Personal, Not Private

You have heard politicians say they are personally opposed to a policy, “But I don’t want to impose my beliefs on others.” That’s intended to sound noble, even humble.  It can also mean, “I have convictions but they don’t matter.”  Which doesn’t sound like convictions at all.  Seems more like political calculation than leadership.  Shouldn’t personal convictions affect your public life?

Don’t worry. This isn’t about politics, it’s really about all of us.  The answer to the question is yes, particularly for a Christian.  Faith is personal, but not meant to be private.

It is personal because it is your individual faith in a God who has revealed Himself, experienced in a community that identifies with Jesus Christ. Such faith doesn’t come pre-packaged with a baby nor is it available in bulk because you associate with believers.  Hopefully those believers follow Jesus in such a way that you want to receive his grace, personally.

Jesus explained to Nicodemus that he must be born again in order to enter the kingdom of God.  Peter wrote that Jesus “caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet. 1:3).  The phrase “born again” isn’t a certain type of Christian; it is normative for all who claim His name and describes something quite personal and individual.

In his book “Against the Flow,” Dr. John Lennox notes the challenge of living a personal faith in public. “Strong currents of pluralism and secularism in contemporary Western society, reinforced by a paralyzing political correctness, increasingly push expression of faith in God to the margins.”  Yet Jesus called us to be salt and light, metaphors of engaging culture in a public way.  “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father,” Jesus said.

Peter heard Jesus say, “Everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father” (Mat. 10:32). But he blew it when he denied Jesus quite publicly.  Three times.  Fortunately Jesus forgave and restored him after the Resurrection when he affirmed his faith three times publicly.  Later when arrested for proclaiming Jesus, Peter courageously declared, “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29).  His disregard for the consequences is like “d— the torpedoes, full steam ahead!” (regards to Admiral Farragut!).

To take a stand for the Way, Truth, and Life will increasingly call for resolve, and has already caused consequences for some. No this isn’t about politics, but join me in praying for leaders, judges, and laws that do not infringe on our freedom to express our personal faith publicly.


Halloween, or “holy evening,” for most is a masquerade party with candy as a reward, harmless unless you’re concerned about the effect of sugar on the human body. For some, it is a day of celebrating a certain other-world spirituality.  Myths and fables about not-so-holy ghosts and goblins, witches and black cats, jack-o’-lanterns and skeletons all hint at a fixation on death and evil in this world.  No wonder churches prefer a fall harvest festival or Reformation Day event.

A witch doctor in Haiti once told me that October 31 is the day in which the veil between this life and the next is the thinnest.  Thinking it culturally instructive to see a ceremony to conjure up a spirit, I considered attending a night festival in the nearby village of Liancourt on that date.  But older, wiser folks convinced me I had no business there.  Voodoo practitioners foster an aura of fear and mystery to build a marketable practice of folk justice and healing.  The Christian worldview that acknowledges personal evil must allow the possibility that such occultic activities are not harmless.

The Bible describes an act of necromancy, or calling up the dead. It is a story easy to retell, but hard to explain.  Israel’s King Saul knew that God had forbade his people to use divination, witchcraft, sorcery, and necromancy, and had applied that law during his reign.  Yet after he had turned away from God, and found that God would not answer his prayers for courage and wisdom in the face of the Philistine army, he decided to violate that command.

Saul disguised himself, and sought a medium, “the witch of En-dor.” She hesitated, mentioning the prohibition.  He persisted, wanting her to bring up the dead prophet Samuel.  The apparition frightened the woman conjurer, and said that Saul and his sons were to die in battle the next day.  Saul looked for an answer in the wrong place.

If occult activities are harmless, why would God prohibit them? To seek that kind of spiritual encounter is to acknowledge a spiritual power other than God, which is idolatrous.  The Bible explains that spiritual evil does exist with the purpose to steal, kill, and destroy.  We are to resist, not embrace it.

God wants us to seek Him. “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:7-8).  God has revealed Himself to be near us and for us, so “let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).  By grace through faith in Christ it is we that are holy (“saints” 1 Cor. 1:2), not a date on a calendar.


Everyone lives out a philosophy or religion whether aware of it or not. It is axiomatic that if you follow a path, you think it is the right one.  But just because it is right for you does not necessarily mean that it is “Christian.”  Believers and non-believers alike can mistake sincerity or appearances for authentic faith.

In another time, another place, I knew of a church that was attacked like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. A humble but well-to-do businessman joined them, but didn’t really seek attention.  He was encouraging, supportive, and generous.  He knew the language of the Christian faith.  He let it be known that he was an investment manager.  Little by little the details emerged about his portfolio returning 25% or more annually with no risk.  Soon he was signing up new customers at church.  It was a pyramid scheme.  He was eventually arrested and convicted.  Most of his victims lost everything they invested, some their life savings.  He appeared sincere, but was not authentic.

The Bible addresses authenticity thoroughly. The Lord understands the human tendency to fake it, and most posers aren’t as blatant as the criminal in my story.  A Hebrew prophet spoke to people who were quite religious, but had forsaken the Lord.  “I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hos. 6:6).

Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” He knew people would claim his name without submitting to the Father’s will.  He told parables about seeds that sprout and appear healthy until challenged, and weeds growing amidst the wheat.  Is this not about authenticity?  He spoke about a small gate and a narrow way “and there are few who find it,” which can be alarming (Mat. 7, 13).

John’s first epistle has multiple tests of authentic faith. Has his grace moved you to admit sin, abide in Him, and love one another in deed and truth?  If you have exchanged your life for His, you practice righteousness, confess the Son, and know the Spirit of God.  Once I led a dialogue on this, and a venerable old saint asked, “Are we to test each other?”  “No.  We examine ourselves,” I countered.

Amidst these clarifying challenges, John writes, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 Jn. 5:13).  We do not have to stumble through life wondering.  We can know for certain that we have authentic faith. That’s good news!

The Ark

Noah was the Rodney Dangerfield of his day. He still doesn’t get much respect.  Even so, the tale of an ark, a flood, and a heroic man are no joke.  In this epic story we find a reflection of our times, and truths for life.

Earlier this year, the Ark Encounter opened in Williamstown, Kentucky.  Billed as “a life-sized Noah’s Ark,” the 510 ft long boat is a museum dedicated to the plausibility of the Genesis account.  Even with Harvard-educated biologist Dr. Nathaniel Jeanson as advisor, Ken Ham’s project to demonstrate the plausibility of the creation story has (not surprisingly) earned little respect from those who believe in evolution.  But allow me to step away from this modern controversy to focus on the lessons from the life and times of Noah.

Things seemed to be going well when “the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they took wives.” But the romance didn’t last.  In time, “the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth” (Gen. 6).  If wickedness is man calling good what God says is evil, and man calling evil what God says is good, then surely we, too, live in perverted and wicked times.

But we don’t have to fall into self-destructive beliefs and behaviors according to Jesus’ confidant Peter. He observed that if God knew how to preserve Noah even while not sparing the ancient world from the flood, then surely “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation” (2 Pet. 2).  Do you trust him to do that for you?  If you fear of losing it, of giving in, remember Noah.  God called him to act contrary to the culture of unbelief, and preserved him through it.

Noah was spared because of his righteousness, which we know comes by faith (Heb. 11:7). The prophet Ezekiel quoted God saying that even a righteous man like Noah couldn’t help “if a country sins against Me by committing unfaithfulness.”  The good news is that God knows the believers in a nation even if He decides to “stretch out My hand against it” (Ez. 14:13-14).

Jesus spoke of Noah as real, not a myth.  “Just as it was in the days of Noah” describes people oblivious about God, morality, and the promised end times.  “It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed” (Lk. 17:30).  But just as the ark brought Noah to safety, the resurrected Jesus Christ at the right hand of God can “bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18ff).

Visit the Ark Encounter if you’re interested in the debate about Creation vs. Evolution, truth vs. myth, and how many animals can fit in a ship. Until then, you have your own encounter when you embrace the lessons of God’s ark and his servant Noah.

Will to Live

Every day you wake up is a day you have chosen to live. Evidence suggests that the human mind and its will to live can shorten or lengthen life.  Let me share about two people I once knew.

As a hospice chaplain I received the case of a middle-aged woman with brain cancer. She knew she was dying, which only made her more thankful for each day of life.  She expressed a firm faith in Christ, and was assured of her eternity.  She was tenacious, and had already out-lived the expectations of doctors.

Yet the day came when she became unresponsive. Lying in her own bed, she continued to live unassisted by medical devices.  Her family waited.  During my visits I talked to her and prayed with her since it is possible that an unresponsive person can still understand.  One day I shared with her it is OK to let go, that by faith she knew she was not of this world.  Her future held more promise than her present.  The next day she was gone.  Coincidence or choice?

Haiti was a cash economy when I lived there.  I was responsible for certain purchases in Port au Prince for my organization, which required traveling with sums of money that would stagger the typical $5 per day worker.  The drive from the Artibonite Valley was about 4 hours, which required a very early departure and a grueling day of travel.

The day of one such trip, I tossed my backpack with the cash into the jeep. In those pre-dawn hours not a soul stirred in our village.  I stopped to pick up a colleague, and stepped to his door, a mere 20 feet away.  I heard a sound and looked back at the vehicle, seeing nothing in the darkness.  I soon discovered that the backpack was gone.

The village knew who did it. In a few days, before the wheels of justice could turn, the young man’s family rushed him to the hospital.  He died.  The Harvard-trained medical director told me that he could identify no physical cause of death.  He speculated that the young man was so shocked and afraid by the magnitude of his theft that he willed himself to die.

The Christian faith offers a reason to live, and paradoxically requires choosing to die. Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mk. 8:35).  Paul understood it this way:  “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).  Let your will to live be enriched with the joy, hope, and peace of sharing in the life of Christ.