Mine or Thine

Whoever says the Bible is boring never read the dramatic events recounted in the book of Esther.  It’s about loyalty and royalty, love and hate, life and death.  The plot twists as a man asserts his will against God’s.  It doesn’t turn out well for him.

Haman was king Xerxes’ right-hand man.  As such he expected everyone to pay homage to him, but Mordecai would not.  Haman was infuriated.  He convinced the king to schedule an ethnic cleansing of Mordecai and his people.  While waiting, Haman’s wife and friends goaded him into building a gallows for his nemesis Mordecai.

What Haman didn’t know was that Esther, the queen, was Mordecai’s cousin.  Mordecai urged her to intercede with the king, suggesting she attained royalty for “such a time as this.” Her risk was that anyone who entered the king’s court without a summons risked death.  She went anyway.  When the king did receive her, she invited him and Haman to two banquets.

At the second auspicious event, she announced that her life and her people were in mortal danger.  Shocked, the king demanded to know who would do this.  “A foe and an enemy is this wicked Haman!” she said.  Xerxes then condemned Haman to die on the gallows he built, and issued a new edict to protect Esther’s people.  Haman was hoisted on his own petard.

God is not mentioned by name in the book of Esther, but it’s about His will and sovereignty.  Human foibles and willfulness cannot interdict His divine purpose and interventions in human history. Job said it like this: “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).  Esther acted with humility and accepted God’s will, risking her life for others.  Haman acted with pride and rage, asserting his will over others.  She witnessed God’s deliverance.  He learned that “pride goes before destruction” (Prov. 16:18).

Thomas a Kempis wrote, “The humble are always at peace; the proud are often envious and angry” (The Imitation of Christ).  That leaves you with a choice.  Believe things must always go your way and suffer malcontent, or humble yourself before God and enjoy the path of peace and purpose.  That is not easy, and requires a new way of thinking.  “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2).

Would you trust God to transform your will and desires?  Can you say with Oswald Chambers, “I am determined to be absolutely and entirely for Him and for Him alone” (My Utmost for His Highest)?  Does your life declare, “Not Thy will but mine” or “Not my will but Thine”?

Habitual Courage

An act of courage is admirable.  The habit of courage is a virtue.

WWII hero and conscientious objector Desmond Doss pulled 75 wounded men off Hacksaw Ridge in 1945.  John Lewis demanded equal voting rights in 1965 by walking into the nightsticks across the Edmond Pettus Bridge in Selma.   Two American soldiers and a friend subdued a terrorist on a Paris-bound train in 2015.  One explained, “Our training kicked in after the struggle.”  These men had formed the habit of facing difficulties well when the testing point arrived. That virtue arises from the recognition that difficulties are certain, that sacrifice and perseverance are honorable.

Courage must be a habit because other virtues like justice, honesty, and love depend on it. C. S. Lewis wrote, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.”  So what does the habit of courage mean when you are tested?

It means defying the popular sentiment, taking a stand on an issue because it is right even if your own tribe disagrees.  Before Jesus’ resurrection, Joseph of Arimathea, “a prominent member of the Council, gathered up courage and went in before Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus” (Mark 15:43).  He surely risked his prominence by loving the One his colleagues rejected.

It means rejoicing in the providence of God and the hope of a glorified body (Phil. 3:21) even as you suffer with a discouraging health diagnosis.  Jesus healed people to reveal who He is and to offer hope for this life and the next.  He healed the paralytic saying, “Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven” (Matt. 9:2).  He said to the woman who touched his garment, “Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well” (Matt. 9:22).  With courage, you face life honestly and fix your hope on eternal healing.

It means refusing to deny what is true amidst a culture that confuses truth with personal choices.  It means living a restrained and accountable life that serves and sacrifices for your fellow man.  It means applying the radical justice of Christ, who teaches you to love your enemy, do good to those who persecute you, and ask for the Father’s will to be done.  How else will people know there is something different about you, “and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16)?

Jesus knew the realities of your life when he said, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  His good news is your buttress when the testing winds blow.  In those moments, your faith in Jesus will reveal a high virtue, the habit of courage.

J. I. Packer

Sitting on the porch in the cool of the morning, they pondered what the day might bring.  Theirs was a typical porch for those days, near enough to the road to overhear the travelers’ talk, and to chat with them.

As the morning stirs to life, the travelers appear.  As they pass, they discuss with the porch-dwellers the condition of the roads, where they lead, and what a traveler might see along the way.  To the porch-dwellers, it’s all theoretical talk since they are not on the journey.  To the travelers, these are far more practical topics.  The day, the weather, the roads call for understanding, decision, and action.

J. I. Packer used this allegory to explain his approach to writing the popular book, Knowing God (1973). It is one of his most notable contributions. In it, he unpacks for the seeker and believer how practical theology affects you as a traveler in life.

For example, he considers God’s wisdom made available to you.  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psa. 111:10). “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).  Packer writes, “It is like being taught to drive.  You do not ask yourself why the road should narrow or screw itself into a dogleg wiggle just where it does, nor why that van should be parked where it is, nor why the lady in front should hug the crown of the road so lovingly; you simply try to see and do the right thing in the actual situation that presents itself.  The effect of divine wisdom is to enable you to do just that in everyday life.”  Quite practical.

Packer could have been a theoretical theologian.  He was an Oxford-educated systematic theology professor.  But the emphasis of his life was to offer knowledge and tools for people to understand and enjoy God in everyday life.  In one of his last interviews he said, “As I look back on the life that I have lived, I would like to be remembered as a voice – a voice that focused on the authority of the Bible, the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the wonder of his substitutionary sacrifice and atonement for our sins.”  During Packer’s long life, he unpacked these deep truths of God in dozens of books.  Yet he famously summarized it all as “God saves sinners.”

You may like sitting on the porch and pondering the world’s problems.  But life is experienced as a journey, and the Bible offers you practical help along the way.  So taught Dr. Packer, who left the land of the dying for the land of the living in July 2020.  He was 93.



Taken Captive

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ (Col. 2:8).

This warning could not be more applicable to movements afoot in America today.  Those movements clamor for free healthcare, food, real estate, and abortion.  They would dispense with the traditional family, capitalism, police, and jails.  They divide the world into two classes – oppressor and oppressed.  Ironically, the success of those campaigns would ferment more oppression because they have misdiagnosed the problem.  That happens when you don’t get the Big Story right, or if you believe there is no Big Story.  It’s just us, them, and destructive chaos.

By contrast consider Benjamin Watson, a pro football player.  In 2014, his social media post after the events in Ferguson, Missouri went viral.  After identifying with the emotions of the moment, he diagnosed the problem.  “Ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem,” he wrote. “SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced, and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn.”  Whether you call it sin or not, you can see that something is wrong in the world.  That is because: (1) The source of morality is your Creator; (2) God’s morality is right for everyone, not just for those who believe it; and (3) Everyone has some sense of that morality, even if you try to suppress it.

Watson didn’t leave it there.  Having put his finger on the problem, he continued.  “But I’m encouraged because God has provided a solution for sin through His Son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind—one that’s capable of looking past the outward and seeing what’s truly important in every human being.”  Watson knows the Big Story.

Justice and transformation are the language of the Christian worldview.  But if you borrow that language, indict other people or the system as the ultimate oppressor, and seek transformation by public policy, then you have fallen into the “empty deception according to the traditions of men.”   In a recent commentary Cal Thomas spoke about the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  “Any real solutions to our societal problems must have it (the gospel) at the center.  Any purported solution that omits it is no solution at all.”

Do you agree with an almost-octogenarian commentator and a NFL football player?  Who informs your opinions?  Are you a captive to the whims of this cultural moment? Only by faith can the oppressed be set free and the oppressor transformed.  That is the truth according to Christ.

Honesty and Courage

What happens when two professors who have little in common other than that title, decide to write about what our country needs right now?  Attack and acrimony?  Cat fights and dog whistles?  Nope.

Robert George is a white, conservative, capitalist professor at Harvard.  Cornel West is a black, liberal, socialist professor at Princeton.  The Boston Globe recently published what they wrote.  It was a single article.  From very different anvils, they forged a common piece.

They appeal for unity even if on their “deepest, most cherished beliefs,” they do not agree.  Both of these men identify as Christians in the article, and that worldview seems to be what unifies their thoughts.

They write, “We need the honesty and courage to treat decent and honest people with whom we disagree — even on the most consequential questions — as partners in truth-seeking and fellow citizens of our republican order, not as enemies to be destroyed. And we must always respect and protect their human rights and civil liberties.”

Today’s degraded public discourse does not treat people as fellow truth-seekers.  The standard is to shout the worst possible motive at the first hint of disagreement.  “Racist!”  “Communist!” “Radical!”  Ad hominem at its worst.  The Bible says, “Wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts” (1 Cor. 4:5).  It is so common today to assume and attack motive that you may not have considered it out-of-bounds.  When you disagree, let it be on what someone says or does in the light of day because you can’t see what’s in the darkness.

The professors warn about treating disagreeable people as enemies to be destroyed.  Once, Jesus and his disciples were traversing unfriendly territory.  The locals refused to accommodate them.  James and John felt the burn.  “Do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”  Jesus said, “The Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” (Luke 9).  It is a decidedly Christian virtue to seek the best for people, even when they are at their worst.

The professors write, “We need the honesty and courage not to compromise our beliefs or go silent on them out of a desire to be accepted, or out of fear of being ostracized, excluded, or canceled.”  The authorities who crucified Jesus threw Peter in prison for teaching about Him.  During questioning, Peter assured them that he “must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5).  Refusal to compromise requires honesty and courage.

In fact, those are the theme words for the professors’ article, which is a rare and public search for common ground.  Honesty and courage can bridge the chasm that divides America.  Christians have the means to lead the way.