Christian Living

Parable on Sanctification

The army of an evil duke storms the castle gates of an ancient kingdom. With murderous zeal the raiders pillage and torch the city. Amidst the mayhem, the infant son of the kind and noble king is captured and transported to the duke’s castle where the boy is enslaved to the sadistic warden of the dungeon.

From his earliest memories the captive prince is abused. As time passes he knows only the life of a tortured slave whose days are spent toiling in the dank confines of the dungeon. He is denied proper food, shelter and clothing. He is never permitted to bathe. He sleeps on a thin pile of vermin-infested straw, his ankle shackled to a post.

The prisoners he attends verbally abuse him. The warden routinely flogs him and with sadistic glee poisons the boy’s mind to believe that all his troubles are directly traceable to the dominion of the king. Under these horrific conditions the prince’s soul shrivels and becomes a dark haunt breeding many vices.

Early one winter morning, the boy is startled awake by shouts of panic. The king has mounted a successful attack against the traitorous duke’s castle. After the duke’s army is subdued, all the boys of a certain age-range are lined up against a castle wall. The prince, with no idea who he really is, stands in the frigid air shaking, virtually naked, and filled with loathing for the conquering king. The boy is covered from head to toe in grime. His long hair is matted and snarled. His nails are grotesquely long, his lips cracked, his feet bleeding. He nurses infected wounds. He is emaciated and unspeakably repulsive.

Working his way down the line of boys, an armored knight eventually arrives at the prince. The knight grabs the boy’s grimy wrist and carefully inspects his forearm where is revealed a distinctive birth mark. With thunderous voice, the knight turns and announces: “Here he is, your Highness!” To the boy’s utter astonishment, the king’s soldiers immediately drop to one knee, bowing their heads toward him in homage. The regal king who watches the proceedings intently from atop his steed dismounts and swiftly approaches. The boy cowers against the wall, instinctively bracing for the worst. But to his further bewilderment, the king he so despises does not raise his hand to strike, but stands before him with open arms. Tears fill the strong man’s searching eyes. A look of tender compassion graces his rugged face such as the boy has never witnessed. Suddenly, the king embraces the boy and with a strong hand pulls the prince’s head to his chest and speaks lovingly into his ear: “I have at last found you, my dear lost son. Welcome home.”

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The Pursuit of Joy

The author of this essay is no longer involved at SI, but it’s too good to let gather digital dust. First appeared at SharperIron on May 2, 2005. The original post and discussion are available here.

I was surprised the other day by a non-Christian’s complaint that a certain group of Christians was “eternally happy.” Christians often talk about how the unsaved will see their joy and want to have that same joy. This young man, however, saw something forced —something less than genuine— in the happiness of some Christians, as though they were unwilling even to acknowledge the existence of things like sorrow, anger, or fear. He commented that the human experience of joy could only be meaningful if we have experienced its opposite, and the Christians he knew seemed never to be touched by suffering. Though we can’t always be responsible for others’ misinterpretations of our actions, these comments made me start thinking more carefully about joy. Is it our duty to keep a smile plastered on our faces no matter what is going on in our lives or others’? Is that what real Christian joy looks like? What is biblical joy and how do we get it?

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On Being Generous with Grace

The Midrash Key examines selected portions from the Gospel of Matthew and demonstrates that they are expositions or applications of First Testament (Old Testament) texts. But there is no way to address all of Jesus’ teachings in a single volume. As John noted in writing his Gospel, processing the words of Jesus is a major undertaking. John 21:25 reads, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”

So we have to deal with a portion at a time, here a little, there a little. The focus here is on some of Jesus’ more famous words in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:38-42. The text reads as follows:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you….

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Apolitical Faith? Objections to Christian Political Engagement, Part 1

Meet the apolitical right

“I’m apolitical,” a pastor friend told me not long ago. His tone and body language communicated disdain for the whole business of candidates, legislation and public policy. The response I did not verbalize was, “Great. Another one.”

This apolitical attitude seems to be on the rise among theologically serious (especially gospel-serious) evangelicals and fundamentalists. An underlying conviction seems to be that the Bible and Christian living have nothing at all to do with any political agenda. Ministry and true discipleship are only hindered by attention to political matters. To the most passionate apoliticals, the correct course is not a matter of balance (moderation in political engagement) or discipline (proper limits on the kind of political engagement). It’s a matter of purity: faith and ministry should not mix themselves in any way with the poison of politics.1

In practice, this means churches should avoid taking positions on matters perceived to be “political issues,” and pastors and teachers should refrain from teaching and preaching on political topics. Above all, believers should not express their political views in any way that might alienate someone with whom they hope to have a gospel witness. Having a mild interest in politics and casting a vote on election day is okay, but going beyond that is heading down the wrong road.

A variety of factors motivate the apoliticals I’ve interacted with. Some simply have temperaments that are deeply averse to the conflict and strife of politics. Others have absorbed some of the thinking of the evangelical left (such as the “Red Letter Christian” fondness for pitting the supposed teaching of Jesus against the rest of Scripture rather than interpreting Jesus in light of the rest of Scripture).2 In almost every case, constituents of the apolitical right see the Moral Majority efforts of the 1980s as a travesty and decry anything today that seems similar.

Whatever the primary motivation, apoliticals offer specific objections to all but the most mild and private forms of political engagement.

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The Power of Hatred

Very few Christians have developed a theology of hatred. The reason is obvious: we try to avoid hating others as best we can, and we feel the pain when others hate us. So we try to turn our minds to other things.

On September 11, 2001, American Christians—like the rest of the country—were forced to confront the power of hatred. We realized that hatred toward us was so strong that men gave their lives to harm us. And they did.

The relationship between hatred and insanity seems clear. In Isaiah 14:12-15, when Lucifer, the “Star of the Morning” envied God’s position, he was filled with defiance and determined that he would be God. During the future tribulation, the antichrist will be consumed by hatred as he makes war against God’s elect (Rev. 13:5-8). He will be so full of himself that he will enter the temple and declare himself to be God (2 Thess. 2:4). Whether hatred drives people insane or insanity drives people toward hatred, is hard to say. It may well be sometimes be one way, sometimes the other.

Haman offers us a case study in hatred. In Esther 3:1-4:3, we see his plan to exterminate the Jews through genocide. Haman became the Grand Vizier, and the power went to his head. He could not amass enough strokes or attention. People bowed down to him—not just to respect him—but also to worship the king through him. The king was thought to be the incarnation of the god Orormasdes, and Haman therefore was connected to the divine, in his view.

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Botanical Beauties and Bible Basics

Having tried my trowel in a modest 3- by 4-foot plot surrounding our mailbox, I felt primed to take on a more sizable project. So, in a spurt of gleeful ambition, my husband and I declared war on the 100-plus feet of backyard over-brush, hoping to cultivate a small ridge for our first “real” flowerbed. Easy enough—or so this city girl thought. Eager as we get about first time yard endeavors, the road of “trial and error” has been well-worn. I am, however, pleased that the tidbits of horticultural knowledge acquired have delivered more than a greener thumb. Almost embarrassed to pen the obvious, three gardening fundamentals have captured my interest because of their striking correlation to spiritual realities. Humbled and enlightened, please bear with the amateur lingo.

Basic Fact #1: Neglected soil is hard to hoe.

From what I hear, our backyard flowerbeds were once flourishing with a variety of botanical beauties, each one carefully chosen for continual blossoms throughout the summer. Needless to say, hours of back-breaking work digging up bulbs and bushes confirmed the hearsay. Uprooting established plants or nature’s sporadic foliage is no sissy’s job. And just when you turn your back, more late-bloomers make their appearance, summoning another evening of labor. In comparison, our spiritual “garden” is already speckled with unattended, undesirable “foliage” that becomes more firmly rooted with each sinful indulgence. Hoeing up bad habits and weeding out pet sins will be a life-long, arduous process. Often, the discovery of what lay beneath the surface is daunting as you uncover what seems like an impossible extraction. Plopping pretty little seeds atop an underground “beast” will not suffice. Only those surrendered to hard work, in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, will cultivate adequate soil, well-groomed for lasting spiritual growth.

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