Tag Archives: Christianity

Legalism Part 4: My Life on Legalism

John Bunyan

Legalism seems to be the smallest of sins, but it is really one of the biggest.  The bigness of this sin shows up in a lot of ways.  The first place that legalism wreaks havoc is in our own souls.  I remember this distinctly.  It started out well.

I wanted to be a good kid.  It started out as a simple desire to follow God’s Word.  I would take battle to the Enemy like Pilgrim in Bunyan’s dream.  But little did I know that the Enemy was more subversive in his tactics than I had imagined.  The Devil doesn’t like all out war with clean battle lines and trenches.  No, he prefers the guerilla tactics of hit-and-run jujitsu combat.  He takes even our best aspirations and uses them to fight us.

I wanted to keep the rules.  Not just the Bible now.  My focus began to shift beyond Scripture to all the rules of the family, church, community, etc.  I had to fulfill everything.

I wanted God to like me.  Perhaps this thought came about because I didn’t think there was much of me to like.  I sucked at sports.  I studied hard, but I’ve never been brilliant.  I’ve always struggled with aspects of dyslexia, inverting letters or thinking ahead of myself as I speak.  I was socially awkward.  But I thought if I could learn more about God and pray and read my Bible, maybe at least God would like me.  Even if no one else did.

I wanted to be the best.  Now my legalism turned outward.  It was not just good enough to be good, I had to be gooder!  I couldn’t just read books, I had to read more books than anyone else I knew.  I had to be the best I could be spiritually.  Sure, sometimes I couldn’t find chapter and verse for the things I did, but I was always sure to tell people that I was taking the wisest or safest route on the issue at hand.  And to me, taking the less-wise and less-safe route was not the best.  Only the best would work for me.

I wanted to escape the cycle.  Now my legalism became heavy.  As I grew up and began to struggle with real sins and lusts and such, my legalism wasn’t enough to curb sin anymore.  Now the enemy was attacking from every angle.  My foundation for the past years had been my legalism and what a shoddy defense it was now!  The best I could do was to console myself between attacks of the glories of my own righteousness.  I would make fresh commitments to God.  I would read more books.  I read my Bible lots and lots.  But then the new round of temptations would come and I would be devastated.  I was angry with myself.  I wished God would just kill me.  I thought of suicide.  Despair and darkness would set in.  I would cry out for help and God would love me and help me.  And then I’d go back to my fortress of legalism.

Legalism hurts.  It cuts to the deepest part of the soul.  The promise of legalism is a life above the fray.  A life of purity and free from sin.  It is the life that is safely positioned far from the cliff of temptation.  It is the tiptoeing conscience, sneaking away from the big dangers of the spiritual walk.  But the promise of legalism is empty.  Believe me.  Legalism is a cliff unto its own self.  Legalism tiptoes around the sleeping giants of temptation and into the middle of a massive minefield.  The purity and higher life are merely a façade – a mask you have to wear to make people think you’re really something you aren’t.  But that’s just what legalism does to you.  What about what it does to others?

Legalism Part 2: The Broad Appeal of Legalism

Toyota Prius

(To see Part 1, click here)

But why is legalism appealing?  We absolutely detest it in other people and especially when the finger is pointed at ourselves.  I think it is the one sin that the most righteous to the most wicked person in society would condemn in others but would be least likely to see that they commit it themselves.  But if we hate it in others, how can we live with ourselves?  Why then does legalism turn people on?  I thought that there may be a couple reasons.  Perhaps it has something to do with enjoying absolutes…black and white.  There certainly is something reassuring in knowing that there are no questions and only answers.  But the Bible doesn’t always work that way.  It seems to give us the answers to the key issues of life and leaves other things for us as individuals to work out (Rom 14).  God actually gives us the space to apply the Gospel in our contexts.  But the legalist hates this kind of thought.  It seems downright postmodern to believe that something could be right for one person and wrong for another; however, that’s exactly what the Bible indicates (Rom 14:22-23).  But there seems to be another reason why legalism is so appealing.   I think this is tied with the other appeal of knowing all the answers.  It is that sense of awesome spiritual superiority that you get when you have all the answers.  Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about.  You’ve seen it in yourself and others.

It’s the parent whose kids all turned out right.

It’s the guy in prison who stole, but at least he didn’t commit child abuse like that other inmate.

It’s the hipster in the Prius.

It’s the preacher with the right Bible version.

It’s the cop who is always catching everyone else doing wrong.

It’s the vegan to that poser’s vegetarian.

It’s the guy who owns his own home.

It’s the kid who is the teacher’s pet because she always keeps the rules while the teacher is looking.

It’s the guy who wishes he could say “I told you so” a million times when people don’t follow his procedures.

It’s the overweight guy who smirks at the alcoholic.

It’s the protester on the street that says that another person or company did something wrong.

It’s the intellectual who always has the deepest insights on all things political and religious.

It’s the lady with a college diploma to that guy’s GED.

It’s the voter who is so thankful for the good sense not to vote like the person with that bumper sticker.

It’s the guy who lusts after women and not men.

It’s the person who looks at the bum on the street and assumes things about their poor choices.

It’s the family who always know what holidays to celebrate and how.

It’s the person who wears the nice clothes.

It’s the guy who is in touch and connected in his culture (whether high culture or pop culture).

It’s the angry motorist on the highway who wishes everyone could drive as well as he does.

Now I don’t suppose that all of these people have to become legalistic and superior about the way they do things.  But based on my experience, when you find yourself in one of these spots it’s really easy to start smiling and thinking to yourself about how much better you are.  Been there.  Done that.

As I continued to think about the appeal of legalism, I shuffled by one of the teachers offices and somehow the archaic image of the teacher’s apple popped into my head – an image which took a couple of odd twists and turns as it usually does in my bizarre little mind.  Somehow I ended up thinking of an apple or probably some other really cool fruit dangling from a mist-covered tree in a garden some years ago.  Perhaps the roots of legalism’s grip on me go even deeper.  Maybe they go back to my parents…my first parents.

What does it mean to be Conservative?

This is a question that has been nagging at me for some time, so I thought I would put down my thoughts on the topic and more clearly articulate some of my personal positions as well.  Let me begin by noting that there are two major difficulties of defining the term.  First, there are so many contexts of the word “conservative” that it has almost lost its meaning.  A quick survey of “Conservatism” on Wikipedia will demonstrate that there are millions of people who all think they are politically conservative, but most of them agree on very few things.  Secondly, there are many contexts for the word; therefore, one must be incredibly clear as to what context they are discussing conservatism in.  For example, many times religious conservatism is equated with political conservatism because many religious conservatives have accepted the political speeches about socially conservative topics within political conservatism and have adopted the party of political conservatism as their own.  In this sense, the politicians have simply made a mockery of Christian religious conservatism by holding out a carrot of social conservatism in order to earn votes.  I could rant about the dangers of being misled and inbreeding religion and politics, but I suppose that I could address that topic more fully at another time.

For now, I want to focus in on a particular facet of Christian religious moral and social conservatism (not to be confused with theological conservatism) that is prevalent in the more Fundamentalist branch of modern Christianity.  It is the sense of conservatism that is used to demarcate boundaries on interaction with modern culture and whatnot.  I’ll offer a few examples to frame what I’m talking about.

Sally and her friend were talking about modesty one day and her friend suggested that Sally should go to Macy’s because there was a sale on shorts going on that weekend.  Sally replied that she holds to a conservative standard of dress and that she most certainly would not be buying such immodest clothing.

Jason wrote a blog post about his conservative standards of music, which kept him from using “sensual music” with a “rock beat.”  He explained that these conservative standards were designed to keep him pure and holy before God.

Brad likes to tell his friends that he doesn’t go to movie theatres because he is very conservative in his approach to movies.  Although he has never attended a movie theatre, he is confident that their use by the pornography industry is more than enough reason to avoid them.  Brad is an avid promoter of Netflix as an alternative to movie attendance.

These three examples of conservatism within Christianity are identical in numerous respects.

First, conservatism for Sally, Jason, and Brad means adding moral standards on top of Scripture.  There is room for a helpful discussion of where creation of personal standards ends and legalism begins, but that is not my point for this article.  My point is that their idea of what is conservative and what is not is based, not on what the Bible says, but on their ideas.

Second, all of these standards gain their relative sense of value from other people, not from God, His Word, or the Gospel.  When someone says that they are conservative, they are comparing themselves to someone else who is less “conservative” or “liberal.”  Inherently, the idea of conservatism when used in such contexts is inherently man-centered.

Third, the notion of “conservative” in moral and ethical situations is almost often able to be substituted for “right” or “best.”  Not only does it imply a man-centered approach, as indicated above, but it also implies that it should be the norm for other Christians too.

Fourth, conservatism, when defined in such a manner, is often based on a misunderstanding of Scripture, culture, or both.  What does the Bible mean by “modest”?  Do “conservative” alternatives to shorts really always demonstrate “modesty”?  What do we mean by “rock beat”?  Is music, apart from the lyrics, really able to make people think sensual thoughts?  Is the modern movie theatre truly a place of pornography and sleaze?  All of these questions and more could be posed in order to question the veracity of the way Sally, Jason, and Brad are using Scripture or understand culture.

Lastly, all three of these views are based on a flawed view of cultural interaction and what it means to be “holy” in contemporary culture.  Whether or not they are aware of it or not, these three individuals are basing their idea of how to interact with culture by simply trying to fight against it.  My question here would be: is this truly the paradigm for engaging culture taught throughout the Scriptures?  In other words, we all believe that caving in to culture is a big problem; however, simply rejecting culture in toto is also a big problem.  It results in an Amish-like approach to all things modern and reduces our effectiveness in reaching our culture.  Christians who don’t understand pop culture, music, entertainment, and dress do not match up to their first-century predecessors like the Apostle Paul who cited the popular secular, pantheistic, Zeus-worshipping poets like Epimenides and Aratus (Acts 17:28; Titus 1:12) and attended popular entertainment venues which were filled with the Hellenistic emphasis on the “cult of the body” (1 Corinthians 9:26; Galatians 5:7; Philippians 3:14; 1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 4:7).  If given the choice between popular fundamentalist conservatism and the Apostle Paul, I would choose the latter any day of the week.

So, to conclude, I think we have allowed Christians who add their preferences to Scripture, misunderstand Scripture and culture, and fail to take a biblical approach to culture to define terms such as “conservative” in the moral and social contexts of the day.  This is a rather unfortunate occurrence.   Conservatism should be inherently biblical.  Just as subtracting from biblical ethics in order to merge with our culture is wrong, so adding to biblical ethics in order to fight against our culture is equally wrong.  Attempting to claim a standard of conservatism that is higher than Jesus or Paul, in my mind, is not only ludicrous and legalistic, but borderline blasphemous.  We ought not to allow individuals to call us to a “conservatism” that is anti-biblical, and we should return to defining these terms in light of a proper understanding of Scripture and culture.  Based on the authority of the Holy Spirit, Who spoke through the Apostle Paul, we should not allow ourselves to be taken captive by the manmade philosophy of “conservatism” when used in such a fashion (Colossians 2:8, 20, 23).  When we depart from Scripture in order to seek this kind of “conservative” ethical approach to life, we actually demonstrate a low or liberal view of Scripture.  Isn’t it time that we define conservatism by the Bible and not visa versa?

A Prayer After Meditating on the Resurrection in Colossians 3

Dear God,

You’ve saved me to be more than I could ever imagine, yet I go through life trying to find the strength to do Your will in my little schemes and plans.  I look for my righteousness within myself.  I attempt to please You by manipulating Your favor.  All this I have done, but I keep coming up short.  I am frustrated with my own inability to be something that, by my own power, I am not.  Help me to look to the resurrection and to see that You have radically changed me.  Now putting on Christ is simply being who I already am in You!  Let my veins pulsate with the resurrection power of Jesus Christ who lives in me and I in Him.  Empower me rise to from my sins, my self-righteousness, my idols and run to you.  Let Your life live in me.  Give me the strength to be who I really am in You!

Takeaways from Southeast Region ETS

I thought I’d share with my friends a little about what I learned while I was at my regional ETS meeting up in Wakeforest, NC this weekend.  I’ll first share observations specific to each meeting and then close with some general observations.

  • Devotional: Doctor Köstenberger opened the meeting with a devotional from 2 Peter 1:3-10.  He urged the group to pursue moral and academic excellence as God empowers us.
  • Parallel 1: I went to a paper reading by Paul Himes (SEBTS) who argued quite persuasively that the primary referent of  “strangers and sojourners” (1 Peter 2:11) was literal (i.e., that the people being addressed were literally strangers and sojourners).  I thought he made some solid points for this minority position on the text; however, I felt that he failed to take into account the intertextuality of the passage and how Peter uses the OT elsewhere.  I also felt that he did not adequately explain the surrounding context as well as I would have liked.  Overall, though, it was a solid paper.
  • Parallel 2: Stephen Stout (New Life TS) presented a great paper which analyzed the Pauline emphasis on the humanity of Christ.  It is often argued that Paul cared little for Christ’s humanity and focused solely on His divinity.  This argument was soundly trumped by this well-reasoned paper.
  • Parallel 3: Jeremy Kimble (SEBTS) did a spectacular presentation of a paper on the use of Deuteronomy in 1 Corinthians 5.  I’ve become more and more fascinated by intertextuality, so this naturally interested me.  I left with a deeper appreciation of the implications of the use of the OT in the NT, the difficulties of church discipline, and the importance of church discipline.  All-in-all, this was a wonderful paper with far-reaching implications.
  • Plenary 1: Doctor Paul House (Beeson) presented a lecture on biblical theology which provided an excellent introductory survey of the topic.  I appreciated his straightforward style and clarity.  He challenged the group to commit to doing biblical theology by looking for how the Scriptures cohere, and not whether they cohere.  Part of his presentation included a segment on Paul and Isaiah as biblical theologians.  Just as Isaiah used Moses and Paul used Isaiah to form their themes, so we must be committed to finding and using the themes of all the biblical writers as we study the Scriptures.  Ultimately, Dr. House challenged us to see the disciplines of Systematic Theology, Historical Theology, and Biblical Theology as streams flowing into the Mississippi River.  All of these valuable exercises are necessary in order to achieve a proper understanding of Scripture.
  • Plenary 2: Doctor Hafemann (Aberdeen) attempted to pursue a new eschatological schema for doing biblical theology.  In this lecture, he decried the use of contrasts (law vs. grace, dispensational approaches, etc.) in favor of a more positive approach to the interconnected whole of Scripture.  In doing so, he appealed to, what seemed to me, stretched parallel structures in 2 Corinthians 5:14-21.  Overall I thought the argument was quite weak and was one of the least interesting sessions.
  • Parallel 4: Ryan Martin (CBTS) presented a paper which attempted to parallel two opponents of Jonathan Edwards and current proponents of the NPP.  The paper was fascinating in that it brought out the fact that challenges in understanding justification have existed for centuries.  Orthodoxy has always confronted these challenges head-on.  I did think, however, the attempt to construct the parallels may have been slightly overdrawn.
  • Plenary 3: Doctor Köstenberger (SEBTS) brought the final plenary address.  This particular lecture was my favorite by far.  He pointed out the importance of Gabler’s call towards a biblical theology back in 1787.  In response he demonstrated trajectories of modern biblical theology.  He listed the following four:
    • The Classic approach of segmenting each writer or book and tracing particular doctrines through their works.
    • The Central Themes approach of allowing for various themes to be traced through Scripture.
    • The Single-Center approach of allowing for one theme (usually unhelpfully broad) to be traced through Scripture.
    • The Metanarrative approach of watching a particular story play out throughout Scripture.
  • Parallel 5: Doctor Maurice Robinson (SEBTS) presented a fascinating paper demonstrating the Byzantine priority in a textual variant in Acts 5:24.  He argued quite convincingly that only the majority reading could explain the rise of the other readings.  He succeeded in convincing even the most skeptical in the group.  I found my views more or less deepened by this interaction.
  • Parallel 6: Richard Winston (CBTS) presented a paper on the use of Leviticus 18:5 in Romans 10:5.  Once again, I found myself fascinated by the importance of intertextuality.  Even at the heart of a tough debate, the insights gained through the OT were critical.  I did think that he attempted to make the Qumran community speak too far into the interpretation of the text.

In general, here are some thoughts I had while riding several hours back home on Saturday:

  • Evangelical Christianity is far more conservative that I had been led to believe.  Not only was essentially everyone I talked with or heard (with only 1 small exception) staunchly conservative theologically, but they also were militantly opposed to doctrinal deviations.
  • God has gifted the Church with an impressive number of scholars who are devoted to an honest study of His Word and ministry to local churches.
  • I’m a nerd.
  • Presbyterians make me smile.
  • I can’t wait for next year.

Christians and Conspiracy Theories

I know that this post will probably frustrate some of my friends and may drag things deeper into issues that may be counter-productive in the end.  But I thought it worthwhile to at least attempt a discussion of the issue of conspiracy theories in the local church.  Let me begin by saying that I have many friends who would be considered by some to be hardcore conspiracy theorists.  As I write this, I mean them no harm; however, I think that we all ought to take some time to consider a little about conspiracy theories and how they affect the church.  I also suppose that this post may frustrate some of the more general population who may object to how I categorize the issue.  I also will wax a little preachy in this post.  I apologize also for this in advance.  This issue has been on my mind for some time and has been brought up again recently, so I want to forcefully and directly address the issue.  I will beg everyone’s forgiveness in advance in hopes that through this dialogue, we all may become more effective as servants of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Definition and Sources of Conspiracy Theories

As I mentioned, I have many friends who could be considered “Conspiracy Theorists.”  Perhaps some may even lump me in with them.  Really, in some small way, we all are conspiracy theorists.  We all have unique beliefs that we believe to be outside the mainstream.  Somewhere in all of us there is an individuality to what we believe.  We all have a desire to hold truth exclusively.  And as long as that desire prevails upon humanity, conspiracy theories and conspiracy theorists will persist.  Everyone has bought into a conspiracy.  Whether it is the conspiracy of the liberal, the conservative, the libertarian, or the statist, we’ve all chosen our political perspectives.  We’ve all picked our poison.  Moving forward, I will be defining the idea of a conspiracy theory as a political viewpoint which lays claim to special insight into current or past events in which covert plots are being carried out.

Categories of Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracy theories come in all shapes and sizes.  These theories are as extreme as the political positions that birthed them.  The liberal sees the agenda of the conservative as fringe and extremist.  To them the conservative is in cahoots with big business and is linked with all sorts of corporate corruption and as a plot to destroy the poor of the nation.  To the conservative, the liberal is linked with big government, communism, and a plot to invent global warming and destroy Christianity.  The libertarian sees anyone else as federalist (usually liked with big business) and accuses many with media cover-ups of the US governments’ involvement in 9/11, the need for gold investments, and vote-fixing in national elections.  On the other hand, federalists see everyone else as anarchists who are desperately plotting to destroy the government.  My point is that all of these views are odd.  The way every position sees the other has some quirks and curiosities.  They all believe that they have an edge on the truth.

My concern in this post is not to debate who has the best conspiracy theory or the merits of each position.  We all have our views, but, as a Christian, I see that God’s view is all that matters (Prov. 21:2).  What I wish to discuss, then, is to what extent the Christian should approach conspiracy theories differently.

The Christian and Conspiracy Theories

Given that we all accept some conspiracy theory or another (whether or not we are honest with ourselves to admit this), I think we can safely say that it is not wrong to be a conspiracy theorist.  From the very inception of Christianity, conspiracies existed.  The early church was aware of plots to discredit the resurrection and the celebration of the Eucharist.  I suppose that for the first few hundred years of the church’s existence, most Christians would have been considered hardcore conspiracy theorists.  All this said, I think there are two important virtues for Christians to develop in regard to their politics:

  • Be guarded.  Some conspiracy theories are overtly sexist, racist, or anti-Christian.  These positions are not fitting for a child of God.
  • Be wise.  Let your view be critiqued by everyone (Prov. 11:14).  Become aware of the inconsistencies of your position and the foibles of those who hold it.  Don’t turn off your critical thinking (1 Thess. 5:21)!

There are also a number of issues to avoid:

  • Don’t let it steal your joy.  When your favorite political team is winning and your cause is moving forward, don’t let it be the source of your joy, because as quickly as you derive joy from its success, you will also be driven to despair when you see it fail.  The more “outside the mainstream” you begin to see yourself, the more alienated you will feel.  As you proceed down this path of loneliness and sadness, there is little fruit that resembles the Gospel.  Do a quick reality check.  Ask yourself honestly about how you respond to the success or failure of your political worldview.
  • Don’t let it steal your focus.  What consumes the better part of your internet research, Youtube views, Facebook posts, or conversations?  Is it your political views or is it Christ (Matt. 6:33)?  We claim that Jesus is the Lord and the Master of our lives and all we can think about is politics.  We say that Jesus is the King of the Universe, but for some reason we fear the petty political leaders that come and go as surely as night turns to day (cf. Psalm 2). If Jesus is King of all, then why do we allow ourselves to be consumed or even worry with the state of politics.  Politics is a sad substitution for the Savior.  Idols come in many shapes and sizes, and, unfortunately this is one of them.  Spend some time considering what is really important in this life and the life to come (Luke 12:4-5).
  • Don’t let it motivate your spirituality.  You and I should be witnessing and sharing Christ whether the end of times is at hand or not.  Don’t let your concerns about anti-Christian legislation, unifying world governments, or decline in government care for the poor fuel your spirituality.  Let the Holy Spirit be the source of your motivation and strength.  Here’s a quick reality check: if all the banks, or liberals, or conservatives disappeared tonight, would you still be as motivated to live for and share Christ as you are today?
  • Don’t let it give you a superiority complex.  Read Colossians 2.  These were people who thought they had the corner on the market of truth.   Be careful not to go down this same road.  Be careful once you begin to feel that you have access to special insights that the rest of humanity and other Christians have missed out on.  Be careful once you begin to feel that you have special insights have allowed you to see faults in others that they themselves do not see.  Be careful when you start doubting the authenticity of others’ beliefs on the basis of their politics.  As soon as we start thinking that we’ve figured out the deep secrets of our opponents, we become the Illuminati that we feared from the beginning!
  • Don’t let it become your identity in the culture.  We are commanded to be making disciples of Christ, not our politics.  If your talking points with your co-workers include controversial political statements, consider whether you are opening the door of the Gospel to them or shutting it down (and bolting it shut???).  We ought to be circumspect in what we say, so that all of it may point to Christ (Col. 4:2).  May it never be said that our political views kept someone from coming to Christ.
  • Don’t let it become your identity in the church.  The church is the place where we are to minister to each other and to glorify God.  Don’t get caught up in empty discussions (1 Tim. 6:20-21).  This is not profitable for your brothers and sisters.  Never assume that they all believe like you do.  Never try to use the church as a platform for your opinions on world events.  Always ask for prayer for your government, but never target particular politicians or parties in your speech.  This is divisive and destructive.
  • Don’t let it destroy your family.  Almost every person I know who holds strong political views and can’t avoid talking about them with others who don’t hold them ends up driving people away.  Some of these people have told me that they don’t really mind.  The truth hurts and some people may not want to be their friends.  I could question whether this is a biblical position, but I digress.  I’d rather pose this question.  Does your love for your flavor of politics demonstrate love for your spouse?  In other words, have you stopped to consider the effect your clamor for your political views has had on your wife and whether people avoid her in order to avoid your obnoxious political rants?

In conclusion, I would hesitate to tell anyone to abandon their conspiracies, but I would encourage all Christians to hold them lightly.  We should all pursue politics to the glory of God and vote our conscience.  I would encourage everyone (no matter what political system you subscribe to) to consider your politics through the grid above and see what you need to change.  I know I’ve got some work to do.

“Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.  But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.” (Isa. 8:12-13)

Is Ambition Good or Bad?

This question has batted around in my head off and on for a number of years.  It seems like the question is answered differently depending on whom the question is posed to.  The answer also seems to vary depending on the definition or the circumstances surrounding the ambition.  So before we make a decision on the matter, I think it best to define what we mean and then draw some conclusions.

Ambition can be defined variously, but for our purposes I would like to think of it as the desire for advancement or success.  I believe that this desire has been ingrained in the heart of every man, woman, and child since the dawn of time.  It is the Adamic compulsion to take dominion over creation that forms the core of ambition.  Ambition separates the proverbial wise man from the foolish man, because it drives him away from laziness and towards productivity.  So in its purest and natural form, ambition is a healthy drive that motivates us all to strive and to achieve and to succeed.

But there is a dark side of ambition too.  We’ve all seen its consequences.  It starts so young and innocently.  It begins as the child who abandons their playmate in order to hang out with the more popular kids.  But it only gets uglier.  It is the dad who is too busy pursuing his career that he has no time for his children.  It is the wife who is so caught up in her own dreams that she leaves her husband.  It is the athlete who is so intent on scoring that his team looses the game.  It is the musician who is overcome with chasing success that he abandons everyone who really matters in life and becomes a recluse.  It is the pastor who is so consumed with the bigness of the auditorium, giving, and attendance that he misses the bigness of the peoples’ need.  Ambition turns dark and hurtful when it is turned inward.  Self-centered ambition is, no doubt, one of the greatest plagues of our era.

Thankfully there is hope.  In the Gospel I find that Jesus has succeeded fully in my behalf.  There is nothing more for me to chase.  There is no achievement, no skill, no paygrade, no rank, no praise, no fame, no experience that will ever make me happy, for Christ came to die to fill all those desires in my behalf.  Now I find myself motivated by a holy ambition.  Driven by grace rather than will-power and driven towards God rather than myself, I find joy in pursuing God’s will for my life.  The Gospel turns my ambition around.  Rather than wasting my life chasing my shadow, Jesus Christ turns my ambition outward and upward.