It’s Possible

Roger Stone is not going to prison for lying to Congress, witness tampering, and obstructing an official proceeding.  By Stone’s testimony, he has received a pardon far beyond what President Trump could give.

Stone has a libertine and provocative past to put it mildly.  He was a strategist who some say embodied political corruption.  He once said, “Those who say I have no soul, those who say I have no principals, are bitter losers.”  He believed it better to be infamous than to remain unknown, and his life reflected that.

Now he says all that is changed.  His critics are skeptical, accusing him of a con game to affect his legal wrangling.  Stone attended Franklin Graham’s 2020 Decision America Tour in Boca Raton, Florida.  Before the event he met with Graham privately.  Graham told him, “It’s not my help you need.  You need God’s help.  Reach out to God to cleanse your sins, to receive Christ as your Savior.”  Stone says he did just that.  “I’ve chosen to walk with the Lord, and that has really made my burdens so much easier.”  To his critics he says, “God knows whether my conversion is honest or not.  I’m perfectly at peace.”

Is it possible that Stone is a forgiven man?  Here’s what we know.  Jesus, speaking of Himself said, “The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Matt 9:6).  He would use that authority for Stone.  “Everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43).  So, Jesus makes Divine forgiveness possible.  Stone says he has done his part, too.

God specializes in doing what is impossible for mere humans.  He exists outside of the material universe and spoke it into existence out of nothing.  His anthropocentric ordering of our solar system makes life possible. He created humans to be more than material beings with conscience, self-awareness, creativity, and imagination.  And yes, God even made it possible for a person to have a life-renewing encounter with Jesus Christ by faith.  Such an encounter is meaningful not only in eternity, but for now.  God does the impossible and changes lives.

Johnny Russell recorded a popular tune in 1973 that portrays the hope of change by God’s grace.  In the ballad a man neglected his family, cheated on his wife, and gambled his money away.  But this: “They baptized Jesse Taylor in Cedar Creek last Sunday.  Jesus gained a soul and Satan lost a good right arm.  They all cried hallelujah when Jesse’s head went under, ‘cause this time he went under for the Lord.”  Then the evidence: His wife is proud of him, little Jim has a daddy, and “Franklin County’s got a lot more man!”

Jesse Taylor is fictional but this fact remains for both Roger Stone and you:  With God, all things are possible.


Good or Bad?

“No one is good except God alone.” – Jesus

Every day we are bombarded with what’s wrong in the world.  I just saw a photo of a post-riot street in an American city showing destroyed buildings, burned out automobile hulks, dangling utility lines, and smoky haze.  Maliciously damaging someone’s property is bad.  In the background of that photo, a firetruck is dousing the smoldering ruins.

A steady stream of such news stories disabuses us of the notion that humans are basically good.  Too much evidence exists to the contrary.  The Christian concept of the “fall of man” reflects what we observe – the world God created and called “good” is infected.  G. K. Chesterton pointed out that the fall is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved, yet people “deny human sin, which they can see in the street.”  We can stipulate that people know what is good and may try to suppress the bad (put the fire out), yet our experience is that something is fundamentally broken about the world and the people in it.

Is it the concept of God that is broken?  Anyone who would restrain my choices and self-expression is bad, including God, so the argument goes.  Yet His unfathomable goodness and grace is why He calls you to deny yourself.  As the Creator loves you, so He beckons you toward what is right, true, and fulfilling.  Sam Allberry said, “If we know that God’s words are good, we can live with constraint.  We can live with sacrifice.  We can say no to very deep desires that feel innate.”  Taste and see that the Lord is good!  His yoke is easy and his burden is light. (Psa. 34:8, Matt. 11:30).

This is the God who created the universe and surrounded you with such natural wonders.  What attribute would move Him to create you with freedom to either love or ignore Him?  Why would He offer a divine solution to your brokenness in real time?  How do you respond to a just God who by grace through faith redeems your soul for eternity? “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for his lovingkindness is everlasting” (Psa. 107:1).

The evidence shows that God is perfectly good and humanity is not.  But God in His mercy made a way for you to share His righteousness.  Jesus, God the Son, walked on this earth to display goodness by teaching and healing, and to convey goodness by taking the fall for you. He got canceled by the mob who came for Him even though He is good.

This cultural moment may insist that you are basically good, but according to God you need to be restored, redeemed, and renewed.  That’s why it’s good news that God is good.

Love Elegy

Former Sen. Zell Miller resisted the term “hillbilly” as derogatory.  But J.D. Vance claims to be one, and writes from that perspective in Hillbilly Elegy.

The short version of Vance’s story is that his grandparents were dirt poor and in love.  They married and moved north to escape dire poverty.  Their grandson (Vance) would graduate from Yale Law School.

Vance moved in with his Mamaw during his high school years when his mother could no longer provide for him.  He thought education was pointless, opportunity was elusive, and life was hopeless.  But Mamaw believed he had a chance to escape the misery.  Once, she bought him a calculator. In her salty way she yelled, “Have you finished your math homework?”  “No Mamaw, not yet.”  “Well you (dang) well better start.  I didn’t spend every penny I had on that little computer for you to (laze) around all day!”

She challenged him because she loved him and he knew it.  When he was at Marine boot camp she wrote daily, sometimes multiple letters.  He writes, “I read every day that Mamaw was proud of me, that she loved me, and that she knew I wouldn’t give up.”  She loved him too much to affirm his fall into the familiar trap of bad choices and underachievement.

That’s too rare these days.  “We are in a culture that says the most loving thing you can do is to affirm someone in their own choices,” says John Stonestreet of the Colson Center.  What if those choices are culturally embraced but personally destructive?  Can true love affirm what is harmful or untrue?

As followers of Christ, we love like He did.  He did not affirm a young man’s reliance on wealth but said, “With God all things are possible” (Luke 18). He did not affirm Zaccheus’ fraud, but was willing to associate with him (Luke 19).  He did not affirm the Samaritan woman’s lifestyle, but offered her “a well of water springing up to eternal life” (John 4).

Today’s chaotic and confusing cultural moment begs for displays of the clarifying love of God.  That doesn’t mean you must change people or fix all that’s wrong in the world.  But you can “be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.  Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you” (Eph. 4:32-5:2).

An “elegy” is a serious reflection on something of importance.  Vance reflected on “what it feels like to nearly give up on yourself and why you might do it.”  You can reflect on this: To imitate God is to love someone by sacrificing something.  That kind of affirmation must elevate truth over choice.  May that love elegy move you to love like Jesus.

Work of God

You can tell much about your view of work by what you think about retirement.  The modern notion of retirement as a permanent vacation creates a bias against the virtue of work.  Consider some examples.

In 2018, an investment services company ran a Super Bowl ad in which a granny DJ-ed a modern dance club, an elderly fireman struggled with a pressurized hose, and an aged UPS worker fumbled packages.  The message was clear: If you have to work in retirement, you’re a failure.  “I plan to work only until I can afford to retire” sounds like all work is bad.  Yet God made us to produce, create, and serve because He does.  That invites work as worship of the Creator.  Dorothy Sayers wrote, “(Work) should be the full expression of the worker’s faculties, the thing in which he find spiritual, mental, and bodily satisfaction, and the medium in which he offers himself to God.”  That’s true whether or not you receive a paycheck.

When Alabama football coach “Bear” Bryant retired after the 1982 season, someone asked what he would do.  “Probably croak in a week,” he said.  He died one month later, and never had the chance to explore life beyond coaching. If you say, “I don’t know what else I’d do,” let me remind you that you are not your career. Tim Keller writes, “Many modern people seek a kind of salvation – self-esteem and self-worth – from career success.”  That’s idolatry. For the Christian, your identity and success are in Christ.  He prepares your work regardless of your career status (Eph. 2:10).

Another fallacy is, “I’m too old to accomplish anything meaningful.”  That is the lament of the retiree who yearns for significance but is trapped by the mindset that life is measured only by previous success.  When you work to serve others, you are doing significant things.  “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet. 4:10).  The time, experience, and knowledge that earned you a paycheck are the tools of the volunteer, the advisor, the neighbor that engages the community.  Whether paid or not, work “as for the Lord” (Col. 3:23) is meaningful.

Jeff Haanen in An Uncommon Guide to Retirement writes, “Work is the primary avenue for fulfilling Christ’s command to love your neighbor as yourself.  For Christians, work is fundamentally about contribution to others, not compensation; an expression of identity but not the source of identity; serving others, not personal success.”  What drudgery if work is only for a paycheck, and retirement only for leisure!  Contribute what’s missing, restore what’s broken, and promote what’s good, and do the work of God.