In Whom Is No Deceit (Morning Companion)
While preparing a recent sermon about how the Holy Spirit is supposed to change our lives, I came across a passage in Ephesians where Paul addresses how the “new man” should be different from the “old man”. In chapter 4 verse 25 of that epistle Paul writes, “Putting away lying, let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor.”
In this verse — and in fact in the entire passage – Paul offers two parts for each bit of instruction that shows a life transformed by the Spirit. We’ll call these the “put offs” (see verse 22) and the “put ons” (see verse 24). We are to “put off” the things of the old man, and the “put on” the things of the new man.
So Paul is saying, “Look, you Ephesians. You do need to stop telling lies, but there is more to it than that. You can’t just sit there with a hidden agenda and keep your mouth shut when someone else promulgates a falsehood that benefits you, and you can’t just sit there and shout forth only the facts that support your ulterior motives. The new man in you simply tells the truth. As your Savior once said, ‘Let your yes be yes, and your no be no’.”
Paul and Jesus both are saying that Christians should have a commitment to the truth regardless of where the truth leads, whether pleasant or unpleasant, affirming or life-changing. The complete meaning of the Ninth Commandment is an admonition not to spin, not to obfuscate, not to muddy. Simply tell the truth.
I wonder if this what Jesus was referring to when he called a man named Nathanael to be one of his Apostles. When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching him, he said, “There’s a real Israelite, not a false bone in his body.” (John 1:47, The Message) Or as the New King James version has it, “an Israelite in whom is no deceit!” This Apostle must have been the straight shooter of the bunch. If you wanted to know what was on his mind, he would tell you and tell you straight.
Wouldn’t it be great if we had more people in public office who were like that? Or friends and acquaintances? Or more to the point, if we were more like that?
None of this to say that we should always be brutally honest. In addition to demanding our honesty the Bible also demands wisdom. Remember Proverbs 12:22-23, which at first glance seems to present a self-contradiction: “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who deal truthfully are a delight. A prudent man conceals knowledge, but the heart of fools proclaim foolishness.”
A prudent man should sometimes conceal knowledge? Isn’t hiding truth just one step removed from lying? There are many instances when it is better to say nothing. Sometimes telling the truth can reveal confidences that others have no need to know. Sometimes complete honesty will cause unnecessary pain. Sometimes our view of the truth is off-base.
If nothing else, the principles herein discussed provide an object lesson on how living biblically should be a life of prudence and moderation based on wisdom and judgment and always salted with love. These, by the way, are attributes we should grow into with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Is it OK to call ourselves Christians? (The Word and The Way)
And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. (Act 11:25-26)
Sometimes in our zeal to “come out of Babylon” we tend to throw out the baby with the bathwater. This is the case with the title “Christians”. I have heard and read it taught for many years that this verse above shows that the term “Christians” was an epithet branded on the followers of Yeshua by those who did not like them. This is usually put forth very authoritatively in an effort to get us to call ourselves something other than Christians. Granted, a lot of the antipathy toward using that title is due to the false teachings within mainstream Christianity, but we really need to look at what the word means and if the New Testament authors really did treat this term as an insult.
For starters, the context of Acts 11 doesn’t show any antipathy toward the word at all. We need to remember in our studies when things were written. The book of Acts is not a journal but rather a memoir written years after the events described within occurred. If this word carried a negative connotation, verse 26 or somewhere else in the book of Acts would provide an explanation of that. The reality is that there is no context within the book of Acts or the NT at all that shows this. King Agrippa uses this word in his banter with Paul and says that Paul will convince him to become a “Christian”. Surely if the word was an epithet a king would not use it to describe his own conversion. Peter also uses this word to describe the believers and also doesn’t hint at it being a bad thing.
Now we have to look at the history of using the word Christian at all. It comes from the root word “Christ” which first shows up in our modern Bibles in the beginnings of every Gospel account and it is a good word. In fact, John the Baptist uses this word with utmost honor, not allowing it to be applied to himself but saying there is another who is greater who is the Christ. So concluding that the root word “Christ” is a bad word is another dead end. All four Gospels were written many years after the events within them occurred and no author indicates anything negative about this word, either.
The literal definition of the word christ means to put oil on something. It’s a Greek word and it is the closest thing Greek has to the word “messiah” in Hebrew. Because our modern Bibles don’t start using this word until the NT, we get the notion that this is a new concept, unique to the first century writings. This is another error we have picked up through the ages. The decision to use the word “Christ” for Messiah was made hundreds of years before Yeshua’s birth. There is a translation of the Tanakh called the Septuagint, referred to in print at the LXX (which means 70), that translated the Hebrew Tanakh into Greek roughly three hundred years before Yeshua.
These are the guys who decided to use the word Christ for Messiah, not the NT writers or translators. And the word messiah ought to occur far more often than it does in our English bibles. This information is quite important and will help those of you who don’t know it to understand who Yeshua is in much better context.
The LXX has been translated into English and is available to E-Sword users for free. Just download the Brenton version. This is a Tanakh (Old Testament) that includes the books of the Apocrypha that were written 300 years before Yeshua. And here is the first time the word Christ was used for Messiah:
The Lord will weaken his adversary; the Lord is holy. Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, nor let the mighty man boast in his strength, and let not the rich man boast in his wealth; but let him that boasts boast in this, to understand and know the Lord, and to execute judgment and justice in the midst of the earth. The Lord has gone up to the heavens, and has thundered: he will judge the extremities of the earth, and he gives strength to our kings, and will exalt the horn of his Christ. And she left him there before the Lord. (1Sam 2:10 Brenton)
The word Christian means one who follows the Christ. In the context of 1 Samuel, do you think that being called a Christian, or a follower of Messiah, is a bad thing? Me neither.
My friends, when you see the word Christian, substitute the word Messianic. Because that’s the short answer. The word Christ is the word that was used prior to Yeshua’s coming to announce it to the Greek speaking world. The word Christian is synonymous with the word Messianic, which means follower of Messiah. I think calling oneself a follower of Messiah is a badge of honor in any language.
The Violent Demise of Sin (New Church Lady)
I am not one who believes that doctors are out to keep you sick. I believe they are motivated to remove disease where they can and manage symptoms where they cannot. They often advise us on what we can do to get or stay healthy, but too often are faced with folks who are going to keep having jelly donuts, bacon and Frappuccinos for breakfast and then come to the doctor for medication for pre-diabetes and high blood pressure.
However, I think that doctors are never more motivated to violently rid someone of a particular disease then when it comes to cancer. I speak from experience here. I have lost both of my parents and one sibling to this disease. Of the five remaining siblings, three of us battle skin cancer regularly.
Once cancer attacks your body, all of the medical cures involve a measure of violence:
- Freezing off small skin cancers creates blisters and leaves a scar
- Cutting out cancers and tumors creates scars
- Radiation damages all the skin it touches, can create burns and blisters
- And then there is chemo. Chemo destroys cells, burns skin, makes you achy, makes you vomit, causes your hair to fall out and more. Was there ever a more violent means of treatment? (Well, maybe shock treatment. That seems pretty violent.)
Often, doctors prescribe a regimen of chemo, radiation and surgery to attack cancer from every angle and eradicate it completely.
When I read Matthew11:12, it reminds me of the violence of eradicating cancer from a human body. Matthew 11:12 [ESV] From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.
According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, the meaning of this passage is that “a share in the heavenly kingdom is sought for with the most ardent zeal and the intensest exertion.”
The phrase “take it by force” can mean to seize, carry off by force, seize on, or claim for oneself eagerly.
The Kingdom is offered freely, but it was paid for with violence – the violent death of Jesus, preceded by an unimaginable beating.
Furthermore, at least for me, violence is needed for removing the cancer of human nature, the cancer of this world’s influence and the cancer of the Devil’s temptations and reasoning. Like the physical disease of cancer, these things were growing in us before we were called. And, like cancer, they can spring back if not completely, continually and zealously eradicated.
Mark 9:43-48 goes into great detail about the need to be willing to cut out/cut off anything that causes us to stumble. Mark refers to hands and eyes and feet as analogies, not literally to be cut off. Clearly we are to be willing to cut out any activity or focus, any behavior or thoughts that cause us to stumble.
Hebrews 4:12 tell us, For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. [ESV]
The word of God is made for the activity of cutting away any part of us that has no place in the heart, mind, words or life of a follower of Christ Jesus. Let me be clear, though: it is for cutting away those things in our own lives, not for hacking away at others.
There are preventative measures for cancer too. A healthy lifestyle is important – eating good food, getting rest, moderate exercise, sun screen, managing stress, etc.
Preventative measures for Christians include prayer, Bible study, meditating on the word, keeping the Sabbath, “iron sharpens iron” relationships, attending church services, esteeming others better than ourselves, helping the poor and needy, etc. When we focus on these things, human nature, Satan and his world have a hard time finding a toe-hold in our lives.
Romans 7:13-25 goes into great detail about the struggle against sin within us. I have days when I think, as Paul did, “who will save me from this body of death?”
Sin is a cancer. We followers of Jesus are to be motivated to the chemo, radiation and surgery level of attack on sin in our own lives – using all means available to press into the Kingdom and away from this world.
Satan is a roaring lion. We must meet his violence with violence of our own. Those of us who want the Kingdom of Heaven, take it with force, using whatever means necessary. We must go after sin with all means of violence until it meets its complete demise and eradication from our lives. It is a life-long process.
The Past: Learning From It, Without Living In It (Sabbath Meditations)
We may know of someone for who past experience has soured current aspects of their life. It may be the person who, because of one or several failed romantic relationship, has exiled themselves to a life of loneliness, refusing to risk further emotional trauma. Or it might be the individual, who having been raised in an abusive childhood situation determines to never bring children of their own into such a potentially painful world. Or perhaps it’s the Christian, having been soured by experience with “organized” religion, who washes their hands of it altogether, packs up their Bible and Concordance and proceeds to “go it alone” on their own little spiritual island.
Whatever the hurts and injustices we’ve suffered or witnessed in the past, living in it rather than using it as a tutor to guide ourselves or others to a more successful future, makes us its victim.
I believe that we as Christians, perhaps more than most, have a tendency to fall into this trap. We as a group have very sensitive noses for justice. We are keenly aware of right and wrong and we have a definite desire to see righteousness prevail and evil punished. Although a desirable quality in most cases, this sensitivity has the potential to work against us. In a world where the evil too often emerge victorious and injustices are a daily occurrence, our spirits can easily become embittered, cynical and negative. Allowed to linger, this fixation on the injustices of the world can ultimately serve to rob us of our joy and inhibit our growth forward. We become victims of the past rather than its students.
In Philippians 3:12 through the example of Paul we are admonished to forget those things which are behind and reach forward to those things which are ahead.
In Matthew 10:16 Jesus tells us “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”
Taken together, these passages encourage us to not let the past cripple us but rather to gain wisdom from the injustices we or others have witnessed or experienced, and use that wisdom to move forward in a positive, productive direction.
God wants us to look ahead to Him as the Author and Finisher of our Faith and toward what He has in store for us. We can’t do that if we are constantly obsessed by what’s back over our shoulder. Yes, it’s true. Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. We shouldn’t ignore the past. Let’s learn from it, gain wisdom because of it, but not be victimized by it. It’s okay to visit there once in awhile but it’s definitely not a healthy place to live.
The Business of Christianity (Morning Companion)
During the 2000 years of church history, Christianity has battled the temptation of being absorbed by the society around it, and the results have too often been mixed. In Palestine Christianity was a brotherhood. The Greeks turned it into a philosophy. In Rome it became a political system. In America it has become a business.
This piece is not meant to disparage those churches with thousands of members and a Starbucks next to the sanctuary. A look at the community churches in my neighborhood gives lie to the notion that bigness is always bad. Nor is it to celebrate small fellowships as the ideal. Too many small churches have grown small because of dysfunction.
Size is not the question. The question is the mandate to transform society instead of being conformed to it. Christianity in America faces the temptation of measuring itself in the best MBA tradition, which is by the numbers. Budgets and income, membership and attendance are often used as measures of effectiveness, whereas the true effectiveness of a church is better reflected in intangibles which by nature are difficult to quantify. Changed lives do not always translate into dollars and cents.
If you were a visitor from a foreign country and view the public display of American religion on the airwaves, you might notice the frequent appeals for financial support “so that we can keep this program on your station.” You would see the almost daily mail solicitations for donations alongside the sometimes massive physical plants that have been built to support some ministries. You would see too large a percentage of the American church engaging in the business of religion, and maybe, just maybe, you would think of Paul’s warning not to “be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2 NKJV)
Instead of imbibing the values of this world, the believer needs to transcend them. When we see churches building businesses and investment portfolios, it is time to start asking questions about that church’s mission. If a church or ministry refuses to give full financial disclosure, it does not deserve your support. If fundraising campaign is followed by fundraising campaign, question the need for so much cash.
Money is a necessary commodity in carrying out the work of the church, but we are all susceptible to the spirit of the age. If we are not careful, we will be conformed to this world without our knowing it. The words of Jesus: “Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!” (John 2:16-17 NKJV)
A New World Order (New Horizons)
[We want] ‘a man of sufficient stature to hold the allegiance of all the people … Send us such a man and, whether he be god or devil, we will receive him’. Paul-Henry Spaak
Our world is fast moving towards unity—a new world order in which education, business, poli-tics, religion are all unified under one world leader. The process has developed silently, slowly, largely unseen over many decades, but is soon to affect all of us.
The global elite can’t wait and are actively promoting it. It perhaps sheds light on the strident opposition to the United Kingdom exiting the European Union. To them the nation state is archaic and best eliminated. A ‘global state’ is seen as a golden future for all of us—a world of total equality, shared resources, peaceful co-existence, extinction of the divisive concept of ‘race’, the end of hunger and disease. Utopia!
This transformation, by this plan, is to be activated by the United Nations, and was actively promoted by Robert Muller, the former UN Assistant Secretary-General: ’…We must move as quickly as possible to a one- world government; a one-world religion; a one-world leader’. It is the UN’s stated policy: ‘The age of nations must end. The governments of nations have decided to order their separate sovereignties into one government to which they will surrender their arms.’ (U.N. World Constitution)
Official UN departments oversee each sector (eg UNESCO for education and science), and for purposes of political administration the world has, reportedly, been sub-divided by the UN into ten regions each with its own leader who cedes his authority to a single world leader.
One department, Muller adds, oversees religion: ‘Peace would be impossible without the taming of fundamentalism’ through a United Religions’. The path to religious unity is strewn with many way-marks. Anglicans have formally acknowledged the Pope as pre-eminent. Methodists actively discuss merger with the Anglicans– a return to their roots. Lutherans have long since abandoned the pretence of being reformers. Both Protestantism and Catholicism join in new worship forms largely drawn from Pentecostalism. Inter-denominational services are increasingly commonplace and include ‘speaking in tongues’ and emotional arm-waving. And leading United States Protestant evangelists have signed up to the Catholic doctrine of justification (by works).
Central to all the changes sits the Papacy. Papal occupants of ‘the throne of Peter’ have pursued this agenda since the early sixteenth century.
Protestant denominations are viewed not as spiritual partners but as rebellious children who must return to ‘mother church’. All ‘heresy’ is, eventually, to be eliminated—if necessary, as with the Inquisition in the Middle Ages, by torture and death.
God, however, has an alternative agenda which will supersede man’s faulty and ultimately despotic plans.
Messiah will return, not in the disguise of a mere human but as the all-powerful divine Ruler of our planet. He will have observed the dire universal consequences of the United Nations plan (or, probably, a similar alternative) and will, having put down all opposition, start the process of re-construction.
His rule will encompass all nations—a true thousand year reich presided over benignly by the King of kings and where all mankind will, with transformed hearts and minds, have free access to the Spirit of God.
Creating Our Own Weather (Sabbath Meditations)
I was biking one of my favorite routes, trying to best my previous time. About two thirds around the route it became clear that it wasn’t going to happen. The temperature had climbed to a sweltering 90ºF accompanied by 68% humidity, so it felt a bit like pedaling through a hot tub. My energy and speed were fading fast. But then I encountered a section of the route that changed everything. As the trail swung by a lake, I was unexpectedly greeted by a cool, refreshing breeze blowing off the water. For a quarter of a mile it was as if I had entered a different climate. I emerged back into the 90ºF heat having been given new life, renewed vitality and enough strength to kick hard the last three miles.
What I experienced on that ride by the lake, is what scientists refer to as a micro-climate. Bear with me while I wax a little scientific. You see, I researched the subject on Google for about 20 minutes, and I now consider myself somewhat of an expert in the area.
A micro-climate is defined as a “variation of the climate within a given area, usually influenced by hills, hollows, structures or proximity to bodies of water. A micro-climate differs significantly from the general climate of a region” and can be as little as a few inches wide. Micro-climates exist as islands of life, in places no life would otherwise be possible.
One of the most dramatic examples of this phenomenon is a line of deep sea vents which form along mid-ocean ridges, such as the East Pacific Rise and the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. These are locations where two tectonic plates are diverging and new crust is being formed. Water pouring out of vents can reach temperatures up to about 400ºC. but the high pressure keeps the water from boiling. However, the intense heat is limited to a small area. Within less than an inch of the vent opening, the water temperature drops to 2ºC, the ambient temperature of deep seawater.
It was long believed that the immense pressure that exists at that depth, combined with total darkness and frigid temperatures were too hostile to support life. However, recent discovery of these incredible micro-climates along these vents, where lush ecosystems thrive in total darkness, have blown that belief (excuse the pun) out of the water.
What I find interesting about micro-climates is; while they occur naturally all over the planet, they can also be created. In fact, any serious gardener will tell you that the ability to create small micro-climates is a key to growing successful, thriving gardens, especially in places where a short growing season can make gardening a challenge. How do they do it?
In colder regions some gardeners use large boulders or rocks, strategically located within and around their garden, to provide not only a shelter for the wind but also a source of warmth when the temperature drops. The boulders draw in heat from the sun during the day and then release it slowly at night.
Another method of creating a micro-climate suitable for plants to thrive early or late in the growing season is to either fully enclose the garden bed in material that can both capture and retain the heat of the sun, or, place reflective sheets or panels next to the garden bed in such a way as to reflect heat and light onto the growing plants.
Raised bed gardening is another popular method used to elevate plants at a higher level, allowing for warmer soil temperatures in which plants can thrive.
Yet another common practice is to plant seedlings closer to together, which not only changes the temperature of the soil, but allows plants to use their shared strength as protection from the harsh elements. Planting closer together also allows for more efficient watering and fertilizing.
In short, gardeners create micro-climates by using large rock, directed and focused light, elevation above the surrounding environment and by placing plants in close proximity to one another. Using one or all of these methods allow life to thrive in areas that would normally be hostile to healthy growth.
I think I feel a spiritual analogy coming on.
As Christians, we live in an environment that is hostile to spiritual growth. On our own we have no chance of survival. Our God has given us everything we need to live in the hostile climate of this world. In essence He has provided us with access to our own spiritual micro-climate. Regardless of the conditions or the weather around us, He gives us the tools to create our own weather. That spiritual micro-climate consists of:
A spiritual Rock to shield me and from which to draw strength.
Psalm 62:6 – 8 “He only is my rock and my salvation; He is my defense; I shall not be moved. In God is my salvation and my glory; the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God. Trust in Him at all times, you people. Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. Selah.”
Christ’s light, to guide, nourish and sustain me through the storms of life.
John 1:1-5 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
2 Corinthians 4:5-6 “For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bond-servants for Jesus’s sake. For it is God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
We’ve been elevated to sit with Him in heavenly places. We are no longer of this world; no longer in bondage to the elements of this world.
Ephesians 2:4-8 “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God…”
He places us in close proximity to other believers so that we can strengthen and encourage one another. We all drink of the life giving water of His Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12:12-14 “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many.”
God has given us each this spiritual micro-climate so that, wherever we are planted, whatever the circumstances of life, we can create our own weather. We do not need to be dependent on external sources. We don’t need to be dependent on the perfect career to give us identity or meaning. We are not dependent on the perfect family environment to nurture and love us. We’re not even dependent on the perfect church organization or the perfect pastor. Christians who create their own micro-climate thrive wherever they are, despite the conditions around them. Rather than be influenced by their environment, they influence the environment around them. Rather than let attitudes, negativity or the hurtfulness of others weaken and destroy them spiritually, His Spirit in them provides a source of love that sustains and nourishes not only them, but allows them to freely extend that love to others.
So how’s your spiritual micro-climate? Do you create your own weather? Or, do you often feel like you’re standing out in the rain, being battered by the wind and other hostile elements of this world? If we have so much at our disposal to create our own weather, why are so many of us still so vulnerable to fear, anxiety and depression because of our circumstances or the environment around us? How many of us allow ourselves to be defeated by negative people or events?
Because we have all been there from time to time, perhaps the better question is how can we get this micro-climate thing working for us?
The Apostle Paul is a great example of a believer that had a powerful spiritual micro-climate surrounding him.
In Philippians 4:11-13 he writes “…for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Amazing! Sounds like he was riding through a cool, refreshing breeze no matter where he went. I want some of that weather around me, don’t you? How did he get it?
Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
He was able to live in that micro-climate because he was completely sold out, completely in tune with the source of the weather he enjoyed. He rejected his old man, complete with its desires, its fears, its anxieties and hurts and its need to control his own environment. He surrendered it all, in faith laying it all at the Master’s feet so that He might come and live in Him.
Jesus Christ living in Him, was the life force that sustained Paul. He basked in the strength of the Rock. He allowed the light of God’s love and His truth to nourish and strengthen Him. Rejecting this world, he embraced his citizenship in heaven, elevated to sit in heavenly places. He thrived on the the close proximity he felt with the brethren. Their encouragement and comfort gave him confidence to continue in ministry.
In a nut shell, it was dying to himself, and surrendering to let Christ live every day in him which created the micro-climate that sustained and strengthened Paul. It’s that same attitude, that same perspective, that can allow us to survive and thrive when the weather around us turns hostile.
I know I’m going to make a point to bike by that lake again this summer. It made all the difference in my ability to finish strongly. It would be great if I could figure out a way to get that refreshing breeze to envelop me for more than just a quarter mile. However, short of strapping an air conditioner to my handle bars I don’t think it’s possible.
Spiritually speaking though, I’m thankful that our God has provided all the right conditions for His people to grow up in Him. Safe in the micro-climate that He provides, fair weather can be with us wherever we go.
The Careless Farmer (Morning Companion)
What kind of farmer would throw seed in places where there is little chance for growth? One time Jesus told a parable about just such a man. We know it as the Parable of the Sower and the Seed (Matthew 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, and Luke 8:4-15).
In this parable the farmer throws seed almost indiscriminately. Some falls on good ground and flourishes, but some also falls on stony ground where the seeds sprout but have no depth for their roots. Some falls on ground full of thorns and weeds where shortly after sprouting it gets choked off, while some falls by the wayside and is gobbled up by fauna and fowl and otherwise trampled underfoot by those who pass by.
Would a prudent farmer sow seed in such a way, where much of it would be wasted and lost? Would he even think about doing this deliberately? What kind of sower is this?
Mark’s Gospel tells us that the “sower is the one who sows the word.” That could be Jesus himself, but the wording does not exclude anyone else who is spreading the Good News. What if the ground appears to be poor ground for the Gospel? Is the parable teaching us that we should sow the seeds there anyway?
Maybe part of the answer can be found in the parable that immediately follows the Sower and the Seed (Matthew 13:24-29).
Sometimes known as the Parable of the Tares, it reminds us that bad seed can get mixed in with the good, resulting in a mixture of good crop and weed crop. The parable reminds me about something that happened during my early days of backyard gardening. I noticed mid-spring a rather odd looking plant growing where I didn’t think it should be. I had planted potatoes in one corner of the garden and they had begun to sprout, but there was this odd plant in an odd place that I thought maybe was a potato plant, but it didn’t look like the other plants — and it was in the wrong place.
After a few weeks I couldn’t take it any more and decided to pull the rogue plant out of my well-groomed garden, at which time I realized my mistake. Dangling from the roots was a small, immature potato. This plant was not a rogue weed. It was a different variety of potato. It might have looked different and maybe wasn’t growing where I thought it should be, but it was absolutely a good, healthy plant that should have been allowed to mature.
The Parable of the Tares came to mind. I learned that in matters of the spirit we often lack the judgment to know the difference between tares and wheat, weeds and good crops, and sometimes it’s best just to let them grow together to avoid hurting the healthy plants.
This seems to be an extension of the lesson found in the Parable of the Sower. In that parable we seem to be told not to pre-judge the receptiveness of the soil to the Gospel, and in the Parable of the Tares we’re told to be careful about weeding out what appear to be tares. In other words, our job is to sow the seed in hope and tend the field in compassion. But at the same time, be aware that failure for good seed to take root and for tares among the wheat will always be a given.
Fake News (New Church Lady)
All the best lies include a modicum of truth. It’s what makes them so believable, so alluring, so tempting to believe. A half-truth, they say, is more effective that a whole lie. Not a day goes by that we don’t hear the accusation of “fake news” from one side of the political spectrum or the other. I think it might eventually come to define this decade.
But fake news is nothing new. In Genesis 3:1-6, we find the very first time a woman saw a meme on Facebook and reposted it without fact checking first. Well, not quite, but we do find that Eve, the first woman, fell for the first recording of “fake news” in the Bible.
Genesis 3:4-5 [ESV] But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Eve did not take the time to chat with Adam about it or wait for God to come back to the garden the next day to question Him about it. No, she fell for Satan’s lie, because it sounded so good, and ate the fruit. Her eyes were opened all right. But what she saw was her own nakedness. What she felt was not godliness but shame. And she definitely did die. Not exactly what she was promised by the serpent.
Centuries later, Satan tried the same tactic on Jesus Christ, with entirely different results.
Matthew 4:5-10 [ESV] Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'”
Whether Satan quoted scripture or made an offer that seemed too good to be true, Jesus was not fooled, because He knew the word of God. He knew the truth. He knew God’s plan.
Make no mistake, Satan will use the same tactics on you that he has been using on mankind since the Garden of Eden. We need the same tools that Jesus used – a solid understanding of God’s plan and a thorough knowledge of the Bible – to combat Satan’s lies and half-truths in our own lives.
Satan will tell you that God cannot or will not forgive you for that repeated sin.
The Bible says, If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. I John 1:9 [ESV]
Satan will tell you that you cannot endure, God’s word bids us remember: I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13 [ESV]
Satan will say that God has (or will) abandon you because of your guilt. But God says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5
Satan will tell you that you are destined for nothingness – nothing but dirt and oblivion. The Bible repeatedly tells us that we will be kings and priests in His Kingdom. [Revelation 1:6; 5:10]
Satan is a bold faced liar. He is also a subtle snake. He’ll use whatever works best against you. But in the face of the truth of God’s word, all of Satan’s fake news, half-truths and bold lies crumble.
There are a variety of websites we can use to fact check anything we find posted on Facebook, Youtube, Instagram or any other social media, anything we read in the paper or see on the news. Or we can read about a story from a variety of sources to get a better, more rounded sense of what is really going on. We cannot afford, as Christians, to be inadvertently aligned with a lie – there is just too much at risk – namely not only our own reputations, but those of God and Christ as well. [Rev. 14:4-5]
But, more importantly, remember that fake news has been around since Lucifer spun a yarn that convinced one third of the angels to follow him into rebellion. He is going to try this tactic on you, just as he did with Eve and with Jesus.
So don’t be taken in by Satan’s lies about your life, about your future, about who you are in Christ. Fact check it with the Bible. It is our number one resource for fighting the father of fake news. [John 8:44]
Believe God, because He cannot lie. [Titus 1:2] He will never give you fake news.
Stop Your Whining ~ God (Sabbath Meditations)
We Christians do a lot of whining.
As I write this, understand that I have one finger pointing out and three pointing back at me. We whine to God about so many things big and little.
It’s not as if we whine like spoiled little children. “Wahhh, that’s not fair!” “Wahhh, I want that toy! Give me that toy!” We know that wouldn’t fly with God. So, our whining is more refined, more … spiritual. “Please most powerful high benevolent God …” or “Oh merciful Father, who knows all of our needs and answers all of our prayers, please …” and then we proceed to pour out our litany of requests and petitions.
It’s not that asking God to provide for us is a bad thing. If it were, we wouldn’t be instructed to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” God wants His children to come to Him with their physical needs and concerns. But, there is a thin line between asking and whining.
“God, why do you allow our family to keep struggling financially?” “Why did you let my children abandon their faith?” “Why can’t you give me the perfect church to attend?” “Why can’t you change my husband or my wife?” In short, “Wahhh … I follow you, why aren’t you blessing me?”
When we question God, aren’t we really questioning whether He loves us? After all, if He really loved us, He would take care of all of the problems in our lives, wouldn’t He? Thus, we measure whether God really loves us by how He provides for our well being. God becomes a kind of magic “genie in a bottle.” If we rub that magic bottle by doing all the right things and obeying in every way, God will fulfill all our heart’s desires. We get so focused on all the things we don’t have that we forget the one huge thing we do.
The children of Israel spent a lot of time questioning God’s love. From the day they were delivered from Egypt, their voices were a constant stream of whining and complaining. It started with their sojourn in the wilderness and didn’t let up, even after entering the promised land.
God addresses their whining in Malachi 1:1-3, “The burden of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi. I have loved you, says the LORD. Yet you say, wherein have You loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? says the LORD: yet I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness.”
Notice how God cuts to the chase here. He doesn’t waste time addressing their litany of complaints and unmet requests. He gets to the heart of it. “You don’t think I love you?! For crying out loud, I chose you! I set My name on you! You are blessed above all the nations. Isn’t that enough?!”
In God’s words to Israel there is a powerful, perspective changer for you and me.
In John 3:16 we read, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Isn’t that amazing! Doesn’t that blow your mind? God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, loves you so much that He sent His Son to die on a cross for you. He made a way for those He would call to become part of His Family. He chose you. He set His name on you. If you never receive one more thing from God in this life, isn’t that enough?
Apparently Paul thought so. In Philippians 4:11-12 Paul writes, “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”
It’s not that Paul didn’t petition God to provide for his physical and emotional needs. He did. But regardless of the outcome of those requests, he didn’t question God’s love for Him. He knew he had plenty for which to be thankful and in that knowledge, he was content.
Notice it says that Paul learned these things. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Paul was a whiner. But it does seem that he didn’t always have the right perspective. It’s possible, that at one time, Paul had to learn to see beyond his physical condition, his physical needs and wants, to appreciate the one amazing gift he did possess.
In II Corinthians 12:7-9 Paul says, “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
God used this situation, only one of many in Paul’s life, to teach Him to be content in the grace that God had provided. God had redeemed Him. God had chosen Paul according to His purpose. God said, “Paul, if you get nothing else from Me, my grace should be enough.”
It’s that lesson that allowed Paul to declare in Romans 8:18, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
I find it encouraging to think that if Paul, a man mightily used by God, can learn to see beyond today to the awesomeness of tomorrow and let that hope be sufficient to sustain, strengthen and drive Him, then maybe there is hope for this whiner. Maybe I can stop treating God like a genie in a bottle and truly give thanks for the awesome grace that I have been given through the loving gift of His Son. And maybe I can truly come to the place where, from my heart, I can say, “your grace is sufficient for me.” It is enough.
Principles for Prophets (Morning Companion)
Would you like to be hailed as a guru or prophet who is never wrong? Follow three simple rules and you too can be known as an expert prognosticator. Whether in the lucrative fields of economics, stock market prediction, or the very lucrative field of end time prophecy, you can learn to amaze your friends and family, and maybe secure a gig on CNBC, the Weather Channel, or even Trinity Broadcasting Network!
Here they are! Three Principles for Prophets!
1. If you are going to predict what, don’t predict when.
When making predictions, it is important to have enough specificity so that when something happens it can be recognized as something you said. When you face a skeptic — and there will be skeptics — who say, “Your prediction didn’t happen,” you can answer, “You mean it hasn’t happened yet.”
2. If you are going to predict when, don’t predict what.
Example: Bible prophecy says that something significant will happen in the year XXXX (fill in the blank). Even if nothing apocalyptic happens in year XXXX, a review of that year’s news will reveal significant events that can become the “what” of your prophecy.
A variant of this is to say that a big event will happen in three to five years. This is especially effective in a fundraising newsletter. If you send out the same letter every year with no revisions, you can always have that big event happening three to five years out. If your followers are True Believers, they probably won’t even notice.
3. If forced to predict both what and when, make lots of predictions.
The more predictions you make, the greater the likelihood that one of them will be right.
Skilled prognosticators know how to make two contradictory predictions in one sentence, often sprinkled with qualifiers such as “maybe”, “could be”, “more likely than not”, and (my personal favorite) “50% chance of rain”.
There you are, all you aspiring Elijahs. Go forth and prophesy!
Uber, Lyft and Curb Enter a Race (New Church Lady)
When it rains in New York City, getting a cab is nearly impossible. I mean, I see people in cabs and I wonder, “How did he get a cab?” but I never see an empty cab. Finding a cab on a rainy day in NYC feels like chasing after the wind.
So, on a rainy Wednesday in May, I gave myself 40 minutes for a 20 minute drive and I used the official app of the NYC cab system, Curb, to schedule a cab. The Curb app kept looking, looking, looking, to no avail – not an available cab in all of NYC, apparently. But, no worries, I opened the Uber app and checked there. Uber said the nearest driver was 17 minutes away. Nope. So, I opened up the Lyft app and was told it would be 11 minutes. I had already chewed up 5 of my 40 minutes but it would have to do. I scheduled the Lyft driver.
The great thing about these apps is that you can watch your driver’s car as it makes the trek toward you. So, I watched with dismay as my Lyft driver got further away instead of closer. In 5 minutes he was 17 minutes away. How does that happen? I canceled the Lyft, went back to Curb, still unable to find a driver, so I let the app continue to look, and then went to Uber and scheduled a driver there. While I had the Uber driver on the way, I scheduled a new one for Lyft as well, hoping to get one who would travel toward me instead of back in time. As I watched the moments tick away, I switched from app to app to app, watching the progress. Uber won, and as I hopped into the Uber, I canceled the Lyft and Curb rides.
Some people treat church that way – first one use my gifts the way I want to use them, gets my tithes. Some people treat religion that way – first god to meet my needs gets my worship. Some people treat life that way – first pursuit, activity, person or organization to make me truly happy gets my respect and support.
Solomon did that. The book of Ecclesiastes is about exactly that process.
First Solomon tried wisdom –
Ecclesiastes 1:16-18 [NIV] I said to myself, “Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.” Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind. For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.
Then he tried fun:
Ecclesiastes 2:1-3 [NIV] I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. “Laughter,” I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?” I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly–my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.
Then he tried gaining “things” – acquiring any item his heart desired:
Ecclesiastes 2:4-11 [NIV] I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well–the delights of a man’s heart. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me. I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.
None of these things brought him true fulfillment or lasting happiness. In fact, Solomon’s most repeated conclusion throughout the book of Ecclesiastes was that each thing was meaningless or amounted to chasing after the wind.
Solomon did the work for us. It’s like he opened all the “apps” available to him during his lifetime and looked for one to bring him lasting happiness and fulfillment. He ruled out every pursuit, option, theory and opportunity – except God. Nothing worked. So, buy process of elimination, that leaves God as the sole viable solution.
If I allow myself to pursue fulfillment or happiness like Solomon did it is pretty clear from the book of Ecclesiastes that I’ll be chasing after the wind.
As human beings, we want to belong. We want our gifts to be used. We want to be fulfilled. We want to feel needed – a part of something – important. We want happiness and fulfillment that stands the test of time. For all of that, we only need to open the God “app” and pursue Him with everything we’ve got.
We can also open the Holy Spirit “app” and open yourselves up to bearing fruit that lasts a lifetime. We can open the love “app” and find true fulfillment by giving it away generously. We can open the forgiveness “app” and find true freedom by offering it liberally to others.
The Bible is an invaluable resource – the single location for everything we need to know about any of these “apps.” And, guess what, there are actually a myriad of Bible apps. The Blue Letter Bible is one I use that includes dozens of translations of the Bible as well as the Strong’s concordance and a search function that will help you find every use of a word or that scripture you want to quote but can’t quite remember.
After all the things he tried Solomon bottom-lined it for us at the end of the book of Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes 12:13 [NIV] Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.
Let’s open the God “app” every day of our lives and pursue meaning, purpose and happiness through Him alone. It’s the only thing that isn’t chasing after the wind.
Oh, in case you are wondering, I did make it to my appointment with a minute to spare.
Christians Whom Satan Loves (Sabbath Meditations)
Waking to the rumble of thunder and the drum beat of rain on our bedroom window, I lay there enjoying the sounds of nature. Years ago, when our children were little, storms, especially violent ones, would have sent one or both of them scurrying down the hall to crawl into bed seeking refuge. A loud clap of thunder and lightning, a bad dream, a mysterious noise or a strange shadow on the wall were enough to propel them out of bed and straight to our door.
I remember one night, when my daughter came running to our room more frightened than usual. Apparently some kids had told a particularly scary ghost story on the bus on the way home from school. She was convinced that ghost had taken up residence in her bedroom. As any father would, I spent the next fifteen minutes peering into every dark corner, investigating every possible hiding place, to reassure her that there was nothing to fear, that ghosts aren’t real, and that it was simply her imagination running out of control.
Over the next few days her mother and I also used the opportunity to talk to both of our kids about the concept of evil and the spirit world. Now it’s touchy to follow up a conversation about imaginary ghosts with a conversation about the spirit world, which, of course, is very real. We certainly didn’t want to make the problem worse, but we did feel it important for them to know the difference. We wanted them to understand the things they should be wary of versus those things that are merely superstition, based on irrational fear.
As adults, you and I have grown beyond irrational fears. Although we know there is a spirit world, we also know there are no ghosts in the closet or evil monsters under the bed. There might be some pretty nasty smelling socks, but not evil monsters.
However, there are some Christians who do seem to spend an inordinate amount of time consumed with irrational fears about the the spirit world and the influence of the Devil. These are the Christians who blame Satan for every mistake and every bad thing that happens in their lives. They are constantly searching for signs of his influence around every corner and under every rock.
Satan is not at all displeased to get the attention. He loves Christians that allow him center stage. He is in the business of attempting to usurp God’s power in our lives. He couldn’t take over God’s throne by force long ago, but he is still trying to do it in other ways. He does all he can to deceive us into believing that he has more influence, more power than he really has over the life of a Christian. To the degree he is able to shift our attention away from confidence in God’s love, God’s protection and toward an inordinate fear of him and his power, he is successful.
Why? Well, if we are constantly focused on the enemy, worried about the evil that might befall us, we will never have the courage to take risks. The times in our lives when we should be stepping out in faith we will instead be holding back in fear. Our inordinate focus on the enemy will immobilize us and make us ineffective tools in God’s hands. And that’s just where the enemy wants us.
James 4:7-8 tells us, “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”
In I John 4:18 we read, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has torment. He that fears is not made perfect in love.”
If you are one of those Christians that tends to look back over your shoulder a little too much; worried about Satan getting the upper hand; consumed by what influence the enemy has over you; inordinately fearful of falling into the traps he sets, you are really only running from shadows on the wall and bumps in the night. You are giving Satan way more attention than he deserves.
Should we be wary of Satan’s deception? Should we strive to resist him? Yes, of course. But the most effective resistance is not letting ourselves be sucked into Satan’s vortex of fear and doubt, but rather, as James tells us, to “draw near to God.” If we learn to focus confidently ahead on our God and His promises of protection, His promises of strength in time of need, and His promise to finish the work that He has begun in us, Satan cannot touch us. By surrounding ourselves with the reality of God’s love, all inordinate fear is cast out.
It’s been quite a while since either of our children have come scurrying down the hall to our room. Now that they are older, and braver, these visits are a thing of the past. It takes more than just a little shadow on the wall to spook them, which is a good thing, since they would now take up a lot more real estate on our bed than they once did. As a parent, it’s nice to see our children outgrowing their fear and growing in confidence. I’m sure it pleases our God when we do the same.
It’s Not My Fault (The Word and The Way)
There it is. The spilt milk. Inside the fridge. And gauging from the texture, it’s been there a while.
I instruct the first random child to pass by to clean it up and so begins the chorus. The cries of “it’s not my fault” resound from kid to kid, like an echo at a canyon. These cries prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they all knew about the mess and nobody lifted a finger. Lovely.
So I assemble the adolescent troops before said mess. I open the refrigerator and confidently declare that because it is nobody’s fault then all we have to do is watch as the milk returns magically to the vessel from which it came. The children and I wait but, oddly, the mess remains. What to do, what to do…
You’ll notice in my not-quite hypothetical situation above that blame is never assigned in the spilt milk incident. No punishment was coming at all. All that was desired was a clean fridge. Nonetheless, the children decided to make sure they were not to be blamed – as if that would be the end of the matter.
Assigning blame is sometimes unavoidable. When a project at work does not work out right or on time, then a forensic analysis is required to find out where things went wrong, for instance. But the investigation and the blame are secondary when there are messes or crises about. In another “for instance”, I don’t remember during Navy training that figuring out who let the water into the ship was even part of the damage control policy. Step one: contain flood. Step two: shut down flooded systems and electricity. Step three: begin removing water. Somewhere around step 45 is where the “how did this happen” starts.
Check out this good example of taking responsibility from the Bible:
I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed and said, “Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and loving kindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, we have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled, even turning aside from Your commandments and ordinances. “Moreover, we have not listened to Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings, our princes, our fathers and all the people of the land. Daniel 9:4-6
Did Daniel commit the sins he is referencing? Nope. But he understood that the entire people were in a pickle because of the mess that was made by their forefathers. He took the responsibility for things that he wasn’t part of because it was the goal of the exile; to bring the people low enough to acknowledge the things that got them smote in the first place.
Here’s an even better example:
When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves. Luke 23:33-34
Yeshua bore the sins of all who accept Him as Messiah. He died a sinless death to pay the price for sins that we committed. He’s the only person to have ever lived that can actually say “it’s not my fault”. But instead, He said “I’ll bear the iniquity.”
He also said this:
“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13
By laying down His life for us, He showed us how to love. This special kind of love includes taking responsibility for not only our own actions but even the actions of others – especially when it’s not our fault.
Carry the Message (Morning Companion)
“Having a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry the message to other addicts and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” —
Step 12 of the Twelve Step Program
“Carry the message,” the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous said. To those in the Twelve Step Programs it’s more than just a nice thought. It can be the difference between life and death. This twelfth step requires those who are recovering from the cauldron of substance abuse to form a network of support for others who suffer from the same problem.
This is a unique concept, this idea of sinners helping sinners. It’s a very biblical one, but one that many churches might find troublesome. Sinners helping sinners? Horrors!
Yet Jesus himself said, “First remove the plank from your own eyes, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5) That means if you have overcome a specific problem, you are in an excellent position to help those who struggle with the same thing. We are all nothing more than recovering sinners, and who better to understand the mind of an addict than a recovering addict?
In the book of Hebrews, we read about the high priests of ancient Israel, who were able to “have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray, since he himself is also subject to weakness.” (Hebrews 5:2 NKJV) Indeed, we have today the greatest High Priest of them all, who “had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God … Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (2:17 – 18 NIV) Though he never sinned, Jesus was nevertheless a recovering human being who laid aside his immortality in order to transcend his humanity with the hope that we can transcend ours.
When we face various trials or overcome our many weaknesses, the glory belongs to God, but our duty is to our brothers and sisters in Christ. When we have walked the road ourselves, we have special compassion and insight that can only come from the hard experience of suffering.
As Paul once wrote, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ … who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God … If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. (II Corinthians 2:3-7 NIV)
Don’t be discouraged by the temptations and trials of life. They can lead you to the way of greater compassion and impact.
Festival of Firstfruits (New Horizons)
As a ‘Pharisee of the Pharisees’ and schooled by the renowned Gamaliel, the apostle Paul was well-versed in the rites and customs prescribed by God and recorded in the Scriptures and which were his life-long custom to observe. Not least were the ceremonies associated with the annual festivals.
The festivals form a pattern based on the agricultural cycle, perfectly understandable in an agrarian society. The apostle has much to say about the ‘First-fruit’, and he expands its significance beyond the harvest theme to embrace the glorious destiny mapped out for true believers.
The first festival of the Hebrew year is Passover/Unleavened Bread, and the firstfruit of the barley harvest was celebrated during it. When the Sabbath ended the Temple authorities cut a sheaf of ripe barley, which was presented next morning before the altar: ‘…he [priest] shall wave the sheaf before Jehovah for your acceptance; on the morrow of the sabbath [Sunday] he priest shall wave it’ (Leviticus 23:10). It was called the ‘Wavesheaf’.
The apostle applies this symbolism to Jesus: ‘…now Christ has been raised from the dead; He became the firstfruit of those having fallen asleep [ie who died]’ (I Corinthians 15:20). Passover marked the death of Jesus—which occurred as the Passover lamb was slain in the Temple. The harvesting of the Wavesheaf marked his resurrection from death, Jesus having spent three days in the grave (Matthew 12:40).
Sunday morning we find Mary at Jesus’s tomb, early, ‘while yet dark’—only to find him gone (John 20:1). Jesus then met Mary, but forbade her to touch him: ‘Do not touch Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father’ (v.17). He was about to ascend to heaven to be presented to the Father as the firstfruit (I Corinthians 15:20) —at the time the firstfruit sheaf was to be presented in the Temple. We note that the disciples later that day embraced him when he appeared to them. Mission accomplished.
Noting that the wavesheaf consisted of many stalks of ripe grain, Paul unravels the significance: ‘…ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit’ (Romans 823). Every true Christian is a part of the ‘firstfruit harvest. James echoes this theme; if you are ‘in Christ’ you are ‘…a kind of firstfruits’ (James 1:18).
The barley harvest began only after that first sheaf of grain had been cut (Leviticus 23:14), and continued until the next festival seven weeks later. God instructed: ‘…you shall count unto you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be com-plete: Even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall you number fifty days’ (vv.15-16). It culminated in the Feast of Weeks—in the New Testament called Pentecost (Acts 2:1).
It is of note that the first Christians joyfully accepted that the LORD expected them to observe His festivals. Thus we find Paul ‘was in a hurry to arrive in Jerusalem by the day of Pentecost, if at all possible’ (Acts 20:16). He had also issued guidance to the Corinthian brethren on the manner they should be observing these festivals (I Corinthians 5).
A Peace of Him (New Church Lady)
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” So said Jesus in John 14:27.
What is peace? It can be simply a reprieve from outright war or actual harmony among individuals. However, probably the best definition of the word that is translated “peace” in John 14:27 is “the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ.” This is the peace – this tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation – that we are assured, I believe, in the promise Jesus gave His disciples.
In fact, Jesus said that we would not have peace when it came to the world around us.
John 16:33 “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” [Emphasis mine] So, we can hope for, pray for and work for peace in the world, and possibly have it for a time, but it isn’t promised to us. We are promised, instead, that we will have peace in spite of the tribulation.
God’s peace, this tranquil state, is available to those who love His law according to Psalm 119:165: “Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble.” And it seems to me that this peace is connected to letting nothing cause us to stumble in our walk of faith. Makes sense, since it is very much easier to deal with trials and troubles in this world when (1) we know that our Savior has already overcome the world and (2) we love and obey that perfect law of love that He has outlined for us.
When we weather trials and troubles, the peace of God and Christ keeps us from losing our way or, I would venture, from wanting to quit the path of obedience.
We are offered a peace that really doesn’t make any sense, to the natural, human mind. Philippians 4:7 [NIV] “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” After all, does it make any sense to be at peace when being buffeted by trial? Yet, that is what we are promised.
In the Old Testament, we find that God both offered a covenant of peace [See Numbers 25:12] and also removed His peace at times [See Jeremiah 16:5] according to Israel’s actions.
Jesus also offers peace, which we will have as long as we walk in the way and which, according to Psalm 119:165 will also help us to stay in the way.
The difference between believers today and the Israelite nation is that we also have the advantage of a piece of Him in us – that piece being the Holy Spirit. And we know that the fruit of the Holy Spirit includes peace [Galatians 5:22]. By in large, the nation of Israel did not have that in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit. This reminds me of Philippians 2:13 [NIV] “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”
That doesn’t mean that we cannot walk away from peace – or at least lose sight of it. We can forget that Jesus is for us, that innumerable angels are also available to help us, that God is in control, or that He loves us and hears our cries. We can lie awake at night, worrying about things that we cannot change, or fearing things that might happen, or fretting over the hurtful words or actions of another. This is ignoring His peace or stifling it. I have certainly been guilty of this many times.
The peace He gives us assures us that, unlike unbelievers, we have within us the capacity to have great peace, no matter what is going on around us, because we have within us a piece of Him by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Nevertheless, for Christians who both believe in and obey the one, true God (James 2:18-21), and have a piece of Him within us and therefore peace within us, shouldn’t there also be at least a lack of war if not outright peace in our congregations and between our fellowship groups? Yes, there should. However, we can ignore or stifle the way to peace among us – just like can ignore or stifle the peace within us. If there is not peace among God’s people, and at times we have all experienced a lack of peace among brethren, I would venture to suggest that the first step to rectifying that would be to reconnect to the piece of Him that gives us inner peace. From peace within us, surely peace among us is easier to renew. The promise of His peace, however, is that even in situations where among brothers there is a lack of peace, we can still have inner peace – His peace within us. We only have peace that cannot be taken away because we have a piece of Him in us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Be Ye Transformed (Morning Companion)
“Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:2)
Imagine, if you will, that you were a Polish Jew during World War II. Frequent incursions into the Warsaw Ghetto have seen your friends and family herded off and stuffed into boxcars. You have seen unprovoked beatings in the streets, and your only means of sustenance is what you can scrounge from the gutters or the black market.
Then one day the SS guy Adolf Eichmann himself knocks on your door. But instead of being surrounded by a detachment of Storm Troopers, he comes alone, and instead of beating you with a night stick, he states that he has changed, and not only has he changed, he now wants to become a member of your synagogue — with all that implies in Nazi-occupied territory.
I would suggest that you would not just be shocked at this turn of events, you would likely wonder at his motives.
Imagine what Ananias, the servant of Jesus, must have thought when Saul of Tarsus showed up at his door, blinded by the light on the Road to Damascus, claiming that he had seen the Lord, and that he was now one of them (Acts 9:1-19). Surely Ananias can be forgiven for being doubtful and maybe a little afraid, suspecting that this sudden change of heart was merely a ruse to gather intelligence on the followers of The Way.
How could the people of God in Damascus know if Saul’s conversion was real?
Some are teaching today — and some have always seemed to teach this — that the proof of God’s favor is prosperity and good health. If God loves you, we’re told God’s blessings will reign down on you. The same teaching implies if you are suffering through trials, you must have incurred God’s disfavor somehow, and your suffering is proof that you are under a curse.
Paul, however, would offer a rebuttal to this, and the proof Paul offered was the best proof of his sincerity to both the believers in Damascus and all who would later challenge is apostleship.
When challenged by some “super-apostles” (II Corinthians 11:5, English Standard Version), a term of sarcasm if there ever was one, Paul cited as proof of his credentials his willingness to suffer for the sake of the Gospel.
“Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?” (II Corinthians 11:23 – 29 ESV)
A man won’t willingly put his life on the line for a racket, but he will do so if down to his bones he believes in the cause.
And in fact, after Paul’s startling conversion and his road reaches Damascus, the people who were once his friends in crime plotted against Paul’s life for defending The Way, and he had to be spirited out of town for his own safety (Acts 9:22 – 25).
Paul didn’t need the imprimatur of men to prove his credentials. His life story was all that was needed.
The Flash of Faith, the Thunder of Works (Sabbath Meditations)
We have an annual ritual in our house. Typically every spring, during the height of the storm season, this ritual occurs about one to two times per week, usually in the late evening. It begins with a bolt of lightning. Upon seeing a flash through the window, the countdown begins. “One one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand, four one-thousand.” Sound can travel approximately one mile in five seconds, so if the rumble of the thunder that inevitably follows that flash occurs before our count gets to five one-thousand, we know we have about five minutes to accomplish the final phase of our ritual; what I like to call “the great unplugging.” We rush around the house disconnecting the power to everything from computers to television that might potentially be fried by a direct lightning strike to our house.
In Ephesians 2:8-10 we read “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
With all of the angst in the Christian world about the relationship between faith and works, I think we’d all do good to learn a lesson from nature.
The relationship of that flash of light to the thunder that follows is reliable and predictable. No one questions which comes first, or whether one can exist without the other. The lightning always comes first, and the thunder inevitably follows.
Paul very clearly teaches that, when it comes to salvation, it’s the lightning flash of faith that saves us. Even in our best state we are altogether nothing. There is nothing that you and I can do, no degree of obedience, that can make us worthy of salvation. Our own attempts to be righteous are as filthy rags. It’s God who gets the glory for our salvation, not us.
Continuing in verse 10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
Do you hear the thunder?
While it is true that good works cannot produce salvation, they cannot be separated from the faith that does. Obedience is the fruit of a life that has been saved by Faith. They are product of a changed heart and mind. Obedience doesn’t save us, but it does reflect the fact that we have been saved. In contrast, if our hearts aren’t set toward obeying Him, this is evidence that we never really accepted Him by Faith in the first place. There can be no thunder without the flash of lightning.
So how does that truth affect our Christian walk?
We all are familiar with the story of Mary and Martha. Martha was busy working and preparing in the kitchen while Mary, at least it seemed to Martha, was being lazy, just sitting at the Master’s feet.
When Martha basically asked Jesus to tell Mary to get off her butt and start working, Jesus replied, “Martha, Martha, you are careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
Jesus wasn’t condoning laziness. Far from it. He was simply providing us a lesson in spiritual focus. Martha thought her worthiness came from working and serving. If she did enough work, then her Master would accept her.
Mary though, rather than striving to prove her worthiness to God, focused instead on developing her relationship with Him.
She understood that the key to her spiritual growth lay in seeking to put more of Him into her heart and mind. The more she trusted in Him, looked to Him, came to Him in Faith, the greater His power would be in her to resist sin and overcome this world.
To put it simply. Mary understood that the thunder of works follows the lightning of faith.
While Philippians 2 clearly commands you and me to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”, in order to do that we must understand how that work gets accomplished. Paul, in the very next verse, provides the answer.
“For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”
It’s the lightning flash of faith, bringing us into relationship with Him, that allows His Spirit to produce within us the rolling thunder of obedience.
The degree to which you and I are overcomers is directly equivalent to the degree that we are growing in relationship with Him. Inversely, if we are not growing, not overcoming, it’s an indicator, not of a need to simply “try harder”, but rather to “draw closer.” The closer we are to Him, the more time put into growing that relationship through prayer, meditation and drinking in of His Word, the more strength we draw to help in our times of need. How awesome is it to know that it is not my feeble effort, but His power, His mercy, His strength that helps me to stand!Thunder follows lightning as works follow Faith. It’s a physical law that mirrors a wonderful spiritual reality.
Sorry, Not Sorry (New Church Lady)
Apologies are all the rage in the business world these days – at least talking about them – who owes one, who is offering one, who did a good job, whose apology was worse than the thing they did wrong. Facebook has been under fire lately for data breaches, business leaders for harassment, airlines for mishandling (or manhandling) passengers – and rightly so. When someone, or even some business does wrong, an apology is the start to doing better next time.
However, far too many apologies boil down to “sorry, not sorry.” As Christians, the standard for our own apology tours is much higher.
Target Marketing, one of the e-newsletters I get at work, has a Friday video segment call WWTT – What Were They Thinking? – about marketing “wins” and “fails.” Recently, they featured Facebook in a segment called “Facebook Apologizes … Sort of.”
Here is a link to the video – and one to the Facebook “apology”. Here is a link to guidelines for e-mail apologies from businesses who have had security breaches or unexpected downtime.
I haven’t followed the entire Facebook apology tour. So, Mark Zuckerberg might have given a more appropriate apology at some point.
I think there is a lesson or two to consider in the current focus on and these recommendations for apologies, because Christians, in my opinion, ought to be masters of the sincere, heart-felt apology. Not because we have a lot to apologize for, but because the very nature of Christianity is one of humility, honesty, appreciation of just self judgement and focus on love. These are critical ingredients of an apology that brings change.
Micah 6:8 [NIV] advises us on the top priorities for God’s people: He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
When we act justly in all interactions, we are much less likely to do something or say something requires an apology. We will think “Is this appropriate? Is it loving? Is it merciful? Am I acting from humility or pride?” and all sorts of other questions before speak and before we act. We seek to do the right thing always. There will be fewer apologies that way.
To act justly means that we will focus on just behavior, doing what is good and right, but also that we will recognize when we don’t. But what about when we do speak or act sinfully or hurtfully and an apology is warranted? To love mercy means that we will be quick to apologize, make amends and change wrong behavior.
Matthew 5:25 [NIV] encourages us to be quick about it: Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison.
To love mercy means we will be quick to know we need it.
Lamentations 3:22 [KJV] [It is of] the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. When we have a passionate love of mercy – that is, when we are enormously grateful for the daily mercy and forgiveness we need from God – we will also be quick to grant it to others, knowing that it is required in order to be given that mercy ourselves [See Matthew 6:14-15].
When we walk humbly with God, we will be more open His correction and the Holy Spirit leading us to see where we need to apologize to God and to others. When we are humble, we won’t let pride get in the way of a sincere and honest apology. I believe pride is often exactly what gets in the way of a sincere apology and can even make things worse. A mistake may be a “stumble,” but pride can take it to a complete fall.
Proverbs 16:18 [NIV] Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.
In the article above about email apologies, the author, Heather Fletcher picks up this advice from Julie Morse: “Morse cautions that brands shouldn’t push off blame with phrasing like, “We’re sorry this happened to you.” The Target Marketing journalist, Melissa Ward, encourages Facebook to take responsibility for its actions and “actually fix something.” Ward also points out that the apology ad talks about how good Facebook was, “but then something happened,” without acknowledging that they were the ones who caused these things. She says, “Apologies don’t mean anything when you keep doing what you are sorry for.”
Years ago, when I took a training class for my job as receptionist, one of the things they taught us was how to apologize without taking responsibility. This is necessary, as a receptionist, or a customer care representative or even a waitress, because you are going to take the heat for things you didn’t do, just because you are the one the unhappy customer can easily reach.
However, in any situation where I have actually been the one who wronged someone else, the advised receptionist response of “I’m sorry you are upset” is not appropriate, because it does not acknowledge my wrong actions, which caused the upset, pain, or unhappiness in the first place and it doesn’t give me any impetus for change.
A heartfelt apology is evidence of walking humbly with God, in that we acknowledge the wrong we did – that we are at fault, and that we need to change. It is an act of seeking mercy, in that it includes asking for forgiveness. It should include acting justly, in that we make amends and we make changes so it doesn’t happen again.
As Christians, we don’t apologize for keeping the Sabbath or speaking out against sin. But we are required to quickly apologize, from the heart, when we sin against God or our fellow man. I don’t know about you, but the more I grow as a Christian, the more God shows me where I need to apologize, make amends and change.
Yes, there is a lot of focus on apologies these days – in the business world and in the news. It is a good reminder for us Christians that the right practice of apologizing – apologies from the heart – are an important part of our Christian walk and are evidence of following Micah 6:8. Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with God and recognize the need to apologize.
Where Would You Live? (New Horizons)
You are presented with a choice of nations in which you will spend the remainder of your life. Would it be a nation—and there is a wide choice—where uncontrolled violence is rampant? Where murder is tolerated? Or where personal property isn’t sacrosanct and theft is the order of the day? A nation where bribery and intimidation and lying secures the court’s verdict?
What about a nation (though you might think you already live in one) where the older generation is side-lined and neglected, where sexual dalliance is almost universal? A nation where greed on a personal or a national scale has racked up unpayable debt and misery?
That’s not what any sane person would choose. We want a tranquil life. We want to be free from personal diseases. We want to be safe and secure—certainly in our declining years.
Given the opportunity to design the perfect Constitution for your choice of nation—how would it be framed? May I suggest the following:
● Respect the elderly
● Do not murder or be violent
● Be faithful in marriage
● Don’t steal
● Don’t lie to the Courts
● Do not lust after what belongs to someone else
● Don’t want anyone’s house, wife or husband, employees, electronic gizmos
Sound familiar? It is, of course, (part of) the much maligned ‘Ten Commandments’ given by our Creator to ancient Israel as their founding Constitution. Indeed in essence it has been incorporated in some form in the legal system of all civilized nations and extends as far back as Abraham (Genesis 26:5, 1900BC) and beyond. Why, then, the animosity towards this sound guidance for life by—of all people—Christians?
God had told Israel: ‘…Don’t worship any other god but Me’ (Exodus 20:3). But—how would you identify Him? You may have your own idea of ‘god’, but does it conform with His? In fact, God–the one true God—goes on to give us a sign, an identifying mark, and this is perhaps the sticking point for many.
The God of the Bible is ‘…the same yesterday, to-day and for ever’ (Hebrews 13:8). He says ‘…I change not’ (Malachi 3:6). Nor does His ‘sign’ change—a sign that was embraced by the early church—both Jew and Gentile. ‘Remember’, God said, ‘remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy’ (Exodus 20:8). It is the day set apart at man’s creation—a welcome day of rest and spiritual refreshment. A day for fellowship and to enhance our relationship with Him through His Word. A day to worship the One who ‘…made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it’ (v.12). It is, He said, ‘…a sign’ for His covenanted people (ch 31:17).
As a physical nation Israel was required to observe the seventh day under penalties for non-compliance. As a spiritual nation in whom is the Spirit of God dwells Christians embrace the Sabbath willingly, joyfully and rejoice in all its benefits—in spite of the opposition from the world in general and the challenges of observance in a secular world. Such worship is alone acceptable to God, and all other is in vain, empty, useless. Other worship may excite a frisson of personal pleasure and self-satisfaction, but, said Jesus ‘… It is no use for them to worship me, because they teach human rules as though they were my laws!’ (Mark 7:7, Daniel 7:25).
Let My People Go (Morning Companion)
Finish this sentence: “Let my people go …”
You’ll recognize those words as those coming from Moses’ mouth to Pharaoh’s ears. They were God’s demand to free the Israelite slaves, and thus became a rallying cry for those of us who love freedom.
And yet the sentence quoted above is incomplete. “Let my people go” is a phrase closely identified with the Passover and freedom from the slavery of Egypt. For Christians, not only does it look to the freeing of the people of Israel from bondage, but also the freeing of all mankind from the bondage of sin through the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb without blemish (I Peter 1:19, I Corinthians 5:7).
But freedom from bondage is only part of the story. The rest of the story is found in the rest of Moses’ words: “Let my people go that they may serve me.”
Freedom is a wonderful thing, but it is not the ultimate good. When we have freedom, it must be exercised for a greater cause than freedom for its own sake. Experience enough generations of freedom defined as doing whatever we please, or in Biblical parlance, whatever is right in our own eyes, and you’ll get a world like that of the last days in the Book of Judges. Read the 19th – 21st chapters of Judges to see what a society of unfettered freedom produces, a society that has forgotten the purpose for freedom. Read either that or tomorrow’s newspaper.
The fact is, the path of freedom without responsibility leads to chaos, which in turn leads back to slavery. We are meant to have freedom so that we can reach our true God-given potential.
The point we can take from Moses’ full statement is that freedom from sin, while great in its own right, is simply not enough. In fact, that’s why some fifty days after the Exodus the Israelites found that Moses had led them to the foot of Mt. Sinai where they were about to receive the Ten Commandments. Those commandments taught them how they were supposed to serve God.
Put differently, they were given a law that would ensure their liberty. It defined how free men and women were to live together in such a way that everyone’s rights could be respected.
Freedom is not enough. Ironic, is it not, that we are made free so that we can serve a better Master?
Love is the only answer (New Church Lady)
I recently saw the movie Paul, Apostle of Christ. In just four words, I can sum up the theme and message of the film, as it impacted me: love is the answer.
If you think it is hard being a Christian now, you may feel differently after seeing this movie. There are definitely places in the world where Christians suffer great persecution today. The USA is not one of those places. In that, we are greatly blessed. However, perhaps our growth in this fruit of the spirit, love, is a bit stunted or at least in danger of being stunted because of that lack.
The writer, director and actors try really hard to make you passionately hate the Romans of the time. Christians are lit on fire as human torches to light the streets. Children, women, men and old people are flogged, beheaded, stoned, kicked, chained up, imprisoned and fed to the lions at the Roman Circus for the amusement of the crowds. (Note: The movie gets pretty graphic sometimes, but you won’t actually see anyone torn apart by the lions.)
And then at these moments when evil is coming at them full force, Paul says or Luke says or Priscilla or Aquila (who figure prominently in the film as well) says something along the lines that the response to this must be to love them. They all drive the message home that love is the hallmark of Christianity – especially love that is the response to even the most heinous persecution. Paul, as well as Luke, Priscilla and Aquila continually model it themselves in spite of what the Romans do to them.
The death of Stephen is an important part of the film, because of how it contrasts Paul’s character when he was Saul, before his conversion, and because of Stephen’s example of love in the face of tribulation. We read about that in Acts 7:58-60 [ESV] Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
One of the most poignant scenes in the movie is when at movements of dire circumstances and eminent danger, a group about to be fed to the lions, a group hiding out and in danger of being exposed, and Paul in his dank, dark and lonely cell are all, are shown all to be, at the same time (but in different locations), praying the “Lord’s Prayer” as found in Luke 11:2-4 [KJV] … Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.
“For we also forgive every one that is indebted to us” has a lot more impact and meaning when you are actually facing the lions. Don’t you agree?
“Deliver us from evil” is a part of that prayer that would seem most necessary at the precipice of their lives and in facing imminent death.
Since the story is told from Luke’s vantage point, of course they used Luke 11:2-4 instead of the version found in Matthew. But that means that they did not include the last sentence as Matthew records the same prayer. Matthew 6:13 [KJV] And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
It seems to me that the acknowledgement of the power and glory being God’s is a vital point in understanding how we can, even in the face of lions, torching, beatings and death, still offer forgiveness to the persecutor. Surely, this is not possible on human strength alone. Surely, it is only possible by the divine power of God, available to us by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Love in the face of persecution goes directly to the glory of God Himself.
I think it is good to be reminded, via the scripture, via a thought-provoking movie, via news about the persecution and execution of Christians in places like India and the Middle East, that Satan has driven and does still drive brutal persecution of Christians.
However, I am not likely to face the lions or become a human torch in my life. You and I are more likely to face trails of health issues, loss of loved ones, “friends” or family who desert us, people we trust who stab us in the back or gossip about us. We may be robbed. We may lose a job for Sabbath-keeping. Even then, love is still the only way for Christians to respond.
Even with these examples in the forefront of my mind. I’ll likely struggle in the future with showing love in response to people who treat wrong. That is the way of human nature.
The evil that I will need to be delivered from is more likely to be my own human nature than a public stoning. But, our God, who was able to deliver Christians of old from their trials, delivers us too. Our God, who was able to develop in Stephen the kind of love that forgives those stoning him, can develop that in us too. We grow in love by offering it to others in good times and bad. The more you give it, the more you have to give.
Until His Kingdom comes, an important part of His will to be done on this earth, as it is also always done in Heaven, is this: respond with love. Love is always the answer.
Forgive us, Father, and help us to forgive. Grant us your power to overcome evil with love – to respond with love in the face of evil. For this, we give You the glory. Love is the only answer.
An Ideal Nation (New Horizons)
As the trumpet-sound of war sounds again around the world it is prudent to draw lessons from history. Never mind two World Wars—this century has seen blood flow freely in conflicts large and small. There is no peace. And once again the Anglo-Saxon nations are poised on the brink, warships and bombers being positioned ’just in case’, belligerent voices raised on all sides. Conflict—it’s ingrained in human nature: bring out the club, the blow-pipe, the bow, the bomb, the gas, go nuclear, attack by hacking. As technology grows so does our capacity and, seem-ingly, our appetite, to destroy, as does our callous disrespect for life. And technology coupled with a sad lack of wise leader-ship could end civilization.
Philosophers have asked: why don’t we learn from history? Ignore the lesson, however, and we are certain to re-live it. Check World War I, World War II, Kosovo, Iraq, ISIS…Syria.
Lesson from History
We have long ago cut the cords which bound us to wise decision-making. Arrogant self-aggrandisement and short-term thinking has overtaken our leaders as they seek to strut the world stage. They seek peace, they pursue peace—but it remains elusive, a fading dream too often dissipating into a nightmare of broken bodies and shattered hope. They don’t know how. Evolution has tutored us to think merely in terms of the material— to minimize the spirit element of our being. ‘Survival of the fittest’ may be true in nature, but it is de-meaning for intelligent rational beings uniquely created in the image of God.
So, we neglect and discard the elderly and the vulnerable. We callously destroy in the womb countless thousands of unwanted potential world-enhancing talent largely a consequence of promiscuous sexual conduct with its consequent dependence on health services to clear the mess. We demonstrate our superiority by deploying our deadly weaponry abroad, meddling in the affairs of ‘weaker’ nations.
Anciently, nations warred at the behest of their gods. Not less ancient Israel from whom we inherited our foundation laws and our culture. Sadly we have largely discarded those principles—principles that underpinned their national greatness for as long as they remained faithful to Him.
God, for example, gave specific guidance to maintain the integrity of the nation: ‘You shall make no covenant [don’t form an alliance] with them [foreign nations], nor with their gods. They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against me: for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you’ (Exodus 23:32-33). It is a lesson our Western nations haven’t learned.
As nations develop, a special common culture evolves eventually binding the populace in a patriotic unit comfortable with its traditions, its systems, its religion. It can tolerate—even welcome—strangers, as long as the latter embrace the indigent laws and culture. Alien religion, especially, is a disturbance, and God made this clear to His nation, Israel: ‘One law and one manner shall be for you, and for the stranger that sojourns with you’ (Numbers 15:16).The LORD added that this also applied in affairs of faith (vv.28-29). Each ‘national religion’ bears its own specific cultural and legal baggage—the binding cords for unity. It is ignored at our peril. The Warning Despised
The nation of Israel was a union of twelve familial related tribes all bound by the culture and laws passed down by their common father, Abraham: ‘… all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves in your Seed, because Abraham listened to My voice and heeded My charge, My commands, My statutes, and My laws’ (Genesis 26:4-5). These were later established as the founding Constitution of the new nation of Israel (Exodus 20ff).
Israel ignored the warning, lost touch with their God (JHVH) as they were seduced to worship foreign gods and to embrace their culture. They ended as captives in a foreign land. The House of Israel have not to this day returned to their inheritance. The House of Judah lost sovereignty for seventy years before their restoration, only to return and again, having rejected the Messiah, be ejected from Palestine by the Romans in 70AD, then scattered and without a national home-land for two millennia.
It stands as a stark warning for every nation, and not least our own, faced as we are with our insidious culture of multiculturalism, political correctness and lax law enforcement.
All That Glitters (Sabbath Meditations)
A while ago I read an article about the California gold rush of 1848. That winter, people from all walks of life set out for the west coast state. Many pawned their possessions to get there. The gold seekers, also known as Forty-Niners or Argonauts, joined the rush from as far off as Europe and Australia. Many Chinese also flocked to San Francisco to join in the gold rush.
Now some of these gold seekers didn’t know the first thing about mining or gold. A lot of them found, instead of gold, a look-alike called pyrite – fool’s gold. It looks like gold, but it’s worthless. The problem is, there was a lot more of it than the real thing, so a lot of people fell for it. But there is a discernible difference. Pyrite tends to more brittle than gold, it tends to fall apart; it doesn’t last, while gold is soft and malleable. Gold doesn’t tarnish; its value and its beauty don’t fade. Also, pyrite tends to be plentiful … it’s common, while gold is precious, a rare commodity.
Many of the Forty-Niners would stumble on some of this stuff and think they were finding great riches. Others fell prey to crooks who would pawn this worthless substance off as the real thing.
The Forty-Niners weren’t the only people to ever fall for an impostor. There are plenty of things in this world that glitter that aren’t gold. But did you know that people can fall prey to the same type of delusion when they begin digging around for God? In their quest to find God, some fall for what looks like the real deal, feels like the real deal, but is really just fool’s gold.
The reason some fall into this trap is that they really don’t know what they are looking for in the first place. They seek a God who they believe will meet some emotional or physical need; failing to understand that physical blessings, a fulfilled life, a sense of personal purpose, a feeling of acceptance … although they sparkle like gold, are not the real deal.
The fact is that nowhere in the Bible does God promise that, if we follow Him, we will have the best career, the nicest house, the happiest marriage, or the most fulfilling life. Nowhere does he promise that we will never get sick, never have bad things happen. To enter into a relationship with Him expecting these to result is setting ourselves up for disillusionment. It won’t be long before you’ll realize that Christians have problems. They get sick, they get in accidents, they die, they have marriage problems, lose jobs … just like non-Christians.
Make no mistake; the Christian life is not the easy route to take. Rather than having a charmed life, God says that your life will be more difficult. It will be filled with tests and trials. The inevitable realization that what they thought was gold was really just a bag of worthless rocks can be profoundly discouraging to some. Rather than resume their search for the real thing, sadly some chuck it all and walk away.
It doesn’t have to be that way, if we understand what the real gold looks like in the first place.
Colossians 1:19-21, “For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled.”
The person who truly seeks a relationship with God will do so, not because having it will bring some kind of emotional fulfillment or physical reward, but rather because of a heart-felt desire for connection with Him. They have come to understand that they are sinners who have been alienated from Him and are in need of forgiveness. Their desire for connection, for reconciliation, motivates their search for Him.
1 John 3:1-2 tells us, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God. And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”
Once reconciled to God; once brought into relationship with Him; they become His children. They become members of His eternal Family. And that awesome understanding, my friends, provides wealth beyond comprehension.
Matthew 6:19 tells us to lay up our treasure in Heaven, not on this earth. God is less interested in what we get out of this life … than how He’s using the events and circumstances in our lives now to help us recognize our need for Him and to prepare us for our future role as members of His Family. There aren’t any substitutes. Being reconciled to Him; gaining eternal entrance into His Family; that’s the gold He has to offer … and it’s the real deal.
“I will meditate on Your precepts, and contemplate Your ways. I will delight myself in Your statutes; I will not forget Your word.” Psalms 119:15-16
A Time to Stop Praying? (Morning Companion)
One time God told Moses to stop praying. If we accept that prayer is a good thing, why would God tell him to stop?
God to Moses: “Why are you crying out to me?” (Exodus 14:15).
Given the circumstances, I would think the question should be, “Why not?”
Moses had just led Israel out of Egypt. Through his hand God had turned the Nile into blood, brought many plagues on the Egyptians, and with boldness he had led the nation to freedom. Now, shortly after this triumphant march from slavery, Pharaoh had a change of heart and decided to chase down the fleeing masses with his infantry and chariots in order to drive them back to their former state.
Why shouldn’t Moses cry out to God? Why would God object?
In this is a lesson about prayer. The newly freed Israelites had already cried out to God (verse 10), after which Moses tells them to do something: “Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord” (verse 13). There are indeed times when all we can do is stand still and wait. But in spite of appearances this was apparently not one of those times.
Thus God says to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me?” And then he says, “Tell the children of Israel to go forward” (verse 15). It is time to get off your knees and into your hiking boots. Tell the people the time for standing still is over. Now is the time to do something about your situation.
We can make two grave mistakes regarding prayer. One is to think that we can get along just fine without God’s help. If we just work hard enough, sweat hard enough, and think clearly enough, we can make all the right things happen. I can put on my boots and fight my own way through the wilderness.
Or we can make the other mistake. There is something to be said for waiting on God, “standing still”, shall we say. It’s true that in some circumstances God’s strength is revealed through our weaknesses. But simply sitting in our pajamas while waiting for God can be just as bad as thinking we can do it all on our own. Most of the time God expects us to be actively involved in carrying out his will. “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the children of Israel to go forward.”
God could not have led them through the Red Sea had they had just stood still and waited.
God’s Economy (New Church Lady)
It is true that in mankind’s history, and in many cultures still, men have oppressed women and used their God-given authority to “lord it over” at the least and physically, mentally or emotionally abuse them at the worst. So, is it time to turn the tables? Time for empowered women to give men their “just rewards?”
No. That isn’t the way Christianity works. That isn’t the way God’s economy works.
In the world’s economy, you typically have to push others down to rise up. Often those who get ahead the fastest in business are those who take an adversarial stance – who don’t share information, who don’t offer help to anyone else, who hoard the best opportunities and spread the word about the faults of others.
In God’s economy, we never have to put another down in order to rise up. In fact, the more we help others rise up, the better we prosper ourselves.
Philippians 2:3-4 [NIV] Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
This is, in fact, the example that Jesus set for us. Jesus gave up greatness to walk in humility and His reward was even greater exaltation.
Philippians 2:5-9 [NIV] In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a [stake]! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name.
Those considered “great” in God’s economy are those who serve others.
Matthew 20:25-28 [NIV] Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” [Emphasis mine]
It makes no sense in the word’s economy (which is really Satan’s economy) to achieve greatness by being the slave of another. Truthfully, putting others first, considering the needs of another over yourself, might mean you make less profit as a business owner. It might mean you get passed over for that new mid-management position. It will mean you never “pay back” the oppression you have received at the hand of a boss or co-worker and we never “pay it forward” when it comes to mistreating those we have authority over, just because it was done to us. In God’s economy, we pass up the chance to sow doubt in the boss’s mind about the other person who is up for a job we want. Instead, we mention their good qualities. We treat those we supervise with the respect that we felt we were never given. We accept responsibility for what goes wrong and share credit for what goes right.
In God’s economy, even if you find yourself first in line, it doesn’t mean you will be the first rewarded.
Matthew 19:30 [NIV] But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
God’s economy makes no sense from a human, carnal, worldly point of view. Part of the problem with the world’s economy is that not everyone can win. But in God’s economy, everyone gets a prize.
1 Corinthians 9:24 [NIV] Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.
EVERYONE gets a crown! 2 Timothy 4:7-8 [NIV] I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
That is, I guess, one of the biggest reason’s that God’s economy actually works the way it does: there is room in the winner’s circle for everyone. So, we don’t need to jockey for limited space or limited rewards. To paraphrase Oprah: “you get a crown, and you get a crown and you get a crown!”
You are of great value to the Father, sweet sisters. Never forget that. And the more you help, care for, and esteem others, the greater your value in God’s economy – both now and in the Kingdom.
Witnessing Through Weakness (Sabbath Meditations)
I feel sorry for Thomas. Think about it for a minute. He sat at the feet of the Master. It’s sure that he was used as a tool of God to bring many to salvation. Yet when we think of him, what is the one attribute that comes to mind? Doubter.
I can’t help but wonder how many believers will approach him in the Kingdom and ask, “Aren’t you Doubting Thomas?” What do you think his response will be? What would your response be? If I were to let my carnal nature take over, I would probably respond with something like, “Yes, that’s me. And you are who?”
After a couple of days of being addressed as Doubting Thomas by well meaning brethren, I’d more than likely make my way to the throne room and, respectfully of course, exclaim to the King, “Do you know all the grief that little story of Yours has brought me?!”
The reality is, Thomas probably won’t have any of those reactions. In fact, I’m pretty confident being addressed as Doubting Thomas won’t phase him at all. Why do I believe that?
In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 the Apostle Paul writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
I’m guessing, since Thomas, like Paul, was working off the same Spirit, he was on the same page with what Paul was saying here. Tribulations, trials, bad experiences, all those things, little and big, that happen to us in the course of our walk, not only serve to make us better people, but also can be used by God to comfort, build and encourage others who struggle with their own weakness.
What most likely will be Thomas’s reaction to so many knowing him by one his greatest moments of weakness? I can think of one word: thankful.
• Thankful that his story was used to demonstrate the love and patience of our Lord toward us when we fall short.
• Thankful that his failing might have been the tool responsible for strengthening and encouraging others who struggle with doubt or disbelief.
Pondering this I can’t help but ask, how do I view my struggle with past or present weaknesses and failings? Am I thankful for them? Or do I, like so many who don’t know Christ, consider admitting weakness as something to avoid at all costs? Do I look back with regret at the times I’ve stumbled, mentally sweeping them under the carpet as if they never happened?
Or, like Thomas, like Paul, do I view my past failures as tools in the Father’s hands to do His work in the lives of others? Do I see my failures, my weakness, as an opportunity to glorify God?
2 Corinthians 12:7-10, “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Possibly one of the greatest witnesses we give to others is when they see us struggle. We can pour out our heart about God’s love, His purpose, His mercy and redemption to others till the cows come home but it’s when others see our faith in the midst of trial, in the midst of our failings, that our testimony is heard the loudest. It’s when you and I are at the end of our strength that God’s strength is so apparent in us.
I hope I have the opportunity to meet Thomas in the Kingdom. When I greet him, I’ll do my best not to thoughtlessly tack on the “Doubting” title. It might be challenging, as it rolls so easily off the tongue. But if I inadvertently do, I’ll be sure to follow up with a word of appreciation for the impact his life, his story, had on those who followed.
Omnipotent and Omniscient (Morning Companion)
God is often described as “omnipotent” and “omniscient”. What do these two theological words mean, and is it possible for God to be both? First, some definitions.
In their simplest forms omnipotent means “all-powerful” and omniscient means “all-knowing”.
To most of us who are believers these two terms can rightfully be applied to God. Why would anyone worship a god who isn’t all-powerful? If your god is not all-powerful, why not find the God who is and worship him? And if your God is all-powerful, wouldn’t he have the power to know everything?
It might be surprising, but biblically speaking, there are some things that an all-powerful God can’t do.
God can’t lie. “… it is impossible for God to lie …” (Hebrews 6:18)
God cannot be tempted. “God cannot be tempted by evil.” (James 1:13)
God cannot deny himself. “He cannot deny himself.” (II Timothy 2:13)
Wayne Grudem is his book Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith says:
“God cannot will or do anything that will deny his character. It is not absolutely everything that God is able to do, but everything that is consistent with his character.”
All-powerful, yes. But God has self-imposed limits on his power. There are certain things that he won’t do because they are the opposite of who he is, and he simply will not act that way.
So what about the all-knowing attribute? Does God see the entire sweep of history from beginning to end, knowing about everything that is now and everything that will ever happen, including those people, both born and unborn, who will and will not have salvation?
If God is all-powerful, he certainly has the authority and power to create such a universe, one where nothing is left to chance, where nothing is out of his complete control, where the unfolding of history is predetermined as sure as every cause leads to a predetermined effect.
But if God is all-powerful, he could also choose to create a world that has the freedom to make its own choices independently of God’s will. He could create a world where he chooses not to know what choices people will make. He could create a world where the beings he creates have the freedom to make their own choices. More than that, he could create a universe with a specific, predetermined end in mind (let’s call it the Kingdom of God), but an end or destiny where not every turn in the road in planned for in advance.
Put differently, an all-powerful God could create a universe and a plan that is sure, but at the same time not determine in advance whether you or me or anyone else will choose to accept that plan.
In fact there are hints of this throughout scripture.
When God tested Abraham, and Abraham showed his faithfulness to God through that test (Genesis 22), God sent this message: “Now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (verse 12). “Now I know”? Did not an all-knowing God know in advance what Abraham’s actions would be?
When Israel was about to enter the Promised Land, God sets a choice before the nation. He lays before them two ways of life: the way of following God or the way of following the world around them. “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil” (Deuteronomy 30:15). Just as in the garden, where the first man and the first woman had the choice of choosing the fruit that God had given them or the fruit of the one tree that was forbidden, Israel was given the freedom to make a choice.
“I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)
“Choose”! It’s all up to you! God’s Kingdom is sure. God has predetermined it. It’s baked in the cake. Things will happen because God has already decided some things. But he has not decided everything, and one of those things he has decided is how you and I will live our lives. That’s up to us. We have the freedom to choose roads we take.
God is all powerful, and therefore he has the power to give up control and yield some to us. We get to decide how to exercise it.
When Messiah Comes (Think Red Ink Ministries)
How great it will be when Messiah comes and He explains everything that has been mysterious and contentious for thousands of years. The Samaritan “woman at the well” mentioned clarifications of doctrine that she expected will come “when we see Him.”
I would like you to listen carefully to Messiah’s answer. “Well sister, you’ll hear the answers from your Samaritan leadership … maybe a big-shot Rabbi … or perhaps your God will send a book with all the answers!”
As you know, He said nothing of the sort. Concisely, what He said was, “No need to wait, sis, I’m telling you now.” She would retort, “What about Messiah?”
Then Jesus drops the bomb. “I am He!”
What I would like to zero in on is that His self description contained an adjective phrase that we should never forget.
John 4:25 “The woman saith unto him, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things. Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he.”
YHVH’s purpose has always been to communicate with us. From the days of walking with Adam in the cool of the day, to the giving of the Law at the first Pentecost, to speaking through His waiting ones at the Pentecost following the resurrection, to this day. He wants to speak to us.
So what was the descriptive used by Jesus to identify Himself?
“I that speak unto thee am he.”
Later on, to the chagrin of the religious leadership, Jesus healed a blind man. A man blind from birth. After the interrogations, allegations, and threats to the man and his family from the Synagogue leaders – the man was left alone. Jesus found him.
John 9:35 “Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God? He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him?
And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee.”
And in keeping with His method of identification as Messiah – Son of God – Annointed One, Jesus said to him … “It is He … that talketh with thee.”
Our Messiah, our Passover, our counselor, has a characteristic that separates Him from any other god.
I Timothy 2:25 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.
Jesus identified His unique position with YHVH through His communication – with us.
This is precisely why He is known as “The Word of God”
Exactly who is Messiah? “It is He … that talketh with thee.”
Egypt in the Rear-View Mirror (Sabbath Meditations)
You know the story. They were in brutal bondage to the Egyptians, forced to slave day after day in the mud pits and fields to make bricks for the Pharoah’s building projects. Year after year they had called out to the Eternal for deliverance and year after year there was no answer. Finally, after many years of toil and hardship, through an amazing sequence of miraculous events, God delivered the Israelites from bondage.
They weren’t more than a few weeks on the road out of Egypt when they began to staring into the rear view mirror, lamenting the life they had left behind. “We remember the fish we ate freely in Egypt” they exclaimed, “the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!” (Num. 11:5)
Their whining always seemed kind of ridiculous to me. How could people who had been so downtrodden desire to go back to that life? Well, when I started a new job, the answer to that question became a little clearer and suddenly their whining, although definitely wrong, didn’t seem quite so ridiculous any more.
It was a job that promised great opportunities for growth and development. It would allow me to work from home a couple of days a week, saving commute time and increasing the precious time I’m able to spend with my family. My wife actually found the job listing, because she had sensed that I was growing weary and frustrated at my current job and new I was somewhat a square peg in a round hole there. I had held on for quite awhile, hoping things would turn around, that I would find my niche. But year after year, I just became more and more unhappy. So when the offer came, after long consideration, I accepted the position.
About mid-way through my first week at this new job, a funny thing began to happen. I began to miss my old job. The office I had there was much bigger than my new space. The computer equipment wasn’t as nice. I was informed that, because of a deadline that had to be met by the end of October, I might have to work overtime for which, because I’m now salaried, I wouldn’t receive any extra compensation, and to top it all off, there seemed to be more traffic congestion on my commute to work than I had experienced before. In the face of these new obstacles, the problems and frustrations I experienced at my old job faded from memory, and mid week I was feeling like I had made a big mistake … that is until my wife, upon listening to my distressed whining that Wednesday evening, lovingly reminded me of all of the reasons I had made the change.
Thanks to her, and some time in prayer and reflection, I realized that these new obstacles were in fact minor compared to the benefits and opportunities this new job offered.
Now I spent only a day or so in distress over this crisis. Some people spend a great deal of their lives looking back at Egypt in the rear view mirror, lamenting over a life that could have been, should have been, had different decisions been made. It’s a strange kind of slavery they subject themselves to.
Paul says in Hebrews 12:1 “… let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
That’s advice the Israelites would have done well to follow and advice that we need to be reminded of from time to time as well.
A race car driver who spends all of his time looking in the mirror is not going to win many races. While we’re on this road of life, we would do better to look ahead at where God is taking us, focusing on the hope for the future, rather than looking back lamenting about what we have left behind.
Lessons from Quebec (Morning Companion)
The Quebec Act of 1774 was an act of Britain’s parliament during the aftermath of the French and Indian War. Its purpose was to set the procedures for the governance of Quebec and other North American territory ceded to Britain as a result of France’s defeat. In its time the document was an enlightened one, although many American colonists didn’t see it that way.
Britain, by this time a solidly Protestant nation, guaranteed the free practice of the Roman Catholic faith in these newly acquired territories, a common sense provision given the heavily Catholic French population. But this provision for religious tolerance set off a storm of alarm in the thirteen colonies. Many of the colonies had designs on the formerly French lands of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and other areas that would eventually comprise the Northwest Territory, and these areas were included in the new act. Quebec was not that far away, and antagonism inherited from the European religious experience was very much in the cultural memory. Alexander Hamilton spoke for many when he said, “The act makes the effectual provision not only for the protection, but for the permanent support of Popery.”
Put differently, many colonists felt betrayed by what they viewed as a sell-out of principles.
Even as late as 1770, most of the colonies had a lingering, deeply engrained suspicion of Catholicism. Only three colonies allowed Catholics to vote. In the New England states, except Rhode Island, they were unable to hold public office. In addition, “the state of New York held the death penalty over priests who entered the colony; Virginia boasted that it would only arrest them. Georgia did not permit Catholics to reside within its boundaries; the Carolinas merely banned them from office.” (Religion and the Continental Congress: 1774 – 1789, by Derek Davis, p.153)
The Continental Congress eventually petitioned the King, expressing their concerns over “establishing an absolute government and Roman Catholic religion throughout the vast region.” (Davis, p.154)
History teaches an abundance of lessons. Several come to mind immediately.
1. The Olympic sport of “Jumping to Conclusions” was practiced during the Colonial days. British motives behind the Quebec Act were nothing more than a recognition of the reality on the ground. The newly acquired lands were unshakably Catholic, and anything but religious tolerance would ensure further conflict and bloodshed. The British understood the art of the possible, a lesson lost on many people then – and many people today. A small political compromise in order to ensure the enactment of 80% of what one wants is too often branded as a sell-out of principles and is often taken as proof of sinister motives and subterfuge.
2. The British move to enlightened self-interest in Quebec was a wise one, but it didn’t stop demagogues from milking it. The Continental Congress on the one hand protested to the King about the encroachment of “Popery” (notice the name calling, which should be a red flag in its own right), while with the other hand they were trying to court these same “papists” to the revolutionary cause. They even attempted to assure the Quebecois that the freedom of conscience in religious matters is one of the inalienable rights granted by the Creator. One must believe that the people of Quebec noticed the disconnection, but whatever they did or did not notice, they remained loyal to the British Crown during the conflict.
If you have ever been through a “church war”, you know about the barrage of accusations, personal attacks, and name-calling that seem to be the standard ammunition of such affairs. You know about the courting of prospective followers and the promises made. You also know about the political hay that is often made in the wake of decisions that are often simply a small administrative detail, but are viewed by others as the proverbial camel’s nose under the proverbial tent that will eventually lead to a full-blown retreat into paganism. And you would also know that most of the time this is overblown for political purposes.
3. The third lesson I draw from this is a positive one. Within a short radius of my office are numerous houses of worship, both churches and synagogues, reflecting the rich diversity of the community. That diversity is typical of most places in the country. That’s completely unremarkable today, but that’s unusual in the annals of history – indeed it is unusual in most of the contemporary world.
But the past few weeks I have noticed something that is in fact remarkable, and I noticed it more than once. The neighborhood around my office has a number of synagogues, and recently I have noticed next to the synagogues’ normal signage a second sign. The second sign announces to passers-by notice of Sunday Christian church services to be held in the same building. Here are cases of two diverse religious groups, historically at odds to the point of persecution, sharing the same building for their respective worship services.
I have to believe that the great Virginians such as Madison, Jefferson, and Washington, all champions of religious liberty, would be very happy to see something like this that would have been unthinkable in Colonial times.
Effective as of Today (New Church Lady)
Life cycles through good times and bad for each of us individually. Right now, so many, many people I know are suffering trials and troubles. Our prayer list at church is long. I am on a couple of email lists for prayer requests and via a variety of personal and group connections my Facebook feed is full of prayer request as well. Cancer, terrorist attacks, school shooters, miscarriages, divorce, job loss, natural disasters, car wrecks, and so much more. We pray for them all, don’t we? We labor long and hard in pleading with our Heavenly Father for relief for friends and family, church brethren, neighbors and strangers.Oh, how I have wished for the effectiveness of prayers like Jesus prayed – those that resulted in the immediate calming of storms, healing of the sick, providing of bread to thousands of hungry souls and raising of the dead.
It was in the light of this desire for a prayer that is effective, that many years ago, as a relatively young Christian, I sought to dissect the “magic” formula for effective prayer as outlined in James 5:16 [KJV] …The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. [Emphasis mine]
I reasoned, that if I could really understand what kind of a prayer was being outlined here, by diving into their Greek root meanings, and then pray the specific way that their meaning indicated, perhaps my own prayers could be more productive. By that I meant, that they’d have immediate, dramatic and positive results every time.
So, let me share with you what I learned in my dissection of this potential formula for prayer that really works.
“Effectual fervent” – These words are translated from a Greek word meaning “to be operative, to be at work, to put forth power.” That’s exactly the prayer we are looking for – one that works – one that is powerful.
“Righteous man” – Prayers that work are prayers that come from a righteous man. Are you thinking “Houston, we have a problem”? Me too. Because a few scriptures immediately come to mind. Romans 3:9-10 [NKJV] What then? Are we better [than they]? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; and verse 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Thankfully, we know that, while none of us is righteous on our own, righteousness is ours if we confess our sins. I John 1:9 [NKJV] If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Once I confess and ask forgiveness, all my unrighteousness is taken away and at that moment I am righteous before God.
Also, by the very act of showing faith in Him, and belief in the promises of God, we do receive the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, our Lord, just as Abraham did.
Romans 4:20-25 [NKJV] He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore “it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.
So, confessing my sins, coupled with the very act of reaching out by faith-filled prayer, makes us righteous. Whew! We’ve got this righteousness covered!
Okay, now that we have the requirements outline, we need to ask what the scripture means when it says that a prayer like this “avails much’.”
If we look at James 5:16 in the English Standard Version, I think it clears things up a bit. James 5:16 …The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. [Emphasis mine]
Our prayers have power even as they are working toward a specific result – whatever that result. That power, in part, I believe, is the power to change ME as I focus on petitioning the Father for someone else – as I accept the imputed righteousness of Jesus and use it to focus on the needs of another – as I spend precious time on behalf of a friend, family member or even a foe. As I do that, I am changed to be a more outwardly-focused person. I grow in love for and tenderness toward the person suffering. I become more like Jesus Himself, who prayed fervently for each of us during His time on earth and petitions for our sakes before the Father even now.
There is power in the act of praying for another person.
I was much younger in the faith when this idea came to mind – that there might be a special formula for answered prayer. Yet, even now, as a seasoned follower of Christ, who has experienced many answered prayers – “no” and “yes” and “later” answers – I confess that I still feel it would be really nice to always get an immediate “yes” from the Father to my best petitions on the part of others. That just is not going to happen in this life.
However, the effective prayer of a righteous person, is powerful, even before it brings about a result. Prayer changes the people who pray and that, after all, is the whole point of this life, isn’t it? There is power in your righteous prayers.
P.S. A note about praying for our own healing: If we back up a little in James 5, we find a specific requirement to have effective prayer for my own healing. James 5:14-15 [ESV] Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. If I am the one who is ill, I have a responsibility to contact an elder to be anointed. This act is simply an outward show of inward faith – similar to baptism. The oil itself has no power. But this display of trust in God, is part of what He asks me to do in order to bring a prayer to Him for my own healing. This prayer does double duty, in that it not only brings about healing, but also forgiveness if any sin has been involved.
Anointing is not required, however, for me to pray for the healing of others.
The Favorite Indoor Sport of Christians … (Morning Companion)
is to change each others’ minds.
A thought occurred to me recently when I was reading Romans 14. In those days in Rome the brethren were having a disagreement over food, the point of disagreement centering around whether one should eat meat or should eat only vegetables (verse 2). But Paul sees the vegetarian vs. omnivore division as a side issue. The animosity over food was a symptom of a larger problem.
He hints at the problem in verse 1 (“Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things”), and expands on his concerns throughout the chapter (quoting from the New King James Version):
Verse 4: Who are you to judge another’s servant?
Verse 10: But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother?
Verses 12-13 : So then each of us shall give an account of himself before God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.
Verse 15: Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer working in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died.
Verses 20-21 : Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.
Chapter 15:1 : We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves.
Paul is seeing beyond the dispute at hand. For Paul the heart of the matter was a concern over spiritual health and maturity. It wasn’t about food at all. The food argument is merely a symptom of a spiritual deficiency.
As I thought about this, I wondered about a way to apply the principle in a modern context. If we make a few changes to Romans 14 to reflect a modern subject of dispute, would we understand the principle a little better and maybe prevent disputes over doubtful things? What follows is a modern application of Romans 14 through Romans 15:2, adapted from the New American Standard Bible. Note that it doesn’t matter to me which side of the discussion you support. It does matter that we understand and apply the principle.
Romans 14: Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. 2 One person has faith that he may eat in a restaurant on the Sabbath, but he who is weak eats at home only. 3 The one who eats out is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat out, and the one who does not eat out is not to judge the one who does eat out, for God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
5 One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike in this matter. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. 7 For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; 8 for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
10 But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall give praise to God.”
12 So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.
13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.
14 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 15 For if because of your food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.
16 Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
18 For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.
19 So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.
20 Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense.
21 It is good not to eat out or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.
22 The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.
23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.
Romans 15: Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves.
2 Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification.
As I mentioned earlier, Paul was more interested in matters of the heart than in matters of dispute. Rather than treating the symptoms, he was treating the underlying disease. More than that, he was encouraging the Romans themselves to treat the underlying disease, which he addressed in a similar way in Galatians 6:2.
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
The Time of Day (New Horizons)
We don’t give much thought to it — the ‘day’. It’s there, always with us day and night, 24 hours, seven in a week, 365 of them in a year.
Then there’s the not so precise definition. His day will come. Doomsday. In my day. Call it a day. This fuzziness of meaning we take in our stride. And when we turn to the Scriptures the fuzziness continues.
Jesus said, ‘Are there not twelve hours in a day?’ Then we find that Adam, were he to sin, would die ‘in the day you eat of [the forbidden fruit]’ (ch.2:17). Yet he lived a further nine centuries plus. The Day of the LORD spans more than twenty-four hours.
Then there is the account of creation by Moses: ‘These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day [Heb. yom] that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens’ (Genesis 2:4). But there is an anomaly here, for he had just recorded that it took six days for Creation (ch.1). ‘Day’ clearly is not limited to twenty-four hours!
We note that in Genesis 1 that God ended each ‘day’ with the observation ‘the evening and the morning were the …day’. Closure. But when God addresses the seventh day, when He Himself rested, there is no closure. His work of creation was complete, but the seventh ‘day’ continues. As wrote the author of Hebrews: ‘…he [Christians] that is entered into his [continuing] rest, he also has ceased from his own works, as God did from his’ (ch.4:10).
There’s much symbolism in the Scriptures and we might consider the days of creation as symbolic. Look at it this way. God set in motion the processes for a physical creation in which to carry out His plan. By His awesome power He shaped the invisible ‘dark energy’ with which He had created ‘space’ into planets and stars and galaxies: ’…the universe was created by God’s word, so that what can be seen was made out of what cannot be seen’ (Hebrews 11:3). Having sited Earth in its perfect location in space God, using natural law, proceeded over perhaps billions of years to prepare it for human occupation.
There followed a series of divine interventions in six stages each of countless aeons during which earth’s eco-systems matured. The creation of mankind was the pinnacle, and there has since been no special creation. Each was symbolized as a ‘day’. Then, when all was completed, ‘God rested from all His works’.
God then divided time into seven-day units — a unique system that had no connection with the planetary movements, as do the month and the year. Each ‘day’ represented a symbolic commemoration of a particular phase of creation. The seventh was a memorial of the whole of creation: ‘…in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day’ (Exodus 20:11). The seven day week proclaims the LORD as our sole Creator.
It is noteworthy that each phase of creation continues in our day. Space continues to expand generating new dark matter. Earth continues to rearrange its physical features through volcanic and seismic activity. Vegetation continues, from its created genetics, to generate variation. And the purpose of the whole creation, mankind, is still a ‘work in progress’ as God the Father selects from among us — and trains — those individuals who will reign with Him in His approaching earthly Kingdom and throughout eternity. God initiated the processes, each after its kind, and they continue to unfold in accord with in-built law.
This interpretation of early Genesis may be alien to many of my readers, but is worth considering in the light of the vast research findings of geologists and cosmologists. They are faced with hard facts which they report — but (the scientific approach) they are not unwilling to change tack when the facts warrant it. Properly understood, natural science and the Bible are in perfect harmony.