Seedling: No Ivory Towers

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By Paula Marolewski, April 20, 2010 4:44 pm

“Now all the tax-gatherers and the sinners were coming near to [Jesus] to listen to him. And both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’” – Luke 15:1-2

A word of warning: it can be all too easy to immure yourself in the Christian community. To only have friendships with Christians, to engage in activities exclusively with Christians, and to focus all your attention on Christians.

When you do, it can be very easy to slip into another attitude: looking down on anyone who associates with non-Christians. Getting on your religious high-horse and throwing up your hands in horror at anyone who (heavens!) befriends a practicing homosexual, a drug addict, an adulterer, a convicted felon … or even just an unchurched neighbor. After all, we must avoid the corruption of the world, right?

Yes, we must. But not by hiding away in ivory towers. Jesus kept himself unstained by the world, but he ate every day with tax-gatherers, sinners, and prostitutes. He touched lepers, unclean women, and the demon-possessed. He associated with Samaritans, Syrophoenicians, and Romans. He was, simply, “the friend of sinners.”

We are called to follow his example. 

  • Have you ever looked down on someone because they had friends who were “questionable”?
  • Have you ever avoided befriending someone because of their sin, past or present?
  • Would you rather live in the safety of the church than be a light of the world? If so, why?


Copyright © 2010, Paula J. Marolewski. All rights reserved.

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Right Words, Wrong Hearts

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By Paula Marolewski, April 16, 2010 10:06 am

You’re probably familiar with the ringing declaration Joshua made at the end of his life: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!” (Joshua 24:15). But do you remember the rest of that conversation? 

Joshua was soon going to die. He called all the elders, judges, and officers of Israel to him. He gave them a short recap of their history, right up through their present conquest of Canaan. Then he delivered his challenge: “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve!” (Joshua 24:15). And Israel responded as one, “We also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” (Joshua 24:18). 

At this point, I would have thought that Joshua would have leaned back with a glad sigh and died in peace. But no: instead, he challenges the people with these words:

“You will not be able to serve the LORD, for He is a holy God He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgression or your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you after He has done good to you” (Joshua 24:19-20).

Ouch! Again, the people proclaim their loyalty to God. Is Joshua satisfied now? Evidently not, because he replies, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen for yourselves the LORD, to serve Him” (Joshua 24:22).

Now, at this point, I’m wondering, “Joshua, are you trying to encourage these people, or actually trying to turn them toward other gods? This isn’t exactly a half-time pep talk! What’s going on here?”

Then the reason for Joshua’s harsh words becomes clear. For after Israel affirms for the third time that they will serve God, Joshua confronts them with the following:

“Now therefore, put away the foreign gods which are in your midst, and incline your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel” (Joshua 24:23).

Do you see it? Here are all the people of Israel, including the elders, judges, and officers, all declaring their undying, unswerving allegiance to the Lord. But they were already falling into idolatry! They had foreign gods in their midst!  

Joshua wasn’t concerned because someday they might turn aside to idols … he was concerned because they were already waltzing merrily down that path!

They were saying the right words. But they were demonstrating the wrong heart.

We know the end of that story.

What about us? Think of the words of commitment we sing on Sunday morning. The prayers we pray as we stand in church. Our good intentions as we respond to the sermon. 

What would Joshua say? Would he nod in approval, lift his hand in benediction, and smile?

Or would he fix his eye on us and start enumerating the sins, the gods, the idols that we thought to hide in our midst?

Remember, it isn’t enough to have the right words but the wrong heart.




© 2010 Paula Marolewski,

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Cloud and Fire

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By Paula Marolewski, April 8, 2010 10:41 am

We walk by faith, not by sight. But I admit, there are many times when I wish I walked by sight. I wish I could see God – see his face, touch the scars in Jesus’ hands, hear his literal voice in my ear. Surely, I think, that would make my Christian walk easier. I wouldn’t fall so often. Wouldn’t doubt so much. Wouldn’t sin so frequently.

And then I noticed something very interesting: do you remember when Israel was wandering in the desert? Do you remember their constant grumbling, griping, complaining, and rebelling? As much as I hate to admit it, I do recognize myself in those four words.

But then notice something else, mentioned in Numbers 9:16: “So it was continuously; the cloud would cover [the tabernacle] by day, and the appearance of fire by night.”  

Did you catch it? The literal, visible, tangible presence of God was with the Israelites through all their wilderness wanderings. The cloud covered the tabernacle by day in the sight of all, and a pillar of fire lit it at night. They could see him. Their nomadic journey was directed entirely by the movement of the cloud and fire.

Now go back to what characterized their journey: Grumbling. Griping. Complaining. Rebelling.

It gave me pause for thought. Perhaps walking by sight isn’t any easier than walking by faith. Perhaps I would respond just the same way, even if I could see Jesus in the room with me.

Here’s the bottom line: seeing God won’t make us holy if we don’t want to be holy. Change has to come from within … from the desire to love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength.

So if you find yourself grumbling, griping, complaining, and rebelling, don’t blame God and rail that “If only I could see you, I wouldn’t be like this!” Put the responsibility where it belongs. This is all about you. It’s all about me. And we have to ask ourselves seriously:

“What am I going to do about it?”



© 2010 Paula Marolewski,

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Easy Errors

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By Paula Marolewski, April 1, 2010 3:19 pm

It has been said that the best lie is 99% truth. It’s that 1% of error that trips us up – often with ramifications hugely out of proportion to the lie itself.

I’m concerned that, as Christians, we have swallowed some lies. I call them “easy errors” … they all have an aspect of truth, but without qualification they become dangerous lies:

Easy Error #1: God can change people.

True, God can change people. That is, after all, the essence of the gospel message! But here’s what’s missing, and why this can become an easy error: God can only change people who want to change. God will never force a person to change against their will. He does not command holiness by jerking our strings like a divine puppeteer.

What’s the ramification of believing only the first statement, that “God can change people”? Here’s one dangerous result: we may be praying for someone whose life is out-of-sync with God’s will, and then become hopeless and blame God when they don’t change. It is imperative to remember that change is a partnership between God and the human soul. When we are willing – and only when we are willing – he will work miracles.

Easy Error #2: God can change me.

Yes, this is a variant on the first easy error. This is when we pray that God would change our heart, remove temptation from us, stop us from sinning … but we aren’t willing to put forth the effort to seek God, we don’t love him with all our heart, we continually place ourselves in temptation’s path, and we really enjoy sinning. Just as God can’t change others unless they want to change, God can’t change me unless I want to change. He is always willing – he’s waiting on me.

Easy Error #3: God is sovereign, so why pray?

This error acknowledges the sovereignty of God, but forgets that God has chosen to work in partnership with the human race. God commands us time and time again to pray. Why? Because many times, God will not act unless we pray.

Won’t God always accomplish what he wants? Isn’t that what sovereignty is all about? Well … yes and no. The book of Revelations demonstrates conclusively that God is in control over all. But the fact that we live now in a world rife with sin shows that God takes our free will very seriously.

We can look at it this way: God’s sovereignty is like a broad brushstroke over a huge canvas. It provides the background for everything else. Our prayers are like the fine lines that create the details of the painting. If we fail to pray, the picture will come out very differently than if we spend time on our knees.

Easy Error #4: God will open and close doors to direct my life.

My answer to this would be: sometimes. And sometimes not. Certainly, if we are seeking God’s will for our life, he will on many occasions use circumstances to help guide us. Doors open, doors close.

But that is not always the case. After all, if God always used circumstances to open and close doors, we would never have to reason out whether a decision was wise or not. We would simply wait to see what circumstances dictated.

Instead, we see throughout Scripture that we are encouraged to pray for wisdom, discernment, understanding, and knowledge. That is why I firmly believe that God sometimes purposefully leaves multiple doors open … some of which may lead to positive ends, some of which may be deadly. Why? Because he wants us to be able to make a mature decision using the other tools he has given us, such as our reason, his Word, his Spirit, and the counsel of others.

Think of it in terms of raising a child. Is a child mature if he always sits on his hands and waits to “see what will happen”? Or is a child mature when he can weigh real alternatives, make a wise decision, and move boldly forward?

The Common Denominator

As you look at the above easy errors, you will see a common denominator. In each case, the error has at its core a desire to forego personal initiative and responsibility. We ignore the interaction between free will and the grace of God. We disregard the responsibility we have to pray. We abdicate our responsibility to make choices.

Basically, we want life handed to us on a silver platter. We’re not willing to do our part.

Easy errors? Yes.

But with serious consequences.


© 2009 Paula Marolewski,

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