Who Would You Not Like to See In Heaven?

Acts 10:1-34

Although today’s reading is relatively long, it’s still only a part of a
much bigger narrative. More of this story is included in the readings for
Sunday, and it offers a challenging message. It’s easy to forget how
shocking Peter’s actions would have been for his peers in the Church of
Acts. They had been raised as Jews and taught that it was wrong to
associate with Gentiles. They didn’t share meals with Gentiles, and they
didn’t believe that Gentiles could receive God’s Spirit. But then Peter is
given a vision – three times! – in which he is invited to eat all sorts of
unclean foods. When he objects, he hears God telling him not to call
unclean what God considers clean. Then, when he receives the invitation
to go to the house of the Gentile Cornelius, he recognizes that God has
prepared him for this moment, and he agrees. Through this experience,
his mind is opened to realize that God loves, welcomes, and accepts
even the people that Peter felt were unacceptable to God.
We continue this week by reading about Jesus’ teaching about bearing
fruit, calling followers of Christ to love one another. Peter’s story reveals
that “one another” does not mean only those we like and who are the
same as us. When Jesus says, “love one another,” he means everyone,
including those we may be tempted to reject.

The practice of hospitality, or welcoming others, is highly valued in the
Bible. When we gather for worship, we enjoy God’s hospitality around
God’s Table, but we can welcome others anywhere and anytime. This
may mean sharing a meal or a cup of coffee, or just sharing a smile.

Today, I open my heart to welcome even those I am tempted to reject.

Doctor Hot Shot

“Self-praise,” says an ancient adage, “smells bad.” In other words, it stinks up the works. Regardless of how we prepare it, garnish it with little extras, slice and serve it up on our finest silver piece, the odor remains. No amount of seasoning can eliminate the offensive smell. Unlike a good wife, age only makes it worse. It is much like the poisoned rat in the wall—if it isn’t removed the stench becomes increasingly unbearable. Leave it untouched and within a span of time it will taint and defile everything that comes near it.

I got nauseated last week. It wasn’t from something I ate . . . but from someone I met. My out-of-town travels resulted in a short-term liberal arts education of self-praise to teach me some things I hope I never fully forget. This individual is a widely traveled, well-educated, much-experienced Christian in his fifties. He is engaged in a ministry that touches many lives. He is fundamental in faith, biblical in belief, and evangelical in emphasis. For a number of years he has held a respected position that carries with it a good deal of responsibility and a great deal of time logged in the limelight. Such credentials deserve a measure of respect like the rank on the shoulders of a military officer or the rows of medals on his chest. Both merit a salute in spite of the man inside the uniform. In no way do I wish to diminish the significance of his position nor his record of achievement. But my point is this—he knew better . . . he had the ability to correct himself . . . but he chose to be, quite frankly, a pompous preacher!

You got the distinct impression that when the two of you were together, the more important one was not you. Little mistakes irked him. Slight omissions irritated him. The attitude of a servant was conspicuous by its absence. It was highly important to him that everyone knew who he was, where he’d been, how he’d done, and what he thought. While everyone else much preferred to be on a first-name basis (rather than “Reverend” or “Minister”), he demanded, “Call me Doctor . . .” His voice had a professional tone. As humorous things occurred, he found no reason to smile . . . and as the group got closer and closer in spirit, he became increasingly more threatened. I confess that I was tempted to short-sheet him one night—or to order a cold beer in his name and have it brought up to his room—or to ask the desk clerk to give him a call about 2:30 a.m. and yell, “Okay, buddy, out of the sack, rise and shine!” But I didn’t. Now I almost wish I had. Just for the fun of watching the guy squirm!

Now let’s get back to the basics. God says He hates “haughty eyes” (Proverbs 6:17). He calls a proud heart “sin” (Proverbs 21:4). He says if praise is going to be directed your way, “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth” (Proverbs 27:2). He drives home the message in Galatians 6:3:

If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.

There is no greater deception than self-deception. It is a tragic trap laid for everyone, but especially vulnerable are those who have achieved . . . and start reading their own clippings the next morning.

Here’s my advice. Three of the lessons I’ve learned since my encounter last week with Doctor Hot Shot are:

1. Get a good education—but get over it. Dig in and pay the price for solid, challenging years in school, and apply your education with all your ability, but please spare others from the tiring reminders of how honored they should feel in your presence.

2. Reach the maximum of your potential—but don’t talk about it. Keep uppermost in your mind the plain truth about yourself . . . you have to put your pants on one leg at a time just like everybody else.

3. Walk devotedly with God—but don’t try to look like it. If you are genuinely God’s man or woman, others will know it.


Tyranny in Our Day Part 1

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn—Russian dissident, 10-year forced-labor Soviet Gulag inmate, Nobel Laureate, Christian—lamented the “fallacious belief” that “here such things are impossible,” that totalitarianism could not happen in one’s own country. “Alas,” he wrote, “all the evil of the twentieth century is possible everywhere on earth.”[1]

Read those words carefully. It is the point I have been building towards in the last two issues of Solid Ground.[2]

In the first article, I chronicled my own experiences behind the Iron Curtain in 1976 working with Christians living under brutal authoritarian rule in communist bloc countries like Hungary, Poland, Romania, and the former Soviet Union—places where believers suffered significant loss of personal liberty and, in some cases, severe persecution simply for following Christ.

In the next article, I pointed out that citizens in any culture will ultimately be ruled by one of two fundamental forces: either truth or power. Any nation whose people lack the liberty to pursue, discover, and live by truth will be destined to live as victims of lies and frequently crushed under the heels of powerful oppressors.

I then briefly traced the development of the first great lie—what I called “the primal heresy”—from its inception in the Garden to its current divinization of self that some have labeled “expressive individualism.” At the Fall, mankind replaced the external truth of God’s world and God’s morality with the internal “truth” of bald personal preference and naked individual desire. The act of rebellion that traded truth “out there” for truth “in here”—the outside/inside distinction—marked the birth of what has come to be known as relativism.

Remember, relativism is the ultimate negation of truth, and when truth dies, power is all that remains. The immediate payoff for relativism—the unrestrained narcissism of expressive individualism—may be satisfying for a season, but it’s a fleeting gratification. Bald force eventually fills the truth vacuum, and relativists’ values begin cannibalizing relativists’ liberties. Whoever has the power to nullify liberty ultimately gets to enforce his own preferences. Postmodern people are leaning on a bent reed.

These musings have not been idle reflections, however. Rather, the downward arc of the shifting ethos of the West has revealed a disquieting trend. Liberal democracy—in the best sense of those words—is becoming a thing of the past. America is moving rapidly toward the brink of a peculiar species of totalitarianism that promises to erode freedom, hinder our ability to proclaim the gospel, and compromise our liberty to live peacefully with our Christian convictions.

I have not been alone in my concern. Émigrés from former Soviet bloc countries who fled the totalitarianism of communism for the freedom of America are mortified at the trend. When author Rod Dreher asked if they thought America was drifting toward some type of totalitarianism, “They all said yes—often emphatically”[3] (emphasis in original).


I wrote “peculiar species of totalitarianism” above because what we are experiencing now is actually an amalgam of two forms of totalitarianism—soft and hard. First, a general description, though.

Totalitarianism is not the same as dictatorship, where an individual tyrant’s jackboot stands on the neck of liberty. That is simple authoritarianism. Totalitarianism goes further. Drawing on insight from expert Hannah Arendt, Dreher clarifies:

A totalitarian society is one in which an ideology seeks to displace all prior traditions and institutions, with the goal of bringing all aspects of society under control of that ideology. A totalitarian state is one that aspires to nothing less than defining and controlling reality. Truth is whatever the rulers decide it is.[4] [Emphasis added.]

Notice the militant relativism that makes totalitarianism possible. When truth comes not from the outside but from the inside, power prevails. Truth becomes “whatever the rulers decide it is.”

The indoctrination to an alternate reality at the heart of totalitarianism has a curious effect. When reality is persuasively redefined by the incessant drone of political propaganda and abetted by not-so-subtle social pressures, the populace is gradually persuaded by it and willingly embraces it in large numbers as the high moral ground. Those who do not are vilified as enemies of the good (“haters,” in the current vernacular)—the “good,” that is, as defined by the authorities. Orwell’s “Big Brother” comes immediately to mind.

At the moment, I am halfway through William Shirer’s remarkable work The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. I realize it’s risky conjuring the image of fascist dictators to make a point. Some have done this so frequently and so frivolously that people are inclined not to take such allusions seriously. In this case, though, they ought to. Santayana famously warned, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Shirer noted the precise pattern I described above displayed by Germans in the 1930s, a dynamic (Shirer confessed) even he was vulnerable to: “A steady diet over the years of falsifications and distortions made a certain impression on one’s mind and often misled it.” He then referenced “the most outlandish assertions from seemingly educated and intelligent persons” who were obviously “parroting some piece of nonsense they had heard on the radio or read in the newspapers.” Opposing the nonsense was useless, he wrote, since “on such occasions one was met with such a stare of incredulity, such a shock of silence, as if one had blasphemed the Almighty.”[5]

And so today. The propaganda of the Left regarding sexuality, gender, the “bigotry” and “hate” of Christians, etc., is so pervasive and rhetorically clever, it has become irresistibly persuasive to many who are mystified that some—especially religious conservatives—are not falling into step with the times. Worse, they’re angry at unpersuaded dissenters who now loom as dangerous enemies of the common good.

That siren song of the new order now presses in on us from two directions, creating the peculiar amalgam of totalitarian tyranny I spoke of.

“Soft Totalitarianism”

In soft totalitarianism, compliance is not enforced by government. Rather, private cultural institutions controlled by elites accomplish that task—the academy, the press, “enlightened” corporations, Hollywood, and especially those controlling social media.

Many of us, particularly the young, live out our social lives online—through Instagram, Facebook, Twitter—and manage our lives at the behest of its aggressive stepsisters, Amazon, Apple, and Google. We post, we purchase, we tweet, we opine, we share vital information and also gather vital information using their platforms.

These enterprises provide the bulk of our access to the outside world. It has become obvious to careful observers, though, that these digital giants are not neutral players in this game. We are being watched, and we are being tracked. Corporate Goliaths are assiduously collecting every piece of information they can on our purchasing habits, our preferences, our private lives—even our travel patterns. [6]

Rod Dreher reports that this “surveillance capitalism hoovers up detailed personal data about individuals and analyzes it with sophisticated algorithms to predict people’s behavior.”[7]

The initial goal of this online data harvesting is, of course, monetization of information—profit, for short. But there is a darker side. Sophisticated algorithms have another consequence. “The rapidly growing power of information technology and its ubiquitous presence in daily life,” Dreher warns, “immensely magnifies the ability of those who control institutions to shape society according to their ideals[8] (emphasis added).

Have you noticed how frequently social media moguls have been silencing dissenters by using “community standards” guidelines that appear to guarantee civility in their domains but often serve to weed out political dissidents? Worse, many are able to economically retaliate against nonconformists by demonetizing their platforms or banning them from business access. Even offline, corporate giants are increasingly and openly indoctrinating employees with progressive politics as a de facto condition of continued employment.

This is soft totalitarianism. Left-leaning corporations and other elites are its willing agents, and we consumers are its willing subjects. They have their “bully pulpit,” but they also have their “big stick,” the not-so-subtle social pressures I mentioned earlier.

One of the strongest evidences of totalitarianism is punishment of dissent. Dissidents can be destroyed. Here are a few examples. There are many, many more.

You’re a Piece of Work

The apostle Paul opened his letter to the believers in Philippi by explaining that he often thanked God for them in joyful prayer because of their partnership in sharing the gospel. Paul held a special affection for the Philippian church, which he had founded approximately ten years earlier. Now he expressed confidence in God’s continued work in their lives: “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:3–6, NKJV).

Paul had seen firsthand the good work that God had begun in the Philippian believers. In Philippi, on Paul’s second missionary journey, he and his companions encountered Lydia and other women meeting by the riverside for prayer. As Paul preached, Lydia and her household were saved and baptized, and the Philippian church was born (Acts 16:11–15). Later, the Christians in Philippi conducted their house church in Lydia’s home. As the church grew, it became one of the strongest supporters of Paul’s ministry (Philippians 4:10–20).

Paul loved the Philippians deeply and desired to see them continue to grow in Christian maturity and abound in ever-increasing spiritual understanding: “I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God. so that they will be blameless until the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:9–11, NLT).

At the time of our salvation, God begins His work in us. We are made alive in Christ—regenerated, made new (2 Corinthians 5:17). Then, through an ongoing, lifelong process called sanctification, God finishes, perfects, and completes His work in us. Paul referred to the process when he said, “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6, NKJV). Spiritual growth ought to continue in steadfast believers until the day Jesus Christ returns (2 Peter 3:181 Thessalonians 5:23).

A brief biblical definition of sanctification is “the Holy Spirit’s work of setting believers apart to be made holy or made like God.” Sanctification is a three-phase process. At the moment of salvation, Christians enter positional sanctification. Jesus’ work on the cross is a finished work—believers stand positionally sanctified as though they already are made holy before God, even though they are not yet completely holy in practice: “For by one sacrifice he [Jesus] has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:14).

Progressive sanctification is phase two, in which God, who has begun a good work in us at salvation, continues to transform us into His image, saving us from the practice and power of sin. After the initial cleansing from sin, the committed Christian begins to undergo a daily process of spiritual renewal (Colossians 3:10). The Bible also calls this phase “the sanctifying work of the Spirit,” as the Holy Spirit is the chief agent working in the believer to produce the character of God and the fruit of holiness (1 Peter 1:2; cf. 1 Corinthians 6:112 Thessalonians 2:13Galatians 5:22–23).

From the moment God begins His good work in us until the day of its completion, the Holy Spirit is chipping away, renovating our character, day by day reforming us into partakers of the holy nature of God. God does the work, but believers are also meant to be active in the process, yielding to the effort (Romans 6:131912:1) and pressing on toward the upward call to holiness (Hebrews 12:14Philippians 3:12–14).

God began a good work in us at salvation and then called us to live out the progressing development of being made into His image. The Christian walk is a pathway of ongoing growth. The journey brings us ever closer to God until His work in us is perfect and complete on “the day of Jesus Christ”—that is, the day of Christ’s return when we see Him (Colossians 3:41 Thessalonians 5:23). Complete sanctification is the third phase, also known as glorification.

From the very beginning, throughout the continuation, and until the final stroke, God is working in us (Philippians 2:13). He is the Master Craftsman who never gives up on us (Ephesians 2:102 Corinthians 1:21–22). The Lord’s salvation, His glorious redemption of His people, will reach its crowning culmination when Jesus Christ returns. Only then will God, who has begun a good work in you, put His finishing touch on you.

Sweep Your Own Doorstep

Isaiah 65:17-25

The last part of Isaiah, most scholars believe, was written to God’s
people who had returned to their homeland after years in exile. The
memory of their suffering was still fresh in their minds, and they faced
the difficult task of rebuilding their shattered nation. Yet, here, God gives them a vision of a whole new world – one of peace and justice, of
security and compassion. Where before there had been weeping and
the fear of enemies plundering their homes and possessions, now God
promises laughter and safety and abundance. It’s a wonderful dream,
and it gives a picture of the Reign of God that Jesus preached about,
lived and died for.
When Jesus challenges us to bear fruit, it is this picture that he has in
mind. It’s not that we must all become world-changing activists. Rather,
as we live according to God’s values and purposes, as we stay
connected with Jesus, as we allow the Spirit to direct us, we bear fruit
that is a small reflection of this great dream. And, if each of us lives in
this fruit-bearing way in our corner of the world, the whole world is
ultimately changed. It’s like Mother Teresa once said: “If you want to
make the world clean, sweep your own doorstep.”
Today, take some time to meditate on this vision of God’s gracious,
peaceful world, and do what you can to live this dream now.

The practice of praise constantly lifts our awareness beyond our own
perspectives and struggles to see things through God’s eyes. Today, try
to constantly remember Isaiah’s vision of God’s Reign, and praise God
for it, so that it sinks right into your soul.

For your dream of peace and justice, and for the small ways that I can
help to make it happen, I praise you, O God.

Cracks in the Wall

The longer I live the less I know for sure.

That sounds like 50% heresy . . . but it’s 100% honesty. In my younger years I had a lot more answers than I do now. Things were absolutely black and white, right or wrong, yes or no, in or out, but a lot of that is beginning to change. The more I travel and read and wrestle and think the less simplistic things seem.

I now find myself uncomfortable with sweeping generalities . . . with neat little categories and well-defined classifications.

Take people, for example. They cannot be squeezed into pigeon holes. People and situations are far more complex than most of us are willing to admit.

  • Not all Episcopalians are liberal.
  • Not all athletes are thickheaded.
  • Not all collegians are rebels.
  • Not all artists are kooks.
  • Not all movies are questionable.
  • Not all questions are answerable.
  • Not all verses are clear.
  • Not all problems are easily solved.
  • Not all deaths are explainable.

Maybe the list comes as a jolt. Great! Jolts are fine if they make you think. We evangelicals are good at building rigid walls out of dogmatic stones . . . cemented together by the mortar of tradition.

We erect these walls in systematic circles—then place within each our over-simplified, ultra-inflexible “position.” Within each fortress we build human machines that are programmed not to think but to say the “right” things and respond the “right” way at any given moment. Our self-concept remains undisturbed and secure since no challenging force is ever allowed over the walls. Occasionally, however, a strange thing happens—a little restlessness springs up within the walls. A few ideas are challenged. Questions are entertained. Alternative options are then released. Talk about threat! Suddenly our superprotected, cliché-ridden answers don’t cut it. Our over-simplified package offers no solution. The stones start to shift as the mortar cracks.

Two common reactions are available to us. One: We can maintain the status quo “position” and patch the wall by resisting change with rigidity. Two: We can openly admit “I do not know,” as the wall crumbles. Then we can do some new thinking by facing the facts as they actually are. The first approach is the most popular. We are masters at rationalizing around our inflexible behavior. We imply that change always represents a departure from the truth of Scripture.

Now some changes do pull us away from Scripture. They must definitely be avoided. But let’s be absolutely certain that we are standing on scriptural rock, not traditional sand. We have a changeless message—Jesus Christ—but He must be proclaimed in a changing, challenging era. Such calls for a breakdown of stone walls and breakthrough of fresh, keen thinking based on scriptural insights. No longer can we offer tired, trite statements that are as stiff and tasteless as last year’s gum beneath the pew. The thinking person deserves an intelligent, sensible answer. He is weary of oversimplified bromides mouthed by insensitive robots within the walls.

Perhaps by now my words sound closer to 90% heresy. All I ask is that you examine your life. Socrates once said,

The unexamined life is not worth living.

If you’ve stopped thinking and started going through unexamined motions, you’ve really stopped living and started existing.

That kind of “life” isn’t much fun, nor very rewarding. I’d call it about 100% heresy . . . and only 50% honesty.


When Jesus Owns You

Yeshua [Jesus] rules in every case, over everything and everyone. He is the Master. PERIOD! We are His slaves. Yeshua [Jesus] is my Master (Owner). Yeshua [Jesus] has authority over me.

Even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life.

John 17:2

There is a huge benefit to Jesus having authority over our lives. Jesus gives eternal life. Now that is very good news and a huge deal. Yes Jesus, I want that! I really, really do.

If there are slaves then there is a … If Jesus has authority, then the word “master” becomes important to understand. So here is a fundamental question: “What is the foundational reality that defines what it means to be a disciple? What is the fundamental reality that distinguishes the believer’s relationship to Jesus? What is our great confession in three words?” Jesus is Lord (Master).

In fact, if you want to be saved, Romans 10:9 and 10 says, “You confess Jesus as Master (aka Lord).” Kuriosis the corresponding word to slave, i.e., doulos. Kurios is a title and means “master.” Doulos is “slave.” I can no more eliminate doulos from the my relationship to the Master than I could eliminate kurios.

I hear a lot about the issue of the Lordship of the Messiah to try to help people who think I can become a disciple without acknowledging Jesus as my Lord (Master), which is an impossible thing. Nonetheless it’s advocated. I don’t accept it.

The simple answer to that is this. If Jesus is Lord, which is to say He is Master, then I am His slave. There’s no such thing as a master with no slaves or a slave with no master. And 1 Corinthians 12:3 says, “We call Jesus Master (Lord) by the Spirit of God.”

Jesus the Messiah is the Master over all of creation and reigns supreme over everything in the created order. Does Jesus reign supreme in my Life? Jesus wants to know.

In Colossians 1:18 Paul says that the Messiah is the head of the body. Then he exhorts us to make sure that we give the Messiah priority attention like we do with our own head and face. This verse concludes, “that in all things He may have the preeminence (or first place).”

And so there is some very good news. Jesus gave His life for us. The least we can do give Him first place in our lives.

Mike Wilson

Neither Death Nor Life

In Romans 8:38–39, the apostle Paul articulates one of the most profoundly comforting reassurances in Scripture: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The psalmist echoes Paul’s conviction that neither death nor life can separate us from God’s love: “I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there!” (Psalm 139:7–8, NLT). God is present everywhere. There is no place we can go and be cut off from His presence. The Bible also tells us that God, by His very nature, is love (1 John 4:816). And if God is love and exists everywhere, then it stands to reason that nothing and no place can isolate us from His love.

Paul relates a laundry list of things that could potentially have the power to barricade us from God’s loving presence: life, death, angels, demons, the present, the future, powers, height, depth, and anything else in all creation. With that last item, nothing is left out! And then Paul affirms that none of these things are powerful enough to create a barrier between us and the boundless love of God in Christ. Everything in all the universe, whether in this present life or the life to come, is under God’s sovereign control and the dominion of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (Ephesians 1:221 Corinthians 15:27–28Hebrews 2:8).

God displayed His great love for us on the cross (Romans 5:8John 3:16–17). On Calvary, Jesus Christ triumphed over all things, including death and every living enemy, by offering His life in our place (Colossians 2:15). When we receive God’s gift of salvation, we are “buried with Christ” through baptism and “raised to new life” by “the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead” (Colossians 2:12, NLT). Paul continues, “You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13–14, NLT).

The redeemed of the Lord are made spiritually and eternally alive in Christ. We died and were buried with Jesus and then raised and restored to newness of life. Not one thing in this life or even in death can ever cause lasting harm to us because Jesus Christ rescinded all charges against us. For this reason, nothing and no one will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Jesus Christ. We belong to the Lord forever (Isaiah 43:1John 1:1210:28Romans 8:1514:8).

We may sometimes feel like our pain, sorrow, and loss distance us from God’s affection. But to this deception, Paul asks, “Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? . . . No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us” (Romans 8:35–37, NLT).

When we feel separated from God’s love, the problem is not any lack on His part. The hindrance comes from our perception. When instability and insecurity threaten us, our confidence must rest securely in the knowledge of God’s love for us and not in our own feelings. Human love is often erratic, weak, fluctuating. Doubt, circumstances, and fear can obscure our awareness of the Lord’s presence. We must stand on the sure promise of God’s Word that His love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8). It is never-ending (Lamentations 3:22). The Lord’s faithful love endures forever (Psalm 136:71321).

God does not promise us a life free of affliction, but He does promise to be with us through anything and everything we face with His all-powerful, steadfast agape love. For believers in Jesus Christ, God’s love is a constant supply poured out by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). His love can be counted on in the calamities of life and leaned upon in the crisis of death.


James 3:17-18

Today’s reading is just two verses, but it says so much. The key word
here is wisdom, and you’ll notice that God’s wisdom is very different
from what we are usually taught. Most of us have learned since
childhood not to let others push us around. We’ve been encouraged to
decide what we want and to go for it, making sure we don’t let anyone
get in our way. But James says that God’s wisdom is to be concerned for
others. It seeks peace, and it is willing to yield to others. Yielding, we
have been told, is weakness, so we don’t like to do that. Yet, this is
exactly what Jesus did, and what we are called to do. Furthermore,
when we choose this gentle path of peace, James says, we reap a
harvest of peace and righteousness. What feels like weakness, brings
wholeness, connection, life, and strength into the world. This is the
paradox of God’s wisdom.

It can be hard for us to release our own agendas. It can also be hard to
recognize times when “yielding” actually requires us to stand up against injustice. Abuse and oppression hurt both victim and perpetrator, and so
sometimes the most loving thing to do is to stand against bullies. But it is
possible to stand for justice with an attitude of gentleness, love, and
compassion. If you doubt this, read the story of Rosa Parks! Significantly,
though, one of the best ways we can contribute to a world of peace and
justice, according to James, is to stop insisting that everything must go
our way. When we learn to let go of our need to be in control, we
discover the freedom of creativity, connection and mutual service.

Being part of a faith community always teaches us to serve one another.
Whether it’s serving tea, playing a musical instrument, or just greeting
others, we all have something to contribute to the larger agenda of
God’s Reign. But we can also do this on a daily basis, finding those
small and important ways to serve others, and let go of our addiction to
having everything our own way.

Teach me the wisdom of serving and of holding my agendas lightly, O

Fire Cannot Warm a Cold Heart

It happened in a large, seventy-five-year-old stone house on the west side of Houston. A massive stairway led up to several bedrooms. The den down below was done in rough-hewn boards with soft leather chairs and a couple of matching sofas. The wet bar had been converted into a small library, including a shelf of tape recordings and a multiple-speaker sound system. The ideal place to spend a weekend . . . unfortunately, my wife and I were there just for the evening.

The smell of char-broiled T-bones drifted through the rooms. The ladies laughed in the kitchen as they fussed around with ranch-style baked beans, a variety of salads, and homemade pies. Everybody knew everybody. An easy, relaxing atmosphere made you want to kick off your shoes and run your fingers over the thick, black hair of the sleeping Labrador retriever sprawled across the hearth of a crackling fireplace.

The host, a lifelong Christian friend, leaned his broad shoulders against the mantle as he told of the bass that got away last week. While the guys chided him loudly for exaggerating (“it had to weigh ten to twelve pounds!”), my eyes ran a horizontal path across the carved message on the mantle. The room was too dark to read what it said from where I sat. I was intrigued and strangely drawn from my overstuffed chair to get a closer look.

I ran my fingers along the outline of each letter as my lips silently formed the words:


“Hmmmm,” I thought, “how true.”

Fireplaces don’t warm hearts. Neither does fine furniture nor a four-car garage nor a full stomach nor a job with a six-figure salary. No, a cold heart can be warmed only by the fire of the living God.

I settled back down, stayed quiet, and mused over those thoughts. I even prayed as I stared into the fire:

“Lord, keep my heart warm. Stop me when I rev my motor and get to moving too fast toward stuff I think will make me happy. Guard me from this stupid tendency to substitute things for You.”

The dinner bell broke the spell. I stood up with all the men and we strolled toward the patio. I took a quick glance to remind myself of the words on the mantle one more time. The logs were now burned down to embers, and in the glow I remembered:


I thanked God for His fire that has never burned down.

That memorable scenario happened over twenty years ago. My heart has, since then, occasionally cooled off. Today, however, it is warm because He never left me when I was cold.


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