A Kind of Secret Force

Philip Yancey, in What’s so Amazing about Grace?

Jesus’ images portray the kingdom as a kind of secret force. Sheep among wolves, treasure hidden in a field, the tiniest seed in the garden, wheat growing among weeds, a pinch of yeast worked into bread dough, a sprinkling of sale on meat–all these hint at a movement that works within society, changing it from the inside out. You do not need a shovelful of salt to preserve a slab of ham; a dusting will suffice.

Jesus did not leave an organized host of followers, for he knew that a handful of salt would gradually work its way through the mightiest empire in the world. Against all odds, the great institutions of Rome–the law code, libraries, the Senate, Roman legions, roads, aqueducts, public monuments–gradually crumbled, but the little band to whom Jesus gave these images prevailed and continues on today.


An Unexpected Repository for Truth

Philip Yancey, in What’s So Amazing about Grace?

When I visited Russia in 1991 … I saw in Russia a people starved for grace. …

I heard form ordinary citizens who now relished their freedom to worship. Most had learned about the faith from a babushka, an old grandmother. When the state cracked down on the church, it ignored this group: let the old women sweep the floors and sell the candles and cling to the tradition until they all die off, they reasoned. The aged hands of the babushka, though, rocked the cradles. Young churchgoers today often say they first learned about God in childhood through the hymns and stories Grandma would whispers as they drifted off to sleep.

I will never forget a meeting in which Moscow journalists wept — I had never before seen journalists weep — as Ron Nikkel of Prison Fellowship International told of the underground churches that were now thriving in Russia’s penal colonies. For seventy years prisons had been the repository of truth, the one place where you could safely speak the name of God. It was in prison, not church, that people such as Solzhenitsyn found God …

Are We Gate Crashing Hell

It could have been my sister in Orlando that night, shot and killed. It could have been my son’s best friend. My God; it could have been me; in the words of the early church martyr: “There but for the grace of God go I“.

It wasn’t me. It wasn’t you. But it was so many. Not one life. Not five or ten or twenty. Forty-nine lives were taken that day, in a horrific tragedy, by one single, hateful man. Forty-nine. Forty-nine life stories and love stories. Forty-nine sons or daughters or brothers or sisters or friends.

The place they were in might have made it easier to distance ourselves — some of us — from their plight and their tragedy. “A gay nightclub.” I would have never been in such a place. By God’s grace, you might add.

I think it was C. T. Studd who succinctly stated, “Some people want to live within the sound of mission bells, but I want to run a mission a yard from the gates of Hell.”

I was sleeping when the shooting occurred, but how deep was that sleep? How have I been lulled to sleep by church bells rather than stirred to life by the plight of the lost, the hateful and the hated? Someone filled with ideologies of hate and justice and wrath stormed that nightclub to shoot and destroy. Did anyone, I wonder, enter that nightclub in a spirit of love and mercy, to speak truth into the lives of those who had gone astray?

Or maybe not a nightclub. Maybe a classroom. Maybe a living room. Maybe a front porch. Or an abortion clinic. Or a church. The broken, the lost, the misled and the straying are everywhere. Are we looking for them? Are we seeking them out and speaking love and truth and mercy into their lives? Or have we already judged them in our minds? Both victim and perpetrator?

I was grieved at the news of the shooting. I have been more grieved, though, at the reactions of many Christians, those who are using the tragedy to push their own agenda. I have seen Facebook posts decrying current presidents and potential presidents, paragraphs filled with hateful and ugly statements. I have seen more moderate posts about the need to maintain our rights as Americans … and I ask myself, is this what Jesus would be promoting? Was it Jesus who promised rights? Or was it He who promised that those who suffer with Him would also rule with Him? Who promised that the one who carries the cross will bear the crown? Who said we might not have a place to lay our heads at night, but that we will have a home in His presence for eternity?

And we are using a tragedy where scores of human beings — scores of us — were shot and killed or wounded; we are using it to proclaim our rights and secure our position and defend ourselves against those who stand in other positions. Are we not called to open our arms and lives and speak truth in mercy and love? Are we not called to lift up the Cross of Christ, not the First or Second or 14th Amendment or the Bill of Rights?

What is our focus? Reaching the lost and searching? Or living a life of comfort and ease?

I have had to search my heart in light of this horrific incident and the varied responses I have seen across social media. I pray that we who are believers in the life-giving power of the risen Christ will all do the same. What are we here for? We who know Christ as Savior? We have assurance of eternal life; why did Christ not carry us home to be with him as soon as we were “saved”?

Because we have a calling. A commission. A commandment. Spread the Gospel of Jesus to all in every country, in every place.

Not spread the message of our rights, whether they are waxing or waning. But to keep our eyes fixed on Him, the Author and Finisher of our faith. And to enable others to also fix their eyes on Him.

May we crash the gates of hell by not fearing to run a mission there, rather than hiding in our houses or churches, promoting rights that were never given us by God. May we promote Him, whom to know is life eternal.

Near to the Brokenhearted

Psalm 34:18


“The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart.

God is nigh unto them (with reverence be it spoken), God takes so much complacency in the company of such, that he cannot endure to have them far from him; he must have them always under his eyes; as for these broken ones, he will be sure not to leave them long, nor go far from them, but will be ready at hand to set their bones, to bind up their wounds to keep them from festering.

It may be he may put them to much pain before he brings the cure to perfection, but it is to prevent future aches ….  a wise man will not think him unmerciful that puts him to exquisite pain, so he may make a thorough cure of it.

Thus God doth by his patients sometimes, when the nature of their distemper calls for it. But, however, he will be sure not to be out of the way when they want him most. It is possible that they may look upon themselves as forgotten by God, they may not know their Physician when he is by them, and they may take their Friend for an enemy; they may think God far off when he is near; but when their eyes are opened and their distemper is pretty well worn off, they will, with shame and thankfulness, acknowledge their error; nay, they do from their souls confess, that they do not deserve the least look of kindness from God, but to be counted strangers and enemies; but God will let them know that he loves to act like himself, that is, like a God of love, mercy, and goodness; and that they are the persons that he hath set his heart upon; he will have them in his bosom, never leave them nor forsake them; and though these contrite ones many times look upon themselves as lost, yet God will save them, and they shall sing a song of thankfulness amongst his delivered ones.”

Written by James Janeway

Just Keep on Running

[Repressed from “The High Calling.” Post by J. B. Wood.]

My friend Howard recently completed a major feat: running a half-marathon, which is an impressive 13.1 miles.

As a formerly overweight kid in high school who could barely manage to jog a mile without collapsing, this was a huge accomplishment and a major milestone in the journey of Howard’s spiritual and personal growth.

But I couldn’t help but laugh when I heard that for the entire ten weeks leading up to this historic event, Howard’s pedometer had miscalculated the number of miles he was training. He thought he had built up to a regimen of thirteen miles, but in reality, he was only running eleven. The pedometer was off by two miles.

Only he didn’t find out until he was actually running the race.

So, picture it: there’s Howard at the starting line, all jittery and excited to finally be running with the big boys at his very first official race, this insane event that will drive his body beyond anything he has ever imagined possible, and the starting gun goes off.

Howard pushes off the pavement, merging with the massive crowd of elbows and sweat and pounding feet. He keeps up his confidence with positive self-talk, telling himself he has trained properly, he knows how to pace himself, he is prepared, he utilized the correct technology.

After a few minutes, Howard checks his trusty pedometer. Great! First mile down, just as he suspected. Except, where is the first mile marker? He looks up the road ahead, to his left, his right.

Where is it?

Where? Where? Where????

An excruciating two-tenths of a mile later, he finally sees the first mile marker. It does not synch up with what his pedometer says. And then it dawns on Howard: he hasn’t trained properly at all.

He does a quick calculation in his head: .2 miles x 13 miles = 2.6 extra miles. He has never actually run 13 miles in his life!

This is what we might call a Defining Moment.

Howard could have panicked, shut down, and puked all over the side of the road.

He could have said “forget it,” blamed the technology and bashed his lousy pedometer into smithereens on the pavement.

He could have told himself he was really an incompetent idiot who didn’t deserve to run the race with all those other well-trained, better-looking, and legitimate runners.

He could have rationalized the miscalculation as an excuse to give up.

But he didn’t do any of these things.

Instead, he finished the race.

Howard continued running with the not-so-comfortable knowledge that he would have to suck it up and do the two point six extra miles, even though he was not fully prepared. Even if it would hurt a little bit. Or a lot. He made the decision go with it, to do his best with what he had to work with, and finish the race.

There are so many metaphors layered into this little story, I don’t even know where to begin.

Look, we all make mistakes. Or we find ourselves in the middle of difficult situations, in spite of our best intentions.

The projector goes on the fritz during the most important presentation of your life.

You overlook that one important detail.

Someone else gets credit for your work.

You forget to bring the documents that everyone was counting on.

But that doesn’t mean that you pack up and go home. Instead, you reach down deep inside to a place you didn’t even know existed, and you find the strength to deal with it, to keep going, to fix it.

This, of all places, is where you are most likely to meet God in the midst of your work.