Disciple: says we are people who spend our lives apprenticed to our master, Jesus Christ. We are in growing-learning relationship, always. A disciple is a learner, but not in the academic setting of a schoolroom, rather at the work site of a craftsman. We do not acquire information about God but skills in faith.
Pilgrim: tells us we are people who spend our lives going someplace, going to God, and whose path for getting there is the way, Jesus Christ. We realize that “this world is not my home” and set out for “the Father’s house”.
No literature is more realistic and honest in facing the harsh facts of life than the Bible. At no time is there the faintest suggestion that the life of faith exempts us from difficulties. What it promises is preservation from all the evil in them. On every page of the Bible there is recognition that faith encounters troubles.
To ask God to deal with what troubles us each day is like asking a famous surgeon to put iodine on a scratch, but the same faith that works in the big things works in the little things.
An excellent way to test people’s values is to observe what we do when we don’t have to do anything, how we spend our leisure time, how we spend our extra money.
I have never said that we worship because we feel like it. Feelings are great liars. If Christians worshipped only when they felt like it, there would be precious little worship. Feelings are important in many areas but completely unreliable in matters of faith. The Bible wastes very little time on the way we feel. We can act ourselves into a new way of feeling much quicker than we can feel ourselves into a new way of acting.
If God is God at all, he must know more about our needs than we do; if God is God at all, he must be more in touch with the reality of our thoughts, our emotions, our bodies than we are; if God is God at all, he must have a more comprehensive grasp of the interrelations in our families and communities and nations than we do.
We would very soon become contemptuous of a god whom we could figure out like a puzzle or learn to use like a tool. No, if God is worth our attention at all, he must be a God we can look up to—a God we must look up to. The moment we look up to God (an not over at him, or down on him) we are in the posture of servitude.
I have never yet heard a servant Christian complain of the oppressiveness of his servitude. I have never yet heard a servant Christian rail against the restrictions of her service. A servant Christian is the freest person on earth.
In a world where nearly everything can be weighed, explained, quantified, subjected to psychological analysis and scientific control, I persist in making the center of my life a God whom no eye hath seen, nor ear heard, whose will no one can probe. That’s a risk.
There is nothing I am less good at than love. I am far better in competition than in love. I am far better at responding to my instincts and ambitions to get ahead and make my mark than I am at figuring out how to love another. I am schooled and trained in acquisitive skills, in getting my own way. And yet I decide, every day, to set aside what I can do best and attempt what I do very clumsily—open myself to the frustrations and failures of loving, daring to believe that failing in love is better than succeeding in pride.
In the details of the conflict, in the minuteness of personal history, the majestic greatness of God becomes revealed. Faith develops out of the most difficult aspects of our existence, not the easiest.
Certainly you may quit if you wish. You may say no to God. It’s a free faith. You may choose the crooked way. He will not keep you against your will. But it is not the kind of thing you fall into by chance or slip into by ignorance. Defection requires a deliberate, sustained and determined act of rejection.
Jacques Ellul: “The first great fact which emerges from our civilization is that today everything has become “means”. There is no longer an “end”; we do not know whither we are going. We have forgotten our collective ends, and we possess great means; we set huge machines in motion in order to arrive nowhere.”
Christian faith needs continuous maintenance. It requires attending to. If you leave a thing alone you leave it to a torrent of change. If you leave a white post alone it will soon be a black post.
One temptation that has received special treatment in Western civilization, with some special flourishes in America, is ambition. Our culture encourages and rewards ambition without qualification. We are surrounded by a way of life in which betterment is understood as expansion, as acquisition, as fame. Everyone wants to get more. To be on top, no matter what it is the top of, is admired. There is nothing recent about the temptation. It is the oldest sin in the book, the one that got Adam thrown out of the garden and Lucifer tossed out of heaven. What is fairly new about it is the general admiration and approval that it receives.
It is difficult to recognize pride as a sin when it is held up on every side as a virtue, urged as profitable and rewarded as an achievement. What is described in Scripture as the basic sin, the sin of taking things into your own hands; being your own god, grabbing what is there while you can get it, is now described as basic wisdom: improve yourself by whatever means you are able; get ahead regardless of the price, take care of me first. For a limited time it works. But at the end the devil has his due. There is damnation.
Most people treat Christianity as a religion to help them with their fears but that is forgotten when the fears are taken care of; a religion made of moments of craziness but that is remote and shadowy in the clear light of the sun and the routines of every day. The most religious places in the world, as a matter of fact, are not churches but battlefields and mental hospitals.
The average Christian is a play it safe, boring, predictable person whose virtues are too numerous to describe, and not sufficiently interesting to deserve description…not much adventure.
Our membership in the church is a corollary of our faith in Christ. We can no more be a Christian and have nothing to do with the church than we can be a person and not be in a family. For God never makes private, secret salvation deals with people. No Christian is an only child.
A book on God has for its title “The God Who Stands, Stoops and Stays. That summarizes the posture of blessing; God stands—he is foundational and dependable; God stoops—he kneels to our level and meets us where we are; God stays—he sticks with us through hard times and good, sharing his life with us in grace and peace.
Many think that the only way to change your behavior is to first change your feelings. But there is an older wisdom that puts it differently: by changing our behavior we can change our feelings.
A professional is a person who “did a better job when he didn’t feel like it.”
What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy him forever. The main thing is not work for the Lord; it is not suffering in the name of the Lord; it is not witnessing to the Lord; it is not teaching Sunday school for the Lord; it is not being responsible for the sake of the Lord in the community; it is not keeping the Ten Commandments; not loving your neighbor; not observing the golden rule. “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
Gratitude follows grace as thunder follows lightning.
Scripture and prayer are not two separate entities. My pastoral work was to fuse them into a single act: scriptureprayer, or prayerscripture. It is this fusion of God speaking to us (Scripture) and our speaking to him (prayer) that the Holy Spirit uses to form the life of Christ in us.