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.
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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)