor more each day
  • to serve others in Jesus' Name
  • to be messengers for God, telling others about the free new life that comes from Jesus Christ
Those five purposes, based on Jesus’ Great Commission and His Great Commandment, are right on the money, I think. They can form a sound bases for our goal-setting. [More to come]

[Read the first two installments of this series:

Part 1
Part 2]

Spring Training Shadowed by Steroids

Tom Weir and Mel Antonen write about the cloud under which baseball begins spring training because of former player Jose Canseco's book. It's not what players and owners thought would happen after they agreed on a new steroid policy designed to usher in a new era of untainted power hitting a few weeks ago. Weir and Antonen write:
Canseco's book, which opens with a disclaimer about encouraging steroids and then goes on to salute their effects, is a perfectly timed rally killer for the start of baseball's reform era. Under a new agreement between the players association and owners, players will be drug-tested year-round and the veil of confidentiality will be lifted, with the guilty facing full disclosure.

And regardless of test outcomes, suspicions might be recycled for years, as players from the pre-testing era reach career milestones or face debates on their Hall of Fame candidacies.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Reflections on John Negroponte and His Tough New Job

John Negroponte has been nominated by President Bush to become the first National Intelligence Director. The position, created by Congress, was the brainchild of the 9/11 Commission.

The recommendation that this job be established is the one commission recommendation about which I had significant misgivings. Had the position been constituted as the commission recommended, the result would likely have been a separate intelligence bureaucracy within the federal government of dubious value, I thought.

But, as the result of a compromise worked out in response to the intelligence community's perennial turf wars, Congress made the position even less susceptible to success. In the legislation passed by Congress and signed by the President which authorized the position, the new director is given responsibility without authority. This is a deadly combination, as anyone who's ever worked in such a position--as I did when I worked for the state House of Representatives in Columbus--can attest.

Not only will Negroponte have to deal with the institutional weaknesses of his new position, but also face off against probably the most accomplished bureaucratic infighter in recent history, Donald Rumsfeld.

Negroponte will have a lot going for him, though. He has become one of the Bush Administration's "go to" guys. This will be his third tough assignment in the past four years. First, he was ambassador to the United Nations. Then, he was ambassador to Iraq. The President, like his father, values loyalty and generally speaking, is loyal to those who exhibit this quality toward him. This will be Negroponte's trump card in attempting to insure greater cooperation and information-sharing among the US government's various intelligence-gathering agencies.

During the upcoming confirmation process, some Democrats will no doubt bring up misgivings that have been expressed over Negroponte's possible role in the distribution of US money to Nicaragua's contras back during the Reagan Administration. But in light of that not having been a significant issue in two recent Senate confirmation hearings for Negroponte, it's doubtful that it will play an important role in these hearings. He'll be confirmed easily.

Hugh Hewitt today presented a letter he'd received from a person who knows and has worked with Negroponte. It's interesting:

Some background on Ambassador Negroponte from a long time correspondent I know to be very trustworthy:

"Dear Bloggers and Editors:

I worked for Ambassador Negroponte for two years (1993-95) in Manila.

I was pleased to hear this morning that John Negroponte was selected by President Bush to be the national intelligence director.

I am retired from the US Foreign Service, started my US Govt. career as an officer in the US Army (with service in Vietnam), and I am very active in the Republican Party here in Florida.

Ambassador Negroponte never mentioned his political beliefs, but he is typical of Republicans in that he:

- Speaks plain English
- Focuses on results, not on process
- Will remove senior officials who are problems
- Projects a very serious image
- Projects wisdom and made no mistake that I knew of during the two years in Manila
- Was never unkind to subordinates (other than those removed for cause, and only to do that)
- Had no apparent vices or problems
- Seemed to be driven by a desire for public service, not for advancement, titles, awards, personal benefits
- As a subordinate, he was an easy boss to work for if one did their job properly
- Reminds me more of an intellectual general than of a typical gentleman diplomat

Please note that Ambassador Negroponte retired from the US Foreign Service in about 1997 or 98 when another person was assigned to be ambassador to Greece and other such jobs seemed not to be available for him (my guess). He was recalled from retirement to go to the UN and then to Baghdad.

Ambassador Negroponte is Greek, I believe that he was born in London and speaks Greek, French, and Vietnamese.

His quick rise in the US Foreign Service was due (in addition to ability) to National Security Advisor Henry Kissenger requesting a FSO who had served in Vietnam and knew both French and Vietnamese, which was the case for Ambassador Negroponte. This was to work on the Vietnam War negotiations in Paris. But the problem (as he described to me) was that he got to hear EVERYTHING in the negotiations three times, since everything was translated from English to French to Vietnamese to French to English, since there was not a high quality English - Vietnamese translator."

Goal-Setting, A Christian Approach, Part 2

Yesterday, I noted successful people driven by the self-aggrandizing notions that inform the average self-help book or seminar, are unhappy, unfulfilled people. They’re typified by the extremely wealthy man who’d captured every dream he’d ever had who I overheard at a recent political fund-raiser. “How are you doing?” he was asked. “Oh, alright,” he said, “But really, nothing really changes in life. It’s just the same old boring stuff all the time.”

Here was a man who had achieved his goals in life. But because all his pursuits had been propelled by the desire to please self, he was supremely unhappy.

At the conclusion of yesterday’s installment, I wrote:
...the first thing we need to get straight when it comes to establishing goals for ourselves is what our ultimate desires are to be and from what sources we ultimately are going to derive meaning, purpose, and fulfillment.
Let me introduce you to someone who may or may not be a “success” by the world’s usual measurements, but who epitomizes success from a different perspective.

When I was a young guy in my twenties, I came to know a man named Charlie. Charlie was in his seventies back then, a semi-retired housepainter who for a time, still occasionally took on a job here and there.

Charlie’s wife suffered from a disease that ultimately rendered her bed-ridden, utterly dependent on Charlie and the family and friends he recruited to help him for a few sparse hours each week. Until his wife was very ill, Charlie was always in Sunday worship. It was one of the few times in any given week that he left his wife alone.

I saw Charlie sad at times. There was no denying the pain he underwent watching the love of his life suffer and die. Nor did he deny his grief when she died. But I never heard him complain of his lot in life, never heard him rue the hours spent caring for her.

In fact, if there is one word I would use to describe Charlie, it would be grateful. He seemed filled with a constant gratitude.

This impression was only strengthened by something he told me and another twenty-something guy from our church on the day of his wife’s funeral. The service had taken place, as had the committal and the luncheon in the church’s basement fellowship hall. Charlie was up in the sanctuary, making decisions about what to do with the flowers that had been sent in honor of his wife and we had gone to check on him.

Charlie seemed to sense that this was a teachable moment for two young bucks, each of us then married just a few short years.

“Whitey and Mark,” he said, “I’m so thankful to God today. God has always been good to me. He gave me a wonderful wife to share my life with all these years. And of course, because of Jesus, He’s given me the hope that I’ll see her again some day. Only when I do, she’ll be healthy again. I am very blessed!”

But what about all the “lost” years when he could have been doing something else?

If either of us had asked Charlie that question, he would have looked at us as though we were deranged...and for good reason.

Charlie was someone who had his priorities straight. Jesus says that the highest pursuits any of us have in this life are to love God and to love our neighbor, including the neighbors who live under our roofs. Everything else must take second place to that. [Matthew 22:34-40] Charlie believed that was true.

He obviously felt that it was important for all of us to love sacrificially, not to earn spiritual merit badges and not out of grim obligation, but because, through Jesus, Who died on a cross for us, we have been loved sacrificially by God. Sacrificial love is our sensible, appropriate, and difficult response to the God Who has loved us sacrificially, the God Who assures us that even if we lose our earthly lives in the giving of love, we still will have eternity with Him.

The New Testament book of Romans says:
“...while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly [that’s all of us who live with unforgiven sin]. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person...But God proves His love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us...” [Romans 5:6-8]
And a man named John, often called the apostle of love, puts it succinctly:
“In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another...” [First John 4:10-11]
The self-help books tell us to dig into ourselves, get a fix on our gifts and passions, and to adopt a life plan and subordinate goals based on that internal inventory.

The Bible commends a different way of going about our living, the way that Charlie adopted. It begins with gratitude for the love God has given to us through Christ and it makes the pursuit of God and His righteousness our number one priority. In setting our goals, we would do well to remember Jesus’ words:
‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. ' [Matthew 6:25-34]
[Next installment: God and your future]

Chris Matthews on America, the Reluctant Warrior

One of the books I'm reading these days is American Beyond Our Grandest Notions in which Chris Matthews identifies key traits of the American character as reflected in history and popular culture. It's a terrific and breezy read!

One of the traits he identifies is America as the reluctant warrior. The chapter in which he discusses this is superb. He begins by recalling Rick Blaine, as played by Humphrey Bogart in the incomparable Casablanca. Blaine, Matthews tells us, is like the coiled rattlesnake in one of America's earliest symbols, one adopted by the country's Revolutionary War soldiers and commended by Benjamin Franklin. That snake was always accompanied by the motto, "Don't tread on me."

Americans, Matthews asserts, have never looked for a fight. Rick Blaine was trying to avoid involvement in the Second World War. But once the fight came his way, he was in it to win.

The motif of the reluctant warrior who fought to win once fighting became necessary has been a recurring theme of US foreign policy, Matthews says. It began with George Washington whose shrewd realism has informed our nation's diplomacy and use of force through most of our history. (For more on the major strains of thought in our country's foreign policy through the years, see my post, Foreign Policy Over Burritos and Tacos.)

The US departed significantly from this approach to foreign and military policy in Vietnam. In it, the country might be described as an intrusive warrior, yet one who did not fight to win.

After the death of 241 Marines in Beirut during the Reagan Administration, General Colin Powell was charged with creating and enunciating a clear policy to guide the application of US military force. The "Powell Doctrine," suggests Matthews, was nothing other than the policy of George Washington and Rick Blaine. As summarized by Matthews, the Powell Doctrine held that:
War...should be a last resort. It should be undertaken only in the presence of precise political and military goals with clear popular support from the American public and the Congress. There must be a clear exit strategy and unhesitating will to deploy overwhelming force.

The Powell Doctrine reconciled America's new status as the lone superpower with its reluctant -warrior past.
Matthews feels that US policy underwent dangerous mission creep after the attacks of September 11, 2001. He says that a policy initially aimed at creating a narrowly-focused campaign to eradicate the Al Qaeda terrorist network became a generalized war on "any international terrorist group" and then on what President Bush called "the axis of evil": North Korea, Iran, and Iraq. Later, Libya, Syria, Cuba, Sudan, and Somalia were added to the list. Ultimately, the President announced in 2002, that the US would campaign against tyrants anywhere in the world and feel free to use preemptive action to do so. (The President underscored this policy in his Inaugural Address.)

President Bush, Matthews worries, has adopted a kind of Wilsonian foreign policy, one that includes the notion of spreading democracy at the end of a bayonet and engaging in preemptive war.

Matthews concludes this rather grim chapter with these words:
Myself, I worry that this change in course threatens us with dangerous consequences. Will America still be guided by its role as a reluctant warrior in this new century? Or will the reality of America's colossal military power overwhelm the fine instincts of its history?

What do you think?

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Althouse on 'The Marriage Show-Offs'

In two decades as a pastor, I've been asked several times to preside as couples renewed their marriage vows. My wife and I, who have been married for thirty years, have agreed that it's not something we would ever do. But in most cases, the renewal ceremonies over which I've presided, brief and joyous, with family members and friends as witnesses, have been meaningful for all involved.

I have to say though, that I agree with Ann Althouse's negative judgment of Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee's bizarre decision to renew his vows with his wife in the presence of thousands.

The whole ceremony appears to have been nothing more than showing off, which is how Althouse sees it too.

Frankly, as a pastor, if Huckabee had asked me to preside over such a circus, I would have questioned his motives; it seems to have been an entirely political event. (But of course, he didn't ask me.)

Writes Althouse:
I must say I find it utterly repugnant for a political figure to make a big public show of upgrading his marriage to a "covenant marriage."
By the way, Althouse was profiled today in an interesting article appearing in The Capital Times of Madison, Wisconsin.

Tod Bolsinger Reads with Dead People (So Do the Members of His Family)

Tod Bolsinger is blogging throughout this Lenten season about how to use the time to enhance our relationships with God. Today, he shares a simple way that families can read the Bible in meaningful, bite-sized chunks. Check it out!

Check Out Latest on Kilimanjaro Climb

A group of Cincinnati area folks, including Nancy Beck, executive director of the Clermont County Boys and Girls Club and a member of Friendship Church here, are leaving for Africa tomorrow. They will be climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Nancy is "climbing for kids' sake," as sponsors of her climb will be making donations to the Boys and Girls Club. Check out the latest news on this adventure here.

The Vision Thing

One of my favorite bloggers, Rob Asghar, has a tremendous post on the overrated commodity of vision.

The First Superstar of the Blogging World

Probably like many readers of this blog, I watched Charlie Rose's interview with four prominent bloggers last evening. I had seen and heard Andrew Sullivan, Joe Trippi, and Ana Marie Cox (AKA: Wonkette) many times before, but not Glenn Reynolds.

Sullivan was effusive in his enthusiasm about blogging and generous in his appreciation of other bloggers and of those who read blogs.

Trippi, as always, was onto the significance of blogging. Like many of us, he views this technological application as being analogous to the invention of the printing press, with the exception that blogging opens itself readily to two-way communications. (Funny that Trippi hardly blogs, though.)

Cox was as perky as she usually seems in public appearances, her words and demeanor barely hinting at the profane and shallow commentaries that are the cornerstone of the blog she edits.

Reynolds was the one who most intrigued me and not just because I'd never seen or heard him before. His buttoned-down appearance surprised me a bit because he lists himself as a rock music enthusiast who's played in a band and been co-owner of a record label. Trippi seemed more likely to be that guy than Reynolds.

Furthermore, although he's a law professor, I hadn't expected Reynolds to be so professorial in his demeanor. He barely spoke. Perhaps he was drowned out by the verbal Messrs. Sullivan and Trippi. But I suspected another reason.

At one point, Sullivan referred to Reynolds' site as a "Grand Central Station" of the blogging world. (I refuse to here use the b-word ending in sphere that's usually applied to the blogging world! But Sullivan used that word several times.)

Inherent in Sullivan's description, which I think is apt, is the notion that Reynolds is a one-man collector, collator, and disseminator of information and opinions. This, in fact, seems to be how he forms his opinions, which can be seen on his other site, But on the Instapundit site, Reynolds is, I suspect, his truest self, the jurist who ponders all the evidence and based on his best judgment, doles out justice. In this case, justice is Reynolds' decision whether or not to give credibility or "legs" to ideas he runs across.

Frankly, it seems to me that Reynolds has earned his lofty perch. It not only appears to suit his personality, but the guy does the work. He must be a simply voracious and rapid reader. He may be one of the few people on the planet with the patience to sift through the good, bad, and awful to present his Reader's Digest versions of the day's best ideas to us.

We may disagree with his judgments. We may rue his blind spots.

But the guy clearly is and deserves to be, the first superstar of the blogging world.

Goal-Setting, A Christian Approach, Part 1

Yesterday morning, after I’d spent some time praying and reading Scripture, I pulled out my day planner and jotted down the things I wanted to get done.

During the day, I made satisfying checkmarks next to each completed task. I say "satisfying" because each fulfilled goal brought a sense of accomplishment.

I guess that other people feel the same way. I’ve read that achieving goals, even small ones like the items on my daily to-do list, can infuse our physiological systems with a supply of endorphins, those little "feel good" chemicals our bodies crave.

Whether that’s true or not, I like attaining goals. If the racks of self-help books found in the average book store are any indication, you probably feel the same way.

And if those same books tell us anything, it’s that most of us who adopt goals do so because we want to achieve something called success. They advise that our daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals ought to have something to do with an overall game plan, a scheme or vision, for what successful life for us is to be about. Otherwise, they argue, we’re a bit like the hungry person pushing a shopping cart through a Super WalMart. We may add a lot to our carts, but not get what we need to be our best selves.

Before you tune me out on the suspicion that I’m about to rail against success as an unworthy desire, put your mind at ease. I can’t imagine that any of us, no matter what our religious background, would say that achieving success is a bad thing. What parent, for example, would ever tell their child, "Make failure your aim"?

But I do think there is a huge problem with the notions of what constitutes a successful life that fill so many self-help books and on which, truth be told, we often build our goals.

In his important book, The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren writes:
Self-help books, even Christian ones, usually offer the same predictable steps
to finding your life’s purpose: Consider your dreams. Clarify your values. Set
some goals. Figure out what you are good at. Aim high. Go for it! Be
disciplined. Believe you can achieve your goals. Involve others. Never give
If you’ve ever read a self-help book, you know that drill. Maybe like me, you’ve also known people who followed that drill and rode it all the way to the success of their dreams: self-aggrandizing, self-glorifying success. In these folks, I’ve usually observed a few characteristics:

First: They’re not happy or fulfilled. A friend of mine once served as the accountant for a successful entrepreneur. My friend and he spent hours strategizing ways to shelter the man’s fortune from taxation. One day, in the middle of one of these sessions, this wealthy guy told my friend, "Back when I had nothing, I used to think that if I had just a fraction of the money I have now, I’d have no worries. But I worry more now about keeping it than I ever did about getting it."

Second: Because success hasn’t proved fulfilling, they often start searching for other pots of gold at the ends of other rainbows. Their lives become futile searches for things that will confirm that they’ve arrived. Their pots of gold don’t have to be money or possessions. They can be experiences, sexual conquests, sports trophies, prestige, recognition, power, winning an argument, or a zillion other rewards we may use to salve our egos and assure ourselves of our value as human beings. "How much money does a person need to live?" a wealthy man was once asked. "Just a little more," he replied. We apply this same approach to many of the things we use to define successful living.

There’s nothing wrong with having desires or goals. Human beings appear to be unique among the species in our ability to contemplate and anticipate a future, to form desires for the days and years ahead. This, I believe is part of what the Old Testament book of Genesis means when it says that we were created in the "image of God." (Genesis 1:26) God has created eternal appetites in us.

But, like the rest of our nature, our appetites and desires have become marred, distorted, by that state of alienation from God, from others, and from our true selves that the Bible calls sin. Rather than setting our desires, hopes, and ambitions on eternal things--things that don’t wear out, give out, or die--we make dead and dying stuff like money, possessions, experiences, sexual conquests, trophies, prestige, recognition, and power are ultimate aims. This is like filling the belly of a crying baby with junk food. It may be momentarily filling, but it won’t be very good for them.

The New Testament portion of the Bible says of us:
Claiming to be wise, they became fools...they exchanged the glory of the
immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed
animals or reptiles...they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped
and served the creature rather than the Creator...[Romans 1:22-25]
Warren, I think, correctly identifies the biggest problem with our self-driven notions of success and goal-setting, when he writes of the self-help books’ advice:
Of course, [their] recommendations often lead to great success. You can usually
succeed in reaching a goal if you put your mind to it. But being successful and
fulfilling your life’s purposes are not at all the same issue! You could reach
all your personal goals, becoming a raving success by the world’s standards, and
still miss the purposes for which God created you.
Jesus once told the story of a man who achieved his self-defined goals and purposes in life:
"The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What
should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do
this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store
all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods
laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You
fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you
have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures
for themselves but are not rich towards God." [Luke 12:16-21]
So, is Jesus saying that we shouldn’t have goals in life? That we shouldn’t work hard or earn money?

Not at all. But I do think that the first thing we need to get straight when it comes to establishing goals for ourselves is what our ultimate desires are to be and from what sources we ultimately are going to derive meaning, purpose, and fulfillment. More on this subject in the next installment of this series.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

On the Steroids Controversy

Tom Parsons (aka: Daddypundit) has a good rundown of stories dealing with Baseball's steroid controversy.

What If...A Tuesday Morning Fantasy

What if baseball commissioner Bud Selig called a press conference today? Here's what I hope he'd say...

"Ladies and gentlemen, thanks for coming on such short notice. The subject at hand is steroids.

"Spring training begins in less than two weeks. Fans across the country are gearing up for the start of a new season.

"As this is happening, retired player Jose Canseco has come out with a new book and is giving interviews in which he has claimed that some of our most venerated contemporary players have been 'juiced.'

"If this is true, of course, and if the use of steroids is half as pervasive as Canseco alleges, it represents a massive assault on the integrity of the game, calling virtually every power hitter's homerun totals, not to mention his RBI totals and slugging percentages, into question.

"But who am I trying to kid? By now, we all know that thirty-seven and forty year old men may bulk up through assiduous weight training in the gym. But their heads don't suddenly become larger...except metaphorically, of course.

"Our past anemic policies in this matter and our 'don't ask, don't tell' approach to their application has allowed a generation of unscrupulous ball players to assault some of our game's most hallowed achievements, enabling them to surpass players who, unlike the users of steroids, genuinely earned their records.

"I now acknowledge that the new steroid policy, announced a few weeks ago, while a step in the right direction is, nonetheless, inadequate.

"We owe it to today's fans not to cave into the cynicism of contemporary culture and we owe it to such luminaries as Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Roger Maris to clean up this mess. The steroid scandal represents a greater threat to the integrity of this game than did the Chicago Black Sox scandal of 1919. And steroid use equals the threat posed by gambling generally.

"Just as my predecessor, Bart Giamatti, had to act decisively to prevent the cancer of gambling from growing by banning the great Pete Rose from the game, I must act decisively. Otherwise, baseball becomes virtually indistinguishable from the World Wrestling Federation, entertaining perhaps to some, but hardly a legitimate game.

"I recognize of course, that I cannot engage in ex post facto justice. We all may know the names of those players who have taken steroids in the past. But I cannot fairly mete out sanctions against them when their past violations conveniently--and I must admit, from the standpoint of Major League Baseball, willfully--went 'undetected.'

"But today, I am announcing that it's a new day in the world of Baseball.

"First: Every major league baseball player will undergo required steroid testing twice weekly.

"Second: Unless steroids are prescribed by a physician to clear up congestion associated with an upper respiratory ailment or some other illness, that player will immediately be banned from baseball for life. No appeals will be heard.

"Third: If the player found with steroids in his system is on a short-term prescription, he will not play until that prescription's cycle has ended and there is no longer evidence of steroids in his body.

"Fourth: Major league teams will honor the contracts of players found to have used steroids, but they will be paid 20% of what the contracts originally stipulated. These former players will wear special uniforms. In place of team logos, the uniforms will sport giant asterisks, indicating that all their previous records are beclouded by the legitimate suspicion of steroid use. Their records will no longer officially count in Major League Baseball's record books or have any relevance to consideration for the Hall of Fame.

"Fifth: These asterisked players will show up at the ballpark each day. When the teams with whom they have contracts are at bat, they will take unofficial bats with batting machines that will be installed beneath the pitcher's mounds (saving pitcher's arms). The banned players will take their unofficial at bats, which may or may not be enhanced by their use of steroids, but will have nothing to do with the games being played.

"Sixth: I am removing the asterisk from the name of Roger Maris and his 61-home runs hit in 1961.

"Thank you."

Monday, February 14, 2005

Congratulations, Tod Bolsinger!

Tod Bolsinger is one of my favorite bloggers. His two books have just been named as among the fifty best of 2004! His publisher must feel especially good because they had twenty of the fifty books given this honor.

Congratulations, Tod!

Cincinnati Employees Prevented from Reading Blogs: Is This a Matter of Throwing Out the Baby with the Blog Water?

In an understandable effort to prevent employees from goofing off while on the job, the city of Cincinnati is blocking the reading of many blogs, including one that regularly presents commentary on what's going on in the city and in city government.

Saturday's Cincinnati Enquirer article on the subject has created interest in the blog here in the metropolitan Cincy area and in certain quarters of the blogging world.

A blog cited, Cincinnati Blog, is one of which I'd not heard until I read the article over breakfast on Saturday morning. It's not particularly well written, but makes an attempt to cover a wide range of issues and events in the community. While it has a more liberal bias, I doubt that fact had anything to do with the ban. Like this blog, Cincinnati Blog is parked on blogspot. City officials apparently decided simply to block any and all blog sites published in this way and Cincinnati Blog was an unfortunate victim.

The site is popular. According to SiteMeter, it's averaging 416 hits a day.

Sites like Cincinnati Blog are needed, I think, and I feel that city workers would do well to be exposed to this particular site's ideas and opinions: unlike national media, Cincinnati's local mainstream media has a decidedly conservative bias.

All About 'Gates'

Ann Althouse has an interesting rundown of Christo's and Jean-Claude's Gates at New York's Central Park. Frankly, against my will, I found myself charmed by the pictures of this art/event today. I think it's cool to see all this gorgeous, rich color splashed against the greys of midwinter Manhattan.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

From Laurie Beth Jones

Business consultant Laurie Beth Jones is one of my favorite authors. Her books are practical, inspiring, and down-to-earth. Sometimes, I find her interpretations of some passages of Scripture, shall we say, different. But, on the whole, I think she has so much to offer to people who want to find and employ their strengths toward living lives of meaningful contribution to the world.

I've been reading her, Jesus, Life Coach, and this evening, ran across her observations on Jesus' temptation in the wilderness, the subject of my message here:
Every temptation that Jesus faced in the wilderness was related to his higher gifts.

Could he have turned stones into bread when he was so hungry? Yes. But he didn't. In every case where he was called to use his higher gifts for a lesser purpose, Jesus refused. That restraint allowed him to use his gifts in their highest form.

Jesus determined that he would not use his higher gifts for selfish purposes. Yet he also determined that he would indeed use them.
This caused me to ask myself, How am I using my God-granted gifts? And, Will I ask God to help me to discover and use my gifts, not in selfish ways, but to their highest purpose?

Art and Today's Christian

Tulip Girl responded to my post on one chief characteristic of true artists by suggesting that I look at two different bloggers' posts on the dearth of artistic appreciation and sensibilities among contemporary Christians. One comes from Evangelical Outpost. The other is from Le Sabot Post-Moderne. Both present good food for thought and, as you'll see, have evoked a good deal of comment.

A Fun Article on Baseball's Superiority to That Eleven-Player Sport That Just Held That Big Game Where Paul McCartney Played

Houston Chronicle columnist Richard Justice gives thirty reasons why baseball is way better than football. I don't agree with every single item on his list. But I was shocked he could only come up with thirty reasons. There must be a million!

The Street and Smith's Annual is Here!

The Street and Smith's Baseball Yearbook has been a staple of my life for decades. I picked up a copy of the 2005 edition while at the airport to pick up our daughter today. Obviously, I haven't had much of a chance to devour it yet, but I was struck by a few passage from publisher Mike Kallay's notes on the first page:
Those who say the steroid scandal rivals the 1919 Black Sox scandal are wrong. The former affected a single team with slave-owner management. In one league. In one World Series. For all its ugliness, it had a largely positive impact on baseball. Where have you gone, Judge Landis?
I couldn't agree more! Half-measures won't do. Anyone who tests positive for steroid use should be banned from the game for life. The use of these drugs threatens the integrity of what happens on the field as much as gambling.

(And yes, though I've been a Cincinnati Reds fan for thirty-six years, I think that Pete Rose's ban from baseball is just and should remain permanent. I think the same thing about the ban of Shoeless Joe Jackson and the other banned White Sox players.)

Kallay even suggests that (1) Baseball's antitrust exemption be ended and (2) John McCain should be made commissioner of baseball, "unless he sets his sights higher, of course."

Then this tidbit about the Washington Nationals, as the former Montreal Expos are being dubbed:
When the Nationals unveiled their new hats in the team's colors (red, white, and blue), [Nationals president] Tavares noted a developing trend.

"It seems like all the Democrats are buying our [blue] away hats and all of the Republicans are buying all of our [red] home hats..."

Why God Lets Us Be Tempted

Matthew 4:1-11
(shared with the people of Friendship Church, February 13, 2005)

A young woman in Catechism class asked me a question once. “If God wants us to turn from sin and follow Him, why,” she wondered, “does God let us be tempted?” It’s a good question.

I recently read the story of the first attempts to ship fresh North Atlantic cod fish from Boston to San Francisco in the nineteenth century.

Back then, the only way to ship the fish to the West Coast was to sail all the way around South America. That trip took months, of course. The first attempts to dress the cod in Boston and pack them on ice on the trip to California failed. By the time the fish got to San Francisco, they were inedible.

So, someone tried putting the cod in holding tanks full of water, shipping them to the West Coast alive, and then dressing them out there. But because the fish got so little exercise during the trip, they became pasty and tasteless.

Then, somebody had an idea. “Why don’t we put some catfish in with the cod?” they asked. Catfish are cods’ natural enemies. The experiment was tried. The result? When a few catfish were put in the tanks with them, the cod were always alert and swimming around. So, when they reached San Francisco, they were in great shape.

I think this story may tell us why God lets us be tempted by our enemy, the devil. It’s only when we’re tempted to go against God’s will for our lives that we develop the spiritual muscles we need to become strong in our faith and learn how to live according to God’s purposes.

That seems to be what Jesus learned in the wilderness temptations our Bible lesson describes today.

Three different times, the devil tries to persuade Jesus to do good things the wrong ways. He tempted Jesus to create bread from stones when He was hungry; to trust God to catch Him if He threw Himself from the top of the temple in Jerusalem; and to claim the kingship of the world that, after all, He’d come to take through a cross, but the devil was prepared to give it to Jesus just for worshiping the devil.

I wonder if Jesus would have gone to the cross for us, enduring all that He went through before that happened, if He hadn’t been toughened by His temptations in the wilderness? Would He have been prepared for the temptation to back away that He went through in the garden of Gethsemane, where His dread of what would follow produced anguish? Or on the cross itself when crowds jeered at Him and taunted Him with their words, "He saved others. Can't He save Himself?"

Jesus' time in the wilderness may very well have fortified Him for completing His mission of saving us from sin and death through His cross.

You and I may be presented with all sorts of temptations to do good things the wrong ways in our lives.

Young people: Good grades are a great thing. But if our grades are stolen by cheating on tests or copying reports from the Internet, we haven’t really learned anything or prepared for life, the very things grades are designed to measure in the first place.

Teens and twenties: God made sex and it’s a wonderful, beautiful thing. But “hooking up” casually robs God and our future potential marriage partners of the awesome beauty of sexual intimacy.

Adults, when the challenges of life put us in the doldrums, especially during the depressing wilderness days of midwinter, it’s so easy for us to become addicted to various pleasures--whether it’s gorging ourselves on cookies, spending money we don’t have for the next electronic gadget, or even frequenting porn sites. Cookies are good. Gadgets are good. Sex is good. But not when used in the wrong ways or for the wrong reasons.

Our call when faced with our wilderness temptations is to ask God’s help in facing them just as Jesus did.

My grandmother used to say that it was easier to resist temptation when a person gets older. I completely disagree with that. The older you and I get, the more freedom we're likely to have. The less accountability we have to others, unless we specifically choose to be accountable to others for our own spiritual well-being. Otherwise, we are the lions of our domains, able to indulge ourselves in any way we want. Do that often enough and long enough and a person soon becomes deaf to God. The devil has us bagged.

Learning how to face temptation, then is important, a matter of life and death. So, how did Jesus face and defeat His temptations?

When the devil tempted Jesus to turn stones to bread, He remembered that God’s Word, the Bible says, that our lives don’t ultimately depend on the food we eat, but on the God we follow.

When the devil, in effect taunted Jesus, daring Him to do something stupid--throw Himself off of a building--in order to prove His faith, Jesus recalled another passage of Scripture and told the devil that faith doesn’t give us the right to put God to the test, as though God has anything to prove to us.

And when the devil offered to spring Jesus from the cross if He would just give the devil first position in His life, Jesus once again called on Scripture to remind the devil that we are to worship God alone.

In the wilderness, Jesus was so steeped in God’s Word and His relationship with the Father that He was able to withstand temptation.

In just a few weeks, right after Easter, our congregation is going to go through our Forty Days of Purpose campaign. Every activity of this congregation--from Sunday School classes to small groups for adults, from worship and personal devotion times to service projects--will be built around helping all of us grow in our relationship with God, getting steeped in God’s Word, living our lives for God’s purposes, helping us face the temptations we confront in our wildernesses.

Pastor Mike Foss tells the story of a woman who had come from counseling. She was depressed about her work situation. It was a real wilderness. “I can’t stand my job,” she said, “I am the only one there who prays or seems to live [Christian] values.” She asked him to pray that God would take her out of her work environment.

Foss promised that he would certainly pray for her, then added, “But I wonder if God has something in mind with your staying there...Maybe your witness of faith is important. I remember reading once that a candle isn’t necessary in the light of day. It burns brightest in the dark. Is it possible that the candle of your faith is important in that dark work place? And so, if you will you allow me to ask God to show you if your witness is making a difference while you look for the next opportunity?”

I’ve probably read the verses of our Bible lesson hundreds of times through the years. But it wasn’t until this past week that I came to believe that the key to understanding the meaning of Jesus’ temptation for our lives can be found in its opening verse: “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”

Let me explain why I think it’s so key. The word for tempt found in the original New Testament Greek of our Bible lesson today is peirazo. The word actually has two meanings. It can mean both tempt and test.

I believe that every time the devil tempts us, he is unwittingly playing into God’s hands, making every temptation from the devil also a test from God. While the devil tempted that woman who visited Foss for counseling to spiritual pride and an almost scornful lack of concern for the spiritual well-being of her coworkers, God was testing her faith, challenging her to live her faith, to share Christ lovingly, to pray for her coworkers.

You and I live with similar challenges every day of our lives. God drives us into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil and so our faith can be made strong, so that we become sharp instruments in God’s hands, so that we're prepared to share Jesus Christ, our strength and hope, with others.

I urge you to begin praying now that Forty Days of Purpose will help us all live for God just as Jesus did when He was tempted those forty days in the wilderness.

[The true story of the codfish, which I'm certain I'd heard about before, comes from Perfect Illustrations for Every Topic and Occasion (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale Publishers, 2002.]

[Pastor Mike Foss tells the story of the counselee in a message he prepared for this Bible text,]