is a fictitious
character. He, nonetheless, draws from a combination
of persons I have known over the years. Such appear
to be more insightful than the general run of folk.
In this regard, “Go to the ant, you sluggard;
consider its ways and be wise. It has no commander,
or overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions
in summer and gathers its food at harvest” (Prov.
6:6-8). Unaware of this text as a child, I recall
crouching over an anthill, watching its inhabitants
scurry back and forth. I was impressed by their
activity, and wondered how they managed to
In greater detail, the wise
person welcomes instruction; with understanding,
gains insight; with insight, skill in living; with
skill, the ability to plan ahead; with all, to
orient life toward God and his gracious purposes.
Conversely, the fool resists instruction;
otherwise put, is obstinate; as the saying goes:
“resembles an accident waiting to happen”; as such,
is a menace to self and others. While the simple
person is open to influence, and consequently a
candidate for a worthy mentor.
Wisdom literature is more
associated with general revelation, that which is
accessible to all; rather than special revelation,
which is revealed in the course of human history.
Whereas, prophetic literature accommodates special
revelation. Given its signature expression, “Thus
God says.” Moreover, apocalyptic literature is still
more inaccessible. Since it relies on graphic
imagery to convey its truth.
Worthy of note, sage instruction
is perhaps the most pervasive, although not
exclusive, feature of Jesus’ public ministry. See in
this regard Ben Witherington III’s carefully
reasoned The Jesus Quest. For instance, Jesus
allowed: “I will show you what he is like who comes
to me and hears my words and puts them into
practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug
down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a
flood came, the torrent struck that house but could
not shake it, because it was well built” (Luke
6:48). Conversely, the one who fails to put his
words into practice resembles “a man who built a
house on the ground without a foundation. The moment
the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its
destruction was complete.” Thus drawing on imagery
familiar to his audience.
Some themes or texts surface on
multiple occasions, sometimes with greater detail or
in a different context. Mention may be made of this.
Otherwise, it is simply a feature to be taken into
consideration. Since repetition can serve a
legitimate purpose, if not overdone.
* * *
Sage surprisingly refers to
himself from time to time as a teenager. Since he
had noted in Jewish tradition that three score and
ten years constitutes a lifetime, after which one
starts over. With this in mind, he calculates that
he was experiencing his second adolescence. This
permits him to attribute any unpredictable behavior
or comment to a lack of maturity. Others soon picked
up on this, and expand on his line of reasoning. For
instance, someone would admonish him to come of
age. Or they would say, “Surely one time is
enough.” Not uncommonly coupled with a snicker or
If not for this reason, then some
other, one gets the impression that he is keenly
aware of the passing of time. For instance, he would
say: “If one fails to learn from the past, he or she
is destined to repeat its failure.” Or observe, “One
is less driven by the past then drawn by the
future.” He, nevertheless, insists that we must live
in the present. One step at a time, with resolve to
make the most of our opportunities.
He not uncommonly confirms his
opinions by quoting from Scripture. Accordingly,
“There is a time for everything, and a season for
everything under the sun” (Eccles. 3:1). In greater
detail, “a time to be born and a time to die, a time
to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a
time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to
build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to
mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones
and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a
time to refrain.” In still greater detail, “a time
to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and
a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to
mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a
time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and
a time for peace.”
Along with select commentary.
Such as Felix’s exclamation, “That is enough for
now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I
will send for you” (Acts 24:25). “If in fact he ever
finds it convenient,” the wise one would cynically
He is also inclined to be
deliberate. Along with the refrain, “Act in haste,
and repent at leisure.” It seems to him that one
should consider all of the relevant data, in the
light of the available options. And to take into
consideration how these might impact on others.
Since persons live in a social context.
Examples proliferate. On one
occasion, a youthful woman was considering whether
to marry her suitor. “Only if you think of it in
terms of a covenant,” Sage counseled her. One’s
feelings can change radically, while commitment
endures. Consequently, he recalled the words from
the wedding vows: “for better and for worse, in
sickness and in health.”
On another occasion, a couple was
considering relocating. It seemed for the better,
but meant moving away from their parents. “Honor
your father and mother,” Sage cautioned. In Jewish
tradition, this involved obedience, showing respect,
taking care of their needs—especially in their
declining years, and with appropriate memorial.
While this did not rule out their relocating, he
thought it something to be considered.
It goes without saying that such
a line of reasoning often runs counter to cultural
standards. So from time to time, he quotes the text:
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of the
world, but be transformed by the renewing of your
mind” (Rom. 12:2). Only then can one determine God’s
will and experience his blessing.
Even so, he is of the opinion
that we are a work in progress. While some have made
more progress than others. Nor does he assume that
progress was inevitable, since some appear to
surrender ground previously claimed.
* * *
A NEW DAY
Sage is an early riser. It
appears to him that dawn signals a new day, along
with the opportunities it affords. Conversely,
sunset alerts one to the need for relaxation and
rest. Consequently, the invention of electricity
seems somewhat of a distraction from the natural
order. Not that he is unduly critical, since it
provides desirable alternatives.
When pressed concerning his
perspective, he often quotes the saying: “Early to
bed and early to rise makes a person healthy,
wealthy, and wise.” Healthy since it fits into one’s
environ, wealthy because it encourages industry, and
wise in that one learns from experience. All things
considered, a course to be commended.
There is also a more subtle
feature of Sage’s reasoning. Qualifications aside,
it seems to him that each day marks a new beginning.
So that as a rule one need not dwell on the
unfortunate experiences of the past. While, in fact,
he or she might hope to have profited from insights
obtained. So that he views each day as a blessing.
Recalling the hymn lyrics, he
would admonish persons: “Count your blessings, name
them one by one, and it will surprise you what the
Lord has done.” “Actually!” he would exclaim. After
which, he would list several blessings he had
experienced that very day. The feeling of
anticipation as he faced the day’s activities, a
brief visit from a neighbor, and being able to
complete a task set before him.
“This is the day the Lord has
made,” he enthusiastically affirms; “let us rejoice,
and be glad in it” (Psa. 118:24). When asked to
elaborate, he observes: “The Lord is good.”
Consequently, he does good—without exception.
As such, he is eminently worthy of our appreciative
obedience and abiding trust.
This gives rise to C. S. Lewis’
notion of complex love. As indicative of his
unwavering love in context of a fallen world. For
that reason, hard love. Or as Lewis puts it,
“Because God loves us, he attempts to make us
Not that everyone signs on to
Sage’s perspective. Like a certain person who had
difficulty getting going in the morning. When
hearing one admonish that we rejoice, he allowed: “I
feel like choking him.” While meant as a humorous
Whatever the day holds forth,
Sage pleads: “Let me be singing when the evening
comes.” When the good and bad are projected in a
proper light. In assurance that all things work
together for good for those who love and serve the
Lord (cf. Rom. 8:28). Hence, embracing life in
realistic terms. As if living in God’s world, and by
his enabling grace.
“He is astonishing,” one of his
neighbors observed. “He always seems to see a light
at the end of the tunnel.” A good that can come out
of something undesirable. As a precedent for others,
and a testimony to his unwavering faith.
“Would that there were more like
him,” another neighbor commented. Thus setting him
over against other less commendable acquaintances.
“A true friend,” a third chimed
in. Recalling the saying, “A friend in need is a
friend indeed.” At this, the others nodded their
heads in agreement.
* * *
In the village culture where he
was raised, Sage was considered a handy man.
There is admittedly little anonymity in a village
culture. Which gives rise to the observation that
one does not need to signal a turn, because everyone
knows where the person is going.
This, in turn, differentiates
between the local residents and those from outside.
For instance, it is common not to divulge certain
information to strangers. Not only for reason of
security, but presumably so as to enhance community.
Now a handy man is one who
is adept at various tasks. Consequently, he was
readily called upon for advice or for assistance.
Needless to say, Sage is happy to oblige.
“What seems to be the problem?”
he inquires. Thus showing a genuine concern, and
willing to explore the options.
“I don’t rightly know,” the
supplicant earnestly replies. While alerted to the
fact that one initially needs to determine what has
gone wrong. If, in fact, something is amiss.
“If it is not broken, don’t fix
it,” Sage allows. Which serves as a reminder that we
may have unrealistic expectations. What he demeaned
as the utopian complex, to be staunchly
Once the problem is identified,
it is necessary to review the alternatives. Here
creativity plays a large role. So that he carefully
weighs the pros and cons of each option. Only then
is he inclined to advise a course of action. Even
so, he sometimes prefers to sleep on it,
before making a final decision.
It may come as a surprise that he
thinks of Jesus as a handy man. Initially, in that
he was schooled in the carpenter’s trade. Although
some think this was more along the line of a rock
mason, given the means of construction. In any case,
it involved working with a range of materials to
build, repair, and improve living conditions.
In this regard, Sage imagined
Jesus’ hands as those of a worker. Certainly not
those of an aristocrat. Not a member of the
so-called privileged class. Hence, one with
whom the common person can readily identify.
Now he also concludes that Jesus
carried over this disposition into his instruction.
One of his favorite examples was derived from that
of the wise and foolish builders. As touched on
earlier, Jesus allowed: “Therefore everyone who
hears these words of mine and puts them into
practice is like a wise man who built his house on
the rock. The rain came down, the steams rose, and
the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it
did not fall, because it had its foundation on a
rock” (Matt. 7:24-25). Indeed, a wise person.
“But everyone who hears these
words of mine and does into put them into practice
is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.
The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds
blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a
great crash.” How tragic!
“Adversity is inevitable,” Sage
concludes. “The wise person anticipates what it will
take to manage it.” “Hope for the best,” he adds,
“but prepare for the worst.” In this and other ways,
he adds to his reputation as a handy man.
* * *
BIRDS OF A FEATHER
As often allowed, “Birds of a
feather flock together.” Otherwise expressed, “One
is known by the company he or she keeps.” This is
thought to be in keeping with one’s comfort zone.
Sage appears to be an exception
in some respects. Granted, he enjoys fellowship with
like-minded individuals. However, he seems to show
special interest in the more wayward individuals in
his community. Like the youth who enjoyed stirring
up conflict. Not that he would as a rule
participate, except for urging others to do so.
“Why do you put up with him?” a
perplexed friend inquired. “Surely you don’t condone
“Surely not!” Sage exclaimed.
Then, as was often his custom, he turned to a
passage from Scripture to illustrate his intention.
Now “the Pharisees and the teachers of the law
muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and east with
them’” (Luke 15:2). The term sinner,
as employed in this instance, pertains to those who
were religiously non-observant.
Whereupon, Jesus told them this
parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and
loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine
in the open country and go after the lost sheep
until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully
puts it on his shoulders and goes home.” Calling his
friends and neighbors together, he admonishes
them: “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.”
Sage then paused momentarily for
effect. “Now both Jesus and those questioning his
behavior emphasized the importance of repentance,”
he observed. However, they differed in an important
regard. Jesus befriended such persons, and as a
result worked their recovery. While those caught up
in the birds of a feather mentality insist that they
repent before associating with them.
“I tell you that in the same way
there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one
sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous
persons who do not need to repent,” Jesus earnestly
concluded. Why? Because that which was lost is
“Then, too, all sin,” Sage
continued. By sin he meant any lack of
conformity to God’s will, embracing both sins of
commission and omission—the latter often being the
more grievous. In greater detail, he observed that
we are supposed to dwell on those things which
morally uplifting. Where actually our attention is
readily distracted. “How often in a given day?” he
rhetorically inquired. “Perhaps hundreds of
occasions.” At which, he quoted a favorite saying:
“There is so much good in the worst of us, and so
much bad in the best of us, that one should not be
unduly critical of the rest of us.”
Just then the troublesome youth
was seen approaching. “Speak of the Devil,” the
friend commented, “and he shows up.” He then took a
hasty departure. In hopes of finding a secure
Conversely, Sage welcomed the new
arrival. Perhaps, he thought to himself, I have
found a lost sheep. If so, there will be rejoicing
in heaven. In which case, he welcomed the notion
that birds of a feather flock together. Since he was
prone to rejoice with them. At which, he began to
sing softly: “When the saints go marching in, when
the saints go marching in; Lord, I want to be in
that number, when the saints go marching in.”
* * *
BEWARE OF IDOLATRY
God made man and man made idols.
So Sage reminds his companions from time to time.
“Everyone is religious in the sense that they pursue
some ultimate concern,” he would elaborate. For
instance, some are enamored of food. So while others
eat to live, they live to eat.
“Idols are not always objects,”
he insisted. “They may consist of ideas, ideals, or
accomplishments.” In this regard, “It is not
necessarily the blatant evil we do but the lesser
good that distracts from the greater good.” Which,
in creedal terms, consists of glorifying God and
enjoying him forever.
In greater detail, we usually
associate idols with some artifact. Such as a clay
bull, meant to assure fertility. There being
different degrees of sophistication. So that while
some think that the deity is actually present,
others perceive of it as symbolic. At this juncture,
Sage paused to see if there was general agreement.
Such was the case.
So that he continued. Others are
impressed with an aspect of nature. Some celestial
entity or prominent feature of the landscape.
Repudiated as being in violation of the Israelites’
covenant with the Lord, having “worshiped other
gods, bowing down to them or the sun or the moon or
the stars of the sky” (Deut. 17:3).
Moreover, idolatry often
expresses itself in syncretism. Accordingly, the
Israelites were cautioned: “Do not set up any wooden
Asherah pole beside the altar you build to the Lord
your God, and do not erect a sacred stone for these
the Lord your God hates” (Deut. 16:31-32). “One
cannot serve God and idols,” Sage concludes. “He or
she must choose between the two.”
This readily brought to mind
Joshua’s closing address. “Now fear the Lord and
serve him with all faithfulness,” he admonished the
people. “Throw away the gods you forefathers
worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve
the Lord” (Joshua 24:14). In this manner, show
respect for the Sovereign Ruler, who demonstrates
compassion for his wayward creatures.
“But if serving the Lord seems
undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this
day whom you will serve. Whether the gods of your
forefathers, or Living Lord. One must choose
between the alternatives, and not invoke both.
“Far be it from us to forsake the
Lord to serve other gods!” the people exclaimed. “It
was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our
fathers up out of Egypt, from the land of slavery,
and performed those great signs before our eyes.”
God himself rather than through some lesser
deity. At which, Joshua allowed that while their
intention might be good, they lacked the
capability—unless the Lord would provide.
“No!” the populace protested. “We
will serve the Lord.” Without compromise, lack of
resolve, or regardless of circumstances.
“You are witnesses against
yourselves that you have chosen to serve the Lord,”
Joshua then declared. So they agreed. “Now then,” he
added, “throw away the foreign gods that are among
you and yield your hearts to the Lord.” Do not
procrastinate, as is so often the case. As it is
said, “Do not put off to tomorrow what can best be
done today.” Otherwise, it is less likely that one
carry through his or her good intention.
* * *
Sage is amazingly curious. Little
seems to escape his notice, and gives rise to
endless questions. In this regard, he attempts to
justify his behavior with the saying, “The more we
know, the more we realize that we do not know.”
One day he was walking along the
beach, when he saw a sand castle. Now he could have
reasoned that this was built by an enterprising
crab, but this seemed highly unlikely. As he
continued, he came across a young girl with shovel
in hand. This appeared to be a more likely
alternative, and upon inquiry, it was confirmed.
Then there was a highly
argumentative person, who delighted in controversy.
Consequently, he would take issue with whatever a
person said. This created a situation where persons
would alter their positions to conform to his, so
that he would shift to counter their agreement. This
seemed amusing to them.
But Sage was not content to poke
fun at this obnoxious individual, and so explored
the matter in greater depth. Upon doing so, he
decided that it provided a sense of identity. Which
is to say, I argue and therefore I am. He further
concluded that this was only one of many ways that
persons employ for the purpose. Whereupon, he began
to construct a list, as a means to better relate to
persons and their needs.
“Why do people watch so much
television?” he reflected on another occasion. It
did not seem to him a very constructive use of their
time. He first supposed that a careful study of the
programming would provide an answer. However, he
found that the agenda of those programming was quite
different from that of most of their viewers.
Consequently, there was no simple correlation
between the two.
Upon further reflection, he
concluded that the programmers often reveal an
elitist mind set. That is, they consider themselves
better informed or more perceptive than the general
public. Conversely, they often seemed more out of
touch with reality. “Strange, he concluded, “I will
have to give this matter further thought.”
He also observed strange
abnormalities. As to why a cat would seem friendly
on one occasion, but appear intimidated on another.
Especially when the circumstances appeared
unaltered. This led him to conclude that subjective
features were an ingredient. But these appear
obscure, if not altogether inexplicable.
He also noted the ambiguity
associated with sexual harassment. Such as when a
girl is complemented for her attractive appearance.
While some seemed to welcome this, others feel
intimidated. This brought to mind a humorous
interchange, concerning a young man who held open
the door for a girl to enter. “You did that because
I am a woman,” she indignantly protested.
“No,” he assured her, “but
because I am a gentleman.” As if representative of
two different sub-cultures. Which is perhaps the
“Why am I forever asking
questions?” he pondered. Since there seemed to be no
simple explanation. Sometimes for one reason, and
sometimes for another. Perhaps not for the seemingly
apparent reason, hiding some baser motif. “How
strange,” he concluded.
* * *
“Little things add up,” Sage
assures his associates. Such as a friendly smile,
known to lend encouragement. The more so when
recalled from time to time throughout the day, as if
an earnest of good things to come.
Then when accompanied with other
constructive features of life together. Such an
appreciative expression. Rather than taking things
for granted. “Thank you” and “your welcome” being
representative of civil discourse.
Moreover, when we give attention
to lesser things, it primes us to engage
constructively in matters of greater import.
Otherwise, we are more likely to fail. Recalling the
commendation, “Well done, good an faithful servant!
You have been faithful with a few things; I will put
you in charge of many things” (Matt. 25:21).
Not to be overlooked, our
faithfulness in regard to lesser concerns can be the
means of soliciting the help of others. So that the
corporate result is far greater than the initial
endeavor. It thus encourages us to think in social
terms, and not strictly as isolated individuals.
Carrying this line of reasoning
further, God employs the good we do to accomplish
much. While in contrast to restraining the influence
of evil. Accordingly, he “punishes the sin of the
fathers to the third and fourth generation of those
who hate me, but showing love to a thousand
generations of those who love me and keep my
commandments” (Exod. 20:5-6). Three and four
being in sharp contrast to a thousand.
All of which recalls a time when
a troubled youngster shared with Sage his concern
about falling out of favor with his mother. “What
can I do to turn things around?” he inquired.
Supposing it would take some major effort on his
part, and even then with uncertainty.
“Start with something simple,” it
was suggested. “Your mother would like you to keep
your bedroom neat. Do it!” It does not require lot
of effort, and it shows that he is making an effort
to cooperate. This, in turn, will bring to mind
other ways of improving the relationship.
“Then show appreciation for
anything your mother does on your behalf,” he
continued. If not actually something you welcome,
then for her good intention. Consequently,
“Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative,
and don’t mess with the in between.” Thus drawing on
a saying circulated in their village culture.
“I have heard it said that the
flapping of a butterfly’s wings can in the course of
time result in a violent storm,” he mused. With
reference to the so-called Chaos Paradigm.
Otherwise expressed, a small variation in original
conditions can result in major alterations. Whether
for good or bad, but preferably for good.
This idea intrigued the youthful
inquirer. Since it seemed to hold out hope for
well-meaning, although seemingly inconsequential,
efforts on his behalf. Meanwhile, he supposed that
once in the flow of things, the situation would
improve. “Thank you,” he appreciatively responded to
“Your welcome,” Sage replied. At
this, they hugged one another. Upon taking his
leave, the youth waved—accompanied by a broad grin.
While with the intent to clean up his bedroom, in
keeping with the wishes of his mother.
* * *
THE KNIFE EDGE
“We need to steer a straight
course between opposite errors,” Sage allows on
occasion. He has in mind what was commonly referred
to as the knife edge, a ridge connecting two
peaks. It slopes down on both sides, so that one had
to be careful not to slide down one or the other.
Thus in focusing on one problem, a person is
vulnerable to its opposite.
constitutes such a dilemma. In the pursuit of
liberty, one may overlook the need for security.
Conversely, in the attempt to provide security, he
or she may unnecessarily limit freedom. While both
are legitimate concerns.
Examples proliferate. For
instance, a youngster was told that he must not
chase his ball out into the road. Lest he fail to
take into consideration an approaching vehicle.
However, the time would come when his parents
thought he could act responsibly. So he was
permitted to recover the ball on condition that he
looked both ways before doing so.
When he was old enough to attend
school, it was necessary to cross a railroad track.
Again, on condition that he initially look both
ways. One day he forgot to do so, and when realizing
his mistake, he returned, looked both ways, and
crossed over. What was going through his mind?
Perhaps he was thinking that if asked whether he had
remembered to take a proper precaution, he could
reply in the affirmative. Otherwise, he it may
simply have struck him as humorous.
“The time will come when you no
longer turn to your parents for advice,” Sage
allows. “Then you are to bear in mind what you have
been taught, and act accordingly.” In a creative
manner, that blends change with continuity.
If the former at the expense of the latter, then
failing to learn from the past. In this regard,
those who do not learn from the past are destined to
repeat its failures. If the latter with disregard
for the former, then to fall prey to legalism. Thus
perpetuating meaningless behavior out of a false
sense of piety.
James admonishes: “Everyone
should be quick to listen, and slow to speak”
(1:19). Everyone, so without exception. While
quick to listen welcomes the input of others,
it does not imply that we accept what they say
uncritically. Steer between these extremes.
Likewise, slow to speak
does not suggest that we remain silent when a word
of caution or appreciation is appropriate.
Conversely, try to determine what is at issue before
presuming to comment on it. Take into consideration
the perspective of others. Allow conversation to
develop in a natural way, rather than forcing some
In addition, be “slow to become
angry.” While appropriate in some instances, it
should be restrained. Otherwise, it runs the danger
of compounding the problem. “As you well know,” the
Sage acknowledges to the circle of friends listening
to his counsel.
“Do not simply listen to the
word, and so deceive yourselves,” James continues.
“Do what it says.” Learn in order to do, not simply
for the purpose of understanding. Knowledge in and
of itself cultivates pride. While application void
of instruction is deceptive.
Now the knife edge is not
something to be feared if we negotiate it with care.
First, recognize that we may err in one of two
directions. Then focus on the way ahead. In doing
so, show concern for others. Finally, persist in the
face of formidable obstacles.
* * *
Sage is quite content to spend
long periods of time in reflection. After which, he
wants to associate with others. As for the former,
he thinks of it as cultivating a righteous resolve.
Conversely, the latter extends his social
relationships. In this regard, he allows: “No person
is an isolated island, but part of the continent.”
One of the exercises he greatly
enjoys recalls traditional Jewish blessings. As
before eating or drinking, “Bless the Lord our God,
Ruler of the universe, through whose word every
thing came to be.” At such time, he considers the
vast prerequisites necessary for life to exist. Then
with great diversity. Leading one scientist to
allow, “While we do not know how life came into
being, if it were to disappear, it assuredly would
Of course, Sage is well aware
that Jewish tradition closely associates creation
with maintenance. So that God is viewed as
dynamically involved in the preservation of life.
Accordingly, it qualifies as a prime reason for
expressing our appreciation.
When upon smelling a pleasant
aroma, “Bless the Lord our God, Ruler of the
universe, who creates fragrant trees.” Accordingly,
to allow that humans are sensate creatures. There
are the threshold feelings of the night—the coolness
against one’s flesh, the soft whisper of air after a
drying day, the earth oozing between his toes, the
sound of a distant dog protesting an intrusion, and
the sparkle of light against the pitch-black sky.
Such as not to be taken for granted, but the cause
When upon seeing the ocean,
“Bless the Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who
makes the work of creation.” “The earth is the
Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who
live in it, for he founded it upon the seas and
established it upon the waters” (Psa. 24:1-2). The
world in its entirety, and each individual person.
Upon seeing especially attractive
persons or landscape, “Bless the Lord our God, Ruler
of the universe, who incorporates such as these.” So
that the rabbis distinguished between appreciation
and lust, while commending the former. Which recalls
the story of the bloody-nosed Pharisee, who fearing
lest he lust after a woman, covered his eyes and
crashed into a wall. Meant as the subject of
Upon seeing exceptionally strange
looking people or other creatures, “Bless the Lord
our God, Ruler of the universe, who creates
diversity.” Since the ideal is not uniformity but
constructive diversity. As illustrated by the faith
community, “If they were all one part, where would
the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one
body” (1 Cor. 12:19-20).
Upon hearing exceptionally good
news, “Bless the Lord our God, Ruler of the
universe, who is good and does good.” Initially, he
is good. Without exception or vacillation.
Moreover, he does good. By way of divine
initiatives, which call upon humans to
Upon hearing unusually bad news,
“Bless the Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, the
true judge.” Since only he can rightly appraise
situations, and take appropriate action. So that
immeasurable good can come from seemingly tragic
situations, while favorable conditions can result in
apathy and indulgence. Bringing to mind Job’s
response, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken
away, may the name of the Lord be praised” (1:21).
Soliciting the chronicler’s commendation, “In all
this, Job did not sin by charging God with
* * *
The above notwithstanding, Sage
earnestly cautions: “Those who focus on time alone
to the virtual exclusion of time together are
inclined to distort reality.” Since humans are
social beings. This is the case from inception on.
Left to oneself, only eventually can one survive and
then often with great difficulty.
Moreover, given our religious
orientation. So that we share a common trait,
expressed with reference to our Father in heaven.
As such, an experience meant to be shared. In
corporate worship, conversation, and service.
However, social skills vary from
person to person. Jeb was one of those who found it
difficult to build relationships. As a result, he
became increasingly isolated. “What am I to do about
it?” he inquired of Sage. There was an unmistakable
note of desperation in his voice.
“Some are more socially disposed
than others,” Sage allowed. “Given their
circumstances and how they respond to them.” It did
not seem to him that this is a problem, unless
carried to an extreme. “Some are more inner directed
than others,” he added by way of clarification.
“Yes, I tend to be inner
directed,” Jeb observed. “So I reach decisions on my
own, without consulting others.” Whether for better
“Then, too, we tend to function
within our comfort zone,” Sage continued—touching on
an issue mentioned earlier in passing. If in a more
solitary manner, then to continue in that regard. If
not, to further refine our social attributes. “Even
so, we can all improve,” he added.
“I could use some coaching,” Jeb
acknowledged. A smile lingered before it was
replaced by a frown. A sense of humor eased the
situation for him, but required assistance.
“It will perhaps help to select
two or three persons who seem more congenial,” Sage
advised. “Explore areas of mutual interest. This can
lead to shared activity: time at the library,
fishing, or whatever.” This tends to bond persons
together. Meanwhile, it primes persons to establish
relationships with those of less similar interests.
Jeb solemnly nodded his head.
This seemed reasonable to him. In any case, it was
assuredly worth the effort.
“On the other hand, you might
want to consider a more difficult challenge,” Sage
reasoned. “Someone who seems aloof or even
obnoxious.” In this regard, he recalled a person who
was predictably critical of others. So much so that
persons withdrew from her. Until a certain
individual decided to befriend her. As a result, she
became more civil and accepting of those she
encountered. “You might become the means of helping
someone else, and in the process, cultivating your
own potential,” he concluded.
“Or I could dismally fail,” Jeb
protested. The prospect of failure was not in the
least being appealing.
“Hope for the best, and prepare
for the worst,” Sage advised as he had done on
previous occasions. “Brothers, we do not want you to
be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to
grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope” (1
Thess. 4:13). So that we are reminded of the role
hope plays in the course of life. Yet, prepare
for adversity. Consequently, cultivate a
* * *
SWORD OF THE SPIRIT
“Be strong,” Paul admonishes his
readers (Eph. 6:1). Put on the armor of God, so as
to resist the Devil’s schemes. “For our
struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against
the rulers, against the authorities, against the
powers of this dark world and against the forces of
evil in the heavenly realms.” The idiom allows for
the fact that there may be political and social
forces aligned in a conflict of cosmic proportions.
“Therefore put on the full armor
of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may
be able to stand your ground, and after you have
done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the
belt of truth buckled around your waist, and the
breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your
feet fitted with the readiness that come from the
gospel of peace.” Draw upon all of the resources
available so that you may stand, repeated
three times for emphasis.
“In addition to all this, take up
the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish
all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the
helmet of salvation and the sword of the Lord, which
is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all
occasions.” Initially, with reference to the
shield of faith, then as pertains to the
helmet of salvation, the sword of the Lord—which
is the word of God, and in continual prayer.
The imagery concerning the
sword of the Lord especially appeals to Sage.
Accordingly, he engaged in the memorization of
Scripture from time to time. When asked concerning
his favorite texts, the following surfaced. Proving
a helpful insight into his mind set.
“Those who honor me I will honor,
but those who despise me will be despised” (1 Sam.
2:30). Sage was quite aware that honor was more
prized in some cultures than others. However, he
insisted on its importance. In an around about way,
so as to honor God with the anticipation that he
will show his approval. Qualifications aside.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall
not want” (Psa. 23:1). His grace is sufficient. In
greater detail, “He makes me to lie down in green
pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he
restores my soul,” I shall not want. “He
guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s
sake,” I shall not want. “Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death, I will
fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and
staff comfort me,” I shall not want. “You
prepare a table before me in the presence of my
enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup
overflows,” I shall not want. “Surely
goodness and love will follow me all the days of my
life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.” Indeed, I shall not want.
“For God so loved the world that
he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes
in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For
God did not send his Son into the world to condemn
the world, but to save the world through him” (John
3:16-17). “What wondrous love is this!” Sage would
exclaim. It sometimes moved him to tears.
“Yes, I am coming soon. Amen.
Come Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20). “His return is
imminent,” Sage allowed. “No one knows the precise
time, nor is it beneficial to speculate. Needless to
say, one should be prepared. Live every day as if it
were the last, in anticipation of what will come to
pass. Thus rely on the sword of the Lord.
* * *
“Consider it pure joy, my
brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,
because you know that the testing of your faith
develops perseverance” (James 1:2). Sage often
quoted this text, as a means of encouraging persons
in their resolve to follow Jesus. Often so as to
address an unspoken need.
In greater detail, he is of the
opinion that one should get an early start. “Train
up a child in the way the should go, and when he is
old he will not turn from it” (Prov. 22:6). Assuming
that the offspring is amenable to instruction.
Otherwise, a devout legacy is wasted.
“Maintain a good pace,” Sage also
admonishes. He has in mind Gil Dobbs, the flying
parson, who was said to build a lead so that
lacking a strong kick at the end, he would prevail.
A person who illustrated by his athletic prowess the
spiritual attributes for success. While indicative
of the fact that metaphor plays a prominent role in
“Then finish strong!” he
exclaims. In this regard, “Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death, I will
fear not evil, for you are with me, your rod and
your staff, they comfort me” (Psa. 23:4). Recalling
the deep ravines in the Judean hill country. As
pertains to any threatening experience, not least of
which is the approach of death. In turn, bringing to
mind the before mentioned gospel refrain, “May I be
singing when the evening comes.”
“You live in another world,” one
of his friends remarked. Or so it seemed, since Sage
dwelt on life in context of eternity.
“You are welcome to join me,” he
allowed. Since he was always ready to mentor persons
who showed a willingness to receive instruction. His
response characteristically being accompanied by a
“Perhaps another time,” his
friend responded. While if not now, less likely in
the future. Causing Sage’s smile to vanish.
“I have decided to follow Jesus,”
Sage mused to himself. “No turning back, no turning
back.” His resolve remaining undiminished.
“Though I may wander, I still
will follow. No turning back, no turning back.”
Recalling times when he had been distracted by some
competing concern. Not uncommonly some lesser good,
than blatant evil. So that one needs to keep life’s
priorities in order.
“The world behind me, the cross
before me. No turning back, no turning back.”
Highlighting the cost of discipleship. As set over
against accommodation to the ways of the world.
Consequently, in but distinct from
one’s social environ.
“Though none go with me, still I
will follow. No turning back, no turning back.” As
in this instance, where Sage’s friend declined to go
with him. A disheartening experience repeated many
times over. In greater detail, to follow Jesus
rather than some other. To follow Jesus, then into
community. To follow Jesus, then into ministry.
“Will you decide now to follow
Jesus? No turning back, no turning back.” It calls
for a decision. Not emotion, although emotions play
an important role in life. Not reason, although
reason serves a legitimate purpose. Instead, with
the emphasis on volition, coupled with resolve. “No
turning back, no turning back.” At which Sage’s
confident smile returned.
* * *
ON WINGS LIKE EAGLES
“Even youths grow tired and
weary, and young men stumble and fall,” Sage readily
acknowledges, “but those who hope in the Lord will
renew their strength. They will soar on wings like
eagles, they will run and not grow weary, they will
walk and not be faint” (Isa. 40:30-31). In this
regard, he recalls his youth. When it seemed to him
that at times he had boundless energy. But even
then, he sometimes grew weary.
On such occasions, he seems at a
loss as where to turn. Since he could no longer
manage on his own, and needed assistance. At times,
someone was available. Otherwise, he was left to
fend for himself. Bringing to mind his limitations,
even as a youth.
In contrast, those who hope in
the Lord will renew their strength. As when Sage
would take a dip in the stream after having working
in the field during the day. After which, he would
enjoy his evening meal, and a time of relaxation.
Only to repeat some variation of the cycle the next
day, and the day after.
The hope with promise is in
the Lord. Not in itself, nor in some other
alternative. Of which there are many. Requiring that
hope be focused.
With what result? They will
renew their strength. By way of restoration, and
without qualification. “Blessed assurance!” Sage
Such will sour with wings like
eagles. In this regard, one of Sage’s favorite
dreams concerned flying like an eagle. He would
sweep down into a valley, and up over a bordering
ridge. He seemed oblivious to danger, and delighted
in the scene unfolding below him. Life seldom seemed
better than this.
Instead, he was destined to
trudge around on the ground. Unable to see beyond
the turn in the road. Wondering what he might
encounter. While envious of the eagle that soared
Moreover, they will run and
not grow weary. As unlikely a prospect as this
may appear. For how long? As long as it takes. So
Sage was confident that the Lord would provide
whatever was necessary for him to fulfill his
This brought to mind Mother
Teresa’s humorous comment, “I wished he were not so
optimistic.” Since she felt encouraged to expect
great things from God, along with the incentive to
undertake great things in his name.
Finally, they will walk and
not faint. Thus in descending order: from
souring with wings like eagles, via running without
growing weary, to walking and not in danger of
fainting. As if to remind us of the full range of
human experience, from the crest of a mountain to
the valley below.
Consequently, “Life is easy, when
you’re on the mountain, and you’ve got peace of
mind, like you’ve know. But things change, when
you’re down in the valley. Don’t lose faith, for
you’re never alone.”
“For the God on the mountain, is
still God in the valley. When things go wrong, He’ll
make it right. And the God of the good times is
still God in the bad times. The God of the day is
still God in the night.” “Just so!” Sage heartily
* * *
As a rule, Sage was of the
opinion that if one cannot say something good about
a person, don’t say anything. “It is easy to find
fault,” he observes on occasion. While overlooking
good intention and differing perspectives.
“Why do you look at the speck of
sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention
to the plank in your own eye?” Jesus protested. “You
hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye,
and then you will see clearly to remove the speck
from your brother’s eye” (Matt. 7:3, 5). Initially,
it should be noted that he did not single out any
particular person in this regard. It remained for
those listening to him to determine if they were
The comment was also calculated
to incite laughter. Given the absurdity of its
imagery. Humor can play a constructive role,
providing we laugh with rather than at
other persons. If not, it tends to be demeaning.
Perhaps most striking, there is a
difference of perspective when it comes to one’s own
faults and those attributed to others. As for the
former, there is a tendency to overlook them. As for
the latter, there is less leniency. Such was the
line of reasoning that raced through Sage’s as he
appeals for civility.
In greater detail, civility
implies respect. Of the other individual,
fashioned in the divine image, and meant to act as a
steward of creation. Then in specific instances,
such as when admonished: “Honor your father and your
mother, so that you may live long in the land the
Lord your God is giving you” (Exod. 20:12). Or when
allowed, “Everyone must submit himself to the
governing authorities” (Rom. 13:1).
Likewise, it fosters kindness.
Accordingly, “make every effort to add to your faith
goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to your
knowledge, self-control; and to self-control,
perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to
godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly
kindness, love” (2 Peter 1:5-7). Thus kindness is
associated with similarly commendable behavior.
Then, too, consideration.
That is, be sensitive to how our behavior may effect
others. Otherwise, we are calculated to offend
persons, whether knowingly or not. Thus encouraging
them to respond in like manner, and further
compounding the problem.
In this manner, to cultivate
happiness. To be distinguished from having fun,
since the former requires restraint and discipline.
Consequently, it results from a meaningful
engagement with life, rather than a respite or means
Resulting in thoughtful
discourse. As touched on earlier, “Everyone
should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to
become angry” (James 1:19). Listening is thus
commended, while a quick response and inclination
toward anger is disapproved. This brings to mind the
saying, “Act in haste, and repent at leisure.”
Given the option, think the
best of others. There may be mitigating factors
that puts a person in an unfavorable light. Such as
early influences in life, which prove difficult to
overcome. As with the feeling of insecurity, so that
a person is put on the defensive. Or with the
failure to express oneself effectively.
Employ commendation in
preference to criticism. As graphically expressed,
carrots instead of clubs. In these and other
ways, emulate God’s disposition toward his wayward
* * *
One of Sage’s friends would
protest, “Hell no!” This was his way of objecting to
the idea of eternal punishment. It seemed to him
that this is cruel and inhumane.
Sage sees things differently.
Some years ago he visited Jerusalem, and descended
into the Hinnom Valley—from which it is thought that
Jesus derived his imagery of hell. Since at his time
it served as a place to deposit trash. Consequently,
flames smoldered day and night.
As Sage surveyed the scene, he
observed pot-shards protruding from the embankment.
He was told that some of these dated to the time of
Jesus. With this in mind, it suddenly occurred to
him that hell accommodates those who no longer serve
the purpose for which they were created. As noted
earlier, to glorify God and enjoy his presence
forever. This brought to mind C. S. Lewis’
observation that hell is the place a loving and
compassionate deity provides for those who will
accept nothing better. This cast hell in a much
However, his friend was not
persuaded. While citing the objectionable fact that
there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth
(cf. Matt. 8:12). He supposed that this meant that
those destined for hell would be inflicted with
painful and insensitive punishment.
“Perhaps or perhaps not,” Sage
replied. “While weeping implies sorrow,
gnashing commonly expresses anger.” So that it
appeared to him that these unfulfilled persons were
not only dissatisfied but unrelenting. He then cited
an imaginative account recorded by Lewis, concerning
persons in hell thinking heaven might be a pleasant
place to spend their vacation. But when they
arrived, the situation was not to their liking. The
sun was too hot, the light too bright, and so on. So
they quickly returned to their habitual residence.
There to remain.
“What else did Lewis have to say
concerning hell,” Sage’s friend inquired—his
curiosity now getting the better of his misgivings.
“That persons were moving further
and further away from one another,” Sage replied. So
that one person’s next door neighbor was now a full
day’s travel. Accordingly, implying a growing
alienation. Which appeared objectionable. While
coupled with the realization that God was more
distant, and no longer approachable.
“That is certainly a very
different perspective,” Sage’s friend allowed.
“Perhaps and perhaps not.” In this regard, he seemed
to assume a wait and see attitude.
“We must make an effort to
fulfill our potential in this life to profit in the
life to come, ” Sage cautioned him. Then by way of
confirmation, he cited one of Jesus’ parables. It
seems that man was going away for a journey, and
entrusted his servants with money. Upon his return,
he commended two of them in turn: “Well done, good
and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a
few things; I will put you in charge of many things”
(Matt. 25:21, 23).
However, the other was
reprimanded. In conclusion, Jesus observed: “For
everyone who has will be given more, and he will
have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even that
he has will be taken from him.” Bringing to mind the
exhortation, “Use it or lose it.”
“Your point is well taken,”
Sage’s friend allowed. It was food for thought, but
not an excuse for procrastination. “Hell yes!” he
* * *
Sage is also alluded to as a
Christian mechanic. That is, one who focuses
on how to live out one’s faith in practical ways. In
contrast to those who are more theoretically
inclined. Generally by way of commendation, although
some preferred that he were not so specific.
“Is any one of you in trouble?”
James inquires. “He should pray” (5:13). Trouble is
sometimes thrust upon us by adverse circumstances.
Soliciting the saying, “Life is no bed of roses.”
What then? Have recourse to prayer. Since wisdom is
required to know how best to deal with the matter.
Along with the enablement to do so.
Conversely, trouble often results
from our wrong doing. This may or may not be with
malicious intent. In any case, pray. In this manner,
to cope with the present situation. Then, too, so
not as to repeat our failure.
“Is anyone happy?” James
continues. “Let him sing songs of praise.” If
blessed by God, one should experience happiness.
Even though the circumstances seem adverse. “He is
like a tree planted by streams of water, which
yields its fruit in season, and whose leaf does not
wither” (Psa. 1:3). In season implies natural
growth, while whose leaf does not wither
suggests resistance to drought.
For instance, “God has ascended
amid shouts of joy, the Lord amid the sounding of
trumpets. Sing praises to God, sing praises to our
King, sing praises” (Psa. 47:5-6). So that the
people are admonished, “Enter his gates with
thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks
to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and
his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues
through all generations” (Psa. 100:4-5).
“Is any one of you sick?” James
further inquires. “He should call the elders of the
church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in
the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in
faith will make the sick person well, the Lord will
raise him up.” Prayer is thus commended as a means
of restoring health. If not, then in sustaining the
person during his or her illness.
The elders of the church
are singled out in this regard. As shepherds of the
flock, and recognized as such. While oil was
employed as a medication, here it seems to be for
symbolic reasons. That is, as a focus for faith.
“If he has sinned, he will be
forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other
and pray for each other so that you may be healed.
The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and
effective.” This by way of a reciprocal ministry.
Hence, not restricted to a select few.
Most assuredly, confess one’s
sins to God. Then on occasion to some one offended
by our behavior. Sometimes in public. Each as is
suited to the situation. Along with confidence in
its restorative value.
Finally, “if one wanders from the
truth,” retrieve him. “Whoever turns a sinner from
the error of his way will save him from death and
cover over a multitude of sins.” In this regard,
“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses
one of the. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the
open country and go after the lost sheep until he
finds it?” (Luke 15:4).
And when he returns home, he
invites his friends: “Rejoice with me; I have found
my lost sheep.” In the same way, there will be
rejoicing in heaven when the lost is found.
* * *
of any sort annoy
Sage. Such as the ticks that plagued his good
natured canine. Moreover, when introduced into his
residence, and distracting him when he turns in for
the night. Then inciting him to find similarities
with those bent on living at the expense of others.
In this regard, he likes to quote
former president Kennedy’s exhortation, “Ask not
what your country can do for you; ask what you can
do for your country.” Accordingly, don’t function as
a parasite. Instead, make a contribution to society.
This was not his only point of
reference. He would recall on occasion how his
mother urged him, “Take a load when you go.” This
was derived from her appeal that he and his siblings
take their dirty dishes to the sink to be washed
after the evening meal. It came to be applied to
other matters, as a means of suggesting that persons
should not expect others to do for them what they
are unwilling to do for themselves.
He would also quote the before
mentioned text from Scripture, “Go to the ant, you
sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!” (Prov.
6:6). As he had done from time to time, pausing to
consider their tireless labors. Then to wonder how
they were able to coordinate their activities.
Of course, the ant was not his
only mentor in such matters. For instance, he would
gaze at a rock outcropping in amazement at its
sturdy character. Standing alone, without help from
some other source. During torrential rains, gusting
wind, and receding turf.
Paul was a special inspiration to
him. “For I am the least of the apostles and do not
even deserve to be called apostle, because I
persecuted the church of God,” he observed. “But by
the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me
was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all
of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was
with me” (1 Cor. 15:9-10). “He was certainly no
parasite,” Sage concludes. Yet, Paul the apostle
allowed that he was able to diligently carry out his
mission as a recipient of divine grace.
In greater detail, Paul exhorts:
“In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command
you brothers, to keep away from every brother who is
idle and does not live according to the teaching you
received from us. For even when we were with you, we
gave this rule: ‘If a man will not work, he shall
not eat’” (2 Thess. 3:6, 10). Will not,
implying that he has the means to do so, rather than
cannot. Since in the latter instance, he is
deserving of assistance.
As for those in need, “Suppose a
brother or sister is without clothes and daily
food,” James speculates. “If one of you says to him,
‘Go, I wish you well, keep warm and well fed,’ but
does nothing about his physical needs, what good it?
In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not
accompanied by action, is dead” (2:15-17). Such
should not be written off as parasites.
All things considered, Sage
concluded: “It is better to teach a person to fish
than provide food for him.” If the former, he can
not only fend for himself, but assist those who are
struggling. If the latter, enough is never enough. A
little today, more tomorrow, and still more in the
future. Unless someone has the courage to draw the
proverbial line in the sand. Then to turn life
around, and promote generosity along with industry.
So that it bears repeating, “Go to the ant, you
sluggard; learn of its ways and be wise!”
* * *
“I know what you are going to
say,” alleged one of Sage’s friends. “Better safe
than sorry.” He had heard the rejoinder so many
times that it had become monotonous.
For instance, on one occasion a
retired business man decided to climb a high cliff.
Even though his eyesight had deteriorated over the
years. When he did not return as was expected,
persons went in search for him. They eventually
found his body at the foot of the incline. Causing
Sage to shake his head in disapproval, along with
the objection: “Better safe than sorry.”
“Is the risk worth it?” he
inquired on another occasion. He had in mind the
high incidence of knee injury in football. While he
enjoyed watching the sport, it disturbed him that so
many had to deal with lingering problems.
“For physical training is of some
value, but godliness has value all things,” the
apostle Paul allowed, “holding promise for both the
present life and the life to come” (1 Tim. 4:8).
With such in mind, Sage initially reasoned that
physical training has limited value. So that
qualifications aside, it should be approved.
However, some physical exercise
involves greater danger. This recalls a conversation
which Sage overheard. One person alluded to the fact
that he had once been knocked unconscious in a
basketball game. Consequently, he concluded that it
was in fact a contact sport. The other allowed that
while this was the case, it was not a collision
sport—as with football. Even though he was currently
engaged in the latter.
Finally, godliness has
value both for this life and the life to come.
Encouraging persons to pursue it with unrelenting
resolve. Again soliciting the refrain, “Better safe
Sage is not inclined to make
exceptions, even when it runs counter to general
practice. As in the case of abstinence from
alcoholic beverages. Not that he argues that
Scripture absolutely forbids it, but that persons
often overlook the common practice of dilution, and
refraining under certain circumstance. The rabbis
were not of one mind as to what percentage, although
one part wine to six parts water was often advised.
In this regard, they labored at
length the importance of building fences.
“What is wrong with building fences?” a certain
rabbi inquired. When asked to comment, he replied:
“There is nothing wrong with building fences, so
long as one does not worship them.” Otherwise, it
amounts to legalism. But when meant to keep one from
serious fault, they serve a legitimate purpose.
Needless to repeat, “Better safe than sorry.”
Then, too, persons were to
refrain when it was thought that imbibing might
impair one’s duties. Such as the case of a
magistrate, who needs a clear mind to make wise
decisions. Which currently disallows not only
drunken driving, but even more modest
drink—calculated to diminish one’s effectiveness.
Sage, nonetheless, takes
calculated risks for worthy purposes. Such as the
time he rescued a child from a burning building. He
might have lost his life in a failing effort, but
felt obligated to make the effort. When asked
concerning this, he replied: “One can be both safe
and sorry. In this life and the life to come.” It is
a wise person who acts appropriately.
* * *
“If first you don’t succeed, try
again.” This is another of Sage’s favorite sayings.
Not everyone is equally successful, nor is anyone
always successful. So that he or she needs to learn
how to constructively deal with failure.
“Do you suppose that the first
time you tried to walk, you did so?” he inquired.
Not likely. If so, then perhaps with a couple
faltering steps. “But you tried again with greater
Examples proliferate. You come to
realize that you are not as well qualified for
academic studies as some others. Still, it is said
that we employ only a small percentage of our
resources. So that by increased effort, we can
readily compete. Sage spoke from experience.
Or you lack the physical capacity
to readily compete in team sports. If basketball,
short in height. If tennis, lacking good
coordination. In any case, at a disadvantage. What
then? Make the most of one’s potential. In this
manner, contribute to a corporate effort.
Or you seem inept in social
skills. Sometimes at a loss to know what to say.
Having said something, to regret it.
Misunderstanding what others say. What then? Work at
it. Enlist some available person with whom to
associate. Perhaps singling out a person who is
similarly inhibited, so that both profit.
Consider Moses in this regard. “O
Lord, I have never been eloquent,” he protested,
“neither in the past nor since you have spoken to
your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue” (Exod.
4:10). Neither in the past, nor since the
Lord had spoken to him. Consequently, a persisting
situation, offering little in the way of promise.
“Who gave man his mouth? Who
makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes
him blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” God replied. “Now
go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to
say.” The Lord who gives is the same as the one who
“O Lord, please send someone else
to do it,” Moses persisted. He apparently remained
unconvinced, not only of his potential but the
Lord’s wisdom. Whereupon, the Lord noted that Aaron
would accompany him, and help facilitate matters. So
it came to pass that Moses was instrumental in
delivering the chosen people from bondage.
Fast forward. “Again the
Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for
seven years he gave them into the hands of the
Midianites” (Judges 6:1). So that the chosen people
“cried out to the Lord for help.” Recalling the
saying, “Man’s adversity proves to be God’s
Accordingly, the angel of the
Lord came, and sat down under the oak in
Ophrah—where Gideon was threshing. “The Lord is with
you, mighty warriors,” the angel greeted him. His
potential as a warrior indebted to the Lord’s
“But sir,” Gideon protested, “if
the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to
us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told
us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us
up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us
and put us into the hands of Midian.”
“Go in the strength you have and
save Israel out of Midian’s hand,” the angel of the
Lord admonished him. “Am I not sending you?” Gideon
continued to cite his deficiency, and requested
signs to verify his calling. After continued soul
searching, he was successful.
* * *
Some people seem special to Sage.
They are not usually prominent individuals, who gain
exceptional attention. Conversely, they often seem
peculiarly designed for their calling. Hence,
relatively rather unsuited for alternatives.
One such person was a pioneer
missionary. He was appreciatively recalled by those
that inhabit the region where he served. So much so
that they applauded such features as associated with
him in the lives of other persons. Accordingly, a
special person with memorable virtues.
On one occasion, he approached a
certain village. There he was met by several
natives, who refused him entry. So-called orange
skins, whose complexion resembled the inside of
an orange, were not welcome.
Undaunted by this obstacle, the
missionary climbed up into the rocks overlooking the
village. From there, he proclaimed the gospel. Were
it not that they thought that the gods were
protective of strange individuals, they might have
killed him. As a result, they tolerated his
distraction. Then, with the passing of time, there
was a spiritual harvest.
Sage would also discover special
people nearer to home. Such as a neighbor who
conscientiously raised a large family. Nonetheless,
she was troubled by the fact that it did not seem to
her that she had suffered for her faith.
Conversely, Sage felt that she
had overcome great obstacles in the course of her
family calling. While some of the children were more
responsive than others, they all benefitted from her
diligence. Few are so blessed, allowing for the fact
that she was a special person.
Of course, biblical examples came
to mind. “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on
the earth had become, and that every inclination of
the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the
time” (Gen. 6:5). One could hardly imagine a more
scathing rebuke. So the Lord was deeply grieved, and
brought a flood as if to cleanse the land.
“But Noah found favor in the eyes
of the Lord.” How remarkable! One person stands out
from the rest. And so God instructs him to build an
ark, for the preservation of the human race. Not
unlike the potter, who observing a critical flaw in
his work, recasts his clay and starts over.
Accordingly, Noah qualified for one of Sage’s
Then there was Abram. The Lord
instructed him, “Leave your country, your people and
your father’s household and go to the land I will
show you” (Gen. 12:1). Persons today have difficulty
realizing how troubling this prospect would be in
antiquity. Not only did it involve the loss of
security but identity. Who then would he be, seeing
his former self was obliterated?
However, there were compensating
factors. “I will make you into a great nation and I
will bless you,” the Lord informed him. “I will make
your name great and you will be a blessing. I will
bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I
will curse, and all peoples on earth will be blessed
through you.” Indeed, he would be highly privileged.
In retrospect, “By faith Abraham,
when called to go to a place he would later receive
as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he
did not know where he was going” (Heb. 11:8). By
faith he embraced God’s promises. Thus eminently
qualified as one of Sage’s special persons.
* * *
“The problem with common sense is
that it is so uncommon,” Sage protests. Instead, we
unnecessarily complicate matters. While searching
for some solution that demonstrates our greater
insight. Thus creating a pecking order, at the
expense of others.
This deplorable practice often
results from what is said to be thinking outside
the box. Hence, not encumbered by what seems
reasonably evident. Then staunchly resisting any
effort to set things straight.
Sage was reminded of this when
discussing the meaning of a certain biblical text
with a neighbor who insisted that it means something
quite novel and unlikely. Moreover, he claimed that
this resulted from the leading of the Holy Spirit.
At which, Sage advised him: “Don’t search for some
hidden meaning, but settle for what appears
evident.” While assuming that it was not the intent
of the apostles to confound persons but communicate.
He also reasons that if we
exercise faith and God does in fact exist, we have
everything to gain. If, however, we fail to exercise
faith and God exists, we have everything to lose.
If, finally, we exercise faith and God does not
exist, we have still lived the best of lives. In
this manner, he recalls Blase Pascal’s classic
Moreover, he was impressed by
virtually pervasive belief in the High God among
traditional people groups. In some instances,
reasoning that he had moved away in the past—perhaps
as a result of human degradation or simply for
accommodation. Along with the hope that he would
sometime return, and awaiting his return with great
“What did you expect?” Sage
inquired of a couple seeking his input. Since they
had spoken harshly with one another. It was a
painful interchange, calculated to leave lingering
injury. Then left unattended, with growing
alienation. Common sense would dictate otherwise.
“What did you expect?” he again
inquired. Concerning a youth who had violated the
curfew time set by his parents. Would they be
inclined to trust him on some further occasion? If
one wants to be trusted, he should be trustworthy.
“What did you expect?” he asked
still another. This time with regard to person who
helped a neighbor with repair of his porch. Thus
courting his good will and intent to reciprocate.
Although Sage was quick to add that persons do not
always respond in like manner, whether it is for the
better or worse.
Scripture comes readily to mind
in this regard. “How can a young man keep his way
pure?” the psalmist inquires. “By living according
to your word” (119:9). Such persons are blessed, so
that they resemble “a tree planted by the streams of
water, which yields its fruit in season, and whose
leaf does not wither” (Psa. 1:3). Fruitful and
resistant to drought. Not so the wicked! They are
like chaff that the wind blows away.” Rootless,
lacking substance, and vulnerable.
“There are two ways, no more or
no less,” Sage allowed. One with promise for this
life and the life to come, and the other destitute
of promise. While common sense dictates that we
should opt for the way of the righteous. But, as
noted at the outset, the problem with common sense
is that it is so uncommon. “How tragic!” he
* * *
Are persons sometimes critical of
Sage’s counsel? Indeed! Most frequently when he
refuses to tell them precisely what they should do.
Although he is not reluctant to share his insights.
However, anything more than this seemed to him an
attempt to usurp divine prerogatives.
“God is far more creative than
I,” he explains. “The more we know, the more we
realize that we do not know,” he repeats the thought
expressed earlier. So expect the unexpected.
Here trust makes its entrance.
Since “we know that in all things God works for the
good of those who love him, who have been called
according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Not that all
things are desirable in and of themselves, but as
God is able to redeem the situation. Or as Sage
observes on occasion, “One does not have to fear the
future, so long as he knows who holds his future.”
In retrospect, we may be better
able to see God’s hand at work. Some adversity has
become the means of blessing. The closing of one
door anticipated the opening of another. While
questions may remain, there is reason to be assured.
Sage is especially critical of
pastors who presume to know God’s will in detail.
Like a certain individual who informs a couple that
they should marry. Then, on another occasion,
instructs a couple to get a divorce. As if he were
an infallible guide.
“You shall have no other gods
before me,” the decalogue reads (Exod. 20:3).
Before me in the sense of tolerating them. Such
was not to be the case, nor would matters change.
Given this line of reasoning,
Scripture takes precedence over tradition and
culture. Tradition, when elevated alongside
Scripture, amounts to playing God. So, likewise,
What then of the notion that man
has come of age, and no longer needs to rely on a
transcendent deity? “The problem is that we confuse
knowledge with wisdom,” Sage protests. As for the
former, “We know more and more about less and less.”
As for the latter, the basic principles of life are
obscured. But for the grace of God, we tend to
“Suppose you plan a journey,”
Sage speculates. Perhaps you glance at a map early
on, but then decide to play it by ear. There is a
road sign, which you ignore. There is a difference
of opinion, but you do not take it into
consideration. Your uninformed impressions lead you
astray. So it is with one who insists on playing
“If nothing else works, read the
instructions,” he urges by way of satire. Not
uncommonly coupled with a quote, such as: “Teach me,
O Lord, to follow your decrees; then I will keep
them to the end. Give me understanding, and I will
keep your law and obey it with all my heart” (Psa.
119:32-33). Left to oneself, the prospect is not
As touched on earlier, idolatry
takes on different forms. By way of reminder, Sage
calls attention to a clay idol, which probably
served for family devotions in antiquity. Studies
suggest that for some it may have been little more
that representative, while for others the deity
Instead of a clay artifact, one
is now more inclined to give deference to some human
manifesto, thought to take precedence over other
considerations. Then of ultimate concern, which is
said to be the essence of a religious faith. While
no less of its secular alternative. So persons
continue to play God, from one generation to the
* * *
THE SHORTEST DISTANCE
“The shortest distance between
two points is a straight line.” While this saying
did not originate with Sage, he heartily embraces
it. And subsequently shared, as deemed appropriate.
For instance, a certain husband
had unintentionally offended his wife. He supposed
that given time things would work out. However, this
did not seem to be the case. Instead, other matters
compounded the problem. What was he to do?
“The shortest line between two
points is a straight line,” Sage informed him. In
other words, go to her and ask her forgiveness. In
graphic terms, “Don’t beat around the bush.”
“I’m sorry for what I said,” the
man then confided in his wife. “Please forgive me.”
She paused for a brief moment, before nodding her
approval. They embraced, and things took a decided
turn for the better. “Sage was right on target,” he
One of Sage’s neighbors annoyed
him. Whenever he would ask her a question, she would
answer is some circuitous fashion. Sometimes calling
attention to the way he pronounced this or that
word. While overlooking the fact that he was
awaiting a reply. When increasingly provoked, he
would remind her: “The shortest line between two
points is a straight line.”
Now aware of his dilemma, she
would ask him to repeat the question. Which further
postponed an answer. Leading him on occasion to
reply, “Never mind.”
If the matter were to be known,
Sage is deeply impressed by how efficiently Jesus
addressed the issue at hand. For instance, he
inquired as to why persons addressed him as Lord,
but did not obey his instruction (cf. Luke 6:46).
Rather than go into some detailed account of their
lack of fidelity. Subsequently, to liken this to a
person who was building a house, and prepared a
proper foundation. So that when a flood came, it was
not demolished. But not before he had pointedly
identified the critical nature of his concern.
On another occasion, a storm
arose. The disciples awoke Jesus with the alarm,
“Master, Master, we’re going to drown” (Luke 8:24).
Now he could have discussed the likelihood that this
would happen, or the resources at his disposal.
Instead, he simply got up and rebuked the wind and
the raging waters, and the storm subsided. Causing
them to inquire, “Who is this? He commands even the
winds and the water, and they obey him.”
In this regard, Sage reasons that
only God knows what is necessary for a given
occasion. Other matters can await a further
elaboration. At a time when persons are more
available and better prepared. Requiring righteous
When thinking of a straight line,
Sage alludes to the distance as a crow flies.
Otherwise, the road winds back and forth, while
dipping up and down. As a result, extending the time
in transition, and the expenditure of energy.
While in keeping with Jesus’
extended observation: “Enter through the narrow
gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road
that leads to destruction, and many enter through
it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that
leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matt.
7:13-14). Since the many are distracted by
inconsequential issues, and fail to focus on what is
crucial. Having strayed from the straight course, as
that with promise.
* * *
HOME AT LAST
There has been no mention of
Sage’s wife or whether he has one. Perhaps because
she passed away short of her twentieth birthday. It
goes without saying that this came as a shock to
him, having imagined that they would enjoy a long
When asked where he lived, Sage
would say: “Home is with my wife.” Of course, this
had not always been the case. He had initially
thought of home in terms of his parents’ residence.
Then in one connection or another. However,
eventually wherever he and his wife resided.
The loss of his wife proved to be
challenge to his faith. If omnipotent, God could
have restored her to health. If compassionate, he
presumably would have done so. Since he had failed
to intervene, he may have lacked the capability or
consolation. If not, perhaps he simply did not
In brief, this was associated
with the problem of pain. Pain as associated
with illness and death. Pain as experienced by loved
ones. Pain as pervasive in life, and in select
instances—most acute with the death of his beloved
He would never remarry. Although
he did not rule out this possibility. It was simply
that he could not face the prospect of being
afflicted in this manner again. “Once is more than
enough,” he concluded with a touch of humor.
Even so, he came to focus on the
potential of pain. In that it seemed to
strength one’s resolve, if allowed to do so. This
gave rise to appraisal of pain as a means of grace.
As confirmed by the psalmist, “Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death, I will
fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and
staff, they comfort me” (23:4). As noted earlier,
recalling the deep ravines in the Judean hill
country. Shielded from the sunlight, and frequented
by wild beasts and robbers.
In particular, he came to reflect
on the suffering of Jesus. Especially as it concerns
his petition: “Father, if you are willing, take this
cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done”
(Luke 22:42). Whereupon, an angel appeared, to
strengthen him for the impending ordeal. “And being
in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat
was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”
Likely associated with the high degree of stress.
This by way of redeeming lost
mankind. As if to affirm the potential of pain.
While obvious in this instance, holding out promise
in other instances. Or so it seemed to Sage, as he
struggled with the loss of his loved one.
“But where actually is home?” he
reflected. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,”
Jesus urged. “Trust in God, trust also in me. In my
Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I
would have told you. I am going there to prepare a
place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for
you, I will come back, and take you to be with me
and that you may be with me where I am” (John
Consequently, heaven is
ultimately home. Home is also to be with Jesus. In a
metaphorical sense, in this life, but assuredly in
the life to come.
Accordingly, Sage and his
departed wife would be reunited. It was with this in
mind, that as she approached her demise, he implored
her: “Walk slow, because I will be following you
shortly.” Then to enjoy life together, throughout
eternity, along with Redeemer, family, and friends.
Home at last; praise God, home at last.
* * *
IF WORTH DOING
“If it is worth doing,” Sage
allows, “it is worth doing well.” This is usually
accompanied by a broad grin, as if to encourage an
approval. Although persons are not as ready to put
his advice into practice. Since other concerns
For instance, the role of a
parent can be time consuming. It seems as if there
is always something waiting to be seen to, even at
the end of the day. So that one makes do with less.
Seemingly out of necessity, but often for lack of
setting good priorities.
“Get to know your children,” Sage
wisely counsels. It is only as we come to understand
others that we can effectively minister to their
needs. Otherwise, there is a failure to connect.
While both parents and children suffer as a
“Listen carefully to what they
say,” he continues. Not simply their words but their
accompanying emotions. Draw on their perspective as
a means to enhancing your relationship with them. Be
patient. Recalling the saying, “Rome was not built
in a day.”
Then, what if they take issue
with something the parent says? Don’t take personal
offense. But attempt to resolve the differences of
opinion. Which may require extended discussion.
This, in turn, reveals a genuine interest.
As previously considered, “Train
up a child in way he should go, and when he is old
he will not turn from it” (Prov. 22:6). Not as a
strict guarantee, but as the course most likely to
succeed. Otherwise, our efforts characteristically
turn out to be too little and too late.
With similar intent, Sage
inquired of a youth: “How is school going?”
“I wasn’t aware it was going
anywhere,” the youth replied—while accompanied with
a chuckle. After which, he admitted that things were
more difficult for him than seemingly for most. This
was concern for him, although he had not mentioned
it to anyone else.
“I appreciate your sharing this
with me,” Sage readily commended him. “While more
difficult for some than others, most can manage if
diligent in their studies. In this regard, turn your
obstacles into opportunities.” Rather than employing
them as an excuse to be pampered. At which, he
predictably added: “If it is worth doing, it is
worth doing well.”
“I’ll work on it!” the youth
exclaimed. It was as if he saw a light at the end of
the tunnel. Some years later, he graduated from
college. Whereupon, he showed his prized diploma to
Sage, along with the hearty acknowledgment: “If it
worth doing, it is worth doing well.”
When interviewed for a position,
the employer was impressed by his commitment to
excellence. “You are just the sort of person I was
looking for,” he allowed. As he settled back into
his chair, having accomplished his purpose.
Consequently, it was with deep
appreciation that the young man made his way to the
weekly worship service. At which the pastor called
the congregation’s attention to the passage which
reads: “Do you not know that in a race all the
runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in
such a way as to get the prize” (1 Cor. 9:24). What
is the prize? God’s approval. What is the
means? Doing the best we can. Not satisfied with
second best. Thereby putting Sage’s counsel in
eternal perspective, and life in a meaningful
* * *
Sage recalls how his mother would
as he turned in for the night wish him sweet
dreams. As it turned out, not all dreams would
qualify. Although seldom would be thought of as a
nightmare, a term derived from a mythological
demon who torments humans. Said sometimes to be
caused by lying in painful position or eating before
The most reoccurring aspect of
his dreams was not being able find something. As his
shelter for the night or way to his destination.
While unpleasant, it was not the cause for lingering
“What is your favorite dream?”
his nephew inquired on him. His curiosity having
been incited by Sage’s occasional reference to a
“I dream that I am flying like a
bird,” he replied. “I swoop down over an inviting
pasture, with a ridge overlooking it. There is no
sense of fear or uncertainty.”
“I once tried to fly,” his nephew
allowed. “I flapped my arms, but couldn’t get off
the ground. I remembered envying the birds in
While dreams are variously
explained, Sage came to the conclusion that they
largely resulted from our subconscious effort to
file away information. Which would explain that
transitions at times seems to result from like
sounding words. Then, too, the ongoing search for
something that escapes our quest. Thus the product
of memory and sensation.
God employed dreams on occasion
to reveal his will or something that was about to
transpire, although on relatively rare occasions.
For instance, “In the second year of his reign,
Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his mind was troubled and
he could not sleep” (Dan. 2:1). So he summoned “the
magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers to
tell him what he had dreamed.” Upon their arrival,
they offered to interpret the dream if he would
share it with them. Which suggests that there were
traditional clues recorded for interpretation, as
known to have existed in other instances.
When they protested that it was
impossible to interpret the dream otherwise, the
king ordered their execution. Daniel subsequently
appears before the irate ruler. “As you were lying
there, O king, your mind turned to things to come,
and the revealer of mysteries showed you what is
going to happen,” the prophet observed. “As for me,
this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I
have greater wisdom than other living men, but so
that you, O king, may know the interpretation and
that you may understand what went through your
The reference to dreams in the
New Testament is even less frequent, which may
suggest that they no longer play as prominent role
in the course of salvation history. For instance,
“After Herod died, and angel of the Lord appeared in
a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, ‘Get up, take
the child and his mother and go to the land of
Israel, for those who were trying to take the
child’s life are dead’” (Matt. 2:19). But when he
heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place
of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there.
“Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the
district of Galilee, and went and lived in a town
“There is no sweeter dream than
that associated with the advent of Jesus as the
Messiah,” Sage enthusiastically concludes. Whether
in anticipation of his arrival or in retrospect, or
in anticipation of his return. Thus in keeping with
the teaching of the apostles.
* * *
More times than not the persons
seeking Sage’s counsel are depressed. As when they
are attempting to cope with some difficult situation
or when their plans fail to materialize. Or if faced
with the uncertainties that dog our footsteps. What
On such occasions, Sage often
observes: “Some think of the glass as half empty,
while others allow that it is half full.” It was his
intent to encourage them to dwell on the positive
features of life, rather than those which detract
from it. Accordingly, be realistic. Since
while not the best of situations, it is most likely
not the worst.
In this regard, don’t indulge
your feelings. They may or may not adequately
reflect the circumstances. A more deliberate
assessment is called for.
It sometimes helps to compare
one’s situation with that of another. Giving rise to
the sage acknowledgment, “One complains with having
no shoes until he or she meets someone with no
feet.” As a matter of fact, some function better
with far less.
Moreover, take into consideration
the needs of others. Adversity often provides a
prime opportunity for service. This is in keeping
with the admonition to love one’s neighbor as
oneself. As an added incentive, this ameliorates
Accept but do not indulge
suffering. As for the former, to live is to
experience pain. Pain in child birth, pain in the
daily routine of life, pain in select instances, and
pain as life slips away. Conversely, one should not
relish suffering. Do not seek it out or tolerate it
longer than necessary.
Moreover, look toward the future.
Tomorrow is another day, giving rise to admonition:
“Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.” Sage
spoke from experience.
Finally, seek out God’s will and
grace in the difficult situation. Recalling again
Jesus’ agonizing prayer: “Father, if you are
willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but
yours be done” (Luke 22:42). His Father’s will was
paramount; while circumstances were secondary. Thus
setting the precedent for others to emulate.
All of which brings to mind
Paul’s protest concerning a thorn in the flesh,
usually thought to have been some physical
encumbrance. “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to
take it away from me,” he allows. “But he said to
me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is
made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast
all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that
Christ’s power may rest on me. For when I am weak,
then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:8-10).
an idiom for many. In any case, the apostle
persisted in his plea to be delivered. While I
said stands over against he said, the
latter serving as a more comprehensive solution to
engaging life meaningfully. All things considered,
his grace is sufficient. As emphatically
illustrated by the martyr’s resolve.
His power is perfected
in weakness. As if a bond meant to enhance the
relationship. While lacking any genuinely viable
substitute. Then not to be welcomed as such, but for
the opportunity it affords. Soliciting yet another
imagery, that of a stone mason creating a statue
from stone. Which, if the rock had feelings, would
be a painful experience. At which, Sage holds up a
glass along with the inquiry, “Is it half full or
* * *
MR. NICE GUY
One day when Sage was jogging, a
stranger offered him a tract entitled: “Are you a
good person?” “Meet Mr. Nice Guy,” the text
initially invites its reader, “if good people go to
heaven he will be the first in line.” A confident
youth is pictured strolling along, apparently
swinging his arms back and forth, and with a happy
“Have you kept the ten
commandments?” he is asked. It is a predictable
question in the light of his alleged reputation.
“Well,” he pauses momentarily, “I
try to do what’s right.” “Pretty much,” he adds as
if an afterthought.
“Really?” the inquirer responds.
“Do you mind if we look at them?” Mr. Nice Guy
reluctantly agrees. “Have you ever told a lie?” he
“Yeah, who hasn’t?” the youth
“Have you ever looked at someone
with lust?” he was subsequently pressed.
“Of course,” he glibly recalled.
Although Jesus cautioned, “Whoever looks at a woman
to lust after her has committed adultery with her in
his heart” (Matt. 5:28).
“Have you ever used God’s name to
curse?” the interrogation continued. He recalled
having done as a result of road rage. Then be
assured, “The Lord will not hold anyone guiltless
who misuses his name” (Exod. 20:7).
“OK, so I’m not perfect,” Mr.
Nice Guy allows. Which recalls the story of a person
who inquired as to what was a passing grade in
keeping the commandments. Only to be told that he
was obligated to keep them all. At which, he felt
Actually, it is worse than that.
“Sin isn’t just doing things we shouldn’t. It is
also not doing the things we should.” In this
regard, “Anyone who knows the good he ought to do
and doesn’t do it, sins” (James 4:17).
There is more. “Suppose we could
put a device in your brain that would record all
your private thoughts for a week, and them play them
on a movie screen for your friends and family to
“That would be embarrassing!” Mr.
Nice Guy exclaims. Bear in mind, “God knows the
secrets of the heart” (Psa. 44:21). “Well, compared
to some people I’m a saint!” he protests. True, but
the standard is God’s law, not other people.
“Besides, even if you sin just
five times a day, in one year, that’s 1,825 sins! If
you live to be seventy, you’ll have broken God’s law
over 127,000 times!” Accordingly, “Each of us will
give an account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12).
Consequently, “You can’t earn
eternal life. It is God’s gift to all who
humble themselves and come to Jesus. ‘Turn to God in
repentance and have faith in the Lord Jesus’ (Acts
20:20). He will forgive your sins and give you a new
heart! ‘If anyone is in Christ, he is a new
creation!’ (2 Cor. 5:17). Then read the Bible and
obey it. Find a good church to help you grow, and
tell others the Good News.” All of which
reminded Sage of C. S. Lewis admonition: “Pray that
nice people become Christians, and that Christians
* * *
IF IN TROUBLE
“Is any one of you in trouble?”
as touched on earlier. “He should pray” (5:13).
“Why?” Sage was asked. The inquirer supposed that
there should be some more practical alternative.
“More is accomplished by prayer
than we realize,” Sage initially observed. Perhaps
in ways we can little imagine. As confirmed, “He
performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles
that cannot be counted” (Job. 9:10).
“Trust God to get it right,” Sage
urged his friend. “We are admonished to walk by
faith, rather than by sight.” Which, of course, does
not rule out the use of reason.
Consequently, Sage continued:
“Pray for insight. Since we commonly overlook
pertinent considerations.” Such as differences of
perspective, priority, and tolerance of ambiguity.
No two persons are precisely the same. So that unity
does not translate into uniformity, but constructive
With such in mind, Sage recalled
an instance when a certain young woman was
considering divorce. Wanting to assure herself that
this was the proper course of action, she inquired
of her pastor. He naturally wanted to avoid this
resolution if possible. At which, she complained
that her husband had thrown a knife at her. Surely
she must take into consideration her safety.
So it would seem, but the pastor
asked if she would mind if he talked with her
husband. She indicated her willingness. Whereupon,
the husband gave a very different account of the
matter. “I was tired from work,” he allowed, “and
wanted something to eat. Instead, she began to
criticize, as she was inclined to go. In
frustration, I swept my eating utensils onto the
floor, and left the room.” These included the knife,
said to have been thrown at his wife.
Were one or both of this couple
purposefully misrepresenting what had transpired?
Apparently not. So that we should not take too much
for granted, and strive to get things in proper
perspective. Sage was adamant.
“Pray also for guidance.” Where
there may be multiple alternatives to consider, they
are not equally valid. Then, too, God is eminently
creative. As such, he can accomplish what escapes
our imagination. So that we seek out his input.
“Since you are my rock and my
fortress,” the psalmist allows, “for the sake of
your name lead and guide me” (31:3). A fortress
brings to mind the ancient site of Masada. It
consists of a natural rock formation hovering over
the Dead Sea, and was formed by erosion which
separated it the surrounding area. The term
translates the Hebrew word for mountain fortress or
“Pray finally for enabling
grace.” Consisting of the ability to act decisively.
While coupled with confidence and resolve. Often
when facing resilient opposition.
As concerns Abraham, “when called
to go to a place he would alter receive as his
inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not
know where he was going” (Heb. 11:8). There to make
“his home in the promised land like a stranger in a
foreign country,” as did Isaac and Jacob after him.
“For he looked forward to the city with foundations,
whose architect and builder is God.” With grace
abounding and hardship notwithstanding, as a
precedent for those who walk by faith. “Yes,
indeed!” Sage enthusiastically exclaimed.
* * *
“Is anyone happy?” James again
inquires. Let him sing songs of praise” (5:13). Why
respond in this fashion? Instead of simply relishing
the moment or adding to it.
Sage drew a deep breath before
responding. Since he and his friend were obviously
on different wave lengths. At least in this
instance, and probably indicative of other matters
as well. Thus requiring a concerted effort to cross
a great divide.
“Sing praise because God is the
author of life and the source of pleasure,” Sage
assured him. When God had created humans, he
blessed them, saying: “Be fruitful and increase
in number, fill the earth, and subdue it” (Gen.
1:28). In brief, be blessed and be a blessing. If
blessed, praise God! If a blessing, likewise praise
Still, James allows that a person
may not be happy. Sometimes for legitimate reasons.
Such as when one comes down with a serious illness.
While comforted by God’s compassionate concern. Thus
making the situation more easy to bear.
Sometimes for illegitimate
reasons. Such as when a person delves into illicit
sex, or takes pleasure in demeaning another. In any
case, appealing to one’s evil inclination. Without
regard for its eternal consequences.
“We are inclined to take things
for granted,” Sage allowed. We awake to a new day,
with anticipation of what we may experience. As a
cause for rejoicing. We draw in a deep breath of
fresh air, unless contaminated by human disregard.
As an additional cause for rejoicing. There is
cereal awaiting inviting our attention. As still
another cause for rejoicing. And so the blessings
multiply throughout the day.
However, James perhaps has more
in mind more select instances. Such as when we get
good news concerning the recovery of a loved one, or
with the completion of some demanding task. So that
with a sigh of relief, we settle back into a lounge
chair to dwell on our good fortune. In these
instance, we ought to acknowledge God’s benevolent
At which Sage broke out in song:
Praise God, from Whom all
Praise Him, all creatures here
Praise Him above, ye heavenly
Praise Father, Son, and Holy
Since God is the source of all
blessings, soliciting the praise of all
creatures below and above. From one
generation to the next, throughout time and
Sage’s friend did not know quite
how to respond, since this opened the door to new
vistas—of which he had not been previously aware. “I
will have to give it some thought,” he acknowledged.
Was he happy with this
provocative appraisal of life? If so, he was
enjoined to praise God. In this manner, to put life
in context of God’s benevolent design. In keeping
with the cynical admonition, “If nothing else works,
read the instructions.” Which given Sage’s line of
reasoning consisted of divine revelation.
* * *
“Is any one of you sick?” James
subsequently inquires. “He should call the elders of
the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil
in the name of the Lord” (5:14). With anticipation
that the prayer offered in faith will produce
favorable results. Not that this inevitably results
in healing, as allowed elsewhere.
In greater detail, Sage initially
observed the communal setting of the strategy. As
appropriate for those who have followed Christ into
community. So that persons experience life
together, in good times and bad. In this
instance, with special reference to the elders of
the church, who serve in a leadership capacity.
While oil was on occasion
employed for medicinal purpose, this does not seem
to be the case in this instance. Instead, it served
as a ritual. With reference to the name of the
Lord, so as to draw attention to the source of
healing. Not that it guaranteed any result in and of
What are we to make of this
injunction? At the very least, prayer is
instrumental in healing. This has been borne out in
countless studies, where those who engage in prayer
are inclined to recover more quickly and with
greater success. Other studies are less clearly
documented. Such as an instance when prayer was
offered on behalf of a select group, unbeknown to
them, and not extended to others. With notable
success, inviting further confirmation.
While faith is identified
as the critical feature. Faith in what regard? Not
faith in faith, but faith in God. Whether this
translates into divine healing, or means sufficient
to cope with the situation. This again recalls
Paul’s thorn in the flesh, as a continuing
encumbrance—allowing for enabling grace.
“If he has sinned, he will be
forgiven,” James adds. From which we are to conclude
that some illness results from our sin, but not all.
As in the case of those who are intemperate, and as
a result, become ill. Suggesting that they should
repent, with the anticipation that this will
contribute to their recovery. Not that total
recovery is guaranteed, since lingering damage may
have been done.
“Therefore confess your sins to
each other and pray for each other so that you may
be healed.” Therefore, since one may be
forgiven. Therefore, in that this deals with
the sin that gave rise to the sickness. Therefore,
because this allows for dealing with the illness per
Confess your sins. To God
assuredly, since sin consists of violating a sacred
trust. To others, as it may seem appropriate. In
some instances, simply to the one we have offended.
In other instances, in a public assembly. While
seeking out the counsel of those more mature in
Confession is thus coupled with
prayer and healing. One thing leading to another.
Qualifications aside, offering the hope for
recovery. All things considered, Sage observed:
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” He again spoke
So while persons can expect to
experience sickness from time to time, it is helpful
to determine whether we have brought it on
ourselves. If so, we should confess our sins, and
seek forgiveness. From God in any case, and others
as they may be implicated. While in context of life
together, rather than attempting recovery on our
own. Then hoping for the best, and preparing for the
worst. Since human life is indeed fleeting and
* * *
IF ONE WANDERS
“My brothers,” James pointedly
addresses them, “if one of you should wander from
the truth, and someone should bring him back,
remember: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of
his way will save him from death and cover over a
multitude of sins” (5:19-20). This by way of
encouraging them to recover those who go astray.
“Sorry to say, some take their
leave,” Sage allowed. Sometimes resulting from a
gradual process, and on other occasions, by decisive
action. This brought to mind a young man who had
been raised in the home of devout parents. He
attended church reluctantly during his youth, and
then decided that he did not want anything more to
do with it.
When asked why he had left the
fellowship, he protested the hypocrites he found
there. Not that this should have come as a surprise
to him, since Jesus had warned of hypocrisy. In this
regard, “And when you pray, do not be like the
hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the
synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by
men” (Matt. 6:5). Instead, “when you pray, go into
your room, close the door and pray to your Father,
who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what you
have done in secret, will reward you.”
Of course, hypocrisy is
pervasive. Which accounts for the satirical
rejoinder, “There is always room for one more
(hypocrite in church).” While accompanied by a
However, the reason given may not
have been accurate. Since the youth’s wife had
passed away, leaving him to struggle with the
problem of suffering and death. An experience shared
by Sage, as detailed previously. But one he had
subsequently managed to cope with when reflecting on
the demise of Jesus.
Now the tax collectors and
sinners (religiously unobservant) were gathering
around to hear Jesus’ words. But the Pharisees and
teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes
sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:1). With the
implication that he approved their behavior.
So Jesus told them a previously
cited parable. “Suppose one of you has a hundred
sheep and loses one of them,” he speculates. “Does
he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and
go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when
he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders
and goes home. Then he calls his friends and
neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me, I
have found my lost sheep.’” After which, he
concludes: “I tell you that in the same way there
will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who
repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who
do not need to repent.” This by way of accounting
for his association with sinners.
“So what should be done when
someone goes astray?” Sage inquired. “Make every
reasonable effort to recover him or her.” Recalling
the saying, “The difference between success and
failure may be five minutes.”
Bear in mind that many have
strayed in the past, only to be reclaimed. Even were
that less frequent, it would certainly be worth the
effort. Acclaimed by the heavenly host, while
demeaned by those enjoying the religious pecking
order. As a study in contrasts, illustrating again
how elevated are God’s ways over our own. Then as an
encouragement that we adjust our way of thinking,
engage in the recovery process, and rejoice with
those who rejoice.
* * *
“You have heard that it was said,
‘Do not commit adultery,’” Jesus observed. “But I
tell you that anyone who looks at a women lustfully
has already committed adultery with her in his
heart” (Matt. 5:27-28). This caused one of Sage’s
youthful friends to fear that he had grievously
“Perhaps and perhaps not,” Sage
allowed. Accordingly, he recalled the story
concerning a bloody nosed Pharisee, who fearing that
he might be incited to lust, shielded his eyes. As a
result, he crashed into a wall—causing his nose to
bleed. Giving the implication that the youth might
be unduly intimidated in this regard.
Then turning his attention to a
passage in Scripture, Sage read: “How beautiful you
are, my darling! How beautiful! Your eyes are like
doves” (Son of Songs 1:15). As an expression of
appreciation, while not an example of lust.
“The beams of our house are
cedars, our rafters are firs,” the beloved responds.
As a graphic expression of their enduring
relationship. As such, it is commended.
The youth still seemed puzzled.
How does one distinguish among love, appreciation,
and lust? Supposing there is a difference.
In brief, lust consists of
reveling in illicit sex. Whether one actually
participates or not. As if an incipient form of
This, in turn, brings to mind an
occasion when an Arab man protested the provocative
way American girls are disposed to dress. When
reminded of the difference in culture, he insisted:
“Even so, they would not dress in that manner if
they did not intend to incite males.”
Most would agree in principle
that modesty is a virtue. However, what constitutes
modesty differs from one culture to the next. Then
to varying degrees within a given culture.
Suggesting that one should not press the limits of
The youth now sensed that the
issue was more complex than he had imagined. Which
resulted in his drawing several conclusions. (1) One
should praise God for all that is beautiful. Whether
this consists of an inspiring sunset or sexual
(2) The failure to do so results
in the bloody nosed Pharisee syndrome. Associated in
Jewish tradition with religious legalism. Then
harmful not only to those implicated, but in its
effect on others. Thus quite without redeeming
(3) Nonetheless, there is an
illegitimate sexual attraction. Such as might allow
for illicit sex where the opportunity available. So
that one must opt between the two, rather than
seeking some compromise between them.
(4) Finally, one is encouraged
enter into a marriage relationship with great care.
Too much is involved for it to be taken lightly.
Then, too, timing is an important consideration, so
that one should refrain until able to cope with
family obligations. Meanwhile, it must be a
commitment agreed upon by the couple. Hence, not one
pressured nor enticed by the other.
Once again, Sage had been of help
to a perplexed youth. Suggesting that one should
chose his or her mentors carefully. Learn from those
who have managed to engage life meaningfully and
constructively. While rejecting those who are
superficial and misleading.
* * *
FEAR OF THE LORD
It comes as a surprise to some
that Sage focuses much of his attention on the
fear of the Lord. “Those who love the Lord, fear
him,” he insists. “And those who fear him, are
admonished to love him.” These serve their purpose
only when coupled together.
Moreover, he finds ample reason
for promoting his thesis. Initially, “The fear of
the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools
despise wisdom and discipline” (Prov. 1:7). Since
this serves as a reality check. Otherwise, persons
fall prey to idolatry, said by the rabbis to be the
source of all sorts of evil.
While the fool remains
unconvinced. As earlier characterized, he resembles
an accident waiting to happen. As such, not only a
victim to his pretense, but a genuine threat to
others. If criticized, retaliating in kind or worse.
Then when calamity befalls them,
“they will look for me but will not find me. Since
they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the
Lord” (vv. 28-29). Having taken the wrong turn, the
way back seems obscured. Sage could readily recall
cases in point.
“For the Lord gives wisdom, and
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding”
(2:6). Giving rise to Augustine’s memorable
ascertain, “All truth is God’s truth.” Since truth
must be understood in comprehensive terms. If not,
it lends itself to distortion.
As with the person who thinks
that he can do as he pleases. Only to find that his
options are limited by those surrounding him. Then,
too, that he is deficient in some regard.
“The fear of the Lord is to hate
evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and
perverse speech” (8:13). The fear of the Lord and
approval of evil do not coexist. Nor are they
readily exchanged, but are cultivated.
In greater detail, pride
consists of an inflated opinion of oneself. In its
most extreme form, it usurps divine prerogatives. It
also expresses a feeling of superiority over others.
Perhaps by way of natural endowment, or otherwise
obtained by application. While arrogance
Conversely, humility does not
imply depreciation. Which is likewise unacceptable.
Since it lays too much emphasis on self, as if a
negative expression of pride.
perverse speech round out the objectionable
features alluded to above. In keeping with the
previously mentioned saying, “Birds of a feather
flock together.” As for evil behavior, it
consists not only of wrong things we do, but the
lack of doing good. As for perverse speech,
all that would compromise truth. Not simply the
flagrant evil we do, but when the lesser good
replaces the greater good: the glorify God and enjoy
him forever. A thesis repeated by way of emphasis.
“He who fears the Lord has a
secure fortress and for his children it will be a
refuge. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life,
turning a man from the snares of death” (14:26-27).
Initially, the fear of the Lord is likened to a
secure fortress. Not only for the present, but
with the passing of time. As a cherished legacy, to
be embraced and perpetuated.
Secondly, as a fountain of
life. Recalling a vibrant stream, persisting even
during the dry season. Thus allowing life, both
flora and fauna, to proliferate. Accordingly, the
knowledge of the Lord both protects us from all that
threatens life, and provides that which enriches it.
* * *
Those who acquire wisdom are
indeed blessed. For instance, “He holds victory in
store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose
walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the
just and protects the way of his faithful ones”
(Prov. 2:7-8). As if a sacred trust, waiting to be
revealed in the course of time.
Even now, the Lord resembles a
shield for those whose walk is blameless.
Encouraging him or her to “put on the full armor of
God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be
able to stand your ground, and after you have done
everything, to stand” (Eph. 6:13). In greater
detail, “with the belt of truth buckled around your
waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in
place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness
that comes with the gospel of peace.” In addition,
“take up the shield of faith, with which you can
extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the
Spirit, which is the word of God.” While accompanied
with prayer, and being alert.
“Then you will understand what is
right and just and fair—every good path” (Prov.
2:9). Then and not before, on condition of
one’s righteous resolve. Once the foundation of
faith has been laid, and the construction begun.
All that pertains to what is
right and just and fair. Not that these can be
strictly divorced from one another, since they
resemble a common purview seen from different
perspectives. While further characterized as
every good path. Recalling the pleasant hiking
trails that allows one to view the foliage, and
watch the squirrels scampering back and forth. Then
in contrast to the precarious alternatives, where
one might readily slip on the rock strewn path.
“For wisdom will enter your
heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.
Discretion will protect you, and understanding will
guard you” (vv. 10-11). Even now, wisdom waits for
our welcome. Once the door is open, it makes itself
at home. Life takes a drastic turn for the better.
The result is assuredly pleasing.
Now discretion will protect you,
and understanding will guard you. In this regard,
discretion consists of the ability to distinguish
between what is right and wrong, helpful and a
hindrance. Then having differentiated, to chose for
the better. Thus employing understanding to achieve
its intended results, when appropriated for
“Wisdom will save you from the
ways of wicked men, from men whose words are
perverse, who leave the straight paths to walk in
dark ways, who delight in doing wrong and rejoice in
the perverseness of evil, whose paths are crooked
and who are devious in their ways” (vv. 12-15). How
so? Initially, it that wisdom will keep one from
joining such perverse persons in their evil ways.
How else? It that it will enable
one to deal constructively with such individuals. By
way of returning good for evil, and blessing for
cursing. Thus setting a precedent for others, and
persisting in the face of manifest obstacles.
Sage serves as a classic case in
point. As popularly expressed, he not only talks the
talk, but walks the walk. Although he would be quick
to admit that he falls short of the ideal, while
concluding that only with Jesus was there no
disparity between the two.
* * *
“What if?” Sage would inquire
from time to time. A waste to time? He did not think
so, since it allowed him to explore the cause and
effect relationships that permeate life. In this
manner, he hoped to learn from the past, in
anticipation of the future, by way of giving
attention to the present.
What if Adam and Eve had
not eaten of the forbidden fruit? As a result, to
fend for themselves. While given its appeal, and the
promise of discernment.
Initially, they would have
retained their innocence. Analogous to that which
the child experiences, when reliant on his or her
parents’ guidance. In this regard, the beneficiary
of wisdom that greatly surpasses one’s own.
Accordingly, able to engage life with assurance.
Secondly, there would be no
curse. As concerned Eve, the Lord announced: “I will
greatly increase your pains in childbearing, with
pain you will give birth to children. Your desire
will be for your husband, and he will rule over you”
(Gen. 3:16). While pain is associated with given
birth as a matter of course, it would be greatly
increased. Then with the result that to love and
cherish will give way convenience and control.
As for Adam, “Cursed is the
ground because of you; through painful toil you will
eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce
thorns and thistle for you, and you will eat the
plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you
will eat your food until you return to the ground
since from it you were taken, for dust you are and
to dust you will return.” Imagery drawn from the
wilderness, where survival is difficult at best.
Finally, there was the prospect
of having access to the tree of life. In perpetuity,
and greatly blessed. In context, an emphasis both on
continuation and quality. Had they not sinned. All
of which reminded Sage of a rhyme he had heard as a
child: “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust; if the Lord
doesn’t get you, the devil must.”
Conversely, what if
Abraham had rejected God’s calling? When the Lord
enjoined him, “Leave your country, your people and
your father’s household and go to the land I will
show you” (Gen. 12:1). Each successive departure
(from country, through people, to
household) increasing the stress factor.
But it was not without
recompense. In particular, “I will make you into a
great nation and I will bless you; I will make your
name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless
those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will
curse, and all peoples on earth will be blessed
through you.” He would be blessed, sustained, and a
blessing to all.
In retrospect, “By faith Abraham,
when called to go to a place he would later receive
as his inheritance, obeyed and went” (Heb. 11:8).
Likewise, by faith he dwelt in the promised
land. “For he was looking forward to the city with
foundations whose architect and builder is God.”
Consequently, he is depicted as the father of the
So it is that the what if
motif plays out from one instance to another.
Sometimes as a caution, and on other occasions as an
But what if we fail to do
so? Having failed to learn from others, we are
destined to repeat their failures. Not only to our
own detriment, but that of others we influence.
* * *
“Do not envy a violent man or
choose any of his ways, for the Lord detests a
perverse man but take the upright into his
confidence” (Prov. 3:31). Such came to mind when
Sage was asked to comment on his appraisal of
terrorism. Initially, do not envy such
persons or choose any of their ways. As if to
commend or emulate their objectionable activity.
What constitutes terrorism? The
effort to intimidate persons, and make them conform.
By way of targeting a select group. For instance, a
friend of Sage was severely wounded when a bomb was
detonated in a farmer’s market. She was rushed to
the hospital, where she remained for some time.
Fortunately, she recovered. While others were not so
Needless to say, she was not a
combatant. But as such, she was more vulnerable.
Since this bombing was of a soft target.
Thought for that reason to have more success, with
Needless to say, hard targets
are not necessarily immune from terrorist
attack. But these may be more readily anticipated,
Moreover, the ways of a violent
person can be variously expressed. Here, Sage
paused, as if to allow his observation to sink in.
He then inquired as to what comes to mind in this
“Bullying,” his associate readily
replied. “The bully likes to throw his weight
around,” in graphic terms.
Now Sage had a long history of
dealing with bullies. He was as a youth large for
his size, and prone to intervene when someone was
being abused. Not that he always got the better of
the situation, causing his mother to counsel him to
walk away from trouble.
However, he realized that the
bully would interpret this as weakness, and make
life increasingly miserable for him and others. So
he decided to stand his ground, not inviting trouble
but neither ignoring the threats. Meanwhile, he
attempted to reach peaceful solutions.
While inviting criticism from
some who differed from him. Especially from those
proposed to let nature take its course. Which lends
itself to the survival of the fittest.
How does one cope with terrorism?
By building constructive relationships where
possible. Even if not, by reducing the risk. As
resilient advocates of shalom (peace, well-being).
Decidedly not by retaliating in
kind. “You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor
and hate your enemy,’” Jesus allowed. “But I tell
you: Love your enemies and pray for those who
persecute that you may be sons of your Father in
heaven” (Matt. 5:43-44). Accordingly, return good
This does not preclude taking
issue with the practice of terrorism, or attempting
to restrain it. Instead, it is in keeping with the
notion of hard love. As applied to God, C. S.
Lewis reasons that because God loves us, he tries to
make us lovable.
Rest assured God will have the
final word, whether in this regard or some other. So
that it is not the severity of divine justice that
should concern us, but its validity. So let the
terrorist beware, for he will have to give an
account for what he has done. Especially in the
taking of innocent lives: men, women, and
children—like Sage’s friend noted above. If demons
are implicated, they too will get what is due them.
At this point, Sage settled back into his lounge
chair—having spoken candidly concerning this
* * *
“There are six things the Lord
hates, seven that are detestable to him” (Prov.
6:16). Six and seven implies that
while the list is specific, it is not exhaustive.
Lacking the former, it is easy to rationalize.
Lacking the latter, we are discouraged from
(# 1) Haughty eyes. Such
as when a person exhibits a condescending attitude.
Derived from the assumption that one is superior to
others. As a result, to discourage dialogue and
manipulate persons for selfish ends.
For instance, one
asserted: “When I want your opinion, I will tell you
what it is.” A humorous rejoinder?” Yes, indeed.
However, it reflected an unwillingness to listen to
the youth’s concerns—whether legitimate or not.
(# 2) A lying tongue. In
this regard, “Surely you desire truth in the inner
parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place”
(Psa. 51:6). With the understanding that it will be
expressed outwardly in speaking truth.
Not all are readily convinced.
Such as the person when asked how something was
broken, gave an unlikely explanation. When pressed,
he offered an alternative. When pressed further, he
finally admitted as to what had happened. Asked as
to why he was reluctant to tell the truth, he
replied: “It wasn’t a good story.” Yet another of
Sage’s true accounts, meant to teach a lesson.
(# 3) Hands that shed innocent
blood. The earliest record of which consists of
Cain killing his brother Abel (cf. Gen. 4:6). Angry
that his offering was not approved, and jealous of
his younger sibling, he disregarded the sacredness
of life. Then when confronted, he claimed to have no
knowledge of what had happened.
(# 4) A heart that devises
evil schemes. Such as the beast that stocks its
prey, with the intent of devouring the unsuspecting
victim. Or as the one who lies awake at night,
planning some means to steal from his neighbor’s
In contrast not only to the
person with righteous resolve, but one who succumbs
to evil on the spur of the moment. Not that the
latter is without fault.
(# 5) Feet that are quick to
run into evil. Quite without restraint. While
eager to do evil. Seemingly never satisfied.
(# 6) A false witness that
pours out lies. As an extension of the protest
against a lying tongue. Accordingly, “A
corrupt witness mocks at justice, and the mouth of
the wicked gulps down evil” (Prov. 19:28). Lacking
justice, no one is safe from the device of evil
Conversely, “whatever is true,
whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is
pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if
anything is praiseworthy—think about such things.
And the God of peace will be with you” (Phil.
(# 7) A man who stirs up
dissension among brothers. Since it pleases him
to see persons at odds with one another. As persons
of conflict, as contrasted to the God of peace.
In this manner, they covet the
return of chaos. Showing a preference for darkness,
rather than light. They are repugnant, revolting,
and loathsome; although beloved and invited to
repent of their evil ways. In all this, Sage
* * *
One of Sage’s favorite
exhortations is to hang tough. There are
occasions when we face adversity, at which time we
should remain resolute. Even when there seems to be
no light at the end of the tunnel. In retrospect,
things may appear quite differently.
For instance, a certain student
received a failing grade. To make matters worse, he
thought that he deserved better. Granted that had he
not been distracted by other concerns, he could
actually have fared better.
“The world has not come to an
end,” Sage assured him. “Hang tough, and things will
take a turn for the better.”
Fast forward. The young person
graduated from college, and accepted a difficult
teaching position in an urban environ. Here he
encountered young people who were underachieving and
despondent. “I now where you are coming from,” he
would allow, “but hang tough.” Some benefitted from
his challenge, while others continued to flounder.
Biblical examples likewise come
to mind. Now the Philistines gathered their forces
to wage war against the Israelites. A champion named
Goliath came from the Philistine camp to defy
his enemies. “He was over nine feet tall. He had a
bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale
armor of bronze; on his legs he wore bronze greaves,
and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. His
spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod. His shield
bearer went ahead of him” (1 Sam. 17:4-7).
Consequently, he was a thoroughly imposing figure.
However, David was a mere youth.
But upon hearing the threats made by this adversary,
he protested: “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine
that he should defy the armies of the living God?”
He then said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on
account of this Philistine; your servant will go and
Saul replied, “You are not able
to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you
are only a boy, and he has been a fighting man from
his youth.” Thus calling for a reality check.
“Your servant has been keeping
his father’s sheep,” David allowed. “When a lion or
a bear come and carried off a sheep from the flock,
I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep
from its mouth. Your servant has killed both the
lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine
will be like one of them, because he has defied the
armies of the living God.”
Saul then granted his permission,
and fitted him out to do battle. “I cannot go in
these, since I am not used to them,” David
protested. Then he took his staff in his hand, chose
five smooth stones from the stream, put them in his
pouch, and with sling in hand, approached Goliath.
“Am I a dog that you come at me
with sticks?” the Philistine protested. “Come here,”
he continued, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds
of the air and the beasts of the field!”
David resolutely replied, “You
come against me with sword and spear and javelin,
but I come against you in the name of the Lord
Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you
have defied.” “So David triumphed over the
Philistine with a sling and a stone, without a sword
in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed
“The narrative speaks for
itself,” Sage then observed, as an exhortation to
* * *
EAT TO LIVE OR
It is said, “Some people eat to
live, while others live to eat.” Now Sage is not
satisfied with either of these options. As for the
former, it seems to imply that one should eat only
out of necessity. While Sage thinks one should enjoy
partaking of food as God’s provision for our needs.
Consequently, he supposes that it
tastes better after prayer. Since the latter puts a
person in the right stage of mind. In this regard,
“Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts
with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations”
Sage also relishes the
opportunity to discuss spiritual matters while
partaking of food. In particular, this allows
parents to enhance the understanding of their
offspring. Likewise, to inquire as to what concerns
they may have.
Of course, it is also appropriate
to share with those less fortunate. “Suppose a
brother or sister is without clothes and daily
food,” James speculates. If one of you says to him,
‘Go, I wish you well, keep warm and well fed,’ but
does nothing about his physical need, what good is
it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not
accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:15-17).
This recalls a time when he was
abroad, and visiting in the home of a West African
couple. The wife had divided the food among she, her
husband, and their guests. Just then there was a
knock at the door. When opened, an elderly man
requested something to eat. Without a moment’s
hesitation, she redistributed the food to allow for
another person. Everyone had enough, although each
While Sage did not begrudge the
unexpected visitor his portion, he supposed some
would take advantage of such practice. However, the
husband assured him: “We have our ways to assure
that this does not happen.” He did not offer to
divulge this, in keeping with a village inclination
to share such matters only among those of the
On another occasion, there was a
missionary present. When served some very spicy meat
gravy, he was hard put to devour it. And then only
with the help of a substantial amount of water. Once
he had finished, the wife retrieved his plate,
retreated to the kitchen, and returned with a second
helping. Since if one did not want more, it was
custom to leave a bit on the plate. Unaware of this,
the missionary did not feel he could eat the food,
but did not want to his hosts.
Now there happened to be a young
student present, who was acquainted with both
cultures represented. When asked why he had not
alerted the missionary, he replied: “Because the
situation was humorous.”
On the other hand, Sage was want
to quote: “Do not join those who drink too much wine
or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and
gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in
rags” (Prov. 23:20-21). If indulgent, then also
likely to be inattentive to other concerns.
Sage likewise cautions against
being tempted to indulge. Since Jesus enjoined his
disciples to pray “And lead us not into temptation”
(Luke 11:4). Thus perhaps to refrain from situations
where presented with lavish qualities of food. Even
more so, to be among those who delight in
over-eating. Lest one succumb to circumstances.
In conclusion, he reasons that we
should not take on the unacceptable practices of
others. Whether it is to eat to live, or live to
eat. But rather to live modestly, appreciatively,
with consideration for others, and so as to glorify
* * *
Sage was as a youth encouraged to
share with others. Not begrudgingly but
appreciatively. Not selectively but as a common
practice. So it was that he embraced this ideal, as
normative behavior rather than imposed for dubious
This brings to mind one of Jesus’
parables. It seems that a certain rich man had a
bountiful harvest. “What shall I do?” he mused to
himself. “I have no place to store my crops” (Luke
12:17). Then he reasoned, “This is what I will do. I
will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and
there I wills tore all my grain and my goods. And I
will say to myself, ‘You have plenty of good things
laid up for many years. Take life easy: eat, drink
and be merry.’” It apparently did not occur to him
that he might share with those less fortunate.
“You fool!” God rebuked him.
“This very night your life will be demanded from
you. Then who will get what you have prepared for
yourself.” As if to confirm the above appraisal.
“This is how it will be with
anyone who stores up things for himself but is not
God,” Jesus concluded. Herein
lies the alternative. The persons who shares with
others comes to share God’s lavish blessing.
In greater detail, others have
shared with us. Initially, by giving birth. In
Jewish tradition, it is said that three are
involved: God and the parents. Consequently, all
three have invested interests and should be
Subsequently, by being nurtured.
Not only concerning our physical needs, but for
security. Not only these, but a sense of belonging.
Not these alone, but with regard to fulfilling our
potential. While having some things in common, other
matters which are relatively unique.
Eventually, when assuming adult
responsibilities. When relying on faithful mentors.
When offered the opportunity for advancement. When
facing difficulties and adversity. When rejoicing
over some development. Since joys are best shared.
Ultimately, in that God is the
source of life per se and all that it affords. As
reminded when we a soft breeze brings relief from
the oppressive heat. Along with the anticipation for
what a new days has to offer. If, that is, we seize
on the opportunity. An opportunity conditional on
our willingness to share.
Illustrations readily came to
mind for Sage. There was the time that a friend was
ill and dejected. Consequently, Sage visited him. He
also offered prayer for God’s sustaining grace, and
recovery. Shortly thereafter, his friend’s health
took a decided turn for the better.
Not only did he express
appreciation for Sage’s thoughtfulness, but made
mention of it to others. Then, too, he became more
considerate. Then, in a curious fashion, since Sage
had spent time with him, he concluded that he should
spend time with God. Accordingly, he attended
worship services more frequently.
Meanwhile, Sage was only vaguely
aware of the dynamics involved. But insofar as he
was alerted, this encouraged him to share further.
Whether in terms of his material possessions, time,
or insights. Since God set the precedent for
sharing, and others have beneficially embraced his
precedent. While still others have failed to grasp
* * *
AS WITH A WILD FLOWER
Sage was deep in thought, causing
a friend to inquire as to what he was reflecting on.
In response, he quoted: “The brother in humble
circumstances ought to take pride in his high
position” (James 1:9). “What is implicated in his
high position?” Sage rhetorically inquired.
“I don’t know,” his friend
replied. “What is implicated?” Thus answering a
question with a question, as sometimes seemed
“Initially, the thing that comes
to mind is that we are created in God’s image,” Sage
responded. He could not think of anything comparable
to encourage our self-esteem. For in this regard, we
have astonishing potential. Not least of which is to
the exercise creativity.
“I would not have thought of
that,” his friend admitted. Whether in this regard
or some other, he never ceased to marvel at Sage’s
profound insights. Some of which he could grasp more
readily than others.
But in context, James admonishes:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you
face trails of many kinds” (v. 1). Why?
“Perseverance must finish its work so that you may
be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” In
good times and bad, but neither to the exclusion of
the other. Consequently, a work in progress—with God
being the artisan.
Then if God’s work, not something
to be depreciated. But rather approved, and calling
for our cooperation. While in anticipation of
“But the one who is rich should
take pride in his low position, because will pass
away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with
scorching heat and withers the plant, its blossom
falls and its beauty is destroyed, In the same way,
the rich man will fade away even while he goes about
his business.” “Why should the affluent person
relish the idea that he or she will wither as a
plant under the hot sun?” Sage then inquired.
Noting that his friend was not
intent on answering, he continued to speculate: “He
can take pleasure in the transitory nature of life
only if he gives it due consideration.” In this
regard, Jesus cautioned: “Do not store up for
yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust
destroy, and where thieves break in and steal”
(Matt. 6:19). But rather store up treasures in
heaven, where they will be preserved.
“We are thus reminded that which
distinguishes the rich from the poor is transitory,”
Sage continued. “It is that which they have in
common that is of eternal significance. If, that is,
they embrace it.”
“In keeping with the notion of a
long-term investment?” his friend inquired by way of
confirmation. Rather than for the short run. At
which, Sage nodded his head approvingly.
“Even if grass, we are God’s
grass,” he added. This brought to mind how the grass
would sprout in the spring time. As if given a new
lease on life. As with our resurrection for death to
life, from time to eternity. Accordingly, “But
Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the
first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. The
last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he has put
everything under his feet” (1 Cor. 15:29, 26-27).
“Emphatically so,” Sage concluded, with an engaging
grin accompanying his confidence.
* * *
Sage is disposed to maintain a
low profile. Conversely, “Everything they do is done
for men to see,” Jesus protested. “They make their
phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments
long; they love the place of honor at banquets and
the most important seats in the synagogues; they
love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have
men call them ‘Rabbi’” (Matt. 23:5-7). Seeking the
commendation of others, they have already received
their reward, and should expect nothing further.
In contrast, Sage does not dress
in a manner to distinguish himself from others.
Unless, of course, he disapproves of some custom.
Which can sometimes be the case, especially in the
case of women. While what constitutes modesty
differs from culture to culture, the concept of
modesty seems to be pervasive.
Nor does he covet recognition on
public occasions. While if accorded recognition, he
politely accepts it. But does not protest as being
unworthy, which often results from a false sense of
modesty. Which amounts to a negative expression of
pride, it that it dwells unnecessarily on self.
Nor does he expect to be singled
out when attending a worship service. As if he were
more deserving than others. Since he assumes this is
ultimately God’s call.
“You know that those who are
regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over
them, and their high officials exercise authority
over them,” Jesus observed. “Not so with you.
Instead, whoever wants to become great among you
must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first
must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did
not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his
life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45). Thus
setting the precedent for his disciples.
“The role of servant implies a
low profile,” Sage reasons. Initially, because his
prime concern is for the welfare of another. In this
regard, he discovers self-fulfillment as well. Apart
from it, he feels impelled to up-stage others in the
pursuit of recognition.
Nor does he assume a trade-off
for his endeavor. As is often the case, when one
person renders a service for which he expects a like
return. Which is often viewed as acceptable
practice, if not at the expense of others.
Nor does he demand immediate
gratification, as if deserving. Instead, he is
content to await a time approved for such matters.
While pressing on in confident trust that whatever
the future holds, God holds the future.
If not aware of the perspective
from which Sage comes, his behavior often seems
inscrutable. Such as when spent time helping a young
person with his studies. “Why does he do that?” one
individual inquired. “What is in it for him?”
Nothing or everything, depending on how one views
the matter. Nothing in that he expected no
remuneration or even recognition. Everything in that
it was expressive of a servant mentality.
“Did you help turn the young
fellows life around?” he was asked. Calling for a
privileged awareness of what was involved.
“It is hard to say what all was
instrumental,” he replied. Which goes without
saying, but fits admirably into his efforts to
maintain a low profile. But with the genuine desire
to serve more adeptly.
* * *
Sage is enamored of proverbs. As
one that especially appeals to him, “Don’t chase two
rabbits.” That is, focus on one thing at a time.
Otherwise, a person squanders valuable time turning
back and forth from one to the other.
In this regard, he approvingly
quotes: “Not that I have already obtained all this,
or have already been made perfect, but I press on to
take hold of that for which Christ has called me”
(Phil. 3:12). “What are we to make of this?” he then
inquires. Initially, that we have not yet achieved
our over-riding purpose for life. There remains much
yet to be done.
Second, this requires that we
press on. “Forgetting what is behind and straining
toward what is ahead.” Not encumbered by the past,
while anticipating what is before us. Regardless of
obstacles, press on. Regardless of what
others do or fail to do, press on. Regardless
of inclination, press on. All things
considered, press on.
Third, this requires that we do
not chase two rabbits. Thus reducing the
effectiveness of our efforts. Moving this way and
that, instead of steering a straight course.
Recalling Jesus’ caution, “No one who puts his hand
to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the
kingdom of God” (Luke 9:42).
Finally, since this is the nature
of Christ’s calling. Accordingly, to be embraced in
terms of the cost of discipleship. While demanding,
yet appealing. So much the more as we press on with
our corporate calling.
At which, Sage inquired of his
friend for an input. Since he genuinely appreciates
the insight of others. Sometimes from the less
expected sources, but not depreciated for that
reason. While recalling Augustine’s observation that
all truth is God’s truth.
“It seems to me the selection of
two rabbits implies that they are of equal
worth,” he replied. “While some things are more
important than others. It remains for us to decide
which is the more critical concern, and act
“Well put!” Sage commended him.
“In creedal terms, our chief purpose is to glorify
God and enjoy him forever.” Glorify God since
he is eminently worthy. Hence, deserving of our
careful attention and resolute obedience. Then, too,
since he has our best interests at heart, we should
assist him. For our own sake, and that of others.
Consequently, to thoroughly enjoy
our relationship with him. In the midst of change,
providing a constant reality. Thus enhanced with the
passing of time. Rather than neglected once it has
“It seems that we are agreed,”
his friend enthusiastically replied. As if a reality
check, once acknowledged but long remembered.
Resulting in a bonding together, in anticipation of
being further cultivated. “Life is good,” he added.
“Providing we do not chase two
rabbits,” Sage replied with a note of caution. “It
remains a temptation even in the best of times, and
adversity can sometimes blur our vision.” At this,
the two parted company for the time being, but
richer for their time together.
* * *
LIVE AND LET LIVE
Even though Sage is fond of wise
sayings, he is not always pleased the way they are
applied. For instance, one of his neighbors likes to
repeat the adage: “Live and let live.” This is his
way of appealing for tolerance, even concerning what
may be perceived as deplorable behavior.
When asked to elaborate, Sage
concurred with the first part of the appeal. “One
should not just get by but get the most out of
life,” he allowed. To do less seemed to him an
affront to God, since it depreciates the divine
gift. Then, too, it disregards the investment others
have made in one’s life. In the process, it also
impoverishes one’s existence.
It remains to decide how this can
best be done. As expressed by anther of Sage’s
acquaintances, “The one with the most toys wins.”
Which obviously reflects a materialistic
disposition. This consists of a mind set that
carries over into self-indulgence of whatever sort.
“How do you feel about a person
who retires to a religious monastery?” his neighbor
then inquired. Since this seemed to him a difficult
call, having once considered that alternative.
At which, Sage allowed that he
had mixed feelings. Unless, of course, it is
associated with some sort of ministry. As he would
sometimes observe, “We are meant to be in the
world, but not of the world.” Then in keeping
with Paul’s exhortation: “Do not conform any longer
to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by
the renewing of your . Then you will be able to test
and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing
and perfect will” (Rom. 12:2).
Still, Sage allows that the
prayer vigilance of those withdrawn from society
serves a constructive purpose. As does their
symbolism of being sanctified (set apart) is a
reminder for others in alternative ways. Then there
is the service they render to one another in this
His neighbor was not easily
persuaded. “Who are we to decide what others should
or should not do?” he protested. It appeared to him
Qualifications aside, Sage would
agree. But the qualifications are no less important.
“Speak where the Scripture speaks, and refrain where
it is silent,” he would urge on occasion. This was
in deference to Scripture as normative for faith and
practice. It also served to keep persons from
assuming divine prerogatives. Although he was not
reluctant to express his opinions, while inviting
the response of others.
This line of reasoning encourages
persons to seek out capable mentors. First, such as
have disciplined insight. Which as a rule means that
they have undertaken disciplined study. Second, that
their expertise is in the area of one’s inquiry.
Finally, if they have proven themselves in other
situations, giving rise to confidence.
“Some things are manifestly
unacceptable,” Sage concludes. As with the taking of
innocent lives, theft, and adultery. Other things
are more subtle, as with slander, misrepresentation,
So that persons need to be
reminded of their civic duty, and cautioned against
taking advantage of their privileges. Then
restrained in some instances, where the rights of
others are implicated.
“I suppose you are accurate,” his
neighbor reluctantly allowed. Still, he remained
disinclined to question the behavior of others. And
then to question those who were more of that
disposition, which revealed yet another instance of
intolerance. So that while the live and let live
idiom has merit, it can also be readily abused.
* * *
HOUSE IN ORDER
As one approaches death, it is
sometimes said time to put his or her house in
order. Conversely, Sage is of the opinion that
this runs a high risk. For instance, an aging
acquaintance protested that he was no longer
interested in spiritual matter. Having been raised
as a child to attend church services, he
procrastinated when it came to making a decision to
follow Christ. Now he was confirmed in his
reluctance. “Do not misunderstand me,” he cautioned
Sage. “It is not that God would not embrace me, but
I no longer have the desire.” As perhaps implied by
the observation, “My Spirit will not contend with
man forever” (Gen. 6:3). In any case, Sage’s efforts
to dissuade him proved to be futile.
Instances pertaining to putting
one’s house in order multiply. A certain woman faced
imminent demise. Although familiar with the
Christian hope, she was not confident. Until her
daughter made an appearance. The latter was able to
assure her, and she passed on in the words of the
hymn refrain: “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine. O
what a foretaste of glory divine.”
Some parting of the ways are even
more edifying. Another woman fell into a deep coma,
from which they supposed she would not recover. Her
relatives had gathered to see her on her way.
Suddenly, she awoke. Looking around, he appraised
what was going on. Whereupon, she asked that the
family gather by her bedside.
Once they had assembled, she
observed: “It is well with me, and while I shall
miss you all, I am looking forward to what awaits me
in the future life. However, I am concerned for some
of you, who need to put your house in order. Please
do not put it off.” Having finished her appeal, she
slipped back into a coma. A half hour later she was
“It was the most provocative
sermon I have heard,” her husband recalled. Given by
one looking off into the promised land, with
confidence in God’s promises. As an invitation for
others to join her in due time.
With such in mind, Sage recalled
the observation: “For the perishable must clothe
itself with the imperishable” (1 Cor. 15:53). Since
this is portrayed as necessary, one is wise to make
adequate preparations. In keeping with the saying,
“To be forewarned, is to be forearmed.”
When this occurs, then that “is
which written will come true: ‘Death is swallowed up
in victory.’” In this regard, “Where, O death, is
your victory? Where, O death, is your sting’” (cf.
Hos. 13:4). “The sting of death is sin, and the
power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He
gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Indeed, death is not to be
coveted as such. Only when it brings to conclusion
unabated suffering. And then with regret. The term
sting is used concerning bees, scorpions, or
the like. Moreover, the sting of death is sin.
Since it results from human defection and
anticipates accountability. Then, too, the power
of sin is the law. In that it points out wherein
we have failed, and calls us to repentance.
But thanks be to God who gives
us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Triumphing over death, and setting the course for us
to follow. So that it bears repeating, “But thanks
be to God!” “All is well that ends well,” Sage adds
by way of clarification.
* * *
SPEAK WELL OF THE DEAD
Sage recalls that as a child he
was encouraged to speak well of the dead. If not,
then to remain silent. Although it seemed to him
rather strange to single out the dead in this
regard. Why be more considerate of them than others?
Now he was not the kind of person
who would ignore seeming inconsistencies. So he
continued to reflect on the matter, while hiking
through the woods, pausing from the labors of the
day, or before dropping off in sleep. Then he came
across a commentary concerning the implications of
honoring one’s parents. It said that we should
respect them, obey them, minister to their
needs—especially with their aging, and with their
passing, remember them with proper memorials.
What sort of memorials? Such as
an appreciative word, flowers on their grave site,
and recalling them on special occasions. Perhaps, he
thought to himself, something of this should carry
over to other folk. After all, he concluded, we are
bonded together as humans. And in this sense,
children of God—deserving of recognition.
Still, he was not altogether
convinced. Then it occurred to him that the dead are
incapable of rebuttal. Unlike the living in this
regard. Hence, subject to unrestrained bias.
Recalling the humorous remark in Jewish circles,
“Where there are two Jews there are at least three
Indeed, people see things
differently. So that even eye-witness accounts
differ greatly. At which, Sage nodded his head
vigorously—as in full agreement.
As might be expected, the
Golden Rule also came to mind. “So in
everything, do to others what you would have them do
to you” (Matt. 7:12). Not as they treat us, but as
we wish them to treat us. Incidentally, the term
appears first in English about the middle of the
sixteenth century, as well as in other languages.
However, the negative form appears from greater
antiquity. For instance, Confucius is quoted as
saying: “What you do not like if done to yourself,
so not to others.”
Do the positive and negative
injunctions amount to the same thing? Sage does not
think so. Refraining from some behavior is not the
same as doing something constructive. So that we may
as readily sin by omission as by commission, the
former often being more subtle.
But what of the living? Does this
deference to the dead imply that we are free to
speak disparaging of those yet alive? Not
necessarily, and not as a rule. Not necessarily,
because we should be discriminating in our
appraisal. While allowing that our opinions are
subject to error.
Not as a rule, since
encouragement serves better than criticism. Bringing
to mind C. S. Lewis’ observation that God is more
inclined to employ carrots than clubs. Thus setting
a precedent for others to follow.
Conversely, some are given to
establishing a pecking order. That is, they point
out faults in others so as to approve themselves by
comparison. If not in general, then some particular.
Then, too, not uncommonly represented as religious
piety. Giving rise to the refrain, “Do not be like
the hypocrites” (Matt. 6:5, 16).
Rather than reflecting further,
Sage decided to sign off on this injunction. If
something else came to mind, well and good. If not,
no matter. In any case, he would take care not to
say disparaging things about those who have passed
on. While allowing for relatively rare exceptions,
and in keeping with a compassionate demeanor.
* * *
THE FIRST STEP
It was a common saying in the
village culture where Sage was raised to allow that
the first step is the most difficulty. Since it
meant breaking away from prior practice, and taking
on unfamiliar circumstances. Moreover, it appeared
to be one of those things on which people were
In this regard, Sage tried to
imagine what it would have been like when he
attempted his first step. Of course, he had observed
other persons walking around—seemingly without
difficulty. Seldom did anyone trip, and fall to the
floor. Persons appeared to well suited for the
Even so, the first step proved to
be the most difficult. One that he likely did not
take on his own, but with the help of another. Then
with the person poised nearby to support him should
this prove to be necessary. And so he lurched
forward, wove back and forth, and maintained his
balance. Thus soliciting applause from those
observing his dauntless behavior.
It was not long before he was
confidently pacing back and forth. Then on occasion,
running from one room to the next. While increasing
the range of his investigation. As many had done
before him, and as a precedent for others.
The time came when he was allowed
to leave the security of his home, and play in the
yard. While he had accompanied some adult
previously, this constituted a new challenge for
him. One in which he would be able to observe things
on his own, and without undue haste. But not without
some intimidation at the thought of being on his
own. But having taken the first step, the task
became much easier.
Then there was the time when he
set out for school. While he had heard his elder
siblings talk about their experiences, this was a
new venture for him. He recalled having misgivings
as he set out for the school building, which was
within walking distance. Being familiar with the
route, he did not fear losing his way. No, it was
just the thought of taking that initial step that
There was also the occasion when
he was called upon to give a verbal report to his
class. What if unable to collect his thoughts, or
fail to communicate? One can never feel certain
until having made the effort. Having done so, he
could have done much worse. On the other hand, he
hoped to subsequently improve.
It helped to realize that others
faced a similar prospect. Some managing with more
ease than others. Along with the prospect that they
would improve with each succeeding step.
Some first steps are more
critical than others. As when Sage felt challenged
to follow Jesus. Recalling the occasion when a
person volunteered, “I will follow you wherever you
go” (Luke 9:57). Seemingly without weighing the
“Foxes have hole and birds of the
air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to
lay his head,” Jesus replied. Then he enjoined
another person to follow him.
But the man responded, “Lord,
first let me go and bury my father.” That is, see to
his filial responsibilities, not that his parent had
already passed away.
“Let the dead bury their own
dead,” Jesus allowed, “but you go and proclaim the
kingdom of God.” Let those with no intent of
following Jesus see to the matter, while he sets out
to publish glad tidings. Since the first step is
most difficult, and so that one should not hesitate.
* * *
One of Sage’s neighbors insists,
“It is my life to do with as I please.”
Qualifications aside. However, the qualifications
ought not to be overlooked. Since as is sometimes
said, “The truth lies in the small print.”
Initially, we do not live in the
place of our own choosing. Since “From one man he
made very nation of men, that they should inhabit
the whole earth, and he determined the times set for
them and the exact place where they should live”
(Acts 17:26). He did this so that they might seek
and find him, although he is not far from any one of
So that we are privileged to live
in his world and by his grace. There being no
alternative for the present. In this regard, C. S.
Lewis observes that hell constitutes the last place
God provides for those who will accept nothing
preferable. This obviously casts the option in a
different light than sometimes portrayed.
We are also impressed by the care
with which God places persons. In that he determines
the times, and the exact place where
they would reside. Suggesting, among other things,
that we should seize the opportunities afforded us.
Sage is adamant at this point.
This implies that we are free to
respond to God’s gracious initiatives or reject
them. If the former, then to greatly benefit. If the
latter, to suffer the consequences. Consequently,
humans are not simply passive but active and
accountable for their actions.
Then, too, we do not otherwise
live solitary lives. No, we experience life together
with others. Of necessity, for we could not have
survived early on without assistance. Then later
only with great difficulty, but seldom for long.
Consequently, Sage admonishes
persons to keep in mind the welfare of other
persons. Not simply one’s own person concerns, as
important as these might be. In graphic terms, no
person is an island unto himself, but part of the
mainland. Otherwise expressed, think in terms of
freedom for rather than freedom from.
This brought to mind two sisters
of very different dispositions. While one cherished
her time at home with parents, the other wanted to
get out away from their surveillance. Consequently
the former looked forward to times when she could
visit, while the other was more reluctant.
This, in turn, influenced how
they related to their parents. The former was very
considerate. If she sensed her parents were in need
of anything, she did her best to supply them. One
would imagine that this would pick up as her parents
aged. While in keeping with the saying, “Once a
daughter, always a daughter.”
However, the latter seemed to
feel little or no obligation to assist her parents.
Accordingly, she took their investment in her life
as of little consequence. Once on her own, she
thought largely in terms of her own needs. Leaving
her parents to fend for themselves.
“Think of your freedom as a means
of service,” Sage is prone to admonish others. Not
as an excuse for disservice. As an investment,
rather than an indulgence. At which, he recalls the
inquiry: “Suppose a brother of sister is without
clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him,
‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but
does nothing about his physical needs, what good is
it?” (James 2:15-16).
* * *
One’s problems often seem
formidable. So that the resources at hand appear
negligible. If not as a rule, then periodically. So
that while persons may hope for the best, they
anticipate a worse case scenario.
At such times, Sage is inclined
to observe: “One with God is in the majority.” Which
recalls a time when he overheard two children
engaged in play. One was quick to speak, while the
other was slow of speech. So that the former
declared, “I have the Army on my side.” Then before
the other could reply, he added the Navy, Air Force,
and firemen. Thus assured, he rested his case.
“But I have God on my side,” the
other then asserted. A factor which the other had
overlooked in his rush to enlist supporters.
“That is not fair!” the former
exclaimed. While taken with the fact that this
tipped the balance in favor of his companion. Which
caused Sage to break out in laughter. So also to
confirm his affirmation that one with God is in the
When given the opportunity, he
would draw one’s attention to a passage from the
Psalms. “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples
plot in vain?” the psalmist inquires (2:1). “The
kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers
gather together against the Lord and against his
anointed One. “Let us break their chains,’ they say,
‘and throw off their fetters.’”
“What now?” Sage rhetorically
inquires. “Do you suppose that God is intimidated?
Does he fear their threat? Does he flee from their
presence? What does Scripture say concerning this
This is what Scripture says, “The
One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at
them. Then he rebukes them in his anger, and
terrifies them in his wrath, saying, ‘I have
installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.’” How
ridiculous to suppose that they can alter matters.
“And we know that in all things
God works for the good of those who love him, who
have been called according to his purpose” (Rom.
8:28). Not that all things are desirable in
and of themselves. Assuredly not! But God is able to
harvest good things from even adversity, for the
individual and for others implicated. Which
recalling Tertullian’s rejoinder: “The more often we
are mown down by you, the more in number we grow.
The blood of Christians is seed.”
At this point, Sage is inclined
to add a word of caution. Since we should not
presume what can be accomplished only with our
cooperation. Otherwise, we fail to achieve what is
within our reach, given God’s enablement.
But neither should we think
ourselves capable of managing life on our own. Our
understanding in severely limited, as is our
capabilities and resolve. So that only with God
are we in the majority.
Examples proliferate. Once Sage
attempted to correct a young man. He felt confident,
since the problem was one with which he was
familiar, and having helped others in that regard.
However, this person failed to respond. Discouraged,
Sage turned to the Lord in prayer. Only to realize
he had undertaken the task without soliciting divine
guidance. At which, he reconsidered his strategy.
Along with a measure of success.
* * *
A LITTLE FAITH
Once, when Jesus’ disciples
failed in an attempted exorcism, they inquired: “Why
couldn’t we drive it out?” (Matt. 17:19). Given
their failure, and Jesus’ subsequent success.
“Because you have so little
faith,” he replied. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus
solemnly continued, “If you have faith as small as a
mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move
from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will
be impossible for you.” This interchange puzzled
Jeb, Sage’s next door neighbor, who asked for
“What is it that you don’t
understand?” the latter inquired. While bearing in
mind the saying, “If it isn’t broken, don’t try to
fix it.” Along with the admonition, “Don’t beat
around the bush.” As examples of the village wisdom
in which he was raised.
“Jesus seems to commend even a
little faith, while faulting his disciples for the
same,” Jeb responded. “Is a little faith good or
not? You can’t have it both ways.” Thus allowing for
the fact that Jesus’ logic escaped him.
“Very perceptive,” Sage
acknowledged. This was by way of commending earnest
inquiry. Conversely, not to excuse the failure to
act on the basis of what one perceives. As
unfortunately is often the case. “While the reason
for their failure was a lack of faith, even a little
faith can initiative remarkable results. And in the
process, increase one’s faith.”
He went on to explain that Jesus
often employed hyperbole (exaggeration) in order to
convey his meaning. As for moving a mountain, some
think it a reference to cropping a hill to build the
Herodian, a palace/fortress erected south of
Jerusalem. Which proved to be successful, and for
that reason applicable. If not, then a more general
reference. Since mountains were perceived as being
fixed features, not readily altered.
Then should I understand
nothing will be impossible as hyperbole?” Jeb
persisted. While things were taking shape, he had
some lingering questions. Which, in itself, served
to illustrate the point Sage was attempting to make.
“Qualifications aside, yes,” Sage
replied. Initially, in that it pertains only to such
things as are in the range of possibility. It is,
for instance, impossible to create a round square,
because this would be a contradiction of terms. Nor
can one be in two places at the same time. Even were
he persuaded that this were possible.
God is assuredly least encumbered
in his activity. But having exercised an option, he
must take this into consideration. So when
confronted with human degradation, he must cope with
it. Whether to wipe it off the face of the earth, or
provide an alternative. So that humans appear early
on as fallen, but not forsaken. At which point
salvation history begins to unfold, first with the
patriarchs, then the prophets, and finally with
Jesus and the apostles.
Humans, of course, are much more
limited. Most obviously when they attempt to resolve
problems on their own. Much less so with divine
enablement, but even here, with a more limited
range. As a reminder of not only their finite but
“I’ll have to give this some
further thought,” Jeb then confided. It was his
intent to do so, and not procrastinate. He was
encouraged in this regard with the thought that even
a little faith can move mountains. It remained for
him to exercise the faith he had, in anticipation
that his effort would not be wasted. With this
thought in mind, he bid farewell to Sage.
So when asked where he lived, Jeb
would reply: “Next to Sage.” He supposed that
persons would be familiar with this location, and
deservedly so. For which he felt indeed thankful.
* * *
TALK OF THE DEVIL
Sage has heard it said, “Talk of
the devil, and he will soon appear.” It incited him
to reflect on what this might imply. Initially, he
ruled out that if one mentions the devil, it will
appear in some manner. But this did not negate that
there might be some truth to the saying. It remained
to determine what this might be.
It then occurred to him the
crafty adversary would call a person’s attention to
one problem, while falling prey to its opposite. In
this regard, either dwelling at length on the
demonic, or paying it too little attention. As for
the former, some attribute even trivial matters to
demonic initiatives. Then, in more extreme
instances, turning to placate the demonic through
As for the latter, an
increasingly secular society relegates the demonic
to an alleged uncritical past. Thus asserting that
man has come of age, in a natural world void of
spirit beings. So that one is encouraged to demean
those who do not conform, and excuse the tragic
blunders humans incite.
With such in mind, Sage recalls
the admonition: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the
author and perfector of our faith. Consider him who
endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you
will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb. 12:2-3).
On Jesus, rather than on the devil. Since he
is both the author and perfector of
our faith. Consider him who considered you, and be
Then on one occasion, he
overheard the lyrics: “Accentuate the positive,
eliminate the negative, and don’t mess with Mister
In-Between.” Accentuate the positive, indeed!
Eliminate the negative, if correctly understood. So
that one’s caution is meant to obtain a constructive
purpose. Don’t mess with that which compromises the
distinction. Since the line can become easily
Even so, it remains to find a
viable alternative to an unhealthy obsession with
the demonic, and failing to give it due
consideration. For instance, we should take care not
to demonize those who disagree with us. Perhaps for
good reasons, of which we are not aware. Likewise,
in that our intentions are characteristically mixed.
So that we ought to give persons the benefit of our
It also helps to bear in mind
that the demonic agenda differs according to the
situation. In some instance, it seems preferable to
be obvious, and thus intimidate persons. On other
occasions, it is better to maintain a low profile.
Accordingly, to relentlessly carry on the
adversarial activity without fanfare. Thus in
keeping with the pragmatic advice, “Swim with the
So what does Sage attribute to
the demonic? In brief, three referents come to mind.
First, concerning so-called natural disasters.
Such as a storm that takes lives and creates
extensive damage. As if an evidence of the return to
chaos, before God brought order that would sustain
life. Then in terms of a cosmic conflict of major
Second, with inexplicable human
behavior. Such as associated with the terrorist, who
delights in the death of innocent civilians. Or the
person who rapes a young person, without seeming
remorse. In these and other ways, carrying human
degradation to an extreme.
Third, with unacceptable
thoughts. As if a whisper from some unidentified
source. As such, one that must be distinguished from
the prompting of the Holy Spirit. So that one is to
reject the demonic input, and appreciatively embrace
the divine. At this point, Sage opts to turn to some
more appealing topic.
* * *
As for satire, “If nothing else
works, read the instructions.” This observation
caused Sage to burst out into laughter. Since the
prospect seemed so unlikely, but its application so
noteworthy. It remains to comment.
Suppose one purchases a chain
saw. These characteristically come with instructions
for use. How to lubricate it, what safety
precautions to take, and so on. One is well advised
to read these carefully, and observe their
“The same logic pertains to
matters of faith and practice,” Sage concludes. As
for confirmation, “All Scripture is God-breathed and
is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and
training in righteousness, so that the man of God
may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2
“What are we to make of this?”
Sage inquires. Initially, that Scripture is
trustworthy in its entirety and particulars. In
general and with regard to specifics. From one
generation to the next, as a constant in the midst
Is this the only source of
instruction? No, certainly not. But other sources
are less certain, and subject to error. How are we
to account for this? Unlike humans, God sees the end
from its beginning. Then, too, he has a
comprehensive grasp of the situation. He also has
the means to achieve his benevolent agenda.
Something else? Yes, he
graciously shares with humans that which will be
helpful in what Sage likes to think of as the
journey to the celestial city. Something in
which he is actively engaged, and encourages others
to share in. Now some things may not seem all that
critical to us, but will likely appear so in
retrospect. While we are curious about some things
not disclosed, but are not of consequence from the
divine perspective. In any case, it is God’s call.
If appropriated, humans find that
the instruction is useful for giving instruction.
Negatively, by way of rebuke for behavior which is
unacceptable. Positively, by instructing persons
more accurately in the way of righteousness. As
concerns one whose delight “is in the law of the
Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He
is like a tree planted by streams of water, which
yields its fruit in season” (Psa. 1:2-3). Thus
sustained even during the dry season.
While in contrast to the wicked.
Who resemble chaff, which the chaff blows away.
Hence, without root or substance, and at the mercy
of circumstances. Thus are we alerted to the motif
of the two ways, that of the righteous and wicked,
which is explored at considerable length in the
With such in mind, Sage will
often inquire: “Have you had a drink today?” While
some are slow to pick up on his intent, others
readily recognize that his reference is to a daily
reading of Scripture. From which James derives the
notion of the wisdom from above, in contrast to that
from below. He elaborates as follow: “Who is wise
and understanding among you? Let him show it by his
good life, by deeds done in humility that comes from
wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish
ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or
deny the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from
heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil”
(James 3:13-15). So it bears repeating, “If nothing
else works, read the instructions.” Whether
accompanied by laughter or lament.
* * *
I THINK I CAN
Sage draws readily on the example
of others. For instance, there is a young lad
nicknamed Frisky. When asked if he can do
something or other, he as a rule replies: “I think I
can.” He is optimistic, although not presumptive.
When asked if he could climb a
tree in his yard, he paused for a moment. Then
having considered the matter, he replied: “I think I
can.” If, that is, there were some compelling reason
for him to do so. Otherwise, it seemed to him an
unnecessary risk. If a vicious dog were chasing him,
he would certainly give it a try.
On another occasion, his mother
asked if he could take care of his younger sister
while she went to the store. He thought this likely.
Of course, if some emergency arose, he might not be
able to cope with it. But that was not the case.
Of course, Frisky is not the
first person to be so disposed. Sage attributed a
similar disposition to the apostle Paul, who
allowed: “I know what it is to be in need, and I
know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the
secret of being content in any and every situation.
I can do everything through him who gives me
strength” (Phil. 4:12-13). Initially, he implies
that this was not formerly the situation. It was
something he had to learn in the crucible of life.
Before he became an I think I can person.
What are we to make of this? For
one thing, persons are not simply passive but
active. So that it is not simply their circumstances
but how they respond to them that form their
character. Some make the best of a difficult
circumstance, while others squander more favorable
conditions. Frisky was of the former sort.
Second, the apostle’s attitude
took a decided turn for the better. This resulted
from one who gave him strength to endure
adversity. And benefit in the process.
Qualifications aside, adversity
thus appears in a favorable light. Not that it is
desirable in itself, but for the opportunity it
affords for deepening one’s spiritual resolve.
Giving rise to Sage’s observation, “One does not
rise to the occasion unless the occasion exists.”
And not necessarily in this instance.
Finally, the enablement extended
to Paul’s labor of love. Faced with a formidable
task, he supposed he could engage with some success.
This obviously proved to be the case, for which he
is appreciatively recalled as the apostle to the
“What if he had thought
otherwise?” Sage rhetorically inquired. Perhaps
another would have taken his place. If so, someone
with a think I can disposition. But the apostle rose
to the occasion, and labored relentlessly.
Worthy of note, Sage contrasts
Barnabas with Paul. As for the former, he qualifies
in Sage’s thinking as “I think you can” person. With
emphasis on his supportive endeavors. Not that one
precludes the other, and the ideal incorporates
Just then, a cheery greeting from
Frisky interrupted Sage’s train of thought. Not that
he was resentful, because he thoroughly enjoyed his
youthful counterpart. As he did others given to the
I think I can disposition.
* * *
WHERE THERE IS SMOKE
Sage is inclined to observe on
occasion, “Where there is smoke, there is fire.”
This is by way of a warning, lest we ignore
indications that something has gone wrong. Of which
there are many instances, some which are more subtle
Suppose, for instance, one’s roof
leaks a bit. It is not wise to disregard the
problem, since matters will get worse. Some
corrective measure is called for, the sooner the
Now we are less inclined to
promptly respond when trouble surfaces in some
social context. As when a couple no longer enjoys
spending time together, and isolates themselves. As
was the case with one of those who lived nearby
Sage’s residence. When asked what he intended to do
about the matter, the husband replied that he would
let nature take its course. For better or worse, but
in all probability for worse.
When his wife was asked if she
meant to take an initiative, she allowed that her
husband was hopeless. She would tolerate the
situation, at least for the time being. She might
eventually file for a divorce. Thus focusing on the
symptoms, rather than dealing with their source.
While the preferred course of
action seems obvious. That is, receive marriage
counseling. Since this often resolves such matters,
and preserves the relationship. Then even if less
than ideal, beneficial to both of those involved.
Instances multiply. A certain lay
leader in the local congregation was married and
with children. But he was attracted to another
person. So that the two of them began to spend time
together. This became more frequent, and with a
Efforts were made to discourage
the relationship; for the time being, without
success. Then eventually the husband broke off the
elicit relationship, and the family structure was
preserved. But not before persons realized that
where there is smoke, there is fire.
“I am astonished that you are so
quickly deserting the one who called you by the
grace of Christ and are turning to a different
gospel, which is really no gospel of all,” Paul
protests (Gal. 1:6). “Was he the only one alerted to
this problem?” Sage speculates. What should have
been apparent to all, may have been evident to only
This consists of a different
gospel. One that deviates from the apostolic
teaching, and arises from an alien way of thinking.
Thus a genuine cause for alarm. Certainly it should
not to be ignored, as if inconsequential.
Moreover, it does not even
qualify as a gospel. Since it does not offer a
genuine solution to the human dilemma. As such, it
constitutes bad news, instead of good news. In terms
of a need reality check.
“But even if we or an angel from
heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we
preached to you, let him be eternally condemned.” In
other words, put out the fire, rather than tolerate
the smoke. What angel would do such a thing?
Presumably a demon, in its adversarial role. What
if we would so such a thing? In league with the
demonic, whether realized or not.
“Am I trying to win the approval
of men, or of God?” the apostle rhetorically
inquires. Surely the latter. “If I were still trying
to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
Just so! So be alerted to the smoke arising on the
* * *
FIRST THING FIRST
First things first
much characterizes Sage’s life. It amounts to
getting one’s priorities in order, and then
maintaining them throughout. Or as sometimes
expressed, “Come hell or high water.”
With this in mind, a scribes
inquired of Jesus: “Teacher, which is the greatest
commandment in the Law?” (Matt. 22:35). In one
sense, it was thought that all commandments were the
same, since all were binding. However, some seemed
of more substantial nature than others. In any case,
it was the subject of much discussion, and a test
Jesus readily responded: “‘Love
the Lord your God with all your heart and with all
your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first
and the greatest commandment. And the second is like
it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law
and the Prophets hang on these two commandments”
(Matt. 22:37-40; cf. Deut. 6:5, Lev. 19:18). Or as
Sage allows, “Love God and do as you please, because
if you love God, you will do as he pleases.”
The nearest analogy we have to
love of God is the affection we ideally have for our
parents. Since they gave birth to us, and provide
for our daily needs. Not begrudgingly, but with fond
affection. While not reluctant to correct us, still
more inclined to commend our efforts. So that we owe
them a debt of gratitude we cannot fully repay.
The second commandment derives
from the first. In this instance, our neighbor
resembles a sibling. Some are more appealing than
others. Sometimes more so than on other occasions.
But they are still family. As such, they are
deserving of special consideration.
This is in keeping with embracing
oneself. One is not expected to sacrifice one for
the other, but concern both self and others. Which,
in turn, recalls one of Jesus’ most memorable
parables, concerning the Good Samaritan. On
this occasion, a scribe inquired of him what he must
do to inherit eternal life. When Jesus inquired of
him as to his understanding, he cited the
commandments alluded to above. Jesus then commended
him for answering correctly. But he wanting to
justify himself, inquired: “And who is my neighbor?”
(Luke 10:29). Those with whom he associated or some
In reply, Jesus said: “A man was
going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell
into the hands of robbers.” They stripped him of his
clothing, beat him, and left him in critical
condition. A priest happened to be going down the
same road, and when he saw the injured man, he
passed by on the other side of the road. He perhaps
feared that those who had beaten him might still be
in the area, felt his other obligations took
precedence, or simply acted on impulse. So also a
Levite, when he came that way, saw the man, but
hastened past by on the other side.
“But a Samaritan, as he traveled
came where the man was, and when he saw him, he took
pity on him.” He approached went to him, bandaged
his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the
man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and took
care of him. The next day, he gave the inn-keeper
two silver coins, along with the instruction that he
care for the stranger. And that when he returned, he
would may any extra expense entailed. This was
surprising, since the Samaritans were depreciated as
lion converts—since they were converted under
duress from a plague of lions (cf. 2 Kings
17:24-28). That is, as a matter of expediency.
“Which of these three do you
think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the
hands of robbers?” Jesus then inquired. When the
scribe identified the man who had mercy on him,
Jesus concluded: “Go and do likewise.” So that the
neighbor turns out not to be the one who acts as
neighbor to us, but whom we befriend as neighbor.
Such as is in keeping with the exhortation, “Put
first things first.”
* * *
Sage is a strong advocate of
traditional marriage. Early on in the ceremony, the
cleric inquires: “Will you have this woman (man) as
your wedded wife (husband), and live together after
God’s ordinance, in the holy estate of matrimony?”
So that marriage is by mutual consent.
The initial focus then is on
commitment. Consisting of a resolve to share life
together, in keeping with God’s provision. Then to
anticipate his blessing, guidance, and enablement.
“Will you love her (him), comfort
her (him), honor, and keep her (him), in sickness
and in health; and, forsaking all others, keep only
unto her (him), so long as you both shall live?” In
brief, will you cultivate your relationship
In greater detail, will you
love her (him)? This is set forth as a choice,
rather than a feeling. The former initiates and
sustains the relationship, while the latter enhances
it. These work together in an ideal situation.
Will you comfort her
(him)? That is, will you reassure your partner? When
discouraged or weary. When uncertain or mourning the
loss of a loved one. In whatever circumstance that
causes distress. By being readily available and
Will you honor her (him)?
By appreciating her (his) finer qualities. Likewise,
by allowing for her (his) less favorable
inclinations. Certainly not be demeaning one’s
spouse, especially in public. Whether in this regard
or some other, treating one’s partner as one would
wish to be treated.
Will you keep only unto
her (him)? A singular relationship, not to be
compromised. Not only precluding intimacy with
another, but lust. Which is to say, the desire for
intimacy—whether realized or not. So long as you
both shall live. Until death intervenes, and
then in whatever form this special relationship
takes in the life to come. Will you?
I will? Not hesitantly but
confidently. Not solely in private but in public.
While in God’s presence, and with his approval.
As the ceremony nears its
completion, the cleric petitions in this manner:
“The Lord mercifully with his favor look upon you,
and fill you with all spiritual benediction and
grace; that you may so live together in this life,
that in the world to come you may have life
everlasting.” Amen, or so be it.
Sage looks with disfavor on
commonly practiced alternatives. Chief among these
is what he disdainfully refers to trivial sex.
That is, sex whenever it is convenient. Whether with
one or more partners. Sex for the pleasure it
affords, without a larger context.
He is also critical of
cohabiting. A practice which its advocates
insist helps determine whether a couple is
compatible. Which, however, tends to be a temporary
accommodation. Then, too, men are more likely to
view it as a convenience.
Sage is especially careful when
registering his disapproval of homosexual unions,
since this is readily misunderstood. He does not
want to give the impression that he is critical of
homosexuals as such, although he thinks it an
unfortunate inclination. He also points out that
some make a successful transition, while others fail
to do so. It bears repeating, he comes across as an
advocate of traditional marriage. If for no other
reason, this solicits criticism.
“Will you have this woman (man)
as your wedded wife (husband)?” Sage echoes the
cleric’s solemn inquiry. It is decision time.
“I will,” those he mentors
respond in unison. For better and for worse, until
death intervenes. Thus with unrelenting resolve. As
the best of alternatives.
* * *
Sage is especially devoted to
what Martin Luther referred to as table talk.
Which is to say, the conversation that takes place
during a common meal. An opportunity that we ought
not to overlook, as a means of spiritual
In this regard, it comes as no
surprise that he makes a practice of saying grace
before a meal. This recalls the rabbinic comment,
“He who eats or drinks and blesses not the Lord, is
as he that steals.” Since he does not acknowledge
the divine source of his provision. Then, too, this
brings to mind that the rabbis taught that by
demeaning another person, this constitutes theft. So
that one is guilty of stealing in subtle ways.
“A simple thank you is
sufficient,” Sage allows. Although one may extend
his or her appreciation in various ways. For
instance, in expressing thanks for those sitting
around the table. Or some special event that
recently transpired. Or simply for life in general.
This likewise recalls the
experience of a friend who was living in Jerusalem
at the time. It seems that an Arab acquaintance
invited he and his wife to partake of the evening
meal with his family. Given the risk involved, his
friend was reluctant to accept the gracious
invitation. However, his prospective host assured
him that he would inform his neighbors, and they
would make sure that no one tampered with his
vehicle. And so a pleasant evening was spent
Now the common meal had covenant
implications in the culture of Jesus’ time.
Therefore, it was not to be entered into glibly. So
when certain of the scribes and Pharisees observed
him eating with tax-collectors and sinners
(non-observant Jews), they inquired of his disciples
concerning this. While on occasion, Jesus explained
that he had come to seek and to save those who were
A rabbi reflecting on this
difference in perspective, allowed that while it was
customary to urge repentance, one refrained from
table fellowship until there was indication that the
person had relented of his sin. While he allowed
that Jesus seemed to approach persons with the
intent that he might encourage them to do so. Or as
he expressed it, “Accepting them for what they might
become, they in fact became this.” All of which
helps us understand the deeper implications of
Sage’s appreciation of table talk.
Moreover, grace is meant to
initiate a continuing conversation. How so? One may
ask some leading question, intended to encourage
further reflection. Such as concerns our obligation
toward those in dire need. As an incentive to prayer
on their behalf, along with the means to implement
Sage also maintains that table
talk is a assuredly helpful as a means for
instructing children. For one thing, it is quite
natural—rather than contrived. For another, it is in
a positive climate, thus benefitting from its
association. For still another, it encourages
“Whatever we do should be to the
glory of God,” Sage adamantly concludes. The common
meal being no exception. As such, it serves as an
encouragement to glorify God in other aspects of
life. And then in a continuing fashion.
“It likewise provides a means of
outreach to others,” he adds as an afterthought. To
those who may need a helping hand. As a means to
welcoming a new arrival to the community. As an
on-going means of showing one’s prayerful support.
For not particular reason other than as an
expression of good will. Given the table, it
remains to fashion the talk.
* * *
OF ALL THE BEST
Sage seems to have access to a
virtually endless source of sayings. Another
affirms, “Day of rest, of all the best.” This
appears to be reference to the Sabbath; or in
Christian circles, the Lord’s Day. Jewish tradition
counts toward the Sabbath celebration. That is,
first day, second day, and so on, in anticipation of
It further observes that unless
one does not work the six days, it is impossible to
correctly observe the seventh. This is in keeping
with the mandate, “Remember the Sabbath day by
keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all
your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the
Lord your God” (Exod. 20:8-10). This is not meant to
exclude all activity, but such as is thought to
duplicate in some way that associated with creation.
Moreover, some activity is
thought to be preferred on the Sabbath. So while the
preparation of food is delegated to the days leading
up to the Sabbath observance, the partaking of that
food is especially enjoyed on the Sabbath. Then,
too, sexual relations between husband and wife are
most fulfilling on that occasion.
Even so, it is considered a day
set apart from the rest. One in which persons focus
life in divine perspective. Thus to remember who we
are, as created in God’s image. And to recall our
sacred obligations, as his offspring. Thus to
enhance the vertical relationship, in anticipation
of enhancing the horizontal relationship as well.
It appears that the early
Christians observed the first day of the week,
commemorating the resurrection of Jesus. In this
regard, “Now on the first day of the week, when the
disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready
to depart the next day, spoke to them” (Acts 20:7).
“Now about the collection for God’s people,” the
apostle enjoins. “Do what I told the Galatian
churches to do. On the first day of every week, each
one of you should set aside a sum of money in
keeping with his income, saving it ups so that when
I come no collections will have to be made” (1 Cor.
16:2). At which time, he would give letters of
introduction to those they approved, and send them
with the congregation’s gift to alleviate the need
of the mother church in Jerusalem. Then we are told
that John was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day (cf.
This perception is confirmed by
the early church fathers. For instance, the
Didarche admonishes: “But every Lord’s Day,
gather yourselves together, and break bread, and
give thanksgiving after having confessed your
transgressions, so that your sacrifice may be pure.”
Every Lord’s Day, as a matter of course,
rather than simply on select occasions. Gather
together, rather than carry on your worship
separately. While celebrating the Lord’s Supper,
often associated with a common meal. Giving thanks,
having confessed one’s transgressions. Thus assuring
that their endeavor will be approved.
Consequently, Sage allows that
while the celebration of the Lord’s Day must be
distinguished from the Sabbath, there are striking
similarities. Most prominent among these is that
both are set apart as special occasions for worship.
Thus to put life in focus, by way of reminding us
that we live in God’s world, and by his grace. In
more graphic imagery, to view life from the throne
Sage also supposes that it is an
ideal time to render some services, that we might
otherwise postpone or disregard, because of pressing
responsibilities. As the result of a charitable
spirit, cultivated by a reoccurring observance. When
asked concerning this, he replies: “We should not
neglect the commandment to love God without
reservation or our neighbor as ourselves. Life never
gets better than when we observe them in conjunction
with one another.”
* * *
TO BE JUDGED
“The judgment awaits us all,”
Sage allows from time to time. “For it is time for
judgment to begin with the family of God, and if it
begins with us what will the outcome be for those
who do no obey the gospel of God” (1 Peter 4:17).
Even now, God is judging those of the household of
faith—especially as they respond to adversity. This
being the case, we are assured that those who ignore
the call to repentance and faith will not fare as
“With what regard will they be
judged?” he rhetorically inquires. This recalls five
questions proposed in the rabbinic tradition. Which,
according to Sage, provides food for thought.
Since they reflect God’s displeasure with human
perversity. (1) “Have you been honest in all your
dealings?” Since honesty is not only the best
policy, but in that it is God’s policy.
Now honesty consists of
deliberately giving the wrong impression. This can
be done not only by what we say, but what we fail to
say. So that silence may be variously interpreted.
Then, too, it is dishonest to leave out some
critical feature, and thus give the wrong
impression. “One should be as good as his word or
lack thereof,” Sage accordingly concludes.
(2) “Have you set aside a portion
of your time to study the teachings?” Initially, so
that we are made aware of God’s instruction. Lest we
sin ignorantly but purposefully. Decidedly not as a
Moreover, we learn not simply to
understand, but to put it into practice. Knowledge
is not intended to satisfy idle curiosity. No
indeed! It rather serves refine the way of the
righteous, as over against the wicked.
(3) “Have you observed the first
commandment?” As previously noted, to love God
wholeheartedly. In a manner of speaking thus
consumed by love. Not so much driven by
other considerations as drawn by God’s
sacrificial love of us.
Then in conjunction with love of
our neighbor. Such as earlier illustrated by the
Good Samaritan, who unlike the priest and
Levite, assisted the person who was beaten by
thieves. Binding up his wounds, bringing him to an
inn for further recovery, and pledging to pay for
any additional expense on his return. So that the
person in need qualifies as our neighbor.
(4) “Have you in trouble still
hoped and believed in Him?” “Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death, I will
fear no evil, for your are with me,” the psalmist
declares; “your rod and your staff, they comfort me”
(23:4). An imagery that brings to mind the deep
ravines of the Judean hill country. Where thieves
and wild beast may attack the flock.
Yet with confidence in the good
shepherd, who protects his flock. So that hope
remains undimmed, and faith continues strong. Giving
rise to the lyric refrain, “The God on the mountain
is the God in the valley.” As otherwise expressed,
the God of the good times is the same as the God of
the bad times.
(5) “Have you spoken wisely?”
Recalling the saying, “Speak in haste, and repent at
leisure.” Far better to chose one’s words carefully,
lest others be offended. Uncommonly resulting not
only in temporary tension but lingering resentment.
Sage serves as a case in point.
As an example to be emulated by those seeking
wisdom. Who contrast to the foolish, such as
resemble an accident waiting to happen. Leaving
persons to choose between the two options.
While these questions would be
applicable to all, Sage is deeply aware of the
distinction made between those of the household of
faith and those excluded. As for the former, they
enjoy Christ’s intercession on their behalf. So that
it remains to be attentive to his teaching, in
keeping with their accountability.
* * *
AS WITH PAIN
One of Sages’ favorite stories
concerns a circle of Jewish observers witnessing the
destruction of Jerusalem by Roman forces. All were
expressing their anguish except for one of their
number. Who unexpectedly began to rejoice. His
associates were astonished and inquired how he could
be gleeful on such a tragic occasion. He confidently
replied: “If our suffering is so intense now, think
how much greater our joy when our beloved temple is
Which is to suggest that our
capacity for pleasure is commensurate with that for
pain. The more of one, the more of the other. The
less of one, the less of the other. Which would one
prefer? If, that is, he or she would given the
As it is, God made the call.
Consequently, human pain is perhaps the greatest
among God’s creatures. For what reason? “In that we
are created in God’s image,” Sage speculates. Like
Father, like offspring.
Does this imply that God
experiences similar or more excruciating pain? Sage
is inclined to think so. In what regard? Perhaps
with the defection of angelic beings. In this
regard, Jesus observed: “I saw Satan fall from
heaven” (Luke 10:18). As if this deplorable event
were etched in his memory, and recalled in the
context of satanic opposition.
Then with the first human couple.
Given such potential and under such favorable
conditions, they fell prey to temptation. “What is
this that you have done?” God inquired of Eve (Gen.
3:13). Once Adam had attempted to shift the blame.
Resulting in their being driven from favorable
surroundings, and having to contend with trying
circumstances. Recalling when Sage’s mother would
confide in him, “This punishment hurts me more than
it does you.” Only later on in life did he conclude
that this might actually be the case.
Then on subsequent occasions, of
which there were many. Since following its parents
defection, most seem calloused and insensitive to
God’s leading. Only a few stand out as commendable
exceptions. So that presumably the pain was
But far greater with the
suffering of Christ. At which time Kazah Kitamori
allows that God resolves human pain by way of his
own. Granted, the physical agony associated with
crucifixion is great, but the rejection Jesus
experienced may have been greater. Recalling how
persons agitated for his death, and mocked him as he
was dying. They disapproved of him, saying: “He
saved others; let him save himself if he is the
Christ of God, the Chosen One” (Luke 23:35).
At this point, Sage draws a deep
breath. “Moreover,” he then continued, “we do not
begin to understand the pain of God as associated
with the sense of alienation, created by Jesus’
vicarious sacrifice.” Especially in its corporate
setting, as something quite beyond our imagination.
Or for that matter, our capacity.
“What are we to make of all
this?” Sage rhetorically inquires. We ought not to
covet suffering in itself, since this is an
unpleasant experience. Conversely, we should embrace
it in keeping with the cost of discipleship. With
confidence that if we suffer with Christ, we shall
also rejoice with him. We ought also to minister to
those in pain, even as Christ ministers to us.
Finally, to recognize suffering as an indication of
our human potential, for pain and pleasure alike. So
that the latter more than offsets the former.
Now Sage speaks from experience.
Having lost his beloved wife. Being subject to the
demeaning remarks by others concerning his faithful
adherence to the Christian faith. With the defection
of some from his circle of Christian friends. With
the failure of others to respond, especially in the
light of the Lord’s anticipated return. In what
might be considered trivial matters, were they not
to compound the problem. And yet with resolve.
* * *
“What is your favorite hymn?”
Sage was asked. Since it was thought that appealing
lyrics provide a key to understanding a person. And
Sage was by common consent a complex individual, who
required closer scrutiny.
“Amazing grace!” he exclaimed.
There was no genuine competition from his
perspective. So that the lyrics resonated with his
experience. Coming to mind time and again, with a
reassuring effect, and a stimulus to service.
“Amazing grace! How sweet the
sound that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost
but now am found. Was blind but now I see.” In more
precise terms, the composer’s tombstone reads: “John
Newton, clerk, once an infidel and Libertine, a
servant of slavers in Africa, was, by the rich mercy
of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, preserved,
restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the
faith he had so long labored to destroy.”
These words were written by
Newton himself, as he recalled his involvement in
the slave trade. And before his encounter with
Jesus, which transformed him into a devout disciple.
So that he proclaimed the gospel he had once
Now the notion of total
depravity does not mean that everyone is equally
despicable, although every sin is objectionable.
Instead, it implies that one’s sinful disposition is
pervasive. Accordingly, it effects all that we do.
Even so, participation in the
slave trade was especially offensive. So that many
would agree with Newton’s appraisal of himself as a
wretch. And given the high mortality rate
among slaves in transit, in effect a murderer.
As an affront to God, in whose image man was
Then, too, an infidel.
Which is to say, an unbeliever. One who fails to
acknowledge God’s existence and benevolent purposes.
In spite of compelling evidence, while demeaning
those who profess faith.
No less a libertine.
Consequently, one who is devoid of moral restraint.
Given to licentious living. Disrespectful of the
rights of others. Thus providing a rationale for
Newton’s engagement in the slave trade.
Such was the undeserving
character of one who was shown mercy. Which
is expressive of forbearance. Since God is reluctant
that any should perish. As a result, his life was
preserved, then restored, pardoned,
and appointed to proclaim the gospel. Not that
Newton was deserving, since grace amounts to
Once lost but now found.
Which recalls a time when Sage was lost in the
woods. Not knowing which way to turn, he noticed the
faint hint of a trail. The indication soon became
more pronounced. This eventually lead him to a
hunting camp, from which he was able to find his
Once blind but now I
see. Sage was harder pressed to find an analogy
in this instance. Then his educational experience
appeared to be a plausible alternative. Since he was
unfamiliar with the lesson material, before the
instructor had introduced the matter. Accordingly,
he gained insight.
“The Lord has promised good to
me, His word my hope secures; He will my shield and
portion be as long as life endures.” Newton had
already experienced an earnest of the future, and
the best was yet to come. His hope was thus secure.
God would act as his shield, to defend him
against his adversaries, and his resource for as
long as his life would endure. Regardless of
circumstances, obstacles, and uncertainties.
“Through many dangers, toils and
snares I have already come; ‘tis grace has brought
me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.” The
past is thus indicative of the future. Having been
sustained by grace, he anticipates that he will be
sustained in the future. Then, having recalled God’s
faithfulness, to sing his praise throughout
eternity. At this point, a confident smile
accompanies Sage’s appreciative reflection on his
* * *
“Some people can’t see the
forest for the trees,” Sage observed. That is, they
focus their attention on an immediate issue, but
fail to view in context. If by any other
designation, what Sage refers to as tunnel vision.
How is one to remedy this
situation? “When I consider your heavens, the work
of your fingers, the moon and the starts, which you
have set in place, what is man that you are mindful
of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (Psa.
8:3-4). Such as pertains to general revelation, and
is thus readily available to all.
In this regard, the vastness of
the universe defies our imagination. What are we to
make of this? We are but a small component of a much
larger configuration. Which encourages us to think
in terms of the larger picture.
Then, too, humans appear singled
out for special consideration. Special among the
other creatures with which we are familiar. Nor has
anything been found comparable in our investigation
of outer space. “Rest assured,” Sage allows, “if we
discover that such exists, it will be in accord with
God’s providential timing.”
Sage was well aware that the High
God of antiquity was viewed primarily in terms of a
potter, who fashions his vessel. Thus as evidence of
intelligent design. This notion has persisted
even among some who claim to be atheists, as if an
immanent feature of nature.
“We do best to keep our solutions
simple,” Sage observed. Rather than develop
problematic alternatives. So that if something
exists, there is an efficient cause for it.
If giving rise to intelligence, then likely
It remains for special revelation
to disclose the character of the Creator in greater
detail. For what purpose did he create humans? It
was widely thought in antiquity that this was to
serve the needs of the deity. Hence, as a matter of
self-indulgence. Conversely, Scripture portrays God
as self-sufficient (cf. Acts 17:25). Accordingly, he
is disposed to share his bounty. Thus setting a
precedent for service.
Salvation history eventually runs
its course. From the time of the patriarchs, to that
of the prophets, and with Jesus and his apostles.
One divine initiative after another, expressive of a
relentless resolve in response to human obstinacy.
And yet obscured by matters of
lesser consequence. For instance, one of Sage’s
neighbors was virtually obsessed with home
improvement. Consequently, he took on one task after
another. Sometimes of substantial nature, and on
other occasions trivial matters—even by his own
admission. Leaving little time for anything else,
and without concern for others. Leading Sage to
conclude that he needed to be aware of the larger
In another instance, the person
dwelt extensively on physical fitness. While a
legitimate concern, this made him unavailable to his
family and others in need. With what results? At
best, he might extend life briefly. Then with a
sense of satisfaction. But as if a tree in the midst
of a forest, the latter of which he was little
“What of the tree?” Sage
pointedly inquires. Qualifications aside, it appears
to be ours to do with as we will. But what of the
forest? It resembles a sacred canopy, where God
reigns supreme. And where his grace abounds, for
those cognizant of and responsive to it. Is the tree
important? Yes, as a feature of the forest, but not
as a substitute.
* * *
According to Murphy’s Law,
“Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” Sooner
or later, but suggesting the ineffectiveness of our
efforts. Accordingly, as a caution that we prepare
for any eventuality. So that while we may hope for
the best, we should prepare for the worst. “It makes
sense,” Sage concludes.
Moses serves as a prime case in
point. While Joseph’s generation passed away, the
Israelites multiplied greatly. One might assume from
this that they would prosper, except that Murphy’s
Law kicked in. The new ruler complained that the
Israelites constituted a threat, in that should the
land be invaded, they might join the enemy. So that
they took preventative action, by forcing the
Israelites into forced labor.
Then, when the oppressed people
continued to multiply, and restrictive measures of
birth control failed, Pharaoh ordered that every
male child should be cast into the Nile. While
female children could be absorbed into the
prevailing culture. As an act of genocide.
However, when Moses was born, his
mother hid him away for three months. Then, when she
could no longer hide him, she put him in a papyrus
basket, and placed it among the reeds along the bank
of the Nile. While his sister stood at a distance,
to see what would happen.
When Pharaoh’s daughter came to
bathe in the water, she saw the basket, and had it
brought to her. Opening it, she discovered the
child—who was crying, and she had pity on it.
Gathering that it was a Hebrew child, she allowed
Moses’ sister to enlist a Hebrew women to nurse it.
And so the latter obtained the services of her
mother. Consequently, Moses was adopted by Pharaoh’s
daughter, and raised in the royal household.
One day, when Moses had matured,
he went out where his own people were
laboring. Whereupon, he viewed an Egyptian beating
(repeated for emphasis) one of his own people.
Glancing this way and that to see that he was not
observed, he killed the abusive person, and buried
his body in the sand. However, Murphy’s Law again
intervened. When his action was observed, he fled to
Midian so as to escape Pharaoh’s wrath.
Moses resided in Midian for an
extended time. Meanwhile, Pharaoh passed away, and
the Israelites remained in bondage. One day, while
tending the flock of his father-in-law, Moses
observed a burning bush that was not consumed. This
has been variously explained, as a natural
phenomenon or a vision. In any case, Moses turned
aside to view this more closely. But when he
approached, God spoke to him.
Now the Almighty allowed that he
had indeed seen the misery of his people, heard
their cries, and was concerned about their
suffering. Consequently, it was his intent to
deliver them from bondage. At this point Moses must
have been elated. “So now, go, I am sending you to
Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of
Egypt,” the Almighty continued (Exod. 3:1). Murphy’s
Law strikes again.
“Who am I, that I should go to
Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
Moses protested. Without a military force at his
command. Given the uncertainty related to the
response of the Israelites. Along with the fact that
he was not articulate. Conversely, with the promise
that God would be with him, and the venture would
succeed. Murphy’s Law notwithstanding.
* * *
RECOURSE TO HUMOR
Sage has a keen sense of humor.
Which comes as a surprise to some, supposing that
such an insightful person would be solemn in his
demeanor. “Humor is healthy,” he acknowledges from
time to time. Although he allows that some humor is
out of place.
Acceptable examples proliferate.
“The good Lord didn’t create anything without a
purpose, but the fly comes close” (Mark Twain).
Along a similar line, Sage supposes that hell for
humans could serve as heaven for mosquitoes.
“Most of us spend the first six
days of the week sowing wild oats, then we go to
church on Sunday and pray for crop failure” (Fred
Allen). Which brings to mind that we cannot
celebrate the Lord’s Day as we should unless we have
been faithful throughout the week. Since the former
serves as the capstone for the latter.
“Quit griping about your church;
if it were perfect, you couldn’t belong” (Joseph
Dooley). So that when one person complained about
hypocrites in the church, his friend replied: “There
is always room for one more.”
“If the church wants a better
pastor, it can get one by praying for the one it
has” (Robert Harris). While the cynic observes, “If
you want a better pastor, pay him more.” In any
case, Sage allows that there is room for
Turning our attention from pastor
to congregation, “A lot of church members (who) are
singing ‘Standing On The Promises’ are just sitting
on the premises” (Monique Rysavy). Thus allowing
inertia to pass for dedication.
“Every evening I turn my troubles
over to God, (since) He’s going to be up all night
anyway” (Donald Morgan). Thus serving as a
comforting thought, although humorously expressed,
concerning day’s end. Along with anticipation for a
new day, with its fresh challenges and promising
“I don’t know why some people
change churches. What difference does it make which
one you stay home from?” (Denny Blake). Instead,
become more faithful in attendance, and thus serve
as an encouragement to others.
“Young man, the secret of my
success is that at an early age I discovered I was
not God” (Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.). A saying that
readily comes to mind when someone pontificates, as
if he or she has privileged insight.
“To err is human; to blame it on
somebody else is even more human” (John Nadeau).
Since there is an extensive list of surrogate
individuals: our parents, teachers, employers,
spouses, and so on. Then to blame God ultimately. As
implied when Adam protested: “The woman you put here
with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I
ate it” (Gen. 3:12).
In any case, Sage insists that
wisdom must regulate humor. Otherwise, it becomes
demeaning and counterproductive. Instead, one should
be sensitive to the situation in which it is
introduced, and for the persons implicated.
Resulting in a celebration of life, in its entirety
and particulars. As a means of enjoying its rich
diversity. Then sharing along with other, and
expressing our deep appreciation to the Lord of Life
* * *
According to a Spanish proverb,
“We are all Adam’s children.” “For all have sinned
and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).
This serves as a reality check, lest we become
self-righteous and condescending.
According to chaos theory, even
small variations in original conditions can have
momentous results. So while eating the forbidden
fruit may have seemed of little consequence, it
amounted to a declaration of human autonomy, along
with its chaotic aftermath. As graphically
expressed, we live between the loss of paradise and
paradise regained. Where even God’s love is mediated
through a fallen world.
Even so, it is said that God
punishes “the children for the sin of the fathers to
the third and fourth generation of those who hate
me, but showing love to a thousand generations, of
those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exod.
20:5-6). So that he curtails the fallout from evil,
but enhances that resulting from goodness. Giving
rise to the apt saying, “If God were to cast dice,
they would be loaded.”
As noted earlier, this results in
a situation where most appear impervious to God’s
leading, and bent on furthering their own interests.
While there are only a few that qualify as
exceptions, and even these are not without their
Yet, God does not forsake his
fallen creatures. Instead, he takes the initiative
to restore them. Not once, but on successive
occasions. For instance, he enjoined Abram: “Leave
your country, your people and your father’s
household, and go to the land I will show you” (Gen.
12:1). Each successive aspect of his call appears
more demanding. Leave not simply the region with
which you are familiar, but the security provided by
your extended family. Not simply taking leave, but
negotiating new circumstances—with unpredictable
Yet with the promise, “I will
make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I
will make your name great and you will be a
blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and
whoever curses you I will curse, and all peoples on
earth will be blessed through you.” So that the
promise outweighs the problematic character of his
“How do you read this?” Sage
inquired, calling for an explanation. He then
paused, to allow his friend to reflect and respond.
“I suppose that we should bear in
mind that we are defective,” the latter replied.
“Only Jesus stands out as an exception. Then, in
comparison, our failure seems even more evident.”
“Well put,” Sage commended him.
“What else comes to mind?” Rather than hastening to
impose his opinions on another.
“While sinners, we are saved by
grace,” he replied. Thus echoing Paul’s continuing
observation, “and are justified freely by his grace
through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
At which, he made the sign of the cross. Since this
was his custom when observing some indication of
“Anything further?” Sage
inquired. Since he assumed that this would satisfy
“Finally, in that we ought to
make the most of the opportunity that grace affords.
Thus to put off the old life, and embrace that which
is new.” At this, Sage smiled his approval. Nothing
more seemed necessary, as redeemed sons of Adam.
* * *
“How can one escape sin?” a
practical minded individual inquired of Sage. He
hoped to get some concrete suggestions. Especially
since he was not inclined toward abstract thought,
and supposed that it is of little consequence.
“You are not the first to ask the
question,” Sage observed. Since the rabbis inquired
along this line, and provided three guidelines.
First, consider whence you come. While unable to
relive the past, be content to learn from it.
Why did some effort fail? Since
we often see more clearly in retrospect. As with a
broken marriage, or some other worthwhile endeavor.
Recall the events leading up to it. What could have
been done to ease the problem? Could anything have
been done to rectify the problem, once it had become
evident? What might others have done, were they more
available? What if thus serves as a key to
what to do.
Why did some other endeavor
succeed? Perhaps with little prospect of a favorable
result. Resulting in surprise, and inviting further
reflection. Thus weighing the contributing factors,
as to their relative influence.
Second, focus on where you are
going. That is, given the course one has assumed.
Then, too, the options that are available. No less
the means at one’s disposal. Along with an exit
strategy, should things appear undesirable.
As allowed in an earlier context,
hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Hope
for the best! Aim for some worthwhile goals. Then,
even if one falls short, he or she may obtain
something significant. But take into consideration
something far less. Perhaps as a result of poor
health or depleted resources. Moreover, should one
waver in his or her resolve.
Third, before whom you must
appear. Early on, with regard to one’s parents. By
showing respect and being obedient. Then, as they
age, to increasingly minister to their needs:
whether physical, emotional, or spiritual.
In a less defined way, to others
whom provide a social matrix. Recalling the
exhortation, “United we stand, divided we fall.”
Thus engaged in community affairs, and out of
respect for those in authority.
Now while these considerations
have merit, the rabbis appear to have had especially
in mind that we will all give an account of our
stewardship to God. Hence, one who is cognizant not
only of our behavior but intent. One also who
executes judgment with justice. While having been
patient and still merciful.
“It remains to fill in the
particulars,” Sage allowed. Having noted the
recommended guidelines, and accepting the need for
application. This requires the cultivation of skill.
Skill in perception, skill in rendering decisions,
skill in cooperation with others, and skill in
refining one’s relationship to the Almighty.
“My plate is full,” his companion
allowed. That is, he had been given more than enough
food for thought. It remained for him to put it to
good use, in keeping with the sage observation: “The
more some things change, the more other things
remain constant.” “Just so,” he concluded.
* * *
MUCH ABOUT LITTLE
Sage evidences concern less we
exaggerate matters of lesser consequence. Since he
is convinced that we should speak the truth, the
whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Otherwise,
we lack a needed reality check.
For instance, one day he waved to
an acquaintance, who did not respond. Now he could
have taken offense at this, supposing that the
person had meant to slight him. However, he supposed
that the individual might have been focusing on some
other matter. As it turned out, he was accurate in
his assessment. So in refusing to take offense, no
harm was done.
On another occasion, a person
made an inappropriate remark. Sage could have let
the matter slide, but chose not to. Or he could have
ridiculed the individual, but this did not seem
serve any constructive purpose. Instead, he observed
that the person might have some second thoughts on
the matter. In this way, he appealed to the person,
without inviting controversy.
As in other instances, one should
avoid the extremes. One extreme consists of silent
resentment. A retreat into oneself, and a subsequent
lack of meaningful contact with others. To his or
her detriment, and a lack of constructive
The other extreme insists on
discussing inconsequential matters at length. Which
can be annoying, if not offensive. So that one
should choose carefully, and be sensitive to the
response of others. Or so it seems to Sage.
All of which brought to his
attention an instance when Paul enjoined Barnabas,
“Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the
towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see
how they are doing” (Acts 15:36). However, they
could not agree on whether to take Mark with them.
Since he had left them on an earlier occasion, Paul
apparently did feel that he was dependable.
Conversely, Barnabas perhaps felt that he should
have the opportunity of redeeming himself.
In any case, “They had such a
sharp disagreement that they parted company.”
Barnabas took Mark, and they departed for Cyprus.
While Paul chose Silas to accompany him. And so they
went on their respective ways, ministering as the
opportunity afforded itself.
“What are we to make of this?”
Sage inquired of those present. First, there are
legitimate differences of opinion. Given the complex
character of life, and the priorities we set in any
given situation. Such are subject to review, as
further information surfaces or weighed differently.
While allowing for the observation, “To live is to
Second, these differences are
influenced to some degree by one’s disposition. In
this instance, Paul appears more forcefully engaged
in his mission, while Barnabas played more or a
supportive role. Consequently, each was able to
serve in a distinctive manner.
Third, while such differences can
sometime be counterproductive, they can also serve
the greater good. As when they open new fields of
service, and means by which this is accomplished. So
that one can often opt for the better of the two.
Finally, this may actually
cultivate a creative diversity, which better serves
the cause of unity than promoting uniformity.
Accordingly, Paul reasons: “The eye cannot say to
the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’” (1 Cor. 12:21). Nor
the head to the feet. “But God has combined the
members of the body, so that there should be no
division in the body, but that its parts should have
equal concern for each other.” Unless we are caught
up in furthering much about little.
* * *
PUT OFF UNTIL TOMORROW
Qualifications aside, do not put
off until tomorrow what can be done today. So Sage
was enjoined as a child, and he readily recognized
the wisdom in this advice. “But what are the
qualifications,” a friend subsequently inquired of
(1) “Some matters deserve further
consideration,” he replied. Something of importance
might otherwise be overlooked. “Suppose one of you
wants to build a tower,” Jesus speculated. “Will he
not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if
he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays
the foundation and is not able to finish it,
everyone who sees it will ridicule him” (Luke
14:28-29). Thus serving as a case in point.
“Or suppose a king is about to go
to war against another king,” he continued. “Will he
not first sit down and consider whether he is able
with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming
against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able,
he will send a delegation while the other is till a
long way off and will ask for terms of peace.”
Another case in point.
(2) These examples likewise
stress the importance of adequate preparation. It is
one thing to have thought through the matter, and
another to be capable of managing it. If lacking in
either regard, one is advised to postpone or
reconsider the undertaking. Thus recalling the
saying, “It is better to be safe than sorry.”
This also implies that one must
have resolve in order to be successful. Accordingly,
Jesus observed: “No one who puts his hand to the
plow and looks back is fit for service in the
kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). Such one must bear in
mind when contemplating decisive action.
(3) In addition, it may be in
order to solicit the help of others in the
anticipated initiative. Since the task may be too
difficult for one person to manage. Which recalls
yet another saying, “Many hands make for light
Jesus set a precedent in this
regard. When undertaking his mission, he gathered
others to work with him. There were the apostles,
their inner circle, the disciples at large. In some
respects, any who did not oppose him. Then, upon his
departure, they were able to carry on his ministry.
(4) Finally, prayer plays a
critical role in one’s service. Initially, to be
assured that one is doing the right thing, at the
right time. Consequently, divine guidance is a
prerequisite. Thus assured that it is God’s will,
one may proceed with confidence.
Then there is the matter of
divine enablement. So that the person can overcome
any reluctance that may plague him or her. Then to
face obstacles courageously. As energized by the
Holy Spirit. Along with the realization of being a
channel for God’s outreach.
Conversely, what should not
persuade us to postpone action? A lack of
commitment, or some distraction. Any feeble excuse,
or a failure to recognize the urgency of the
situation. A list that could be greatly extended.
As a final incentive for prompt
action, there is the brevity of life. In this
regard, “As for man, his days are like grass, he
flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind
blows over it and it is gone, and its place is
remembered no more” (Psa. 103:13-14). Which incites
Sage to reminisce: “It seems like yesterday that I
was a child, playing in the yard. Now life is
winding down, and there remains so much that could
have been done. If I had not put off until tomorrow
what could have been done today.”
* * *
NEVER SAY NEVER
“I would never do that!” one of
Sage’s friends exclaimed. While assured that the
practice is detestable. When having resisted the
temptation previously. As an expression of
self-righteousness, and by may of demeaning those
“Never say never,” Sage replied.
Since such may not take seriously the depth of human
degradation. Or account for the tragic things
persons will do under extreme circumstances. Or when
under the influence of an authoritative figure.
He then recalled the occasion
when David got up from his bed and walked around on
the roof of his palace. From that vantage point, he
saw a woman bathing. She was very beautiful. So he
sent someone to inquire about her. He was informed
that she was Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the
Hittite. Which should have dissuaded the king from
taking any further initiative.
Instead, he sent for her, and she
came to him. He slept with her, and she conceived.
Having returned home, she subsequently informed
David: “I am pregnant” (2 Sam. 11:5).
Then David sent for Uriah,
ostensibly to inquire as to the welfare of the
soldiers who were deployed, and how the conflict was
progressing. After which, the ruler enjoined him:
“Go down to your house and wash your feet.” Which
implied that he should have sex with his wife. Thus
to account for her pregnancy, and cover up his
However, Uriah chose to not to do
so. When asked for an explanation, he replied: “The
ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and
my master Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the
open fields. How could I go to my house to eat and
drink and be with my wife. As surely as you live, I
will not do such a thing!” Thus, by way of contrast,
casting David’s behavior in a still more deplorable
Having failed in his initial
attempt, David got him drunk Apparently, with the
intent he would sleep it off at home with his wife.
But once again, Uriah refused.
David now turned to a more
desperate means to escape detection. He wrote a
letter to Joab and sent it by way of Uriah, saying:
“Put Uriah in the front line where the fighting is
fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be
struck down and die.” Thus coupling the offense of
murder with that of adultery. And so it came to
Now the Lord sent Nathan the
prophet to rebuke David. Accordingly, he declared on
God’s behalf: “I anointed you king over Israel, and
I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your
master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into
your arms. I gave the house of Israel and Judah. And
if all this had been too little, I would have given
you even more” (2 Sam. 12:7-8). Not that he had
lacked in generosity. Consequently, “Why did you
despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil
in his eyes?”
Whereupon, David repented of his
sinful behavior. “Have mercy on me, O God, according
to your unfailing love; according to your great
compassion, blot out my transgressions. Wash me from
iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. Create in me a
pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit
within me” (Psa. 51:1-2, 10). So that he was
recalled from one generation to the next for his
earnest contrition, and as example for future
rulers. Along with the apt caution, “Never say
* * *
A FRIEND INDEED
“A friend in need is a friend
indeed,” Sage confidently affirms. As apposed to
those said to be fair weather friends. Such
as tag along during the good times, but take flight
when the situation takes a turn for the worse.
Moreover, these appear to be in the majority.
Illustrations multiply. For
instance, Sage recalls a time when a youth slipped
down an embankment into a turbulent stream. Not
knowing how to swim, he struggled to keep his head
above water. Just then an elderly man happened to
come by. Without consideration for his own safety,
he rushed into the water. Wading out to arm’s length
from the endangered youth, he grasp an outstretched
hand. Not without difficulty, they then managed to
reach shore. Much to the astonishment of the youth,
who supposed that his elder was not capable of such
a rescue mission. But motivated by a friend in need.
Then, too, a certain woman had
undergone surgery. When released from the hospital,
she still had difficulty moving around. Although her
husband was available to help her, he was not in the
best of health. So several persons from her church
signed up to prepare the evening meal for she and
her husband. This required that they rearrange their
schedules, and cooperate in a corporate endeavor.
Needless to say, this was much appreciated.
Moreover, the couple determined that they would
reciprocate should the need arise.
Sage thought of Jesus as the
prime example Which, in turn, again recalls one of
his more memorable parables. Certain of those
listening to him, muttered to themselves: “This man
welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Aware of their criticism, Jesus
replied: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and
loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine
in the open country and go after the lost sheep
until he finds it?” (Luke 15:4). And when he finds
it, he joyfully puts in on his shoulders and returns
home. Then he summons his friends and neighbors
together to rejoice with him. “I tell you that in
the same way there will be more rejoicing in heave
over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine
righteous persons who do not need to repent.”
“What of the lost sheep?” Sage
then inquired. It represents the one in need. Unlike
the ninety-nine who are not experiencing need.
“What of Jesus?” he continued. He
is the friend in need. As such, a true friend, who
can be trusted. Consequently, not like those who
express conditional friendship. Which brings to mind
one of the most beloved hymns, What a Friend We
Have in Jesus. It author, Joseph Scriven, lived
in Ireland, where his bride to be was accidentally
drowned the evening before their wedding. Soon after
this, he took leave for Canada. Along with Jesus as
his friend. It was not his intent to publish the
hymn, but wrote its lyrics to comfort his mother—who
was ill in distant Ireland. Initially,
What a friend we have in Jesus’
All our sins and griefs to bear!
Then by way of neglect,
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear.
Then by way of appraisal,
Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Indeed not. Since he eminently
qualifies as a friend in need.
* * *
“It’s play time!” Sage will
enthusiastically exclaim on occasion. This serves as
a time to relax, restore, and refresh. So while he
finds work rewarding, it is more so after a time for
recreation. Otherwise, things get a bit boring, if
As a child, playtime was
relegated to the period following school and chores.
The latter usually consisted of drawing water from
the nearby well, and carrying wood for the kitchen
stove. Then for a more extended period should some
need arise. After the evening meal, he was often
called upon to wash the dishes. He was likewise
assigned home work. All this left cherished play
time: late afternoon, evening, and on weekends.
Growing up in a village environ,
he could see the tree line at the crest of the hill
behind his house. This invited him to explore when
the opportunity afforded itself. Here he encountered
wild life in great variety. Rabbits especially
captured his attention, as did squirrels. One of the
latter seemed to welcome his attention. Since it
would sit on its hind legs, and if at attention—when
he passed by.
Occasionally, some larger animals
would make its presence known. Sage enjoyed watching
deer scamper around. They are so attractive an
animal, that he felt sorry to see them killed by
hunters. Even so he realized that in those days,
this was part of the family food chain. He kept a
safe distance from bear, even though they never
threatened him. Of course, he had been warned not to
approach a maternal bear with cub, since she would
be protective. Moose were more threatening, since
they would inadvertently attack persons or even
vehicles at night time.
It was as he walked through the
wooded area that he felt closest to God. In that he
was experiencing creation first hand. Instead of
being surrounded by human enterprise. Such as the
houses, barns, sheds, and roads with which he was
He sometimes ventured into the
woods on his own, and on other occasions, along with
companions. If the latter, they sometimes played
hide and seek. Taking turns, and sharing their play
Then there were the times he
played ball, either by himself or more often with
others. Shooting at the basket attached to the
family garage. Tossing a base ball back and forth.
Thus refining one’s athletic skills.
This was before television made
its appearance. He enjoyed favorite radio programs
which he listened to as the opportunity afforded
itself. As a rule in the evening, and along with his
siblings. These afforded pleasant memories as he
looked back on them.
There were also games to be
enjoyed. Such as bridge and monopoly. Which could be
shared with adults as well as other children.
Recalling the saying, “Variety is the spice of
As he aged, play time became more
sophisticated. Sage became enamored of the classic
works in English literature. Which was enhanced by
his familiarity with Scripture. What he learned by
this means, he would readily share with others.
All things considered, he
supposed that Jesus likewise appreciated moments of
leisure. As a time to appreciate nature, and share
with associates. Not as a means of escape, but
meaningful engagement. Thus celebrating the gift of
* * *
GODLINESS WITH CONTENTMENT
Sage is invited to teach in the
Sunday School from time to time. On one occasion, it
concerned a class of young people. After due
reflection, he decided to expand on Paul’s comment
to Timothy: “But godliness with contentment is great
gain” (1 Tim. 6:6). It occurred to him that this
might be a truth youth in particular have to be
We pick up a little earlier in
the passage. “If anyone teaches false doctrines and
does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord
Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited
and understands nothing.” This brought to mind a
certain individual, who claimed to have special
insight, and had led several youth astray.
It was customary for him alienate
his followers from their families and friends, while
creating false memories to further his cause. When a
Christian counselor was asked to evaluate this
person’s activity, he replied: “He is good at what
he does. What he does is to abuse people.”
“What are false doctrines?” Sage
rhetorically inquires. “Such as deviates from the
apostolic doctrine and/or practice. So that cults
differ may differ either from normative teaching, in
advocating an alternative ethic, or some combination
of the two.”
“How about a case in point?” one
precocious youth inquired. He hoped by this means to
clarify what was involved.
“What if a person claims to have
obtained knowledge that discredits the teaching of
Scripture?” Sage speculates. “Beware of such
people.” Or take the instance mentioned above, where
the person sets out to alienate a person from his or
her parents. This runs counter to the injunction,
“Honor your father and your mother” (Exod. 20:12).
Which implies respect, obedience if not in
contradiction misled, and compassionate
care—especially in their advanced age. Such persons
are conceited, and utterly lacking in
understanding. Professing to be wise, they behave
They also demonstrate “an
unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels
about words, that result in envy, strife, malicious
talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between
men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the
truth and who think that godliness is a means of
financial gain.” As a matter of record, the
individual that Sage had in mind was noted for
singling out prominent Christians to incite, in
possible, to controversy. Should the person respond,
he cited this as an indication that one should take
his claims seriously. If not, he demeaned the person
What of the reference to
financial gain? Well, this persons insisted that
his followers tithe to support his activity. Then
when one purchased a vehicle without consulting him,
he was put on probation, as a lesson for him and
But, that is, in contrast
to the above, “godliness with contentment is great
gain.” In other words, godliness in itself is a
worthy pursuit. Then, if compromised, one is led
Why? “For we brought nothing into
the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if
we have food and clothing, we will be content with
that. For the love of money is a root of all kinds
of evil Some people, eager for money, have wandered
from the faith and pierced themselves with many
griefs.” Not money in itself, for it should serve a
good purpose, but the love of money. Such as
makes monetary gain and end in itself, rather than a
means for doing good. As a result, grief
replaces contentment. “Better to learn this
lesson early rather than late, if at all!” Sage
emphatically concluded, as the class period was
drawing to a close.
* * *
Sage thoroughly enjoys
cross-cultural experience. He inevitably finds some
things in the culture he visits which he thinks are
an improvement over his own. Although it is with a
sigh of relief that he returns to his home culture.
When asked concerning his
cross-cultural experience, Sage allows that the way
people are similar is much more substantial than the
ways in which they differ. Each alike are created in
God’s image, and meant as such to glorify him. Each
are sensate, rationale, and volitional creatures.
None should be treated as an instrument, a thing to
Appearances can be misleading.
For instance, one’s idea of modesty can differ.
While the notion of modesty seems pervasive. So it
is that one should accommodate to the cultural
standards that prevail.
“Share with us some of your
experiences in other cultures,” a young person urged
Sage. While curious, he also hoped to learn how
better to behave in unfamiliar surroundings.
Initially, Sage recalled a time
when observing a lad prostrate himself before his
elder brother. Presumably as a indication of
respect, but seemingly carried to an extreme.
Unless, of course, he meant it as a humorous
gesture. However, this proved not to be the case. It
remained for Sage to attempt to figure out when such
behavior was proper, seeing this appeared to be an
Then there was the time he was
walking through a village, and observed women with
breasts bared. This did not seem to draw undue
attention, and was taken as a matter of course.
While in his culture, this would have been
considered indecent exposure. Although inviting
women to more modest exposure as a means of sexual
Moreover, there was the occasion
when he was given a disapproving glance. Upon
inquiry, he was told that to show the bottom of
one’s foot was demeaning. As if intent on stepping
on another. So that in one instance, a person who
was having difficulty with his neighbor, propped his
shoe in the widow as a means of insult. “I think
that is funny,” Sage’s youthful acquaintance
“Perhaps,” Sage allowed, “but it
heightened the tension between the two.” So that
they continued to find ways to annoy one another.
And so others were drawn into the altercations.
When upon return to his home
culture, Sage experienced a curious sense of
discontinuity. For instance, he was on one occasion
struck by how loud the conversation. Whereas, in his
cross-cultural situation, the voices were much more
subdued. Apparently by way of showing respect.
Then people seemed in a hurry, so
as to allow little occasion for personal
interaction. While in the culture from which he had
returned, one was more inclined to take time to
exchange so-called pleasantries. Consisting
of some cordial interchange.
All things considered, Sage was
greatly impressed with how the Christian faith
adapts to cross-cultural situations. On the one
hand, any given culture seems a legitimate means
through which to present the gospel. On the other,
no culture is pristine, and hence without fault.
Then, too, some cultures are better primed than
others. Consequently, Sage concludes that our task
is not to convert persons to our culture, but to
Christ via their culture. As such, it serves as a
two way street.
* * *
“No use crying over spilt milk,”
Sage would say on occasion. Qualifications aside,
what is done, is done. Once can often compensate in
some fashion. An apology is often in order. One can
hopefully learn from what has taken place.
Conversely, some persons are
plagued by the past. Wishing they had done better,
but having to settle for what transpired. Sometimes
reminded by others, often for some devious reason.
Thus inhibiting their good intention.
Others err in the opposite
direction, by failing to recognize the fallout from
their behavior. Concerning its effect on their own
conditioning, the appraisal of others, or often a
combination of the two. So while we cannot ignore
the past, neither should it enslave us.
Examples multiply in Sage’s
reflection. For instance, there was an alcoholic
individual, who seemed disinclined to change his
ways. This was of concern to his family and friends.
One evening, he made an unexpected appearance at the
mid-week service of the local church. When
opportunity was given for testimonies, he stood to
his feet. “I have decided to give up my drinking,”
he announced. Persons were sympathetic, but given
the man’s track record, they doubted that he would
do so. However, with one exception—when hard pressed
by adverse circumstances, he henceforth refrained
from imbibing. Nor did he continue to dwell on his
Another person turned to sexual
promiscuity at an early age. This eventually led him
to run afoul of the law. But while in prison, he
decided to amend his ways. Accordingly, he turned to
the study of Scripture and prayer. When released, he
lived an exemplary life. Free from prison, he was
also free from his deplorable former ways.
In contrast, there is the person
who has lived a relatively moral life. It goes
without saying that this has not been without
misgivings. While he certainly could have done
better, he likewise could have done much worse. What
of him? He is faced with a dual dilemma. First,
there are the exceptions, which may seem worse for
his efforts to do good. While others may be more
accepting of their faults.
Second, pride is readily
cultivated when comparing oneself favorably with
others. So that personal indiscretion is more easily
accommodated, along with harsh judgment of others.
Such as results is a so-called pecking order,
in which saints are in need of sinners
to feel authenticated.
In this regard, Sage overheard an
interchange between a couple. Now the wife suffered
from insomnia. Calling her by name, her husband
observed: “It perhaps results from a guilty
conscience.” Which might suggest not crying over
spilt milk. While actually just intended as
However, his wife was not amused.
Calling him by name, she observed: “I suppose you
never do anything wrong.” Not that she allowed that
this was actually the case.
“Now that you mention it,” he
replied, “I guess not.” He did not mean that she
should take him seriously. Whereupon, she left the
room, slamming the door after her.
This was not what her husband had
intended. He thought it best not to pursue the
matter at the present, but took his leave. He would
seek to make amends at a later time, when hopefully
his wife would be more receptive. Unless, that is,
she would persist in crying over spilt milk.
* * *
“One can be afraid of his own
shadow,” Sage protested. The timid soul seems
virtually terrified of himself. If not, then of real
or imagined circumstances. Such as seem to
proliferate, in spite of every precaution.
Of course, there are legitimate
reasons for fear. For instance, suppose persons are
fishing off shore, and are warned of a severe storm
approaching. They would be well advised to dock
their boat, and find shelter. Otherwise, they
unnecessarily endanger themselves.
Or suppose there has been a
shooting in the neighborhood. One should secure the
building, and wait until the situation has been seen
to. Let those trained to handle such situations do
their job, while other appreciatively turn aside.
However, fear can get out of
hand. Life, as a result, becomes unduly restrictive.
Which recalls the saying, “Nothing ventured, nothing
Along this line, Sage recalls the
prayer of Solomon: “Now, O Lord my God, you have
made your servant king in place of my Father David.
But I am only a little child and do not know how to
carry out my duties” (1 Kings 3:7). While youthful,
he was assuredly not actually a little child,
although it may have seemed that way given his
imposing task. In particular, “Your servant is here
among the people you have chosen, a great people,
too numerous to count or number.”
What now? “So give your servant a
discerning heart to govern your people and to
between right and wrong.” A wise
This was borne out early on, when
asked to adjudicate a case involving two
prostitutes. One of them recalled that they were
living in the same house when each gave birth to a
child. The child of the other woman died, so that
she got up in the middle of the night and exchanged
the infants. “No!” the other woman exclaimed. “The
living one is my son; the dead one is yours” (v.
22). And so they continued to argue back and forth.
When Solomon had commanded that
they bring him a sword, he gave the order: “Cut the
living child in two and give half to one and half to
the other.” Thus to settle the matter without
consideration of the child.
The woman whose son was alive
then plead: “Please, my lord, give her the living
baby. Don’t kill him!” Since the life of the child
“Neither I nor you shall have
him,” the other allowed. “Cut him in two!” As if to
share the agony she experienced at the loss of her
Then the king gave his ruling:
“Give the living baby to the first woman. Do not
kill him, she is his mother.” The one who spared its
life, rather than the one who was content to
“When all Israel heard the
verdict the king had given, they held the king in
awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to
administer justice.” So that provided that which
Solomon realized that he lacked.
Sage also recalls Paul’s apt
admonition to Timothy: “Don’t let anyone look down
on you because you are young, but set an example for
the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith
and in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12). Do not let them
intimidate you, for reason of your inexperience, but
set an example for them. In this regard, do not be
terrified by the shadow you cast. Do not confuse
humility with timidity, but set the course for
others to follow.
* * *
CHASE THE ADVERSARY
As earnestly expressed, “Chase
the adversary, and he will flee from you.” In other
words, a strong offense is the best defense. Not
only was this something Sage thinks to be true, but
forthrightly puts into practice. Then, too, by
commending it to others.
Conversely, it would appear that
some think of the church building as a place of
escape. As such, it serves as a relatively secure
sanctuary. Some will allow Christians this token
security, providing they do not engage outside. Such
as interpret freedom of religion as freedom
from religion, and attempt to impose their
perception on others.
However, some carry their
opposition a step further. As when the authorities
monitor the pastor’s comments, and remove him if
displeased. Or when irate citizens torch the
building. Even to the point of killing a person for
possessing a Bible.
Specific instances come to mind.
For instance, a certain church congregation met in
an unfriendly environ. However, its attendance
continued to grow. More space was needed, but it was
not possible to get a building permit. Consequently,
vehicles would arrive at night to carry off dirt
excavated for a building extension. After which, a
foundation was laid. The authorities supposed this
consisted of a play ground, and so took no action.
Then, under the cover of darkness, the walls of the
building were put in place.
The intent was now obvious. The
authorities seized the senior pastor, and drove him
from the country. Not wanting to make a martyr of
him, and thereby encourage further resistance. Were
he to return, they nevertheless threatened to
execute him. While they allowed the church extension
to remain. In keeping with Sage’s impression that
one should chase the devil.
In this regard, he quotes the
text: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the
devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God
and he will come near to you” (James 4:7-8). With
reference to the fact that “God opposes the proud,
but give grace to the humble.” So it is in context
of God’s intervention that one feels confident in
carrying the conflict to the enemy. Otherwise, we
would be not match for him.
Submission is thus coupled with
resistance. Walk with God or wander in the
wilderness. Persist in the way of righteousness, and
vanquish the enemy. Even in the most threatening
situations, since the Lord is with us.
“Whence does the adversary flee?”
Sage speculates. To some friendly confine. Where God
is staunchly resisted. Where the devout are overtly
persecuted. Hence, to carry on his adversarial
activity without seriously confrontation.
How, then, does one chase the
devil in such circumstances? By suffering with
Christ, in anticipation of triumphing with him.
Often with initially meager results. As with one
pioneer missionary, who witnessed less than a dozen
conversions in response to his ministry. But with
the passing of time, others reaped from the seed he
If not to some friendly confine,
where else? To obscurity. As when persons are
convinced that belief in spirits is a carryover from
superstitious antiquity. Before humans come of
age, and face a brave new world.
What then? Focus not simply on
that which is extraordinary, but the transcendent
nature of our daily existence. Since life is more
astonishing than some would suppose. Where paradigm
shifts occur repeated, and the final shift will
encompass the Almighty and his gracious purposes. So
Sage is adamantly convinced.
* * *
A GOOD CATCH
As Jesus was walking by the Sea
of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew
casting a net into the lake. At which, he enjoined
them: “Come, follow me, an d I will make you fishers
of men” (Mark 1:7). They at once left their nets and
followed him. Jesus had appealed to them in terms
they could identify, as fishermen.
Now Sage enjoyed fishing,
although this was not his vocation. So this incident
brought several things to mind. First, one needs to
prepare for the venture. As evidenced by the fact
that the brothers cast a net into water.
Then were the brothers
ill-prepared for enlisting others? Not necessarily
and not likely. Since Jesus was not disposed to err
in this regard or some other. While details are
lacking, one might imagine that they had learned
valuable lessons on how to relate to persons, such
as would stand them in good stead.
Second, they would benefit from
an uniquely capable instructor. The instruction
would take two forms. Do as I say. That is, be
attentive to Jesus’ teaching. Note that which is
distinctive. Likewise, observe that which confirms
or modifies in some way that which one previously
understood. Keep in mind Jesus’ emphasis on the
Kingdom of God, but do not overlook the details
while doing so.
So, also, do as I do. Since Jesus
taught not only by word but deed. Most striking in
this regard, there was no discrepancy between the
two. While others have to settle for a marked
difference. Perhaps with good intent, but falling
short of one’s aspirations.
Third, go where there are fish to
be caught. Which brings to mind the saying, “The
best fishing is in the deepest water.” This implies
that one must reach beyond his or her feeling of
security to achieve good results. Accordingly, do
not expect the fish to come your way.
Sage takes this to imply that one
must reach out to persons who seem uninterested in
or even hostile to the gospel. Not to the exclusion
of others, but in recognition of their dire need.
Then to pursue this course, regardless of response.
Fourth, choose the most promising
occasion. If fish are biting better at one time,
take advantage of it. In like manner, persons are
sometimes more open to the gospel than others. So be
discerning and take advantage of the situation.
Conversely, do not press someone
when distracted by other concerns. Since this is
likely to result in failure, and is inclined to be
self-serving. Be sensitive if one hopes to be
Finally, real in the fish. Leave
nothing to chance. Rejoice when the task is
completed, and not take it for granted.
Sage likens this to providing
guidance for the new convert. With regard to prayer
and the study of Scripture. Likewise, to become
active in the Christian fellowship. Not simply as a
consumer but for the purpose of service.
So it is that he will observe on
occasion, “It seems like a good day to go fishing.”
While he has in mind persons, rather than fish.
After which, he decides to visit some acquaintance,
in hopes of a good catch.
* * *
A SECOND EFFORT
Sage was as a child encouraged by
his mother, “An error does not a failure make.” Lest
he be unduly discouraged when something went wrong.
Likewise, as a reminder for herself. Qualifications
aside, she was convinced that what is good for one,
should be good for another as well. And she tried to
set a good precedent for her offspring.
Granted, Sage was inclined to
over estimate his potential. Such as the time he
tried to fix his bicycle, and gave up after failing
to do so. But when encouraged to attempt it a second
time, he asked for the help of someone more
experienced. This time he was successful.
Why would someone suppose he or
she would do better a second time? For a number of
reasons. For instance, the person may have learned
something from the initial effort. Accordingly, it
was not evident at the outset. While in keeping with
the notion that we learn by doing.
What else? One’s skills may have
been enhanced in the process. Skill, in turn,
pertains to practical application. This derives to
some degree from trial and error, and requires
resolve. Consequently, one should not necessarily
expect to get it right the first time.
Anything additional? Some
alternative approach may be required. Thus confirmed
by the saying, “If first your do not succeed, try
again.” Not simply to repeat the initial effort, but
to attempt something different.
In keeping with this line of
reasoning, Sage overheard two youths discussing
their recent defeat at the hands of a traditional
rival team. The one was quite discouraged, as if the
world had come to an abrupt end. Moreover, he was
critical of the play of some of his team mates.
“Throw it off!” the other
exclaimed. As if a burden to be rid of. Then able to
pick up again, and do better the next time.
Recall Cain in this regard. “My
punishment is more than I can bear,” he complained.
“Today you are driving me from the land, and I will
be hidden from your presence. I will be a restless
wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will
kill me” (Gen. 4:13-14). The future thus appeared
“Not so,” the Lord reproved him.
Then he offered the despondent person his
protection. So it came to pass, and Cain’s life was
spared. Subsequently, he was enabled to raise a
Remember also Noah. “The Lord saw
how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become,
and that every inclination of the thoughts of his
heart was only evil all the time” (Gen. 6:5). One
can hardly imagine a more scathing critique. As
pertains to every inclination, and without
respite. How long would the Lord tolerate such a
situation, without evidence of repentance?
By way of contrast, “Noah was a
righteous man, blameless among the people of his
time, and he walked with God." As if companion
spirits, one divine and the other human. So when God
brought the great flood, he made provision for Noah
and his family.
“There was only a glimmer of hope
previously,” Sage concluded. Noah being one among so
many wayward persons. But his efforts payed off. And
he is remembered for his faithfulness, in the midst
of faithlessness. Moreover, God’s covenant with him
is said to set the guidelines for the righteous
Gentile. Thus as an encouragement to put forth a
second effort, having failed previously.
* * *
BETTER LATE THAN
Sage was genuinely pleased to
hear that a certain youth had visited her parents.
Unlike her sister, who enjoyed being at home, she
longed to be on her own. When able to make the
transition, she celebrated her deliverance. She was
convinced that the best was yet to come.
Once she had departed, little was
heard of her. She managed on her own, although with
difficulty. It seemed not to occur to her that she
might have some responsibility for her parents. If
they were concerned for her welfare, that did not
appear to matter. She relished in her supposed
freedom that degenerated in license.
So that it came as a surprise
when years after her departure, her parents received
a phone call from her. She proposed paying them a
brief visit. While pleased, her parents wondered if
there were some ulterior motif behind her
initiative. Since her past behavior did not lend
However, Sage recalled in this
regard the saying, “Better late than never.” Perhaps
the girl had second thoughts. One can always hope
for the better. Then, too, he was inclined to be
optimistic. In large measure, as a result of
factoring God into life’s equation.
While brief, the visit was
up-beat. Which held out the promise of more extended
time in the near future. While keeping in touch
during the interim. Her parents were greatly
encouraged, and their daughter seemed to have
reconciled with her past. It remained to be seen
what the future held in store for them.
This experience recalled a
compatible saying, “Never say never.” As when we
assume a more constructive behavior. Only to find
that under duress we succumb to a baser inclination.
Such as theft when given the opportunity, and
without fear of being found out.
Conversely, one may rise to the
occasion, when failing to do so in the past. Which
may come as a surprise to him and others who have
monitored his behavior. Thus as an encouragement to
pursue a more commendable course. So that to live is
to change, whether for the worse or the better.
Welcome to the real world.
“I fear it is too late,” an
elderly person confided in Sage. He had been raised
in a devout family, and habitually attended church
services. As is not uncommonly the case, he fell
away during his youth. While many return later in
life, he was not among them.
“I have made my bed and must lie
in it,” he continued. “Not because God would not
embrace me, but because I no longer am inclined.”
Unlike his youth, when he felt more disposed, but
failed to act.
Whereupon, Sage encouraged him to
reach out. “It is not over until its over,” he
insisted. Bringing to mind a last minute rally to
win the game. Seemingly applicable in this instance,
where the stakes were much greater. Still, it
occurred to him that the Holy Spirit might no longer
be striving with this pathetical individual. Since
only God can know when more time will serve no
constructive purpose. Who is to say?
Shortly thereafter, Sage received
word that the person had passed away. He left no
word as to whether he had second thoughts. If late,
then for the better. If never, then for the worse.
Such is the bottom line.
* * *
Sage is impressed with the
exhortations in Scripture to be encouraged.
Initially, this served as a reminder of how easily
we get discouraged. When some effort proves to be
fruitless. When we fall short of some goal. When
others fail to rally to our support. When our good
intention is overlooked. In these and other ways.
On one occasion, some persons
brought Jesus a paralytic, stretched out on his mat.
It appeared to be a hopeless case. But when Jesus
saw their faith, he said to the paralytic: “Take
heart, son; your sins are forgiven” (Matt. 9:2).
“Why did Jesus respond in this
manner?” Sage was asked. At this, he pointed out
that decease and suffering were thought to originate
with man’s fallen condition. Hence, Jesus addressed
the general context while healing the person. This
also serves in parabolic fashion to bear witness to
his redemptive mission. Then when encouraged to take
up his mat and return home, he did so—to the
amazement of those who observed this.
Jesus subsequently directed his
disciples to go ahead of him to the other side of
the Sea of Galilee, while he dismissed the crowed.
And having done so, he spent time in prayer.
Meanwhile, a storm arose. When Jesus came to them,
walking on the water, they supposed he were a ghost.
“Take courage!” he exclaimed. “It
is I. Don’t be afraid.” Not a spirit, warning them
of impending disaster, but a person, in whom they
placed great confidence.
One thing led to another. “Lord,
if it is you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to
you on the water.” When bid to do so, he got out of
the boat and started to walk toward Jesus. But when
he saw the wind blowing, he was afraid, began to
sink, and cried out: “Lord, save me!”
Jesus immediately reached out his
hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said,
“why did you doubt?” And when the wind died down,
they climbed into the boat. So that those in the
boat acknowledged that he was the Son of God.
Giving expression to the notion that the parent is
revealed in the behavior of his offspring.
On another occasion, Jesus
allowed: “I have told you these things, so that in
my you may have peace. In this world you will have
trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world”
(John 16:33). In itself, the prospect of trouble in
this life would prove discouraging. But when taken
into consideration that Jesus has overcome the
world, there is the assurance that he will
enable them to triumph as well.
Sage recalls in this connection
the Normandy beachhead during World War II. Once the
allied forces had established their position, it was
only a matter of time before they would be
successful. While this would not be accomplished
without serious conflict during the interim. In like
manner, Jesus established the beachhead—as a
guarantee for success.
There also comes to mind the time
when Paul was rescued from a hostile crowd by the
Roman commander, and quartered in the barracks. The
following night, the Lord stood near and said: “Take
courage! As you have testified about me in
Jerusalem, so you must also testify at Rome” (Acts
23:11). As desperate as the situation might appear,
there was still service to be rendered. So it came
to pass, as was the apostle assured.
* * *
ILL GOTTEN TREASURES
“Ill gotten treasures are of no
value,” we are cautioned (Prov. 10:2). Although they
may appear to be at first glance. Thus causing Sage
to reflect on the matter in greater detail. For his
benefit, and so as to counsel others. Whether in
this regard, or some other.
“What constitutes ill gotten
treasure?” he rhetorically inquires. Obviously, when
theft is involved. When taking that which belongs to
another. Whether in terms of material possessions,
or in some more subtle fashion. As when one’s
reputation is at stake.
As an example, a certain friend
kept his boat at water’s edge. When he came to use
it, he found that it had disappeared. It was only
later that he discovered it inconspicuously situated
in the yard of one of his neighbors. He was hard
pressed to prove that it belonged to him, and
finally let the matter slide.
What benefits did the thieve hope
to achieve? Most likely to use of the boat for
recreational purposes. Perhaps with the intent to
sell it to someone else, and employ the income for a
desired acquisition. Possibly out of retaliation for
some real or imagined grievance. Or simply as a spur
of the moment reaction, having not given the matter
What on the other hand did he
stand to lose by his perverse behavior? Initially,
the wrath of the boat’s owner. Which might result in
a hostile confrontation, with lingering resentment.
Or in the owner charging him with theft. Certainly
with the disapproval of the most in the community,
if the matter be known.
Then there is the adverse effect
on the thief. Something that is readily overlooked,
but of considerable consequence. Since it erodes
one’s good intention. This compounded as time wears
on, so that the cumulative effect is pronounced. So
that the person is not long fit for the purpose he
or she was created, and so discarded. Like a broken
vessel in the city dump.
Then, too, all will be held
accountable. Whether for the better or the worse. In
this instance, for the worse. “The wicked man earns
deceptive wages, but he who sows righteousness reaps
a sure reward” (Prov. 11:18). Deceptive wages
as set over against a sure reward. As for the
former, only that which seems to be. As for the
latter, that which proves to be the case.
“The truly righteous man attains
life,” the text continues by way of elaboration,
“but he who pursues evil goes to his death.” The
genuinely righteous person attains life, as over
against such as pretend that this is the case. As
pertains to temporal life and life eternal. The
former serving as an earnest of the latter. But the
person who pursues evil finds that it leads to
death. Death of spirit, and death eventually.
Here the motif of the two ways
again surfaces. “Blessed is the man who does not
walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the
way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But
his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his
law he mediates, day and night” (Psa. 1:1-2).
All things considered, Sage
concludes: “It isn’t what you get but what you get
to keep that is important.” Those who attempt to
better themselves by ill gotten gain are in it for
the short run, and even then the results are
adverse. What will they keep? Nothing of worth. What
will they lose? All that is of genuine worth. Count
* * *
LEARN TO LOVE
Sage is convinced that there is a
critical need to learn to love. “You have heard it
was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’”
Jesus allowed. “But I tell you: Love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you, that you may
be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:43-44).
Which would seem to confirm Sage’s impression.
“For God so loved the world that
he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes
in him shall not perish, but have eternal life”
(John 3:16). The world is all inclusive,
whether neighbor or enemy. Since God’s love does not
discriminate, neither should those who are his
offspring. But this obviously is something one must
Now the term employed is agape,
as over against philos. As for the former, it
implies a prior disposition. As for the latter, a
spontaneous natural affection. While Sage has only a
minimal knowledge of Greek, he is able to pick up on
Paul affirms the importance of
love. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of
angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding
gong or a clanging symbol” (1 Cor. 13:1). Recalling
the saying, “Talk is cheap.” Conversely, love is
“If I have the gift of prophecy
and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge,” the
apostle continues, “and if I have a faith that can
move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”
The term prophecy implies disclosure. If with
reference to the future, then as it has bearing for
the present. While a faith that can move
mountains appears to be a proverbial saying (cf.
Matt. 17:20-21).Not that these should be
depreciated, but apart from love they fail convey
“If I give all I possess to the
poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have
not love, I gain nothing.” If not motivated by love,
then sacrifice is without reward. As such, it is a
meaningless gesture without genuine significance.
How does love express itself? It
is patient. Even when stoutly resisted, it
persists. How else? It does not envy, it does
not boast, and it is not proud. It
does not covet that which belongs to another, nor
does it promote self esteem.
How else? It is not rude,
it is not self-seeking, and it is not
easily angered. In brief, it is civil.
Consequently, it is sensitive to the needs and
aspirations of others. While not obsessed with
“Love does not delight in evil
but rejoices with the truth.” It thus takes pleasure
in that which is commendable, rather than which is
despicable. “It always protects, always trusts,
always hopes, always perseveres.” Without exception,
and with the promise of a good harvest.
“Love never fails. But where
there are prophecies, they will cease; where there
are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is
knowledge, it will pass away.” Since we know only in
part, but the time will come when we will know as we
“And now these three remain:
faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is
love.” In that faith will result in fulfillment, and
hope with realization. But love remains constant.
Hence, something to be diligently cultivated.
“Where does one start?” Sage
muses to himself. Perhaps with someone who appears
quite obnoxious. Make an effort to relate to that
person. Provide counsel as the opportunity affords
itself. Do not be discouraged if one’s efforts seem
futile. In this manner, learn to love.
* * *
Some persons seem remarkably
mature for their age, while others appear not to
have matured significantly with the passing of time.
“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I
thought like a child, I reasoned like a child,” Paul
allows (1 Cor. 13:11). “When I became a man, I put
childish ways behind me.” While setting a precedent
for others to follow.
Sage recalls in this regard
brothers, who approached maturity in quite different
ways. The one engaged in a sexual relationship when
in his mid-teens. The girl became pregnant, and gave
birth to their child. Assuming responsibility, he
proposed marriage. This necessitated that he leave
school, and earn a living.
While ill-equipped to take on his
new responsibilities, he persisted. He eventually
developed a skill, and things took a turn for the
better. However, he warned his brother against
following in his footsteps. It was sometime later
that he made the decision to follow Christ. It
resulted in a great change in his behavior. So that
persons were prone to call attention to it.
Conversely, his brother longed to
retain his adolescence. These seemed to him the good
years, and should be retained in so far as possible.
He was reluctant to work, and did so only as it
seemed necessary. When married and raising a family,
his lack of maturity became increasingly evident.
This created discord between he and his wife, so
that they eventually divorced.
Even so, he subsequently married
another. Whereupon, they too had children. His
responsibilities now increased, but not his
disposition to deal with them. Since he still
reveled in his adolescent years. Thus matters
continued without a marked change.
Spiritual maturity is no more
easily gained, but yet commended. The child is
characteristically dependent on others. “Train up a
child in the way she should go, and when he is old
he will not turn from it” (Prov. 22:6). In ideal
terms, since exceptions can readily be cited. Fail
to do so, and the prospect is certainly not
Still, there are occasions for
the child to exercise limited options. If for the
better, to mature more rapidly. If for the worse, to
In any case, the apostle puts all
this behind him. He had experienced the traditional
rites of passage, and now feels an obligation to
measure up to his adult obligations. Meanwhile, he
strived to attain spiritual maturity. How? Assuredly
by devoting himself to the apostles teaching and
fellowship (cf. Acts 2:42). The legacy that was
passed on to him, in conjunction with those of like
How else? In keeping with the
admonition, “pray continually” (1 Thess. 5:17). That
is, maintain a prayerful attitude. Then, too, to
observe special occasions for prayer. Whether alone
or in association with others. Bringing to mind the
saying, “More is accomplished by prayer than this
Anything further? “But by the
grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was
not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of
them (the other apostles)—yet not I, but the grace
of God that was with me” (1 Cor. 15:10). In these
and other ways, he matured in the faith. As an
encouragement to others, and as a caution not to
retain childish ways.
* * *
Cited in Sage’s short list of
favorite texts, “Those who honor me I will honor” (1
Sam. 2:30). Since it seems to hold out virtually
endless possibilities. As if high interest on a
sound investment. While made available to all who
With this in mind, he would from
time to time jot down some comment concerning honor.
Then to reflect on it subsequently. Thus serving as
an incentive to honor God in word and deed,
regardless of how others might behave.
Glancing over his shoulder, we
read: “With regard to honor and dishonor the mean is
proper pride, the excess is known as a sort of empty
vanity, and the deficiency under humility”
(Aristotle). The mean between two extremes is
a proper appreciation. While the excesses consist of
vane reflection and depreciation. Leading Sage to
conclude, “We honor God both for whom he is and what
Noted next on his list, “We
worship one God in Trinity, the Trinity in Unity,
the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal” (Athanasian
Creed). Not three gods, nor one god in three modes.
While of the same substance, expressed as triune.
Hence, equally deserving of our reverence.
“Where wealth and freedom reign
contentment fails, and honor sinks where commerce
long prevails” (Oliver Goldsmith). Which serves as a
reminder that materialism displaces honor, by laying
undue stress the acquisition of possessions. The
recalling Jesus’ admonition: “Do not store up for
yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust
destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But
store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,” where
they are preserved (Matt. 6:19-20). In keeping with
the notion that if we honor God, he will honor us.
“Every male brought into
existence should be taught from infancy that the
military service of the Republic carries with it
honor and distinction, and his very life should be
permeated with the ideal that even death itself may
become a boon when a man dies that a nation may live
and fulfill its destiny” (Douglas McArthur). Now
while Sage is quite aware of the ambivalence
Christians feel toward participation in armed
conflict, he applies this to the spiritual conflict
in which they are necessarily engaged. Consequently,
it is in this regard that he cites this provocative
“When faith is lost, when honor
dies, the man is dead!” (John Greenleaf Whittier).
Where faith is lost, life is endangered. When
honor dies, man dies with it. “Have faith in God,”
Sage appeals. “Have faith in those created in his
image.” If by the grace of God, they pursue his
Honor God, since he is eminently
deserving. In this manner, one sustains life in its
pristine character. If not, it begins to dissolve
before our very eyes. We strain to make out its
outline, but to no avail. Darkness descends on us.
“Life is good!” Sage emphatically
concludes. Providing, that is, we live it according
to God’s wise counsel. Ah, that is the dilemma.
Persons would prefer to schedule their own utopian
agenda. But in the attempt to climb higher, they
have further to fall.
But if one honors God, the
Almighty will assuredly reciprocate. Perhaps not in
the way or the time we anticipate, but nonetheless.
With this in mind, Sage nodded his head in
* * *
“Use it or lose it,” one of
Sage’s friends insists on occasion. Since it seems
applicable to numerous and diverse situations. It
was for this reason that he was known as Use It.
Which required that strangers be informed as to why
he was so named. Then when taking his leave, he is
also cast as Lose It—as a rule accompanied by
Examples proliferate. For
instance, a certain neighbor was deliberating
whether to plant a vegetable garden. It was a common
practice in his village to do so, and if for no
other reason, he felt inclined to do so. However, it
would require considerable initial labor and
maintenance. This did not appeal to him. But when
seeing Use It approaching, he decided that
the endeavor was worthwhile.
Another instance readily comes to
mind. Sage was impressed with the manner with which
a high school age girl sang hymns. So that he
encouraged her to join the choir. She was reluctant
to do so, since it would add to her busy schedule.
Failing to make use of her talent, others did not
benefit from it. So that the use it or lose it idiom
took on an extended meaning.
When asked to elaborate on the
saying, Sage turned to the account of the Judges.
“The people served the Lord throughout the lifetime
of Joshua and of the elders who outlive him and who
had seen all the great things the Lord had done for
Israel” (Judg. 2:7). As the result of faithful
leaders and with remarkable results. Thus preserving
their cherished legacy.
“After that whole generation had
been gathered to their fathers, another generation
grew up, who know neither the Lord nor what he had
done for the Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in
the eyes of the Lord.” Another generation,
which was quite unlike the previous one. Having
failed to preserve their godly heritage.
They thus provoked the Lord to
anger. “He sold them to their enemies all around,
whom they were no longer able to resist. Whenever
Israel went out to fight, the hand of the Lord was
against them, to defeat them, just as he had sworn
to them. They were in great distress.” In military
terms, they had lost the high ground from which to
“Then the Lord raised up judges,
who saved them out of the hands of these raiders.”
Accordingly, to recover that which was lost. Then to
enjoy shalom (peace/well-being) for the time
being. On the condition of faithful application.
“Yet they would not listen to
their judges but prostituted themselves to other
gods and worshiped them. Unlike their fathers, they
quickly turned from the way in which their fathers
had walked, the way of obedience to the Lord’s
commands.” While given the added caution and
encouragement of the judges, they soon fell back
into their evil ways.
Gideon serves as a case in point.
“The Lord is with you, mighty warrior,” the angel of
the Lord greeted him (Judg. 6:12). Gideon protested,
citing the recent experience of the Israelites. “Go
in the strength you have and save Israel out of
Midian’s hand,” he was then instructed. “Am I not
sending you?” So he succeeded in delivering the
However, “No sooner had Gideon
died than the Israelites again prostituted
themselves to the Baals” (Judg. 8:33). Nor did they
show kindness to his family “for all the good things
he had done for them.” At this point, Sage draws a
deep breath before continuing: “Either one puts to
good use the righteous heritage he or she receives
or its benefits are lost. Use it or lose it.”
* * *
Not this but that
is a common
way of accenting the preferable alternative. It also
serves as reminder that there are sins of omission,
as well commission. Which leads Sage to suggest,
“I’m too busy to sin.” Not that he expects anyone to
take him seriously.
By way of example, “Don’t pray
for tasks equal to your strength, but strength equal
to your tasks.” Why? Initially, because it is
impossible to determine what we are capable of
doing. We may think we can do far more than proves
to be the case. Conversely, we may be able to
achieve for more than we realize.
In this regard, Sage recalls an
exceptionally gifted instructor. Consequently, he
found that he could get by with relatively little
preparation. So that he took one short cut after
another. But this eventually caught up with him,
once he took matters for granted. In defense of his
irresponsible behavior, he offended his colleagues.
Thus a promising career was prematurely terminated.
Secondly, we ought not to
overlook the effect of circumstances on our success
or failure. Whether others are supportive, and make
their resources available. If not, whether they are
critical or accepting. Whether properly reimbursed
or forced to moonlight.
“Some persons are left to sink or
swim,” Sage observes. “While others are taught how
to say afloat.” If not at the outset, then at a
later time. Thus to salvage the situation, and make
amends for previous endeavor.
Thirdly, the situation is greatly
altered when God is factored in life’s equation. In
what manner? “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not
be in want. He makes me to life down in green
pastures; he leads me beside quiet waters. He guides
me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake”
(Psa. 23:1-3). With explicit emphasis on divine
Then, implicit in the text, with
divine enablement. To accomplish what would
otherwise be quite impossible, giving rise to
confidence. “Even though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for
your are with me, your rod and your staff, they
comfort me.” The accent being on only on his
presence but means at his disposal.
Finally, what is currently not
within reach may readily become so. “Once I was only
three feet tall,” Sage recalls his childhood. “Now I
am nearly six feet tall, and able to reach much
higher than previously.” Thus by way of analogy, he
means to suggest that our other capacities increase
as well as our physical endowments.
If first you do not succeed, try
again. Perhaps at a latter time. Or under different
circumstances. Perhaps with the help of others.
In any case, pray. Prayer is an
effective instrument, which should not be used as a
means of escape. Prayer as such is not an indication
of lingering weakness, but enhanced strength. “When
I pray, I am strong,” Sage thus allows.
Pray to what end? Not for tasks
equal to one’s strength. Since this implies no
improvement is possible. Pray instead for strength
equal to one’s tasks. Because only in this way can
one develop his or her potential. “Just so!” Sage
* * *
BETTER A BUILDER
Sage is tired of the continual
negativism that characterizes much of public
discourse. Instead of proposing constructive
alternatives, persons persist in disparaging the
proposals of others. While often in a deliberately
offensive manner. Conversely, Sage thinks we should
be constructive even in our criticism.
“It is much easier to tear down
than to build,” he allows. Which may account for
much of the preference for the former. While giving
the impression that the critic is more astute.
Whereas it fails to demonstrate that he or she can
improve on the construct of another. This then
serves as a prime instance of the claim that
appearances can be misleading.
“Therefore everyone who hears
these words of mine and puts them into practice is
like a wise man who built his house on the rock,”
Jesus observed (Matt. 7:34). While a constructive
endeavor, it must have a solid foundation. In this
instance, hearing and putting into practice Jesus’
teaching. If lacking the former, then uninformed. If
lacking the latter, then unimpressed.
In this context, Sage draws a
distinction between ideals and strategies. For
instance, persons may agree that we should help the
poverty stricken, but disagree on how best to do
this. But hopefully in a manner which encourages
persons to cooperate in creative solutions.
“The rain came down, the streams
rose, and the winds blew and beat against the house;
ye it did not fail, because it had its foundations
on the rock.” Adversity can be expected. To be
forewarned should alert us to be forearmed.
“But everyone who hears these
words of mine and does not put them into practice is
like a foolish man who builds his house on sand,”
Jesus continued. “The rain came down, the streams
rose, and the winds blew and beat against that
house, and it fell with a great crash.” No matter
how well it was otherwise constructed.
This, in turn, recalls Augustus
Toplady’s memorable lyrics:
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.
He wrote this hymn to conclude a
magazine article, in which he emphasized that just
as England could never replay its national debt, so
humans by their own efforts can hope to satisfy
Then, in conclusion:
While I draw this fleeting
When my eyes shall close in
When I rise to worlds unknown,
And behold Thee on Thy throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.
“It is better to build,” Sage
subsequently concluded. “Not only with this in mind,
but to build on a solid foundation. For which Jesus
is eminently qualified!”
* * *
SPICE OF LIFE
Qualifications aside, Sage is of
the opinion that “variety is the spice of life.” His
eyes seem to light up when there is mention of
something he has not previously experienced. Such as
a visit to an unfamiliar area. Then, when having
arrived, to make the most of the opportunity.
Conversely, some persons are
threatened by anything out of the usual. If given
the option, they would prefer to remain within their
comfort zone. If unable to do so, they attempt only
a modest compromise. While Sage thinks they have
impoverished themselves as a result.
“What if Abel had not offered a
preferable sacrifice?” Sage reflects aloud. “If,
instead, he was content to make perfunctory
sacrifice like that of his brother.” Then he would
not have enjoyed God’s commendation.
“What was Cain’s problem?” he
continued. “He was not willing to go the second
mile, but was content with a minimal effort.” This
frame of mind, when allowed to run its course, ended
in a tragic disaster. Or so it seemed, given Sage’s
way of reasoning.
“What of Enoch, of whom it was
said that God took him up, so that he did not
experience death?” “For before he was taken, he was
commended as one who pleased God” (Heb. 11:5). What
if he had insisted on being like all the rest? He
would have failed to realize this enviable
experience of ascension.
“What are we to make of this?”
Sage continues. “While we are not given this option,
many other opportunities afford themselves.” One can
reach out to embrace them, or shrink back in fear of
the unfamiliar. If the former, then to enrich our
experience. If the latter, to content ourselves with
something less inviting.
“What if Noah, having been warned
of things not seen, had continued on as
before?” He and his family would have perished along
with the wayward. Instead, he was moved by holy
fear to build the ark for their survival. So
that purposeful variety is associated with due
In this regard, God obviously
applauds variety. Such as we see all around us in
the universe he has created. Then as evidenced in
human kind, no two of which are identical. Then,
too, in terms of the faith community: “Now the body
is not made up of one part but many. If the foot
should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not
belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason
cease to be part of the body” (1 Cor. 12:14-15). So
that unity is set forth as creative diversity,
rather than resolute uniformity.
What more shall one say? There
are numerous other instances that could be
mentioned, concerning those “who through faith
conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained
what was promise; who shut the mouths of lions,
quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the
edge of the sword, whose weakness was turned to
strength, and who became powerful in battle and
routed foreign enemies” (Heb. 11:33-34). What has
been accomplished? The conquest of kingdoms, the
administration of justice, and the approval of
promise. In other ways, not least of which is when
weakness is turned to strength.
These were all commended for
their faith, by which they were enabled to negotiate
new experiences, and charter an alternative course.
This also allowed them to experience God’s guidance
and enablement. Thus setting a precedent for
But this line of reasoning must
not be extended to include that which God prohibits
or ignore that which he prescribes. As previously
expressed, we are not live by the law of the jungle
but under a sacred canopy. So that God knows best
when variety serves his gracious purposes, and in
this restricted sense, variety is indeed the spice
* * *
In Sage’s village culture, it is
often observed: “You don’t miss the water until the
well runs dry.” This imagery is reinforced on
occasion when it has not rained for an extended
period of time. Until such time, persons are
inclined to take their water supply for granted.
What else does one take for
granted? Life, in and of itself. Whereas it appears
to be an unlikely development. So that Sage took
note a scientist who admitted that we do not know
precisely how life came into existence, but were it
to cease, he felt assured that it would never
We continue to search for signs
of life in our vast universe, but without success.
And yet we as a rule accept life as a given.
Consequently, we tend to depreciate it. Until it is
threatened, and then upgraded.
What else? Health is readily
assumed. Sage recalls in this regard a woman who
suffered from severe migraine headaches. They would
afflict her from time to time, leaving a lingering
depression. Others were little aware of what she was
Moreover, some suffer from
uncommon emotional distress. Like a person who was
fearful of leaving the security of her home. On one
occasion, she was able to walk out on the porch,
while keeping the door open—should she feel driven
to return. Having managed what most would have
accomplished with ease, she praised God for his
Something else? Family and
friends. Not all are equally blessed in this regard.
As with the lad who was forsaken by his parents, and
joined the so-called urban street children.
Such as banded together for the purpose of survival.
A relationship born of seeming necessity, and
lacking in depth of commitment.
Or a person who turned to
prostitution, as seemingly the best of the options
available. In which, she was deemed less than a
person, but rather an object for sexual
gratification. What then? Would she continue in this
manner, or struggle to recover what she had lost? It
remained to be seen.
The list could be greatly
extended, but this perhaps will suffice. Along a
related line, it is common to distinguish between
the haves and the have nots. As for
the former, they are said to enjoy ample provisions.
While the latter are at least comparatively lacking.
There are related problems that must be dealt with.
This is complicated by the fact
that each group is inclined to focus the blame on
the other. If of the haves, then to insist
that the have nots should accept
responsibility for bettering their situation. If of
the have nots, then to require that funds be
more equally distributed. While a genuine solution
would seem to require the cooperation of both
The distinction between haves
and have nots is also somewhat arbitrary.
Since the have nots in one country might pass
as haves in another. Or this might differ
from time to time. Consequently, Sage never though
of himself as poverty stricken, although he might
subsequently have been considered as such.
Especially when he was working at minimum wages, and
faced some critical expense. Only then did it appear
that the well had run dry.
“It does no good to wish that
persons were better off, but only if we set out to
help them,” Sage concludes. As he would observe from
time to time, “Talk is cheap.” Only some effort is
to be commended, and then enhanced as the
opportunity affords itself. Along with the input of
other concerned persons. So it is that we should
appreciate the water before the well runs dry for
ourselves, and for the sake of others less
* * *
It is said, “You can’t teach an
old dog new tricks.” One would at least allow that
it is more difficult. Which serves to encourage one
to start early for best results. Accordingly, “Train
a child in the way he should go, and when he is old
he will not turn from it” (Prov. 22:6).
“Consider what is involved,” Sage
enjoined a youthful acquaintance. Initially, there
is the obligation to instruct those entrusted to our
care. In Jewish tradition, three are implicated in
birthing a child: its parents and God. All are said
to have invested interests, which should be
considered in any eventuality. Still, the parents
are responsible to God for raising their children,
and it serves to get an early start.
Of course, the children also have
responsibilities. For instance, they are obligated
to listen to their parents. As expressed in biblical
idiom, “Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.”
In this manner, to make use of the means entrusted
Several possibilities then arise.
The child may not understand what is said, and if
so, is obligated to ask for clarification. As a
result, Sage imagines the parent saying: “What is it
about no that you do not understand?” In
fact, the child may understand what is said, but not
the reason for it. So that the parent is well
advised to discuss the implications when deemed
Then, too, the child may not want
to obey its parent’s wishes. Perhaps because it does
not appeal to him or her. Otherwise, because
something else is more appealing. Here some effort
must be made to accommodate.
As is often the case, the child
will come to appreciate his or her parents’ concerns
in retrospect. Since initially they seem to have
come out of an unknown context. In similar manner,
persons often are surprised by divine initiatives,
only to grasp more of their significance with the
passing of time. Recalling the saying, “To live is
to learn.” Ideally so, but with exception.
So much for the young dog; what
of the old dog? The latter is more set in its ways.
It seems easier to think and act in the way one has
become accustomed. Whether for the better or the
Others may encourage us to alter
our way of thinking and behaving, with some degree
of success. However, the notion of dialogue is often
absent in conversation. Rather than expressive of
two or more points of view, each holds tenaciously
to his or her former perspective. Such as is often
characteristic of public debate.
What are the tricks one
can learn? For instance, how to use our resources
wisely. Instead of squandering them. Thus to take
into consideration subsequent generations, who
otherwise will be impoverished.
Then, too, how to promote life
together. This is a theme which Sage returns to with
some regularity. We are one among others, not
an entity all to itself. Recalling again the need
for civil discourse, and considerate behavior.
In addition, how to invest our
time wisely. Since there is precious little of it.
Here today and gone tomorrow. So that one is wise to
invest in that which has lasting value. As otherwise
expressed, lay up treasure in heaven. This
constitutes a short list, which could be greatly
extended. But whether short or long, it is decidedly
more difficult to be cultivated in later life. Sage
speaks from experience, his own and that of others.
* * *
Sage struggles with the saying,
“Every cloud has a silver lining.” While obvious in
some instances, it seems more suspect in others.
Such as a recent instance, where the driver had been
drinking and lost control of the vehicle. As a
result, both driver and companion were killed.
Leaving behind grieving family and friends. What
good might come of it?
For one thing, it served to
caution others against drinking under the influence.
Since the tragic event was publicized in the local
newspaper, and alluded to on television. Many would
be reminded of what all should have remembered.
Persons often turn to God for
comfort at such times. Consequently, lives are
turned around. Much of constructive nature results.
Such as is in some measure passed on to others.
While we may readily lose sight of the cause/effect
At this point, Sage’s reasoning
takes an exceptional turn. Because it appears to him
that such events serve as evidence of the cosmic
conflict in which we are engaged. “Put on the full
armor of God so that you can take your stand against
they devil’s schemes,” Paul admonishes his readers.
“For our struggle flesh and blood, but against the
rulers, against the authorities, against the powers
of this dark world and against the spiritual forces
of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:11-12).
In brief, it seems to him that
our experience more resembles being in the midst of
armed conflict than a peaceful interim. Having
served for a time in the military, the difference
appears pronounced. What seems normative for one is
not for the other. So that he supposes that what we
refer to as natural disasters and humanly inflicted
suffering are aspects of this spiritual engagement.
“Interesting,” one of his friends
allowed. “Unlikely,” another observed. “Preferable
to blaming everything on God,” a third remarked. In
any case, they agreed that it was worth
This brought to mind the
Christian martyr. Especially in that they not
uncommonly face death with alacrity. That is, with
cheerful readiness. “Yet what shall I choose?” Paul
inquires. “I do not know! I am torn between the two:
I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is
better by far; but it is more necessary for you that
I remain in the body” (Phil. 1:22-24). Thus torn
between the more desirable and the more needful,
the latter taking preference.
Moreover, Tertullian observed:
“The more often we are mown down by you, the more in
umber we grow. The blood of Christians is seed.”
Given the commitment of the martyr, as a witness to
his or her faith. Thus qualifying, along with other
considerations, as a silver lining.
Now Sage is quick to allow that
the silver lining may not be obvious. Consequently,
one should make an effort to discover what good may
result, and make the most of it. Rather than further
contributing to the problem, become an aspect of its
resolution. As when persons participate in disaster
relief, and setting a precedent for others.
“You mean to say that something
good can come out of even the worst situation,” one
of Sage’s friends concluded. If not of necessity,
then voluntarily. This seemed to satisfy even the
more critical of those discussing the matter. While
recalling that the saying, “Into every life some
rain must fall.” Rain clouds will assuredly gather,
so that it remains to see what good may result from
* * *
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
Seldom does Sage encounter a
saying more often than “Practice makes perfect.” It
serves as an encouragement to prolonged endeavor,
and with the reminder that nothing worthwhile can be
easily realized. Thus serving as a guideline for
life in general, and with regard to specific
This came to mind when he
observed several youths engaged in developing their
basketball skills. They would dribble the ball up
and down the outdoor court, moving first in one
direction and then another. Then driving to the
basket for a lay up. Or practicing their jump shot
time and again, sometimes with the help of another
in retrieving the ball.
They enjoyed this experience,
even if nothing more were to become of it. As when
one enhances his or her skills. Then along with
others. In the fresh air, and under a warming
sunshine. As one observes, “Life seldom gets better
But they anticipate that
something more will result. They will have the
opportunity of trying out for the school basketball
team. Then, if successful, they will participate in
inter-school sports. Thus enjoying the competition
it affords, and the acclaim of the crowd. While some
are more gifted than others, all need practice to
What does one carry over into
life as a result of such experience? That life
amounts to a corporate endeavor. It is assuredly not
a singular effort; not if one is to succeed. This
requires that one must attempt to compensate for the
deficiencies in others, and take full advantage of
their strengths. This is not something we can take
for granted, but must be cultivated.
It is never too soon to start.
What one learns at an early age carries over into
rich dividends in the future. If failing to do so,
it is difficult or impossible to catch up.
Accordingly, life should not be put on hold.
Likewise, it is never to late to
stop. Even during advanced years, with the decline
of health and energy. If with reduced opportunity,
then to make the most of it. Since perfection
invariably escapes us, and practice lends to its
Additional examples are readily
available. For instance, Sage was reminded of a
veteran who lost his lower limb in conflict. He was
understandably depressed, and even considered
suicide. But then he was reminded by a comrade who
has suffered a more disabling injury, “When things
get tough, the tough get going.” This served to
encourage him to put additional effort in
compensating for his disability.
Fitted with an artificial limb,
the vet moved around slowly. However, he was soon
able to walk about with little difficulty. The time
came when he decided to run the five kilometer race,
along with those who where intact. Unable to contend
with the leaders, he finished among the pack, and
well ahead of the stragglers. When he crossed the
finish line, he was greeted with enthusiastic
applause and loud cheers.
We are thus alerted to the fact
that perfection actually pertains to one’s given
potential. Decidedly not to some abstract and
unobtainable goal. Which leads Sage to caution, “One
should not attempt to play God.” Since persons not
only lack his comprehensive knowledge, but pristine
character. But given human limitations, practice
makes perfect. Or so Sage maintains, and most would
seem to agree.
* * *
“An ounce of prevention is worth
a pound of cure.” So Sage was reminded by his mother
when tempted to run out into the road after his
bouncing ball. The time would come when he would be
permitted to negotiate the road, providing he looked
both ways before doing so. Were he to see a vehicle
approaching, he was to wait until it passed.
His father would also observe,
“It is too late to close the door once the horse has
escaped.” This seemed irrelevant to Sage, since they
did not own a horse. Nor did they have a barn in
which to accommodate it. This he subsequently
attributed to a childish way of thinking. “When I
was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a
child, I reasoned as a child,” Paul allows. “When I
became a man, I put childish ways behind me” (1 Cor.
13:11). So it was with Sage.
The need for prevention recalls
the story of the bloody nosed Pharisee. In which it
is said that a certain Pharisee, fearing that he
would lust after an attractive woman, shielded his
eyes and ran into a wall. This accounted for his
bloody nose, and is cited in derision of his futile
Of course, this fails to
distinguish between appreciative awareness and lust.
As for the former, the rabbis concluded that we
should praise God for all things beautiful. As for
the latter, it implies that one covets sexual
intimacy, which he or she would welcome if the
opportunity afforded itself. Or, if not, to dwell on
Which, in turn, recalls the
rabbinic emphasis on building fences, as a means of
avoiding temptation. That is, not putting ourselves
in the place where we might be tempted. So it was
that a certain rabbi inquired, “What is wrong with
building fences?” When the question was deferred
back to him, he replied: “Nothing is wrong,
providing we do not worship them.” Which amounts to
idolatry, as a matter of religious pretense.
Whereupon, Sage recalls Irenaeus’
memorable observation that “sacrifices do not
sanctify a man. Instead, it is the conscience of the
offerer that sanctifies the sacrifice when it is
pure.” As such, it is an earnest expression of a
If sacrifices are not in
themselves praiseworthy, then neither is orthodox
doctrine. Since one can profess to believe that
which he or she fails to appropriate. “You believe
there is one God,” James allows. “Good! Even the
demons believe that—and shudder” (James 2:19).
All of which raises a question as
to how well prepared we are for any eventuality. If
concerning adversity, how well prepared? If
concerning service, how well prepared? When called
upon to give an account of our stewardship, how well
Where to start? First things
first, with the intent to glorify God and enjoy the
relationship which ensues. As expressed by Sage, “A
poor person with God is more to be desired than the
most affluent persons without him.” As set over
against idolatry in its multifaceted forms.
When to start? Without delay.
While some matters are trivial, and can be postponed
without serious consequences, this is not one of
But what if one is experiences
difficulties in this regard. Here Sage’s advise take
a surprising turn. “If experiencing difficulty in
enhancing one’s relationship with God, focus for the
present on that with others. Then, if the problem
lies in the former regard, focus on the former. In
this way, one is less likely to focus on the problem
than its resolution.”
* * *
BEFORE THE STORM
Sage opened his well worn Bible
to the place where it is written, “While people are
saying ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on
them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman,
and they will not escape” (1 Thess. 4:3). Paul
expressly has in mind the second advent of Christ,
although the observation could have wider
application. “But you, brothers, are not in
darkness, so that this day should surprise you like
a thief in the night.” So that they should be
deluded like the rest.
This appeared to confirm the
saying, “There is a calm before the storm.” A
feeling of security as the storm clouds are
gathering. While oblivious to most.
This, in turn, brought to mind a
recent violent storm which had descended on his
village. The evening before its arrival, everything
was calm and reassuring. The community was alerted
that a storm might occur, although little notice was
taken of this.
But along about midnight, Sage
was awakened by the sound of thunder, flashes of
lightning, and rain beating relentlessly on the
roof. After glancing out the window, he attempted to
get back to sleep. With the dawn of a new day, he
could see tree limbs lying on the ground. He
subsequently found a small tree uprooted and leaning
against his house. Bracing his feet, he was able to
lift and drop it to the ground.
A telephone call informed him
that extensive damage had been done. So that he
drove off to see if he could be of any help. At one
point, it was pointed out to him how a certain
church was seemingly spared. One person concluded
that this was due to divine intervention. However,
another church was devastated. Sage refused to
believe that this demonstrated divine disapproval.
In keeping with the observation, “He causes the his
sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain
on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45).
It remained to restore order in
the midst of chaos. It was a formidable task. One
that required cooperative endeavor. Only gradually
was the village restored, but with troublesome
memories of what had transpired.
“How secure are we?” Sage
rhetorically inquires. Things continue on much as
usual, with relatively minor interruptions. But we
are told that a large meteor could strike the earth,
as was apparently the case with the destruction of
the dinosaurs. Human life theoretically might not
survive. Or some plague could challenge human
existence. One of greater magnitude than the past.
Even if nothing comparable to the
above should happen, the earth will no longer be
habitable in the future. Our ecosystem will
assuredly collapse. “What can be done?” Sage was
asked a perplexed and troubled individual.
“Make the most of the calm before
the storm,” he replied. “We ought not to compound
the problem by irresponsible behavior. But take
effective action to preserve our ecosystem. Which
requires creative means to address pressing
Then, in graphic terms, walk in
the light. As children of the light. Thus to let our
light shine in the darkness that engulfs humanity.
Along with realization that God does not desire that
any should perish, but all come to repentance and
faith. If ridiculed, press on. If persecuted, press
on. Come what may, press on. Sage was adamant.
* * *
“It is not how long but how well
you live that is important,” Sage enjoined a
youthful acquaintance. Not that long life is
undesirable, but quality outweighs quantity.
Consequently, one should make the most of the brief
time. Since one can live a lot in little time, and
little in a lot of time.
“How does one live a lot in a
little time?” the youth inquired. It seemed prudent
for him to explore the matter in greater detail.
Then, too, he recognized Sage as a capable mentor.
“Be attentive,” Sage replied. As
concerns nature, in its splendid diversity. The
flora in its adaptation to circumstances. At times
of drought and with amble rainfall. The fauna with
its curious ways. Such as the squirrel as it
scampers across the path and climbs a tree.
Likewise, as concerns humans, in
their varied pursuits. How they interact with one
another. What results from this interaction. How
they express themselves. What seems for the better
or for the worse.
“Be active,” Sage continued.
Humans were not meant to be simply passive but
active. Thus to distinguish themselves from objects
employed by others. As a means of realizing one’s
potential. So also to contribute to life together.
“The world should be a better
place for our living here,” Sage added. Rather than
simply depleting its resources. Not that this can be
accomplish individually, but in cooperation with
others of similar persuasion.
“Be appreciative,” Sage likewise
insisted. As concerns that which is enduring. The
dawn of a new day, the approach of evening, and the
interim in between. The security provided by family
and friends. The means to provide for life’s
necessities. The opportunity to serve one another.
Praise God who is our benefactor.
For all that is pleasing. For his guidance in the
course of life. For his promises concerning the
future. For his remarkable patience with our
waywardness. For seemingly trivial matters that
contribute to life in general.
“Be receptive,” Sage moreover
enjoined. If someone offers counsel, seriously
consider it. Out of respect for them, and whatever
insights they might share. Not simply from those
with whom we agree, but persons who are of other
persuasions. Recalling Augustine’s assertion, “All
truth is God’s truth.” Although not all that is said
to be true is in fact true.
If some one offers help, if it
would seem to serve the purpose, accept it. If not,
perhaps suggest an alternative. Otherwise, accept
the person’s good intention. In any case, be open to
the initiatives of others.
“Finally, be realistic,” Sage
concluded. Life goes around only once, so that we
should make the most of it. Each phase of life has
its advantages and disadvantages. Then, too, each
phase is meant to prepare for the one to follow. So
that we are encouraged to get on with it.
C. S. Lewis allows that because
he loves us, he wants to make us lovable. Such as is
sometimes designated as hard love. While
permissive love is a misnomer. God thus sets the
precedent for us to follow. Doing good as the
opportunity presents itself. Seeking out the
opportunity if it does not seem readily available.
Accordingly, in keeping with a focus on the quality
of life, as deliberately cultivated.
* * *
“Don’t make a tempest in a
teapot.” In other words, do not take things out of
proportion. Especially when we do not know what may
Sage recalls in this regard two
neighbors who had a falling out. One used to visit
with great regularity, but now both ignore each
other. Meanwhile, neither seems inclined to restore
the relationship, opting instead to fault the other.
What happened to bring this
about? One made a demeaning remark, to which the
other took offense. As for the former, he meant it
as jest. As for the latter, he felt it was caustic.
So in a manner of speaking, he made a tempest in a
Or take the instance of a person
who was offended when an acquaintance failed to
greet him. Only later was it called to his attention
that this person was grieving over the loss of a
loved one. Thus involved he was not alert to the
circumstances surrounding him. When this became
known, the offended person reconsidered. So that
tempests are better relegated to the ocean.
So what precautions can one take?
First, do not be quick to reach conclusions. One’s
immediate impression is often faulty. While
subsequent reflection proves us wrong, and we wished
we had not been so hasty.
Along this line, think before you
speak. Consequently, be certain of what one wants to
say. Then to say it in the most appropriate way.
Clarify when it seems called for. Apologize if such
is in order.
Second, welcome the input of
others. Such often contributes a neglected insight.
One that we might not have taken into consideration.
Thus to keep things in perspective, rather than
stirring up a tempest in a teapot.
Sometimes a third person can
arbitrate the situation. Since he or she has no
invested interests, and can approach the matter in a
more objective fashion. If not to reach an
consensus, then to appeal for greater tolerance.
Hence, along the line of constructive dialogue.
Third, “So in everything, do to
others what you would have them to do to you” (Matt.
7:12). Not in anticipation of preferential
treatment. Not conditioned on their behavior toward
us. As setting a precedent for others to emulate.
In everything and so as a
comprehensive admonition. Not selectively, as some
would prefer. Then to others, again
comprehensive. Exclude no one. Likewise, persist in
the endeavor, rather than retreating under pressure.
It goes without saying that the
list could be greatly extended, but Sage thought it
best not to press the matter unduly. Instead, he
pointed out that we must also be careful not to
minimize the significance of things that occur. More
may be implicated than we would imagine. If not in
our way of thinking, then as others view it.
“Your boasting is not good,” Paul
protested. “Don’t you know that a little yeast works
through the whole batch of dough?” (1 Cor. 5:6).
Even a little? Yes, even a little. Adversely effect
the whole? Yes, indeed! At which, Sage alluded to a
caution, “If you let the camel push his nose into
your tent, he will soon push you out.”
* * *
THE LESSER GOOD
A certain friend of Sage has an
enviable reputation, and it is well deserved. For
instance, he gives generously to charitable causes.
He also gets personally involved on occasion. He
encourages others, and cautions them if he feels it
Conversely, he is unresponsive to
the gospel. How is one to account for this? “It is
not the flagrant evil we do,” Sage astutely
observes, “but the lesser good that more often
deters us from doing the greater good.” Since one
may be more readily satisfied with the status quo.
This is not a recent development.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you
hypocrites!” Jesus laments. “You shut the kingdom of
heave to men’s faces. Your yourselves do not enter,
nor will you let those enter who are trying to do
so” (Matt. 23:13). Not only do they reject the
greater good, but encourage others to do so.
Likewise, “You travel over land
and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes
one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you
are.” They go to great lengths to encourage others
to follow their precedent, but in doing so, increase
their spiritual alienation.
“Woe to you, blind guides! You
say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means
nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the
temple, he is bound by his oath.’” Which would seem
to defy common sense, but then Sage observes: “The
problem with common sense is that there is so little
In addition, “You give a tenth of
your spices. But you have neglected the more
important matters of the law—justice, mercy and
faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter,
without neglecting the former.” At issue is the
opinion that if one is diligent in keeping the
lesser concerns, the greater concerns will fall into
place. Not necessarily.
“You clean the outside of the cup
and dish, but inside they are full of greed and
self-indulgence. First clean the inside of the cup
and dish, and then the outside will be clean.” As
for apt commentary, “Make a tree good and its fruit
will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will
be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit”
“You are like whitewashed tombs,
which look beautiful on the outside but on the
inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything
unclean. In this same way, on the outside you to
people as righteous but on the inside you are full
of hypocrisy and wickedness.” While not everyone is
given to blatant evil, the evil inclination is
pervasive. So that to pretend otherwise is
Finally, “You build tombs for the
prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous.
And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our
forefathers, we would not have taken part with them
in shedding the blood of the prophets. So you
testify against yourselves that you are the
descendants of those who murdered the prophets.” To
admit the relationship is to allow for the guilt.
Since all the above is in the
form of a lament, we must conclude that Jesus was
deeply grieved. For those who reveled in the lesser
good, and those misled by them. In contrast, he
often found sinners (religiously
non-observant) more aware of their need, and
receptive to his message. Then irrespective of the
distinction, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill
the prophets and stone those went to you, how often
I have longed to gather your children together, as a
hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were
* * *
DO YOUR BEST
While engaged in a brief
devotional, Sage read: “Do your best to present
yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does
not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the
word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). “But what if one’s
best is not good enough?” he mused to himself. Then
be content with the effort, since God does not
expect more of us than we are capable of.
Of course, we may deceive
ourselves. Thinking that we have done our best, it
may be far short of our actual potential.
Ultimately, it is God’s call. Moreover, we should be
thankful that this is the case.
This brought to mind the comments
of teacher on the first day of school. “Life has
become much simpler for you,” he informed his
students. “Since you are a student, you will study.”
This is no longer an option.
“Since you are a student, you
will get adequate sleep,” he continued. For best
results, as one approved by God and others. “Since
you are a student, you will also exercise
regularly.” In that this is conducive to study.
“Since you are a student, you will eat properly,”
the teacher concluded. For best results.
For the most part, his students
thought this humorous. Several applauded. While a
few determined to follow his directions, and in so
doing, to do their best.
This was not the case with one
person, who let his studies slide. He was
inattentive in class, and negligent in his efforts.
As a result, he failed two of his classes. He felt
ashamed, and was reluctant to admit his failure.
The shame was shared by his
parents, who felt that they could have done better.
If perhaps they had monitored his behavior more
carefully. Along with the intent to do better in the
future. But requiring that they maintain their
Now the desired result is to
correctly handle the word of truth.
Unlike the false teachers, to which the apostle
refers. Such as turn away from the apostolic
teaching, by taking undue liberties with the text
and introducing alien concepts.
“What is true?” Sage inquired of
himself. That which corresponds with reality. In
contrast to many of the conspiracy theories promoted
More in particular, Jesus
declared: “I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me” (John
14:6). While there are many ways, he is the way.
While there are numerous claims to truth, he is
truth incarnate. Where there are varied appraisals
of life, he is life in its pristine form. In that
“we have one who has been tempted in every way, just
as we are—yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).
What else? “All Scripture is
God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking
correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim.
3:16). Without qualification or exception.
If it is true, affirm it. If it
is false, reject it. If undecided, pursue the matter
further. So the quest continues. “For we know in
part and we prophesy in part” (1 Cor. 13:9). At
which, Sage reflects: “What more can I learn today,
and how can I put it to practice.” Since he is of
the persuasion that we learn not simply to know but
to do. And not only to do, but to do one’s best.
* * *
Sage sat on a knoll, which
overlooks a lake. It was a pleasant day. This
brought to mind the saying, “Still waters run deep.”
In other words, a reflective person is not given to
superficiality. Since appearances can assuredly be
Sage is quick to admit that he
finds it difficult to engage in small talk.
That is, minor conversation, not related to
important considerations. Instead, he is more
reflective than most. As such, he resembles the
still waters than run deep.
Why do people engage in small
talk? For a variety of reasons. Sometimes to escape
the silence, which seems uncomfortable. On other
occasions, as a means of being polite. In yet other
instances, while waiting for something to transpire.
Such as the departure of their plane.
Who are given to small talk?
Everyone to some degree. Some more than others. Some
more restricted than others.
What is the nature of small talk?
The weather is a prominent topic. It is cold or hot,
a nice day or not so nice, and so on. One’s
appearance is another incentive. A attractive
looking sweater or earrings. Some bit of news,
providing it is mentioned only in passing.
Otherwise, it tends to lose credibility.
Sage tries to accommodate. But
with difficulty, being more adept at exploring
things in depth. Thus welcoming persons with a
similar disposition. But not to the exclusion of
others, since he attempts to reach out to all
persons. Hence, he is not thought of as an elitist.
A wide range of topics solicits
his attention. Philosophical issues that persist
from antiquity. Scientific discoveries which
continue to lend new insights, and invite paradigm
shifts. Artistic innovations that express human
creativity. When asked why he spent so much time in
thought, he replied: “I suppose if God gave us a
mind, he meant us to use it.”
For instance, he was asked how to
reconcile predestination with free will. At which,
he suggested six alternatives. After that, he
identified the three that seemed most likely to him.
Then, with some reluctance, he allowed for that
which he preferred. “As of now,” he added. “Were you
to inquire of me tomorrow, it might be one of the
other more likely options.”
“Read the proposal first,” he
would advise his companions. Only then, vote on it.
Regardless of who drafted the recommendation, since
this might be an exception.
“And don’t be afraid to admit
that you have been wrong,” he adds. We all make
mistakes, while some are more conscientious than
others. Thus to learn from our mistakes, as well as
our successes. Failing to do so, we are destined to
repeat our folly.
While a person of faith, his is a
reasoning faith. One that less resembles a leap into
the dark than pressing toward the light. One step at
a time, along with thoughtful scrutiny. “Watch for
the cracks in the pavement,” he would say.
A final word. Sage is not
condescending. While encouraging persons to employ
their mental capacity, he allows for differences.
Some resulting from circumstances in which they
found themselves, or in the way they responded to
them. “No two persons are alike,” he concludes. Nor
should we expect others to conform to our
* * *
Some behavior drives Sage up the
proverbial wall. Such as that of an
acquaintance who is characteristically late for his
appointments. This incites him recall the saying,
“Better an hour early than a minute late.” In other
words, it is better to err in being too early than
There are several reasons for his
aversion to being late. For instance, it seem
important to him for persons to keep their word.
When it is possible, which is usually the case.
Providing one does not procrastinate.
This is calculated to carry over
into other areas as well. If trustworthy in one
connection, then more likely to be so in other
contexts. Conversely, Sage feels that we should set
our standards high. Then, even if we fall somewhat
short, we have accomplished much. If not, we will
settle for something decidedly unsatisfactory.
It may come as a surprise that he
also feels that a late arrival constitutes theft.
Since it deprives another person of time allowed for
the appointment. Accordingly, it takes what rightly
belongs to another.
This line of reasoning has
precedent in Jewish tradition. So that theft is
attributed to those who demean the reputation of
another. For in so doing, they depreciate the honor
due, and thus diminish one’s value to society.
The so-called Golden Rule
is likewise a factor in Sage’s reasoning. “So in
everything, do to others what you would have them do
to you” (Matt. 7:17). In everything allows
for no exception, as does to others. So that
this is said to summarize the Law and the Prophets,
as a pervasive principle for behavior.
Worthy of note, this is not on
condition of their behavior toward us. Some fail to
initiate this directive, while others fail to
reciprocate. What then? Press on, returning good for
evil if this must be. While praying for enabling
“One life, it will soon be past,”
Sage allows. As such, it is meant to be employed
with discretion. Not squandered, as if of little
consequence. As one might cherish some prized
object, only more so.
It may take only a few minutes to
impart some wise counsel. Perhaps by way of caution
or encouragement. What Sage likes to refer to as
a transforming moment. One that the individual
recalls on occasion by way of profit. Such is not
possible unless the person strives to be on time.
All things considered, he allows
for life alone and life together. As
for the former, persons need time alone. Which
allows for reflection. Then for decision. So that to
some degree, an individual should be inner-directed.
If necessary, then, to take a solitary stand for
what he or she believes to be right.
As for the latter, we are one
among others. As such, we are meant to participate
in community. Thus to minister to those in need, and
to receive the valued assistance of others. While in
keeping with the assertion, “United we stand;
divided we fall.” In this manner, to maintain a
delicate balance between life alone and together. A
balance cultivated by being on time, rather than
late for our appointments.
* * *
A tragic accident occurred in the
village where Sage lived. A youth came across a gun
which his father had failed to secure. The former
inexplicably pointed it at his head, and pulled the
trigger. His parents subsequently found him in a
pool of blood. They rushed him to the hospital, but
he was dead upon arrival.
What if they had secured the
weapon? The youth would have lived. Then with the
possibility of doing good. Perhaps as a physician,
teacher, or pastor. Thus enriching the lives of
others, in pursuit of his chosen vocation.
Examples proliferate. A couple
were driving home, having paused at the local bar
for several drinks. While not technically drunk, the
man’s capability was inhibited. As he attempted to
negotiate a turn, he lost control. The vehicle
plunged into a ravine, with the loss of two lives.
What if he had not attempted to
drive under the influence of alcoholic beverage?
They would likely have made it home, and turned in
for the night. Perhaps with a hangover the next
morning, but nothing worse.
While some things would turn out
for the better. As in the case of a grade school
student who was struggling with his assignments. It
seemed to him that for every step forward, there
were two steps backward. He was at a loss as to
which way to turn. Then an observant teacher sensed
his problem, and offered to spend some time outside
of school with him. As a result, the youth was able
to manage his studies, and went on to college.
But what if she had not
intervened? Things would likely have turned from bad
to worse. Having failed in his studies, he might
have turned to anti-social behavior. Then imprisoned
after some offense. Eventually to be released, while
further inhibited by his prison record.
Unless, of course, something of a
more constructive nature occurred during the
interim. As in the case of a retired pastor, who
continued his prison ministry. Befriending a
prisoner, he shared the gospel with him. The pastor
also provided an used Bible, which he had purchased
with his limited funds, for him to read. The
prisoner appreciatively responded, and upon release,
made a contribution to society.
Sage couples what if with
what now. What now seeing the youth had
inadvertently taken his life with a gun that was not
secured? Nothing can be done by way of bringing him
back to life. So that his parents are left manage as
best they can. They may ask for God’s forgiveness,
and strive to be more responsible in the future. The
may also share their experience with others, as a
means of caution, and thus save other lives.
Providing that they focus on the what now.
What now concerning the couple
who perished in the auto accident? They leave family
and friends behind to consider their fate. For
instance, life is uncertain. Under the best of
conditions, and this was certainly not one of these.
Then, too, what of eternity? “A person is not
prepared to live unless prepared to die,” Sage
asserts. “And a person is not prepared to die unless
prepared to live.”
Finally, what now of the youth
struggling with his studies? If not provided with
special assistance, or if provided with assistance.
Then in the light of additional developments.
What now in context of what if. At this
point, Sage turns his attention to other matters of
* * *
IT IS WRITTEN
Sage turned his attention to the
text where it is said that Jesus was “tempted in
every way, just as we are—yet was without sin” (Heb.
4:15). Initially, he concluded that Jesus was
genuinely tempted. Which is not to say that he
was inclined to yield to temptation. Nor that he put
himself in a place to be tempted. Otherwise, not
immune from the enticement.
With such in mind, he thought to
explore the matter further. “Then Jesus was led by
the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the
devil” (Matt. 4:1). This was in anticipation of his
public ministry. As such, a time for preparation.
Not with the intent of failure.
The wilderness conveyed mixed
meaning in Jewish tradition. On the one hand,
survival was threatened. On the other, God had
provided for the Israelites during their wilderness
wandering. So that the latter invited them to return
for an encounter with the Almighty.
“After fasting forty days and
forty nights, he was hungry.” Thus recalling Moses’
like experience (cf. Exod. 34:28), and implying
their similarity in other regards. As in terms of
redemption. But as a result, more vulnerable.
“If you are the Son of God, tell
these stones to become bread,” the devil prompted
him. As an appeal to validate his calling. Since
this would become subject to controversy and
repudiation in the course of his endeavor.
“It is written,” Jesus replied:
“‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every
word that comes from the mouth of God’” (cf. Deut.
8:3). To have turned the stones to bread would have
prioritized material wants ahead of God’s will.
Better to be hungry with divine blessing than full
with God’s disfavor.
Then the devil took him to the
pinnacle of the temple, and urged him: “If you are
the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is
written: ‘He will command his angel concerning you,
and they will life you up in their hands, so that
you will not strike your head against a stone’” (cf.
Psa. 91:11-12). He thus ignores context, and twists
the meaning of Scripture.
Jesus answered him, “It is also
written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’”
(cf. Deut. 6:16). Which would indicate that we
actually do not trust him, unless convinced in some
extraordinary fashion. Then, too, one ought to
interpret Scripture with Scripture.
The devil then took him to a very
high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of
the world and their splendor. “All this I will give
you,” he pledge, “if you will bow down and worship
me.” Thus to achieve his purpose without the
prolonged effort and high cost implicated. For a
token effort with unimaginable consequences.
“Away from me, Satan!” Jesus
exclaimed. “For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord
your God, and serve him only’” (cf. Deut. 6:13).
Consequently, we are to love him with all our
heart, soul, and strength. Hence, not compromised by
deference to another, most obviously not an
“Then the devil left him, and
angels came and attended him.” The former would
await a more favorable occasion, perhaps when
opposed by the religious establishment, when some
who followed took leave of him, or during the events
leading up to his demise. The former appear to be
waiting just off stage to minister to his needs.
Each time Jesus was tempted, he
replied with the assertion: “It is written.” Since
this constitutes the norm for faith and practice. At
which, Sage solemnly nodded his head by way of
* * *
“What is the point?” Sage was
asked. His acquaintance had reference to the saying,
“No chain is stronger than its weakest link.” Of
similar intent, “All that is necessary for the
castle to fall is to leave one gate unguarded.” If
vulnerable at some point, then at risk.
“Think in individual terms,” Sage
advised his inquirer. There was a certain person who
meant to live a moral life, but was especially
attracted to pornography. This took root and
remained his secret pleasure. However, it
increasingly took the form of lust. Until he was
virtually consumed by his illicit emotions.
Had he resisted the initial
temptation, he would not have fallen into this
deplorable condition. Unless, of course, he were to
succumb to some other temptation. Since our weakest
link can be our undoing.
“Or thing in corporate terms,”
Sage continued. This recalled a lay leader in the
local congregation. He was married and with
children, but became enamored of another church
member. They began to see each other secretively,
and became convinced that God meant them to marry.
Even though Scripture clearly prohibits such a
When this became known, his wife
was understandably distressed. Not only that, but
the reputation of the Christian community suffered
as well. Such hypocrisy as existed was thereby
highlighted. Having been exposed by what appeared as
its weakest link.
Fortunately, the man had second
thoughts. Breaking off his relationship with the
third party, he reconciled with his wife. The family
was thus preserved. Although there were lingering
effects in the congregation, and the general
What is to be done when a weak
link is discovered? Consider a case in point.
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the
altar and there remember that your brother has
something against you, leave your gift there in
front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to
your brother, then come and offer your gift” (Matt.
Do not ignore the problem. It may
be more serious than one might surmise. If not
promptly dealt with, it can adversely effect the
faith community as a whole.
With this in mind, postpone
customary behavior. Only for the time being, and
then with a purpose in mind. If the weakest link is
not dealt with, the chain is at risk.
Then take decisive action. Do
what is necessary to rectify the situation. If at
fault, apologize. If there has been a
misunderstanding, clarify the matter. Offer to make
amends as it may seem warranted. Seek the help of
others if this seems appropriate.
With intent to pick up again.
Lest the chain as a whole be weakened. Since some
supposed solutions compound the problem.
“I get the drift,” Sage’s
inquirer allowed. He would want to dwell on the
matter at greater length. In that he supposed that
there were weak links to be discovered, and
effective means devised to strengthen them. Only
then would the chain hold fast. “For the waywardness
of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of
fools will destroy them; but whoever listens to me
will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of
harm” (Prov. 1:32-33).
* * *
GOOD OLD DAYS
Sage is puzzled by the repeated
reference to the good old days. Were they in
some respects better than subsequent times? Or are
they simply nostalgic memories? In any case,
something worth considering, lest we loose out on
some lesson of value.
Initially, life seemed less
complex. The dawn signaled the start of a new day.
After a hasty breakfast, persons engaged in work or
schooling. There was a relatively brief respite for
children after school, and before the evening meal.
Activity as a rule was curtailed afterward. The
younger children were first to retire, and the
adults last of all. There were occasional times for
recreation, such as a family picnic in some pleasant
location. This, in turn, provided a sense of
security that might otherwise be lacking.
How times have changed! Persons
spend considerable time watching television, online,
and with other varied activities. As a consequence,
pressures seem to build. Moreover, there appears to
be less time for interpersonal relationships. Which
is an exceedingly high price to pay, since persons
are more important than possessions.
In former times we also spent
more time in our natural surroundings. Walking along
a tree lined path, pausing to overlook a flowing
stream, and observing an assortment of wild life.
While drawing a deep breath of fresh air, and
smelling the aroma of wild flowers. As expressed by
one of Sage’s acquaintances, “I never feel closer to
God than on such occasions.”
Now we are surrounded by human
enterprise. The houses which line our street, an
occasional shopping maul, heavy traffic, and the
like. While a testimony to human ingenuity, also a
vivid reminder of its limitations—as when repairs
are necessary. Then, too, God seems less evident,
and life consequently less meaningful.
Conversely, things have in some
ways taken a turn for the better. For instance,
health care has greatly improved, and there is still
greater potential. Persons are living longer, and as
a rule in better condition. We are more aware of
dire need, even far removed, and can help alleviate
the problem. If so disposed, which is often the
These advantages are to some
degree offset by unwelcome practices. Such as the
pollution of our environ, adverse effect of
processed foods, and so on. Leading to the
observation, “I have met the enemy, and he is me.”
All too true.
Sage thus concludes that there is
something of a trade off. We have gained in some
regards, and lost in others. It remains to make the
most of what life now offers. Restraining that which
is negative, and cultivating what is good. While not
content with our limited success, but striving to
find creative ways to better achieve worthwhile
So it is that he coined the
expression good now days. As an affirmation
that life is essentially good, as a gift from God.
Hence, meant to be enjoyed. Not with disregard of
others, but in association with them.
“To live is to change,” Sage
allows. But not all change is for the better. And
the more some things change, the more other things
should remain constant. As for the former, it is
more along the line of technical achievement. As for
the latter, love God and do as you please, for if
you love God, you will do as he pleases. So Sage
* * *
“Give a person enough rope and he
will hang himself,” one of Sage’s neighbors
observed. Of course, the saying did not originate
with him. In other words, given enough time or
opportunity, a person will self-destruct. When this
happens, others are fortunate not to be caught up in
In this regard, “Then Satan
entered Judas, one of the Twelve. And Judas went to
the chief priests and the officers of the temple
guard and discussed with them how he might betray
Jesus” (Luke 22:3-4). They were delighted, and
agreed to give him money. It remained to find a
convenient time, “when the crowd was not present.”
The rope was thus lengthened for him.
The implication appears to be
that he offered to betray Jesus for monetary
reasons. If so, he had assumed to meager life style
in his calling as one of the Twelve. This perhaps
weighed heavily on him, the more so as time wore on.
Then, too, some have speculated that he hoped to
bring matters to a head, with the expectation that
Jesus would triumph over his opposition. In any
case, he took the initiative.
The scene shifts. “Jesus and his
apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them,
‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover withy
you before I suffer. But the hand of him who is
going to betray me is with mine on the table’” (Luke
22:14-15, 21). He thus recognized Judas’ intent,
when the opportunity afforded itself.
The scene again shifts. Jesus
went out, as was his custom, to the Mount of
Olives—along with his disciples. On reaching the
place, he urged them to pray so that they would not
be tempted. He withdrew a stone’s throw, and prayed
earnestly. When he returned, he found the disciples
asleep, “exhausted from sorrow.” At which, he
exhorted them further.
While he was speaking, a crowd
approached—with Judas leading them. “Then they
seizing him, they took him into the house of the
high priest.” After which, to Pilate. Eventually, to
be crucified. “When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw
that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse
and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief
priests and the elders. ‘I have sinned,’ he said,
‘for I have betrayed innocent blood,’” (Matt.
“What is that to us?” they
replied. “That’s your responsibility.” So Judas
threw the money into the temple and left. Then he
went away and hanged himself. In keeping with the
imagery invoked by the saying.
“What did his rope consist of?”
Sage rhetorically inquired. Time. Time to weigh the
matter, and anticipate the likely results. Time to
What else? Opportunity.
Opportunity to anticipate where Jesus would be
found. Opportunity consisting of armed guards.
Opportunity to carry out his plan without detection.
If more? Inclination. However
explained, he had decided to betray Jesus. Had he
failed on this occasion, he would have likely made
Anything additional? Approval.
That of the religious authorities, and those
influenced by them. Only to be condemned by his own
conscience. Leading to suicide.
“If only he had not been given so
much rope,” Sage speculated. But such was not the
case, and so the record stands.
* * *
Sage felt genuinely sorry for an
affluent youth. While others envied him, and were at
a loss to understand why anyone who think
differently. Consequently, they inquired. “Easy
come, easy go,” Sage succinctly replied. We do not
learn to appreciate that which comes too easily. As
a result, we fail to become good stewards.
This recalls one of Jesus’ more
memorable parables. A man was going on a journey,
and entrusted his property to his servants. To one
he gave five talents, to another two, and to yet
another one. Although the value of a talent differed
on occasion, it is estimated at ten thousand
dollars. A considerable sum in this instance, and a
trust to be taken seriously.
“The man who had received the
five talents went at once and put his money to work
and gained five more” (Matt. 25:16). So also, the
one with two talents gained two more. But the one
with a single talent went off, dug a hole in the
ground, and buried the money.
“Well done, good and faithful
servant!” the man commended the servant to whom he
had entrusted five talents. “You have been faithful
with a few things; I will put you in charge of many
things. Come and share your master’s happiness.” In
like manner, he applauded the man with two talents.
But the man with one talent
allowed: “Master, I knew that you are a hard man,
harvesting where you have not sown. So I was afraid
and went out and hid your talent in the round. See,
here is what belongs to you.” Easy come, easy go.
“You wicked, lazy servant!” the
man exclaimed. “Well then, you should have put my
money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I
returned I would have received it back with
interest.” He could have and he should have done so.
“The lesson is obvious,” Sage
concluded. Either one makes good use of what is
entrusted to him or her, or fails to do so; and so
will be held accountable. By way of extension,
persons who have worked for a living are inclined to
be more conscientious. The emphasis being on good
“But why should one work if it is
not necessary?” Sage was asked. Since one could
readily think of more pleasant alternatives.
“Since we are stewards of what we
have received,” Sage replied. We are meant to put it
to good use, rather than burry it in a hole.
Properly understood, enough is never enough. So that
one should add to the resources available.
Then with consideration for the
needs of those less fortunate. Of which there are
many, and the means limited. There appears never to
be sufficient to go around, especially when some
focus on self-indulgence. Thus intensifying the
Moreover, for the benefit of the
benefactors. Recalling Jesus’ observation, “It is
more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
For in giving, we receive. Or as Sage characterizes
it, “We are payed back with interest.”
“It is unfortunate to have too
little or too much,” he allows. If the former, one
is hard pressed to provide for the essentials. If
the latter, one lacks an appreciation of what it
takes to accumulate wealth. So that it bears
repeating, “Easy come, easy go.”
* * *
A BAD QUESTION
Sage is known for asking
questions. This was a habit he acquired during his
youth, and has carried over into his adult years.
Even so, he attempts to be selective. Qualifications
aside, he reasons: “A bad question is the one not
We may fail to ask a question for
a variety of reasons. For instance, it reveals our
own lack of understanding. So that persons may think
less of us than were we to keep silent. Then, too,
silence can be interpreted as reflection.
We may also refrain for reason of
not knowing how best to express ourselves. Resulting
in an imprecise inquiry, along with unsatisfactory
results. In parochial terms, suffering from foot
in mouth disease.
Then there is the fear of
imposing on others. Why should they be bothered with
our inquiries? Since these are seldom of prime
concern to them. Otherwise, perhaps something they
would rather not delve into. This constitutes a
short list, but perhaps sufficiently representative.
We may also be encouraged to ask
questions for different incentives. Accordingly,
some questions delve into more substantial concerns.
As with the inquiry, “What is the purpose for life?”
This obviously takes precedence over more trivial
inquiries, and can greatly help in answering other
questions that may come to mind.
Then some questions are solicited
out of a pressing concern. As when we inquire
concerning proper medication for our illness.
Lacking such, our situation might worsen. So that
the inquiry constitutes a first step toward
Whether in the above instance or
some other, we often inquire of persons with some
special expertise. In this regard, it is said that
advanced research consists of studying more and more
about less and less. That is, focusing our efforts
so as to get the best results. Thus to share our
insights with others, as the occasion may arise.
In a more general sense, to
explore life as we experience it. While bearing in
mind most of our knowledge is gained from others.
So, as previously mentioned, we should chose our
mentors carefully. Then listen to them attentively.
While assuming responsibility for our decisions, and
being willing to reconsider—should this seem
With such in mind, Sage is
impressed with the frequency and diversity of
questions one find in Scripture. Early on, the
serpent impugned: “Did God really say, ‘You must not
eat fruit from any tree in the garden?’” (Gen. 3:1).
As if to imply that he had some ulterior motive.
Other than that of the welfare of the human couple.
Eve subsequently ate of the
forbidden fruit, and gave some to her husband. As so
they were driven from the garden, and had to manage
under much less favorable conditions. Alienated but
Eve subsequently gave birth to
two sons: Cain and Abel. While each made an
offering; Cain’s was of token nature, and that of
Abel as if to acknowledge an honored guest. God
showed his displeasure with Cain, who became angry
and killed his brother. “Where is your brother
Abel?” God inquired of him.
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I
my brother’s keeper?” Conversely, he did know, and
had responsibility for his brother’s welfare. And so
questions arise from antiquity, for better and
worse, but hopefully for better.
* * *
Rabbinic tradition cautions,
“Learn first and then teach.” While a person is
admonished to do both, one should initially learn.
Otherwise, the effort amounts to shared ignorance.
This brings to mine sayings of similar intent. For
instance, “First things first.” First things
pertain to learning, and then teaching when primed
to do so.
In addition, “Don’t get ahead of
yourself.” That is, function in accord with one’s
maturity. While taking into account the counsel of
First, prepare. This must take
into consideration that with which one is endowed.
No two persons are strictly speaking the same. While
any one can strive to make the most of a given
This recalls one of Sage’s
friends, who was discouraged by the relatively low
grade he got on his IQ test. He was tempted to
forego his plans to take graduate studies, but
decided to give it his best effort. As a result, he
successfully completed his course of study, and
achieved his vocational objectives. What he lacked
in natural endowment, he made up for with concerted
Humility also lends itself to
preparation. Initially, one must recognize that
there is much to be learned. If realistic and
Were humility self-depreciation,
it would be counter-productive. It would, in fact,
qualify as negative pride. Since it dwells on self.
Instead, humility allows one to proceed without
distraction, and achieve what would otherwise be
Preparation likewise requires
that a person be alert. Alter to what is being said.
Alert to the options available. Alert to new
initiatives. As Sage puts it, “If awake, be awake.”
Leave sleep to a more convenient time.
If one does not understand, seek
for clarification. Weigh various applications. Draw
upon the past. Press toward the future. Act in the
present. Since alertness is as alertness does.
Moreover, preparation requires
diligent pursuit. It is not something one does on
the spur of the moment, but embraces over an
extended period. While there are times one is
tempted to disengage, he or she must not give in.
Preparation continues even after
teaching is initiated. One study suggests that a
college professor should re-tool every five years.
As if earning still another graduate degree. Serving
as a reminder that there is always room for
Second teach. This obviously
involves continued research. The library awaits, as
does the class room. The two make for an amicable
The research should combine one’s
special discipline, along with more general studies.
As for the former, there is always more to be
learned. As for the latter, it provides a needed
context. Since truth readily crosses boundaries.
Objectivity is likewise a needed
ingredient. Education differs in this regard from
indoctrination. Consequently, there is greater risk
So it is that the instructor
ought to provide as accurate account of the various
options as possible. After which, he or she might
identify those that seem most plausible. Perhaps
along with that he tentatively maintains. Because he
might reconsider in the future.
It comes as no surprise that one
should also enhance his or her communication skills.
Watch carefully how persons respond. If there
appears to be confusion, try stating the matter in
another way. Where there seems to be interest,
consider extending the discussion.
In this regard, think of
education as a cooperative venture between
instructor and students. Each can and should learn
from the other. In this and other ways, make the
most of the moment.
* * *
Sage is an avid reader, who has a
broad range of interests. He thinks it desirable to
read one old classic for every new text. It is his
hope thereby not to become unduly restricted in his
thinking. “The pen is mightier than the sword,” he
concludes. Since the former can persuade, while the
latter can only coerce.
Sage selects his authors with
care. In this regard, he wants someone who has
expertise concerning the subject matter. If trained
in biology, then likely not in theology. Then if the
latter, probably not the former. Consequently,
choose one’s author’s with deliberate care.
In doing so, he hopes to avoid
two extremes. First, the author who is reluctant to
reach even some tentative conclusions. As if a
failure in discrimination. Second, one who shows no
tolerance for those of different persuasion. Which
implies that they know more than humans are capable
Sage is also concerned to select
an author who writes well. That is, one who
demonstrates skill in his or her craft. Thus able to
communicate effectively. Otherwise, in accord with
the saying: “Let dead dogs lie.”
He cites in this connection a
seasoned author who observed that it takes him
longer to write than previously. Since he was no
longer satisfied with some approximate way of
expressing himself, but strived for precision. Then
to return to his manuscript from time to time, in
order to achieve the best results.
Sage is also convinced that apt
illustrations greatly enhance a text. Such as those
drawn from personal experience. Since these provide
concrete application of abstract reasoning. If of a
different sort, some memorable event. Such as might
appeal to persons with a common heritage.
While it goes without saying that
he is especially interested in texts that explore
and expand on Scripture. In that he views Scripture
as a constant in the midst of change. Then that
dealing with Scripture of continued relevance.
Whether in this instance or some
other, he is careful to distinguish between fact and
fiction. For instance, some attribute the parting of
the waters during the exodus of the Israelites from
Egypt to volcanic activity in the Aegean. This seems
eminently plausible to him, and hence worth
consideration at greater length.
On the other hand, he was more
critical of the claim that the plagues resulted from
natural phenomena. Although were this the case, not
only were they of greater magnitude but in keeping
with the pronouncement that they would take place.
Then to utterly reject improbably theories
concerning the death of the first-born. Not that he
is opposed to fiction as such, but that it should be
understood as such. All things considered, he
maintains the conviction that the pen is mightier
than the sword.
* * *
WORD TO THE WISE
“A word to the wise is
sufficient,” Sage allowed while conversing with a
youthful inquirer. One should not have to labor the
point. In that a wise person welcomes counsel. It is
said to be more valuable to him or her than silver
His comment incited the youth to
laugh aloud. When asked concerning his unexpected
response, he noted that his mother had asked him:
“What is it about ‘no’ that you don’t understand?”
Why search for exceptions when done exist?
This encouraged Sage to dwell on
the prohibitions associated with the Decalogue.
Initially, “You shall have no other gods before me”
(Exod. 20:2). That is, in the sense that one ought
not to welcome other deities into God’s presence.
If, as noted earlier, religion
consists of one’s ultimate concern, then idols
proliferate. In this regard, “Some people eat to
live, while others live to eat.” As for the latter,
they indulge themselves, while at risk to their
“You shall not misuse the name of
the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone
guiltless who misuses his name.” How does one misuse
God’s name? In various ways. As when employing it
for the purpose of cursing. Or in trivial fashion,
without heartfelt sincerity. Or in superstitious
fashion, as a means of assuring results.
God’s name pertains to his
character. When addressed as Father, its
prime connotation has to do with his authority. He
is to be obeyed, regardless of inclination. However,
this also implies his benevolent disposition. “Which
of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a
stone?” Jesus inquired. “If you, then, though you
are evil, know how to give good gifts to your
children, how much more will your Father in heaven
give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:9,
“Remember the Sabbath day by
keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all
your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the
Lord your God. For in six days the Lord made the
heavens and the earth, but he rested on the seventh
day.” The rabbis were quick to point out that while
God ceased his creative activity, he continued to
maintain that which he had created. So that they
reasoned that the prohibition applied only to that
which resembled creation in some manner.
Consequently, they taught that one should prepare
food prior to the Sabbath, but then enjoy it all the
more on that occasion.
This was for the purpose of
regaining perspective for living in God’s world, by
his enablement. Or as Sage like to refer to it,
living under a sacred canopy. In contrast to the law
of the jungle, where those most fit survive.
“Honor your father and your
mother, so that you may live long in the land the
Lord your God is giving you.” This is said to be the
first commandment with promise. How does one honor
his or her parents? By being respectful, obedient,
providing for their needs—especially in their
advanced years, and recalling with suitable
We are also reminded by this
injunction that the family constitutes the basic
building block of society. So that in honoring our
parents, we assure a secure and fruitful existence.
While in keeping with God’s provision.
“You shall not murder.” That is,
one should not take the life of an innocent person.
While it does not rule out capital punishment, it
does not require it—especially if there is
It also gives rise to some
consequential related issues, such as abortion and
euthanasia. Then for Sage it recalls John Calvin’s
assertion that one who can save a life and fails to
do so is guilty of murder. But at this point, the
youth appears to have been distracted by other
thoughts. So that Sage decides to draw the
discussion to a close.
* * *
Sage is applauded for his
hospitality. As relates to the manner in which he
welcomes and provides for those who visit him. While
drawing on Scripture for precedent. For instance,
“The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees
of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his
tent in the heat of the day” (Gen. 18:1). He looked
up and saw what appeared to be three men.
At the sight of them, he hurried
from his tent and greeted them. “Let me get you
something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then
go on your way,” he urged them. Initially, because
hospitality was considered a sacred obligation.
Since it served a critical need in antiquity. Then,
in more subtle fashion, it reflected God’s
availability to humans.
Conversely, it was not without
its benefits for the host. Since this provided a
means to informing him of matters that might not
otherwise come to his attention. Moreover, it served
to bond persons together in a caring relationship.
Then to allow for a similar reception should the
host decide to journey.
“Very well,” they replied, “do as
you say.” They were not hesitant to take advantage
of his generous offer. Nor did they doubt his
“Quick,” the patriarch enjoined
his wife, “get three seahs of fine flour and knead
it and take bake some bread.” After which, he ran to
the herd and selected a choice, tender calf, and
gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. The
haste of their preparation being indicative of their
commitment to hospitality He brought them curds and
milk, and the calf once it was prepared. While they
ate, he set nearby under a tree.
When they departed, he walked
along with them for a short distance. As a means for
extending his hospitality and offering security.
While engaging them in conversation.
It remains to explore Sage’s
hospitality in greater detail. First, he laid out a
large welcome mat in front of his door. This gives
the impression that he is readily available to
anyone who should come that way. Which is, in fact,
Each instance is in some ways
distinct. As with the couple whose vehicle was in
need of repair. When they knocked at his door, they
were greeting with a warm smile. Upon hearing of
their dilemma, he suggested that they call the
garage, and make arrangements for its repair.
Meanwhile, he offered them the convenience of his
What would they like to eat and
drink? Would they care to rest in the guest room for
a while? Was there any special need which he could
address? Sage inquired along these lines.
Then when word was received that
the car was repaired, he offered to drive them to
the garage. “It is not necessary,” the man replied.
Since it was only three blocks distant, and they had
already imposed on their gracious host.
“But it is my privilege,” Sage
responded. Along with an assuring smile. Then, when
bidding the couple farewell, he encouraged them to
visit again should they care to do so. “My door is
always open,” he added.
So the word spread, throughout
the community and beyond. Concerning one who gladly
offers hospitality, even under adverse
circumstances. Like patriarch, like those of similar
intent and devotion.
* * *
Some persons revel in novel
experience, while Sage if of the opinion that it
should be noteworthy. One of his friends is
decidedly of the former sort. When asked if he has
done this or that, if not, he is anxious to do so.
Even when there is risk involved.
Conversely, Sage thinks in terms
of what might be accomplished. Were I to do
something or other, what good might come of it? Not
that it is necessarily guaranteed, but there is a
prospect of success. Leading to the admonition,
“Leave the world a better place than you found it.”
“You are the light of the world,”
Jesus informed his disciples. “A city of a hill
cannot be hidden. In the same way, let your light
shine before men, that they may see your good deeds
and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:14, 16).
Without light, persons stumble in the darkness.
There seems little hope of their improvement.
Except when Jesus observed, “You
are the light of the world.” Not a light unto
themselves, but for others. Not an end in
themselves, but a means to an end. Called to serve,
enabled to serve, and encouraged to serve.
As such, they resemble a city set
on a hill. Then readily visible. Which, in a more
subtle fashion, recalls the high ground military
metaphor. That is, a place of advantage from which
one can readily engage the enemy.
All things considered, “Let your
light shine before men.” So as to escape two
extremes. First, that which seeks to impress others
with our good works. As a means of self-adulation.
Second, not strive to serve secretively. Whether by
way of a false humility or the fear of offending
This is for the expressed purpose
of glorifying God. As a prime evidence of God’s
benevolent character. Hence, to solicit our praise,
trust, and obedience. While walking in the light
that reveals the way to the celestial city.
The results will be mixed.
“Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will
not come into the light for fear that his deeds will
be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes
into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that
what he has done has been done through God” (John
3:20-21). Those who insist on doing evil are
disinclined to come to the light, citing varied
excuses. Such as the faults of the children of
light. Their hate of the light not only takes the
form of rejection, but not uncommonly suppression.
Using whatever means may be available to extinguish
Conversely, those who live by
the truth welcomes the light. As a means of
authenticating their good intention. Then as an
encouragement to others. With resolve when
confronted by obstacles or the hostility of the
children of darkness.
All of which recalls the Jewish
bifurcation between the evil and good inclination.
Graphically represented by a demon perched on one
shoulder, and an angel of the other. Both are
strategically located, so as to offer their
contrasting advice. Which will the subject listen
to, demon or angel? Some to one and some to the
Regardless of the response, let
your light shine. Be assured that some will resist
your good intention. While others will heartily
respond. Although this may not be evident, not
initially and perhaps not over an extended period of
time. But with full assurance that God is as work.
So Sage is convinced, and encourages others to join
with him in his illuminating pursuit.
* * *
When asked to bring a devotional
message, Sage singled out Jesus’ invitation to
follow him. Only two words, and yet rich in meaning.
For the early disciples, to be with him in his
public ministry. For all, to learn from him and put
it into practice.
Giving rise to the following
observations in abbreviated form. “Then he went down
to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them”
(Luke 2:51). In keeping with the admonition to honor
one’s parents. Rather than claiming an exception to
As if a benediction on the family
structure. Thus as God’s provision for a healthy
society. One that must be given prime consideration,
lest chaos results. Consequently, let us follow
Jesus in the family.
“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit,
returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit
in the desert, where he was tempted by the devil”
(Luke 4:1-2). As noted previously, this was by way
of preparation for his Messianic mission. “He first
step was a big one,” Sage allowed.
The notion of preparation
surfaces from time to time in Jesus’ discourse. For
instance, “Suppose one of you wants to build a
tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the
cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?
For if he lays the foundation and is not able to
finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him”
(Luke 14:28-29). Accordingly, let us follow Jesus by
way of diligent preparation.
Jesus subsequently ministered to
persons in their diverse need. Whether physical,
social, or spiritual. While indicative of a holistic
“Who being in the very nature
God, did not consider equality with God something to
be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the
very nature of the servant” (Phil. 2:6-7). And in
this capacity, “he humbled himself and become
obedient to death—even death on a cross!” Therefore,
God exalted him above all others. Thus as an
incentive that we seek with Jesus to serve.
As Jesus was walking along, he
saw two brothers, and invited them to follow him
(cf. Luke 4:18-19). A short time later he saw two
additional brothers, and repeated the invitation. In
both instances, they responded.
They thus assumed the role of
students. Those who would learn from word and deed.
In this capacity, to set aside all that would
distract them from their calling. In this manner, to
set the precedent for others.
Thus to accept the cost of
discipleship. While diverse in nature. For some,
consisting of a missionary outreach into unfamiliar
surroundings. As such, the cause for uncertainty and
as an appeal for trust. For others, instilling in
their offspring a zeal for righteousness.
While yet similar. “You were
taught, with regard to your former way of life, to
put off your old self, which is being corrupted by
its deceitful desires, to be made new in the
attitude of your minds, and to put on the new self,
created to be like God in true righteousness and
holiness” (Eph. 4:22-24). Death to the one, and
resurrection to the other. Then to experience an
earnest of everlasting life, and in anticipation of
that which will follow. Which Sage designates as
the Jesus way.
* * *
REJOICE IN THE LORD
“Rejoice in the Lord always,”
Paul urges. “I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil.
4:4). “Surely not on all occasions,” Sage’s neighbor
protested. This seemed unrealistic to him. As
perhaps those who received the apostle’s
“Not in the situation,” Sage
countered. “But in the Lord.” Whose presence is
desirable regardless of the circumstances. Better
adversity with Jesus than otherwise favorable
conditions without him. The apostle spoke from
In fact, adversity not uncommonly
serves to bond persons together. In a manner not
previously embraced. Not readily forgotten with the
passing of time. Thus soliciting Paul’s repeated
exhortation. As if to make the most of the
situation, whatever it might involve.
“Let your gentleness be evident
to all,” the apostle continues. As cultivated by a
rejoicing spirit. So that one deals sensitively with
others, even during trying circumstances. Rather
than becoming harsh and critical.
Then readily noticeable. Not
something that needs to be mentioned, except perhaps
by way of explanation. What Sage characterizes as
a silent sermon. As such, often more persuasive
than the spoken word.
“The Lord is near.” Even now!
Hence, available. For what purposes? Consolation,
guidance, and encouragement. Which serve as a short
Perhaps also with the implication
that his return is imminent. Not that we know
precisely when that will occur, but neither is it
delayed. So that persons should not procrastinate.
No, not even momentarily.
“Do not be anxious about
anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition,
with thanksgiving present your request to God.”
Anxious about nothing, but prayerful
concerning everything. Thus prayer plays a
critical role in overcoming anxiety.
Moreover, prayer incorporates
both petition and thanksgiving. “Why
bring our needs to God’s attention, since he already
knows them?” Sage’s neighbor inquired. Since it
seemed to him a needless exercise.
“Initially, because he encourages
us to do so,” Sage replied. In that it firms up our
filial relationship with him. Then, too, more is
accomplished by prayer than we realize. In this
regard, Sage recalls times when he felt prompted
pray for someone, and then on occasion, to learn
that the person was facing some crisis at the time.
“And the peace of God, which
transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts
and your minds in Christ Jesus.” As a consequence.
While portrayed as a guard on duty. So that one may
rest assured that all is well.
The peace of God
stands over against the much publicized pax
Romana (peace of Rome). As signifying that all
is well, and not simply that there is a semblance of
the ideal. Likewise, as enduring, rather than
transient. Which alerts us that we have come full
circle, back to the admonition that we rejoice in
the Lord always. With this observation, Sage saw
that his neighbor was deep in thought, while
dwelling on his brief commentary. So that he decided
not to press the matter further, having provided
food for thought.
* * *
“Come now, let us reason
together,” God invites his wayward people (Isa.
1:18). Consider what is involved and behave
accordingly. Qualifications aside, Sage concludes
that reason is commended. Especially in conjunction
with divine initiatives.
“Though your sins are like
scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they
are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” On
condition of their being willing and
obedient. In other words, receptive and
observant. “It stands to reason,” Sage observes.
“But if you resist and rebel, you
will be devoured by the sword.” In this regard,
reluctance tends to result in rejection. This, too,
stands to reason.
Now the appeal for faith is not
contrary to reason, but quite the reverse. For
instance, it is by faith that we understand that the
universe was created by divine mandate (cf. Heb.
11:2). What is seen resulted from what is not seen.
This much is agreed upon.
However understood, that which is
seen shows evidence of impressive design. Whether
one attributes this to God or some intrinsic
feature. Divine revelation thus confirms what we
would have otherwise concluded.
Life has also evolved by common
consent. Whether this accounts for its origin
remains a matter of conjecture. So that both the
atheist and theist exercise faith, in terms of what
seems to be the more plausible alternative.
Also at issue is whether a person
is better advised to consider divine revelation or
manage without it. “As the heavens are higher than
the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and
my thoughts than your thoughts,” the Almighty
declares (Isa. 55:9). In context, due not only to
human finiteness but sinfulness. So that its
perspective is seriously faulted. “Who can doubt
this?” Sage inquires, given what appears to be
In this regard, total
depravity does not mean that one is as disposed
to evil practices as he or she might be. Instead, it
implies that all aspects of human nature are
contaminated by sin. And reason is not an exception.
Consequently, Sage observes: “While this may or may
not seem right to you, what does Scripture have to
say concerning it?” Even if not convinced of divine
inspiration, a second opinion is called for.
“As the rain and the snow come
down from heaven, and do not return to it without
watering the earth and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for
the eater, so is my word that goes out from my
mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will
accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for
which I sent it” (v. 10). Rest assured and act
“You will go out in joy and be
led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will
burst into song before you, and the trees of the
field will cap their hands.” As a graphic expression
of shalom (peace/well-being). “Now faith is
being sure of what we hope for and certain of what
we do not see. This is what the ancients were
commended for” (Heb. 1:1-2). Our hope
embraces shalom, as confirmed by our faith. So that
Sage thinks that faith and reason are a false
dichotomy. Instead, he appeals to a reasoning faith.
One that takes into consideration, and heartily
endorses the appeal: “Come now, let us reason
* * *
One day Sage was visited by an
impressionable young person, who envied an affluent
merchant in the community. “If only I could be like
him!” the lad exclaimed. Accordingly, to enjoy all
that money can buy. Rather than having to get by
In fact, the person to whom he
referred was not satisfied with his fortune.
Instead, he longed for more. Recalling the saying,
“The more one has, the more one wants.”
Sage paused for a moment, before
reaching for his Bible. After which, he turned to
Jesus’ treatise on the beatitudes. “Now when he saw
the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat
down. His disciples came to him, and he began to
teach them, saying: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’” (Matt. 5:1-3).
Why did he retire to the
mountainside? Perhaps to focus attention on the
kingdom of heaven. As over against the special
privileges this world selectively offers. While
followed by his disciples, to learn more of his
teaching. At which, Jesus declared that the poor
in spirit are blessed. That is, those who
recognize their dire need. “To some who were
confident of their own righteousness and looked down
on everybody else,” Jesus subsequently spoke of two
persons who “went up to the temple to pray, one a
Pharisee and the other a tax collector.” (Luke
18:9-10) The former thanked God that he was “not
like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or
even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week
and give a tenth of all I get’” (Luke 18:9-12).
“But the tax-collector stood at a
distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but
beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a
sinner.’” This man went home justified, rather than
the other. “Fore everyone who exalts himself will be
humbled, and he who humbles himself will be
exalted.” Such are blessed indeed.
Likewise, “Blessed are those who
mourn, for they will be comforted.” Those who are
filled with deep regret for their waywardness.
Rather than excusing it for some reason or another.
Or comparing themselves with those thought to be
more at fault.
Moreover, “Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.” Not the grasping
and the greedy. Contrary to the impression of the
youth cited above.
“Blessed are those who hunger and
thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
Not those who focus their attention on the acquiring
of this world’s treasures. Since humans have a
vacuum that only God can fill.
“Blessed are the merciful, for
they will be shown mercy.” This should be taken
seriously, but not legalistically. Since in seeking
mercy, we express mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.” Such as are devoted to God,
and one another. Not the one who thinks exclusively
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for
they will be called sons of God.” In contrast to
such as stir up strife, in hopes of person gain. In
doing so, they hope to rectify what is unjust and
“Blessed are those who are
persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is
the kingdom of God.” Those who suffer for being
faithful, and thus conform to a higher standard.
Such are truly blessed! Whether one is convinced or
* * *
CAUSE FOR COMPLAINT
It is sometimes said, “The donkey
complains of the cold even in July.” There seems to
be no satisfying a critical mind set. Neither a
change of circumstances nor the appraisal of those
with more positive disposition.
Jim is of that sort. For
instance, he complains: “I could have created a
better world than this.” If given the means to do
“God did,” was Sage’s reply. It
remained for humans to attempt to improve on it, but
with disastrous results. Recalling that in chaos
theory small changes in original conditions can have
“Well, he could at least have
contained the fall out,” Jim protested. If well
meaning, it seems to him that God is inept. If not,
then unworthy of our devotion. In any case, a
legitimate cause for complaint.
While in fact, “A man reaps what
he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful
nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the
one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit
will reap eternal life” (Gal. 6:7-8). Justly so. So
one should not tire from doing good.
Even so, God is said to restrict
the adverse effects of sin to the third and
fourth generations, while showing favor “to a
thousand generations of those who love me and keep
my commandments” (Exod. 20:6). Giving rise to
observation, “If God were to throw dice, they would
be loaded.” The point being that God exercises
justice along with mercy.
“Maybe that is the way it looks
from heaven, since it is far removed,” Jim allows.
Because it does not seem to appear that way up
close. Then, too, he thinks of himself as a better
judge. Consequently, more qualified to act in a
This incited Sage to again turn
to Scripture. “From one man he made every nation of
men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and
he determined the times set for them and the exact
places where they should live. God did this so that
men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and
find him, though he is not fare from each one of us”
(Acts 17:26-27). Here we are alerted to the fact
that God not only created humans, but deployed them
in such a way that they might reach out and discover
him. Both in terms of time and location. But with
the reminder that he is not far removed from any of
Unable to press his complaints
about God further, Jim turns his attention to fellow
humans. For instance, “Like the cranky old woman
down the street.” One who is especially annoyed with
his negativism. While coupled with the fact that her
health is poor. So that she thinks he should be more
appreciative of his relatively good condition.
“She perhaps feels the same way
about you,” Sage speculates. Although she is less
inclined to express it, and thinks he is more of an
exception than the rule.
Then circumstances likewise
perturb Jim. If he plans a picnic, it rains. If he
is weary, there is some pressing task that demands
his attention. Seldom does anything suit him, and
then only in some respects. If it were not for this
or that, things would be much more acceptable. But
the if crowds out all else. Sage’s wise
* * *
GUILTY OR NOT
In a court of law, one is
innocent unless proved guilty. While some determine
a person is guilty unless it can be proved that they
are innocent. Then, too, what qualifies as truth
differs from one individual to another.
This came to mind one day when
Sage observed two persons from different cultures
engaged in conversation. One kept moving closer, as
was the custom in his culture. While the other
backed off, in keeping with his cultural
orientation. Neither were behaving in the manner in
Perhaps this did not occur to
them. Or maybe it was of little concern. Conversely,
it may have created a degree of uncertainty. Did the
one mean to threaten the other by moving closer? Or
did the other want to disengage by moving back? Then
interpreted in the context of what a person was
saying or something he or she had read concerning
persons of this sort.
Now it occurs to Sage that Jesus
approached persons with regard to what they might
become, and as a result, they often responded. For
instance, he saw a tax collector by the name of
Levi sitting at his tax booth. Such were thought
guilty unless proved innocent. Since they cooperated
with the Roman authorities, and often charged more
than necessary. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him (Luke
5:27). Whereupon, he got up and followed him.
Then Levi held a great banquet
for Jesus in his house, which attracted like
sinners (religiously non-observant). This, in
turn, solicited the protests of Pharisees and
scribes alike. “It is not the healthy who need a
doctor, but the sick,” Jesus observed. “I have not
come to call the righteous but sinners to
repentance.” While bearing in mind, “for all have
sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are
justified freely by his grace through the redemption
that came by Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:23-24).
Granted, some persons will not
respond. But we do not know which ones. Past
experience can be misleading. Although it may be
some indication. It remains to give the person the
benefit of a doubt.
This recalls another of Sage’s
favorite sayings, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
Since appearances can be misleading. So investigate
the matter more fully, and be willing to reconsider
if the situation appears to warrant it. Again in
keeping with the admonition: do to others as you
would have them do to you.
Moreover, persons find it much
easier to tear down than to build. It gives them a
sense of accomplishment, while offering no remedy.
It also lends itself to self-approval, by way of a
moral pecking order.
One is also more inclined to
think well of his or her friends, while question the
sincerity of those who deviate. So that guilt is
assessed selectively. Giving rise to the
exhortation, “Away with the noise of your songs! I
will not listen to the music of your harps. But let
justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a
never-ending stream!” (Amos 5:23-24). Since
religious ritual void of the execution of justice is
Guilty or not! That is the
question. Persons should be declared innocent unless
and until proven guilty. That is the solution. Given
this guideline, wisdom triumphs.
* * *
Two families got along well
together. They would visit back and forth, and on
occasion share a meal. Then one decided to build a
storage shed, which partly obscured the view of the
landscape from the other. This offended the deprived
family, who took this to mean that their neighbors
were either inconsiderate or unconcerned.
As a result, the amicable
relationship was abruptly terminated. There was no
explanation given, nor effort made to reconcile. As
a result, the sense of alienation continued to
build. At first with regret, and then with
Meanwhile, this impacted
negatively on the community. Persons became aware
that something was amiss, and were hard pressed to
account for it. Upon inquiry, they got evasive
responses. In a close knit society, all suffer when
one suffers. While not to the same degree, but by
When asked for his appraisal,
Sage replied: “Two wrongs do not make a right.” If
erecting the storage shed without consideration for
one’s neighbor is wrong, retaliation is not a right.
Instead, some effort should be made to rectify the
situation. Perhaps the shed could be relocated,
along with an apology. Thus to salvage the
Illustrations multiply. A certain
husband made an insensitive remark concerning his
spouse. It was not a calculated offense, but no less
offensive. He decided to let the matter work out for
itself. Supposing his spouse would soon come around.
However, this proved not to be
the case. She dwelt on the matter, and the more she
did so, the more incensed she became. Soon she was
doing things simply to annoy her husband, and taking
pleasure in doing so. The situation continued to
deteriorate, until on the verge of divorce. Only
then did they seek marriage counseling, and the
marriage was saved. Along with the conclusion that
two wrongs do not make a right.
Then there was the case of a
person who returned a piece of stolen property.
Having repented of his theft, and wishing to put it
behind him. While feeling assured that all would be
forgiven, and life would take a turn for the better.
Instead, the owner warned him not
to repeat the offense. While disregarding his good
intention. After which, he waited for an opportunity
to retaliate. Initially, this resulted in alerting
others as to what had transpired. Along with his own
mistrust of the individual. Eventually, he was able
to respond in kind, by stealing in return.
Was it the right thing to do?
Indeed not! It would be far better for him to have
commended the thief for his turn about. Then not
publicizing the matter, let alone behaving in like
“For this is the way God deals
with us,” Sage reasons. We had dishonored him by our
evil behavior. As would an errant son his devout
parent. Rather than repudiate their relationship, he
awaits the prodigal’s return. When he does so, there
is great rejoicing. Unlike the elder brother, in
Jesus’ parable, who was incensed by the restoration.
At which, his father explained: “we had to celebrate
and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead
and is alive again, he was lost and is found” (Luke
15:32). So while two wrongs do not make a right, a
right can rectify a wrong.
* * *
A WORK IN PROGRESS
“I’m only a work in progress,”
Sage allows from time to time. As when he errs in
some regard. Conversely, when commended for some
Whose work? Qualifications aside,
God’s work. However, one with which he must
cooperate. So that one ought not to leave it all up
to God, nor attempt to get it done by oneself.
“What can I do?” he was asked by
a person intimidated by his limitations. It seemed
to him that he had seldom been successful in his
endeavors. Then, as he matured, more was
unrealistically expected of him. “Enough is too
much,” he concluded.
“You can petition,” Sage replied.
“Ask and it will be given you, seek and you will
find, knock and the door will be opened to you,”
Jesus declared. “For everyone who asks receives; he
who seeks finds, and to him who knocks, the door
will be opened” (Matt. 7:7-8).
Now one may not receive the
answer desired. For instance, Paul prayed concerning
his thorn in the flesh—which was perhaps a
physical problem and/or burdens associated with his
ministry. But he was alerted to the fact that God’s
grace would be sufficient. “Therefore I will boat
all the more gladly about my weaknesses,” the
apostle concludes, “that Christ’s power may rest on
me” (2 Cor. 12:9). Was his prayer answered? Yes, but
not in the way he may have anticipated.
“You can also make an effort,”
Sage continued. If something needs to be done, do
it. If the help of others is required, seek it out.
For in doing, we learn to do.
This then recalled an invalid he
had visited recently. “I have fallen behind in my
correspondence,” she confessed. This initially
seemed strange, since she was bed-ridden and very
limited in what she could do. However, she had
cultivated a very active prayer ministry. One which
required extensive correspondence with those for
whom she interceded, and with whom she happily
shared her insights.
“You can encourage others,” Sage
added. “What you have heard from me, keep as the
pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in
Christ Jesus,” Paul urged. “Guard the good deposit
that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of
the Holy Spirit who lives in us” (2 Tim. 1:13-14).
Encourage persons to stand firm, in the face of
obstacles, uncertainties, and persecution. Thus to
cultivate faith and love in a dynamic
relationship with Christ Jesus.
Guard that which is entrusted to
you. With the assistance of the Holy Spirit, who
lives within. Hence, readily available and eminently
capable. Greater is he than the adversary without.
“You can run the race to its
conclusion,” Sage allowed. Preferably, get a good
start. Then keep a steady pace. Rather than being
distracted by other concerns. Finally, finish
strong. To the acclaim of those observing.
This again brings the apostle
Paul to mind. “I have finished the course,” he
triumphantly announces, “I have kept the faith. Now
there is in store for me the crown of righteousness,
which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to
me on that day—not only to me, but also to all who
have longed for his appearing” (1 Tim. 4:7-8).
What, in turn, will God do? He
promises to shepherd those who put their trust in
him. “He makes me to lie down in green pastures, he
leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul”
(Psa. 23:2-3). In times of refreshing. “He guides me
in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
Recalling the unmarked paths in the Judean hill
country. “Even though I walk through the valley of
the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” With
reference to the deep ravines, where endangered by
thieves and wild beasts. One will not want in any of
these circumstances, as a work in progress.
* * *
WHERE IS HOME?
“Where is your home?” a stranger
asked Sage. Since he was unfamiliar with the area,
and thought he might pay a visit. While not
supposing that this would invite some spiritual
application. Had he know Sage better, he would not
have taken this for granted.
“Home is where the heart is,”
Sage pensively replied. “Do not store up for
yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust
destroy, and where thieves break in and steal,”
Jesus cautioned. “But store up for yourselves in
heaven (where they are secure). For where your
treasure is there your heart will be also” (Matt.
6:19-21). He thought this applicable.
There was a time when home
pertained to one’s residence with his or her
parents. This recalls pleasant memories for Sage. Of
the dawn of a new day, as the sun beamed through the
window of his bed room. Upon returning from school
late afternoon. Of the family gathered for the
evening meal, and so on.
The residence remains, although
no longer habitable. His parents have passed away,
as has his siblings. What once was, not longer is.
Instead, he has a residence of
his own. It is relatively modest, with kitchen,
dining room, living room, and two bedrooms. While
some would covet more, this satisfies him. Since he
is more inclined to assist those in dire need, than
to improve his living conditions.
Some strive for more, while
others get by on less. As for the former, they are
inclined to pride themselves for their
accomplishment. As for the latter, some strive to
better themselves, while others seem relatively
“In my Father’s house are many
rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you,”
Jesus assured his disciples. “I am going there to
prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a
place for you, I will come back and take you to be
with me that you may be where I am” (John 14:2-3).
There will be ample room for all. Were this not the
case, he would have made mention of it.
While he is about to depart, he
will return. At such time he will take them to share
his domicile. So that home is ultimately to be with
him. Even now there is an earnest of this
experience. While the best is yet to come.
All of which recalls a time when
Sage returned from deployment abroad with the
military, during war time. As the train drew near to
the village in which he was raised, he could pick
out familiar sites. The stream where he used to
fish, the long stretch that lead to the train
station, and the familiar stand of trees behind the
A warm, fuzzy feeling came over
him. In terms of the World War II lyrics, “Gonna
take a sentimental journey, to renew old memories.”
Sage assumes that arrival in heaven will be similar,
only much more fulfilling.
On that occasion, he found his
parents waiting—although not alerted to his arrival.
On the subsequent occasion, he imagines Jesus fondly
embracing him. Along with those who preceded him, so
as to share cherished memories.
The stranger was a bit
overwhelmed by Sage’s extended response, but
gathered that he meant that heaven was depicted as
his ultimate home. Sage was quick to confirm his
appraisal, and invite him to come along on the
journey to the celestial city. Since good things are
* * *
“How mature are you?” Sage
inquired of a youth. Since he had failed to act
responsibly. While in hope that he would learn from
“About the same as most my age,”
the lad replied. He meant to suggest it is a common
pursuit. Welcomed by some more than others.
Nevertheless, he curiosity was aroused. “What does
maturity imply?” he asked.
Initially, one is said to be no
longer dependent on others. Of course, this is in a
relative sense, since persons are inter-dependent.
Along with the temptation to expect of others what
we may be inclined to withhold from them.
Now Sage had read that the brain
is not fully developed in adolescence. Which would
seem to suggest that we should expect immaturity
until this is achieved. This underlines the
importance of establishing rights of passage that
recognize the transition. For instance, in the
village culture in which Sage was raised, he could
own a rifle when thought sufficiently mature.
Two related features are
sometimes associated with maturity. One has to do
with the acceptance of others. Rather than relying
on the disposition of others. Consequently,
something that requires discernment.
For instance, Sage recalls asking
his mother whether he should associate with a
certain questionable character. Accordingly, he did
not propose to make the decision on his own. His
mother thought it acceptable so long as it was in
the company of others. Thus was the matter decided,
in anticipation that at some point Sage would render
such decisions for himself.
The ready acceptance of change is
another aspect of maturity. While to live is to
change, the change is usually less pronounced among
the immature. This allows for a sense of security,
until disrupted by some eventuality.
Conversely, the mature must
contend with change as the norm. Then to decide how
best to deal with it. Bringing to mind the saying,
“The more some things change, the more other things
remain constant.” Of special consolation to Sage,
God remains faithful.
Now social maturity has its
counterpart in spiritual maturity. “Therefore let us
leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go
on to maturity” (Heb. 6:1). Not being content with
the basic features of the Christian faith, but
striving to gain more in depth insight. Not to the
exclusion of the former, but by way of elaborating
Sage thinks this pertains to
building a Christian world view. In brief, a
comprehensive view of life that incorporates some of
its more problematic aspects (such as the existence
of evil and life after death), invests life with
meaning, and enables persons to effect constructive
change. While in contrast to that which picks up on
selective instruction, and interprets it in context
of prevailing cultural norms. As for confirmation,
“We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the
mature, but not the wisdom of this age or the rulers
of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak
of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been
hidden and that God destined for our glory before
time began” (1 Cor. 2:6-7). A wisdom falsely
so-called, as set over against a privileged wisdom
God shares with the devout.
* * *
A GOOD PERSON
Various sayings come to mind
concerning a person thought to be good. For
instance, “A good man is hard to find.” One would
assuredly gain this impression from even a casual
reading of the text of Genesis. Herein, it appears
that while there are a few righteous individuals,
most are wayward. As an example, “The Lord saw how
great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and
that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart
was only evil all the time” (Gen. 6:95). One could
hardly imagine a more scathing indictment. While in
contrast, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among
the people of his time, and he walked with God” (v.
As another instance, “You can’t
keep a good man down.” If experiencing adversity, he
rises to the occasion. If overwhelmed by the task,
he relentlessly presses ahead. If weary in well
doing, he continues without respite. If forsaken by
others, he continues on alone, and yet with God’s
The rabbis taught that one with
more learning than good deeds resembles a tree with
weak roots. The first severe storm casts it to the
ground. Along with the implication that we should
take care to put into practice that which he have
learned. “Do not merely listen to the word, and so
deceive yourselves,” James appropriately cautions.
“Do what it says” (James 1:22).
They also observed, “A single
light answers as well for a hundred men as for one.”
That is, good things are best shared. We do not lose
by sharing, but by hoarding. In giving, we are
blest. While in accumulating, we are impoverished.
In particular, “God loves a
cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:6). One who does so
without begrudging, rather than out of compulsion.
As a matter of course, instead of on rare occasions.
With God serving as the inspiring precedent.
Good intention aside, “To err is
human.” Conversely, it is said that to forgive is
divine. In like manner, Jesus enjoined his disciples
to pray: “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive
everyone who sins against us” (Luke 11:4).
Which, in turn, brings to mind
still another observation: “It is better to light a
candle than to curse the dark.” For the former
provides a constructive alternative. Rather than
simply repudiating the evil that was done.
Then without doubt, “Goodness is
as goodness does.” Illustrations proliferate. Such
as the occasion when a person was seriously ill. A
neighbor took it upon herself to stop by daily and
take care of anything that needed to be done.
Moreover, she encouraged her children to help out,
thus illustrating the saying: “Many hands make for
There was also a youth who
offered to tutor a child who was experiencing
difficulty in school. As a result, the latter was
able to pass his course work and graduate. Then,
when given the opportunity, reciprocated by
assisting another student in similar need. Which led
Sage to observe, “One good deed deserves another.”
“You are a good person,” a
youthful admirer enthusiastically applauded Sage.
Since he is readily available and considerate of
others. Likewise, in that he willingly shares his
insights, in a respectful manner.
“No one has a monopoly on
goodness,” the elder replied. In that it is
something that can be acquired. Or if neglected,
harder to recover. Thus calling for diligence in its
pursuit, as God enables and encourages us. With
this, Sage left the matter for further reflection.
* * *
One thought solicits another. So
it is with the expression, “A rose among thorns.”
Commonly employed concerning one who is not
corrupted by his or her associates. Consequently,
even more attractive for that reason.
Not surprisingly, bringing to
mind the admirable behavior of Esther. “Let a search
be made for beautiful young virgins for the king,”
his assistants suggested. “Then let the girl who
pleases the king be queen” (Esther 2:2, 4). Their
advice appealed to the ruler.
“Now the king was attracted to
Esther more than to any of the other women, and she
won his favor and approval more than any of the
other virgins. So he set a royal crown on her head
and made her queen” (v. 17). “But Esther had kept
secret her family background and nationality as
Mordecai had told her to do, for she continued to
follow (his) instructions as he had done when he was
bringing her up” (v. 20). Serving as an indication
of her piety.
Now two of the king’s officials
conspired to assassinate him. “But Mordecai found
out about the plot and told Queen Esther, who in
turn reported it to the king, giving credit to
Mordecai. And when the report was investigated and
found to be true, the two officials were hanged on a
gallows” (vv. 22-23). Again, to Esther’s credit, in
the midst of evil intent.
After these events, the king
elevated Haman above all the other nobles. “When
Haman saw that Mordecai would not kneel down or pay
him honor, he was enraged. Yet having learned who
Mordecai’s people were, he scorned the idea of
killing only Mordecai. Instead Haman looked for a
way to destroy all (his) people, the Jews” (3:5-6).
So it came to pass that Haman
reported to the king, “There is a certain people
dispersed and scattered among the peoples in all the
provinces of your kingdom whose customs are
different from those of all other people and who do
not obey the king’s laws; it is not the king’s best
interests to tolerate them. If it pleases the king,
let a decree be issued to destroy them.” So it was
That night the king could not
sleep, and asked that the chronicles concerning his
reign be read to him. There was mention of the
service Mordecai had rendered, leading the ruler to
inquire what had been done to reward him. When
informed that nothing had been done, he inquired as
to who was in the court at that hour. Then told that
Haman had arrived, he inquired of him: “What should
be done for the man the king delights to honor?”
(6:6). Thinking that the ruler had reference to
himself, he suggested a public recognition. In
accordance with his proposal, the king ordered Haman
to make arrangements to honor Mordecai for his good
Haman, who planned to have
Mordecai hanged, was now deeply distressed. While
his advisors were still talking with him, the king’s
eunuchs arrived to bring him to the banquet Esther
had prepared. At which time, the ruler inquired:
“Queen Esther, what is your petition?”(7:2).
“If I have found favor with you,
O king, and it pleases your majesty, grant me my
life. And spare my people. For I and my people have
been sold for destruction and slaughter and
annihilation.” When the ruler inquired who dared to
do such a thing, she identified Haman. And so he was
hanged on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai.
While she and her people were rescued. “And these
days of Purim should never cease to be celebrated by
the Jews, nor should the memory of them die out
among their descendants” (9:28). Having come to pass
in large measure by what might be graphically
described as a rose among thorns. Such was Sage’s
* * *
Sage was impressed by the fact
that in Greek there are four words translated as
love. Storge is the least familiar of
these, and focuses of filial devotion. It
incorporates the love parents feel for and express
toward their children, the appreciate response of
their children, and the relationship between or
This recalls the saying, “Blood
is thicker than water.” So, also, the Bedouin
observation: “I against my cousin, and my cousin and
I against the stranger. So while there are
disagreements among family members, they join
together to oppose the incursion of outsiders. At
least in ideal terms.
concerns the love
experienced between a couple. “How beautiful you
are, my darling!” exclaims the lover. “Your hair is
like a flock of goats descending from Mount Gilead”
(Song of Songs 4:1).
“Awake, north wind, and south
wind!” the beloved responds. “Blow on my garden,
that its fragrance may spread abroad. Let my lover
come into his garden and taste its choice fruits.”
Thus an intimate relationship is anticipated.
pertains to the
experience shared by persons in a common pursuit. In
antiquity, it was sometimes associated with those
engaged in academic study. It likewise brings to
mind such as are involved in team sports. Bonded
together in such a manner, they feel a kindred
“A friend loves at all times, and
a brother is born for adversity” (Prov. 17:1). Or as
alternatively expressed, “A fried in need is a
friend indeed.” As set over against such as are
described as a fair weather friend.
is employed to
describe God’s gratuitous love for humans. It is not
because we merit his solicitous attention, but
motivated by his benevolent character. As memorably
expressed, “For God so loved the world that he gave
his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him
shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Hence, it was not his purpose to condemn the world,
but to save such as would respond to his initiative.
This constitutes hard love.
That is, because he loves us, he strives to make us
lovable. Persons are likewise encouraged to emulate
his behavior. Whether this involves caution,
encouragement, or whatever else may seem
“Simon, son of John, do you love
me more than these,” Jesus inquired (John 21:19).
When Peter replied in the affirmative, Jesus
enjoined him: “Feed my lambs.” Again he inquired,
and was answered in like manner. But when asked a
third time, the apostle protested. Jesus opts for
agape the first two instances, but settles for
philos in the third. While Peter employs
What are we to make of this?
Perhaps simply by was of diversity, and nothing
more. Conversely, they may have been selected for a
purpose. If the latter, Peter confessed confidence
on the basis of natural affection, but this had
failed him. Something more was needed, along the
line of unconditional love. Which is conveyed by
agape. Jesus thus accepts the lesser nuance, as
if love in transition to something more compelling.
All things considered, Sage
concludes: “Love God (unconditionally) and do as you
please. For if you genuinely love God, you will do
as he pleases.” Anything less is doomed to failure,
no matter how well meaning.
* * *
It is written, “Perfect love
drives our fear” (1 John 4:18). If written, with
reference to Scripture, it is then assumed
trustworthy. In this regard, what humans say may be
true, but what God says is inevitably true. As for
confirmation, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is
useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and
training in righteousness, so that the man of God
may be equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16).
Given this confidence, Sage determined to explore
the matter further.
Initially, love must be
cultivated. As such, it is a work in progress. It is
also refined in the process. If, in fact, the person
If not, it fails to reach its
potential. Or it degenerates into something less
appealing. Perhaps in the form of legalism. Where
prescribed ritual replaces sincere devotion. Or
where platitudes substitute for devout behavior.
Second, fear continues to plague
our existence. For instance, Sage vividly recalls
being threatened by a fierce dog on his way to
school. After that, he took a different route. While
not knowing what he might encounter by doing so.
Then there was a bully who
delighted in intimidating those vulnerable. While
Sage could was not a prime target, he would on
occasion intercede on behalf of another. This led to
him being inured on one occasion. After which, there
was a continuing threat that he might experience
something worse. So it is that fear builds upon
fear, often with little to restrain it.
Third, “Fear God and keep his
commandments, for this is the whole duty of man”
(Eccles. 12:13). Not for the evil that he might do,
but for the good he insists on doing. Thus the fear
of God is perhaps best expressed as reverence.
Although it is sometimes translated as awe.
The fear of God and the keeping
of his commandments are coupled together. The
failure in one regard, thus suggests failure in the
other. Which leads Sage to counsel if one has
difficulty in fearing God, let him strive to keep
his commandments. Conversely, if he is encountering
a problem with keeping his commandments, let him
cultivate the fear of God. Thus focusing not on the
problem area but its resolution.
Fourth, trust God for his
guidance and enablement. “Blessed is the man who
makes the Lord his trust, who does not look to the
proud, to those who turn aside to false gods” (Psa.
40:4). For the Lord will not fail him.
Although he may fail the Lord.
Thus turning to idolatry. While enamored of that
which he has created. Along with the multiple evils
this incites. While incredibly proud of his imagined
accomplishments. In brief, described as the way
of the wicked.
Finally, perfect love
implies setting an unattainable standard. Since we
are destined to fall short. On such occasions, we
are encouraged to repent and turn about. Rather than
being deterred by our shortcomings.
By doing so, we are more likely
to succeed in large measure. Recalling the story of
a lad who fled a wide beast. Seeing a limb overhead,
he leaped to grasp it. But falling short, he grasped
that just bellow, and thus escaped the vicious
animal. In graphic terms, this is what Sage
recommends to those who would acquire perfect love.
* * *
LOVE AND MARRIAGE
Love and marriage were
intertwined in the village culture in which Sage was
raised. It goes without saying that this involved
physical attraction. Although more was implicated.
So that it was thought that a couple should be
Compatibility, in turn, involves
a variety of considerations. For instance, it was
deemed that one should marry one of like faith. If
not, giving rise to an instance Sage mentions on
occasion. It concerns a couple of differing faiths,
who could not agree in which regard to raise their
child. As a result, they determined to leave it up
to their offspring until she was old enough to
decide for herself. Accordingly, little effort was
made in this regard, so that they failed to make use
of their opportunity.
When it came time for them to
recite their marriage vows, commitment was called
for. “Will you have this woman to be your wedded
wife, to live together after God’s ordinance, in the
holy estate of matrimony?” the cleric inquires.
“Will you love her, comfort her, honor, and,
forsaking all others, keep only unto her, so long as
you both shall live?” While calling for an
affirmative reply. After which, the bride is
The triad of attraction,
compatibility, and commitment is variously addressed
in diverse cultures. For instance, a West African
acquaintance insisted that parents are more
qualified to select a wife for their son that he
himself. However, when pressed, he would like to be
consulted before they firmed up the selection.
Even so, he felt that love was
something that is best realized in context of
marriage. Rather than cultivated previous to it.
Although it might not work out in any case.
He was likewise critical of those
who employ marriage as a means for personal
advancement. As when a less prestigious family
attempts to upgrade by intermarriage with one more
prominent. This, he concluded, is to make a mockery
There are three ideally involved
in marriage: God and the human participants.
“Therefore what God has joined together, let man not
separate” (Matt. 19:6). Which is to undo what God
has done. Leading Sage to repeat the saying, “Act in
haste and repent at leisure.”
Are there exceptions to the rule?
Perhaps, but we should not focus our attention on
divorce but attaining the ideal. As for divorce,
Jewish tradition allows for both a rigorous and more
lenient standard. If the former, only in the
instance of infidelity. If the latter, virtually any
dissatisfaction, said to include if the husband does
not like the way his wife prepares his food.
“Do you not know that he who
unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in
body?” Paul incredulously inquires (1 Cor. 6:16). So
that elicit sex is prohibited, regardless of the
form in might take. While in recognition of human’s
Sage is especially critical of
the increasing practice of living together without
marriage. If or no other reason, in that it violates
divine instruction. But there are other compelling
reasons. Such as while girls are more likely to
anticipate this will lead to marriage, fellows are
more disposed to look on it as a sexual convenience.
As revealed in studies concerning the issue.
For the good of those involved,
love and marriage should be coupled together.
Moreover, for the good of society as a whole. Since
the family provides its basic building block. As
generally allowed, and certainly as promoted by
* * *
“Absence makes the heart grow
fonder,” Sage observed. He had in mind instances
when separated from a loved one. After which, there
was a glad reunion. While followed by a lingering
appreciation, enhanced by the absence.
“For someone else,” replied a
skeptical friend. Since persons tend to adjust, and
make the best of a situation. Consequently, finding
someone else to replace the person from whom he or
she is separated. So that Sage allowed that there is
an element of truth to his objection.
In any case, one’s absence can be
deeply felt. As with a youth who departed for
military service. Although he was allowed to return
briefly on occasion, his presence was assuredly
missed. As when the family gathers for its evening
meal, and shares their experiences.
How much more when some loved on
passes away! There being not prospect of his or her
return. A respectful visit to the grave site, while
comforting, provides no adequate compensation. Then
a sense of loss compounded with the demise of
“Do not let your hearts be
troubled,” Jesus admonished his disciples. “In my
Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I
would have told you. I am going there to prepare a
place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for
you, I will come back and take you to be with me”
When asked to comment, Sage
observed that it was Jesus’ intent to prepare his
disciples for his departure. His absence would be
coupled with their need to fend for themselves.
While in the midst of some who were hostile toward
them. Then lacking certainty as to what would
transpire. It was certainly not a pleasant prospect.
However, something much more
inviting awaited them. There was ample room in his
Father’s house for their accommodation. He would be
preparing such for their arrival. Unlike the saying,
“Out of sight, out of mind.”
Jesus likewise promises to
return. And in doing so, to establish God’s
consummate reign. Along with all the benefits this
implies. Even now his disciples enjoy an earnest of
things to come. So that anticipation continues to
“If you love me, you will obey
what I command,” Jesus continues. “And I will ask
the Father, and he will give you another Counselor
to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth” (v. 19).
Love that eventuates not in sentiment alone, but
with compliant behavior. As prompted by the Spirit,
who dwells within. While in keeping with Jesus’
“The world cannot accept him,
because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you
know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”
Hence, with contrasting experiences. Resulting in
the world turning its attention to other matters.
While the disciples are comforted during Jesus’
absence from their midst.
“So do not be discouraged,” Sage
concluded. “May Jesus’ absence make our hearts grow
fonder. Likewise, may the Spirit’s presence prompt
us to zealous service. Thus may all things work
together for good concerning those who love God and
strive to please him.” This served as a benediction,
after which his friends took their leave. Although
reflecting further on what he had said, and
considering its implications.
* * *
Sage’s attention was captivated
by Jesus comment, “By this all men will know that
are my disciples, if you love one another” (John
13:34). In the sense that it confirms their
commitment. Anything short of this proves to be
With such in mind, he concluded
that love of one another constitutes the ultimate
apologetic. As concerns apologetics, “Always be
prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you
to give the reason for the hope that you have. But
do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear
conscience, so that those who speak maliciously
against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed
of their slander” (1 Peter 3:15-16).
Consequently, it is said that
apologetics concerns a reasoned defense of one’s
faith. Although Sage thinks that it is more along
the line of an affirmation. Since it seizes the
opportunity that presents itself.
allows for no
exception. So that we are reminded that the occasion
may be when we little expect it. Thus requiring that
we should be alert. In this regard, “To be
forewarned is to be forearmed.” Ideally so, although
comprehensive. Qualifications aside, all are
deserving of a reply. There are exceptional
instances, but the exception does not prove to be
the rule. Since one can never be certain whether the
inquirer is sincere or not; and even if not, whether
the answer will serve a purpose.
This obviously does not rule out
taking the initiative. Such may or may not be
welcome. If the former, then by way of instruction.
If the latter, perhaps as a caution.
Reason thus plays a critical
role. As a result, some beliefs seem exceedingly
unlikely, while alternatives appear quite plausible.
So that a person should not accept uncritically what
he or she is told, but weigh the matter carefully.
As for Sage, atheism seems quite unacceptable. Since
one would have to have comprehensive knowledge to
conclude that God does not exist. Agnosticism
appears as a more likely option, since God is said
to be both transcendent and immanent. Theism, as
belief in a personal God, appears most likely to
him. While Christian theism seems most compelling.
One can provide a rationale for
his or her faith in a confrontational manner, or
with gentleness and respect. The former is
implicitly rejected, while the latter is explicitly
commended. Again recalling the exhortation to do to
others, as we would have them do to us. As a result,
encouraging them respond in like manner.
While with a clear conscience.
Out of devotion to God and concern for others.
Rather than to solicit the commendation of others,
while it is welcome. Not as the hypocrites, who
pretend to be that which they are not.
In this manner, to reprove those
who would discredit your efforts. Of which there are
many. If for no other reason, than to excuse
All things considered, love one
another. Again, without exception. Accordingly, some
seem more agreeable than others. Requiring that we
make a special effort in certain instances. Along
with uncertain results. Come what may, love one
another. As it pleases the Almighty, and commends
our corporate faith. So Sage reasons.
* * *
“Why doesn’t God force people to
do what is right?” Sage was asked. It seemed to the
inquirer the best solution to the human dilemma. If
assuming that God is both capable and compassionate.
If not, then understandable.
This incited Sage to cite the
saying, “A person convinced against his will is of
the same opinion still.” As such, it would appear
that the recourse to coercion is to admit failure.
Since the person remains unconvinced. So that we
ought not to confuse compliance with conversion.
God wants something better for
humans than is attainable through coercion. That
which is implied by righteousness. Resulting in
blessing. “Make a tree good an its fruit will be
good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad,
for a tree is recognized by in its fruit” (Matt.
12:33). Coercion does not make one good, so that the
harvest is still evil.
“You generation of vipers, how
can you who are evil saying anything good?” Jesus
continued. “For out of the overflow of the heart the
mouth speaks.” Consequently, an inner transformation
This implies a willing
cooperation. First, with repentance. Not simply
sorrow for doing wrong, for one may continue his or
her waywardness. But what is implied by godly
sorrow, indicating a compelling desire to right
the wrong. Apart from this, there can be no
“Why is that?” Sage was again
asked. It seemed to the inquirer that one could be
forced to do good. Then benefit as a result, and
reward others thereby.
“If humans were simply objects,
this would be possible,” Sage allowed. But persons
exercise their will, for better or worse. If taken
from them, they no longer qualify. In this regard,
they resemble God—except for their evil inclination.
Even before repentance, grace
appeared on stage. As otherwise expressed, unmerited
favor. This can be seen with the divine initiatives.
First with the patriarchs, then prophets, and
finally with Jesus and the apostles.
Along with repentance, grace
enables the person to increasingly conform to the
way of the righteous. With a marked change at the
outset, and then with fuller realization. Something
we are inclined to take for granted, but which
genuinely qualifies as a miracle.
As a result, persons walk by
faith. Hope generated by faith, and love abounding.
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).
Presumably because of its enduring quality. “Persons
would indeed be impoverished without hope, faith,
and love,” Sage adamantly concluded. They would be
less than the least creature.
Conversely, God goes to great
lengths to persuade persons. Sometimes with a club,
but more often with a carrot—employing C. S. Lewis’
graphic imagery. That is, by way of encouragement,
rather than rebuke. Although not one to the
exclusion of the other.
Then with the interval of time.
Since only God knows when an extension will serve no
constructive purpose. Since persons become hardened
in their resolve. As touched on earlier, leading
Lewis to conclude that hell is provided by a loving
God for those who refuse something preferable. Even
now, persons experience an earnest of separation.
With this in mind, Sage signed off.
* * *
“Give me patience now!” Sage’s
friend exclaimed, while suppressing a chuckle. Thus
recognizing that the virtue of patience requires
cultivation. Along with the assurance that good
things come to those who persevere in righteous
In greater detail, “since we are
surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let
us throw off everything that hinders and the sin
that so easily entangles, and let us run with
perseverance the race marked out for us” (Heb.
12:1). Here an appeal is made on the basis of the
effect it will have on others. Much more is at stake
than simply one’s own edification. We are social
creatures, with social obligations.
“A little can go a long way,”
Sage observed. He had in mind a godly grandparent,
whose devotion impressed the extended family. And
then, in turn, those with whom it associated. In
keeping with the graphic allusion to a great
cloud of witnesses.
Since this is the case, throw
off everything that hinders one’s witness. Any
appearance of evil. Rather than flouting one’s
freedom, which borders on license. So that Sage
recommends that persons refrain from any
Likewise, lay aside the sin
that so easily entangles. Since sin compromises
our reason, emotions, and volitions. Hence, it
cannot be ignored. Such as is often more discernable
in others than in ourselves.
Thereafter, let one run with
perseverance the course marked out for us.
Which, in turn, recalls Sage’s experience with
jogging in the nearby nature preserve. After a
stretching exercise, he begins his trek. There are
inviting features, such as the trees that line the
path. So also a variety of wild life: squirrels,
rabbits, and birds. Still, the exercise begins to
take its toll. His legs feel weary, and there is
shortness of breath. Boredom also sets in. What
then? Bear with it.
Shortly thereafter, his body
seems appreciatively gratified. He feels much better
than if he has not made the effort. His patient
endurance has payed off.
It is with this in mind that Sage
counseled a young couple, who were having difficulty
with their offspring. The youth seemed
unappreciative and uncooperative. Consequently,
expecting them to do for him what he was unwilling
to do for himself.
As might be expected, Sage’s
advice was brief and to the point. First, set the
example for him to follow. Recalling a favorite
saying, “The best sermon is a good example.” Only
then can one hope to further influence another.
While recognizing that we all
fall short of the ideal. So that we should not be
hesitant to admit our failures, and apologize when
thought called for. This, too, provides a precedent
for others to emulate.
Second, earnestly express one’s
concern. Lest this have tragic results in the life
of the offender. While carrying over into his
relationships with others. Since there are ample
examples of this unfortunate behavior that can be
While the issues may seem
relatively insignificant at the time, they tend to
intensify. If not dealt with early on, they will be
increasingly difficult to manage. Accordingly, one
should not procrastinate, but take preventative
Finally, offer assistance.
Inquire what the offender would find helpful.
Perhaps make suggestions, so as to get his approval.
Negotiate when deemed advisable.
But not so as to shift the
responsibility for one’s own behavior. So that he
becomes an intricate aspect of the solution. For his
own welfare, and that of others he will influence in
the course of his life. Hopefully for the better.
* * *
WHO DOES WHAT
As succinctly expressed,
“Everybody’s work is nobody’s work.” Unless
delegated, one does not feel accountable. But what
seems so obvious is often disregarded. So that
necessary tasks go unattended to, and persons are
blamed for that for which they accept no
responsibility. Then if left to resolve itself, the
problem continues to intensify.
It goes without saying that
persons should be responsible for their own
behavior. For instance, one ought not to throw waste
out the car window. As is often the case, resulting
in an appeal for someone to adopt the project of
picking up the trash.
Sage is genuinely incensed by
this anti-social practice. Not that most involved
would reconsider if it was known to them.
Accordingly, they disregard who should do what.
Other duties must be assigned. So
it was that Sage was given chores to do as a
youngster. Such as drawing water from a nearby well,
and obtaining wood for the kitchen stove. These
duties he as a rule performed after returning from
school, and before taking time for leisure
Later on, he would hire out as a
day laborer. As the opportunity afforded itself, and
should it not conflict with his school attendance.
This, too, involved delegated duties. Such as
gathering the hay into a wagon, and depositing it in
the loft of a barn. A responsibility he shared with
another youth, under the supervision of the farmer.
And so the course was set. One
set of delegated responsibilities after another.
Modified as time wore on, with common consent. As it
should be, according to Sage’s line of reasoning.
In this regard, Paul enjoins
Timothy: “Do your best to present yourself to God as
one approved, a workman who does not need to be
ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth”
(1 Tim. 2:15). Do your best, since no one can
ask for more. Strive to excel, so even when one
falls short, he or she may be legitimately
“What if your best is not
acceptable?” one of Sage’s companions inquired. It
seemed to him that some persons make unrealistic
demands. As indeed is the case, along with resulting
tension between those involved.
Strive “as unto God,” Sage
replied. Hence, in an acceptable manner. Which
places a higher demand on one’s labors than if only
to satisfy some human supervisor. Since God is more
aware of our potential, and more concerned to have
Then if thought unsatisfactory,
to manage as best one can. Without being unduly
critical or otherwise shifting the blame. While
perhaps casting around for an alternative position.
One where the conditions will be more amicable.
In particular, Timothy is
enjoined to correctly handle the word of truth. In
this regard, “Avoid godless chatter, because those
who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly.
Their teaching will spread like gangrene.” Thus
showing disrespect for God’s inspired text.
“Nevertheless, God’s solid
foundation stands firm.” Along with the inscription:
“The Lord knows who are his,” and “Everyone who
confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from
wickedness.” We are thus alerted to the fact that
God puts things in their proper perspective. It is
therefore for us to concur, even though others may
not be so inclined.
All things considered, “And
whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all
in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God
the Father through him” (Col. 3:17). Hence, with
heartfelt appreciation for the opportunity afforded,
and in confidence of his sustaining grace. Whether
in some relatively trivial connection or something
of greater import. Accordingly, as faithful
stewards. “Just so!” Sage affirms.
* * *
“A simple man believes anything,
but a prudent man gives thought to his steps” (Prov.
14:15). Prudence implies sound judgment in
practical matters. While closely associated with
wisdom, it focuses more on specifics. It has
also come to be associated with caution.
There are amble examples in what
is introduced as “the proverbs of Solomon, for
attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding
words of insight, for acquiring a disciplined and
prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair;
for giving prudence to the simple” (Prov. 1:1). For
living in God’s world, by means of his grace.
For instance, “Have no fear of
sudden disaster or the ruin that overtakes the
wicked, for the Lord will be your confidence and
will keep your foot from being snared” (Prov. 3:25).
For prudence allows that if we trust our way to God,
he will direct our paths. Even in the face of
“Do not withhold good from those
who deserve it, when it is in your power to act” (v.
27). This would be improper, since deserving persons
should receive their just reward. Conversely, those
undeserving should not receive special recognition.
Only in that we should continue to do good to one
“Do not say to your neighbor,
‘Come back later; I’ll give it tomorrow’—when you
have it with you” (v. 28). Alleviate the problem
when you have the opportunity. As for tomorrow,
no one knows what it has in store. So that even good
intention may not prevail, and procrastination is
not indicative of good intention.
“Do not plot harm against your
neighbor, who lives trustfully near you” (v. 29).
Instead, validate his trust. As it is something to
be encouraged and cultivated, by which social
relationships are greatly enhanced.
“Do not accuse a man for no
reason—when he has done no harm” (v. 30). Such as
when we depreciate another for personal gain. This
being the case when we use this ploy to befriend an
adversary of the accused.
“Do not envy a violent man or
choose any of his ways, for the Lord detests a
perverse man but takes the upright into his
confidence, for the Lord detests a perverse man but
takes the upright into his confidence ” (vv. 31-32).
For in envying the violent person, we identify with
him. Then, given the opportunity, we are disposed to
mimic his ways. While bearing in mind that the Lord
detests such as this, but instructs the upright.
“The Lord’s curse is on the house
of the wicked, but he blesses the home of the
righteous” (v. 33). Which is to be preferred?
Obviously the latter.
In particular, “He mocks proud
mockers but gives grace to the humble” (v. 34).
Those who exalt themselves will be humbled. While
those who humble themselves will be exalted. If in
keeping with a righteous impetus.
In conclusion, “The wise inherit
honor, but fools he holds up to shame.” So that
prudence is to be highly prized, both for its
current value and eternal consequences. As for Sage,
he is thought to embody prudence. Especially in that
he addresses specific issues in an approved manner,
and lives according to his instruction.
* * *
Sage is strikingly respectful of
other cultures. In this regard, he has reached two
conclusions. First, any culture provides a
legitimate means for conveying the gospel. Second,
no culture is pristine, in the light of Scripture.
Consequently, he rules out what is usually
designated as colonialism.
One of the results of this way of
thinking is that he employs from time to time some
expression from another culture that impresses him.
Kai serves as a prime case in point. This
West African term is sufficiently flexible to
express awe, anger, or amused frustration.
For instance, he climbed a nearby
hill to survey the landscape below. From this
vantage point, he could see dual slopes gracefully
extended as if by way of approval. Meanwhile, the
clouds seemed virtually within reach. Moreover, the
air was fresh and invigorating. All things
considered, he exclaimed “kai.”
On another occasion, he stopped
to admire a newly born child—resting comfortably in
the arms of its mother. Along with a faint smile on
its face. It was as if a celebration of life. “Kai”
he again declared, since this appeared to sum up his
feelings in an unique fashion.
On still another occasion, he was
intently listened to the choir as it
enthusiastically proclaimed: “What a friend we have
in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!” What a
privilege to carry everything to him in prayer. O
what piece we often forfeit, and needless pain we
bear, when we do not carry everything to God in
At which, several in the
congregation exclaimed amen. Instead, Sage
voiced the term kai. As an expression of
amazement at God’s gracious behavior toward his
wayward creatures. But which caused one youngster to
inquire of his father concerning this strange term.
He was then assured that it would be explained to
him later on.
The term also surfaces in less
favorable situations. As when Sage was struggling to
start his lawn mower. Having failed in a previous
instance, he let the mower stand in the sun for an
extended time, in hopes this might solve the matter.
To no avail. Frustrated in his efforts, he protested
with the expression kai. Since it seemed in
brief to embrace his frustration.
The news also solicits this now
familiar word. Such as when a terrorist attack is
reported, along with the injuries and deaths
resulting. Still more obnoxious when the
perpetrators insist that it is God’s will that they
do so. In such instances, Sage is inclined to
attribute it to demonic deception, and hence
Whether in this regard or some
other, kai serves as a cross-cultural link.
Thus by way of affirming our common humanity. Then
affirming our obligation to serve the needs of
others, in universal perspective. Recalling that one
of the characteristics of the church is its
universal nature. Then admonishing persons to become
what some have labeled as world Christians.
So more is at stake that most
realize. Some are quite oblivious to the larger
implications of the term, while others sense that
there is more than superficially observed. Still
others have their curiosity aroused, so that they
inquire further. If asked, Sage is pleased to share
his impressions. Along with welcoming the input of
the inquirer. Thus both are hopefully edified, as
number of those initiated grows, and their influence
* * *
MEANS AND ENDS
Sage takes issue with some
sayings. For instance, “The ends justify the means.”
Initially, ends and means cannot always be neatly
separated. Since ends are closely associated with
means, more so in some instances than others.
Take the case of population
control. The cynic suggests that the only divine
command that humans have take seriously is to “be
fruitful and increase in number” (Gen. 1:28). So
much so that the quality of life is threatened.
What is to be done? Genocide
comes to mind. Especially for those who think of
themselves as a privileged class. Consequently,
obligated to do away with inferior people groups.
Which is a much more common perspective than usually
realized. While needless to say, Sage does not think
that this is an acceptable means.
Then there is the Chinese one
child policy, recently eased to some degree. This
results in forced abortion. And when the value of
life is depreciated in one connection, it tends
carry over into other considerations. Resulting in
what have described as a death culture, as
set over against one that fosters life—even under
adverse circumstances. As a means which Sage also
Then there is the highly
diversified freedom of choice movement. In its more
aggressive state, it insists on promoting birth
control. As in one instance condoms were made
available to high school students. Then, when
parents protested, the policy was extended to those
in junior high school. As a blatant rejection of the
expressed concerns. While Sage would prefer that
this matter be left up to the parents, and thus
allowing for differences of opinion.
Euthanasia, pertaining to a
amicable death, is also at issue. Should persons be
allowed to refuse artificial means to prolong life
in a lingering manner? Qualifications aside, Sage
thinks this is a reasonable practice. But extending
this right to one’s family and/or medical staff
should be carefully regulated. Even then, the
privilege is likely to be abused.
This line of reasoning implies
that we should distinguish between the strategies we
advocate and the goals we hope to obtain. For
instance, some maintain that we should cultivate an
extensive welfare system. While others insist that
the highest form of charity is helping persons fend
for themselves. Which amounts to different
strategies for meeting the needs of the poverty
The issue is complicated when we
attribute baser motives to others, while applauding
our own. Which again recalls Jesus’ inquiry and
admonition: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust
in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the
plank in your own eyes? You hypocrite, first take
the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see
clearly to remove the speck form your brother’s
eyes” (Matt. 7:3, 5). Only then can one make the
attempt in good faith.
It also goes without saying that
our goals may be suspect. For instance, some are
obsessed with accumulating material possessions. Or,
in a similar manner, fostering one’s reputation. Not
uncommonly with disregard for others and their
Conversely, Sage insists that our
chief end is to glorify God and enjoy his blessings.
All else is secondary. Thus recalling the caution,
“No one can serve two masters. You cannot serve both
God and Money” (Matt. 6:24). The latter taking the
form of an idol, and hence as an indication of
idolatry—as strictly forbidden in the Decalogue.
* * *
THE BEST POLICY
“Is honesty actually the best
policy?” Sage was asked. It seemed to the inquirer
that this is often not the case. Such as when asked
to appraise one’s performance, and thought
unimpressive. What then? Speak the truth and create
friction? Surely not.
“Qualifications aside, honesty is
the best policy,” Sage confirmed. What sort of
qualifications? Initially, cultivate civil
discourse. In the instance cited above, there is
likely certain aspects of the performance which are
deserving of commendation. There may also be
suggestions that could be respectfully introduced.
Then, too, it can be admitted that one is not the
best suited for making an appraisal. All things
considered, and realizing that this is a delicate
situation, one should approach it with considerate
Then one should weigh the
alternatives. As in the case of a person who offered
a Jewish family refuge during the Holocaust. If felt
obligated to report this, it should probably not
have made the offer in the first place. Or, if so,
with the concurrence of the sheltered family.
Silence may be an option in some
instances. When not felt obligated to speak out.
Otherwise, it amounts to subtle form of dishonesty.
Since it allows persons to think that one
acknowledges what has been said.
The recognition of extenuating
circumstances is yet another consideration. Such can
cast the matter in a very different light. But care
should be taken to correctly represent the matter,
rather than cloud the issue.
Then be open to clarification or
correction. One may readily get a wrong impression.
Even eye witness accounts may be in error. So that
the truth may be compromised. While the list could
be increased, Sage supposed this sufficient.
Bear in mind that Jesus is truth
incarnate. Accordingly, he declared: “I am the way
and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Without
equivocation. Thus setting an unrelenting standard
for others to emulate. But not improve upon.
Truth thus sets the course for
righteous resolve. It also enriches life
immeasurably. Even its pursuit is a rewarding
experience. As expressed by Augustine, “All truth is
God’s truth.” While what is said to be true may
obviously not be so.
Jesus was also depicted as being
“full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Thus grace
and truth are coupled together, as a means of
furthering God’s redemptive purpose. “To the Jews
who believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my
teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will
know the truth, and the truth will set you free’”
We are told that some forsook
him. Certain of these found his teaching too
difficult to grasp. Others appear intimidated by the
opposition. Some simply lacked the necessary
resolve, the cost of discipleship being too
Others continued in the pursuit
of truth. Relentlessly and without falling prey to
intimidation. While leaving a cherished legacy for
succeeding generations. Not believing Jews alone,
but a great multitude of Gentiles. Until the present
time, with Sage as an impressive example. With
truth/honesty being the final victor.
* * *
“The cure is worse than the
bite.” Or so it seems on occasion. As when some
medical procedure proves to be less tolerable than
the original condition. Then in a metaphorical
sense, when an attempt to alleviate the problem
creates a worse situation.
When asked to elaborate, Sage
observed: “We ought not to think that some action is
better than none.” Not necessarily. There are times
that we would do better to let things run their
course. Or, if not, to await a more opportune time.
This is not to suggest that we
should procrastinate. Error as a rule consists of
opposite extremes. So that when we attempt to escape
one of these, we fall prey to the other. Which gives
rise to another saying, “Moderation in all things.”
Although exceptions readily come to mind.
Some proposed solutions have a
bad track record. Such as those that create a
dependency relationship. Since persons should be
encouraged to accept their obligations. Rather than
expecting others to do for them what they are
unwilling to do for themselves.
In this regard, Sage promotes as
compatible virtues industry and generosity.
As for the former, “Go to the ant, you sluggard;
consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander,
no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions
in summer and gathers its food at harvest” (Prov.
6:6). As for the latter, “If your enemy is hungry,
give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him
water to drink” (Prov. 21:25). This will serve as a
rebuke, for which the generous person will be
Conversely, some solutions have a
strikingly good record. The traditional family is
one of these. Recent studies confirm what had been
thought in this regard. Not only does the family
benefit, but society as a whole.
Sage is inclined to bring this to
the attention of youths he counsels. Not that he
means for them to marry simply for the sake of
marriage, but to consider it prized goal. When ready
to enter into a covenant relationship with the other
person. Then to persist in their resolve.
In any case, innovation may be
necessary. No two circumstances are precisely the
same. Some differ in only trivial ways, while others
are more substantial.
Then, too, circumstances change
with the times. So that it is tempting to continue
as we have done in the past, while no longer serving
the purpose for which it was intended. Accordingly,
Sage reasons that while we should learn from the
past and live toward the future, we should assuredly
live in the present.
Of course, what works for one
person may not for another. Since persons are
differently inclined. Moreover, contexts vary.
Although we certainly can learn from others, and
especially those who are virtuous and reflective.
Sage serving as a prime precedent.
If first one does not succeed,
try again. We can often learn more from failure than
success, if attentive. In such instances, failure
may be said to be the first step toward a solution.
Or the wound may be allowed to heal itself.
All things considered, Sage does
not think it always necessary to do something.
Especially when it may result in worsening the
situation. While courage is necessary, so is
caution. With this observation, he signs off on the
* * *
Sage is sometimes called upon to
arbitrate a situation. One concerned a disputed
piece of property. While not a large area, it was a
continuing source of tension between those
implicated. Something needed to be done.
“Good fences make good
neighbors,” he observed. He then alluded to the
Joshua flower, grown in Israel as a border
between property. Pleasant and inoffensive, it is
meant to symbolize accord between neighbors. Lacking
such, some alternative must be discovered.
Perhaps the property could be
divided between the two owners. Thus while neither
would obtain full possession, each would have a
portion. Along with the benefit that it would no
longer be contested. Or that it might result in
This would require that the two
work together on the details. This, in itself,
offers the prospect of more amicable relations. A
small step at first, leading to more substantial
initiatives. Consequently, “Hope for the best, but
prepare for the worst.” Hope for the best, and
strive to achieve it. Prepare for the worse, having
settle the dispute.
As an alternative, perhaps one of
the owners would accept payment for the disputed
property. While not the preferable solution for
either one, it would provide a way out of the
impasse. As such, it invites consideration.
While the amount of payment may
remain an issue. In this regard, Sage offered to pay
the difference, so that an accord might be reached.
This surprised both appreciative owners, who
nonetheless disinclined to take him up on his
Of course, one or the other owner
might decide simply to relinquish his claim. Which
might, in turn, incite the other owner to do
likewise. This could result in their arguing over
which would do so. A development which Sage
introduced as a touch of humor, in hopes of easing
“We are in need of good fences
elsewhere,” Sage concluded. This by way of assuring
the owners that their problem was not something
unusual, and that efforts are being made to ease the
tensions. For instance, as concerns disputed
islands—claimed by different nations. Along with the
prospect that this could break out into armed
Much more subtle instances also
come to mind. As when there is an issue whether one
has plagiarized material. Such as is sometimes
settled in a court of law. While recognizing that
the line of distinction is somewhat blurred.
In these and other ways, Sage
hoped to turn the owners’ attention to the symbolism
of the Joshua flower. Thus away from contentious
considerations, and lingering resentment. Since life
appears to him as if turning obstacles into
opportunities. So also to cease being part of the
problem, while lending oneself to its resolution.
“Easier said than done,” observed
one of the irate owners. None took issue with his
observation. Still, this did not preclude an earnest
“Where there is a will, there is
a way,” Sage assured him. It remains to discover and
pursue the way. Rather than to accept defeat. Find a
place to start, and build upon it. As advocates of
the Joshua flower.
* * *
CRITICISM AMD COMMENDATION
Two of Sage’s friends were
engaged in a lengthy discussion. One thought that
legitimate criticism plays a critical role in human
relationships. While the other considered it best
not to criticize, except perhaps in rare situations.
This left some but not an appreciable room for
They paused upon seeing Sage
approaching. “We’ll get the final word from him,”
one of them suggested. Not that he was willing to
surrender his opinions, unless persuaded by further
Now Sage was not anxious to get
involved, since he observed that both his friends
had taken a hard stand. So if agreeing with one in
some respect, he might readily offend the other.
Then, too, he might provide further ammunition for
them to use. Still, he felt obligated to respond to
their earnest inquiry.
Where to start? As common to
Sage, with a saying. In this instance, “Criticize in
private and commend in public.” As a rule, rather
than being understood in a legalistic manner.
Which is to allow that there is a
proper place for criticism, although primarily in
private. Why? Since criticism implies concern.
Otherwise, we allow a person to harm himself and
others. As when one is speeding toward a sharp turn
in the road. Perhaps without being aware of its
approach, or his attention being diverted.
Even so, this should be in civil
terms. For instance, one could introduce the comment
with the expression, “It seems to me.” Which allows
that he could be wrong. Which is true of all humans,
regardless of their privileged insights.
Then, too, criticism is best
rendered in private. Thus not holding the person up
to ridicule. This also allow for a more serious
consideration of the issue. Thought of as criticism
among friends, rather than introducing possible
On the other hand, commendation
is best expressed in public. Certainly not to the
exclusion of that in private, but as a means of
bringing it to the attention of others. Accordingly,
“Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes,
pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect,
then respect; then respect; if honor, then honor”
(Rom. 13:7). Which assuredly involves public
For instance, Sage recalls the
practice of bestowing a teacher of the year award.
As rendering honor to one deserving of it. Then
likewise as an encouragement for others to excel.
While in context of a corporate concern for the
As noted earlier, Sage advocates
the use of carrots rather than clubs. That is,
commendation instead of criticism. God sets the
precedent for this, and we do well to emulate him.
Parents, in particular, ought to
pick up on this preference. Rather than finding
cause for criticism, dwell on the positive. Note
anything constructive the child has done, along with
approval. Then blend criticism, if thought
necessary, into the context.
While the topic could be
addressed in much greater length, Sage thought it
best to conclude at this point with the observation:
“You have done well to consider this important
matter, and I appreciate your willingness to let me
* * *
Sage is reminded from time to
time of the saying, “Great oaks from little acorns
grow.” Accordingly, accept modest tasks. Having
succeeded in this regard, we may be delegated more
imposing alternatives. While assuming that the
prospect is appealing.
In this regard, Jesus told of a
certain man who was going on a journey, and
entrusted his servants with funds. “To one he gave
five talents of money, to another two talents, and
to another one talent, each according to his
ability” (Matt. 25:14). He then took his leave.
The person with five talents
wasted no time in putting the money to work, and
thereby doubled the sum. So also the one with two
talents. But the one with one talent dug a hole, and
hid the money. So that it could be recovered at his
“Well done, good and faith
servant!” he commended the first servant upon his
return. “You have been faithful with a few things; I
will put you in charge of many things. Come and
share your master’s happiness.” In similar fashion,
he commended the second. But he rebuked the third
for his lack of enterprise.
When Sage was asked to comment,
he paused briefly to reflect on the narrative.
Having done so, he pointed out first that we are
stewards of that which we have received. As
stewards, we are expected to put that with which we
have been entrusted to good use.
“No one has anything for which he
or she is not accountable,” Sage adamantly
concluded. Consequently, our possessions are ours
only in a qualified sense. Then to be used only in a
Thus resulting in a substantial
increase. Consequently, not simply a retention of
what we have received. If only the latter, then we
have failed in our stewardship.
Surveying his circle of friends,
Sage observed: “You are my increase.” In that they
had learned from his wise counsel, and would
hopefully share with others. Thus creating an ever
enlarging circle righteous influence.
This is calculated to result in
greater opportunities for service. Although other
factors may intervene, as in the death of the
martyrs. Even then, it serves as a benediction to
their faithfulness. It also accounts for the
alacrity with which they faced their demise.
Along with implications for the
life beyond. Given the understanding that this life
serves as a preparation for that which is yet to
come. Then in accord with God’s benevolent design.
“Thus we will share in God’s
happiness,” Sage concluded. Rejoicing together
concerning what has been accomplished. Constituting
a festive fellowship of such magnitude that we
cannot now imagine it.
As for admonition, “But let all
who take refuge in you be glad, let them ever sing
with joy.” As concerns petition, “Spread your
protection over them, that those who love your name
may rejoice in you.” As for assurance, “For surely,
O Lord, you bless the righteous; you surround them
with your favor as with a shield” (Psa. 5:11-12). At
which, Sage recited the doxology: “Praise God, from
whom all blessings flow; praise him all creatures
here below; praise him above, you heavenly host;
praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”
* * *
The time came when Sage became
critically ill. His family and friends were incited
to gather in anticipation of his demise. At which,
he asked that they assemble by his bedside.
“I have lived a full life,” he
allowed. “And I anticipate what lies ahead. One
thing concerns me, and that is some of you have not
made proper preparations. I urge you to do so.”
“He that has the Son has life,”
he continued. “Even though we die, yet shall we
live.” While it was not the first time he had spoken
along this line, it as uniquely impressive in that
he was on the verge of death.
He then prayed, “Father, into
your hands I commend my spirit. Strive with those
who still procrastinate. So that they may be within
the number, when the saints going marching in.” At
which, his countenance seemed to take on an
unnatural glow. But only for the moment, since he
slipped into a deep coma. From which he did not
At his memorial service, there
were many glowing tributes. “I have never seen so
humble a person,” one person observed. “Since he
attributed his good deeds to God’s enabling grace.
And when seeing someone do a despicable thing, he
would say: ‘But for the grace of God, there go I.’”
“He was always available,”
another allowed. “Whether in the midst of some
engaging activity or the middle of the night. He
thus took pleasure in being of service to others.
Not simply those of his family and friends, but
strangers as well.”
“He was sincere,” yet another
remarked. “Not glib nor pompous, but genuinely
sincere. Regardless of how others might behave. Thus
returning good for evil.”
“He was likewise compassionate,”
an certain person appreciatively added. “As if
driven by an inner righteous compulsion. From which
we have all greatly benefitted.” And so on, one
commendation after another.
Thus they bid farewell to their cherished
companion, who had taken on the name Sage. As
one exceptionally wise and worthy of applause. While
as an earnest disciple of Jesus, from whom he had
learned how best to negotiate life. Farewell, until
we meet again.