"This is a test."
The phrase is often heard in the walls of Castle Cribbs -- when there's more money than month, when the phone doesn't ring, or rings in the middle of the night, or when our pleas seem to fall on deaf ears.
A particularly trying time came upon Danny in mid-summer and the phrase, so frequently at the front of his mind as his world contracts, just wasn't cutting it. Completely out of character, he phoned a local print shop to price a bright, colorful vinyl banner emblazoned with the words in capital letters, and had already selected where on the walls of Castle Cribbs to hang it. Thankfully, reason prevailed, and much to my relief, the order was canceled. I'm not much of a decorator, but even I know that a brightly colored vinyl banner wouldn't match our mish-mash motif.
The phrase reminds us that James was right. Faith without works is dead. (James 2:17) Whatever form other works may take in our lives, the first work is to hold on to faith with all that we have. The first test immediately follows our first confession, not of sin but of conviction. And so it continues. The tests are always administered on a pass/fail basis.
The tests are frequently presented as pop quizzes, as in: The store clerk mistakenly gives you $10 too much in change or misses the kitty litter on the bottom of the cart.
Pocket the $10? Fail.
Point out the litter? Pass.
However, not all of the tests are pop quizzes. When you catch a glimpse of truth, when you look around and see the lies revealed -- it may be time for midterms. We can either recognize that man is a fallen creature and that the heart is deceitful above all things, regardless of the opinions handed down by the Supreme Court in their decisions on Stolen Valor or Corporate contributions, and seek out even the hard truths, answering the call to "come out of her my people" (Revelation 18:4); or we can remain in the current of that river of Denial, running hard and fast. Pass/Fail.
Then comes the SATs: sudden death, debilitating illness or injury, divorce or abandonment. We draw on every lesson ever learned, emerging on the other side of these life-changing events, either transformed to the glory of God or withdrawn into a world of self-pity, self-loathing, self-destruction, or all three. Pass/Fail.
Perhaps you are rich as the world measures wealth. What tests may come your way? Perhaps it is the young family sweltering in summer heat, begging outside the Walmart parking lot. Sure, it could be a scam -- but that's on them. What you decide to do, whether to pass judgment or come alongside to help, is on you. Pass/Fail.
I was a completely average student. I never brought home a stellar report card with straight A's in every class. I never even brought one home with all A's and B's. But I have endured a test or two throughout the years, and, just as was the case with my report cards, they reveal that I frequently fail.
The only reason I keep showing up for class is because I am confident in my final thesis and have pinned every hope I have to that thesis: I know the right answer to the right question, the question first asked and answered at my first confession of faith, "Who do you say that I am?" (Luke 9:20)
Answer this question -- then go -- and live out your answer.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." John 3:16, 17 (NIV)
I don't have all the answers, but I know and love the One who does. Let's walk in his love and discover him together.