A Form of Godliness

Once again, a blog entry has languished on my laptop without being posted. This one refers to events that happened a few weeks ago.

Summer has arrived with a vengeance here in Western Washington. As usual, the weather during camp week was spectacular, with only one brief rainshower on Friday morning. We tore ourselves away from the Duckabush late Saturday and arrived home after midnight. I had consumed a liter of Diet Coke late in the evening and so had no trouble, but Kathy was really struggling to stay awake as she followed me in the van.

On Sunday we skipped Sunday School (except Joshua, who wheedled his Mom into dropping him off for his class) and enjoyed a leisurely morning before attending the second service. Our pastor preached on 2 Timothy chapter 3, verses 1-9, which is a bit of a discouraging passage:

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God … having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.” II Timothy 3:1-5

I was reminded (again) of the movie Groundhog Day in which the arrogant protagonist asks his female colleague for her definition of the perfect man. As she lists a number of glowing virtues, he keeps a running commentary: “Me … me again … me also … I am REALLY close on this one … “, pretending that he fulfills each of the characteristics she enumerates. As I look at the list of sins in the first verses of II Timothy 3, I think about how many of them apply to me. If I were to prosecute myself according to these ‘crimes’ I think I could probably secure a conviction on every one except ‘treacherous’ and (perhaps) ‘not lovers of the good’.

Kathy and I talked about this at some length, because I was a little disturbed by it. The pastor was careful to point out that the passage seems to be referring to people inside the church and that Christians are not to associate with other so-called believers who meet these criteria. But as I thought about it, it seems there is something missing. Let’s face it: if I followed nearly any Christian around with a video camera and did a careful audit of their life, I would find significant evidence of many of these sins in remarkably short order. From a literal perspective, if I was to ‘have nothing to do with’ Christians who match the description given, I would not be able to fellowship with anyone (or they with me).

In the Growing Kids God’s Way parenting curriculum which has largely influenced our parenting philosophy, a distinction is made between a child’s occasional sin and a child who is ‘characterized’ by a pattern of behavior. A parent may extend grace to one child and crack down on another depending on previous offenses of the same nature, much in the same way that a judge may properly consider past offenses when sentencing, if not when determining guilt. One of my children may be characterized by an argumentative, wise-in-his-own-eyes attitude, while another might be characterized by cheerful obedience … in such a case, I’ll tolerate an appeal from the obedient child while I will reject the same appeal from the child who is characterized by disobedience.

Perhaps the same kind of interpretation can be placed on these verses. Clearly any Christian will, from time to time, be guilty of one or more of these offenses, yet they may be characterized by a love for God and a desire to please Him more than by these sins.

Alternatively, we can look at the following verses in the same passage:
” … always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth.” (vs. 7)

“Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these men oppose the truth … men of depraved minds who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected.”

These verses seem to indicate a deeply-rooted deception and active opposition to the Gospel and to the Church … people who pretend to be pursuing godliness but are actually witting or unwitting double agents within the Body of Christ.

Introducing this passage, the pastor said, “And some of these people are here today.” I fought down a strong temptation to crane my neck around suspiciously in a theatrical manner, not wanting to make light of his observation that, indeed, the people described in this passage would likely be faithful churchgoers and not outwardly distinguishable from those who were seeking God with a pure and contrite heart.

I guess the phrase that really leaped out at me from this whole passage was in verse 5: “… having a form of godliness but denying its power.” This seems to sum up many Christians today; we partition our lives so carefully that we neutralize the power of God from having any real impact in our lives or in the lives of those around us.

And when you think about it, it is really very sad. How pathetic it is to have access to something really wonderful yet never take advantage of it, out of fear or laziness or ignorance. Many pastors have repeatedly chided their flock for the spiritual equivalent of having a Ferrari in the driveway but never driving it, only washing, waxing and polishing it on Sundays, maybe backing it up and down the driveway on special occasions.

As Paul writes in I Timothy 4:8:

“For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”

Historically I’ve taken that verse out of context to explain why I don’t do pushups and situps. In all seriousness, though, it makes me wonder what promise I am giving up when I deny the power of godliness in my life? What is, after all, the power of godliness?

Jesus was very hard on the Pharisees throughout His ministry, frequently criticizing them for outward ‘righteousness’ which did not translate to a right heart before God. It seems that, in order to really enjoy the power of godliness, I must be conducting myself in a godly manner out of a pure and contrite heart, rather than out of any other motives. It seems to tie in rather nicely with what the Lord has been teaching me about humility and forgiveness and contentment and all the other lessons that I am learning, whether I like it or not.

These past two years have been difficult for me, as I have been gently (and in some cases, not so gently) taught the difference between faith and counterfeit faith, humility and false humility, forgiveness on my terms and forgiveness on God’s terms. I was talking with Kathy the other night, marveling at all the changes that God has brought about in my life, and how He has upended and stirred-up the patterns of ‘righteousness’ I have cherished over the years. She asked me, “If you had the choice, would you voluntarily sign up for all the lessons you’ve learned in the past two years, knowing the trouble that would come with those lessons?”

Truthfully, no. I am lazy enough and self-righteous enough that, even in hindsight, I would probably not value the pursuit of godliness enough to experience the hardship; and I am optimistic enough to think that somehow I could learn the needed lessons without having to experience the trouble.

How great is our God, that He doesn’t ask or require us to make that choice, but rather disciplines us as sons, teaching us the lessons He wills for us without needing to consult us. I think I’d rather leave those kind of things in His capable hands, and just take each day with its renewed mercies, as it comes.

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The Kingdom of Light

I wrote this a few weeks ago … for some reason, I’m just not willing to go back and remove all the time-sensitive wording. I guess I’ll just publish it with a postscript at the end.

Yesterday was the first day of camp at Wilderness Northwest. We drove out to the Olympic Peninsula on Sunday afternoon and settled into our faithful “Duckabush House” with two carloads of stuff. Sometimes I think that we take more luggage on a one-week vacation than many families have in their permanent dwellings. Of course it didn’t help that we stopped off at Costco and WalMart in preparation for the week of camp lunches and evening meals for the hordesfolk.

We celebrated Kathy’s and Sarah’s birthdays on Saturday, and again on Monday, since several gifts from various family members had not yet been opened. It is always fun to buy things for those two girls … they are so very appreciative.


I really love that house in the Duckabush … it is a shame that we don’t go out there very often. It brought back some lovely memories to see the house filled again with friends and family … I think we had twenty-seven people in the house on Monday night, either for a lasagna meal or for the ensuing game night, at one point or another.


I wish I could have stayed for all the fun … having to work in Seattle today, I left the valley a little after 8 pm last night and headed back to Lakewood. As I turned south onto Route 101, the sun was still pouring itself over Mount Jupiter’s shoulder, filling the space between the ridges with a shimmering golden light that was almost liquid, and blazing in reflected glory on the river. It made me think of the words referring to the “kingdom of light” in Colossians:

“And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Colossians 1:10-14

I think we are very quick to treat darkness and light as metaphors for good and evil, yet we forget sometimes that God’s kingdom is very literally a kingdom of light, wherein He Himself will provide the illumination throughout the kingdom. Toward the end of a recent vacation in Michigan, in which we spent many long, sunny days on the beach, my mother-in-law quipped, “I can see why people in ancient times worshipped the sun.” If our sun is merely a shadow of the glory of God, I think we’ll spend a lot of time in heaven just sitting around in breathless wonder.

It has truly been a golden summer so far. Coming on the heels of a glorious Fathers’ Day, we spent almost two weeks vacationing in Michigan with Kathy’s parents, returning home barely in time to rush off to Day Camp at Wilderness Northwest with game nights and cousins galore. In early August the older three kids will go to camp at Miracle Lake Ranch and later in the summer we’ll travel to Fort Clark, in Texas, for yet another week of vacation. Not wanting to leave any time idle, Kathy has scheduled several of the kids for various YMCA sports camps (baseball, soccer, gymnastics) throughout the Summer as well. And then there is the trip to Texas with Kathy’s folks that we have planned at the end of August. I expect we’ll be anxious to see the Fall arrive if only out of exhaustion from all this fun.


When I think about my childhood and the many happy memories I have of summertime, it warms my heart to think that my children will also have the opportunity to remember many joyful summer days. Although we continue to homeschool through the summer, we take frequent breaks for vacation, and so I think that the kids can enjoy some significant freedom, without boredom setting in. They seem to enjoy the Homeschool Co-op and the Homeschool PE program at the local Y so much that my children actually look forward to the school year beginning again in earnest (both of those programs take a recess in the Summer).

Now my train is rolling in to the station in Seattle, and I must work for the next several days before I can slip back out to the Olympic Peninsula for the last day of camp. I guess it isn’t too unreasonable that someone should work, for at least part of the summer.

Postscript: It is now a month since Wilderness Northwest Day Camp, and the Summer continues to fly past. Now that we have closed on our house, we have crossed over from renting to owning* our current abode. Kathy has acquired some ‘Ooops’ paint from Home Depot and Lowe’s, and has big plans for painting some of the out-of-the-way areas (like the pantry and the mud room) as we embark on a ‘journey of discovery’ in decorating this house. I’m on the hook to build some much-needed utility shelves in the garage, and we have quite a bit of work to do around the outside of the house (landscaping, etc.). There are numerous small repairs that need to be made as well as several intimidating projects (like re-tiling the master bathroom). I keep telling myself, “Just one thing at a time.” This is, of course, good advice for life as well as home repair … as Jesus said in Matthew 6:34:

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Each day seems to require just one thing from me: that I step out in faith to love and serve God. Well, that and getting out of bed when that cursed alarm clock goes off at 5:48 am.

*For some very small values of ‘owning’.

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