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ONE CALLED SAGE
 
Christianity Oasis Ministry has provided you with this One Called Sage book with One Called Sage lesson. This One Called Sage study and One Called Sage story with One Called Sage lesson looks at the One Called Sage message and asks what does One Called Sage mean, who is One Called Sage, why is One Called Sage important, what is the One Called Sage message and how does One Called Sage affect you. One Called Sage is an interesting thing to know in the Christian walk. Understanding the One Called Sage message is very important and learning about One Called Sage can help you to overcome the worldly whirlwinds. Let us delve into this One Called Sage lesson with One Called Sage message in this One Called Sage book, shall we?



 

CHRISTIANITY OASIS

PRESENTS

PURITY PUBLICATIONS
 


ONE CALLED SAGE

By Morris A. Inch
 

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS


PREFACE
 

A PERSPECTIVE

A NEW DAY

HANDY MAN

BIRDS OF A FEATHER

BEWARE OF IDOLATRY

WHY?

LITTLE THINGS

THE KNIFE EDGE

LIFE ALONE

LIFE TOGETHER

SWORD OF THE SPIRIT

RESOLVE

ON WINGS LIKE EAGLES

CIVILITY

HELL NO!

MECHANICS

PARASITES

BETTER SAFE

IF FIRST

SPECIAL PERSONS

COMMON SENSE

PLAYING GOD

THE SHORTEST DISTANCE

HOME AT LAST

IF WORTH DOING

SWEET DREAMS

HALF FULL

MR. NICE GUY

IF IN TROUBLE

IF HAPPY

IF ILL

IF ONE WANDERS

LUST CONSIDERED

FEAR OF THE LORD

BLESSED WISDOM

WHAT IF?

TERRORISM EXPLORED

DETESTABLE BEHAVIOR

HANG TOUGH

EAT TO LIVE OR

SHARE

AS WITH A WILD FLOWER

LOW PROFILE

TWO RABBITS

LIVE AND LET LIVE

HOUSE IN ORDER

SPEAK WELL OF THE DEAD

THE FIRST STEP

FREE FOR

A MAJORITY

A LITTLE FAITH

TALK OF THE DEVIL

THE INSTRUCTIONS

I THINK I CAN

WHERE THERE IS SMOKE

FIRST THING FIRST

I WILL

TABLE TALK

OF ALL THE BEST

TO BE JUDGED

AS WITH PAIN

FAVORITE HYMN

THE FOREST

MURPHY’S LAW

RECOURSE TO HUMOR

ADAM’S CHILDREN

THREE GUIDELINES

MUCH ABOUT LITTLE

PUT OFF UNTIL TOMORROW

NEVER SAY NEVER

A FRIEND INDEED

PLAY TIME

QUALITY

A TEMPEST

THE LESSER GOOD

DO YOUR BEST

STILL WATERS

BETTER EARLY

WHAT IF?

IT IS WRITTEN

WEAKEST LINK

GOOD OLD DAYS

ENOUGH ROPE

EASY COME

A BAD QUESTION

FIRST LEARN

THE PEN

WORD TO THE WISE

HOSPITALITY

NOTEWORTHY

FOLLOW ME

REJOICE IN THE LORD

REASON TOGETHER

BLESSED INDEED

CAUSE FOR COMPLAINT

GUILTY OR NOT

TWO WRONGS

A WORK IN PROGRESS

WHERE IS HOME?

UNTO MATURITY

A GOOD PERSON

A ROSE

FOUR LOVES

PERFECT LOVE

LOVE AND MARRIAGE

ABSENCE

ULTIMATE APOLOGETIC

COERCION

PATIENCE PLEASE

WHO DOES WHAT

PRUDENCE

KAI

MEANS AND ENDS

THE BEST POLICY

THE CURE

JOSHUA FLOWER

CRITICISM AMD

COMMENDATION

GREAT OAKS

IN MEMORIAL

GODLINESS WITH

CONTENTMENT

CROSS-CULTURE

SPILT MILK

ONE’S SHADOW

CHASE THE ADVERSARY

A GOOD CATCH

A SECOND EFFORT

BETTER LATE THAN

BE ENCOURAGED

ILL GOTTEN TREASURES

LEARN TO LOVE

ATTAIN MATURITY

HONOR RETURNED

USE IT

UPGRADE

BETTER A BUILDER

SPICE OF LIFE

NO WATER

OLD DOGS

SILVER LINING

PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT

PREVENTION

BEFORE THE STORM

 

PREFACE

Sage 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 cooperate.

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.

* * *

A PERSPECTIVE

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 chuckle.

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 observe.

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 lovable.”

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 rejoinder.

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.

* * *

HANDY MAN

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 resisted.

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 his behavior.”

“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 found.

“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 sanctuary.

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.

* * *

WHY?

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 case.

“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

“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 his mentor.

“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.

Liberty and security 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 agenda.

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.

* * *

LIFE ALONE

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 not return.”

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 for celebration.

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 ridicule.

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 appreciatively respond.

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 wrongdoing.”

* * *

LIFE TOGETHER

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 or worse.

“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 realistic hope.

* * *

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 Lordwhich is the word of God, and in continual prayer. Stand firm!

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.

* * *

RESOLVE

“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 his thinking.

“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 reassuring smile.

“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 would allow.

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 overhead.

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 calling.

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 exclaims.

* * *

CIVILITY

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 implicated.

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 of escape.

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 creatures.

* * *

HELL NO!

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 different light.

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 consequently exclaimed.

* * *

MECHANICS

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.

* * *

PARASITES

Parasites 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!”

* * *

BETTER SAFE

“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 than sorry.”

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

“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 success.”

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 enables.

“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 opportunity.”

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 enablement.

“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.

* * *

SPECIAL PERSONS

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 special people.

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.

* * *

COMMON SENSE

“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 wager.

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 expectancy.

“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 concluded.

* * *

PLAYING GOD

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, with culture.

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 self-destruct.

“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 God.

“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 inviting.

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 lived within.

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 next.

* * *

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 concluded.

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 resolve.

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 life together.

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 exist.

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 wife.

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 14:1-3).

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 intervene.

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 consequence.

“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 context.

* * *

SWEET DREAMS

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 falling asleep.

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 distress.

“What is your favorite dream?” his nephew inquired on him. His curiosity having been incited by Sage’s occasional reference to a recent dream.

“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 flight.”

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 mind.”

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 called Nazareth.”

“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.

* * *

HALF FULL

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 now?

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 depression.

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).

Three times is sometimes 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 half empty?”

* * *

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 countenance.

“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 was asked.

“Yeah, who hasn’t?” the youth allowed.

“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 overwhelmed.

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 see?”

“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 become nice.”

* * *

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 diversity.

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 stronghold.

“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.

* * *

IF HAPPY

“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 God.

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 involvement.

At which Sage broke out in song:

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;

Praise Him, all creatures here below;

Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

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 eternity.

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.

* * *

IF ILL

“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 itself.

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 se.

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 their faith.

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 from experience.

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 vulnerable.

* * *

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 restrained smile.

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.

* * *

LUST CONSIDERED

“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 sinned.

“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 adultery.

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 public approval.

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 attractiveness.

(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 qualities.

(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 manifests pride.

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.

Evil behavior and 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.

* * *

BLESSED WISDOM

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 righteous purposes.

“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?

“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 faithful.

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 encouragement.

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.

* * *

TERRORISM EXPLORED

“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 fortunate.

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 less risk.

Needless to say, hard targets are not necessarily immune from terrorist attack. But these may be more readily anticipated, and countered.

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 regard.

“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 for evil.

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 pressing issue.

* * *

DETESTABLE BEHAVIOR

“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 religious legalism.

(# 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 irate parent 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 flock.

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 persons.

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. 4:8-9).

(# 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 heartily concurred.

* * *

HANG TOUGH

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 fight him.”

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 him.”

“The narrative speaks for itself,” Sage then observed, as an exhortation to stand tough.

* * *

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” (Psa. 100:4-5).

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 had less.

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 community.

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 God.

* * *

SHARE

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 reasons.

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 rich toward

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 considered.

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 its importance.

* * *

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 appropriate.

“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 spiritual progress.

“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.

* * *

LOW PROFILE

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.

* * *

TWO RABBITS

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 accordingly.”

“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 been experienced.

“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 capacity.

His neighbor was not easily persuaded. “Who are we to decide what others should or should not do?” he protested. It appeared to him presumptuous.

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, and waste.

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 dead.

“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 perspectives.”

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 agreed.

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 endeavor.

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 troubled him.

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 cost.

“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.

* * *

FREE FOR

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 them.

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).

* * *

A MAJORITY

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 majority.

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 challenge?

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 clarification.

“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 fallen condition.

“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 ritual means.

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 blessed.

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 blurred.

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 doubts.

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 current.”

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 proportions.

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.

* * *

THE INSTRUCTIONS

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 guidelines.

“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 Tim. 3:16).

“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 of change.

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 Psalter.

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 Gentiles.

“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 both.

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 than others.

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 better.

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 stronger bond.

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 a few.

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 horizon.

* * *

FIRST THING FIRST

First things first pretty 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 for orthodoxy.

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 other?

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.”

* * *

I WILL

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 together?

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 sensitive.

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.

* * *

TABLE TALK

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 edification.

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 together.

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 lost.

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 it.

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 interaction.

“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 the Sabbath.

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. Rev. 1:10).

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 room.

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 well.

“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 legitimate excuse.

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 restored.”

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 choice.

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 intensified.

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.

* * *

FAVORITE HYMN

“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 despised.

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 created.

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 unmerited favor.

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 way.

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 favorite hymn.

* * *

THE FOREST

“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 intelligent.

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 picture.

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 aware.

“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.

* * *

MURPHY’S LAW

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 improvement.

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 opportunities.

“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 and Laughter.

* * *

ADAM’S CHILDREN

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 faults.

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 results.

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 calling.

“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 God’s favor.

“Anything further?” Sage inquired. Since he assumed that this would satisfy his inquiry.

“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.

* * *

THREE GUIDELINES

“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 interaction.

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 experience change.”

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 him.

(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 work.”

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 involved.

“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 sexual promiscuity.

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 light.

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 pass.

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 never.”

* * *

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.

* * *

PLAY TIME

“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 not stressful.

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 familiar.

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 time.

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 life.”

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 life.

* * *

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 alerted to.

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 foolishly.

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 as unresponsive.

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 others.

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 astray.

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.

* * *

CROSS-CULTURE

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 be manipulated.

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 exceptional incident.

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 attraction.

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 replied.

“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.

* * *

SPILT MILK

“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 past.

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 humor.

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’S SHADOW

“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 gained.”

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 distinguish

between right and wrong.” A wise request.

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 took precedence.

“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 own child.

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 disregard it.

“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 had sown.

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 successful.

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 fruitless.

“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 family.

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 confidence.

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.

* * *

BE ENCOURAGED

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 much thought.

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 on it!

* * *

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 cultivate.

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 such distinctions.

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 demanding.

“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 God’s disposition.

“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 selfish considerations.

“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 are known.

“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.

* * *

ATTAIN MATURITY

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 encouraging.

Still, there are occasions for the child to exercise limited options. If for the better, to mature more rapidly. If for the worse, to hinder progress.

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 precious faith.

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 world realizes.”

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.

* * *

HONOR RETURNED

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 will heed.

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 he does.”

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 text.

“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 incentives.

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 affirmation.

* * *

USE IT

“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 laughter.

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 manage.

“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 Israelites.

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.”

* * *

UPGRADE

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 guidance.

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 exclaims.

* * *

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 divine justice.

Then, in conclusion:

While I draw this fleeting breath,

When my eyes shall close in death,

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 reverence.

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 succeeding generations.

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 of life.

* * *

NO WATER

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 return.

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 enduring.

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 enablement.

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 groups.

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 fortunate.

* * *

OLD DOGS

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 to us.

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 appropriate.

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 worse.

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.

* * *

SILVER LINING

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 relationship.

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 consideration.

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 them.

* * *

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 applications.

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 than this.”

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 excel.

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 pursuit.

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.

* * *

PREVENTION

“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 effort.

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 this prospect.

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 genuine devotion.

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 prepared?

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 them.

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 problems.”

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.

* * *

QUALITY

“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.

* * *

A TEMPEST

“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 be involved.

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 teapot.

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 is necessary.

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 of it.”

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” (Matt. 12:33).

“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 deceptive.

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 not willing.”

* * *

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 resolve.

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 as truth.

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.

* * *

STILL WATERS

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 deceiving.

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 preferences.

* * *

BETTER EARLY

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 too late.

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 grace.

“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.

* * *

WHAT IF?

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 concern.

* * *

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 adversary.

“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 solemn approval.

* * *

WEAKEST LINK

“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 resolution.

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 community.

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. 5:23-24).

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 case.

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 goals.

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 reasons.

* * *

ENOUGH ROPE

“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 the explosion.

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. 27:3-4).

“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 make arrangements.

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 another attempt.

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.

* * *

EASY COME

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 stewardship.

“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 problem.

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 asked.”

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 recovery.

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 advisable.

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 not forsaken.

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.

* * *

FIRST LEARN

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 others.

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 situation.

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 effort.

Humility also lends itself to preparation. Initially, one must recognize that there is much to be learned. If realistic and conscientious.

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 impossible.

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 improvement.

Second teach. This obviously involves continued research. The library awaits, as does the class room. The two make for an amicable relationship.

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 involved.

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.

* * *

THE PEN

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 of knowing.

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 or gold.

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 health.

“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, 11).

“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 memorials.

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 extenuating circumstances.

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.

* * *

HOSPITALITY

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 sincerity.

“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, the case.

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 home.

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.

* * *

NOTEWORTHY

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 someone.

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 the light.

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 other.

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.

* * *

FOLLOW ME

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 the rule.

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 ministry.

“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 correspondence.

“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 experience.

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 list.

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 thus 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.

* * *

REASON TOGETHER

“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 overwhelming evidence.

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 accordingly.

“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 together.”

* * *

BLESSED INDEED

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 with little.

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 of self.

“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 detrimental.

“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 not.

* * *

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 so.

“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 disproportional results.

“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 divine capacity.

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 us.

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 counsel notwithstanding.

* * *

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 which expected.

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 unacceptable.

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 WRONGS

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 compliance.

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 common consent.

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 relationship.

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 manner.

“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 good deed.

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 content.

“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 family residence.

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 best shared.

* * *

UNTO MATURITY

“How mature are you?” Sage inquired of a youth. Since he had failed to act responsibly. While in hope that he would learn from his error.

“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 their significance.

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. 9).

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 commendation.

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 light work.”

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.

* * *

A ROSE

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 decreed.

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 deed.

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 conclusion.

* * *

FOUR LOVES

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 among siblings.

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.

Eros 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.

Philos 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 spirit.

“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.

Agape 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 appropriate.

“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 philos throughout.

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.

* * *

PERFECT LOVE

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 persists.

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 compatible.

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 similarly addressed.

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 of marriage.

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 evil ingenuity.

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 Sage.

* * *

ABSENCE

“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 others.

“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” (John 14:13).

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 build.

“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’ intercession.

“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.

* * *

ULTIMATE APOLOGETIC

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 unconvincing.

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.

Always 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 not necessarily.

Everyone is also 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 themselves.

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.

* * *

COERCION

“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 is required.

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 resolution.

“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.

* * *

PATIENCE PLEASE

“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 endeavor.

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 questionable behavior.

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 cited.

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 action.

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 activities.

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 commended.

“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 it realized.

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.

* * *

PRUDENCE

“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 adversity.

“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 and all.

“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.

* * *

KAI

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 prayer.

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 thoroughly despicable.

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 expands. Kai!

* * *

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 rejects.

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 stricken.

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 pressing needs.

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 care.

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’” (John 8:31-32).

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 burdensome.

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

“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 rewarded.

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 topic.

* * *

JOSHUA FLOWER

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 overt conflict.

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 generous proposal.

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 the situation.

“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 conflict.

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 endeavor.

“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 common agreement.

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 deliberation.

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 enemies.

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 recognition.

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 educational process.

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 contribute.”

* * *

GREAT OAKS

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 master’s return.

“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 responsible fashion.

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.”

* * *

IN MEMORIAL

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 recover.

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.

 

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