False Gods Who Sleep in Your Life

How to Guard against False Ideas about God

The tragedy of the Israelites sacrificing their sons and daughters goes beyond their horrible actions. The people of Israel should have known that the Lord hates child sacrifice. But how would they know that? Well, they didn’t have to read God’s mind or get some personal, private message from God. They should have known it because it was written in their Law.

You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods. (Deuteronomy 12:31)

The problem is, the Israelites didn’t know their Bible. They had false ideas about God because they ignored the primary source about God.

Sadly, most Christians don’t know their Bible either. Statistics show that biblical literacy is at an all-time low. People know more about The Office than the covenants. They know more about Downton Abbey than divine attributes.

So, how do we guard against false ideas about God?

The only way to guard against false ideas about God is to fill our minds with true ideas about God. But thinking rightly about God doesn’t come naturally. Our natural inclination is to think wrongly about God. That is why we must look to Scripture—God’s Word—for guidance and authority on what He is like. We need to go to God’s Word because only God can tell us what God is like. And He has. Unfortunately, many of us are too distracted to listen. The prophet Hosea says,

Hear the word of the Lord, O Children of Israel, for the Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land…. My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. (Hosea 4:1, 6)

Why was there no knowledge of God? The text tells us. They had forgotten the law of God. They neglected His special revelation to them.

It’s interesting to me that Hosea mentions they have no love for God in the same breath that he mentions they have no knowledge of God. I don’t think this is a coincidence. I think there is a link between “knowledge of” and “love for.”

To illustrate, consider the following hypothetical conversation: Someone says, “Tim, tell me about your wife.” And I say, “Well, she has blonde hair, two eyes, and a nose.” They respond, “No, tell me what she’s really like.” And I say, “That’s all I got.”

What would you think about my relationship with my wife? You would likely think I didn’t have a relationship with my wife. From that encounter, would you conclude that I love my wife? Probably not.

The love I have for my wife is connected to the knowledge I have of my wife. It’s my love for my wife that drives my study of my wife. Every husband should have their PhD in the subject of their wife.

In the same way, love for God is always tied to knowledge of God.

John puts it this way:

Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him. (John 14:21–23)

There are two verbs applied to God’s commandments in this verse: has and keeps. If we truly love God, then we will both have and keep God’s commands. Knowing God’s commands helps us know the God who gives these commands. God’s commands are not independent of His nature. They flow from His nature.

If you want to know God, read your Bible. The Bible is primarily a story about God. He is the main character. Over and over, the Bible says, “God loves,” “God says,” “God does.” Every time we read about God, we get to know what He is like. We get to know His character, His desires, His personality.

Let me close with this from Solomon. Solomon, under the inspiration of God, says,

My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. (Proverbs 2:1–5)

God’s Seemingly Slow Reaction to Sin

God’s seemingly slow reaction to sin often puzzles believers. Why doesn’t He immediately punish those who violate His principles? The succinct answer is found in 2 Peter 3: The Lord is patient so that all people have an opportunity to repent (v. 9).

In our humanness, we sometimes want people to suffer for wrongdoing. Jonah ran away from his duty to speak in Nineveh, home of Israel’s brutal enemy. He expected that if the inhabitants repented, his gracious, compassionate God would relent about destroying the city—which is precisely what came to pass. Instead of rejoicing in the Lord’s success, the prophet complained about God’s treating the Ninevites with patience and mercy (Jonah 4:2). Jonah was angry at God despite the fact that he himself was shown divine mercy after acting in blatant disobedience. True, being swallowed and regurgitated by a fish is not pleasant, but the prophet’s life was spared.

More often than not, believers have ample reason to be thankful that the Lord, unlike human beings, is slow to anger. When we are stubborn and unrepentant, He waits patiently for us to respond to conviction. Discipline is painful to both the recipient and the one carrying it out. God prefers that we see the error of our ways, stop thinking that we’re getting away with sin, and turn back to His righteous path.

The Lord places such a high value on repentance and maintaining fellowship that He is willing to delay punishment of sin. But only for a time. Eventually, His justice demands a penalty. Do not wait for discipline. Instead, do what’s right, and turn your heart back toward God.

Humility Is Not Hating Yourself

We often think of humility as a rather dreary virtue. We know we need it, but we don’t expect it to be much fun. Kind of like going to the dentist.

C.S. Lewis argued the opposite: “to even get near [humility], even for a moment, is like a drink of cold water to a man in a desert.” Tim Keller preached something similar: “There’s nothing more relaxing than humility.” As he explained, pride grumbles at everything, but humility can joyfully receive life as a gift.

So perhaps we get it backwards: we think humility is an impossible burden, but in reality it is as light as a feather. It is pride that makes life gray and drab; humility brings out the color. Why do we get this wrong? I don’t know, but part of the answer might be we simply misunderstand what humility is. Here are two ways we do so, in particular.

1. Humility Isn’t Hiding

Humility is not hiding your talents and abilities. If you can paint like Van Gogh, humility does not require you to keep your work under a veil in the basement closet. If you can pitch a 95-mile-per-hour fastball, humility will not encourage you to sit on the bench and never tell the coach.

In The Screwtape Letters, one devil advises another,

The Enemy wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another. The Enemy wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favor that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbor’s talents — or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall.

If Lewis is right, then denying your talents is not humble — if anything, it is the opposite, since you are still focused on yourself, biased for or against yourself as an exception to the rest of the human race. Humility means the death of this craving, self-referential framework. It means valuing your contribution to the world alongside every other good thing in the world.

So, imagine you are part of a team of doctors working to cure a disease. You make a discovery that contributes approximately 25% toward finding the cure. Another doctor then makes a different discovery that contributes the remaining 75% toward finding the cure. Humility means you are pleased with your accomplishment, and able to speak freely about it, while simultaneously and effortlessly three times more pleased with your colleague’s effort.

To be such a person is not a burden, but a joy and freedom.

2. Humility Isn’t Self-Hatred

Humility is not self-hatred, self-neglect, or self-punishment. The Bible never says, “Hate yourself; instead love your neighbor.” It says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Self-hatred is actually sinful, no less than hatred of others (just as suicide is a form of murder).

Musician Andrew Peterson has a song entitled “Be Kind to Yourself.” The notion of self-kindness can be misunderstood, to be sure. It must be distinguished from self-indulgence. But there is a way to take care of yourself, to genuinely have regard for yourself, that is healthy and makes you more useful to others. As I often say in counseling situations, true self-care is not selfish.

Many in our society struggle with a sense of shame, inferiority, and a lack of self-worth. We must sharply distinguish such feelings from the goal of humility. Whatever else humility will require of you, it will never rob you of your dignity as an image-bearer of God. Humble people do not regard their own existence as an evil. They do not regard themselves as corrupting everything they touch, or wasting the space in which they move. They can walk about freely in the world, with a bounce in their step.

Humility’s Acid Test

Okay, if that’s what humility isn’t, what is it? I love how Keller (following Lewis) speaks of humility as self-forgetfulness — it’s not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. Both hiding your talents and hating yourself are forms of self-preoccupation, whereas humility leads us into freedom from thoughts of self altogether.

Lewis helps us once again,

Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.

Lewis’s word cheerful strikes me, as well as his emphasis on the enjoyment of life. This reminds me that joy is a good acid test of humility, and our entire spirituality. True humility always produces joy. If we lack joy, we know we’ve got a counterfeit. Something is misfiring.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that humility always will feel uplifting and comfortable. There will be arduous moments. But the net result will be, like exercise or a healthy diet, distinctly pleasant. So, we can think of humility like this: self-forgetfulness leading to joy.

Great Model of Humility

In the Christian gospel, we are given the ultimate picture of humility: Jesus, in his incarnation, and especially in his death and burial. “Being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). No one ever humbled himself more than Jesus. From heaven to crucifixion is the ultimate descent. Yet even for Jesus, humility was the pathway to joy (Hebrews 12:2) and glory (Philippians 2:9–11).

If we would like to grow in humility, the place to start is here, at the cross. Christ’s humiliation is the death of all ego and swagger. There is no room for pride before the crucified Savior. And his exaltation gives us a greater glory to live for than our own. Heaven is roaring with his praise, and one day every knee will bow before him — what a waste to spend our talents on any lesser cause!

So, humility is not hiding what you can do, or hating who you are. It’s the joy of thinking about yourself less, and about Jesus more.

A Prayer for Marital Faithfulness

Father, we pray for those of us who are in a marriage relationship, that You would strengthen our marital bond and increase our love and commitment year by year. Help us to be quick to forgive, the first to say, “I’m sorry” and looking not only to our own interests but also to the interests of our partner.

Help us to practice forbearance and persevere daily as we build healthy relationships with our spouses. In this world of instability with frequent divorces and broken families may our children and those who look on see us being faithful to our vows in the good times as well as the bad. We can do this in the power and strength of the Holy Spirit through our Lord Jesus Christ in whose name we pray. Amen.

How Do I Tell My Spouse I Was Abused?

I am often transparent about what happened to me online. I share stories that took place during over two decades of child abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and psychological abuse. I knew when I began this journey that I’d likely hear stories from other survivors too. What I didn’t expect was that over half of them would be male. There’s a popular myth in our culture that it’s primarily females that are raped or abused. Rumor has it, the number of girls far exceeds the number of boys in domestic abuse cases. However, nationwide studies coordinated by organizations such as the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services* have demonstrated year after year that child abuse victims are split almost evenly between genders, with the balance only shifting by a percentage or two since 1995. However, because of the stigma our culture places on male victimization, and the humiliation and fear associated with these crimes, many male survivors never report. In fact, they never tell a soul. And that’s where I’ve had the unexpected and humbling honor of serving. Recently, a young father, who we’ll call Jonathan, confided to me that he can’t enjoy holidays or family gatherings because when he was a boy, that’s when his cousin repeatedly molested him. His wife has picked up on his aversion to vacations, and his pattern of anxiety and depression around the holidays. The secret he’s kept for decades now strains his marriage. Like so many others, Jonathan asked me, “How do I tell my wife I was abused?” And so, in response to Jonathan, and all silent survivors who wonder about this question, I am writing this article to you. When it comes to sharing our stories, the first and only rule is, whatever works best for you. It’s an extremely personal decision, and it’s often a process.

The goal should be for you to communicate what you want, when you want, in the way you want. Whatever makes you most comfortable.

1. Pace Yourself You can tell your wife what happened a little at a time. You don’t have to disclose everything all at once, name names, or go into detail. I’ve been married for twelve years and I’ve written a book about my experiences, and there are still things I haven’t told a soul. Telling your story is a bit like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, and some pieces you may be ready to lay on the table, and others you might want to leave in the box. Be sure to explain to your wife that, until now, you hadn’t told anyone. Tell her you love her and trust her, but want to share a little at a time. You can ask her to be patient, explaining it’s painful to talk about, or you simply don’t have the words. You can keep it vague, saying, “I don’t want to go into detail right now, but I was abused as a kid around the holidays, so these events are depressing or stressful for me.” Knowledge is intimate. To be understood is to be vulnerable. It’s often helpful to let ourselves acclimate to a new level of understanding – a new level of vulnerability – before we fill in more of our story. So, decide how much you want to share, and don’t feel pressured to go beyond that. It’s OK to answer questions with, “Can we talk more later? It’s really difficult,” or, “I’m honestly not sure how to explain, so let me think about it.” On the other hand, you may be surprised to find that once you start talking, it becomes easier than you were expecting and you share everything all at once. Either way, you’re doing great.

2. Pick Your Form of Communication You can tell her face-to-face, or you can write it down in letter form. You can send her an email or call her on the phone. If you’re nervous about telling her, try to tell her why. Do you find it humiliating? Nauseating? Depressing? Are you worried she’ll be upset? Are you afraid your relationship will be affected? Be up front with your apprehensions so she can reassure you. Writing your concerns down may also help you sort them out for yourself.

3. Trust Trusting anyone with your story is hard, particularly when it’s someone you love. We don’t want them to be upset. We don’t want their perception of us to change. However, trust is a big part of love, and we need to trust them to love us through our suffering. We grant them the privilege of letting them weep with us, so they can relate with us and understand us. It will be difficult for them to hear. They may be angry at the person who abused us. But knowing our past will help them understand our feelings and anticipate our reactions. In fact, your wife may already suspect you’ve been through something, in which case confiding in her may actually remove that strain in your relationship.

4. Privacy In the era of #MeToo, it’s commonly assumed that talking about our abuse is helpful, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes, it’s actually quite painful and distressing. When we were abused, our dignity, privacy, and personal boundaries were stolen from us. So now, as we recover, it’s important that our loved ones respect and defend our dignity, privacy, and personal boundaries. You may ask your wife to keep your story to herself. You may be uncomfortable with the idea of talking to a counselor, pastor, or telling the rest of your family. That’s OK. Unless there’s some pressing reason – such as your abuser being a current threat to kids – you aren’t obligated to tell anyone. This is your story. Your feelings. Your experience. Your decision.

5. Be Patient It’s common for the spouses of abuse survivors to respond by wanting to fix things or make your pain go away. We tend to be defensive and protective of the ones we love, so this is a natural reaction. She may give you advice she hasn’t thought through, or suggest you see a counselor. Maybe her advice will be helpful, and maybe seeing a counselor is something you want. However, if it’s not helpful or not what you want, don’t be discouraged. View this as a sign that she loves you, because if she didn’t love you, she wouldn’t be concerned and wouldn’t be so eager to get involved in your recovery process. You may have to be patient, explaining how you feel and what you do and don’t want. Take this time to grow closer to your wife, and let her comfort you as best she can. I know, with my husband, I sometimes had to tell him how best to comfort me. He felt very pressured to have all the right words and advice, and he often did, but sometimes all I needed was someone to listen and understand. It’s OK to tell them that up front.

6. Pray In a sense, this should be Number One. And Number Six. Make sure you tell God about your experiences, fears, shame, and pain too. Sure, he already knows, but confiding in Him is extremely comforting. Not only does it build our relationship with Christ, but it also gives us an opportunity to practice telling our story – all of our story – in a safe context. Telling God our deepest most personal secrets, can help take away our shame, making it easier for us to tell others.

The Value of a College Degree

Despite the public’s increasingly negative views about higher education and its role in society, most Americans say a college education is important – if not essential – in helping a young person succeed in the world today.

A 2018 Center survey found that 31% of adults say a college education is essential, and an additional 60% say it is important but not essential. However, far higher shares say a good work ethic (89%), the ability to get along with people (85%), and work skills learned on the job (75%) are essential for a young person to succeed.

When it comes to their own experiences with higher education, an earlier Center survey found that the vast majority of college graduates (from both two- and four-year institutions) say college was useful for them in terms of helping them grow personally and intellectually (62% say it was very useful in this regard, 31% say it was somewhat useful). Large majorities also say it was useful in opening doors to job opportunities (53% say very useful, 29% say somewhat) and in helping them develop specific skills and knowledge that could be used in the workplace (49% very, 35% somewhat).

Still, the public remains skeptical that today’s colleges are preparing people for the workforce. Only 16% say a four-year degree from a college or university prepares someone very well for a well-paying job in today’s economy, while 51% say it prepares them somewhat well. Community colleges get even less positive marks: 12% say a two-year degree from these colleges prepares someone very well for a job, and 46% say it prepares them somewhat well.

Pew Report

Discovering Sabbath in My Mother’s Hospice Room

I had the first true sabbath of my adult life in my mother’s hospice room.

I’d tussled with her over busyness for many years. She had staunchly kept the sabbath since she was a young girl, when she learned well that the hours of the Lord’s day were holy. It was a day different from the others—sacred time for ceasing from any labor and worldly activity one might do six days of the week. Only church, acts of service, family visits, and resting were permitted.

She practiced sabbath for herself and held hallowed space for me, too. Growing up, Mom ensured whatever apartment we rented was within walking distance of a Baptist Church, such that come hell or high water, we’d be there anytime the doors were open. Church gave her life. She was so buoyed by a mother-daughter sabbath spent studying, praying, singing, fellowshipping, and napping that she could continue carrying the heavy loads of poverty and single parenthood. We spent decades keeping holy days together.

On Sundays, she experienced what many of us miss: a weekly glimpse into Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s “palace in time.” Sabbath was a temporary relief from being a mortal in this material world—a chance to rest in the balm of eternal life to come.

But then I got married and ambitious. Sabbath became a point of contention, not sweetness. Gone were the days when we shared a hymnal and swayed to “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

I am a tri-vocational religious professional: writer, minister, professor. Mom chided me for trying to do too much. I saw my fervor as staying alive; she saw it as hubris. I valued the rich sabbath inheritance Mom passed along to me, but I’d neglected its value in reminding me of humility and humanity.

And so we wrestled over sabbath—and life.

“You’re trying to do too much,” she’d repeat when I skipped sabbath rest amid duties for my three part-time jobs. I’m doing what I must do to be successful, I thought.

But success looked different to her. We danced like this for the last seven years of her life. Mom slowly and steadily letting go of this life; me gripping onto it as hard and as fast as I could. A piece of us longed for what the other chose, but we never met in the middle. I coped with her withdrawal through nonstop wheel spinning; she met my at­tempt to exert godlike control over my life (and hers) by doubling down on her surrender.

And so I was not surprised when she declined a green-scrubbed surgeon’s plea to repair her perforated intestines in a simple yet life-saving surgery.

I had to reconcile myself to her decision, releasing my desire for her to combat her condition—to fight for what I, and the world, perceive as valuable: more time on earth. I let go. Sabbath and death are, after all, an acceptance of what’s left undone in order to lean into that which transcends. Letting go on a day of rest is to trade chaos for peace; letting go of the lives we’ve known is to trade the temporary for eternity. In both, we draw nearer to God.

This was exactly what sabbath had offered her for 77 years: to know that she was not God—and to gain a glimpse of God by seeing beyond her physical and mental pain here.

The first and only Sunday she spent in hospice care I woke up to a mystical pull. I knew it would be her last sabbath. I determined that we should “go to church,” drawing on my sabbath muscle memory gained in wooden Baptist pews.

Sabbath and death both are an acceptance of what is left undone in order to learn that which transcends.

Though I wanted to control whatever came next—the push and pull of her health or a swift, peaceful death—I knew it was time to just be present with her and God, for sabbath’s sake. We spent the day reading from her inscribed leather-bound Bible. I recited a handful of her favorite Mary Oliver poems and sang hymns off-key. My clunky homily was a list of all the lessons she’d taught me about sacred time. But it was a reading from her marked-up 1965 edition of The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran that piqued her interest. She opened her eyes and smiled when I told her I found the sticky note she left my brother and me, “On Death.”

For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?

We napped side by side until Truffy, the 16-year-old orange tabby cat, arrived for an afternoon visit. He usually protests a field trip but sat obediently on her bed, one paw on her heart, the other on her hand. She mouthed “I love you” to us, and it was the most lucid I’d seen her since two days prior, when she had lifted a finger, motioning for me to twirl so she could see the blue dress I was wearing. “Pretty,” she’d said, weak. Mothers never cease being mothers.

A deacon visited as the sun set, bringing sabbath prayers and peppermint oil lotion to anoint her, the foundation of spiritual care as taught to us by Mary Magdalene and Jesus. Sunday darkness arrived, and I had learned the secret she’d known all those years. Sabbath turns our worlds upside down, and asks: How do we gain something by doing nothing? How do we refill ourselves by emptying? I caught a glimpse of God and the beyond.

Four days after our sabbath, her body struggled with such force to prevent its own shutdown.

“Don’t hesitate,” I told her as she took her last breaths. “It’s everything you’ve been waiting for.”

Why Are Christian Parents Abandoning Their Children?

The Story: Fertility clinics across America are struggling with a growing number of abandoned embryos—many that are being left behind by Christian parents.

The Background: NBC News recently ran a feature story highlighting the problems of children being created and then cryogenically frozen and abandoned in the embryonic stage of development. While this may seem like a story from a dystopian science-fiction novel, it’s an all-too-common reality in the age of in-vitro fertilization.

As Mary Pflum notes in her article, in the 1990s, many fertility clinics considered it necessary to inseminate as many of a patient’s eggs as possible, because many embryos didn’t make it through the freezing and thawing process. Although IVF techniques have improved and made the creation of “excess embryos” unnecessary, the practice is still common. As embryologist Christine Allen says,

“[But] you still see many physicians with the mentality of, ‘the more, the merrier.’ So you see [some women] having 40, 50, or 60 eggs retrieved in a cycle and the embryologist gets the orders from her doctor to inseminate all of them—and the question isn’t asked if the patient even wants that many inseminated.

“Nobody’s going to have 30 kids,” she said.

Embryos that aren’t implanted in the womb are cryogenically frozen and put into storage. No one knows for sure how many frozen embryos are currently being stored in America, but the credible estimates range from 90,000 to several million. The cost of storage usually runs from $500 to $1,000 a year per IVF patient, leading many parents to abandon their created but unimplanted children.

Pflum points out that while clinics have different definitions of what constitutes an “abandoned embryo” the term generally refers to a situation in which a patient has not paid storage fees related to a frozen embryo for five or more years (sometimes as little as one year), and fails to respond to letters and calls from the clinic.

The clinics can’t simply give the children to other parents and are hesitant to destroy them:

“What if one day someone shows up and says, ‘Where’s my embryo?’ And you wind up on the front page of the newspaper for destroying someone’s embryo? The damage would be done,” he said.

For that reason, Patrizio said, his clinic doesn’t destroy abandoned embryos.

Richard Vaughn, a founding partner of the International Fertility Law Group, a national law firm that specializes in fertility matters, with offices in New York and Los Angeles, said he knows of no fertility clinics willing to dispose of abandoned embryos.

“They don’t want to be responsible for a wrongful death,” he said.

The result is that more children are being abandoned each year with no solution in sight. “I think many of us realize that we have a bit of a mess and I’m not sure doctors know how to fix it,” Craig Sweet says. “But we need to try.”

Why It Matters: The abandonment and death of embryos outside the womb is one of the most scandalous and oft-ignored issues with the Christian pro-life movement.

Over the last few decades the pro-life community has begun to show more concern for embryo destruction that occurs outside the womb. Yet while we have taken tentative steps to oppose efforts to destroy embryos for speculative scientific research (i.e., embryonic stem-cell research) we have turned a blind eye to how, out of the desire to have a child, our fellow citizens—including many Christians—have created “extra” or “spare” embryos that are abandoned to die.

Whether in the womb of a woman or in a storage locker in a fertility clinic, all human embryos have the same moral status and deserve the same level of protection from harm. The pain of infertility does not provide an exemption from this obligation.

Every year the suffering caused by infertility leads many Christian families to turn to IVF. These procedures are inherently expensive, often costing between $10,000 and $30,000 per treatment, and the likelihood of success is dismally low. Even the best technique offers less than a 50 percent chance that a live birth will occur. Because of these obstacles, couples are often tempted to set aside ethical concerns in order to increase the chances of fulfilling their desire for a child by creating more embryos than will be implanted.

Whether IVF itself is completely acceptable for Christians is a question worthy of debate. In the absence of clear scriptural guidelines, there are bound to be disagreements (I would almost always advise against IVF, though I respect those who do not share my qualms). However, there are some methods and approaches that are indisputably unethical and temptations to act immorally abound. The result is that almost every fertility clinic in America has become a dystopian orphanage in which children are created and then put into suspended animation until they die.

The extra expense required to avoid moral wrongdoing may be substantial or even prohibitive. But the cost of destroying the embryo is even higher. It is never God’s will that we abandon or kill one child in order to give life to another. As parents and followers of Jesus our obligation is clear: we should never create a child that we know will be abandoned and left to die. If IVF cannot be done morally, then it must not be done at all.

The Power of HIS Goodness

Simeon the aged, when he held the child Jesus in his arms in the temple, prophesied that by contact with Him the thoughts of many hearts would be revealed; and this was one of the most outstanding features of Christ’s subsequent life. None who came near Him could remain indifferent. They might hate or they might love, they might admire or they might scorn Him; but in any case they are compelled to show the deepest that was in them.

So Jesus, by His mere presence among men, brought to the surface their deepest thoughts and feelings and made them display the best and the worst which their hearts concealed.

We get the most authentic glimpse of the moral stature of Jesus by observing the impressions he produced on the minds of others in the great moments of His life. At the gate of Gethsemane, when He encountered the band sent to arrest Him, the traces of the experiences which He had passed through in the garden were still upon Him, and the effect of His rapt and tragic air was extraordinary. At the sight of Him “they went backward and fell to the ground.”

All through the last six months of His life, indeed, He seems habitually to have been invested, through brooding on His approaching fate, with an awful dignity. His great purpose sharpened His features, straightened His figure and quickened His step; and sometimes, as He pushed ahead of the Twelve, absorbed in His own thoughts, “they were amazed; and, as they followed, they were afraid.”

Earlier, however, even in the serene beginning of His ministry, there were manifestations of this overpowering moral dignity. When He drove the buyers and sellers out of the temple, why did they flee crouching before Him? They were many, while He was but one; they were wealthy and influential, while He was but a peasant Yet there was that in Him which they never thought of resisting.

They felt how awful goodness is. There is a majesty in indignant virtue before which the loftiest sinners cower.

Christ made the evil in those who opposed Him show itself at its very worst. Pilate, for example, applied to the case of Jesus only the same principles of administration which he had made use of in hundreds of other cases-the principles of the self-seeker and time server dressed in the garb of justice. But never did these principles appear in all their ghastly unrighteousness till he released Barabbas and handed over Jesus to the executioner.

The inhumanity and hollowness of Sadducee and Pharisee were never seen in their true colors till the light which streamed from Jesus fell on them and exposed every spot and wrinkle of the hypocrite’s robe. Christ’s very meekness provoked them to deeper scorn of His claims; His silence under their accusations made them gnash their teeth with baffled malice; the castigation of His polemic made them cling to their errors with more desperate tenacity.

Although the presence of Jesus repelled some, it exerted on others the most powerful attraction, and the most characteristic feature of His character was moral attractiveness. He repelled those who were wedded to their sins and unwilling to abandon them, but He attracted all who in any degree were feeling after a new and better life.

Jesus naturally exerted this kind of influence in the strongest degree. Wherever there existed any tenderness or susceptibility toward what is high and pure, it was stimulated by His presence. Conscience, hearing His voice in its prison, woke up and came to the windows to demand emancipation. As the presence of a physician armed with a cure for some virulent disease excites a sensation among those afflicted with the malady-who communicate the news of relief to one another swiftly-so, wherever Jesus went the heavy-laden and the aspiring heard of Him and found Him. In publicans and sinners, and even in Pharisees, unaccustomed movements showed themselves: Nicodemus sought Him by night; Zacchaeus climbed into the sycamore tree to see Him; the woman who was a sinner stole to His feet to bathe them with her tears.

Jesus was engaged in a splendid work, Whose idea and results touched the imagination of all who were capable of anything noble. He was wholly absorbed in it; and to see unselfish devotion always awakens imitation. He was the author and leader of a new movement, which grew around Him, and the enthusiasm of those who had joined it drew others in.

The same power belonged in remarkable measure to all great spiritual leaders-to Saint Paul, to Savonarola, to Luther, to Wesley, and many more-who, filled with the Holy Spirit have been able to lift men above the instincts of pleasure and comfort and make them willing to deny themselves for a great cause. And no earnest life, in which the enthusiasm Jesus burns, fails to exercise in some degree the same influence.

It is one of the healthiest features of our day that all thinking people are growing sensitive about their influence. To many the chief dread of sin arises from perceiving that they cannot sin themselves without directly or indirectly involving others-and it would be to them the greatest of satisfactions to be able to believe that they are doing good to those with whom they are brought into contact, and not harm.

This is a feeling worthy of the solemn nature of our earthly existence, and it ought certainly to be one of the guiding principles of life. Yet it is not without its dangers. If allowed too prominent a place among our motives, it would crush the mind with an intolerable weight and cause conduct to appear so responsible that the spring of energy would be broken. It might easily betray us into living so much for effect as to fall into hypocrisy.

The healthiest influence is unsought and unconscious. It is not always when we are trying to impress others that we impress them most. They elude the direct efforts we make, but they are observing us when we are not thinking of it They detect from an unconscious gesture or chance word the secret we are trying to conceal. They know quite well whether our being is a palace fair within, or only a shabby structure with a pretentious elevation. They estimate the mass and weight of our character with curious accuracy; and it is this alone that really tells. Our influence is the precise equivalent of our human worth or worthlessness.

A man may strive for influence and miss it. But let him grow within himself-in self-control, in conscientiousness, in purity and submission-and then he will not miss it. Every step of inward progress makes us worth more to the world and to every cause with which we may be identified. The road to influence is simply the highway of duty and loyalty.

Let a man press nearer to Christ and open his nature more widely to admit the energy of Christ and, whether he knows it or not—it is better perhaps if he does not—he will certainly be growing in power for God with men, and for men with God.

The Means of Spiritual Influence

Perhaps the simplest definition of spiritual leadership is that it is influence: influencing the attitudes and actions of others toward God, toward things of the Spirit. It is helping others come to know Christ and grow in knowledge of him. It is serving one another in love. An appropriate title for a true spiritual leader is servant. Another is helper.

This spiritual influence is without regard to position. Being a full time Christian worker doesn’t necessarily make you a spiritual influencer. When Jesus told the apostles not to be called Rabbi or father or teacher (Matthew 23:8-10), he was saying in effect that they didn’t need a title or position to do the job he gave them to do.

Spiritual influence must begin with God. It is always a gift from God. The fundamentals of spiritual influence are set forth in our Lord’s prayer in John 17, in which he mentioned what God had given him:

I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. (John 17:4)

I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. (John 17:6)

I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. (John 17:8)

Jesus describes his ministry as one that was given by God. God gave him work to do, people, and his message.

The Work God Gives

In John 4:34, after he had talked with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus told his disciples, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” What is this work he is talking about?

Jesus went on to explain, “Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life.” Have we opened our eyes to the spiritual harvest around us, as Jesus exhorted the disciples to do? Do we see the needs of people? I’m reminded of Matthew 9:36-37.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.”

This is a must for every spiritual leader to keep in mind: The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. The work of the harvest is a God-given work in which every Christian can and should have a part.

What does it mean to be this kind of laborer? I believe Acts 10:38 provides a beautiful summary of what it means.

God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and…he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

First of all, just as God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit, so we cannot be laborers without the Holy Spirit. We cannot do spiritual work without the Spirit’s power. We must be spiritually energized.

But being filled with the Spirit is not an ecstatic experience to be enjoyed only for our own sake. When God fills and empowers us, it is always for the sake of others. In Acts 10:38, this empowering for Jesus resulted in two things: doing good, and healing those who were under the power of the devil.

Those who are really effective as spiritual influencers are those who are alert to doing good-seeing needs and meeting them, whether or not they get a chance to preach or teach or witness. Too many of us are like the priest and the Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan. They saw the man who had been beaten by the robbers, but passed by on the other side. Too few of us are like the Samaritan, who may well have been a businessman with much less time to spare than the two religious workers who went before him, but who stopped and was moved with compassion for the robbers’ victim. A laborer is a Good Samaritan.

A laborer also heals those who are oppressed by the devil. For us, this will mean sharing the gospel, because the devil “has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Jesus also prayed in John 17, “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world.” Jesus died for the whole world, but he ministered closely to a small group of people, his disciples, that God had given him.

Someone has called this bifocal vision. You and I should have a vision for the entire world-that’s the top half of our bifocal glasses. But we can’t minister to the whole world. We ought to have a ministry to a small group of people whom God has given us-this is the bottom part of the bifocals. Each one of us should have a group of people around us who have been given to us by God as our special responsibility.

Well, you say, like who? You start with your family-your spouse, then your own children. How about your parents, or other relatives, and of course the people you work with? All you have to do is look around you. God has given you all the people you need to have a ministry outreach. They’re there.

The question then becomes, are you revealing God to them, as Jesus said he had done to those whom God gave him? What does it mean to reveal God?

Exodus 34:5-7 is a remarkable passage telling about God. Moses had asked God if he could see him. God answered that he would pass by Moses and allow him to see his back, but not his face. As God did this for Moses, this is what he said about himself:

The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.

These words say that God is love.
But he went on to say,
Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.

This says God is holy.

God is love, and God is holy. There we have two basic aspects of God’s character which we are to reveal to others. Those around us should see evidence in our lives of growth in love and holiness. Love is an unselfish concern that freely accepts another and seeks his good. And holiness, I believe, begins with humility. If pride is the great vice, as we discussed earlier, then humility must be the great virtue. Furthermore, only once did Jesus tell us specifically to learn from him, and this was when he said, “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart’ (Matthew 11:29).

We read in James 4:6 that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” No one can have spiritual influence if God is against him. But God gives his grace to the humble.

The Words God Gives

Finally, Jesus also prayed in John 17, “I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them.” God gave him a message.

Billy Graham sometimes says that he is merely God’s messenger-boy. When we’re God’s messengers, we deliver his words to others just as they were handed to us, without reconstructing them.

If we want to be spiritual influencers, we must place ourselves and our ministry under the authority of the Bible. We follow the guidelines in 2 Corinthians 4:2.

We have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.

We don’t get clever, or shrewd, or smooth. We don’t try to get up on people’s blind side. Instead, we set forth the truth plainly.

The authority of a spiritual influencer is this: He confronts the conscience of another with the word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The essence of spiritual leadership is that “we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5). Spiritual leadership can be summed up as servanthood for the sake of Christ.