Thursday, October 30, 2014

Black and White or Shades of Gray?

                I grew up with a very black and white faith. As a Christian, there were certain things that I would never do and other things that I must do. There were certain things that I had to believe and other things that I had to reject. In many ways, living with a black and white faith was very safe. I had my internal checklist, which kept me well within the boundaries of orthodoxy. But there was a down side to it as well. It created a certain amount of guilt when I strayed into an area that was not clearly delineated in the Bible. Growing up in the 60’s, long hair, rock-n-roll, and fast dancing were the norm for young people. All three of these things were added to the list of don’ts for a good Christian kid. So the night I went to a dance at the junior high school as a part of the AV team caused me many hours of guilt. You might chuckle at that now, but it was serious to me then.

                Growing up in an independent, fundamental church, I was suspicious of, and even a little afraid of, people who attended churches with a denominational label. To me, they fell outside of my black and white world. Then I went to college. Attending a Christian college, I was exposed to many kids who came from very different church backgrounds than I did. I quickly discovered that most of them had a genuine faith in Jesus Christ. We shared many of the same beliefs. Even though they carried a denominational label, they really lived out their faith. My black and white world began to take on a few shades of gray.

                An experience that stands out for me can serve to illustrate my point. I became friends with a young man who had been in the Army, and had returned to go to college on the GI bill. He was a couple of years older than me, although he was in my class. He was serious about his studies and about his faith. While he had served in the Army, he had picked up the habit of smoking. Definitely on my “Christians don’t do this” list. It was against the rules at my college to smoke, but this young man was hooked. One day he asked me to do him a favor. He asked if I would drive his car out into the country so he could smoke. I did, and a friendship developed. I still think smoking is an unwise choice, but I learned that it is possible for a person to be a genuine Christian and struggle with this habit.

                Several years later, I attended seminary. Many of my professors intentionally exposed me to a wide spectrum of theological thinking. Much of it was orthodox. Some of it was liberal. They did this intentionally to help us understand the complex world of theological thought. I found it stretching, refreshing and challenging. Their goal was not to make me a liberal; the opposite was true. Their goal was to prepare me for the world I was about to step into. One day, my roommate came home from class, obviously frustrated. “Why don’t they just tell us the truth,” he blurted out. He didn’t want to struggle with the breadth of theological thinking. He wanted black and white answers.

                Recently, I have been reading a book that, from my perspective, comes across with a very black and white theology. The author aggressively and dogmatically makes his case that all Christians should do certain things. He calls into question the faith of those who don’t fall neatly within his black and white boundaries. I want to be clear that I do not disagree with many of the principles that he sets forth. He is right to challenge us to take our faith more seriously and stop coasting in our comfortable “church” experience. What I struggle with is that there is no gray in  his message. For one who grew up with a black and white theology, his message is simplistic and judgmental. As I read, I feel some of the old, unrealistic guilt of my past creeping back in.

                There are some fundamental truths about the Christian faith that are non-negotiable. God created the heavens and the earth. Man was created in the image of God. Sin came into the world through Adam and Eve, and has infected all of the human race. Jesus came to redeem a lost world. Jesus alone is the answer to our sin. Salvation comes through faith in Jesus alone. The Bible is God’s word; to be our authoritative guide for faith and practice. These are foundational.

                But, I have learned over the past 30 years that, when it comes to living out our faith, there are many valid ways to do that. Unity in Christ does not mean that we all look alike, sound alike and act alike. There is no such thing as a cookie cutter Christian. God created each one of us with a specific personality and a specific set of gifts and talents. He wants to use this diversity to reach a very diverse world. Some Christians operate on the front lines, while others function more quietly in a supporting role. As Paul wrote, some plant, some water, but God gives the increase. Each of us has a part to play, and we will be held accountable for that. But we will not all play the same part.

                I admire enthusiasm and passion, but it must be tempered to be effective. Enthusiasm without solid truth does damage to people. Truth without passion is dead. Jesus’ life was characterized by passion and compassion, by truth and grace, by confrontation and extravagant love.

                There still is much black and white in my Christian life, which causes me to struggle and examine my faith. I am learning that the grace of God demands that I accept a little gray in the way other believers live out their faith. I am also learning to take the Gospel more seriously and myself less seriously.     

    Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.
Galatians 6:1-5


Friday, October 24, 2014


    O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.  
Psalm 63:1

                David was a most unlikely choice to become king of Israel. He was the youngest son of his father Jesse. When God sent Samuel to Bethlehem to anoint the next king of Israel, Jesse left David out in the field, tending sheep. After God had rejected all of Jesse’s sons, Samuel asked if there wasn’t another son. So he asked Jesse, "Are these all the sons you have?" "There is still the youngest," Jesse answered, "but he is tending the sheep." Samuel said, "Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives." So he sent and had him brought in. He was ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the Lord said, "Rise and anoint him; he is the one." So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power. Samuel then went to Ramah. 1 Samuel 16:11-13

                Jesse overlooked David, because he was the youngest, but God did not. God chose him for service. It was not an easy path for David. He was brought into the service of Saul, to soothe Saul’s troubled mind. David proved himself when to stood against Goliath. Saul took issue with David and, for a number of years, pursued him throughout the desert, seeking to take his life. Twice David had the opportunity to take Saul’s life, yet he refused, choosing to trust in God. When Saul was killed in battle, David did not rejoice. He mourned. As king, David united the people of Israel, expanded their territory and brought glory to God. He also had some major failures, which caused him much grief. Through all of the ups and downs, David never forgot that he had been called to serve God.  When God summarized David’s life, He called David a man after my own heart.

                We live in a celebrity culture, which elevates the bold, the beautiful, the athletic, and the attractive. Like Samuel, we look at the outward appearance of people. When we compare ourselves with the elite of our world, we fail to measure up. Instead of being inspired, we are discouraged. I could never do that, we tell ourselves. We disqualify ourselves from service. We settle for being spectators rather than full participants. But that is not the way God sees things.

                Paul addresses our false perspective in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31. Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God--that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."

                Like David, we have been selected for service. God wants to use our gifts and talents for His glory. We may feel like unlikely candidates to do great things for God, but God can see what we cannot. God is not impressed by our assets, or put off by our deficits. What God looks at is our heart. If we are willing to seek Him, above everything else, then He can use us to do some amazing things. If we will take whatever we have to offer and lay it at His feet, He will multiply it for His glory.

                As the youngest son in the family, David was an unlikely choice to be king. Indeed, he was a truly talented and attractive young man, but that is not why God chose him. God chose him for service, because his heart was in the right place.

                We have been chosen for service to the King of Kings. Instead of offering Him excuses, let us offer Him our hearts.

    But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
1 Peter 2:9

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


                I am told that sharks must always be moving forward to survive. If they stop for any length of time, they will die. In some ways this is true of us as well. Life is all about moving forward. When we stop, we die. I know people who were old when they were 40, and people who are still young at 80. The difference is that one has stopped moving forward, while the other continues to strive toward the future.

                Throughout this past summer, I trained for and looked forward to running the Mankato half-marathon. It was a goal to strive for; motivation to get out and run. Finally, on Sunday the long awaited event happened. I joined with about 3,500 others, in the crisp morning air, to put our bodies and minds to the test. It was a glorious day for a long distance run. I started the race strong, struggled near the end, and pushed toward the finish. When I crossed the finish line, I felt a sense of accomplishment and joy.

                On Monday, with the race behind me, my focus had already shifted. Talking with my parents on Monday night, our conversation centered on our family gathering over Thanksgiving. I reported how the race had gone, but it was no longer the focal point. We were already looking to the future; moving forward.

                Life is a series of anticipated events. We spend far more time preparing for, looking forward to an event, then the actual event itself. If we are wise, when the event comes, we enter fully into the moment and experience the joy of the moment. But no matter how exciting an event is, it never truly satisfies us. The joy we feel is temporary. Almost before the event is over, we are looking forward to the next big event.

                C.S. Lewis wrote about this feeling in Surprised by Joy. He talks about how real, lasting joy is always just out of our grasp. We get tantalizing tastes of joy along the way, but if we try to grab a hold of them, they evaporate. His conclusion was that our desire for joy leads us on to the only lasting source of joy, Christ. We spend our lives striving for that goal, which we will fully experience one day, in the presence of Christ. We were not created to live forever in this fallen world; we were not created to be satisfied with this fallen world. We were created to live forever, in relationship with God, in His perfect world. All of our lives we are drawn toward our heavenly home by this unsatisfied longing for pure joy.

                Paul expressed a similar thought in Philippians 3. In verses 7-11, Paul expresses his overwhelming desire to know Christ fully; to be united with Christ completely. Then he clarifies the journey that he was on.

                Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14

                Paul was not satisfied with past accomplishments. He was unwilling to mark time and coast to the end of his life. Instead, he continued to press forward. He knew that he had not attained his goal. He had tasted the goodness and joy of Christ. His longing had been energized. He refused to be satisfied with anything less than the fullness of Christ.

                As followers of Christ, we can never be satisfied by past experiences; no matter how exciting or fulfilling. Those who live in the past, who stop moving forward, die a slow death. We were created to always be moving forward toward our fulfillment in Christ. No matter what we think we have accomplished, we have not yet reached the ultimate goal. The Apostle John expresses it well.

                Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure. 1 John 3:2-3

                Keep moving forward!

Friday, October 17, 2014


“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know you that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” James 1:2-3 NIV

            A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to take a sabbatical. One of the things I did, during that time, was ride my bike every morning. One morning I was greeted with overcast skies and the promise of rain. The air was cool and slightly damp. I zipped up my jacket, put on my helmet and gloves and mounted my bike. A gentle breeze greeted me as I rode out our long driveway toward the road. This isn’t too bad, I thought. Once I was on the bike path, I began to pick up the pace.  I was feeling strong. The pedals rotated smoothly and easily. I looked at my watch. I was making good time, so I decided to extend my ride, and go to the next intersection, beyond my usual turn-around point. I had intended to gradually extend the length of my ride anyway. It seemed like the right day to do that.

            I reached my new turn-around point, with no problem and a lot of energy. As soon as I made the turn, I knew why I had made such good time. A virtual wind tunnel accosted me. What had been a brisk, easy ride became a battle against the wind. I shifted down, ducked my head and pushed for home. My pace slowed to a crawl. Each stroke of the pedal was an effort. My heart began beating more quickly and the sweat started forming on my back. I no longer gazed across the open farmlands. Instead, with head bent low, I focused on the pavement in front of me.

            All of us face resistance in life. It comes in many forms. It comes in the form of the stiff wind of a co-worker, who seems to do everything possible to keep us from succeeding. It comes in the form of the coldness of a relative, who not only rejects faith in Christ, but finds subtle ways to mock our faith. It comes in the form of the relentless drain of health issues that never quite get resolved. It comes in a multitude of  forms. It comes to all of us.

            What are we to do with this resistance? How are we to handle it? There are different ways to deal with resistance in our lives. We can complain about it. This feels good at the time, but it doesn’t change anything. On my bike ride, I could have stopped and complained about the wind, but that wouldn’t have gotten me home. We can submit to the resistance. This is the passive approach. When we do that, it blows us farther and farther away from where we want to be. It would have been easier for me to ride with the wind, but if I had, I’d still be pedaling. We can choose to fight the resistance. This is a very popular approach today. As a society, we are quick to strike back, when others oppose us. In the end, this only serves to make us weaker and the resistance stronger. It would be like me trying to blow against the wind to turn it around. There is another way to approach resistance. We can stand up to it. If we do, we become stronger and better able to handle new resistance in the future.

            James tells us that resistance plays a positive role in our lives. In James 1 he writes these words. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know you that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4 NIV) James gives us an interesting approach to resistance in our lives. He tells us to use the resistance in our lives for our benefit. He gives us three insights into turning resistance into growth.

            First, keep a healthy attitude. James says, “Consider it pure joy” when you face the trials and pressures of life. I have to admit that joy is not my first response to resistance. When I turned my bike toward home, and that stiff wind hit me in the face, I didn’t respond with, “Isn’t this wonderful. I get to ride against the wind all the way home.” On the contrary, I thought to myself, boy did I make a mistake.

            On the surface, it is hard for us to equate pure joy with the trials and pressures of life. Yet James has a point. It comes in the word “consider.” Trials and pressures are a normal part of life. In most cases we have little or no choice in whether or not we will face them. But, we do have the choice of how we will face them. We can choose to let the resistance we face have a negative effect on us, or a positive one. James tells us to intentionally look positively at the trials of life. Let me give you an example.

            In the book of Acts, we read about the trials of the early church. As the church was beginning to develop in Jerusalem, it faced resistance from the religious leaders. On one occasion, the religious leaders had the Apostles arrested and put in jail for preaching about Jesus. Before their release, the Apostles were flogged and ordered not to preach in the name of Jesus any more. Most of us would have left that place like whipped dogs, with our tails between our legs. But not the Apostles. In Acts 5:41 it says, “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” They chose to face resistance with joy.

            When we face resistance in our lives, we too can choose to consider it joy. Our joy is not in the resistance, but in what it signifies. When we face resistance in our lives, because we are actively living out our faith, we can rejoice because we know we are heading in the right direction. Jesus told us that in John 15:18-19. “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”

            The second thing we learn from James is to persevere. To persevere is to persist in an endeavor despite resistance and difficulties. In other words, don’t give up. When we face resistance, the temptation we face is to give up and coast. As I was struggling on my bike, against the wind, and my legs were beginning to ache, I wanted to stop pedaling and just coast. But you can’t coast when you have a stiff wind in your face.

            If we are going to persevere in life, there are three things we will need to do. First, keep our eyes on the goal. When I’m biking my goal is to make it home. In life, our goal is to be like Christ. We cannot let resistance take our eyes off the goal. No matter what happens in the short term, our long term purpose remains intact. Paul puts it this way in Philippians 3:13-14. “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Second, stay the course. The temptation, when resistance comes, is to go with the flow. But when we do that, we will always go in the wrong direction. Instead, we need to be even more intentional about staying focused. As the writer of Hebrews puts it, “...let us run with perseverance the race marked out before us.” (Hebrews 12:1 NIV) Third, keep pedaling. If you are facing resistance at work, keep doing your job to the best of your ability. If you are facing resistance at home, keep loving that person. If you are facing resistance from within, discipline yourself to keep doing what you know is right. When you are riding a bike, there is only one way to get home, by pedaling. In the Christian life, there is only one way to maturity; keep moving forward, one step at a time.

            There is a third thing we learn from James about facing resistance. The result of having the right attitude and of persevering is maturity. Resistance doesn’t have to be destructive in our lives. In fact, when it is handled in the right way, resistance can be very constructive. I didn’t like pedaling against the wind on my morning bike ride, but I knew that, if I kept doing it, I would become stronger. None of us like facing trials in life, but, if we face them in a godly way, they will make us stronger.

            James gives us a clue about what he means by the word mature. He qualifies it with the word complete. Not lacking anything. Spiritual maturity is, in part, having all the resources we need to face the situation before us, and knowing how to use them. Maturity is not a destination, but a process. Instead of being static, maturity is dynamic, ever changing and growing. What it means to be mature changes as we move through life and face new challenges. The more resistance we face in life, the more opportunity we have to add to our storehouse of resources.

            We do  not have to wonder if we will face resistance in life. Resistance is a given. The question is, how will we face resistance when it comes?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


            I got up this morning in time to see the peak of a lunar eclipse. I could see the shape of the moon in the western sky, but it was dull and faded looking. As the minutes passed, a sliver of bright light began to emerge at the top of the moon. It continued to work its way down the face of the moon until it was almost completely uncovered. As I drove to my office, I was blessed by two contrasting sights. On the western horizon sat a large full moon, with just a hint of shadow at the bottom. On the eastern horizon I could see a bright orange glow as the sun began to rise. It was a magnificent sight. At that moment, I thought of the words from the Psalmist; the heavens declare the glory of God. This morning was a visual, tangible example of that very truth.

            I settled into my chair at my office to begin my morning devotions. I wrote several thoughts in my journal, including some remarks about the glory of the morning. Then I opened my Bible to the place marker. The words leapt off of the page.

Psalm 19:1-6
    The heavens declare the glory of God;
        the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
    Day after day they pour forth speech;
        night after night they display knowledge.
    There is no speech or language
        where their voice is not heard.
    Their voice goes out into all the earth,
        their words to the ends of the world.
    In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun,
        which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion,
        like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
    It rises at one end of the heavens
        and makes its circuit to the other;
        nothing is hidden from its heat.

            This was no coincidence. God was clearly speaking to me about His glory and His presence. The message was clear; I am here!

            There have been times in my life when I have struggled with feeling God’s presence. In my head, I know the reality of God. I know that He is, and that He is everywhere present.  Yet I struggle with feeling like He is far away, or is not paying attention to me. King David often struggled with these very same thoughts. He recorded them over and over again in the Psalms.

            Over the past couple of months, I have been struggling with discerning God’s leading and direction in my life. I have wondered about what God’s plan might be. I have dreamed about what could be, and have had some of those dreams dashed. I have agonized over the feeling that I may have lost my way, or that I may, in some way, be hindering God’s plan. Just this week, several things have happened that will directly affect my journey in the near future. I have faced these decisions with both hope and apprehension. Then the dawn came.

            This morning I was reminded that God is still on the throne. I don’t know all that the future holds, but I do know who holds the future. Whatever the outcome of recent events, God’s plan will move forward. God’s glory will be revealed.

Psalm 19:1
    The heavens declare the glory of God;
        the skies proclaim the work of his hands.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014


“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work:”
Ecclesiates 4:9 NIV

            Normally, when I run, I run alone. This is an issue of pragmatics. It is just easier to fit my running into my schedule that way. Earlier in the summer, I decided to organize a group run on Saturdays to prepare for the Mankato Marathon and to promote Team Bethel. My effort was not very successful, but, on one occasion, a young college guy showed up to run with me. We ran from church to county road 90 and back; a distance of six miles. As we ran, we talked about running, church and life. When we finished our run, I was struck by a couple of thoughts. We had kept up a pace faster than I normally run, but I did not feel winded. While we were running, I felt relaxed and energetic. I actually ran better, because I ran in partnership with someone.  

            The author of Ecclesiastes came to that conclusion many centuries ago. In Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NIV) he writes these powerful words:

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work:
If one falls down, his friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

            Partnership is an important aspect of life and one that is often neglected. The emphasis in our society has been on individualism and making it on your own. We have accepted this as the norm; the way things are supposed to be. But the outcome of this philosophy has been disastrous. More than any other time in our history, people feel abandoned, alone, insecure and hopeless. Why? Because, for the most part, they are facing life, and all of its challenges, alone. We have learned the hard way that you just cannot lift yourself up by your own bootstraps.

            The author of Ecclesiastes makes a strong case for interdependence above independence. He begins by asserting a basic principle. Two are better than one. Over the years I have learned the reality of this principle. It is not that a person cannot do things on their own. They can. But, we can do more and better work if we work together. Consider a couple of simple examples. Folding a set of queen sized sheets and blankets is much easier if you have a partner. Washing dishes goes much faster if you have a partner. Almost any building project becomes easier when you have a partner. Pick almost any aspect of life and you will discover that two are better than one. Ecclesiastes goes on to give us some practical applications of this principle.

            Two are better than one when we are facing hard times. Several years ago, we took a trip to the North Shore of Lake Superior and we invited Suanne’s grandmother to go with us. She was in her early 80’s at the time. One day we were taking a walk in one of our favorite woods. Grandma, who was always game to go along, was walking with us. As she walked, she caught her foot on a root and feel into the underbrush. For a second, everyone froze as we watched her spill to the ground. Then Suanne shouted, “Help her up.” Snapping out of my immobility, I jumped over a fallen tree and helped Grandma off the ground. Fortunately, she was not hurt, but she did need help to untangle herself from the underbrush.

            All of us have times in our lives when we “fall down.” Ecclesiastes tells us that at those times it is better to have a friend to help us get back on our feet again. I have often found this to be true when I have faced times of discouragement or failure. To be able to go to a trusted friend and sort out the issues is invaluable. I have had many opportunities to work with people who are facing life’s trials alone. They often come to me out of desperation, because they have realized that they cannot face these situations on their own.

            Two are better than one when we feel insecure. On my many trips to Ukraine, I have always felt a sense of insecurity going through customs. Entering a foreign country can be a challenge. I knew that I had nothing to hide, but in a country like Ukraine, you never know what to expect. On the other side of customs was a set of electronic doors that opened as you approached them. Every time I went through those doors, I was faced with a sea of unfamiliar faces. Then I would see my contact person and a wave of relief would flood over me. Knowing that there was someone there to guide me through took away my anxiety.

            Ecclesiastes tells us: “If two lie down together, they keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?” We often use the term warm to refer to our emotional state. When we feel secure, loved and confident, we feel warm inside. When we feel insecure, unloved and afraid, we feel cold. Life has a way of stealing our emotional warmth. Our individualistic approach to life tends to make for cold, hard people. But when we can come along side of each other and support and encourage each other, then we can begin to warm up as people. It really does take two to make for a truly warm person.

            Two are better than one when we are under attack. In Acts 9 we read the story of Saul’s conversion. Two interesting things happen to Saul shortly after his conversion that demonstrate the reality of the need for partnership. Acts 9 tells us that Saul began boldly preaching the gospel of Jesus in the synagogues in Damascus. Some believed because of Saul and some resented him. A group decided to put an end to this nonsense by killing Saul. Some of his new friends found out about this plot and helped Saul escape. In Acts 9:25 it says, “But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.” What a humbling experience for Saul, yet what a valuable lesson. When we are attacked, we need help. But, Saul still had more to learn. When he arrived in Jerusalem, instead of being received with open arms, he was rejected by the church, out of fear. Another man, Barnabas, came along side of Saul and defended him before the church. Because others were willing to stand with Saul in his time of need, he was able to go on and be a powerful force for the Kingdom of God.

            There are going to be times in our lives when we feel attacked. If we face these times alone, we are vulnerable to being overcome. But if we can face these situations with a partner, we are better able to withstand the attacks. This does not mean that we will also overpower our adversaries. It does mean that we will be less vulnerable and better able to stand our ground.

            Finally, Ecclesiastes concludes that there is strength in numbers. I grew up in an independent church. It was a good church. I received solid biblical teaching and gained a strong foundation for my faith. But, being independent, we didn’t have any ties with other churches. I often felt isolated and confused by this. When I attended seminary, I learned about the Baptist General Conference. The BGC is a group of churches who have bonded together to accomplish common goals. Being a part of the BGC helps me to face the pressures of life better, because I have friends I can lean on.

            Partnership is an essential part of our spiritual journey. When we were called by Christ to follow Him, we were called into a community of faith. As Paul says, we are the body of Christ, and each one of us is part of it. I am a better follower of Jesus, because I am a part of a worshipping community. I am a better follower of Jesus, because others are accompanying me on the journey. Two are better than one!

Thursday, October 2, 2014


“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”
Galatians 5:7 NIV

            It was my turn to make a display for our summer missions project to Ukraine. I was to highlight the family I have lived with for several summers, using pictures and short descriptions. It was not a big project. It was the kind of a thing you could do in an evening. But as things go, I got busy and Sunday morning dawned with no display ready. I did get right on it the next week and I had a display ready for the next Sunday. But that experience sparked a thought in my mind.  My life has been punctuated with small failures.

            As I look back over my life, I can honestly say that I have not experienced any major failures. Oh, there was the time I set up the EKG wrong and got the doctor  upset. But he was only running a routine test, and I learned a big lesson from that mistake. But, as I examine my life, there have been a rather large number of small failures that have piled up over the years. Things like promising to pick up milk on my way home from work and then not remembering until I pull into the garage at home.

            In the book of Galatians, Paul wrote to a group of people who were ignoring the small failures in their lives. He was watching as they slipped further and further away from the Lord. In Galatians 1:6-7 he writes, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel- which is no gospel at all.” Then in chapter 3 verse 1 he writes, “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” And again in Chapter 5 verse 7, “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?” I think the overall answer to Paul’s inquiry is “small failures.”

            The Galatians allowed little things to go on that gradually drew them away from the central truths of Christ. It is like being gently carried by the ocean current. At first, you do not notice the drift. But after a while, you realize that you have gotten a lot farther from shore than you had planned. It is the same with small failures. Their effect on our lives seems meaningless at first, but after a while we wake up to the reality that we have drifted a long way from where we want to be. At the end of his letter to the Galatians, Paul gives some insights into dealing with the small failures of life.

            First, small things matter. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” Galatians 6:7  (NIV)

            We tend to overlook small things in our lives, because we don’t think they matter. But we are very wrong. Living out in the country, one of the things that we battle constantly is dandelions. We can never seem to get ahead of them. If a person has two or three dandelions in his lawn, he may ignore them, thinking there are only a couple. It is no big deal. But that person would be very wrong. If those dandelions are allowed to go to seed, the next year, where there had been one or two plants, there will be a dozen or more. The same is true in our lives. If we allow small failures to go unchecked, they will multiply. Once small failures set down roots in our lives, they are very hard to get rid of. Paul tells us that small failures are like dandelions. If we allow them to go to seed we will reap a harvest of failure.
            Second, small things have big consequences. “The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap a harvest of destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” Galatians 6:8 (NIV)

            Every year we plant a vegetable garden. One of the things that my wife does not like about gardening is planting seeds. So many of the seeds we plant are tiny. It is hard to get them spaced properly. But out of those small seeds comes a harvest of vegetables and flowers.

            We planted a wildflower mix in a corner of the garden. Some of the seeds were minute, yet that corner of the garden exploded into a jungle of color and aroma. Some of the plants in that patch of garden were four feet tall. Small seeds can produce big results.

            Paul reminds us that our actions in life are like those small seeds. If the seeds we sow are
worldly, we will soon find ourselves in an overgrown weed patch. If the seeds we sow are godly, we can be sure that we will develop a beautiful garden where both God and we will be delighted.

            Last, if we manage the small things well the big things will take care of themselves.  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9 (NIV)

            Every garden is a little battlefield. It is an ongoing contest between the flowers & vegetables and the weeds. Each is competing for the vital resources in the soil, which they need to grow. In order to assure that the vegetables and flowers are healthy and productive, the weeds have to go. This is not a onetime event. It is a constant battle to keep the weeds out of the garden.

            Sin has a way of creeping into our lives like weeds. It intermingles with the good things in our life. Left unchecked it will choke out the good. Jesus talked about this in the parable of the sower.

            Then he told them many things in parables, saying: "A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop--a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear." Matthew 13:3-9 (NIV)

            In order for us to reap a harvest of righteousness, we need to constantly be rooting out the seeds of sin. This is much easier to do, if we deal with sin while it is still small, before it has firmly taken root. We do this by confessing our sin to Christ. Ignoring our sin is not an option. We must deal with it.

            If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:8-9

            Our life, our character, our reputation are built on small things. Small failures and small successes comingle to create the big picture. If we manage the small things well, we can be assured that big picture will turn out alright.