Pope Francis’s recent comments in Mexico about walls and bridges caused quite the dust-up. In his follow-up comments, he tried to phrase his thoughts differently.  The politics of wall-building and immigration aside, the metaphor of a bridge can help explain the basic truth about our relationship with God.

It is natural to think of bridge building in terms of what is seen: rails, deck, beams, bents, and piers. An engineer can determine how much wood, steel, or concrete is necessary to span a river, and how much load it can bear.  Perhaps you’ve seen the “Load Limit” warning signs.  But much remains unseen.  If the bridge is too low or short, water can overtop and make it impassable during a storm.  If the piers are not deep enough, water scour can undermine the structure.  You might say that a successful bridge safely defeats unseen hazards that are predictable by an expert.

An Expert has determined that a bridge is needed between people and God. The unseen hazard is the death that comes from sin.  God mercifully gave his Law to make us aware of our accountability to Him, and to warn us of the hazard (Rom 3:19-20).  Common responses are to either ignore the warning, or to construct a personal bridge relying on church attendance, religious rites, or nice thoughts and deeds.  This is amateur bridge-building: it might look right on the surface, but it leaves the user in peril.

This is where the news becomes so good! God “reconciled us to Himself (built a bridge), through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor. 5:18-19).  So we are saved from the hazard by crossing over the bridge, i.e. believing Jesus who is the “one mediator between God and men” (1 Tim 2:5), and we have the joyful opportunity to point others to that bridge!  We are, in fact, ambassadors of Christ by word and deed.

So who is a Christian? The one who trusts Jesus as the way to the Father.  What is our purpose?  To make Him known.  Jesus is the only bridge, brought to you by the Divine Bridge Builder.

Supreme Justice

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died in his sleep during a quail hunting trip to Texas this month.  He was 79.  His passing shocked those who relied on his intellect to keep this country within its constitutional boundaries.  His departure adds new drama to this election year.

He was the longest-serving current Justice, nominated by Reagan in 1986. His wit during oral arguments and his fiery dissenting opinions are legendary.  He was committed to the original meaning of the Constitution’s text, rather than the modern legal theory of a living document that can be changed per the mood of the day.  Though polar opposites on the bench, he was close friends with Justice Ginsburg, against type for Washington elites.  President Obama said, “He will no doubt be remembered as one of the most consequential judges and thinkers to serve on the Supreme Court.”

Justice Scalia was a devout Catholic and a defender of religious liberty. He said, “I think the main fight is to dissuade Americans from what the secularists are trying to persuade them to be true: that the separation of church and state means that the government cannot favor religion over nonreligion…To say that’s what the Constitution requires is utterly absurd.”  Thomas Jefferson did not even practice that interpretation of the phrase he coined.  Scalia believed that America is great to the extent that we follow our founders.  “One of the reasons God has been good to us is that we have done Him honor.  There is nothing wrong with that, and do not let anybody tell you that there is anything wrong with that.”  I would add, why abandon what made America free and good?

America was fortunate to have such a Justice because if secularism is successful in removing all vestiges of our Judeo-Christian heritage, the unintended consequences may be overwhelming (i.e. Europe?).  Even the atheist proponent of secularism, Richard Dawkins, admits that Christianity provides a bulwark against destructive worldviews.  Ravi Zacharias said that what threatens Western culture is “a rabid secularism that cannot provide a basis for moral reasoning.”  Is that what Scalia endeavored to protect us from?

Elections have consequences, such as Scalia serving 27 years after Reagan left office. They did their bit and we do ours: pray and vote!  Much is at stake this year.  But even if your candidate loses, rejoice that “God reigns over the nations” (Ps. 47:8). Providence means that God guides creation to His intended purposes, and causes “every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation” (Acts 17:26).  May the God of Providence guide this nation and as they say, may “God save the United States and this honorable court.”

2016 National Prayer Breakfast

The National Prayer Breakfast is an annual event in Washington DC on the first Thursday in February.  It is hosted by members of both political parties in a rare show of unity.  The addresses by the various speakers are an annual update on culture and faith in America.

The keynote speakers this year were Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. This married couple are among the most influential people in Hollywood.  He is President of MGM Television and she is a producer, though most remembered for her role as angel Monica in the TV series, Touched by an Angel. Together, they produced the miniseries The Bible for the History channel (2013), feature film Son of God (2014), and A.D.: The Bible Continues (2015) for NBC.

In Touched, you may recall that each episode had a scene which revealed the angel’s identity. Downey said, “Every week Monica offered a message of God’s love on national television to millions.  It was such an honor to share that there is a God that loves us and wants to be part of our lives.”  She explained that before every revelation scene, she and others gathered to pray, “Less of me, more of you.”

When Downey and Burnett began to plan a new series based on the Bible, their friends warned them that mixing entertainment and religion would destroy their careers.   But The Bible became the #1 show of the year with 100M viewers. Downey said, “Faith is alive and well in America!  The series helped ignite a larger conversation about God and faith.  We were Hollywood producers daring to talk about faith in Jesus.”  Rick Warren once told them that the most dangerous prayer is “Lord use me” because He might just do so.

Between scenes of The Bible shot in the Moroccan Desert, the cast and crew read scripture and prayed about emotional, spiritual, and physical challenges.  One challenge was snakes, as the wrangler removed one or two per day.  During the crucifixion scene, the wrangler found and removed 48 snakes.  “The symbolism of the snakes wasn’t lost on us,” Downey noted.

After her inspiring stories, Downey issued a challenge. “We believe it is far more effective to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”  She observed that America is divided by race, religion, and politics.  Her challenge is that each one find a dividing line, and build a bridge of peace.  Jesus guides us in this with, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Downey closed by asking us to pray that “with God’s help our world can heal some of the hurts that wound us and the confusion that divide us.” A good place to start is to see the image of God in everyone you meet.

(You can view the National Prayer Breakfast on YouTube or C-Span.)

Happily Incompatible

Billy and Ruth Graham were married 63 years when she died in 2007. You might think that such a godly and respected couple had a perfect marriage, though they never claimed that.  But it was successful because they understood love.

In Just As I Am, Rev. Graham wrote, “Ruth and I don’t have a perfect marriage, but we have a great one.  For a married couple to expect perfection in each other is unrealistic. We learned that even before we were married.”

They met as students at Wheaton College in Illinois. It was an inauspicious beginning, he in his grubby work clothes and, well in his words, “There she was.  Standing there, looking right at me, was a slender, hazel-eyed movie starlet!”  They soon began to date, only for their differences to begin to emerge.  In some ways it seems remarkable that they ever made it to the altar.

Ruth was born to missionaries in China, and she was determined to serve in Tibet, but Billy was just finding his calling as an evangelist.  She was Presbyterian, he an ordained Baptist minister.  Nevertheless, Billy asked her to consider marrying him, and waited.  She wrote her parents, “We’ve got such strong wills, I almost despaired of ever having things go peacefully between us.” Then came the tests of distance, as she left to attend her sick sister in New Mexico and his itinerant ministry grew.  She wondered, “What is it going to be like after we’re married?  I probably won’t see as much of him then, as I do now.”  It did not help that Billy accepted a pastorate without informing his fiancé, insensitive on his part.

She finally accepted, and they wed in August 1943 near Montreat, North Carolina.  An evening ceremony with a full moon, amid candles and clematis in a small chapel, they became husband and wife.  “It was the most memorable day of my life,” he recalls.

Decades later, he surmised that a married couple could be described as “happily incompatible.” “The sooner we accept that as a fact of life, the better we will be able to adjust to each other and enjoy togetherness.”  Because of their differences, the Grahams learned to practice “agape” or selfless love.  That kind of love is patient, kind, not jealous.  It does not brag and is not arrogant.  It is not rude, self-seeking, or easily offended.  Love protects, trusts, hopes, and never fails (1 Cor 13).  It held them together for a lifetime.

Flowers, chocolate, greeting cards, romantic dinners are nice. But “agape” is what steadies a marriage amid the turbulence of life.  Incompatibles cannot become irreconcilable in the presence of selfless love, just as in the happily incompatible marriage of Billy and Ruth Graham.


This presidential campaign keeps bringing up God. I admire the candidates for discussing religion even though their primary interests lie elsewhere.  Their comments give us a chance to ponder such ideas and clarify our own.

Pollster Frank Luntz asked a clarifying question of one candidate at the recent Iowa Family Leadership Summit. “Have you ever asked God for forgiveness?”  The response meandered past “doing a better job,” and the “little wine” and “little cracker.”  But the candidate would not say “yes.”  Let’s ponder this exchange, politics aside.

Perhaps from lack of serious inquiry, people can be deceived by a caricature of Christianity and a question like Luntz’s can open the curtains a bit. A similar one is, “Have you ever done anything that needs God’s forgiveness?”  The response indicates awareness of need or self-deception.  “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn. 1:8).  Christianity embraces the mercy of a powerful Forgiver, not the power of positive thinking.  Being forgiven makes us forgivers: It is God that empowered Emanuel AME Church in Charleston to announce that it is willing to forgive that deranged shooter.

But Christianity is more than avoiding adjudication of our misdeeds. Our infractions reflect who we are, which is our deepest need for forgiveness and restoration.  We are not just well-meaning supplicants that take a little cracker and wine with a positive thinking sermon to fix us.  We are enemies that need reconciling to God, captives that need freedom, the dead that need new life (Rom. 5:10, 8:2, Col. 2:13).  By faith we are in Christ, holy, and blameless (Eph. 1:4). We are forgiven once and for all for what we were!

How is this possible? It turns on a question Jesus posed: “Who do you say that I am?”  Only if He is God the Son can he be all that we celebrate in the elements of communion, which is neither “little” nor trite. God gave the Son to the world so that by faith we might inherit eternity (Jn. 3:16).  Jesus was in a unique position to offer a perfect sacrifice for sin, and forgiveness for all who believe.

The self-examined life asks, “Am I forgiven?” To affirm is to believe that “He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Tit. 3:5-6). An unforgiven life regenerated yearns to display its new, forgiven identity in Christ.  Actions reveal the heart.

So, if any of this is new to you, you can thank the presidential campaign that we had this chat.   You can also join me in praying that our next President is a forgiven one.