Life in the Classroom

Recently, I’ve found myself feeling a bit like the centurion in Matthew 8/Luke 7. No, no, I don’t have a level of trust that impresses Jesus. The centurion was a man with authority, and he applied his experience with authority to help him understand a much more profound, spiritual truth.

Last fall, I got to start teaching my very own college history course. Being a teacher – having a position of authority for the first time in my life – has on several occasions reminded me spiritual principles or passages in the scriptures.

One of the most flabbergasting moments I’ve faced so far was a student who told me my grading wasn’t fair. On an essay question, she had done some internet “research” (instead of using her class notes – the information I, myself, told her) and had written a bunch of stuff for her answer that was factually true but irrelevant to the question. She insisted her answer was “correct” and tried to convince me to change her grade because of all her hard work. She even asked how I could discount all that “research” she did – weren’t historians supposed to like research? As I faced this student, I thought of:

You turn things around! Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay, that what is made would say to its maker, “He did not make me”; or what is formed say to him who formed it, “He has no understanding”? (Is. 29.16)

The student-instructor relationship is not quite the same as a clay-potter relationship, but there is still absurdity in the idea of a student insisting to the teacher that her answer is correct, or that she deserves a better grade. That’s not how authority works. Humans often treat God similarly. Even Christians who say they accept God’s word find things that make them uncomfortable, things that might force them to change thinking or behavior, then decide “No, that can’t possibly be right.” Do we truly submit to Authority, or, in subtle, quiet ways, do we try to insist we are “correct?”

There’s also the issue of how the student did “research.” In my course, I lecture about topics, events, ideas, and people I consider important, and then I test the students to see if they learned those things. When students “research” (though Wikipedia doesn’t actually count…) and tell me a bunch of stuff they found elsewhere, they haven’t given me what I asked. Even if it’s all true, it’s not what I wanted – which reminds me of:

Has Yahweh as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of Yahweh? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. (1 Sam. 15.22)

As instructor, I have the authority to expect my students to respond to my word. When they say, in effect, “No, I didn’t write about what you talked about but I wrote this stuff I looked up, isn’t it great?” the answer of course is, “No, you didn’t pay attention to what I said.” We can do the same thing to God. Have we ever tithed mint and cumin while neglecting the weightier matters (Mt. 23.23)? It’s perilously easy to convince ourselves that such-and-such is the most important thing in the Bible, make it our hobbyhorse, and then neglect other things God may actually want us to focus on.

Another student, one who has been repeatedly late or absent, told me, “I do want you to know that I take this class seriously.” Neither the history teacher nor God is impressed by cheap talk not backed up by action:

Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? (Lk. 6.46)

Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ (Mt. 7.22)

Sometimes even Christians can self-deceive themselves about how devoted they really are – are we checking carefully in the “mirror” (James 1.22-24) to make sure we’re more than talk?

One last area of student behavior that has fascinated me is the expectation of extra credit. Students have complained that I “never negotiated” and that “the grading scale was ridiculous… allowing for no extra credit.” Where did students get the idea that the instructor should negotiate with them? On what basis do they suppose that extra credit is obligatory? There is no extra credit in real life, no free way to do some extra work and erase bad consequences and make them disappear. In school and in life, we can always try to change and do better the next time, but we don’t get extra credit. Do we use “extra credit thinking” with God?

It takes two forms. We may think, “If I work extra hard and go out of my way to be really good, it’ll make up to God for this failing.” Such thinking may originate from a failure to apprehend God’s grace, but it could also stem from a desire to tweak God’s will – “Hey, God, how about you judge me based on this good thing I’ll do rather than on this area where I falter?” The other form of “extra credit thinking” says, “Yeah, I had this problem, I did this wrong thing, but I don’t do this other bad thing, surely you’ve got to give me some credit for that.” NO. Just no. If you’ve been a bad student, bad parent, bad spouse, or bad disciple of our Lord, you don’t get to point out other bad things you didn’t do and expect them to make up for it:

So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, “We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.” (Lk. 17.10)

Even if we got “100%” on doing God’s will, we would still be only unworthy slaves – there is no extra credit to negate our failures.

Jonathan Engel


Life in a Fishbowl

When I started the police academy one instructor came in and asked us if we were ready for “life in a fishbowl.” We stared blankly at him and at each other until he explained further. He said that we were about to enter a world where everything is watched and scrutinized. That it was like being in a fishbowl, on display for everyone to see. We were advised to always be conscious of our surroundings and to make good ethical choices because you never know who is watching. When I hit the streets, this became all too evident as almost everyone has a cell phone camera and they feel obligated to use it when they see police engaged with a suspect. Between that, dash cams, and now even body cams, even upper management can watch and scrutinize our actions from the comfort of their offices.

…Life in a fishbowl. No matter how many circles that fish swims, it can always be seen. As Christians, we need to realize that we also live in a fishbowl.

We are watched by others

I Thess 5:14 says, “We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” Watching each other isn’t just about judgment or correcting someone’s mistakes. Romans 14:13 says we are not to “judge one another anymore.” We are to encourage one another (I Thess 5:11), help the weak (Acts 20:35) and we are to be patient with each other (II Cor 6:6, II Tim 4:2).

We are watched by the world

We are all familiar with Matt 5:14-16 where Jesus says we are the light of the world. Our actions need to show the world that we place Christ as a priority in our lives. Paul writes “in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us” (Titus 2:7-8). We are to “deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:12).

We are watched by our children

Kids love to mimic, to imitate, and to be like adults, so the best way to teach them to be a good Christian is to be good Christians ourselves. The Bible provides many instructions for teaching/training our children. Prov 22:6 says to “train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs chapter four is all about a father’s instruction to his son. We must equip our children with ways to fight the evils of this world.

You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (II Tim 3:14-17)

We are watched by God

We tell our children all the time “God is watching you” but how many of us as adults actually act like God is watching us? It’s easy to forget that our Maker is always watching. “For nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light” (Luke 8:17). We will be judged for the things we do on this earth and that includes the things that we think no one sees. Romans 2:16 says, “on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.” I Cor 4:5 says, “Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but 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; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.” Psalms 44:21 says God knows the secrets of the heart.

I leave you with a passage from Hebrews which sums up everything we need to remember about this earthly fishbowl:

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, 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. (Hebrews 4:12-16)

Jeri Richardson


Letting Life Get In The Way

Life always moves at a frantic pace. It seems to me that I hardly have time to do anything with my schedule each week. But what does that say about me as a Christian? About us as followers of The Lord? How am I spending my time? How are you spending your time? When I actually slow down for a second and look at the way my job and other activities fill up my week, it makes me think seriously about how I’m budgeting my time. The Lord has blessed my life with many different things, but most recently, after graduating from college, He blessed me with a great career opportunity.

Over the past year, while this has been a great blessing, it’s just one example of something positive that the devil can use to negatively affect our walk with God. Whether it’s work, school, recreation, or anything else, there must be a balance. Each day, the world constantly tells us what should be important, whether it’s job status, wealth, popularity, or anything else. Sometimes I find myself falling into this line of thinking. If I’m really honest with myself, this all comes down to my priorities. Nobody is perfect. However, there is no excuse for prioritizing anything over our Lord and Savior.

“You shall have no other gods before me.” – Exodus 20:3

We’re all familiar with the ten commandments, and this seems like a pretty easy one to keep, but in reality, this is one that can sneak up on us.

We could have perfect attendance at church and say a prayer before bed every night, but still be worshipping other things. How are we truly worshipping Him throughout each day? Is it just a Sunday and Wednesday thing where we’re punching the clock and worshipping inside the building for a few hours? Or are we worshipping Him with each step we take no matter where we are?

This doesn’t mean we can’t work hard at our careers, or have any fun at all. It comes back again to our priorities. I can work hard at my job each week and even put in overtime, but if I’m so focused on getting to the top at work that I don’t even pick up my Bible once outside of church during the week then something’s gotta give. If I didn’t pray today because I was too busy texting my friends or checking Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter then I’m putting my social life before my relationship with the One who created me. It doesn’t seem like a big deal because it’s not like I’m stealing something. It’s not like I’m committing murder or adultery. It’s just my daily life! Right?

It might not be as obvious but this is something that we can’t take lightly as God’s children. It’s easy for me to sit here and talk about how these things effect our relationship with The Lord, but how do we fight this deceptive sin that we might not be fully aware of until we put our lives on pause and look at what we spend our time on?

A few simple things can help us avoid the trap of worldly life:

“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” – Psalm 119:11

First: Dive in daily. What I mean by that is to jump into God’s word each and every day. Even if it’s not a lot, just reading a verse or two can help shape your entire outlook on a given day. Reading His word puts us in the right mindset and helps keep us on the straight and narrow.

Pray without ceasing.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:17

Second: Talk to your Father. Don’t neglect the one person who will be there no matter what. Often times, when worldly troubles, or life, gets in the way we talk amongst our coworkers, friends, and family. Instead, both before our life interferes, or after, we should be constantly talking to God each and every day.

“It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” – Psalm 127:2

Third: Remember the importance of rest. Just stop everything every now and then and give yourself a chance to reflect and rejuvenate from the busyness of your day. If we don’t ever take time to separate ourselves from the daily rush we might get lost in it. Time of reflection happens to also be a great time for prayer and reading God’s word.

Misplacing God on the list of our priorities is something that is a very real threat to our spiritual walk with Him.

Derek Land



We live in an age of instant communication. We can reach almost anyone any time and get any information with the click of a few buttons. This is all good for many reasons, but in the process sometimes we forget how to really listen to people. 

The Bible teaches us to listen to God’s word always. But how do we listen? He speaks to us in so many ways. Through his word we learn the things that are necessary for us to know but I believe he speaks in other ways, too. Have you ever been in the mountains during a storm? If you listen, you hear the majesty and the power that is God. In the voice and actions of a newborn child we see and hear the hope and promise of the future. Sitting by the seashore you not only see power and beauty, but order; the waves roll in without end but stay within their bounds. We just have to listen.

I think the same thing holds true with listening to each other. Because we lead such busy lives, sometimes we forget to listen to those around us. How often do we find ourselves telling our children, spouse, or friends that we are too busy to talk? Most of the time that attitude is fine, but are we really listening – not just with our ears but with our hearts? I have many times in my life found that when someone wants to talk they have something troubling them. They don’t say so in so many words but it becomes obvious in time. When you read about Jesus talking and teaching, he listens to the heart. The rich young ruler is an example. He said all the right words but Jesus listened to his heart. I know we will never be able to discern people’s hearts like Jesus but we can learn to listen with our hearts. Most of the time people don’t want you to solve their problems, they just need to be heard and know that someone will take the time to listen. Young people especially need this. They are growing and experiencing so many new things. They need someone to hear them and help them find the right direction, not by telling them this is what you have to do, but by listening and asking questions that will help them think things through on their own.

When we are teaching others it is so important that we listen to them so that we will really know where they are spiritually. Those of us that have been blessed to be raised in a Christian home with godly parents sometime forget that there are those who don’t have any background in the Bible. I remember sitting in on a class one time with the teacher making references to an Old Testament Bible story that most in the class knew, but the young woman didn’t have a clue what it was about. She didn’t say anything until asked.

We are all different and have had different experiences so it is vital that we really listen. Even if what we hear is not comfortable for us. When I started to work with disadvantaged students at the high school level I really had to learn to listen and not judge until I spent time with them. They came from homes that had not prepared them to work in a way that was acceptable. They didn’t know how to express themselves in good ways. It took time and understanding to help them. I bring this up because the one thing that was impressed on me by my father was that, in teaching someone, you have to start where they are. Our understanding of what someone says is not always what they are trying to say. Our understanding comes from our own experiences in life, so when trying to listen to someone else we have to try to put away our filters. If they have had no instruction in the Bible or even in how to speak or behave in what we consider an acceptable manner then we have to start there, not judging but helping them to learn better.

The examples in the Bible of  Jesus teaching people that were not considered the “right” kind of people or acceptable. We need to be ready to help as many people as we can. This includes those we do not in the beginning believe are teachable. Be a person with an open heart and mind, be ready to listen and respond. We can only help if we get to know a person and that can only happen if we can listen with an open mind and heart and not judge.

In every relationship in our life, listening is a key to be successful.

Pat Low

Trusting For The Future

You may have heard already but I plan on beginning a new chapter in my life next month – that chapter is called retirement. I am finding out that retirement does not come without a lot of planning – many things we take for granted during the working phase of our lives must be planned out in order to last for the next many years until we take our final breaths and go to the last chapter of life.

Not to be confused with planning and preparation is the concept of worrying about the future. Jesus teaches about worry in Matthew 6:25-34:

For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

So what does worry gain us? Have you ever solved a problem or avoided an unpleasant situation by worrying about it? What worry does do is hurt our health – both physical and mental. Worry keeps our thoughts from doing anything constructive or spiritual, affects how we treat others, and shows a lack of trust in our God.

Do we need to prepare and make preparations for the future? Yes, God gave us intellect to know we need to do what we can to prepare, but after we do our part we need to let God do his part. To worry about things we have no control over serves no useful purpose and shows a lack of trust in God, a lack of faith in God, and a lack of confidence in the Christians we fellowship with. We read in verses 33-34 “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Reading the newspaper and/or internet news shows us we have enough to be concerned about each day and it is our obligation to ourself, to our families, and most importantly to God, to respond to our daily trouble by praying to God to give us wisdom so we can take the steps we are able to take and to let God take care of the rest.

Claude Foster

She Gave Up a Kingdom – What Are We Willing To Give Up?

Although there are several secular books about Vashti, wife of King Ahasuerus, and references to her in a number of commentaries, she is only mentioned in two chapters of the Bible – Esther 1 and 2. She gave a feast for the women while King Ahasuerus gave a feast for his male officials and servants. Whether Queen Vashti’s feast was something simply expected of her as queen or a politically-cunning maneuver, we don’t know. We also know that the king commanded she be brought before him and his guests to show off her beauty. It is not known whether she was to be scantily dressed, as were the dancers who danced at the king’s feast, or if she was simply to model her beauty and crown. What we do know is that she flatly refused to do so. Feminists like to point to this refusal as one of the first strikes of women against male domination, and the last half of Chapter 1 does lend credence to that possibility. We also know that if the events in Chapter 1 did not take place, Esther would not have ascended to the position of Queen and saved the Jewish people; so apparently God had a purpose for Vashti in His plan.

However, for the sake of this article, I only want to view one aspect of this story and to use it as a valuable reminder to us as Christians. And, yes, I am basing this view on one very simple assumption which may or may not be the correct core intention behind Queen Vashti’s refusal.

As children, our Bible classes did not address all the political and social ramifications of this story. We were simply told that Queen Vashti was probably expected to dance and behave before the king and the other men in attendance in a manner that would not have been pleasing to God. If we look at this story wholly and solely from that very simple perspective and make the assumption (creative license, perhaps) that Queen Vashti knew that this display of immorality was wrong, what can we learn from Queen Vashti’s refusal?

From that perspective, Queen Vashti lost her throne refusing to do what would have been wrong in the sight of God. What are we asked to give up when we become Christians? Do we give up some of our friends who are ungodly and immoral? Do we give up hanging out at bars? Do we give up swearing? Do we give up fornication? Do we give up sleeping late or fishing on Sunday morning? Do we have to leave behind some family relationships? We go to school with, work with, and have to associate with many people who live their lives in direct opposition to God. We live in a world where we see Christianity mocked, the word “God” removed from public places, and ungodly lifestyles being glorified. We are increasingly being inundated with the idea that cohabitation is “good,” that homosexuality is “just another lifestyle,” and the list of sins goes on and on. Christian morals and ethics are increasingly being discriminated against. The trend is spiraling downward at an alarming rate. We have to study more, pray more, and teach our children what God says is right and wrong. As time goes on, we could conceivably be asked by the world to give up more and more to remain in God’s good graces.

If we use the simple premise that Queen Vashti might have known that what the king demanded was wrong and she gave up her throne because it was wrong, then what are WE willing to give up?

Yvonne Miller

God Is Better

“This is what the Lord says: What did your ancestors find wrong with me that led them to stray so far from me? They worshiped worthless idols, only to become worthless themselves. They did not ask ‘Where is the Lord who brought us safely out of Egypt and led us through the barren wilderness – a land of deserts and pits, a land of drought and death, where no one lives or travels?’ And when I brought you into a fruitful land to enjoy its bounty and goodness, you defiled my land and corrupted the possession I had promised you. The priests did not ask, ‘Where is the Lord?’ Those who taught my word ignored me, the rulers turned against me, and the prophets spoke in the name of Baal, wasting their time on worthless idols.”

That is from Jeremiah 2:5-8, in the New Living Translation. These verses really break my heart. After reading them I started to think, “Wow, Israel was such a selfish and ungrateful group of people. They blatantly turned away from God despite the numerous miracles He had performed in their midst and despite all of the times He had answered their prayers.” In that moment, I realized that I had been describing myself. I, too, get wrapped up in everything that is happening around me (for Israel that distraction was Baal worship) and turn away from God. I find some kind of fault in the perfect peace that He promises to lavish upon me if I will keep my eyes focused on Him. God longs to fulfill every spiritual need and desire I will ever have if I obey His word and look to Him for guidance daily.

Why would the God of the universe long to have that kind of intimate relationship with sinful and distracted people, though? Because He is better. He is better than the fading things this world has to offer and only He can fulfill every lacking part of you and I PERFECTLY. He is better and He loves every single one of us with an everlasting love. How incredible is that?

Kelsea Davis

Without Excuse

Today, evolution is the unifying force in modern biology; it is an elegant and convincing explanation for the staggering diversity of earth’s five million or more living species. The belief that this universe and all that is in it was not created with purpose as we see in Genesis, but rather happened by pure chance, is an aggressive yet deceptive tool of persecution that is being used to attack the very foundations of our beliefs and, sadly, is becoming a mainstream belief among Christians and non-Christians alike. While not as harsh as physical persecution, the intellectual persecution of this core belief can be a far more dangerous tool in destroying one’s faith.

Like our court system, we crave evidence for truth and understanding. In almost every decision we make in our daily lives we weigh evidence for what we hold to be true or false. It is here, at the very center of our logic and reasoning, that we are attacked for our beliefs in a creator. Unlike the statements we hold to be true – “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1) some scientists would have you believe that there are “undeniable” amounts of “evidence” for evolution. Over the last hundred years, evolution has begun to litter everything from our media, to our schools, to even our nation’s government which was originally founded on biblical principles. Even more recently, some evolutionists have begun to publically and abrasively attack the intelligence of those who believe in a creator. Bill Nye, one of the front-runners of this movement, recently stated:

“To the grownups, if you want to deny evolution and live in your world that’s completely inconsistent with everything we’ve observed in the universe, that’s fine. But don’t make our kids do it – because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future. We need engineers that can build stuff, solve problems.” (Big Think, 2012)

Bill Nye and some of his fellow contemporaries would have you believe that the Genesis account is a fictitious work in light of the “irrefutable evidence” that evolution is a “fact.” Further, he suggests that you can either believe in science or religion – but not both – and that belief in the latter is a detriment to our society.  

Faced with such forceful accusations, some Christians may be led to give up on their faith or look to try to bend their beliefs to that of the “scientific evidence” and mentally meld evolution and the word of God together. When facing what may seem to be insurmountable odds, such as evolution, one must remember Paul’s words of encouragement, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:10-11)

In reality, the scientific theory of evolution is not as complete as one may be led to think, considering it is so heavily pushed. In fact, the evidence for evolution is spotty at best. The idea that living creatures can be produced naturally from non-living substances is called spontaneous generation and it is important to note that science has never observed such an occurrence. This, along with the other “evidence” that evolution seeks to stand on, fails when tested against physical science, mathematics, statistics, thermodynamics, neuroscience, and Mendel’s laws of genetics, and countless other fields of study. This continuing lack of evidence for evolution has caused evolutionists to vehemently push their beliefs on the world, because admitting failure would require acknowledging God’s existence and ultimately our subjugation to him.   To believe in our God does take faith, but He has given us the gift of his creation to study and dissect so that we can see His work and laws by which we can better understand him. One of the most highly regarded scientists of the last hundred years and arguably one of the most knowledgeable individuals of how God’s creation works, Albert Einstein, once said:

“In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what really makes me angry is that they quote me for the support of such views.”

While it is true that the created can never fully understand its creator, we have more than simple, blind faith by which we can believe in God and his word. We are given an instruction booklet in which our creator explains three fundamental questions we all have: Who are we, Where did we come from, and What comes next? Armed with the word of God and his creation as evidence for his existence, we can resist these new attacks. “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)

Jamin Vess

A Plan for the Future

It was Mother’s Day, 1989. After Sunday morning services we went to lunch with Steve and Melody and their children, another family from our church. Our oldest child was an impressionable 13-year-old girl. Theirs was an intelligent 15-year-old boy. During lunch, each of the six children sitting at the table was asked to think about what they wanted to do in the future. As expected, the youngest girl in each family wanted to be a mommy. The middle children had grand plans for an extensive education and careers that changed the world. It was our friend’s oldest son, Jake, whose answer left us speechless. “I want to be a race car driver,” he said, “But I don’t think I will be alive past age 22 so I am not planning for a future.” Like many teens, his answer was probably meant to shock us. And it certainly accomplished that goal.

I don’t remember the precise words that each parent used as we reacted to Jake’s plans. What I do remember is what happened the next day. It was early evening and Jake’s mother, Melody, called us with some troubling news. Jake was at the hospital with a serious injury. We took our children to their house so our oldest daughter could watch the younger children and we met Jake’s parents at the hospital. We were with Melody and Steve when they were offered a last opportunity to see Jake before they took him off life support. We were with them when the emergency room doctor said that Jake was gone. And the next day we supported them as they saw Jake in the funeral home. These were moments that no parent can be prepared to experience. All of us who provided support and comfort to Melody, Steve, and their two daughters hugged our children more often and struggled to explain the tragic death of a young teen who had so much to live for.

While we all plan for a future of some kind – from young girls who just want to grow up to be a mother to college students who plan for a rewarding career and grandparents who want to see their grandchildren grow up to be fulfilled in life – all of our plans are temporary. The nature of human existence is that our time on earth is limited. While planning for our future on earth makes good sense and it is certainly an important part of living a responsible life, we must also be prepared for what comes after this life. James 4:13-17 reminds us that while we may plan for what happens today or tomorrow, our life is “even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” Each day God gives us is a stepping stone to a final reward. Keeping an eternal perspective helps us to make decisions about what we do with the days we are given and how we prepare for our eternal future. It also ensures that we are ready for whatever may come.

Margaret Batterton

Me, A Sinner

The parable of the Pharisee and the publican provides a stark contrast between the self-effacing and self-righteous among people who appear to be religious by various standards.

The Pharisee, member of Israel’s strictest sect, certainly wore the costume of piety well. Typically, he could be found praying on the street corner with finely honed petitions, fasting with obvious excess, and reveling in the admiration of those who called him Teacher, saved the choicest seat for him at the banquet, and trusted his interpretations of Moses as if they were infallible (see Matthew 6:1-18, 23:1-36).

The publican, on the other hand, probably did not appear to be very religious until Jesus exposed his prayer in the parable. His attire was not marked by fringes and phylactery and his occupation was held in derision among the masses, even if, when done honestly, it was a perfectly reasonable work for someone in the empire’s wild province.

Introduced to these two disparate characters, the listener reflexively expects condemnation of the tax collector and plaudits for the Pharisee. Jesus, however, peered beneath the costumery and discerned the actual character of two men, both sinners, but only one who was aware of it:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

The point of the parable is introduced in its purpose – Jesus was addressing people in his audience who saw no need for a savior, for they trusted in their own achievements, and even went so far as to look down upon others whom they considered both inferior and unworthy. While the Pharisees were infamous for this degree of self-exaltation, they were by no means alone. Today, Pharisee exists only as opprobrium, but the sect lives on in the attitudes of religious people whose trust is more in their own deluded piety than in the grace of a forgiving God. It is they who ignore the beams in their own eyes to draw attention to the specks elsewhere, and who honor God with their lips, but whose hearts are on a different planet (see Matthew 7:1-5, 15:1-9).

In an example of life imitating art, Jesus encountered just such a contrast in the house of Levi, also known as Matthew the tax collector cum apostle: “And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners'” (Mark 2:15-17).

The Pharisees asserted their righteousness by listing their works – ascetic fasting, precise tithing, verbose prayers – but came up wanting because they were wed to heartless ritual and weak in the weightier matters of God’s law – “justice, mercy, and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23). This is evident in the conceit with which he disparages the tax collector in the parable, and the real-life way in which Pharisees exploited poor widows and preyed upon the uninitiated in oath-taking.

In the parable, the tax collector’s righteousness was founded elsewhere. Rather than rattle off a litany of good works, he simply smote his chest and pleaded for patience, confessing his role – a convicted, otherwise unworthy, sinner.

Jesus’s conclusion was that the penitent publican trudged home in a just state while the Pharisee pranced away in self-delusion, feeling saved, but awfully lost. Both men were sick with sin, but only one of them had the courage to confront the disease and consult the physician.

It is not necessarily that the Pharisees’ deeds were all bad – fasting, almsgiving, and praying are wholesome acts. It is, however, that an attitude of self-sufficiency, merit, and incomparable superiority, coupled with the complacency of ritual observance, utterly corrupted them. The publican – less articulate and self-promoting – could only fall back on his attitude of remorse and hunger for real righteousness and certain justification. That comes not through the illusion of perfect law-keeping or the imposition of self-imposed regulations on others, but through heartfelt humility. Labeling oneself a sinner in a world where iniquity is hardly acknowledged anymore is a dramatic step (Matthew 3:11, 8:8).

Obedience to the will of God, from the heart rather than as an exercise in adding personal merit to an imaginary ledger of credits and debits, is truer discipleship than the Pharisees’ fatally flawed version any day (Hebrews 5:8-9, Romans 6:16, 16:26; 1 Peter 1:22).

Jeff Smith