From Scratch

“…neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that matters is a new creation! And all who will behave in accordance with this rule, peace and mercy be on them, and on the Israel of God.” (Galatians 6:15,16 NET)

How dull the vagaries of our attempts to extricate ourselves from our predicament are to those who accept the life offered in Christ. Jesus upending of our vainglorious ambitions by choosing a life of humble, honest and intelligent Continue reading

The Cross isn’t Glamorous

In our time, the cross is a symbol of purity and holiness. It is suspended from the body as jewellery, hangs on walls and greets the eye on Bible covers. It means a lot of things to different people but it is quite rare in our day to associate it with excruciating humiliation and ignominy. Continue reading

Spiritual Pride

Thirteen years ago, a foreign pastor visited our church one Sabbath afternoon. He had lived in an area controlled by rebels and regaled us with tales of abductions and forced labour. The stories of resilient faith in the face of stern hardship were nothing short of remarkable. One of his stories included his firm stand on not working on the Sabbath. Two denominations refused to work on the Sabbath and were summoned to explain themselves by the rebel leadership. He happily told of his explanation and with a dismissive wave of the hand, informed us of the other pastor’s inability to defend his position. The rebel leadership, we were told, exempted the members of his church from Saturday labour while the other denomination received no exemption.

At that very moment, my friend whispered in my ear, “you can easily see the spiritual pride on his face.” He added, “Just because that pastor couldn’t explain himself,doesn’t mean his whole church is inferior.” Spiritual pride is a dangerous self delusion. It drives us to turn God’s gracious blessings into entitlements. The spiritually proud are convinced God owes them a lifetime supply of blessings to pay them for two seconds of superficial obedience. Pride goes before destruction because pride is blind. Unable to see anything beyond themselves, they walk into traps but imagine themselves upright.

Unable to see God, they are unable to see themselves for those only those who gaze with awe upon God are able to see their true selves and are horrified by it all. Blind to God and to their true condition, the proud are doomed to never understand those around them. It is a lonely business! Afraid to lose God, they turn their noses up at other sinners, often moments before they fall into the same sins. It isn’t long before they decide to weed out sinners in an attempt to keep themselves pure.

In the end, it is only God’s graciousness that give us any hope. While we wallowed in sinful folly, God offered us a new way to be winners. 

We owe our victories unequivocally to God. He is the instigator and finisher of our faith. The source and sustainer. To be sure, we will walk the streets of the New Jerusalem not because of who we are but because of who He is and what we have allowed Him to make out of us.

A little humility would be in order.

Brother’s Keeper

“Think for yourself but not by yourself,” are words that succinctly capture the tension between individuality and community. On one hand, none should leave their brains at the church gate and on the other, nobody is an island. We easily swing from one extreme to the other, hugging each other with smiles in one moment but storming off to angry solitude the next. In our time it has become popular to focus on “me and God” but we are more than bleeding hearts and talking heads, we are irrevocably social creatures. An individualistic DIY Christianity is without echo in the Bible.

Accountability. That’s a tough word to swallow. Leaving trembling knees in its wake, it is a word that floats into our minds and paints pictures of auditors poring through our past seeking to laud or chastise in the present. It is a word waved by irate subordinates demanding nothing but transparency from their leaders. It is a word sweet to the mouth that utters it but bitter and maddening to the ears that hear it. Despite all this, accountability is necessary, an indispensable tool to pull the wayward back to the straight and narrow.

In our day, though, it is popular to declare that God is more concerned with our hearts than anything else. Terms such as church discipline are considered the worst taboo. With the unfolding history of the church’s abuse of power and menacing attitude toward individuality, contemporary leeriness of church discipline is hardly unfounded but it would do us all a world of good to remember that the cure for an extreme has never included swinging to another extreme. Individualism is contrary to the communal tenor of scripture from the man and woman created in God’s image to the city in the Earth made new. We are to be a community.

Paul himself, when struck with blindness by the panoply of the vision on the road to Damascus was directed to the church for healing by Jesus himself. Some time before that, Jesus, freshly resurrected, had declared the church, the community of believers as the highest spiritual authority on earth. This authority was never meant to be authoritarian, coercive and exclusionary but respectful, humble, inclusive and redemptive. The church’s role is to take part in expanding God’s kingdom on earth. From that perspective, the church’s success must be measured by how many it has introduced to the King and not by how many it has excluded.
The cold hard truth that we have to swallow is that we are too weak to stand alone. The Christian who deludes himself into DIY thinking is in danger of falling. Paul’s words to the struggling Galatians were timely: “bear each other’s burdens.” When one of us stumbles and falls we must all gather around to help lift them up and not trample. Building the community needs not the dissolution of individuality but the death of individualism. The church’s answer to Cain is yes, you are your brother’s keeper.

​ You Couldn’t Stop it if You Tried

“You’ll be back,” says the haunting thought. It mocks as you swear you’ll never dial that number again, even though you leave it in your phonebook or when you clear your browser’s history but leave that hidden folder (for next time?). Maybe it rolls its eyes at you when you quit smoking for the sixth time that month or when you pour that drink into the sink but keep it for deposit.
Continue reading

Diabolical Bean Counting

Taunted by the Ten Commandments, I stood in muted sullenness wondering if I would ever earn the right to stroll down the New Jerusalem’s gilded streets. Like the proverbial roller coaster ride, my life was an unending juxtaposition of fist-pumping “sinless” triumph and shameful remorse-riddled tragedy. At times I caught myself casting a longing look at the ways of the mischievous, feeling trapped between wayward inclinations I could not give in to and Commandments I could not live up to. Spiritual limbo! I couldn’t help wishing I were Enoch, Elijah or Moses, already living in glory, safe from eternal condemnation but alas, my fate hung in the balance, steadily tipping toward hell.

Despite my inner swirling conflict, I found my halting faltering struggle to obey the taunting Ten kept me safe from the sprains, scrapes and bruises that seemed to be the lot of those who lived in mischief. Though I had my share of lesions and scars from my forays into lawlessness, I had a measure of joy mingled with respect for the wisdom of God in giving the Ten. My only cause for mourning was the hopelessness of my perfidy in face of the spotlessness of the ideal. Half a loaf was better than nothing but the Law called for a banquet. Clouds of despair flew across my soul, threatening to expunge the flame of hope. Then one day, I got a look at the sinless Jesus living with sinful humanity.

He was God in the flesh, showing that even without the panoply of divine power, God Himself could not but live in obedience to the Law. His obedience wasn’t a sullen bean counting one but a joyful enthusiasm. Flouting the rules with impunity, He did not keep the Law but lived it. By His own words, He declared Himself the fulfilment of the Law. By His life, He took cold words on stone and breathed life into them. The Law is not about counting deeds and misdeeds, it is about character. It is not a way of earning life but how to live it. It is our way to face off Law and grace but Jesus, in His injunction to “go and sin no more,” married the two.

The taunting I thought came from the Ten was really the diabolical laughter of Satan. Knowing that I fell hopelessly short of perfect observance, he twisted my view of the gracious God the Ten pointed to and had me view his perverted ungracious justice: diabolical bean-counting. Like a lot of Christians, I made the mistake of thinking the Ten began with “thou shalt not,” instead of,

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery,” Exodus 20:2 (NIV)

By beginning with “thou shalt not,” I was led to obsess with what I should not do. Salvation became a reward for not being bad instead of a gift. Redemption is the starting point of the Law. The same God who created the world is the same God who liberated slaves and forged them into a nation. How then could His law be enslavement? God’s redeeming power exercised in an atmosphere of love is the starting point of the Law. Redemption is a gift, not a reward; God’s initiative and not human triumph. The Ten Commandments are really Ten Promises. The God who created the world is the God who will lead us not to bean counting, but Lawful living. These promises and the rest of the laws were guidelines that immature God worshippers would follow until God Himself would come in the flesh, revealing how it’s really done.

Beginning with “thou shalt not,” casts a shadow of slavish drudgery but beginning with the Creator’s liberating initiative, singes the shackles and whispers promise to the struggling follower of God. The Law is an artist’s impression of the finished product: Christlike character. Thus far it is glorious but in the presence of a living, crucified and resurrected Jesus, it pales in comparison for Jesus is no caricature but the real thing!

It is not all fun and promises though, for the Law does spank us. My deceptive heart cannot be trusted to discern right and wrong unaided. Sin has tainted my thoughts and twisted my feelings so I cannot trust them. I look outside me for guidance thus, in addition to pointing out the right path, the law points out my wrongness and perfidy, not so I can try harder but so I can surrender to the God who liberates and straightens the crooked. Without His enabling power and attractive blueprint, I am hopeless. No bean counting could ever show me that.

photo credit: Theen … Solitary Confinement via photopin (license)

Rules! Who Needs Them?

The trouble with rules is, they need to be enforced. The bigger trouble with rules is, they always have exceptions. Maturity is the ability to live an orderly life without rules, it is knowing where the boundaries are without a fence. At Mount Sinai, God was setting up fences for immature people. The Ten Commandments are God’s law made simple. God’s Law is eternal because it is a revelation of Continue reading


It is incredible that God figured he couldn’t destroy Sodom and Gomorrah without telling Abraham first. In fact, He let the two angels go into the city to carry out an independent investigation while He strolled with Abraham and bargained with Him. This is incredible, not only because the Almighty condescended to eat, stroll and discuss His plans with humanity, but because God was willing Continue reading

The Trouble with Good Boys

Wincing with fearful anticipation of the awful wrath of God, he begins his life of penance, a constant eschewing of all bad deeds in his attempts to do “the right thing.” Roaring applause and smiling nods of approval from all around him are his reward. Protective fathers snarl at all their daughters’ suitors but invite him for lunch as they loudly wish their sons could be more like him. With feet barely touching the ground when he walks, he is the hero; the quintessential good boy.

Behind their benign faces, good boys frown uneasily. They frown for one reason with many manifestations; from less benign manifestations such as a certain Delilah’s number lingering in his contacts, to malignant ones such as a growing resentment towards all things religious or a squeezing despair of ever reaching perfection. The manifestations are many but there is one underlying cause: despite his spirited attempts at avoiding bad deeds and straining to do “the right thing”, he is not a righteous being.

His righteousness is an illusion. Like a scratch revealing the stone wall as mere wallpaper, the simplest agitation reveals the malevolent sinner belying the smiling saint. The terrible things we do are not sin but its results. Murder is not sin but is caused by it. Sin is a software issue that crashes the hardware. Sin lies in our attitude toward God and reality. It is more perception than action; it is twisted perception that leads to twisted deeds. The good boy’s attempts are in vain for he is like a man trying to push start a car with no engine.

Good boys, just like bad boys, can only be truly good by relying on God. This is not to mean that they need not exert themselves but that they must draw strength from God. Only God can put an engine in the car, you need to exert effort in driving it. Only God can supply the stones for your wall, your part is to build it, stone by stone. Effort is indispensable in living a righteous life but only God can supply the strength and guidance. The trouble with good (& bad) boys is that they don’t trust God.

Believing the diabolical insinuation that God wasn’t trustworthy, Adam and Eve rebelled against Him and hid when He came to talk. The Israelites cowered with fear even when Moses told them not to (Exodus 20:18-21). Sin is the failure to perceive God’s goodness. This leads us to distrust God and look to ourselves for salvation. Thus, the bad boy who does his own thing and the good boy who tries in his own power to do “the right thing” are sailing in the same boat: away from God. The good boy is in worse shape though, because he doesn’t realize it; he thinks he’s sailing to God! Remember Saul who was surprised to find out that he was persecuting God when he thought he was serving Him? Remember the son who didn’t leave home but whose refusal to celebrate his brother’s return showed that he didn’t see himself as part of the family as he worked to earn what was his by birth?

God made us in His image: He endowed us with responsible benevolent creativity. We are designed to act from conviction not compulsion or impulse. In keeping with that God can neither demand trust nor manipulate us, not if the trust is to be eternal. Conviction demands evidence thus Jesus came to reveal God’s trustworthiness by living a life of total trust in the Father and unbridled goodness to mankind. The life of Jesus showed God’s eagerness for unfettered communion with mankind. His death showed that death by divorce from God is not arbitrary but consequent. His resurrection provides assurance that God is able and willing to restore that which is killed by sin, be it Christ or us. This is the trustworthiness of Jesus or the faith of Jesus or Jesus faithfulness (pistis Christus). Good boys need to realize that we serve a God whose “law cannot be enforced and whose favour cannot be won,” and rest in the knowledge that Christ can and will recreate all those who trust in Him.

“A sullen submission to the will of the Father will develop the character of a rebel. By such a one service is looked upon as drudgery. It is not rendered cheerfully, and in the love of God. It is a mere mechanical performance. If he dared, such a one would disobey. His rebellion is smothered, ready to break out at any time in bitter murmurings and complaints. Such service brings no peace or quietude to the soul.

“Christ assumed humanity, with all its humiliation and service, that he might set men free from the bondage of Satan. He knew that the service of Satan can bring only wretchedness and misery in its train. The sinner is a stranger to repose. He says, ‘I want my freedom.’ He hopes to get rid of all restraint by casting aside the law of God. But it is this desire that has made the world what it is today, corrupt as in the days of Noah, and polluted as the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.” (Ellen G White, Signs of The Times, 22 July 1897)

“… A mechanical obedience may hide the smoldering fire of rebellion, but it is ready to break out at any time against restraint. In the service of such there is no peace or light or love. The atmosphere surrounding their souls is not fragrant.” (Ellen G White, Medical Ministry page 177)

“…Jesus came to teach men of the Father, to correctly represent Him before the fallen children of earth. Angels could not fully portray the character of God, but Christ, who was a living impersonation of God, could not fail to accomplish the work. The only way in which he could set and keep men right was to make himself visible and familiar to their eyes. That men might have salvation he came directly to man, and became a partaker of his nature.” (Ellen G White, Signs of the Times, 20 January 1890