Tag Archives: discovering Jesus

learning-to-dance

Learning to Dance

How I Found Identity & Purpose Through Reading The Bible Every Day

At the threshold of a new year it is fair to ask: Why do I bother reading the Bible every day? What is the purpose? What is the benefit?

The question of purpose is a good one; in fact, two of the great struggles for nearly every person are to seek and find, if possible, true identity and purpose for this short life we have been gifted.

As far as I know, we did not ask for life; we just seem to wake up into a strange and wondrous world as if from a very deep sleep. Where there seemed to be nothing before we awoke, now there is color, noise, activity and people. There is a mother to cling to; a father to follow; brothers and sisters to play with, and even possibly an extended family of uncles and aunts, grandparents and cousins. It can be a very populated world we have entered, and it is the first place that provides an important level of identity.

But this world we entered so mysteriously is time bound. At some point things will change. We will even change, and with all the changes comes a challenge to the comfort of that original identity.  For some, this can be a terrifying experience. Our world can become unfamiliar and isolating; As we shed part or all of the old identity, we grow a new one that at some point will be shed as well.

During the course of my own life, I put on one identity after another. Some worked, some didn’t, but as long as I was responding to what others seemed to want, I was able to get by, even if that identity did not fit very well.

What changed for me was my encounter with the biblical narrative…. all of it, from Genesis to Revelation. This did not happen overnight. I understood very little of what I read when I started out, because I was overlaying the biblical stories with my own story. It was as if, at first, I was reading to find myself imposed on this person or that in the biblical account. I was making them into me, and so, until I allowed the stories to flow through me into my heart as well as my head, I was unable to hear and understand what was being said.

It wasn’t that I was like King David; no, it would be more accurate to say that there was something of King David in me. The more I read, the more I began to understand the full sweep of the human condition, not just the one I was living in my own time and place. And the clearer that became to me, the more I came to stand along side the entire parade of human experience as a participant in this difficult and mysterious world I had entered as an infant.

Ultimately, it was a question of which identity fit. Ultimately, my story became a quest to know Jesus and then, to do what I could and can do with all of my limitations to make him known. My identifying with Jesus led directly to my purpose for living through all kinds of circumstances. Living through Jesus meant turning the assumptions behind my perspective upside down. It was not about getting the world to dance to my tune. It really was about hearing the music emerging from the pages of the Bible and learning to dance in tune with it.

The Return Hike

The Return Hike

I have often said that no two hikes on the Appalachian Trail are the same. But what if you return to a section of the trail you hiked years earlier? Certainly that must be less exciting than the first time, right?

The truth is every hike is different no matter how many times you covered a particular part of the trail before. It could be raining this time. It could be winter rather than spring. You may be hiking with different people. The miles underfoot are perhaps familiar, but almost everything else is brand new. I promise.

The last piece I wrote was called A Shadow in the Corner. It was an ominous story about climbing to the summit of Bromley Mountain in Vermont only to encounter a situation that forced me to quickly alter my plans. I sensed danger and I decamped as quickly as possible from the place.

But last week I returned to the same summit to find the place warm and inviting. The ski cabin was much smaller than I remembered and the summit of Bromley was bathed in the warmth of a July afternoon with a cooling breeze cutting across the open land. What had been threatening, now was soft and friendly. Hikers walked around with cameras or sat here and there in small clusters eating a sandwich or some cookies.

Time had not changed the place at all. Time had changed me for sure as sixteen years is a long time in anyone’s life. No, my return to the summit of Bromley recalibrated my memory, altering the reality of the first visit with new images that modified what I had experienced before. The original experience magnified the size of the cabin making the man more dangerous in my mind than he actually might have been. But the rain, time of day and the fear than comes from being alone made the cabin and the summit itself a dangerous place for me and I carried that feeling over the years until it was refreshed a few months ago.

A Shadow in the Corner

A Shadow in the Corner

I recently hiked a piece of the Appalachian Trail in Vermont. I’d hiked it before—I’ve done the entire trail—but hadn’t been up that way for years. And I can’t say the Vermont section of the trail is a personal favorite, but I’ve had my moments.

Many years ago, when I hiked that same section of the trail—to the summit of Mt Bromley, a popular ski destination in the winter—I remember having begun late so I did not get to the top until twilight. My guide book had mentioned a ski shelter located near the trail so because several thunderstorms had rolled through during my trip up the mountain, I headed in that direction.

It turned out that the shelter was a large enclosed building. I entered into a spacious common room that was drenched in shadows as the light of day was waning outside. Suddenly, I realized I was not alone. Across the room lurked the shadow of human figure saying not a word. I said hello, not knowing if I was dealing with friend or foe. The figure began moving in my direction, but I did not have enough common sense to fear him. I was apprehensive, but most people on the trail are very friendly and open. My unavoidable “roommate” began telling tales of woe: He had lost his backpack; he had his car stolen; he needed to get off the mountain to attend church the next day.

I absorbed all of this, all the while trying to figure out if I would sleep a wink with my shadowy friend in the room. Ultimately, I decided that the better part of valor was to retreat out the door I had come through earlier and get further up the trail as fast as I could. I felt a little guilty about leaving the young man behind, but when you are alone on the trail it is often better to err on the side of prudence. I will never know what might have happened that night. But perhaps it is enough to know that “the wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way….” (Proverbs 14:8) The “way” in this case was not to stay.

gtkj-blog-graphic-what-are-the-odds

What Are The Odds?

“Josh?”  I was resting, attending to my own aching body. We had reached the final leg of the 4.5 mile ascent of the right edge of Exit Glacier. My son Arthur and I had climbed part of the way last year, but this time around, he decided that we should climb to the viewpoint that looks out over the vast Harding Icefield, now part of the Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska.

Exit Glacier is one of 40 Glaciers connected to the Icefield and is easily accessible to the town of Seward on Resurrection Bay.

The climb to the top had taken about 3.5 hours. We were lucky because this year August has been particularly wet, but not on this day. We could see for endless miles and yet we were looking at only a small fraction of an icefield that nearly equaled the area of the state of Rhode Island.

“Josh?” Arthur had gotten up and had begun walking over to some people resting nearby. I assumed Arthur had run into one of his kayak guide friends and so continued to settle in.  Then, Arthur called out to me “Eric, It’s Josh.” I still didn’t register what he was saying or who this Josh might be. Then I saw who it was he was talking to.

Josh Schneider had worked for my company from 2009 through the first half of 2012. He had overseen the launch of the company’s new website, a very complex and crucial job. Then he departed to get a law degree and after graduating, he moved to Anchorage to serve as clerk for a Federal judge.

Before I set off for Alaska, I had contacted Josh but we had never followed up. Then this. Often when hiking, you can be 5 or 10 minutes ahead of or behind someone and never know they are there. It turned out that Josh and his wife Haley had left the visitor’s center about an hour before Arthur and myself. They had taken a few long breaks on the way up and so they reached the top shortly before we did.

So what are the odds? I had been in Alaska for one full day before we decided to climb up the side of Exit Glacier. Josh knew I was coming back to Alaska, but did not know when. He lived in Anchorage, a 2.5 hour drive from this place. I had wanted to meet up with him, but had not followed up after the first phone call.

Maybe it was the sheer size of Alaska that made this meeting seem so improbable. Maybe it was the distance I had travelled to get from New York to Seward. Maybe it was the vastness of the icefield. But I kept wondering what are the odds? I am still wondering about that. What are the odds? Maybe Alaska is the perfect place for questions like that. What indeed are the odds?

Eric Kampmann in Alaska, 2016

Eric Kampmann in Alaska, 2016

The Hill of Joy- Title Image

The Hill of Joy

Walking the Camino toward Santiago resembles ordinary life in many ways. We follow a path, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends or strangers. We experience good days and bad, stormy weather and brilliant sunshine, energy sapping heat and unexpected cold. The real difference is how we treat strangers along the way because it is almost a universal custom to acknowledge other pilgrims with a friendly “Buen Camino.” We connect through the common purpose of reaching Santiago.

My own journey had begun on a Sunday and now, five days later, I was approaching Santiago, the city where James, the Apostle of Jesus, rests. Around 10:30 in the morning, I arrived at an open high point called Monte Do Gozo (Hill of Joy). Unfortunately, an oversized metal monument had been placed on the spot where pilgrims could see for the first time the city they had traveled so long and hard to reach.

IMG_2327A small chapel has been built at a short distance from the monument. In contrast to the rusted block of metal, it is a simple structure. I looked inside, but it was empty and so after putting my pack down and grabbing my camera, I headed up toward the monument where I might steal a glance of Santiago just as centuries of fellow pilgrims before me had done.

I confess I felt little joy at that moment; the monument itself looked to me like a relic from World War ll. It was out of place and marred what should have been a spirit of lightness and joyful expectation.

I took a few pictures of far off Santiago and then walked back toward the chapel and my unattended pack. When I got there, I unexpectedly decided to detour back to the little chapel one last time before leaving. As I approached the open door, I heard a beautiful voice singing the words of John Newton’s Amazing Grace:

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.

At first, I thought I was listening to a recording, but then I saw the back of a woman kneeling. From the slight movement of her head and shoulders, I could see she was the source of the words and music. She never looked up, but her voice filled the room with a sound of music that brought joy back to my own spirit. She sang with a soft passion that made me believe she was living the words she was singing:

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,

And grace my fear relieved.

How precious did that grace appear

The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares

I have already come,

‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far

And grace will lead me home.

Somehow the words of the song, the singer herself and the simplicity of the chapel combined to create a moment of genuine grace. The small chapel was filled with the fragrance of beauty, goodness and truth and the Hill of Joy became for me what it has been for thousands upon thousands of Christian pilgrims who now at last could feel that the purpose of their journey had finally come into full view:

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,

And mortal life shall cease,

I shall possess within the veil,

A life of joy and peace.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years

Bright shining as the sun,

We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise

Than when we’ve first begun.

Thirst

Thirst

Let’s talk about two kinds of thirst.

The first is physical. If we are deprived of liquid for a period of time, our body will send out faint signals that it needs replenishment. If nothing happens, the signals will become more urgent until our entire being becomes frantic for something to sustain it. And it will not let up until the thirst is satisfied.

About twenty years ago, while hiking with a group of teenagers in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness in Montana and Idaho, we turned off the main path onto a trail that seemed to provide a shortcut to our destination for that night.

The new trail was easy at first, nothing special. We began to climb and as we moved higher the land grew dryer. Trees and vegetation gave way to dust and unrelenting heat; even the trail seemed to merge into the surrounding land before vanishing altogether into the shimmering furnace-like air.

What had seemed like a plentiful supply of water at the trail intersection now became inadequate. We tried to preserve what we had left, but the climbing in the heat and dust demanded we drink, causing our water supply to deplete rapidly.

Finally we gained a wide ridge and proceeded to follow its contour toward what looked like a body of water on our map. But the ridge kept unfolding and obtaining water remained only a hope that began taking on the characteristics of urgent need and finally near panic. At one point, it felt like we were crawling. We looked out over the unrelenting landscape of forests and mountains but saw nothing resembling bodies of water or even life except for the hawks and buzzards floating patiently above.

Since I am telling this story, it is clear that we survived. We found a small pond of still water and drank. We recovered quickly and then descended a rockslide to find a place to tent for the night. We had experienced physical deprivation; we thirsted and we yearned to quench that thirst obsessively until water was found and consumed.

The second thirst can be found in our need for something that transcends the appetites of this life to a higher need that may counterfeit earthly desires, but can only be truly satisfied through inviting the Holy Spirit of God into our hearts. Here are a few confirming biblical verses:

“O God, you are my God. Urgently I seek you. My soul thirsts for you in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1)

“My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Psalm 42:2)

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”(Matthew 5:6)

After forty days of fasting in the wilderness, Satan tempted Jesus with sustenance to feed his physical hunger and thirst. But listen to what Jesus says to the Tempter: “It is written, ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”(Deuteronomy 8:3)

The Devil wanted to reveal that man is no more than a bundle of physical appetites. Jesus shows that men and women have the potential to become so much more than just creatures of the earth. We are made in the image of God, which means that while we may often live in an alienated state from God, Jesus promises, “whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of living water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)

 

The Power of Story

The Power of Story

On Monday evening, May 9th I spoke at a church south of Washington Square in New York City. The general theme was centered around why people find stories so compelling. One place to start is with John Eldridge’s wonderful book Epic: The Story God is Telling.

In the Prologue, Eldridge quotes Frodo, one of the central characters in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

“I wonder what sort of tale we’ve fallen into?”

Have you ever wondered what kind of story you are living through? I have and I have often wondered how the plot will work out in the end. Of course, the story is not fully told, but every day confronts us with decisions, forks in the road, that will determine very different outcomes. 

We often talk of life as a journey and it is, but for me the journey at some point in the past translated into a pilgrimage. Whereas I thought of my life much as a tourist would, seeing things but not experiencing them. I was passing through more than living in and that worked well for me until one day when I realized I had fallen into a story without a happy ending. I no longer could escape into some kind of make believe bus that would transport me to safer ground. I had entered a very dark place with no exit, and it was then that I realized I could not escape on my own. I turned from trying to save myself to accepting the reality of God’s grace. Suddenly, I entered a very different story and I am still traveling on that very different road. To quote from a song I like:

I set out on a narrow way, many years ago

Hoping I would find true love along the broken road.

I got lost a time or two, wiped my brow, kept pushing through

I couldn’t see how every sign pointed straight to you

And every long lost street led me to where you are

Others who broke my heart, they were just northern stars

Pointing me on my way into your loving arms.

This much I know is true;

God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you.

http://www.ncawards.co.uk/images/image011.jpg

Writing on the Window

Once a year I fly from New York to London to attend the London Book Fair. After crossing the Atlantic for much of the night, it is normal to feel out of sorts on arrival. This year I was fortunate because the customs line was unusually short; even my luggage appeared after ten minutes. It was a quick train ride from Heathrow to Paddington Station, followed by a taxi ride to Kensington. After a short rest, life began to seem bearable again.

Shortly after arriving at the hotel, I received a message from my good friend and business associate Jonathan Williams. He asked if I would be interested in attending a publishing event that evening with him and his wife Lesley at a place called the Stationer’s Company. I deferred the decision, as I was not sure what my plans for the evening would be.

http://www.london-footprints.co.uk/Photos/livstationersr.jpgEventually, I decided it would be good to go and so around 6 pm, I grabbed a taxi and headed off to the financial district of London near St Paul’s Cathedral. It turns out the Stationer’s was founded in 1403 and originally served as a guild for authors.

The event that evening was nothing to write home about, and in fact, during the presentation, my eyes began to close and my mind wandered. As I looked around, I noticed a stained glass window nearby and began to study the images. Just then, to my surprise, I noticed a reference to Isaiah 40:8 inscribed in the lower part of the window. As I recall, the passage itself was not there, just the reference. I later discovered the passage said this:

The grass withers and the flowers fade

But the word of our God endures forever.

The verse itself was unfamiliar, though I am sure I have read it countless times. What stunned me was the power of the two short lines. It was as if I had been hunting for this verse for years. Finally, I found this hidden treasure in full view; it was as if I had been purposefully given a map and instructions to go to this event to find something very important.

I have oft told the story of how in a desperate moment I entered a church in New York and prayed a simple prayer and how that moment lead me a few weeks later to go out and buy a Bible. This act in turn would lead me in a new direction, ultimately to my writing Getting to Know Jesus. For a person who knew little about Jesus and less about the Bible even into his middle years, it has been a remarkable pilgrimage.

In my earlier years, I did not see the purpose of life clearly. Perhaps the underlying theme of those years can be summed by the prevailing philosophy: “Let us eat and drink, you say, for tomorrow we die.” (Isaiah 22:13) I have always been acutely aware of the tragic divide between our temporal existence and our immortal longings. We know the truth about our mortal existence, but we avoid the implications like the plague.  We long for the grass to flourish and the flowers to last because as Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes God “has also set eternality in the human heart.” The mortal heart cries out in this desert wasteland as our immortal longings seek fields and grasslands that never give way to decay, remaining fresh and beautiful forever.

When I reflect upon the arc of my life clearly, I see that I fruitlessly battled the tragedy of time without the comfort of knowing the truth of Isaiah’s declaration that “The word of our God endures forever.” If you choose to live in the world of withering grass and fading flowers without knowing the truth of God’s Word, then life will be a tough struggle indeed.

The truth is we live in the temporal, but long for the eternal. If we believe in only temporal things, life will be a scramble. We will thirst for more, but find that satisfaction dwindles. The turning point for me came when I embraced the wisdom behind Isaiah’s verse: “But the word of our God endures forever.”

My OWL Story

Guest Post: My OWL Story

I met Rachael Hartman last July at a Christian publishing event in Orlando, Florida. Recently she followed up and we met at my offices in New York City. During our conversation she told me her “OWL” story which I felt mirrored my own encounter with God way back in 1987. Rachael has graciously given me permission to post her story on my blog site. I think you will enjoy it.

My OWL Story

By Rachael Hartman

www.OurWrittenLives.com

God speaks to each of us in ways we will understand. Sometimes He uses our quirks and imagination to spur His way in our lives. I am thankful God knows how to speak to me, and I hear the silent messages He speaks into my heart and mind, and are confirmed by His Word.

One of the most significant words I received from the Lord gave me the hope I needed to keep going forward in the midst of depression. It also paved the way for me to receive God’s call on my life to write and publish for His Kingdom.

It began with silliness on my part. I always had a sort of artistic way of looking at the world around me. I thought various people looked a lot like animals. I had a pastor once who truly looked like a turtle, straining his little neck out of his suit and tie shell. I thought one of my bosses looked like the human alternative to a beaver or a nutty squirrel. These were people I truly respected and loved, but I couldn’t deny their animal-like features.

I always wanted to know what kind of animal I would see myself as. I couldn’t think of anything based on my looks, but I figured I was an owl because of my glasses and all the time I spent at the library and in college. Around the time I discovered I was an “owl,” God began to use my silly perspective to speak to me.

It was 2008 and my emotional life was pretty much in shambles. The three years leading to this point, 2005 to 2008, were the hardest of my life. I felt as if I were living in a spiritual wilderness. I was in constant battle—mentally, emotionally, physically, and relationally. It was crushing, and I had to acknowledge some difficult truths. I felt as if my life was falling apart, and it was. Everything I knew to be stable was shaking.

In my quest for healing, I sought the face of God in a church in Texas where I experienced unconditional acceptance, and so my healing journey began.

One night after church and I was driving down a dark, East Texas road. A large owl swooped down to capture its prey in the middle of the road, and sadly flew right into my driver’s side windshield. As I turned around and pulled over to check on the poor bird, my bright headlights beamed into his eyes. He wobbled a little and looked at me, quite confused.

At that moment I heard the still, small voice of God speak to me. “You’ve been hit really hard,” He said, “but you are going to fly again.” At that very moment, the owl flew away. It was a sign from God; I was going to be okay.

A few weeks after my encounter with the owl, I was in Austin for a church conference. I met two ladies who spoke words of encouragement into my life and continued to add to my owl story.

The first lady said, “I don’t know anything about your life, but I feel like you’ve been living in darkness for a long time, and the light of God’s sun is going to start shining into your life.”

The second lady did not hear what the first one said. After a service, she came up to me and said, “Brightness. Brightness. All I see is brightness.”

Driving home through the Piney Woods after the conference there was another “owl confirmation” that God was leading me to better times. Perched on a road sign was an owl, in the brightness of day, eyes wide open. I had never seen an owl out in the day time before.

Later, God told me I had to learn to “see through the darkness” and go after what He was calling me to do.

About a month later, God confirmed my call to write and publish. The silent statement was clear, “I’ve given you everything you need to write and publish books.”

I knew God was calling me to write the stories of people who had lived in darkness and overcome to live in the light through the blood of Jesus. These stories would bring the hope of Christ to people in difficult situations.

The name of my business came next—Our Written Lives of Hope, or OWL of Hope for short.

The name was partially inspired by the history of Isle of Hope in the Savannah, Georgia area. In early days, Isle of Hope was known as a place where all kinds of people lived together despite the treacherous times of slavery and other evils shrouding the old South.

My “owl experience” and call to write and publish occurred during the time I was working for the local newspaper and taking a break from grad school.

When would I find the time to write a book? I knew I was using too much creative energy at the newspaper. I had to change careers if I was going to write for Jesus. The Lord opened the doors, and I relocated to the Fort Hood area for a job. It was there I began to look for the first story God would allow me the honor to write. It would be two years before He brought me the story He chose.

After two layoffs and another move, this time to Fort Polk, Louisiana, God’s timing kicked in. In July 2012, I began writing my first book titled Angel, The True Story of an Undeserved Chance. It was the life testimony of a woman I met at church. Her name was Angel. She had an amazing testimony of deliverance, and I had a desire to write a book for the Lord. God led us to start the project though we had barely met. Eleven months later, in June of 2013, we had the book in hand, and I had officially established Our Written Lives of Hope, LLC.

To date in 2016, I am working with over 20 authors, and have 23 published books in the OWL collection. Back when I received the call, I had no idea God would bless my business so quickly and swiftly. I still don’t know the extent of what He had in mind when He planted the vision to write and publish for His Kingdom into my mind and heart. I’m excited to see what the future holds, and I’m looking forward to learning and sharing the God-stories of our generation.

I’m still an “owl.” I’ve had people call me “the owl lady” and they send me all kinds of owl gifts, (even though I have no desire to collect owls). Just today I came home from a trip to New York City, and waiting for me was an owl tee-shirt a friend sent to me. It seems like every time I have doubt or fear about the future, God sends me an owl of some kind to remind me of where He’s brought me from, and who I am in Him.

He truly does speak to us all in unique and individual ways that align with His Word. We just have to listen.

An Encounter on Park Avenue

An Encounter on Park Avenue

My routine for getting to work in the morning is predictable: I walk through Grand Central Station to 42nd Street and start down Park Avenue on foot, rain or shine, hot or cold. Before I began using my feet to get to my office building on West 20th Street, I would catch a subway. My initial reason for walking was health, but that wasn’t it exactly. The clustered morning crowds, pushing and shoving to get onto the departing train had finally lost its appeal. As I would battle for a place on the next southbound local, Ezra Pound’s short poem “In the Station of the Metro” would often echo in my mind:

In the Station of the Metro by Ezra Pound

In the Station of the Metro by Ezra Pound

My homebound journey was different. By the time the day was done so was I. My mind fixated on getting to my destination in the fastest, most convenient way possible. Often that meant catching the #6 subway at 23rd Street on Park Avenue.

One day not very long ago, I left the office in my usual haste and headed for the subway stop. I hit Park Avenue at 20th Street and turned north to get to the underground train that would quickly deliver me to Grand Central and the waiting trains heading out to the suburbs.

As I walked up Park Avenue, I noticed a man sitting on the steps of a church. I had noticed him before. He had an empty cup in his right hand and while he was dressed well enough, he clearly was looking for money. I passed him by, but then stopped short as I remembered I had some quarters and other coins in my pocket.  As I dug for money, I looked the gentleman in the eye and he unexpectedly uttered: “You are a good man.”

I suppose there was a time when I would have agreed with his words; after all, wasn’t I about to give this man some money from my own pocket?  I said nothing as I searched for the change. When I finally found the coins, I dropped them into his Styrofoam cup. Then he said it again: “You are a good man.”

An Encounter on Park Avenue

I could have said nothing at all, but I could not be silent. Instead, I spontaneously said, “No I’m not. I am no better than you.” He looked at me to see what I might have meant. I don’t know what he was thinking, but my remark got me thinking. At the core he and I were both beggars; it was just that his apparent condition was more extreme than mine, at least for the moment.

When I reflected on this encounter during the train ride home, I recalled two instances where Jesus taught on the issue of poverty through the eyes of God. The first story involved a rich, young ruler who wanted to know how he might earn “eternal life”. He addressed Jesus as “Good teacher” but Jesus replied by asking “Why do you call me good?” He then said, “No one is good but God.” (Mark 10:17-18)

The second instance is a parable Jesus told to “some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else”. Jesus contrasts the prayers of a religious leader with the prayer of a repentant tax collector. The leader prays, “God, thank you that I am not like other people-robbers, evildoers, adulterers-or even like this tax collector.” Meanwhile, the tax collector simply prays, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Jesus then says to those listening: “I tell you that this man (the tax collector), rather than the other went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

So what did I mean when I said, “I am no better than you”? While it is impossible for us to discern all the complex motives of our own hearts, I was definitely not being falsely humble. I really mean it. In the eyes of God this man and I stood before Him as equals, though in the eyes of the world, we did not. In the past I might have adopted the world’s view, which would have made me equal in self-righteousness to the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable, even though I had seemed to perform an act of generosity. I had clearly changed because I recognized in this encounter the need of two men for a savior, not just one.