I’m a Pretty Good Boy

My senior year of high school I took a law course. One class period we were visited by two convicted men serving time in an Oregon state prison; one for armed robbery and the other for murder.

The men talked about the conditions they faced growing up, the influences that led them to lives of crime, details of their trials, and pain of being in prison. Both asserted their innocence.

When they finished telling their stories we were allowed to ask questions. I asked: if you were a judge sitting on a trial with your exact circumstances, would you find the person guilty, and what sentence would you give?

The thief said it was an interesting question, but both refused to answer.

It’s easy for us to judge others based upon our own circumstances.

See, I’m a pretty good boy. Sure, I’ve made some mistakes over the past 50 years, but overall … you’re still a far worse a person than I am. I can think of a hundred and one reasons to condemn you and excuse myself.

God, however, doesn’t judge us by how we compare to our neighbor but according to the standard of His Law, the Bible. Where we don’t measure up, where we miss the mark, God calls it sin and sin makes us guilty before God and deserving of punishment.

The punishment for our sins? The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23), physical and spiritual death.

Yet God has done something remarkable. He sent His beloved Son to the earth to stand in your place at the sentencing hearing. Yes, you are guilty, but Jesus took your guilt upon Himself and died for your sins. To be saved you must accept what He gave without claiming innocence, shifting blame, or trying to add any of your own merit to the court case.

Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and He was buried, and He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast (1 Cor 15:3-4; Eph 2:8-9).


# 13 of 30 – The Working of the Word

This is # 13 of 30 ways that God’s Word, the Bible, works in the lives of His people.

God’s Word gives the believer spiritual freedom. Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32).

Leaning on the Everlasting Arms

The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms (Deuteronomy 33:27).

My friend Isaac Mathembe and his wife have a daughter who is almost one year old. Every day little Kimberly is being taught new things about life. She’s learning to walk, to talk, to feed herself, to solve conflicts with her brother and sister, to obey those in authority, and to follow Jesus faithfully.

The goal of her parents is that one day Kimberly will grow up and not need to rely upon them. Instead, she will be mature enough to live on her own, care for herself, and care for others. She won’t need to constantly run to Mom and Dad to meet her needs but she’ll be strong enough to rely on what she’s been taught about herself and about her God. This process is called maturity.

Spiritual maturity is very much the same. The work of the pastor is to teach the Word of God so that your faith matures. It is the Scriptures that mature the believer (2 Tim 3:16-17). As your faith in God grows, you’ll apply God’s Word to your life to meet your needs. You don’t rely on the pastor or your own strength, but you rely upon the strength of the Almighty God.

The past year and a half I’ve been teaching through the Book of Revelation verse-by-verse. One of the threads woven through the fabric of this book dealing with the end times is that God’s children will face overwhelming troubles in life. Despite those trials and difficulties, the sovereign God is in control, working all things together for good to them who love God and are the called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28). Rather than worry or doubt or give-in or call for the pastor, the child of God knows how to lean upon the everlasting arms of God and rejoice.


Do the Right Thing

I’d only been the pastor a few weeks when the church secretary called. A man of the congregation was in the office to get my permission to organize a visit to another man in the church who was ill. I was glad to hear of his desire, but explained that he didn’t need an organized effort or my permission to do the right thing.

As Christians, we don’t need organized plans by the pastor to show our care for one another. That’s a program, and churches don’t need any more programs. There’s no need for love to be discussed and orchestrated like a government committee. That isn’t love, it’s a arrangement.

Christ-like love is motivated by devotion in the individual heart. It simply and quietly acts without needing a bandwagon, publicity, and organized labor. When you love someone, and see a need, you do something.

Love. Do.

You don’t need permission and a group to do the loving thing.

Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart (First Peter 1:22).


The Parable of the Ant

So much to do and it seemed so little time to do it. He didn’t know where everyone else was going, but everyone was certainly busy. Always going. Always busy. At least that’s how it seemed.

The little black ant scurried his way along the invisible ant highway through the kitchen and up the table leg where he hoped to find a few crumbs of toast left behind. It was his job. He worked all day, every day, and would keep at it until the day he died.

Ant kept himself busy doing what he needed to do to feed his family, never dreaming that there was a world beyond what he knew. Why would he think beyond reality? He was busy in his own world; it was all that mattered.

There were times however, maybe better described as flickering moments, when the ant thought that maybe there were things bigger and greater than himself, his world, and what he knew. “Someday” he kept saying to himself, he’d find the time to ponder these things … but not today. Today would soon end and there was yet more work and even less time.

As Mom cleaned the kitchen and Dad walked out the door for the office, Timmy sat alone, his chin resting on the breakfast table, watching the little ant hurry back and forth searching. Like he did each morning, Timmy dropped a few crumbs from the crust of his toast for the ant to find. “Someday” he kept saying to himself, the ant would stop, look up, and thank him.

What is man that You are mindful of him, or the son of man that You take care of him? (Hebrews 2:6).


The Parable of the New Suit

Monday morning always felt early for Martin. He dragged himself out of bed and into the shower, out of the subway and onto the sidewalk, out of the elevator and through the office door. This morning he already had a new client waiting for him.

He looked over the paperwork on his desk and then made some preliminary observations about the client. Male. Early 20s. Straight teeth. No tattoos. No needle marks. Homeless, but somebody’s son. Martin had grown tired of the same clientele day after day, but something about this young man was different. He would treat this man differently.

Martin took the client into the dressing room and began the search for the perfect new suit. “It really is the suit that makes the man,” Martin said. White shirt with spread collar. Navy suit with a modern skinny cut … Perry Ellis would look great. Most important was the necktie; two-inch, solid black. He worked carefully to ensure that the tie reached down just over the top of the belt buckle. His client looked like a million dollars. Perfectly perfect! As they said in Martin’s business, “Fit for a funeral.”

Hair trimmed and styled with a barely noticeable touch of makeup, his client was ready for the debut. It wasn’t often, but today Martin was proud of himself and his work as he wheeled the young man in the coffin into the Hearse.

A dead man is still a dead man no matter how he’s dressed.

The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord  (Romans 6:23).


The Parable of the Snail’s Tale


Herbert and Hobart were twins. Almost.

They’d spent every minute of the three months of their lives together. They liked the same things, did the same things and went to the same places.

Every morning when the sun came up, Herbert opened his eyes, moved to the bright pink wheel in the center of his home, and began running around and around and around.

Hobart would wake at the same time as Herbert, only he didn’t have a wheel, he’d just move to the edge of his house and swim around and around and around.

The two best friends, a hamster and a goldfish, kept busy going. They had so many places to go and things to see in their little world.

One day as the two brothers were making the circuit around the world, Hobart noticed something odd outside his glassy home. He stopped swimming to stare. Herbert stopped running in his wheel and tumbled to the wood shavings on the floor of his home.

“Hey, what’s up?” the hamster protested as he turned to see what his twin was so interested in.

Hobart ignored his brother and rose to the top of his fishbowl. Taking a big gulp of air he called out, “You! On the wall! What are you doing?”

The snail on the wall stood still in his thin trail of slime. Turning his antennae, he saw the two twins on the table, each peering over the edges of their glass houses.

“I didn’t see you fellas there. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Solomon and I’m on my way up the wall to the window. I’ve dreamed about a big-wide world out there just waiting to be discovered. More snails than I could ever imagine. This adventure has taken me three days so far, but I’m on my way. See, I spend the day climbing up the wall and then each night I slide down a bit, but I’m certain to reach the window sill in a few days.” Solomon couldn’t resist adding, “Then the world’s my … oyster!”

The twins looked at each other and sneered. “Up the wall.” They both laughed simultaneously, Hobart’s gills choking on a wave stirred up from laughing so hard. “That’s nonsense! A world waiting to be discovered. We’ve seen and done everything there is to see and do.”

Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him (1 Corinthians 2:9).


The Parable of the Grave Robber

Only two more months and Martin was going to retire, but this could ruin it all.

Martin worked at Shady Lawn Memorial Gardens. He began as the grounds keeper 40 years ago and worked his way up to supervisor. Nothing like what he found this morning had ever happened before.

As he walked into the graveyard this morning he was startled to see some of the graves freshly dug up. No, these were not newly dug graves, but only ones dug up, the caskets removed from the ground, and the bodies stolen.

Police from three different cities were swarming all of his freshly cut grass and a row of television satellite trucks from every newsroom were broadcasting live. Someone had stolen 17 bodies during the night. There didn’t seem to be a pattern to the robberies according to the police; the bodies were just gone.

Martin heard of this happening before over the years, but it had never happened at Shady Lawn. He suspected that new Christian man who’d moved in across the street of being the culprit. He even told the police so. That guy was a nut job, always reading the Bible and preaching about Jesus to everyone. A fanatic kook like that had to be responsible for the missing dead.

God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ. By grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:4-5).


A Servant of God and God’s People

Pastor Mike and Ramel Wilson in Ireland

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus … took the form of a servant (Philippians 2:5, 7).

One of the highlights of my 35 years in ministry has been serving with Pastor Mike Wilson. Our congregations met one block from each other, and over the years we discovered that we had identical beliefs.

When my congregation was forced to leave the property we had bought and built, Pastor Mike graciously opened the doors of his building to us and his congregation of saints opened their arms of fellowship to us.

My admiration for Mike was further cemented on the first Sunday our two assemblies shared a meal together. Throughout the years of my ministry, I’ve always seen that I was the last to eat, choosing to make sure others had their coffee, guests were welcomed, children were eating and having fun, and food was plenteous. While washing dishes in the kitchen, I watched Pastor Mike also serve God’s sheep rather than be served. I was proud to work with this like-minded servant.

In some congregations, the pastor assumes the position of visiting royalty rather than a humble servant. Some pastors, I suppose, expect that kind of partiality.

On the night of Christ’s “Last Supper”, He set the example of what it means to be a servant-leader. Jesus got up from the table, donned a towel, and washed the filthy feet of the disciples like a slave would do. As He washed, He taught them:

If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you … If you know these things, happy are you if you do them (John 13:14-15, 17).

Pastor Mike Wilson is now a missionary-pastor with his wife Ramel in the Republic of Ireland, but I know that he is serving those the Spirit brings to him, setting the Christlike example of what it means to serve one another.


A Responsibility to Help One Another

Americans are outraged at the number of poor living on our streets without food or shelter, yet individual acts of compassion are replaced with the question: why doesn’t the government fix this?

Over the past 100 years, the nations of the Western world have created extensive government programs of caring for the poor. The poor are still with us in even greater numbers despite taxpayer-funded housing, medical care, education, and even food, clothing and cell phones. No such government welfare existed in the ancient world.

In the Law of Moses, God required Israelite farmers to not harvest the edges and corners of their land. This food was to be left for the poor to collect. This system of gleaning (Lev 19:9-10) is expressed in the story of Ruth (Ruth 2:2-23). Individual Israelites had an individual responsibility to help one another.

In the New Testament, God also has a means of caring for the poor in the local church. If a congregation had the means, widows could be given food under strict guidelines found in First Timothy 5:3-16. A widow had to be: (1) married only once and her husband was dead; (2) without any other living relatives or financial means of her own; (3) over the age of 60 years; (4) known for her good works; (5) above accusation of sin in the community; (6) consistent in a life of prayer; and (7) trusting in God as her provider and not expecting others to meet the need.

Women younger than 60 are commanded to remarry (1 Tim 5:14), families are to care for their own relatives (1 Tim 5:4, 8), and a widow must also be active in meeting the needs of others (1 Tim 5:10).

Why is God so strict with His rules for the Church? Doesn’t He care about people? Of course He cares, He gave His Son to die for the salvation of sinners; but the primary work of the local congregation is the spiritual ministry of teaching the Word of God – not social welfare. His rules are strict to ensure the most needy are helped. Individual Christians have an individual responsibility to help one another.

Whoever has this world’s good, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:17-18).