Observations from a Teenage Jerk

Did I ever tell you I was a teenage jerk? It’s true. For several summers during those youthful years, I worked at a local establishment, Proffitt’s Drive-In (“Home of the Goldenburger”). My job was to pour malts, shakes, and soft drinks, and to place them on trays destined to hang from customer car windows. One day, I saw a form listing my actual job title: it read, “soda jerk.” (It’s a thing; you can Google it.) Now, many had been called “jerk” before, but I had found documentation to prove it—I was official! Like so many summer gigs, soda jerk was a mild form of what we might call, “school appreciation jobs”—laborious or routine tasks that incentivize young people to continue their education. These are the realities that fix our focus on the pursuit of something better.

Sometimes in life’s “school of hard knocks,” we find ourselves wandering into much harsher realities, as when tuning in to the wrong influencers, for instance. “Walk with the wise and become wise,” warned Solomon, “for a companion of fools suffers harm.” 1 And it’s not as though we need any help from “fools,” for we’re quite capable of making short-sighted decisions on our own. Jesus illustrated this well in His masterful short story of a son who took an early inheritance distribution from his father and immediately squandered it on lavish living. 2 With nothing left of his fortune, the son hired himself out as a farm hand, feeding swine, a “school appreciation job” for the ages. Then when this happens to us—when we begin to reap the consequences of our lesser actions or words—we have another choice to make. On one hand, we can bitterly blame God for the results of our free-will decisions, for as Solomon observed, “People ruin their lives by their own foolishness and then are angry at the Lord.” 3 Or like the young man in Jesus’ story, we can “come to our senses” and return to the Father who longingly watches and lovingly waits for us.

The apostle Paul taught us that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” 4 This is one more gift of grace—making even our harsh realities work for our favor, and fixing our focus on the pursuit of something better: God himself.

Father, fill us with wisdom, that we would align ourselves with Your Word and submit ourselves entirely to You. Grace us to hear the voice of Your Spirit and to follow His lead today. In Christ we pray. Amen.

1 Proverbs 13:20
2 Read the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32.
3 Proverbs 19:3 NLT
4 Romans 8:28


Treasure in Plain View

It was a day-long retreat inside the prison, and seated at our table were seven of us—six residents and me—amid a room of 125. The focus of the day was forgiveness and restoration, an always welcome topic and particularly so where the environment itself reminds us daily of our need for both. As we took turns sharing, a remarkable commonality emerged—the ripple effect of a transformed life. One man had asked forgiveness from his son for the man’s poor life choices; the son refused at first, but seeing over a period of several years a true change in his father, he not only forgave him, but became a believer, as well. Another shared a similar experience with his ex-wife with whom he remains friends today: it took years for her to accept the change in him, and but seeing his consistent growth and transformation, she now finds herself contemplating the gospel for her own life. Still another spoke of those who recognized in him a humility where arrogance once dominated. None of these men had set out to change anyone; rather it was God who worked through their testimonies of forgiveness and the witness of their transformed lives. Moreover, it took time for others to accept the forgiveness, restoration, and change in once-hardened souls.

We can take courage from these men, for sometimes we question whether our lives make a Kingdom difference at all. And at times our Christian witness seems to us an overwhelming burden to carry alone. Yet even our witness is God’s work in and through us, for as Paul explained to the early church, God “made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.”1 And God has willed to display this glory through an undeserving yet much loved us, for in Paul’s words, God has placed His “treasure in jars of clay.”2 Such wisdom! And how humbling.

Then may we “live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness,”3 that God would shine through us and be glorified before others, for this “pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”4 For people search for God, and He is most clearly visible in lives transformed—yours and mine. It may take time, but His work will be done through us. He will see to it. We can rest in this.

Father, how beautiful and how humbling that You would advance Your Kingdom through Your people. Shine in our hearts, that others would see You glorified through Your treasure in us, your jars of clay. Amen.

1 2 Corinthians 4:6
2 2 Corinthians 4:7
3 1 Timothy 2:2
4 1 Timothy 2:3-4


Pardon over Parole

Hank1 was still incarcerated when I first met him, and now that he was released, I asked him about life on parole. “My parole experience has been a positive one,” he began, speaking from his charitable heart. As we talked, however, it became clear that “positive” didn’t mean “perfect”—that living on parole has its challenges, even for optimists like Hank. “The worst aspect of it is having to notify my parole officer of every movement. And it infringes not just upon me, but now upon my family. My wife comes under parole supervision: there are some Constitutional rights restrictions that she has to abide by, because she is married to me.” Though they live as free people among society—both he who was once incarcerated and she who never has been—they remain under the scrutiny of the penal system. Such is the nature of parole: it places additional duties and restrictions upon some otherwise living in liberty.

But not so, pardon! Freedom for those living under pardon is as complete as if they had never been convicted of their crimes in the first place. Their names are cleared of their wrongdoing (usually by a head-of-state), and all rights are restored. Any further repercussions are eliminated, gone forever. Of the two—pardon or parole—which would you prefer? Yeah, me too.

Sometimes we believers, who in Christ are free from sin, place ourselves and/or others back under the confines of the law, as if to strive for God’s favor by our own good efforts. Legalism can threaten liberty through worship style expectations, “service project” gold stars, or even the way we adorn ourselves. It is like having been pardoned, only to live under the expectations of parole. When this happened in the early Galatian church, Paul exhorted them, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”2 We might add: And don’t shackle others under our legalistic expectations, either! On another occasion Paul taught, “Through [Jesus Christ] everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses.”3 We who are liberated by the gift of pardon must not subject ourselves or anyone else to the demands of parole. Rather, Jesus has set us free, and “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”4

Father, thank You for freeing me from sin and the curse of the Law. Grace me to discern deceptions that would lure me away from grace, and fill me with great joy and power as one who has been forever pardoned. In Christ I pray. Amen.

1 Name has been changed for this post.
2 Galatians 5:1
3 Acts 13:39
4 John 8:36