The More Important Things

justice mercy faith

Jesus denounced the religious leaders (in Matthew 23) because they emphasized things at the expense of more important things.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.”

A very common mistake among religious people like me is to emphasize certain things at the expense of more important things.

What are the “more important” things?

Kindness and empathy are more important than scrupulous attention to detail.  The Pharisees in their official capacity as experts insisted that everyone must obey everything in the law (vv. 1-4).  But they forgot that the accumulated weight of these demands was unbearable.

Humility is more important than performing deeds of Christian service.  The Pharisees focused on praying frequently and teaching the law (vv. 5-12).  But they were proud of the title of “teacher” and forgot that they were equal as brothers and sisters under only one Father.

Giving sincere offerings and experiencing God’s presence are more important than exact religious form.  The Pharisees made a great point of respecting God’s altar and temple (vv. 16-22). But they forgot what made the altar and the temple holy.

Justice, mercy, and faith are more important than precise obedience.  The Pharisees were careful to tithe 10% of all income, even down to the tiniest income from their herb gardens (vv. 23-24).  But they forgot the more important gifts.

Inner purity is more important than outward appearance.  The Pharisees carefully washed their hands and gave great attention to their outward appearance (vv. 25-28).  But they forgot what makes a person truly acceptable.

Complete openness to God’s truth for you today is more important than your historic, religious ancestry.  The Pharisees honored the prophets that their ancestors had killed (vv. 29-36).  But they forgot that it was very possible to make the same mistake by killing Jesus.

So I want to remember that:

  1. warmly greeting a visitor at church and making them as comfortable as possible is more important than wearing the right church clothes.
  2. graciously supplying a warm meal to a guest is more important than displaying good housekeeping skills.
  3. paying attention to my family’s limitations is more important than attending every religious function.
  4. building strong family bonds with my wife and children is more important than trying to please my extended family and church associates.
  5. honesty and openness to God today is more important than adhering to historic Anabaptist norms.
  6. advocating for orphans and visiting my widowed mother is more important than keeping all the lifestyle rules in the church covenant.
  7. private, fervent prayer is more important than leading songs and Bible studies at church.
  8. graciously granting the benefit of the doubt (to myself and others) is more important than validating the authenticity of the position.
  9. sharing peaceful, relaxed and loving family moments is more important than insisting that my son cleans his room.
  10. earning an honest and ample income for my family is more important than blogging or hobbies.
  11. attending to my personal spiritual and emotional health is more important than fine-tuning the collective spiritual awareness of my local congregation.

Note: this list of things that I want to remember is MY list, not YOUR list.  I expect my list to evolve over time, shaped by life and by the Holy Spirit. What is on your list?


Good exercise: identify something that you have strong feelings about and ask yourself if there is something more important.

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Trusting God in Times of Transition

prison to palace

In the squalor of an Egyptian prison, an innocent man lived for many years.  But one day the king summoned him to the palace.  So he washed and shaved.  When he arrived at the palace, the king told him about some puzzling dreams that he had had and requested that the prisoner tell him the meaning of the dreams.

“It is beyond my power to do this,” the prisoner replied. “But God can tell you what it means and set you at ease.”

So the king told the dream about seven skinny cows eating seven fat cows, but the seven skinny cows stayed skinny.  And the prisoner told him that there were going to be seven years of bumper crops followed by seven years of terrible famine.  And he advised the king to hire an intelligent and wise man and set him over the whole land of Egypt to manage the process of storing up grain during the first seven years so that they would have enough to eat during the next seven years.

The king appreciated and accepted his advice and said, “Since God has revealed the meaning of the dreams to you, clearly no one else is as intelligent or wise as you are. You will be in charge of my court, and all my people will take orders from you. Only I, sitting on my throne, will have a rank higher than yours.”

And the overnight transition had begun!

The prisoner suddenly became the national grain manager.  And not only this, but the king arranged for him to get married too.

  • From rags to riches
  • From prison to palace
  • From poverty to power
  • From single to married

He succeeded!  He did the job!  He had no previous experience, and yet there is no record that he struggled in his new-found role.

Where is the fear?  Where is the stammering refusal to accept the job?

What an astounding transformation!  What a testimony to God’s ability to empower people!

Do you believe that God could empower you to do the same sort of thing?  Joseph’s story tells us that God’s power is limitless.  It tells us that we too can thrive even during times of sudden or difficult transition.

So what is limiting the power of God in your life?  

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Healthy Self-Confidence


I met a young US Marine this past weekend.  He exuded an appealing level of self-confidence.  He stood erect, he spoke courteously, and he had a bearing that said that here is a person who is capable of leading.  He was self-assured but not cocky, and soft-hearted but not maudlin.

Not just Marines, but all people should be appropriately confident.


Self-confidence is rooted in our intrinsic value as God’s children.  Some people think that when a man stands upright, lifts his chin, and smiles, he is proud and full of himself.  But what if he’s only being the man that God created him to be?  What if God desires us to embrace the goodness and strength within us, rather than to focus on our weakness and sinful depravity?  All good things within us come from Him. To be self-confident is to recognize that fact and to live accordingly.

Self-confidence provides the power to accomplish our goals.  Some people think that the biggest danger in life is to bite off too much, and to fail.  But nothing is so paralyzing as fear.  Self-confidence provides the impetus to stare a challenge in the face and to push through difficulties to the bitter end.  Self-confident people know that even failure becomes a success if we learn from it.  More often than not, we will succeed and NOT fail.  But if we lack the confidence to even try, we will never know.

Self-confidence comes from reaching our goals and living up to our ideals.  Some people accuse self-confident people of thinking that they are better than others.  But maybe these accusers are simply resentful towards the upbeat attitude and successful track record.  It is true that self-confident people aren’t satisfied with the mediocrity of the status quo. But they aren’t intent on diminishing others.  In fact, they aren’t really focused on other people at all, but on their goals.  They are looking within, determining what their values really are, and then setting out to live in accordance with those values.  In reaching their goals, self-confident people make the world and themselves better.

Self-confidence results when our sense of worth is tied to what we can control.  Some people believe that they must allow others to dictate their own worth to them.  They make their choices based upon what others will think of them.  They distrust their own choices and their own value.  As soon as someone criticizes them, they wither, surrender, and feel terrible about themselves.  They give their power away.  They believe that they can never thrive unless until someone gives them something.  Many times this full approval never comes, and so their lives stall.  And even if the powerful people in their lives do condescend to compliment or promote them, it is a hollow victory and doesn’t lead to true flourishing anyway.

A Marine takes control of his life.  Even within the command hierarchy his dignity and value is affirmed because of his accomplishments and status as a US Marine.  He endures boot camp, not because it feels good, but because he chose it.  He joined the ranks and he is proud of it.  His initial and ongoing training shows himself what he is really capable of.  If someone calls him weak, he knows that he is strong.  If someone calls him scum, he knows that he stands for honor.  His confidence in his own ability only grows as he succeeds.  A self-confident person realizes that to wait to take action until he receives the approval of others is to wait for a ship that might never come in.

Self-confidence is God’s gift.  Some people are never secure as Christians because they constantly fear that they will grow cold and fall away.  Or they question their performance record and feel that they must be a disappointment to God and are barely Christian.   These people haven’t fully accepted God’s gift.  God says that NOTHING will be able to separate us from Him!  God says that you are MORE than a conqueror!  You have the power to determine whether you are good or bad.  When you surrender to God alone and begin to live in Him, He says that you are valuable.  He makes you strong.  You have the only stamp of approval that you ultimately need.  Who cares if others try to tear you down?  Godly self-confidence is built on the foundation of who God says that you are.  What a gift!

Self-confidence is necessary for human flourishing.  This truth applies not just to US Marines, but to everyone.  Accept who you actually are!  Utilize the power that God entrusted to you.  Identify your values and live them!  You are not a victim, but a conqueror!

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You Are Stronger Than You Think You Are


“You are stronger than you give yourself credit for.” Some people who know me well have told me variations of this same thing. I’ve been returning to that thought repeatedly recently. In a Bible study at church yesterday a man described a horse tied to a plastic lawn chair in the middle of the road as an example of how bondage is sometimes more imagined than real.

That reminded me of the Israelites cowering for days before the giant Goliath and the Ted talk by Malcolm Gladwell that explored the possibility that Goliath may have had significant health conditions and poor eyesight, and that before the skilled slinger David, he was basically a sitting duck. His presentation turns the traditional reading of that story totally on its head, and I don’t know if it all is factually accurate.

But it does illustrate how we can be reduced to a quivering mass of fear, frustration and discomfiture before things that we could easily conquer if we just would. Some people might be overconfident, in which case this point is less relevant. But for me, it most certainly applies. Over and over again as I accomplish something that initially seems to be just too hard, I find that I can do it after all.

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That Which Doesn’t Kill You

…makes you stronger.


This is what my sons’ basketball coach tells them as he pushes them hard. This quote juxtaposed against my analysis of my Mennonite upbringing offers a new and refreshing perspective. It is a good quote because it encourages me to see the challenges in my life as stepping stones towards strength and maturity.

The challenges in my life are different from the experiences of many others. Many Generation X’ers were latchkey children who came home to an empty house after school each day. Many of them were confused and frightened as their parents brought other sexual partners into the home. I am thankful that I was not neglected by the adults in my life or raised in a broken home.

But there were challenges. To be raised in a secluded culture where lifestyle rules were enforced through religious persuasion isn’t easy either. Today as I carefully create a lifestyle for me and for my family, I still am mentally buffeted by the religiously-fraught expectations and judgment of those that I care about who are still in that culture.

But that which hasn’t killed me is making me stronger. Through this process of sorting out the good from the bad, I have been forced to dig deeper than I otherwise would. My identity is in Jesus. His love is my mainstay. Through this focus He is making me stronger.

Everyone has challenges in their life. You may be the type of person who, like me, needs to analyze these challenges and how they have influenced your life. That’s fine. Or you may be the type of person who doesn’t wish to focus much on the past at all. That is fine also. Either way, I want to encourage everyone to allow the challenges of life to make them stronger.

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O How He Loves Us!


Two Contrasting Truths

Within Christian theology there are two great truths that seem to stand in conflict with each other.

On the one hand we know that within our fallen nature there is no good thing. Across the world and throughout history we see the proof that man is capable of bad things, even horrific things! And within ourselves we feel the downward pull.

But the second truth is that we are of great, inestimable value! While we were yet sinners Jesus died for us.  A person does not sacrifice his own son for something that has no value. We can’t fully comprehend the depths of his love and exactly how valuable he thinks that we are.

Are we able to see both of these truths and think about both of them properly?

What Difference Does it Make?

It makes a huge difference in how a person lives his life.

It is quite possible for a person to completely misjudge himself and to think more highly of himself than he ought to think.  When that is the case, his estimation of his own value is not God-focused at all.  Rather, when he compares himself to others, he might feel that he excels in appearance and ability.  Or maybe he has managed to accomplish many good things, and therefore he deems himself to be good and valuable.  This kind of megalomaniacal person becomes insufferable to be around.  He is not well-rounded socially.  And he certainly isn’t capable of true love for others.

But it is also possible for a person to think too low of himself. When he compares himself to others, he feels that he falls short.  Maybe other people tell him that he is worthless.  Maybe in the past someone has hurt him so deeply that he doesn’t believe in his own value.  Or maybe he is a perfectionist, using his own record of actions to determine his value.  When he makes a mistake he brands himself as a bad person and a failure.  This kind of person becomes depressed, locked in a joyless world of hopelessness.

Believing the truth

But the truth shines clear.  In fact the Truth says that “when I am lifted up (on the cross) I will draw all men unto me.”  THAT is where we need to be!!  People want to be loved.  They need to be valued.  And in Jesus, they see the truth.  Across the globe people feel the inexorably powerful pull of LOVE. From north, south, east, and west Jesus draws the masses to himself.

For some of us, we have developed a value system based on our actions.  When we develop a good track record, we feel valuable.  Maybe we have gotten into the rut of comparing ourselves to others.  For others, hurtful experiences control our emotions.  We feel the pain deeply, and because the pain is so vivid, we draw wrong conclusions about our own worthlessness.

Without delving into psycho-analysis and digging up the past, I believe that we can find great help for our lives by believing the truth!  We need to accept Jesus’ love.  We need to believe in our own value!  Against all emotions or habits that would tell us otherwise, we need to cling to the truth.  When those emotions well up, we need to firmly state the ever-abiding truth that through no actions of ours, but just because of who he is, He loves us.  And we are valuable to him!


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On the Emmaus Road


They had just come through one of the most traumatic experiences of their lives.  Jesus was gone!  Their HOPE had died.  And so they walked along, dejected, cast down, discouraged, disillusioned, and they discussed this.  Neither one could give comfort to the other, for they both felt just terrible.  What was the worth of living?  What would they do now?  A blue tint colored the whole world.  If a song bird trilled from the thicket, they didn’t hear it.  Life was not really worth living anymore.

But then a Man came to join them.  “What are you discussing?” he asked them.

They stood still, faces downcast. “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who doesn’t know the terrible things that have happened?”  Then they launched into the story, but in the re-telling they found no comfort.

But then the Man began to speak, and they were surprised by what he had to say.  “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken.”  Their hearts quickened.  Their hopes slowly began to rise.  Could this be true?

Arriving at their destination they invited the Man inside.  And as he broke the bread for supper and gave it to them, they suddenly saw him for who he was.  The risen Lord!  And just like that, he was gone.  “Didn’t our hearts burn within us while he was talking to us?” they exclaimed!  “I knew that there was something special about him! But just think, it was the Lord Himself!”  Read more of the story here.

Vector set of decorative elements, border and page rules frame

I sometimes walk the Emmaus road.  Sometimes with a friend, sometimes alone.  I tell a story of sadness, but there is little comfort in the telling.  As far as I am concerned, there really isn’t much hope.

This is part of living in a place that is partly darkened by a veil.  We see the Truth only through a darkened glass.  And sometimes we don’t see the Truth at all.

But sometimes someone joins me in my walk who speaks hope.  Something in my heart begins to twitch and quiver.  Hope begins to rise.  Could it be true?  Maybe I have it all wrong.  Maybe the resurrection has already happened and I just didn’t realize it!

Last Sunday was a day like this.  I sat on the church bench, walking my Emmaus road.  But the words of hope came to me, entering my mind and soaking gradually down to my heart.  The words began to burn as if they were alive.  My tears began to gather and slowly drop.

And now the veil is off of my eyes! I know that it was the Lord Himself that I saw that day!  I saw Him clearly in the face of the minister (whose face already dims in my memory), but it was the Lord, breaking unto me the Bread of Life.

Please don’t over-rationalize things to the point that you always need to take a preacher’s word with a grain of salt.  It may actually be the Lord.  Please don’t downplay the flash of sun upon your discouraged face.  It may well be the radiance from His face.  The flicker of the cardinal may actually be His smile, and the free cup of coffee just when you needed it may be a warming cup from the Lord Himself.

THERE HE IS!  Do you see him?

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