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Stay Happy – Happy Series pt.4

Stay Happy

I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow.”

John 15:11 NLT

So how do we “stay happy?” That’s the real question, isn’t it? Happiness is elusive, here one minute and gone the next. So what’s the answer? As we’ve seen in this series, happiness comes as a result of making certain “happy choices.” As important as each of these has been, the two final components we will examine today contribute to lasting happiness more than anything we’ve discussed thus far. Today, we’re going to see that happy people live with a profound sense of calling and a deep faith that sustains their lives.

Live with Calling

Happy people have a calling.[1] You can always tell the people who live and work out of a sense of calling. They’re passionate, tenacious, energetic, and, above all, deeply fulfilled in what they are doing. They’re the kind of people who inspire the rest of us to DO SOMETHING with our lives!

I believe it is important to realize that living out a calling is something that everybody can choose to do. Callings aren’t reserved for ministers or doctors; they’re for everyone. However, it requires a complete mental shift.

Researchers have found that people look at work in one of three ways: just a “job”, a way to pay the bills; a “career”, advancing toward an occupational goal; and finally a “calling”, a sense of fulfilling a higher purpose surrounding some intrinsic good.[2] Since most of us will spend a large chuck of our lives at work, it only makes sense that how we view work has a profound impact on our overall sense of well-being and happiness. This ties into so much of what we’ve said earlier about happiness.

Happy people live with a value system that’s fundamentally different. In fact, psychologists have noticed that there seems to be a direct correlation between intrinsically oriented values and overall happiness. The more one values things like personal growth, close relationships, and improving the world in some way, the happier they are. However, the more a person values extrinsic things like: money, image, and status, the unhappier they are.[3]

A calling is precisely what Jesus gave to his disciples. “While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers…casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men’.”[4] These men were living as most of us do, trying to survive. Jesus came and invited them to follow him and receive a new life purpose. “Fishing” went from a career to a calling. This brings us back to the words of Paul we looked at a couple of weeks ago. “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.[5]

For the disciple of Jesus, all of our life should be “for the Lord”; he infuses our life with purpose and meaning. “Calling,” for the believer, is exponentially greater. You see, a calling requires a “call-er.” The one who calls is what gives the calling its meaning. If the President called you to a task, that task, no matter how insignificant, would take on significance because of who called you to do it. Likewise for a Christian, when we live out of a response to a call from God, our tasks, regardless of their apparent insignificance, have great significance!

The verse above said, “Whatever you do, …” suggests that every Christian can choose to live out of a calling in whatever they do. We can choose to see everything we do as an opportunity to serve the Lord—to bring God’s kingdom to earth.[6] As Henry Cloud observed, “When we realize that we are working for God, every task becomes significant and meaningful.”[7] Once again we see that the research on happiness parallels how a disciple of Jesus should already be living. This leads us to our final and most important “happiness factor”—Faith.

Live with Faith

It may be surprising to see secular research admit this, but a person’s view of faith plays a substantial role in their overall happiness.[8] “As happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky puts it, religious people are happier, healthier and recover better after traumas than nonreligious people.”[9] Numerous studies in recent years have concluded there is an undeniable happiness/faith link.[10] It was so surprising that the Harvard research team conducting one of the studies seriously considered going to church!

This is perhaps most obvious to a follower of Jesus. Growing in the belief that God is good and that He loves us has incalculable benefits in our lives. This point is central to Christianity. It’s not just the belief that God exists but that God is good and that we can trust him. God demonstrated this supremely by actually entering our world, suffering and dying on the cross. A disciple of Jesus believes that his death gives humankind an opportunity to have their relationship with God restored. When we surrender the controls of our life over to Jesus and begin to follow him in faith, we receive God’s grace and forgiveness.

We began today’s blog with this quote from Jesus, “I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow.”[11] Just before saying this Jesus had instructed his disciples to, “Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love…”[12] Jesus is the Master; his disciples are his followers. Jesus will accept no other position.

Our pursuit of happiness has led us to perhaps a surprising place. Happiness is found ultimately in surrender. Jesus, the Author of life and love, gives overflowing joy to those who surrender to his commands. Happiness isn’t a reward to those who follow Jesus; it’s the inevitable by-product of his presence in your life. It is the hope of every Christ follower that everyone everywhere will voluntarily surrender to the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings. Make Jesus your king today!

[1] Henry Cloud, The Law of Happiness: How Spiritual Wisdom and Modern Science Can Change Your Life (New York: Howard Books, 2011). 169

[2] ibid., 170

[3] Happy, directed by Roko Belic, 2011.

[4] Matthew 4:18-19 (see also Mark 1:16-18; Luke 5:1-11)

[5] Colossians 3:23

[6] The phrase “Kingdom of God” means “God’s rule” so when we pray for God’s kingdom to come, we are praying for the glorious and good rule of God to come to earth and overthrow satan’s power in a specific area or need.

[7] Henry Cloud., 175

[8] Henry Cloud., 183

[9] ibid., 187


[11] John 15:11 NLT

[12] John 15:9-10 ESV


Choose Happy- Happy Series pt.3

Choose Happy

“Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

-Matthew 11:29-30 NLT

How much does your soul weigh? Sound like a ridiculous question? Maybe. But then again, haven’t we all had times in life that we felt burdened, tense, or overloaded? Maybe our souls can feel heavy? Have you ever met someone who seemed to laugh or smile so easily it made you jealous? It’s not that these people have a problem-free life or that everything comes easy for them; it’s just they seem to live…lighter. This “internal ease” captures a common trait in happy people, and from the verse above, I think it’s how Jesus’s disciples are supposed to live. Today’s blog will look at three choices that happy people make that help produce this internal, “ lightness of soul.”

If you think about the things that really weigh people down, money and relationships usually top the list. It seems most of our troubles revolve around how we manage our finances and our relationships. Happy people seem to manage these better, and in case you’re wondering it isn’t that happy people are richer. As we discussed in our first blog, there really isn’t a correlation between wealth and happiness.[1] It’s that happy people give more, forgive easily, and are committed to deep relational connections with others.[2] Let’s look at each of these briefly.

Choose to Give

It seems counter-intuitive that giving away your resources helps you manage them better, but it does. And it’s not because now there’s less money to worry about. It’s because financial mismanagement is rooted in what we believe and not in our balance sheet. Our stress about money is often a symptom of a fearful or covetous heart. We fear the unknown future and so we hoard, or we covet things and so we spend. This disorder in our heart is at the root of our financial tensions and choosing to be a generous giver is exactly opposite. The virtue of generosity overcomes the vice of greed.

Researchers have found that even thinking about giving stimulates the pleasure centers in our brains. In his book, The Law of Happiness, Henry Cloud reported the findings of two neuroscientists that conducted brain-mapping experiments. They found that when a subject thought about giving to others, the same areas of the brain associated with the pleasure of sex and eating were activated.[3] Cloud observes, “God has actually hooked up your brain in a way that makes you feel good when you give.”[4]

For the Christian disciple, generous giving has always been a core teaching. Paul quoted Jesus when he reminded the believers that, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”[5] In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.”[6] The followers of Jesus were taught to support others with their excess. This command to be a generous giver kept greed in check, and now modern research confirms this is a happier way to live.

Choose to Forgive

Without a doubt grudges, vendettas, and bitterness add tremendous weight to our lives. We’ve all met people poisoned by past hurts and toxic anger. They carry relational baggage into every new relationship they form; everything and everyone is skewed when seen through the lens of deep unforgiveness.

Happy people know life is better when you’re not bitter. Everyone gets hurt; we all have conflict with others. That’s a fact of life. However, how we respond to pain and conflict changes everything. Learning to confront people who have hurt you is vital for relational health and healing. Forgiving others doesn’t mean what they did was ok. It simply means you are releasing them from the debt that justice says they owe you. Here I will give a few important guidelines for handling conflict.[7]

First, commit to confront. Bitterness and unforgiveness grow as we delay confronting those who’ve hurt us. Second, name and shame. When we confront the person, we need to humbly but clearly identify the wrong and express how we’ve been hurt. Third, forgive. You release the person’s debt and choose to no longer carry the weight of revenge or bitterness. This doesn’t mean you’re going to be best friends with the offender; forgiveness is not reconciliation. Forgiveness is given; trust is earned.

For the follower of Jesus, we are told we must forgive.[8] God forgave us and He requires we forgive others. What was done for us is greater than anything done to us. However, as with all of Jesus’s commands they line up with what is ultimately best for us. It’s true, choosing to confront and forgive those who have wronged you will enable you to enjoy healthy, happy relationships with others.

Choose to Deepen Relationships

I think that choosing generosity and forgiveness actually positions us to have deep relationships with others. Being freed from greed and bitterness allows us to love others in a healthy way. Happy people have close friendships that they work to develop.[9]

You may know lots of people and today it isn’t uncommon to have hundreds of Facebook “friends,” but this isn’t what happy people consider friendship. Deep friendship involves vulnerability and accountability. As Pastor Rick Warren said, “You were never meant to face your problems or your sins by yourself. We need each other. We have a longing for belonging. We’re to help each other out.”[10] You can’t experience this with a casual acquaintance. This is why happy people make time to develop meaningful connections with others.

Next week, we will look at the last two common values in happy people. Just like this week, these values shape their decisions and lead them to happier, more fulfilling lives. Today, I hope you’ll feel the weight lift as you choose to give, forgive and develop deep life-enhancing friendships.

[1] Happy, directed by Roko Belic, 2011. (In this documentary, researchers found that although the average wealth in the U.S. has doubled over the past 50 years, there has been no increase in overall happiness.)

[2] Henry Cloud, The Law of Happiness: How Spiritual Wisdom and Modern Science Can Change Your Life (New York: Howard Books, 2011). 19, 151, 85.

[3] ibid., 20

[4] ibid.

[5] Acts 20:35. This is an example of a statement attributed to Jesus that is not preserved in any of the gospels. Paul, although not an original disciple of Jesus, demonstrates familiarity with the oral tradition of Jesus’ teaching.

[6] Ephesians 5:28

[7] I have written more on forgiveness and conflict here: and here:

[8] Matthew 6:12-15; 19:35; Colossians 3:12-13

[9] Cloud.,85


Think Happy- Happy Series pt.2

Think Happy

 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

-Romans 12:2 NLT

Have you ever been frustrated after giving someone you care about great advice only to have them tell you that what you said sounded good but they had a hard time believing it would help them? Their minds couldn’t (or wouldn’t) accept what you suggested. This is exactly the dilemma researchers find with happiness. We all want to be happy, but sometimes it’s a struggle to believe the things research (and the Bible) says will make us happy.

Christian psychologist and author of the book, The Law of Happiness, Henry Cloud notes the parallels between how a Christian is told to live in the New Testament and what modern research says produces happiness.[1] Since this is the case, we need to view happiness as a spiritual journey that requires us to “change the way we think”, if we are to really change our thinking and actions.[2]

After reflecting on his research, Cloud observed, “Happy people are not lazy about happiness.”[3] He noticed that happy people think differently about life and act accordingly even when it’s difficult. This blog focuses on three of these areas. Today, we will see that happy people purpose to live engaged in the present and refuse to compare themselves to others.[4]

Live Engaged

Happy people live fully engaged.[5] They are “all in” kind of people. My mom once told me that the secret to life was learning how to do everything with your whole heart. The apostle Paul put it this way, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.[6] This was written to ancient Christians, many who were slaves within the Roman Empire and would be understandable if they were less than enthusiastic about their daily work. However, they were challenged to work whole-heartedly even in difficult circumstances.[7]

Interestingly, there’s a “happy” phenomenon frequently experienced by people who are fully engaged. Researchers call this experience “flow” and athletes refer to it as being, “in the zone.”[8] When “flow” occurs, people notice an increase in energy and creativity. Even time itself seems distorted, as people frequently comment on how time “flew by.” Happy people regularly experience flow in their jobs, hobbies, and even in their relationships and this contributes to an overall enjoyment of their lives. Is it possible that some of the happiest slaves in the Roman Empire where those Christians who listened to Paul’s instruction to work fully engaged?

Live in the Present

Related to living fully engaged, happy people live in the now.[9] Most of us live highly scheduled lives with financial pressures and deadlines that seem to drain us and never end. Ours is a culture obsessed with tomorrow’s worry and, as a result, few of us enjoy today. Jesus acutely warned against this soul-destroying tendency. He said, “…do not be anxious, saying, ‘what shall we drink? Or ‘what shall we wear?’…Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all…Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”[10] Jesus wanted his disciples to rest in the Father’s love and provision. God will give us strength and provision for tomorrow’s needs, tomorrow.

You see happy people aren’t consumed with tomorrow’s trouble. It’s not that they never worry or have anxious thoughts, it’s that they refuse to be paralyzed by tomorrow. Happy people work hard to “stop and smell the roses.” They discipline themselves to “be present.” They know that life comes to us as a series of seasons and so they refuse to allow anxiety and stress stop them from savoring the season. We all know how it feels when we suddenly realize our children aren’t toddlers anymore or maybe Christmastime is past and we wish we could go back to experience that season again. Happy people know that the season we’re living in today will be the season we reflect upon tomorrow. So they limit time-wasting activities and make sure to do meaningful things in the present.[11] As Pastor Warren Wiersbe once said, “We are continually being crucified between two thieves—the regrets of yesterday and the worries of tomorrow.”[12] Happy people stop these “thieves” from stealing the joy of the present.

Live Comparison Free

Happy people don’t compare.[13] The pressure to measure up is ubiquitous. We swim in a culture of comparison. The problem isn’t that all comparison is necessarily bad. In early childhood, we actually need to compare ourselves with others in order to learn certain things. The problem is that we evaluate our worth based on superficial comparison and external achievements. Research confirms the more one bases their worth on things like money, status, or image the more unhappy the person is.[14]

Thankfully, the disciples of Jesus have been freed from finding worth outside of themselves. We believe God made humankind intrinsically valuable—in His image. Our value is so great in His eyes; He entered our world and gave Himself for us![15] As the old Christmas hymn, O Holy Night captured, when Jesus appeared, “the soul felt its worth.”

Next week we will look more at three more values that are common in happy people. Just like this week, these values shape their decisions and lead them to happier, more fulfilling lives. I hope you’ll go on the spiritual journey to transform your mind and decide today to live engaged, in the present, and free from comparison.

[1] Henry Cloud, The Law of Happiness: How Spiritual Wisdom and Modern Science Can Change Your Life (New York: Howard Books, 2011). xii

[2] Romans 12:1-2 NIV

[3] Henry Cloud,. 33

[4] Thanks to Toby Yurek for pointing this out.

[5] ibid. 76

[6] Colossians 3:23

[7] The idea of working “for the Lord” will be explored in a later blog. Surprisingly, whom you work for, not so much what you do, has a lot to do with overall life happiness.

[8] Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (New York: HarperCollins, 1990).

[9] Cloud. 43

[10] Matthew 6:31, 32b, 34

[11] There is a direct connection between excessive Facebook usage and depression.

[12] As cited in, Michael J. Wilkins, Matthew: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004). 305

[13] Cloud. 97

[14] Happy, directed by Roko Belic, 2011.

[15] Galatians 2:20; II Corinthians 5:19

The Pursuit of Happiness- Happy series pt.1

The Pursuit of Happiness: Deconstructing the Happy Myths

“Then I observed that most people are motivated to success because they envy their neighbors. But this, too, is meaningless—like chasing the wind. – Ecclesiastes 4:4 NLT

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness—these cherished values are embedded into our American culture but for many of us they have proved elusive. We may be alive, but not really living. We may live in the land of the free, but many of us feel enslaved. And for all our pursuing of happiness, so few of us are actually happy.[1] Why is this?

Perhaps it’s because our notions of life, liberty, and true happiness are misguided. In this blog, I’d like to speak specifically about happiness and challenge some of the common views of what produces happiness.

In fact, the scientific study of happiness has increasingly received the attention of sociologists and psychologists in recent decades. Modern research has shown that many of our long held beliefs about what brings happiness are misguided, and what actually contributes to overall life enjoyment isn’t what most of us think.

The Happy Numbers

 Researchers have discovered that a person’s happiness draws from three separate areas in their life. The first area is a person’s “happiness set point.” This set point is largely determined by factors outside of a person’s control and includes one’s early life experiences, temperament, and even genetic make up.[2] This feature comprises roughly 50% of a person’s natural happiness and accounts for a person’s normal disposition and life outlook. An individual’s happiness set point is, in most cases, fixed after their personality has matured. Therefore, your long term natural happiness is largely unaffected by circumstances either good or bad.

The second area that affects personal happiness is what has been called, “circumstantial happiness.” Researchers have verified what every TV commercial and marketing firm have preached our whole lives –that if we enhance our environments and better our life circumstances we will be happier. However, these situational factors only account for 10% of our total net happiness.[3] And if that wasn’t bad enough, situational happiness is notoriously temporary. Psychologist Henry Cloud observes that circumstances and situations that bring us happiness have short “shelf lives” and after the honeymoon phase has worn off, we are right back where we started.[4] Research has shown that once a person has enough income to meet their basic needs, more money does not increase their overall happiness.[5] Instead, people are tempted to jump on what sociologists call, “the hedonic treadmill” which says, “If I only had a little more then I’d be happy…” and on and on it goes, leading us nowhere.

Jesus made this same point two thousand years ago. Luke records a conversation Jesus had with a desperate man. The exasperated man calls out to Jesus from a crowd, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus’s answer is as surprising as it is piercing. He first asks the man why he believed Jesus would act as a judge between he and his brother. This is an odd reply since it was common in those days for Jewish rabbis to clarify what the law required and to help settle disputes. However, Jesus would have nothing of this family quarrel. Instead, he centers in on the real problem: covetousness. Jesus says, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”[6] While Jesus refused to be a judge in his family dispute, Jesus had no problem assessing his spiritual condition. This man wrongly believed that his life was equal to his possessions. Jesus knew that this man’s entire mindset was twisted into coveting what someone else had. Like so many of us, he believed happiness lay in that pot of gold just beyond the rainbow (or in my neighbor’s garage)!

This just isn’t true—it’s a “happiness myth” and now even social scientists are telling us this. As the ancient preacher declared, “Then I observed that most people are motivated to success because they envy their neighbors. But this, too, is meaningless—like chasing the wind.” – Eccl. 4:4.

Now for the good news about happiness, the remaining 40% of a person’s happiness comes from things that a person does have control over. Researchers have identified about a dozen things that happy people have in common. Surprisingly, they aren’t related to social/economic status, level of education, or even overall health. Instead, happy people share common priorities and make similar decisions which research has shown increases overall life enjoyment.

We will be exploring these so-called “laws of happiness” over the next three blogs. I believe you will see an interesting parallel between what modern research says about personal happiness and what the Bible has said all along. It is our hope that this study of happiness will improve your overall well-being, but even more importantly point you toward God and His great love.

[1] Only 1/3 of Americans say that are “very happy”.

[2] Henry Cloud, The Law of Happiness: How Spiritual Wisdom and Modern Science Can Change Your Life (New York: Howard Books, 2011). 8

[3] Happy, directed by Roko Belic, 2011.

[4] Henry Cloud,.8

[5] Happy, directed by Roko Belic, 2011.

[6] Luke 12:13-15

Grace or Guilt?

Grace or Guilt?

I’ve struggled with guilt a lot in my Christian life. The burden of the gospel and my duty to share it has been heavy and, at times, even crushing. I wondered where was that light burden Jesus talked about (Matthew 11:30)?

In fact, my over-active conscience has propelled me more than once into ridiculous (and even embarrassing) situations. I remember once convincing myself that I needed to stop my car, turn around and preach the gospel to a group of junior high kids I had seen in a housing project I had just past. I can only imagine what those kids thought when suddenly, a strange redheaded man came walking up out of the blue tellling them they needed Jesus! Needless to say, I didn’t get very far with them and left feeling… awkward.

Then there were those times back in high school when I convinced my friends that we should preach about Hell in front of the Las Vegas Mirage volcano. As I write this, my head is hung in shame. Let’s just say, we didn’t “harvest” a whole lot down there. Just got people mad.

Now I want to be clear on what I am (and am not) ashamed of. I am not ashamed of the gospel (Romans 1:16) and I’m not ashamed of being bold for Jesus. I am ashamed of my motivations. I am ashamed of what drove me deep inside, of my competitive spirit, and judgmental attitude. Mostly, I’m ashamed of how I approached Christianity and sadly, Jesus himself.

I am not ashamed of what I preached but why I preached. (Ok, maybe even some of the content was a bit off track back then.) You see my “Christian guilt” didn’t just revolve around preaching the gospel. It crept into virtually all areas of my relationship with God.

My Bible reading, church attendance, opinions of other Christians, other ministries, and leaders were all viewed through a guilt-driven view of Christianity. And when guilt motivates your actions inevitably you judge others who are not following the rules as well as you are.

So I was legalistic and judgmental, though not as legalistic as “so and so” or “that church” and certainly I’m not too judgmental. At least that’s what I told my self. One day I will share my journey but today I want to give one simple helpful thought about our motivation as a follower of Jesus.

Grace vs. Guilt

First, let me say, motives matter. A lot. Why I do what I do will affect how I do what I do. Our motivations are the foundation for our actions; we can’t build good actions on faulty foundations.

I had to learn how to distinguish grace-fueled thoughts from guilt-fueled thoughts. And since my actions flow from my thoughts, learning to tell the difference between the thoughts that came from God and those that came from me was vital. Grace-fueled thoughts flow from an authentic, love relationship with Jesus. I cannot expect to have these kinds of thoughts any other way. Guilt-fueled thoughts spring from a sense of obligation given to me by my conscience, totally independent from my relationship with God. This is my natural default setting.

Consider Mark 1:35-39:

35And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, 37and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” 38And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” 39And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Jesus’s time with the Father demonstrated his commitment to being guided by grace. The next steps in Jesus’s ministry will come from here. This is the hallmark of a grace-driven life.[1] Had Jesus been guilt-driven, he couldn’t have easily left the needs of the people in front of him. When I am driven by guilt, I am confused and tormented by the over-whelming need that exist all around me. The weight crushes me and I constantly wonder, “Am I doing what God wants?!” Clarity replaces confusion when grace fuels your actions. I am God’s servant and He knows the load I can carry.


Earlier I said motives matter. Jesus said to his disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Here Jesus gives us the “why”. I keep his commands because I love him. Period. No other reason. Obey, not out of guilt or competition, but out of love. If I am to develop this motivation, I must… spend real time with Jesus! It all boils down to this—take steps to cultivate an authentic love relationship with Jesus. I have found when I am really doing this, the burden is light; in fact it’s a delight!



[1] The reason I call this a, “grace-guided” life comes from I Corinthians 15:10. Paul says the work that he did was because God’s grace was empowering him. He recognized that God’s power was his fuel. He, like Jesus, didn’t need to prove anything to anyone; competition (or guilt) wasn’t his motivation. He simply depended on the Spirit for empowerment (see Colossians 1:27-28) and guidance (Acts 16:6-10). Paul’s (like Jesus’s) preaching and boldness flowed from his intimacy with God. So his ministry to the world was his love for God put into action. (I John 3:17; 4:20)


Overcoming Temptation

“And he said to his disciples, ‘Temptations to sin are sure to come…” – Luke 17:1 

Have you ever found yourself suddenly tempted? Out of nowhere, lustful thoughts captivate your imagination; or some unexplained discontentment washes over you.  Maybe you’re at work and suddenly you find yourself envying a coworker’s position (and paycheck!).

Many times, we have these experiences but don’t really think about why. Why did I suddenly have that thought? Where do temptations come from? How can we overcome them?

For starters, temptation is everywhere! Our society laughs at it. Corporations try to leverage it. The media glorifies it. Appeals to indulge are ubiquitous.

When you think about it, we really live in an absurd culture. It’s a place where people are constantly seduced but then mercilessly  prosecuted. Like a boy given matches then punished when he starts a fire, our society sensors nothing, but then passes law against the very actions those seductions provoked.

So how can we live as “children of God” in this “crooked and twisted generation” so we can “shine as lights” (Philippians 2:15)?


A Helpful Lesson On Defeating Temptation:

Although it may not seem so, temptation doesn’t actually start outside of us. It begins within us. Temptation is an answer to a question that our heart is asking, whether we realize it or not. It is a response to a desire that exists within us. So, if we lacked desire, we would lack temptation. At this point, it is important to understand the answer to defeating temptation is not the elimination of our desires. That’s Buddhism, not Christianity.

However, to understand how to overcome temptation, we must understand this desire/temptation link.


Truth #1: God created us with an innate desire for Him.

Actually, Christianity couldn’t disagree more with Buddhism on this point. Rather than seeing desire as something to be purged, Christians believe God intentionally created humankind with desires. They move us, motivate us, enrich us, and when properly met, fulfill us.[1]

As C.S. Lewis wrote, “Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other.”[2] Human desire didn’t begin after the fall; God created us to find fulfillment in Him. He was to be our daily and constant resource. He provided us with all we needed (existentially and physically) in a relationship with Him.


Truth #2: The fall of man infected our affections.

When humankind fell, our desires became disordered. The truth is we don’t realize this. But the fall has blinded us to what we really need—that is, God. So disordered desire is our true problem. Rather than living with a clear awareness that God is our treasure and the source of our need, our heart is now imprisoned to our selfish desires. This primal enslavement leaves us vulnerable, born with a predisposition to look to things that satisfy the disordered demands of the self. So every temptation is an attempt to satisfy the demanding desires of a sin-infected self. And since we find temporary fulfillment when we succumb to temptation, sin’s deception holds sway over us. It’s only after time passes do we realize, sin’s destructive cost to others and ourselves. It’s a vicious cycle of looking for fulfillment only to be further enslaved.


Truth #3: God is our salvation!

The miracle of salvation is that God enables me to look away from myself and trust utterly in what God has done.[3] The marvel Jesus accomplished was setting us free from ourselves (John 8:32-36).[4] The New Testament discusses the work of Jesus from many angles, but perhaps the most practical is in this sense: in Jesus’ death, I have been set free. If I choose to die with him, he can live within me, victoriously.[5] I can be freed from the disordered, enslaving desires I was born with.


Truth #4: Training is necessary to “live free.”

As a follower of Jesus, we must now retrain our mind on how to think. Ever since we were young, we followed the desires of our sin-enslaved self (c.f. Ephesians 2:1-3). We all have developed mental habits that made sinning seem “natural.” In order to defeat temptation, we will have to develop a new way of thinking. We must train ourselves to go to God in times of temptation despite the fact it will not seem natural to do so.



Maybe the best way to end this is by providing an illustration to help clarify this teaching and show how this works in practice.

Suppose I have a rare condition that causes me to be unaware of hunger pains. Suppose further that instead of hunger pains, my brain receives a sensation to scratch an itch. So each time I would, under normal circumstances, have experienced hunger pains instead I experience a strong sensation to scratch an itch. Imagine somehow, temporarily, scratching alleviates the sensation (which was really caused by my hunger) and so I am able to continue with my day. Eventually, scratching will lead to my death. I am blinded to my true condition. What I need is food, and scratching an itch doesn’t put any food in my stomach.

This, I suggest, is the true spiritual condition of man. Sin has disrupted the proper function of my heart’s awareness for God’s nourishment. Instead of running regularly to God, I am deceived and confused into thinking that I need to sin. I scratch when I really need to eat.

What would be the solution to such a strange condition? I must train myself to eat every time I itch. The truth holds here. When I find myself tempted (itchy) I must see through this and train myself to go to God. God is my food; He satisfies. The more tempted I find myself, the hungrier for God I actually am. Sin has disrupted this, and my disordered passions seek to keep me enslaved.

So next time I’m suddenly lustful and tempted to satisfy that lust in my regular ways, I must tell myself of my true need. Next time discontentment washes over me, it’s God that I must run to. When I am envious, I immediately begin to thank God for His blessings.

What if I trained myself to see each temptation as something that corresponded to something I can find in God Himself? Depression and loneliness are symptoms of neglecting His fellowship. Anger and anxiety result when I’ve walked away from trusting Him for my situation and future. Lust and pride occur when God is not the center of my thoughts.

It’s difficult to think about God and sin.


[1] In fact, a classical argument for God’s existence come from the fact that human beings universally experience a desire for something that transcends this world and a role only God can fill.

[2] C. S. Lewis. Mere Christianity. Macmillan Publishing. 1978. pg. 54

[3] N.T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God. pg. 954

[4] For more on this see:

[5] Matthew 16:24-25; Romans 6:8; II Timothy 2:11; Galatians 220-21. Dying with Christ is a metaphor for the absolute surrender of your will to him. A disciple of Jesus, has completely identified with a crucified messiah with the hope that just as he was raised in power, so we who have died with him will be raised to live in his resurrected power, not just at the end of time but now empowered by his grace to live victoriously over sin.

A reflection on freedom


What does it mean to be free? It’s easy to believe that being a Christian means a loss of personal freedom. After all, a Christian is someone who follows Jesus as their Master and so can’t do a lot of “fun” (sinful) things! (Frequently, New Testament writers called themselves “slaves” of Jesus c.f. Romans 1:1; I Corinthians 4:1; Galatians 1:10; James 1:1; II Peter 1:1).

How on earth can a “slave” be free?

Human freedom isn’t a simple as it might seem. (Do a simple google search!) Even among Christian thinkers, the nature of human freedom is a hotly debated issue. My purpose here isn’t to enter into these debates but to give a simple insight on freedom that I think many can find helpful.

Existential freedom (the phenomena of “feeling free”) is the ability to do what I desire. If I can’t do what I want to do, I don’t feel free. Conversely, I feel free, when I can do whatever I want. This is the main reason why people believe that following Jesus restricts personal freedom since I can’t do what I “want”.

Aw, but here is the problem. Many of my “wants’ are in fact, enslaving! As John Ortberg observes,”The ability to have anything you want actually can cost you your freedom” (Ortberg Soul Keeping p. 141). So freedom isn’t as simple as the freedom to choose. The alcoholic can choose and yet makes the same decision over and over again. (Ortberg 2014) Does that sound like “freedom”?

So freedom isn’t simply, “The ability to do whatever I want”. Since this leads in many cases to slavery, addiction, abuse, and finally despair. True freedom resides in having proper desires. If what I want isn’t enslaving but instead liberating, then doing what I please is congruent with a life of real freedom. Wanting what is good (instead of what enslaves) is the path to true freedom.

And here is where Jesus comes in. (You knew it was coming, a pastor is writing this!) You see we all suffer from the same problem. We don’t want what is good. Sin has affected our affections. So when we do what we want, we choose poorly. But Jesus has come to change all that! “Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin… So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:34, 36)

Following Jesus and surrendering our wills to his allows him to change our affections. Our desires are transformed and our hearts are transformed to want what he wants, which is always good.

So freedom is found in being set free from evil, enslaving, sinful desires. We are set free to want what is good and thus our desires are centered on liberating, life-giving things (See fruit of the Spirit- Gal 5). Freedom isn’t doing what ever a sin-infected heart wants; its doing what a heart that’s been redeemed and centered on Jesus wants! As ironic as it may seem, the path to freedom runs right through surrender. Surrender to Jesus and be set free!


There is something very deep about love we can learn from the way Jesus interacted with others. Paul tells us that Jesus “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7). The role of a servant marked nearly every aspect of Christ’s ministry. His disregard for reputation is frequently noted in his eagerness to associate the “sinners” and tax collectors (Matthew 11:19) and in his willingness to allow women equal access to his teaching (Luke 10:42).

What is sometimes missed is the expression of his humility in dealing with the Pharisees. In Luke 7, when Simon the Pharisee invited Jesus for dinner, all of the cultural cues of hospitality were ignored. Simon obviously didn’t think Jesus was worth the customary greetings and demonstrations of honor as his invited guest. Yet Jesus humbly ignored these offenses and instead waited patiently for an opportunity to glorify the Father. And just an opportunity came when a broken and hurting woman experienced his love and healing!

As I reflect upon how Jesus ministered to others with no regard for his honor and reputation, I wonder what this teaches about love itself. There could be many applications, but I am thinking specifically of how God loves us as His children. I then think about how I love my children.

I so often fail to love my kids they way Jesus demonstrated God’s love for me. Unfortunately, I have seen how easy it is for me to wrap my identity with my girls’ behavior. If my daughters are well behaved and obedient, then I must be a good parent and an all-together person. However, if they misbehave, then they have discredited our family and have poorly reflected upon me. What would my love look like if it were completely free of all honor-protecting, reputation-preserving motives?

I believe this “ego-parenting” can lead to all sorts of pathologies in the relationship between the child and their parent later in life. As a high school teacher, I’ve seen the damage this has done in my student’s lives first hand. First, the parent places upon the child the intolerable weight of their pride and ego. The kid carries the heavy burden of performing so that the parent is pleased. Instead of viewing children as gifts from God—made in God’s image, given to us to steward with care—we see them as means for our ends, designed to build our reputations. Rather than encouraging the child to live their lives as instruments for God’s glory, “ego-parents” place their pride and reputation upon their children and expect the child to bring them glory.

This also casts a shadow upon the child’s successes. Now a child’s accomplishments are seen as evidence of good parenting and once again the parent’s pride and ego are in view. Parents who treat their children in this way drive them toward high, sometimes unrealistic goals in their effort to stroke their egos and personal sense of greatness.

I believe children raised in this type of family culture will assume this is how our Father in Heaven deals with us. When we are successful and good, He is pleased and “honored” by our behavior. Conversely, when we fail and make poor choices, he is shamed and disappointed. Thus, we believe God’s harsh and watchful eye is always upon us and that He is mostly disappointed and rarely pleased. What a heavy burden to carry and how incompatible it is with a God who came to give us rest (Matthew 11:28-30)!

Think of the father in Jesus’s parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15). Was the father humiliated when his offending son returned covered in the shame and filth of the world? No! Once again, quite in line with Jesus’ own humility, this father publicly disgraced himself by running to embrace his wayward son. This is the biblical doctrine of the atonement set in a narrative. The father takes the son’s shame upon himself, and in doing so, restores him. What love! What grace!

We must continually resist the lie that God is not good, and instead believe His steadfast love endures forever (Psalms 136). Our God is never disappointed in us. His reputation is his own and our behavior does not shame him.[1] However, His love for us compels His loving (and stern) warnings about the destructive consequences of sin. While we can’t shame our God, we can break His heart. He is often grieved at our rebellion and broken over the lies we believe, e.g., that He isn’t good (Eph. 4:30). And so, in taking God as our example, we must live out and model to our children—even in the midst of their failures—that our love for them and their well being is greater than their performance and certainly greater than our pride.

Finally, we must as parents continually analyze our motives when parenting. Children are such a joy and it’s easy to be swollen in pride when they do well. They are, after all, created in our likeness! However, they weren’t loaned to us for this purpose. So how do we keep our motives in check? Following Ken Blanchard’s advice in his book Leading Your Family Like Jesus, he suggests we go through the “so that” exercise. In every parenting decision, I force myself to explain why I am doing what I am doing. For example, I am putting my child into piano lessons “so that” she learns to appreciate music and gains a useful skill. The “so that” exercise honestly reveals my hidden motivations. If my “so that” is in some way self-glorifying then I must stop. This is a helpful exercise to do before every discipline and before every reward. The honest answer to the “so that” will tell me if I’ve placed my ego and reputation upon my child or if I truly desire their success and growth.

Questions for reflection:

1. Am I placing my reputation, ego, and identity upon my children?

2. When my children behave, what are the motives behind my praise? Am I manipulating them toward good behavior for self-glory, or is it because my deep love for them encourages their obedience, as it will lead them to the God-glorifying purpose for which they were created?

3. When they misbehave, what are my emotions? Is my pride offended? Is my anger disproportionate to their offense? If I believe their behavior reflects badly upon me, then I am “ego-parenting”. However, if I fear this behavior will lead to a destructive pattern that will ruin their future, then I am parenting as God does—with pure love!

[1] There are verses that speak of believers giving God a “bad name” because of our disobedient behavior (c.f. Romans 2:24; I Tim. 6:1; II Peter 2:2) This is true. How many people have used the crusades as a reason for unbelief? However, we must understand these warnings are directed toward what people think, not God. Yes our actions do reflect on how people think about our God, but never on how He thinks about us. God always loves us. That’s who He is.

What Jesus can show us about finding God’s will for our life.

Have you ever envied someone who seemed to live life with energy and purpose? Have you even felt “lost” or directionless as to what you were meant to do? If so, I believe we can learn something from the life of Jesus that addresses exactly that.

If you have studied the life of Jesus, what is pretty obvious is that he lived his life with a clear sense of mission and calling. He was continually talking about why he “came” or what he was “sent” to do.

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” – Luke 19:10 (See also Matthew 9:13; John 3:17; 9:39)

Now, it may be easy for us to think this was because “Jesus was God” and knew exactly what each day would bring, how each challenge would be resolved and ultimately where his life would lead (i.e. to the cross). While there are passages where Jesus clearly foretells his death and demonstrates that he had an understanding that his life-mission included the cross, (c.f. Matthew 20:18; 26:15; Mark 8:31) what isn’t clear is how and when his ministry would lead there. We see early on in his ministry that Jesus knew his “hour” had not come (John 2:4; 6:15). However after a significant turning point[1] in his ministry, it became clear to Jesus (although never to his disciples) that his “hour” had indeed arrived (John 13:1-3).

So how did Jesus “know” these things? I believe Jesus’ life and mission was continually nourished by his relationship with the Father. There were many points along the way where Jesus was tempted to defect from his mission.[2] Think of his first public ministry that Mark reports.

That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

            And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.”-Mark 1:32-39

Clearly, Jesus faced the temptation to ride the swell of popularity that his miracle healings had produced. His disciples undoubtedly believed this would have been the best strategy for, “bringing the kingdom of God”(Mark 1:15). But after an early morning time of prayer, Jesus led the disciples to leave this area and move on to other towns. In fact, this seems to have been a very regular pattern for Jesus. (See also Luke 5:12-16; Mark 6:45.)

His prayerful dependence upon the Father continually nourished his life and mission. In another place Jesus says essentially that.

“So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel.” John 5:19-20

Jesus lived in dependence on the Father and followed His will.

The final step in Jesus’ mission was the cross. Here his hour had come. Once again, Jesus goes to prayer and finds the strength to finish his mission.

And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” – Mark 14:34-36.

Jesus’ relationship with the Father had grown (see Luke 2:40, 52; Matthew 3:7; Luke 9:35; Hebrews 2:10; 5:8). God was not “Father”, he was “Abba Father.” God had become “Dad” and Jesus’ life and mission had pleased and accomplished what his dad had sent him to do (John 17:4).

I believe it is significant that Jesus uses this word “Abba.” This word was never used by Jews to refer to God, since it would betray a level of intimacy and familiarity with God that would have seemed inappropriate.[3] Yet Jesus’ relationship with God developed to this place.


This is a vital lesson for us. When our relationship with God moves from “Father” to “dad” we can be assured that our life’s vision and mission is being directed by that relationship. If God simply remains as my distant “Father” in the sky then that relationship is prevented from influencing my day-to-day decisions.  Jesus’ example is clear: He continually and regularly spent time with the Father in prayer so as to have God’s guidance for his life’s vision and mission.

Each of us has a life vision and mission. Even if it seems unclear to us, we do. Simply look at what we value, what we spend our time doing, what drives us to action. These define our vision (what we are supposed to do) and mission (how we do what we are supposed to do). Aren’t you glad Jesus didn’t allow a “good opportunity” or an “open door” to derail the vision and mission that the Father had outlined for him?

We often ask, “What is God’s will for my life?” or “How can I know what God wants me to do with my life?” Why don’t we answer that question with what Jesus modeled—daily, intimate, time with the Father in prayerful dependence. This prayer-dependence will give us the mental state of mind to see past the temptation of an “open” door or the siren’s call of a “good” opportunity.

God will become our loving dad, giving us His wisdom to navigate our lives as we hear and obey His voice. Ultimately, His values will become our values; His vision will become our vision; and His mission will become our mission! In the end, we will have lived our life in a way that “pleases the Father” (John 8:29).

[1] I believe that “turning point” was the cleansing of the temple. I am following N.T. Wright’s lead on this and find it completely convincing. For more please read N.T. Wright’s, When God Became King.

[2] Obviously another place Jesus was tempted to defect from his mission occurred during the temptations he faced in the wilderness (see. Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13).

[3] For more on Jesus’ use of  the Aramaic “Abba” and what it may have meant please consult. N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God. pg. 645-650. See also Larry Helyer, The Witness of Jesus, Paul, and John. pg. 153-159.

Are Christians Hypocrites?!?

Christians are hypocrites! There seems to be a few labels that are just near impossible to shake and the charge of hypocrisy seems to be among the most tenacious. How can we reasonably respond to this constant charge?

First, don’t deny it. It’s impossible to deny because it’s true, at least, it’s true as far as the common usage of the term goes. What people mean when they say, “Christians are hypocrites,” is that Christians regularly fail to maintain a standard they believe to be true. The news is full of such examples. A pastor preaches against homosexual marriage but is found soliciting a male prostitute. A priest represents God but abuses young boys. On and on it goes. Thus, Christians are seen as hypocrites.

The word hypocrite comes from two Greek words, hypo meaning “under” and krinein meaning “to sift or deceive.” Thus, it meant an under or hidden ability to deceive. It became a technical term for a stage actor who wore a mask to play several roles in a Greek play. While originally a neutral word, it became associated with a willful deceit to portray one’s self in a way that was inconsistent with one’s true nature.

Sadly some Christians do just that. They portray themselves to be beyond certain actions and sometimes commit those very same actions. Perhaps some Christians believe that we should put on that appearance (in other words, “fake it”), as if we are to portray a certain level of holiness, even if it isn’t quite true of us. This is owing to a church culture that has a difficult time dealing with real human struggle and failure. Further, there maybe some Christians who believe they have reached a place in their walk with Jesus where they are no longer “temptable.”

This is not the gospel. This is not Christianity. Paul tells us:

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:12-13)

This warning was written to Christians. We must beware of the very real possibility of falling. These temptations can “overtake” us and unless we take God’s escape route we certainly will not endure them.

Additionally, we dare not think falling is beyond or beneath us.

John writes:

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:8-10)

While we must walk in that light, it is true that we have all sinned and will continue to do so.

May I suggest a different posture toward non-Christians? Instead of projecting a level of holiness that is yet unattained or instead of believing that you have reached a place of near perfection, practice honest humility as the best policy.

As a follower of Jesus, we are supposed to be doing just that. As Paul said in Philippians:

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way…” (Philippians 3:12-15a)

We are all on the journey of pressing on. We all can sin. It’s possible we’ve forgotten just how perverse our sinful nature actually is. Maybe we told ourselves that we just aren’t capable of heinous sin anymore. This is simply not true and not even helpful. The world doesn’t need cocky arrogant Christians boasting of their “holy achievement.” The world needs humble, grace-filled believers who boast in God’s sustaining grace that has kept them from falling (Jude 1:24).

A pastor who acknowledges his constant and fierce battle with his sin is a man who can help other men in a similar battle. Truly, the charge of hypocrite would never stick if authentic and open humility of our struggles were the regular practice in our churches. Christians who do this aren’t “hypocrites” for they aren’t attempting to deceive people about their holiness, they are honestly, humbly, “pressing on” after Jesus.

Secondly, the charge of hypocrisy is a red herring. When a non-believer points out the disgusting hypocrisy of a Christian they haven’t proved anything. Perhaps an illustration will help. Let’s say a math teacher is working out problems on a board in the classroom. Let’s suggest the teacher made a mistake in the middle of a rather complex equation. Perhaps a bright student catches the teacher’s error. Then suppose this student, emboldened by this discovery, stands up and declares that he will no longer listen to this incompetent teacher.

“The teacher is a fraud,” he shouts. Then walks out. Is the teacher a fraud? Perhaps. Could it be that the teacher was simply wrong in this instance? Certainly. However, what is absolutely certain is that mathematics itself is not a fraud. Whether or not a teacher got an equation correct does nothing to invalidate the absolute principles themselves. In fact the arrogant student who gleefully points out the error of his teacher is only hurting himself if he refuses any more instruction from his teacher.

Here’s another illustration. Suppose a man driving a car sees another man receiving a traffic ticket for speeding.

Suppose the man who was just ticketed was actually himself an off duty policemen heading into the station to begin his mid-morning shift. Now imagine the ticked off duty policeman is now on duty. Some time later in the day the officer pulls over a man for speeding. The man who is now pulled over recognizes the policeman who has stopped him for speeding.

Now suppose he says, “Hey, I recognize you. I saw you this morning pulled over getting a speeding ticket.” Now imagine the speeder says, “You have no right to ticket me for speeding, you have done the same thing yourself! I demand you release me for you are unqualified to ticket speeders since you are one yourself.” The policeman’s obvious response is that the only qualification he needs to ticket speeding cars is a radar gun and a badge. You see the law not the man is what’s important.

Non-Christians who reject Christianity because of hypocrites are like that student and that speeding driver. They believe the tarnished man tarnishes the principles behind the man. They believe they are justified in rejecting the message of repentance and faith in Jesus when all they have really done is successfully shown they have the ability to detect error. The fact they recognize hypocrisy demonstrates their knowledge of the law. Pointing out someone else’s deficiency in no way cures their own.

This brings us to our conclusion; Jesus came to give us his righteousness. His obedience satisfies our debt. We are not saved by our faithfulness but his. So, as a Christian I rest in Christ’s work not mine.  What we should humbly but firmly ask our non-Christian accusers are, What do they believe will exonerate their guilt before the Judge of all the Earth? How will they fare when their lives are measured, not to the most recent failed Christian leader, but to Christ himself?