True Colors

I saw a quote today posted online that said this:

“Occasions make not a man fail, but they show what the man is.”
Thomas à Kempis

A Conversation

It reminded me of a conversation I had with my dad a few years ago. We were talking about a prominent pastor who had committed sin which resulted in him to losing his position and ministry along with the respect of his peers.

I commented to my dad, “I guess he showed his true colors.”

My dad wisely and graciously responded, “Maybe those aren’t his true colors. Maybe that was just something he did in a moment of great weakness and darkness.”

In other words: I was suggesting that the good things this man had done for years were really just a facade, and finally his true self was revealed. My dad on the other hand was suggesting that maybe the terrible things the man had done were more of an anomaly than the true essence of who he was.

The Issue

Should we determine a person’s character based on their worst moments or on their best moments?

That’s not a very easy question to answer.

Surely no one would say that we should judge Adolf Hitler’s character based on his best moments. However, all of our greatest cultural and even faith heroes are people who had dark moments in which they did bad things. Martin Luther King Jr. committed infidelity. Moses was a neglectful father. Martin Luther had a racist rant. The list could go on.

Despite the fact that we like clean-cut distinctions, to label people either “good” or “bad” – the messy reality of life is that all of us do both good things and bad things. We commit sins which hurt others and grieve the heart of God, and we do wonderful things which benefit others.

So, which you is the real you?

An Example

David and Saul. Both were kings of Israel. Both were chosen by God for the people. Both began very well – and both committed grievous sins which had tragic effects for both their lives and the lives of many others because of their position as king.

And yet, one of them is called “the man after God’s own heart” whereas the other is remembered as an anti-hero with no concern for God. 

It could even be argued that David’s sins were worse than Saul’s. Saul attempted murder, but David actually committed murder and adultery.

However, the great difference between the two men is that David, when confronted with his sins, was quick to repent and turn back to God. Saul, on the other hand, when confronted, stubbornly persisted and resisted God.

This response to God of humility and willingness to repent – this fundamental desire to live for God and please God, seems to be at the heart of what separates these two men.

The Promise

There is a sense in which I agree with the above quote from Thomas à Kempis, and yet I am hesitant about what I perceive to be its inference.

I agree with the quote in as much as it is saying that ALL people are fallen and therefore the reason we sin is because we are sinners at heart; our very nature has been corrupted and opportunities to sin simply reveal this fact.

However, it seems that the inference of this quote is that in a given situation, some people fail and others do not – and this reveals their fundamental character. Furthermore, a person who does not fail in that given situation should feel a sense of pride that they are fundamentally better than those who did fail.

If this is indeed what is being inferred, this attitude, while commonly held,  is contrary to the gospel.

The message of the gospel, that God took on human flesh in order to pay the price for your sin and redeem you, has 2 simultaneous effects on the person who really understands it:
1) it makes you incredibly humble – because it tells you that you are not fundamentally better than anyone else. You are made of the same stuff and you are in the same boat: a sinner who is hopeless without a savior,
2) it makes you incredibly confident – because it tells you that you are loved by God, and that He is wholly committed to you, forever.

The promise of the gospel is that if you will repent of your sins and turn to God – like David did – and put your faith in what Jesus did for you, then not only will God justify you, but He will also redeem you, and as part of that He will sanctify you, from the inside out by the power of His Spirit – and the end result will be that the “true you,” the version of you free of sin, which He created you to be, will ultimately be revealed.

Romans 8:19 says, For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.
1 John 3:2 says, We do not yet know what awaits us when He appears, except that we will be like Him.

The real you is the you that you are in relation to God – the you whom God declares you to be – and if your faith is in Jesus, then the you whom He is making you into by His Spirit: the version of you without the corrupting effects of sin which have marred the image of God that you bear.

The promise of the gospel is that it will be so for those who have embraced God’s offer of salvation in Jesus.

This Life and the One to Come

I’ve been preaching a lot on the topic of hope recently. It is a theme which I consider amongst the most beautiful in the world.

This past Sunday was Easter, and I taught a message titled: ‘A Living Hope’ (listen to it here).

In the sermon I spoke about Viktor Frankl and his book Man’s Search for Meaning, in which he says that life only has meaning if you have a hope which suffering and death cannot take away from you.

Interestingly – and perhaps tragically, however, it is not clear to me that Frankl ever discovered a hope worthy of that description.

This is the living hope which we have in Jesus, which Peter talked about in 1 Peter 1:3-9, speaking to people who were in fact suffering. It is a hope which is imperishable, unfading and kept in heaven for us – that’s how secure it is.

It is only that kind of hope which can enable us to live now and face any difficult which life might throw at us.

I recently came across a quote from CS Lewis: at the end of The Last Battle, the final book in the Chronicles of Narnia series, he says that for those of us who have received the gift of eternal life, when we get to the end of our lives here on Earth, we will realize that they were merely the title and the cover page, and then at last we will begin Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on Earth has ever read: which goes on forever, in which every chapter is better than the one before.

I don’t know about you, but that gives me goosebumps. I long for that day, and I desire to live with that perspective.

“And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

CS Lewis, The Last Battle


Approaching Easter

Yesterday we had a blizzard hit the Front Range. Some places got as much as 25″ of wet, heavy snow. I was in Boulder yesterday and there were broken tree limbs littering Broadway.

I don’t mind this snow actually, I am only praying about what it means for our big Easter Outreach this Saturday in Roosevelt Park…

As we approach Easter, here are 2 things I wanted to share: a quote and a link to an article.

Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection not in books alone, but in every leaf of springtime.
– Martin Luther

Steve Brown on 6 Proofs of Christ’s Resurrection



How to Truly Live

The final paragraph of CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity is incredible.  He’s speaking on the issue of how to truly live, and his point is that selfishness is not actually in our best self-interest.

Check it out:

The principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and the death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find him, and with him everything else thrown in.

Charles Spurgeon on George Whitefield

“Whitefield’s sermons were not eloquent, but were rough and unconnected. But it was not in the words themselves, but in the manner in which he delivered them, the earnestness with which he felt them, the pouring out of his soul as he preached them. When you heard him preach, you felt like you were listening to a man who would die if he could not preach. Where, where is such earnestness today? One sad proof that the Church is in need of revival is the absence of earnestness which was once seen in Christian pulpits.” [1]

Strength to Press On

I love Colorado. Especially this time of year, when everything is green.

I grew up in Colorado, but growing up here, I didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have. I started to appreciate it a lot more in my later teenage years, but soon moved away. The 10 years that I was away, I lived in and traveled to amazing and (sometimes) beautiful places in Europe, but all that time I dreamt about the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. The only problem I have with Colorado is there’s not enough Hungarian-speakers here 🙂  When I moved back to Colorado, I determined to appreciate and enjoy the grandeur and beauty of this place as much as possible. 

Today, as I was biking outside of Lyons with a friend, I started reflecting on a regret I have: something I would change if I could roll back time. It’s not a major one – and it’s certainly not too late to correct.

Here it is: If I could roll back time, I would have done more things as a younger man to train myself in endurance. It’s not that I don’t have endurance, but I wish I had even greater endurance than I currently do – and I wish I had started training myself in it earlier in life. Had I done so, my endurance level would probably be higher than it is now.

Endurance is key to success in climbing mountains, biking, snowshoeing, backpacking and hiking. It’s also key in many areas of life. Paul the Apostle encouraged us to “run with endurance the race which is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). The race he was speaking of was the life lived following after Jesus Christ and pursuing God and his will.

At church on Sunday I shared this quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Christianity is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively dong the will of God.”

That race isn’t a 100 meter dash – it’s a marathon. And marathons require endurance.

Endurance is something that can be gained, it is something can be cultivated, something you can train yourself in – and we would all do well to do so. Having a successful marriage requires endurance. Having success in raising a family, in doing a ministry – it requires endurance. Anybody can have a burst of energy and make a “flash in the pan” – but in order to regularly produce lasting fruit over a sustained period requires endurance. 

I also believe the promise of God’s Word, that to those who seek after Him with their whole hearts, God will give the grace and endurance to run this race and finish it well.

Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God”? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:27-31 ESV)

How to Avoid Failure

Kobe Bryant holds an NBA record. Do you know which one? Most missed shots. Of any player. Ever.

When Kobe set this record in the 2013 season with his 15,296th missed shot, guess whose record he broke… Michael Jordan. Until 2013, Michael Jordan had been the NBA player with the most missed shots ever.

Yet, Kobe and Michael are also 2 of only 5 players to ever score over 30,000 points in their NBA careers.

The other players? Kareem Abdul Jabar, Karl Malone and Wilt Chamberlain. Consequently, Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul Jabar also hold the number 4 and 5 spots for most shots ever missed.

Long before he went on to reach the 15,000 missed shots mark, Michael Jordan said this in an interview:


Proverbs 14:4 says “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.”

Nobody likes messes. Messes are messy. If you want to completely avoid messes, then here’s an easy way: never have an ox.  If you have an ox, you will always have messes to clean up.  BUT – if you have an ox, then you will also have increase and profit and great things. BUT you will also inevitably have messes.

There is a sure-fire way to never fail: don’t try anything. Play it safe. Don’t take risks, don’t take chances. Don’t get invested in anything. Don’t wade out into the deep water – just splash around in the shallows.

If you do that – you will never fail. You will never have to deal with messes. There will never be anything to clean up. BUT, you will never reap the benefits which only come to those who dare to take a shot.

Is Christian Evangelism Presumptuous?

Evangelism, proselytizing, seeking to convert people to our faith – these are things which are inherent to Christianity if one is to take the words of Jesus as true and relevant.

However, some – even some Christians – feel that this is presumptuous; that Christians should just do their thing and let other people be drawn to it if they will – but not actively attempt to convert others to their faith.

I found this quote to give a helpful perspective:

A major aspect of the Great Commission is the emphasis that Jesus places upon his authority. This is vitally important, because unless Jesus has such authority how can he give such a command? This is a kingly command which assumes that he is Lord over all peoples. If Jesus is not the King, his Commission is presumptuous and without foundation. If he is King, then the whole of life ought to be subject to his royal authority. The fact that God is King is the heart of the Gospel message.

The authority of the missionary lies therefore in the very person of Christ. If Jesus is the King of God’s Kingdom then the missionary has the right, even the duty, to go to all people. If he is not King, then the missionary has no right to seek to take his religious ideas to others. Is Jesus Lord? This is the vital question.

– D. Burnett, “God's Mission: Healing the Nations”


“If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and to earnestly hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I suggest that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

I love this quote from CS Lewis’ The Weight of Glory. Unfortunately, usually only the second half of it  is quoted. I think the first part is perhaps even more important than the second, where Lewis states that the assumption that true spirituality consists of depriving oneself or pleasure, or that to seek pleasure is unspiritual, is not a Christian teaching, but comes from Kant and the Stoics.

I would add to Lewis’ comment that this is also rooted in Plato-an thinking, which holds the physical to be inherently bad and the ethereal to be good. Plato-an philosophy was also at the root of one of the first great heresies in the church – Gnosticism, and the lingering effects of this are still present in much thinking amongst Christians as to what makes one truly spiritual.

True spirituality is not found in depriving oneself of pleasure, but in walking in step with the Spirit of God to the point where your pleasures are re-aligned – properly aligned with the heart of God.

Bonhoeffer on “Cheap Grace”

Earlier this week I finished reading Metaxas’ biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and decided to go ahead and re-read Bonhoeffer’s Nachfolge – The Cost of Discipleship.

I’ve read it before, but the words of the first chapter are so compelling that I can’t help but return them time and time again. Bonhoeffer spoke against a Christianity that has been cheapened into anything less than a call to be a sold-out disciple of Jesus Christ.

Check out what Bonhoeffer has to say about grace. If you’ve read it before, read it again, and let it hit you with all its force once again: 

“Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap?…

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.” 

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship