Asleep At The Post

The world is on fire. And one of the groups that can do the most to put out those fires isn’t doing too much. Many of them are asleep at their post.

There are two types of evil children.

One is what we might call Cute Evil. This is the evil that less cautious parents laugh at. It’s the rolled eye at a young age that makes the witless father say, “See there, she’s like her mother already.” It’s the laziness that doesn’t go unnoticed by parents, just uncorrected. It’s the embarrassing temper tantrum that only draws attention but never draws discipline. All because it looks cute.

And then there is the other evil. This is the Your Kid Just Might Grow Up To Be Charlie Manson type of evil. This is the rebellion that is bold and daring. It’s the hurtful word that is used with deadly precision. 

I’ve seen both types. I’ve seen it in shopping centers and I’ve seen it during jailhouse visits. I’m no statistician or sociologist. I’m just a husband and a pastor trying my best to train my children up the right way. But there’s something that I’ve noticed in my encounters with these two types of evils. Something that children from both categories seem to be missing. 

A father.

Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of kids who are raised by single mothers who turn out to be solid adults. And there are just as many kids who grow up with a father in the home but who still make regular appearances on your late local news for all of the wrong reasons. But a dad can be at home and still not be on the job. It’s possible for a man to be at his post but not really at his post.

My grandfather fought in the South Pacific during World War II. He brought a lot of stories back with him. He would share some of them with me when I was a kid. My favorite one involved one of those men who was at his post but not really at his post.

My grandfather was spending the night in a hole in the ground. Two other men were with him. The plan was to take turns sleeping while one man pulled guard duty. After his shift was over my grandfather refused to go to sleep. It’s not that he wasn’t tired. It’s just that he didn’t trust the man who was taking his place. He knew that having him on duty meant having no one on duty. So my grandfather slept with one eye opened. That is to say, he didn’t really sleep.

I’m glad.

Early into the shift, the man charged with keeping watch fell asleep. Out of his one eye that was opened, my grandfather noticed an enemy soldier slowly crawling up to the hole that he was sharing with his friends.

Seeing as how you’re reading this today, you can probably guess how my grandfather reacted. 

Like I said, it’s possible for a man to be at his post but not really at his post. It’s true on a battlefield and it’s true in the home. The only difference is that in the home, my grandfather isn’t there to play back up for the scores of so-called fathers who are asleep at their post while countless enemies come creeping for their children.

Politicians and community activists tell us that it takes a village to raise a child. Feminists and trend setters in the world of education would like to convince us that Heather and her two mommies are doing just fine, thank you.

But reality is telling us something completely different. 

Kids need fathers. They don’t need couch dwellers. They don’t need dictators. They don’t need overaged buddies. And they certainly don’t need some guy who is asleep at his post.

Kids need fathers.

I know that such a claim sounds politically incorrect. It’s not my aim to pit one parent against the other. Fathers are not more important than mothers. Both matter. Both are needed. Both must work together.

But in our rush to prove our forward thinking, it seems as though we’ve gotten too advanced for the concept of fatherhood. Dads have gone the way of MC Hammer’s pants – so last century. 

And would you just look at what that’s gotten us. Generations of cute little evil kids. And thousands more who are sure to find their names in the paper, not for achievements in athletics or academics but police blotter.

There are two types of evil for a small child.

There are also two types of fathers for a small child.

One father is asleep at his post. The other is engaged. He’s active. He’s kneeling in prayer for his kid. He’s standing up for his kid when predators come. He’s standing up to his kid when evil rears its ugly head. 

If you’re the dad who’s trying to do it the right way, keep it up. None of us are perfect. Don’t get discouraged. Stay the course. If you’re the woman married to that man, pray for him, love him and encourage him. He’s more of a blessing to your family than you realize.

Perhaps you’re the dad who is asleep at his post and someone sent this your way to read and to consider. You need to thank that person. More than that, you need to wake up. Whether you realize it or not, no matter how small, cute and intelligent your child may be, he’s evil. Just like the rest of us. And that evil carries with it consequences that he will have to give an account for. 

Your kid’s behavior has nothing to do with President Obama, radical Islam, “times getting bad” or “the wrong crowd.” It has a lot more to do with you being asleep at your post.

In Ephesians 6:4, Paul tells fathers to bring their children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. It’s interesting that he doesn’t just say for us to bring our children up in discipline and instruction. That’s because all fathers are bringing their children up in the discipline and instruction of something. The sleeping father brings his child up in the discipline of demons and the instruction of insanity.

Is it any wonder that the world is on fire? 

The 2014 Pastoral Ramblings Football Predictions

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Football season is officially underway. That means that you can quit pretending to care about baseball. It also means that it’s time for the 2014 Pastoral Ramblings Football Predictions. Here are 10 things that you can count on happening this year.

1. Glen Steward Godwin is number one on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. He’s escaped from prison a couple of times, he’s murdered and he’s trafficked drugs. Sometime within the next week, he’ll be caught. By mid November he’ll be playing for Auburn. In December, he’ll win the Heisman Trophy.

2. Michael Sam will be cut by the St. Louis Rams. By executive order, President Barack Obama will charge head coach Jeff Fisher with a hate crime and name a bridge after Michael Sam. ESPN will have wall to wall coverage.

3. Steve Spurrier will throw things. Judging by last night’s loss to Texas A&M, he’ll be throwing a lot of things.

4. An Ohio State fan will say the following statement at least four times this year.

“I hated to lose that game to ________________ (insert: Akron, Ohio University or Mercer). But we play in the Big 10 so we still have a shot.”

Somehow, a 4 loss Ohio State team will end up playing a 7 loss Notre Dame team in a New Year’s Day bowl.

5. At some point in the season the quarterback of your favorite team will say the following statement word for word.

“Well, you know, it was a tough loss but it is what it is so we’re just gonna have to take it one game at a time.”

6. Stanford will beat Cal on a last second hail mary only to have the touchdown overturned by the American Atheist Society for using offensive religious terminology.

7. The Dallas Cowboys will lose seven games this year. You won’t be able to turn on your television or radio without hearing about the Dallas Cowboys.

8. A Georgia Tech fan will lose 75% of his Facebook fans simply for saying, “This is our year,” after the Jackets beat Presbyterian by three touchdowns. The remaining 25% of those Facebook friends will keep sending him Farmville requests.

9. There will be one week where the most interesting game on television will be Hawaii versus Army. You’ll watch your very first WNBA game that day. And then you’ll wish that you had watched Hawaii versus Army instead.

10. Georgia will go undefeated and win the national championship. Some Georgia fan will still want to fire Coach Mark Richt.

Enjoy the football season, everyone.

Oh, and Go Dawgs!

One Of Those Churches

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There’s no such thing as a perfect church. But there are plenty of really good churches. I’m happy to belong to one of them. Almost every day, God puts a visual reminder in front of me to show how beautiful his church is.

On Saturday, he sent Betty Lewis my way. She was pushing a cart with a bunch of chicken on it. There was about to be a funeral. That’s what Betty and her friends do when there’s about to be a funeral. They make sure that the family is fed. No one ever asks them to do it. They just do it. And it may not seem like that big of a deal. Unless you’re the grieving widow who is hungry but doesn’t feel like cooking and could really use some company.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1:27 (ESV)

Last Saturday, seeing Betty Lewis push that cart full of chicken reminded me that I belong to a church where people care about each other.

Every Sunday morning we start our worship service off with prayer. It’s not just any prayer. Every man in the church is invited to come down to the front of the sanctuary to pray for God’s protection and provision over the service. Old men come. Young boys come with their fathers. I’m down there too.

Maybe it’s not hip. Maybe it disrupts the flow of the service. I don’t care. It makes me happy to see men taking a lead in prayer.

They took a lead last Wednesday night too.

A lady in our church had just found out that she was sick. Her husband called me on Wednesday morning and asked if the leaders of the church could pray over her.

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. James 5:14 (ESV)

I was at the front of the line. Behind me, there were almost 20 men. One at a time, they came by, put their hand on their sister in Christ and prayed for God to make her better.

Seeing all of those men pray reminds me that I belong to a church that takes prayer seriously.

When I sit behind my desk, to my right there is a file drawer. Most of the file folders are empty. But there’s one that really should be broken up into two folders. The name on the tab at the top of the file folder is Letters. They are letters of encouragement. Some tell me to have a happy birthday. Some say good job. But they are all expressions of love.

I don’t take this for granted.

For a lot of pastors, their folder with the tab reading Hate Mail From Committees is filling up the whole drawer. They don’t have a letters drawer like I do. Not because they’re doing something wrong. It’s just that they lead a congregation full of leaking faucets (Proverb 27:15). When I open my file drawer, I’m reminded that I do not. And I am thankful.

We’ve gotten church wrong over the years. We’ve convinced ourselves that the church should be a cutting edge factory where we fight hard to stay ahead of cultural trends. Some treat it like one of those big box members only stores. They sign up but never show up until they need a spiritual pick me up. Or 200 rolls of toilet paper.

In reality, the church is the body of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the pastor. He’s the reason for the church. He’s the example for the church. His glory is the goal of the church. When we remember that and put it into practice, nothing else matters. Not carpet color. Not worship style. Nothing else.

Just loving Jesus and loving others.

I’m glad to be a part of one of those churches.

Christian, Nothing Will Happen To You Today

There are very few guarantees. You can’t be sure what will happen to you today. Things could be bad. The earthquake could hit your town. The siren could stop at your door. We can’t be sure.

But if you are a Christian, there’s something you can be sure of.

Nothing will happen to you today.

Nothing will happen to you today that God can’t redeem.

His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. Genesis 50:18-20 (ESV)

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 (ESV)

Nothing will happen to you today that will diminish the source of your joy.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4 (ESV)

Nothing will happen to you today that is beyond God’s forgiveness.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 (ESV)

Nothing will happen to you today that is outside of the loving control of Jesus Christ.

And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:17 (ESV)

Nothing will happen to you today that will separate you from your Creator.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:31-39 (ESV)

Nothing will happen to you today that will take away your inheritance.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 1:3-5 (ESV)

This day could end up being a bad one for you. I hope not but it could. We just don’t know. But when you lay your head down tonight to go to sleep, you will still be able to say that nothing happened to you today.

Nothing.

Nothing but the overwhelming love of Jesus played out before you in a thousand different ways.

Does He Have More Faith Than Anyone In Your Church?

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I have more faith than anyone else in my church.

I believe that the Bible is God’s word.

I sincerely believe that Jesus was born of a virgin.

I believe that he never sinned.

I believe that he is the Son of God.

I believe that he was crucified.

I believe that he died and was buried.

I believe that he rose from death on the third day.

I was there for it all. And it all scares me. I shudder just thinking about it. But I believe.

The people at my church are different. Their faith isn’t as strong as mine. It wasn’t always that way. I was assigned there a century ago when the people really believed. Jesus being crucified wasn’t just head knowledge for them. It was a truth that came from their hearts and played itself out in what they said with their mouths and did with their hands.

That too was a really scary time for me.

But with a lot of work, I got things under control.

Now concepts like the virgin birth, the crucifixion and the resurrection are just that. Concepts. Most of the people in the church check all of those boxes. But their belief never leaves their heads. It hasn’t found its way to their hearts and it certainly doesn’t make a difference in what they do or what they say.

We believe that the Bible is God’s word.

We sincerely believe that Jesus was born of a virgin.

We believe that he never sinned.

We believe that he is the Son of God.

We believe that he was crucified.

We believe that he died and was buried.

We believe that he rose from death on the third day.

Our beliefs will do us no good when Jesus returns to settle his score. The only works they have produced in me is my shuddering spirit. But that’s more than I can say for the people at my church. Their beliefs have produced nothing. Their belief alone will do them no good when the Enemy returns.

Their faith without works will condemn them to hell.

And by hell’s power, I’m fighting to keep it that way.

You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! James 2:19 (ESV)

She’s Old, Blind And Slow But We Shouldn’t Want Her To Be Any Other Way

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There’s one thing we know about what happened in Ferguson, Missouri.

We don’t know what happened in Ferguson, Missouri.

Just under 100 percent of the population has no clue in regards to the events that day when Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown. Almost that many people want justice to be served. Well, at least that’s what we say. But a lot of times, we’d rather justice be our errand boy than our standard. We want justice to work for us. For our circle. For our movement. We’re not so concerned with her working for those who happen to be outside of our circle or our movement. Especially when it turns out that our circle or movement is in the wrong.

Here are a few questions for you to consider that should help you to see if it’s justice that you want or just blood.

What if it turns out that Darren Wilson was defending himself? What if Michael Brown really was coming at him with intent to kill after having already beaten him? And what if there was undeniable evidence to support this? Would you want justice or blood?

What if Darren Wilson yelled a racial slur at Michael Brown upon meeting him in the middle of the road? What if Darren Wilson really was out to get a black guy that day and planned on hiding behind his badge during the fallout. And what if there was undeniable evidence to support this? Would you want justice or blood?

What about the store owner who was allegedly bullied and robbed by Michael Brown? Do you care about him getting justice or is it okay for him to be forgotten about in all of this?

These are all what ifs. And like I said, none of us has the answers to what really happened that day. Eventually, we’ll have more. But it takes time.

In the meantime, it’s good to take your questions, concerns and even frustrations before the media. It’s fine to have peaceful protests in the street. But there’s one thing that can’t happen right now through the media and in the streets.

Court.

If it’s justice that we really want, we’ll resist the urge to find her by listening to media outlets that are, at best, speculative. If it’s justice that we want, we won’t go looking for her to make an appearance right this second in the streets.

No, that doesn’t mean that you are to sit back and do nothing while you watch things get bogged down in the court system. You should hold officials accountable. You should question the narrative that is being fed to you from both sides. And you should prepare yourself for the possibility that the guy you’ve supported through all of this is in the wrong.

Lady justice is slow. That’s frustrating but it’s also how she does some of her best work. She rarely serves us well when she is forced to make her decision right this second nor does she do us any favors by getting tangled up in red tape and corruption. So, by all means, question those who claim to work on her behalf. Hold them accountable so that they will do their job with integrity. Carry signs and march around their buildings. Just remember to be patient.

Since the 15th century, Lady Justice has been depicted in statues and paintings wearing a blindfold. This small symbol reminds us that when she is working correctly, Lady Justice makes no decision based on color, income or social standing. Truth, not public opinion or even sympathy, is her guide.

Lady Justice is blindfolded.

But she’s not wearing earplugs.

If an accurate depiction of Lady Justice were done today, the blindfolded lady would have Fox News, MSNBC, angry mobs and those with long held prejudices whispering in her ear.

But in the end, Lady Justice won’t listen to those voices. It’s only the truth that she cares about.

And if it’s truth and not blood that we’re after, we’ll respond to those voices just like that old, blind and slow lady.

Are You Sure That You Want The Separation Of Church And State?

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A Georgia high school football coach is in hot water. He didn’t punch one of his players. He wasn’t having an inappropriate relationship with a student.

He was praying.

With his football team.

There were also Bible verses on several team documents.

In an absolutely non-shocking development, the American Humanist Association is threatening to sue the school district. They are demanding that the coaching staff at Chestatee High School stop participating in team prayers and that they no longer include Bible verses or other religious materials on team documents.

In cases like this one, groups such as the American Humanist Association always use the same phrase. The separation of church and state. And the state usually always goes along with the separating. But it’s not a total separation that the state really wants.

I never hear anything about the separation of church and state when the state wants to use a church building so that people in the community can get a shower and a warm meal after a tornado wipes out an entire neighborhood. Can you imagine that one?

“Sorry, folks. Can’t go in there. I know you’re tired and hungry but it’s a church! Run away!”

I wonder how the people in my voting district would respond this November if they found out that they had to drive out of their district to vote, all in an effort to avoid casting their ballot inside of a church building. Gasp!

When a few kids at a Georgia high school get killed in a car wreck, church and state separation always seems to take a break. For some reason, your son’s old principal saying, “We’re thinking about you and sending good thoughts your way during this difficult time” doesn’t carry as much weight as your son’s old football coach saying, wait for it, an actual prayer. Oh the humanity!

The state isn’t really interested in the separation of church and state. They want the two to work together just so long as it’s the church working for and in total submission to the state.

In that sense, I’m all for a separation of church and state.

When bakers, wedding planners and pastors decide not to perform a marriage for a gay couple because homosexual marriage violates their beliefs, will the state and the American Humanist Association come to the defense of those bakers, wedding planners and pastors? Will they stand in his defense, referencing their favorite separation of church and state arguments? Not likely.

You can legislate prayer out of school. You can bully prayer out of school. But you can never really take prayer out of school.

For those who truly belong to Jesus, prayer is more than a political statement or a freedom issue. It’s communion with their Master. And that Master happens not to be the state. That Master is the One who gives the state its power and the One who can just as easily take it away. That’s the One we pray to. And that’s why a law will never keep us from praying or obeying Scripture.

Neither will a bully.

Neither will a den of hungry lions.

What Every Kid Needs To Hear At The End Of A Bad Day

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Bad days are inevitable. You have them. And if they haven’t already, your kids will too.

Here’s what they’re going to need to hear from you.

1. “What happened?”

At some point your kid is going to need to process what went wrong. There’s no one better for him to do that processing with than you. This isn’t the time for you to give advice on how to throw a better curve ball. It isn’t the time for you to flip out over the grade on his math test. This is the part where you listen.

At the end of one of those days where it seems like everything went wrong, your kid is looking for more than an expert. He’s looking for someone who will listen. So if you must be an expert in something, be an expert in listening to your kid.

2. “I fail too.”

Have you ever noticed how rare it is for the children of highly successful people to be successful in the same field as their parent? Growing up in the shadow of greatness can be harder than it looks. If you’re any kind of a parent, your daughter is going to think that you’re great. Perfect, even. She’s going to think that you never blew it like she did today.

You need to tell her that she’s wrong. You need to tell her about that time when you got a 13 on your history test. Or the one where you struck out. In softball. Slow pitch church league softball.

Just don’t stop there. Tell her how you moved on. Any good fall down story ends with getting back up. Remind her that you still fall down. But be sure to tell her how you keep getting up. Encourage her to do the same.

3. “You don’t have to be the best but you better try your best.”

This is where parents get sidetracked. We think that our kid being the 12th best player on his team of 15 is somehow an indictment against us. So we push him harder. We demand that he be the best. But we forget something very important. Being the best at a young age is probably one of the worst things that can happen to a kid.

When he’s number 12 out of 15, he only has two options if he wants to keep up and not get run over. He can either work hard or he can give up. Since giving up isn’t an option, being around a dozen or so people who are better than him will force your kid to work harder. During all of that hard work, something is happening. He’s getting better.

Your son may never be the best kid on his team. But, if he keeps giving his best effort, he’ll be better than he was yesterday. And the benefits of that kind of growth will stay with him for the rest of his life.

4. “What do you think that you need to work on.”

This is the advice stage. This is the part where you find a tutor. It’s the part where you spend some time in the backyard working on that curve ball. And it’s the part where your child learns the value of hard work and the patience that comes with trying to master a skill. There is a lot of growth happening here. You’ll want to be around for it.

Just be careful.

Make sure that this skill development and hard work isn’t happening for your benefit. There’s nothing wrong with helping your kid get better at something. There’s a lot wrong with using your kid to help you look better. Never confuse the two.

5. “I’m proud of you.”

It’s possible for a parent to be lying when he says this. That’s because he’s really not proud of his daughter. He’s proud of what she’s accomplished. It may not seem like much but there is a big difference here.

If you truly are proud of your daughter, and not just some number on a page, you’ll be proud when she finishes the semester with an 84 in Chemistry. You’ll be proud, not because she was at the top of her class but because you saw how hard she worked to bring her grade up after a rough start to the semester. You saw her late nights spent studying. You saw her early morning tutorial sessions.

And when you see her, you may not see the best Chemistry student in the class but you do see a girl who tried her best.

And that makes you proud.

Be sure to let her know.

6. “I’ll have two cookies and cream milkshakes.”

Talk is good. Advice is too. But sometimes, at the end of a bad day, your son just needs to sit down with his dad and drink a milkshake. Maybe you talk about your favorite movies. Maybe you talk about places you’d like to travel to. Talk about anything. Anything but that missed shot, that bad grade and that broken relationship. Or, perhaps, you could even talk about nothing.

There’s a time for talk.

But, every now and then, there are those times when the only sound a kid needs to hear is that noise his dad makes when he’s trying to get the last drop of a cookies and cream milkshake through a straw.

Bad days are inevitable. You have them. Your kids will too.

But they should never have them alone.

Mercy And Judgment On The Side Of The Road

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I pulled over to the side of the road. My friend was in the passenger’s seat. He didn’t know what I was doing. It’s not his fault. He’s didn’t grow up in the south.

A funeral procession was coming by. In the south, that means that you pull over to the side of the road. The south isn’t perfect. No place on earth is. But it’s home for me. And pulling over on the side of the road during a funeral procession is one of the things I like about my home.

Last weekend I was on the other side of the funeral procession. I was the one who preached the funeral. I was the one driving in the car directly behind the hearse. I was the one watching everyone else pull over.

It was a Saturday afternoon in one of the more highly populated counties in Georgia. There was business to be done and places to get to. But for a few minutes at least, none of that mattered. For a few minutes, everyone stopped.

All for a man they never knew.

Black kids stopped.

Older white women stopped.

Men in loaded down work trucks stopped.

Women in convertibles stopped.

We drove by two different men who were cutting their grass. Both of them stopped.

All for a man they never knew.

No one asked the political persuasion of the deceased. No one asked what color he was. No one asked about his views on immigration or Iraq. They just stopped. Everyone stopped.

I was proud of my home while I was driving behind that hearse. People say that things are slower down here. Maybe they’re right. Pulling over to the side of the road and stopping everything has a way of slowing you down. Slow isn’t always so bad.

Slow makes it easier for you to think.

And nothing makes you think quite like a funeral procession.

For all of the differences between conservatives and progressives, whites and blacks, old and young, we all have one thing in common. We’re all going to die. We may even take a ride in a hearse. Hopefully people will pull over for us.

There is another certainty.

After we die, we will be judged. We will all stand before our Creator to give an account for our life. He won’t ask us if we forwarded that picture of Jesus to ten friends. He won’t ask us if we did a good enough job of getting our point across. He won’t ask us how many followers we had. In his own way, he’ll ask us whose righteousness we had.

There are only two possible answers.

My righteousness, which comes through pride and effort and leads to eternal punishment or Jesus’ righteousness which comes through faith and repentance and leads to eternal life.

If you have Jesus’ righteousness, you know mercy.

And if you really know mercy, you’ll show it to others.

So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:12-13 (ESV)