Thoughts on The Way

cropped-7da97df5ccd44411a2567567be55a5df7-e1521842100252.jpg

Google Translate

What Not To Wear (New Church Lady)

GettyImages-155128730.jpg

I used to occasionally watch a show called “What Not to Wear,” which took people (nominated by their friends) who had a terrible sense of style (or none at all) and helped them gain a better sense of how to pick clothes that were right for them. The style team explained why the person’s choices on attire were inappropriate or even ugly and, then, taught them how to pick clothes more appropriate for their age, figure and job. Then they gave them $5,000 to spend on a new wardrobe and sent them shopping in New York City!
Let’s face it, without God, most humans put on the wrong behavioral attire every day.
Galatians 5:19-21 [ESV] spells it out pretty clearly: Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Led by human nature, the flesh, we will more likely default to greed, hate, pride or selfishness as a covering. We might be known for a style of gossip and back-biting or perhaps holding a grudge. These are definitely things that are the Christian equivalent of “what not to wear.”
If you are wondering what to wear, no worries, God, acts as our stylist in
Colossians 3:12-14 [MSG] “So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive and offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s our basic all-purpose garment. Never be without it.”
I like the way the MSG version puts it, saying “dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you.” If we ever wonder what to wear, it is outlined clearly for us in this passage. No need to struggle with a sense of style, since God has already picked out our garments.
There is a minimalist movement suggesting that we create a signature, basic outfit and wear it every day – a basic, all-purpose outfit that is appropriate to whatever job you have. Maybe for my job I could wear a white shirt and black pants every day. It doesn’t have to be the same white shirt and black pants.
In fact, the theory is that the smartest, most innovative and successful people do this. Steve Jobs is perhaps the most famous for this style type, with his iconic blue jeans and black turtle neck. You can read this article from Forbes for details on how, while not making you smarter, more successful or innovative, wearing the same thing every day frees you to focus on becoming smarter, more innovative and more successful – as well as spending more time with family and less time washing clothes:
I think of the final two sentences of
Colossians 3:12-14 as the same type of wardrobe advice: And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s our basic all-purpose garment. Never be without it.
Love should be our go-to outfit. It should be the staple of the Christian wardrobe. Everything else that we are advised to wear is just really accessorizing love.
Perhaps, like me, in order to save time in the morning, you lay out your clothes for the next day the evening before. God does that for us. When we put on love each day, as God advises us, we naturally also wear compassion, kindness and humility.
I don’t know about you, but, if I wait until the morning to pick out my clothes I am likely to find something needs ironing or has a spot on it I didn’t realize or doesn’t fit like it used to, or isn’t right for the weather. Then, I end up spending time either fixing something or picking out a new outfit – time that takes me away from more important morning activities like prayer and study or exercise.
It is the same this with putting on love, kindness, compassion and humility each day. We have to be deliberate about selecting these garments. We have to plan for it by spending time with God, by asking for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and by making the conscious choice to put on what God has picked out for us.
If we don’t make that commitment and deliberately choose our God-selected attire, we might find ourselves falling back into the ill-fitting, out-of-style garments of our old human nature. The old clothing of human nature, outlined in Galatians 9, is no more appropriate for a Christian than wearing a swim suit to a formal dinner on a snowy day.
God’s sense of spiritual style is the only one that matters. Love is always in style. For a Christian, love always fits perfectly. Love is always what to wear.

Avoiding Spiritual Big Baby Syndrome (Sabbath Meditations)
Several years ago I underwent major surgery to repair a full thickness tear to a portion of the rotator cuff in my left shoulder. Eight weeks out of surgery, other than opening and closing my hand, my left arm was pretty much useless. I’d been told to expect anywhere from six to twelve months of therapy to regain full mobility and strength in my shoulder. Little did I know just how excruciatingly painful and frustrating that process would be.
Now I’d like to think that I’m a pretty tough guy, but Dr. Karla, my incredibly demanding, yet amazingly patient physical therapist, would tell you that, when it comes to therapy on my arm, I might as well put on a pair of diapers, curl up in the fetal position and suck my thumb. The excruciating physical and mental pain involved in getting this arm moving again pretty much turned me into a cry baby.
An interesting thought occurred to me one day, after leaving one of Dr. Karla’s torture sessions. My determination and commitment to going through this process, enduring this agonizing pain was motivated by a desire to get back something I had lost, something that is dear to me. I was sacrificing a lot to get it back: my time, my energy, my comfort. An immense amount of my life’s focus in these months had been on doing whatever it took to get this arm moving again. But the sacrifice, the focus, was worth it because not to do so would mean never having the use of my arm again.
But what if I had never known the full use of my arm? What if I’d never known all of the amazing potential this part of my body had? Would I be as focused, would I be as willing to endure hardship so that someday I could use it to its full potential?
In Hebrews 11 we read, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God … These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”
Assured. There’s powerful meaning wrapped up in that word.
Why was Abraham willing to give up everything, leaving the comfort and safety of Haran to wander around in a hostile, foreign land? What possessed him?
He was assured.
The promises God had given him were so real to him, so vivid, it’s as if, in his heart and his mind, he had already experienced them. He was so completely assured of what lay ahead that there was no sacrifice or hardship great enough to keep him from moving toward that sure vision.
In Romans 8:18-25 Paul writes of that vision, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us … we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.”
How real is that future hope within me? How strong is my faith in that vision? Do I eagerly yearn and groan for it? Am I so assured in my heart and mind of that vision that the thought of giving up, being content with just this existence, apart from God, is unthinkable? Or, do I sometimes lose heart? Do I sometimes feel like giving up and assuming the fetal position?
In II Corinthians 4:16-18 we read, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
Big baby that I am when it comes to physical pain, I was not about to stop going to my twice weekly torture sessions with Dr. Karla. Regaining the use of just one body part kept me committed to the process, willing to do whatever it takes.
One day we’ll exchange these frail, perishing physical bodies for perfect, immortal ones that will never grow weak, never fail or be in need of repair. Yes, there will be some pain getting there. Yes, there will be some affliction to be endured. But don’t lose heart. Be assured, these hardships we endure are working in us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. Let that vision give us power to persevere through the pain. Let it help us resist the fetal position and keep us committed to the process – whatever it takes.

Competence and Practice (The Word and The Way)
A good friend is helping us add a room to our basement. OK, he’s actually doing it and we’re helping him. He’s very experienced in the trades and can overcome challenges that would cause me to hire a contractor in minutes. The room is being built with metal framing instead of wood. Just the way he knows how to trim/cut the pieces to fit made no sense to me until I saw him do it. I was totally confused.
My friend’s competence didn’t start out as competence. He had to learn and begin to apply the knowledge shown to him. He had to be motivated and possess the work ethic to better himself, mastering one task after another, until you see the mature professional he is today. As I am sure you’ve guessed, there’s a scriptural parallel to this:
“Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’ “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.” Matt 7:22-24
Practice makes perfect, as the saying goes. Most of us were brought up on lawlessness, or at least following a false law. We were taught that it didn’t matter what we ate, that we needed to go to church on Sunday, that Christmas and Easter were the highest days of the year, and a host of other doctrines of men. In fact, we
practiced
lawlessness. It was a way of life. Our time was marked off by pagan holidays and the pleasures of the world. At some point, though, we met someone who lived differently or we read something that didn’t compute. At some point, we came into contact with people who had actually acted on the words of scripture.
Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting. Who can speak of the mighty deeds of the LORD, Or can show forth all His praise? How blessed are those who keep justice, Who practice righteousness at all times!” Psalm 106:1-3
Now that I have spent some time practicing the righteousness of the Law, it comes naturally, just like watching my friend construct a wall. He has done it so much and for so long, that it is second nature. He is experienced at it because he
practices it! This is how one gets experienced following the ways of God, by practicing them!
And I also now have an idea of how to put up a metal framed interior wall.

Before and After Pictures (Morning Companion)
Our visitor from abroad, because of her love of books, wanted to see my library. While looking at my titles she also noticed a few photographs of my father in his World War II vintage US Army uniform. One was of a shiny-faced recruit. The other was taken near the end of the war.
She, being from a war-torn land, immediately noticed what I wanted her to notice about the two photographs.

Before

After

She noticed the eyes, almost as if she had seen such a thing before. Do you see it?
Those of us who have never seen the horrors of war can’t understand the toll it takes on those who witness things that should never be witnessed. It affects who they are as parents, spouses, citizens, and human beings. It explains disorders, neuroses and pathologies, that loved ones often cannot make sense of. Even the victors are changed, and usually not for the better. It should make us long for the time foretold by Isaiah:
Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths. For out of Zion shall go forth the law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nation and rebuke many people. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation. Neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2:2-4 NKJV)
May God speed that day.

An Enemy to be Feared (Sabbath Meditations)
My best friend from my college days has died after battling cancer for a number of years. He and I were the same age, he only a few months older. Of the two of us, he was the more athletic, the more energetic, the more full of life. People like him aren’t supposed to get sick … aren’t supposed to die early. Yet he did, and he has. Death doesn’t discriminate.
It’s hard to wrap my mind around the thoughts my friend must have had in the last weeks of his life; the fear he must have experienced, the uncertainly of how long he had left and finally the resignation and realization that his battle was ending. He was a Christian, with a hope, an assurance, of a life hereafter. I know it gave Him comfort.
Death is a difficult concept to grasp for most of us. It’s hard to imagine not being here, existing, breathing. It’s hard to imagine no consciousness, no being. God tells us in His word that He has put eternity in our hearts. Maybe that’s why the concept of death is so hard for us to fathom. It’s not a natural state for us. It’s foreign to the purpose for which we have been created. Our natural state is to be alive, to be eternal. That, God’s word teaches us, is our destiny.
Well meaning Christians tell us we shouldn’t fear death. I think they are wrong. Death is to be feared. Death is darkness, death is separation from all that we know, both physical and spiritual. There’s nothing positive about death. I think perhaps the most dreaded words uttered by God in the entire Bible were when He said to Adam and Eve, … you shall surely die. Of course, it’s possible our ancient parents didn’t understand the meaning of it as do we, their children. They had not as yet experienced the death of someone they loved, someone they cared about. They weren’t yet fully aware of their own vulnerability. Had they fully understood it, perhaps they may have thought twice before sinking their teeth into that piece of fruit, no matter how tempting.
The Bible says that a day will come when the earth will give up its’ dead. Death itself will be thrown in the lake of fire. We’re told it’s the final enemy that will be destroyed when our Savior returns. Just think of it; no more suffering, no more fear, no more uncertainty, no more mourning, no more tragic endings.
I’d like to be there when it is finally put down, as it gasps its’ last breath. It deserves all it gets. It’s taken some good people in its’ time. A few of them, like my friend, whom I knew and loved. I’m looking forward to getting them, and him, back. I take joy in knowing its’ days are numbered.

Into All The World (New Horizons)
God’s church is commissioned to take the message of salvation ‘into all the world’. To every nation … but to every person? What an immense task.
In our age there are near enough two hundred nations and eight billion souls out there, with but a relative handful of true activists to fulfil the Great Commission. To judge by numbers, we are failing to reach a significant portion.
That may not be surprising when we contemplate the committee building, navel-gazing of the churches! Conference follows conference. Days consumed by ‘planning’. Endless tortuous discussion, with the same issues arising year after year on the minutiae of doctrine and administrative detail. No surprise, then, that ‘the work’ languishes. With a focus on detail, it is little wonder dissension arises, disputes escalate, and division splinters the organizations.
Which situation promotes the question: just what is ‘the work’? What is the function of the church? Whatever it may be, it will steer the course of evangelism.
Many churches of God are structured in the form of a business organization. Each has its President and its CEO – its chief executive officer. Committees for multifarious departments, with their multiple officials, mushroom and each is the basis for a budding, resource-sucking empire.
All a far cry from the very fruitful activities of the early church. With painful foot-slog and the occasional donkey, they ‘turned the world upside down [disturbed the peace]’! (Acts 2:41, 4:4, 17:6).
We, of course, inhabit a vastly different world from that of Paul. With the world available at the touch of a button, we should be able to accomplish exponentially more than the first century ‘missionaries’.
But we don’t. And there are reasons:
The Gospel message was fresh in that world
God’s Spirit was active
Every member was involved – even to the death
The message was focused on Christ
Yes – our world has changed. In contrast, the Gospel in our age is mere background noise for most people. Nor have we in the West experienced the fearsome pressures of oppressive foreign invasion, but rather we bask in our comforts. Life is relatively easy. Even in the church, love – a burning desire – has ‘grown cold’ and few are willing to openly share their faith.
Bureaucracy at the corporate level stifles innovation. The gift of the Holy Spirit in believers smoulders rather than bursts out in an energetic life giving flame (2 Timothy 1:6).
When commissioned to deliver a message, you must be clear as to its content. You target the recipients. You deliver it faithfully – focused, and no ‘Chinese whispers’.
How do we measure up? Do we have a laser-sharp focus on ‘Christ and him crucified’ – or is our focus on the short-term millennial reign of the everlasting Kingdom of God? Do we demonstrate the unspeakable merits of Christ, or do we seek to ‘scare’ our hearers into the Kingdom with an emphasis on a fearsome ‘tribulation’? Are we distracted from our commission by a ‘social gospel’? By gimmicks? By empire building?
To share in ‘the divine nature’ (2 Peter 1:4) – that is, to become an integral member of the Family of God – is the core definition of ‘salvation’, and to enable this in individuals is the goal of our evangelism. This is the Great Commission Jesus gave to His Church and to this end the apostles were willing to lay down their lives – and did so.
Our calling is not designed to protect us from death or disease. Nor to enrich or prosper us materially. We are not called to ‘feed the world’ beyond our individual compassionate personal encounters with need.
We are called ‘on the other hand, [to] preach Christ crucified’ (1 Corinthians 1:23). The Father will then draw to Jesus those who respond – so that they may be discipled within the embrace of His church: ‘teaching them to observe all things, whatever I commanded you’ (Matthew 28:19).
Our focus? Jesus Christ – his origin, birth, life, death, teachings, death, resurrection. As the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy: ‘keep on in what you learned and were assured of, knowing from whom you learned, and that from a babe you know the Holy Scriptures, those being able to make you wise to salvation through belief in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God breathed and profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, so that the man of God may be perfected, being fully furnished for every good work’ (2 Timothy 3:14-17).
Jesus’s brother Jude wrote a letter (v.3) to the brethren: ‘I had need to write to you to exhort you to contend earnestly for the faith once [once for all] delivered to the saints.’
Don’t, in other words, add to the revealed Word of God, he tells his readers! Stick with The Plan!
As we embark on our ‘pilgrimage’ as a child of God following our baptism, we must ‘grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’ (2 Peter 3:18). It is a process as, through the Scriptures, we daily add to our understanding of what it means to become ‘perfect’.
Without the sacrifice of Christ applied personally, I am spiritually dead. In Christ I can grow to become a partner in His Kingdom. The degree to which I change towards Christ-likeness determines my usefulness for such an awesome task.
We can’t go out of this world. But we can – and must – reject the world’s ways and live by Kingdom standards.

Keep It Simple (Morning Companion)
But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:3 NKJV)
When I was new resident of the Midwest, it was evident that learning the jargon of this part of the world would take some time. When taking my car in for service, the attendant asked me to “pull up a tad”. Now, I have pulled up carrots, and I have pulled up onions, and I have even pulled up a chair, but I had not a clue what a tad was, let alone how to pull one up. When I got to work, I asked one of the ladies what a tad is, and she said, “It’s just a smidgen.” Before long they had me looking for snipe!
Then there was the lady who was telling me about her “passel of children.” Out came the Webster’s Unabridged, and I learned that a passel is just a large number of something, which of course is more than smidgen and larger than a tad.
Every group of insiders has its passel of insider’s jargon. Computer folks speak of bits and bytes and RAM. Baseball people talk of lookers, benders, and brush backs, flies and fouls, horsehide and southpaws. To the uninitiated, familiarity with a different vernacular can be a barrier to communication.
Christians can fall into that trap when speaking with non-Christian friends. If we speak of “sanctification” or “justification” to those who have no background in Christian thought, could they have any clue what we are talking about? When we speak of “sanctification”, do we not mean that God’s people are “set apart for a special purpose”? Then why not say so?
When we speak of “justification”, do we not mean “made right with God”? Then let us say so.
Or how about “redemption”, when reduced to its roots means “to buy back”?
In its essence, Christianity is a simple faith, so simple a child can understand: Mankind was given a choice, to choose godliness or choose evil. People have chosen evil rather than good, but God loves us so much that he wants to make us his heirs, so he has a plan to make us right with him. He sent his Son to buy us back from the slavery of our sins. God has raised him from the dead, even as he will raise us, and he will come again, at which time we will reign with him over all things.
In Hebrews 2 we are given the aim of God’s plan for the human race:
For He has not put the world to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels. But one testified in a certain place, saying: “What is man that You are mindful of him, Or the son of man that You take care of him? You have made him a little lower than the angels; You have crowned him with glory and honor, And set him over the works of Your hands. You have put all things in subjection under his feet.”
The writer of Hebrews goes on to say:
“For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him.” (Hebrews 2:5-9 NKJV)
There is more than a smidgen to do to make this world right, and God wants to set apart a passel of children to share it with. He is willing to sacrifice more than a tad to buy us back from our own ways. So pull up a chair, take the Book in hand, and learn more about it.

Teaching God (Sabbath Meditations)
I don’t usually get excited about children’s piano recitals. It’s one thing to endure your own children struggle to find the right key night after night for weeks on end, but sitting through two hours of other people’s kids doing the same thing is downright painful.
But this particular recital was different. Why? Because every note was played on key? No. There were plenty of “G” sharps that should have been “B” flats. It wasn’t any less painful to endure. This recital was special because my son actually participated.
Three years previously, at the end of another recital, he announced to us that he’d had enough. He no longer wanted to play the piano. This was devastating to me. One gift I’ve been determined to impart to my children is a gift that I personally was never given: the gift of music. I had hoped that both of my children would at least advance to a level where their ability to produce beautiful music could bring a lifetime of enjoyment. My hopes, it seemed, were being derailed.
I couldn’t blame him, though, for wanting to quit. The fun had gone out of it for him. Only a year earlier, you couldn’t drag him away from the piano. Now it took an act of congress to get him to practice for even ten minutes. Some of his loss of enthusiasm I attributed to adolescence; lacking the discipline and maturity to do what it takes to learn. But the lion share of his dying enthusiasm I blamed on his teacher. This well meaning lady’s style of instruction consisted of methodically working through principles of music theory and technique by practicing lifeless, outdated music. She also put a great deal of pressure on the kids to participate in local piano competitions and recitals. I suspected she was concerned less with what the children gained from the experience than with promoting her piano lesson business in the local community. Neither of these approaches worked well with my son.
So, after his adamant announcement, we decided to switch tracks. After a brief hiatus we found another piano instructor with a decidedly different approach to music instruction.
What a refreshing change it was. The first thing this teacher asked, when the kids walked into her house, was what kind of music they enjoyed. “That’s the music”, she said with a smile, “you’re going to play.” Over the next several months of lessons we were impressed that this instructor seemed less concerned that our kids master the mechanics of the music they played than that they be sufficiently motivated by their enjoyment in playing it.
Her reasoning was simple. If you teach the love of music, interest will be maintained over time, and the rest, the method, correct technique, will come naturally. If you teach method first, the love will die, and eventually, so will the learning.
I believe there is a lot of wisdom in that approach. I immediately saw the fruits of it in my children, particularly my son. They couldn’t wait to get to the music store to pick out their music and get to the piano.
I think it would pay for our churches to apply this approach in its efforts to teach its members children about God. I’ve seen too many Bible school curriculums that jump immediately into the mechanics; the “what” of our faith; without first teaching the “why.” Absent that context; absent an active relationship to build on; the “what” just becomes information.
How much greater would be our success if we strived first to instill in our children a loving relationship with God before funneling lists of memory scriptures and doctrinal statements into their heads. If our children develop a love for God, interest in a relationship with Him will be maintained, and the rest will come naturally. They will want to read His book. They will want to be where other members of His family are. They will want to please Him. It’s that simple.
My son did a great job at the recital. Oh yes, he hit a wrong key a few times … but it was all music to my ears. This time he left the stage with a smile instead of a grimace. He’s learning a skill that will bring him enjoyment the rest of his life … and he’s loving it. I couldn’t be more proud.

How Long, O Lord?” (Morning Companion)
In The New Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (Bridges-Logos Publishers, copyright 1997), Harold J. Chadwick states that there were more Christians martyred in the 20th century than in all previous centuries combined (p.323). Such a statement is not at all outlandish if one thinks of the millions murdered by Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, and even right now in places like Africa, the Middle East, Indonesia, China, and other darkened corners of the world.
It should also remind us to be thankful we live in a land that guarantees religious freedom. Because we have been honored with the blessings of liberty, we have little appreciation for the tribulation that much of the world, including our brethren abroad, must endure. I could recall heart-wrenching stories from the aforementioned book, which relates not only the biographies Foxe presented in his original volume some 500 years ago, but also modern martyrs from our own place in time. I shall leave it to you to search out the book and leave your tears on its pages. Instead, I wish to relate my reaction to something related.
Generally speaking, I have a pretty good life. I work hard, I play hard, I have a good family, and I enjoy nice things. I would really like to live to be an old man and see grandkids grow up. I really don’t want to see Jesus Christ return and spoil all my fun.
But when I read a small portion of the sixth chapter of the Book of Revelation, I get a glimpse of a very special group of people. “I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’” (Revelation 6:9-10 NKJV).
The scripture is clear. The souls of those who have been slain are patiently resting and waiting for the time of God’s judgment. Is it right to ask them to wait even longer just for my convenience?
As we sit and feast in this amazingly protected and fat land, millions suffer daily for the beliefs that perhaps we take too casually. God through the course of the ages has witnessed untold brutality upon his children, and the smell of their blood and burning flesh demands his justice. One day he will say, “Enough!” and all such brutality shall cease.
Meanwhile, strengthened is my gratitude for the undeserved blessings we all have and the freedom to worship my Creator. Strengthened also is my prayer on behalf of those under the altar: “Even so, come Lord Jesus.”

Not the Easy Way (New Church Lady)
Many of you will be familiar with the song titled “Thy Word,” written by Amy Grant. I particularly like its chorus: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”
The words are pulled from
Proverbs 6:23. As beautiful and poignant as the song’s message is, I believe it misses a key point from the scripture.
The full text, as given in the King James Version, is:
For the commandment [is] a lamp; and the law [is] light; and reproofs of instruction [are] the way of life:
The NIV puts it like this: For this command is a lamp, this teaching is a light, and correction and instruction are the way to life.
To me, the scripture is telling us that God’s commandments are the lamp, and the light within the lamp comes from His teachings. What path is illuminated by the light from the lamp? That path, that way of life that is illuminated, is a path of correction and instruction. Or, as the KJV has it, “reproofs of instruction.”
The word translated as “reproof” in the King James means rebuke or correction. The word translated “correction” means discipline. We walk toward the Kingdom on stepping stones of correction or instruction that reproves us. Clearly, this is not always going to be a smooth, pleasant path. Who likes correction, rebuke and discipline?
The word translated “are the way” could be used for the actual path or road, or for the journey itself. I tend toward the thinking about it as the journey, because the final words of this verse – “of life” – could be translated “living.”
I think of this way: the correction, reproof, rebuke and discipline of God and of His word are the Christian’s way of living. Correction, reproof, rebuke and discipline are the Christian journey. No one makes it to the Kingdom without this continual refinement of who we are, how we think and what we do each day.
No wonder Jesus says,
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14 [ESV])
Note that Jesus says “those who find it are few.” Why is that? Perhaps, it is hard to find because it is only found through the teaching and instruction of God. Or maybe it is just because people are unwilling to pick up the lamp. Or perhaps after people pick up the lamp and recognize the path of discipline and reproof and instruction, they put the lamp back down and say, “never mind.”
To find and to continually traverse along the path, we have to study His words, His teaching and instruction. The path is found by the illumination of the scriptures that teach and instruct us.
Once we find the gate, we have to acknowledge that it is “strait” – a word that means, literally to crowd or compress and figuratively to afflict. So, the gate is one that presses or afflicts us as well. In addition, the word translated “narrow” (“narrow is the path”) can also mean to trouble, afflict or suffer tribulation.
Not only is the path one of continual refinement, it is also one where we will sometimes find trouble, affliction and tribulation. Again, it is little wonder that people put down the lamp and head for the easy way?
God does not lie to us about what we face. We can be thankful for that.
How do we reconcile this with Jesus’s words in
Matthew 11:28-30 [NIV] “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”?
The way of Satan, the way of this world, the wide and easy path is far worse than the correction of God. We see this daily on the news – poverty, anger, greed, violence and murder perpetrated by the mighty of this world against the weak.
We also know, more importantly, that it would be no small tribulation to miss out on eternity in God’s Kingdom. Those of us who travel God’s pathway know that forgiveness of others heals us as well. We know that peace comes by God’s Spirit even in the most troubled times. We get to know our Savior and talk with both He and the Father. We get to benefit from a richer and happier life that comes from obeying the 10 Commandments. We are able to understand and celebrate God’s plan of salvation through the Holy Days. We get one day a week to rest from our labors. We live better lives, happier lives, more peaceful lives, even in the midst of troubles, because we have His lamp of His word and discipline and a clear view of the path to follow toward eternal life.
Most beneficial is that the penalty of our sins are washed away, never to be considered again, because Jesus our Savior has washed them away forever with His blood. This is also something that the lamp illuminates for us.
We know we live in a sin-darkened world. We need the lamp and the light of God’s word, commands and instruction. The path He leads us along is a path that is clear, though it may contain difficulties and troubles. And at the end of it is the gate we press through to obtain the Kingdom.
Though it is not easy, turn up the light each day and walk on along the path of life.

The Gospel – Preaching the Big Picture (Sabbath Meditations)
If you were to ask a Christian in one of the mainstream Protestant denominations the question, “What is the gospel”, the answer that would more than likely roll off their tongue would be, “It’s the gospel about Jesus Christ.”
But if you were to ask many of us in the Sabbath keeping tradition the same question you might hear something along the lines of, “It’s not the gospel about Jesus Christ but it’s about the message He brought. That message is good news of the coming Kingdom of God.”
So which is it?
Well let’s do the numbers. A quick word study in the Concordance makes it clear why there is some confusion.
“Gospel of the Kingdom” – 5 references
“Gospel of Christ” – 19 references
“Gospel of God” – 8 references
“Gospel of Salvation” – 2 references
“Gospel of the Grace of God” – 1 reference
“Gospel of Peace” – 2 references
It’s been argued that references to Gospel of Christ and Gospel of God simply refer to the message that He brought, which is the message of the Kingdom of God. So, assuming this to be true, the references in scripture to the Kingdom of God would increase to 32.
If the gospel of Christ is to be narrowly defined as the message of the kingdom that He preached then we should be able to substitute the word “kingdom” as the object of the preposition in passages where the word gospel is used without compromising the original meaning of the passage.
Let’s read Romans 1:16-17 and consider the accuracy of that argument.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of
Christ (the Kingdom), for it (the gospel of the Kingdom) is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it (the gospel of the Kingdom) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’.”
What do you think? Can the word “Christ” in these passages be replaced with the word “kingdom” and the original intended meaning remain intact? Wouldn’t the result of this change be to imply that we are saved by our hope in the coming Kingdom? Does that make sense?
If not, doesn’t this demonstrate that limiting the gospel simply to a proclamation of the coming Kingdom fails to define its full scope and meaning?
So, again, I ask, which is it? Is it the gospel of the Kingdom or the gospel about Christ?
I would suggest that the gospel actually encompasses both of them. But, I would also suggest that there is a “bigger picture” of the gospel we should consider.
Both of them
In 1 Corinthians 2:2 Paul states “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
Paul’s gospel was focused directly on the person of Jesus Christ and the work of salvation He accomplished on the cross.
However, Paul’s message included the hope of the future Kingdom of God.
In Philippians 3:12-14 Paul says, “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Could it be that we limit the gospel message by focusing two narrowly on any one of its parts? When we choose one aspect as our primary focus, either the gospel of the Kingdom of God or the gospel about Christ, don’t we run the danger of losing its full meaning.Paul
didn’t fall into either ditch. His gospel message encompassed its full meaning. Paul kept the big picture in view.
The “Bigger Picture”…the ultimate purpose of the Gospel.
Let’s ask ourselves, what is the purpose of all that the Father, through His Son, is doing?
Yes, He does have a plan for man. Yes, we have the awesome gift of salvation through His death on the cross. Yes, we have incredible hope of the Kingdom and an eternity with the Father and His Son in the Family of God. But what is the point of it all? Why is He doing it? What is the ultimate purpose and meaning of the gospel?
I Peter 4:11 tells us “that in all things God is glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and the dominion forever and ever.”
In Isaiah 43:1-7 God says, “I have redeemed you, I have called you by your name … Everyone who is called by My name, whom I have created for my glory.”
I Peter 2:9 says we have been called and chosen that we might “proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
Colossians 1:15-20 tells us that “All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the pre-eminence. 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.”
If, as these passages affirm, we have been created for His glory, redeemed for His glory and that the fulfillment of His plan on earth will testify of His glory, it wouldn’t it seem to follow that this is truly the ultimate purpose for creation as revealed in the gospel?
A “Big Picture” definition
What if we were to define the gospel, not by its individual parts, but by its larger meaning and purpose, as revealed throughout scripture? Such a definition might not roll off the tongue as smoothly as the “Gospel of the Kingdom” or the “Gospel of Christ”, but it undoubtedly would prevent us placing inappropriate limitations on its meaning.
What if the definition we used was something like:
“The gospel of Jesus Christ: who He is; what He has done; what He is doing; and what He will do.”
Ultimately the purpose of our existence, of everything that God is doing here on this earth, is to bring glory to Him, pure and simple. That’s the primary purpose of all of this, from beginning to end. It’s about Him. The gospels purpose and meaning is about magnifying His love, His power, His glory. The Father desires that in Him, in His Son, should all fullness, all praise and honor and glory, dwell.
His ultimate plan is that His creation would give glory to His Son, now and forever. We who have been called now are to witness of His glory by sharing who He is, what He has done, is doing and will do.
It’s that “big picture” gospel that we, as His creation, have been commissioned to carry into all the world.
Let’s share it! All of it!

Doing Good for the Poor and Doing Well for Themselves (Morning Companion)
Near the end of Jesus’s ministry a woman named Mary came to Jesus with a box of costly ointment, broke it open, and anointed Jesus’s feet. This act of generosity did not go unnoticed, especially by Judas, who said something that sounds a lot like things we hear today. “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages!” (John 12:5 NIV)
On the surface Judas sounds like the generous sort. In fact he sounds a lot like many in public service today who proclaim their concern for the poor and needy. Indeed, concern for the downtrodden and disadvantaged is a good thing. It’s biblically mandated and is incumbent on us all. But Jesus says something curious in response:
Leave her alone. It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” (verses 7-8)
In saying this Jesus was not being hardhearted. He was simply stating a fact about the unredeemed world in which we live. In fact if we read the context of this event we see that it was Judas who was hardhearted. Here is what John says about Judas’s real motives.
He [Judas] did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was in it. (verse 6)
I wonder sometimes if Judas is a prototype of many today who proclaim solidarity with the poor while using the poor as a means to enrich themselves.
In an article published on the Daily Caller website dated July 19, 2017, we read the following:
“Top officials with 14 anti-poverty non-profits were paid as much as $869,900 as their organizations were enriched with $900 million of taxpayer money. The Daily Caller News Foundation’s (TheDCNF) Investigative Group has found … National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial , a former New Orleans mayor, received a higher salary than any other official in the non-profits, taking home nearly $870,000 – more than 35 times the poverty line for a four-person family – in 2015.
Read the entire article here for an eyeful.
An entire industry has developed with the purpose of selling someone else’s bottle of perfume ostensibly to help the poor. And their enablers in both elected and bureaucratic offices have enabled it.
Tell me how this is any different than what Judas tried to do.

Money Matters (New Horizons)
It’s a mystery to the average lay person as to ‘where the money goes’. The total U.S. national debt is a staggering $21.6 trillion today (that’s with twelve zeros) and growing fast. That’s a debt burden of $177,499 per U.S. taxpayer. Britain’s is over $2.8 trillion, Germany $4 trillion, China $11 trillion. Only a dozen or so nations are clear of debt!
It is borrowed money – and owed to someone, with $600 billion going annually on interest payments to the creditors – mostly large investment companies. (The UK pays over forty billion a year interest on the national debt – its third larg-est expenditure.) Much, of course, goes to finance – and to promote – wars, large and small. Scary!
Whether or not this is ‘the end-time’, it is perhaps time for all of us to put our personal finances under the microscope. In the UK it is estimated that the average household each year spends almost a thousand pounds more than they earn. In just one recent month Britons spent over ten billion pounds on their credit cards; the most for thirty years. And Christmas is coming!
The Scriptures are clear about money – having it is no bad thing. But it is also our responsibility to spend wisely, to be content even with the basics of food and shelter: ‘…having food and raiment [Gk.skepasma: house, covering, clothing] let us be therewith content’ (I Timothy 6:8). We ought to ‘…owe no man anything’.
When a fierce storm approaches, we prepare and batten down the hatches – we bring in the washing, close the windows. In turbulent financial times prudence is the watchword.

Solid as a Rock (New Church Lady)
Last week, I wrote about the promise that no weapon formed or forged against us can prosper. But, if your life is anything like mine, you know that these weapons will sometime pummel you like a Cat 4 hurricane, roaring in at you with winds over 150 miles per hour. They will sometimes shake you like a rag doll. I’ve been through a few of these trials in my lifetime. How about you?
After Hurricane Michael (a Category 4 hurricane when it hit the Florida panhandle) decimated much of Mexico Beach, Florida, the Sand Palace of Mexico Beach was the last house standing among the beachfront homes on its block. In an article in the New York Times, published on October 15, 2018, I read the story about the amazing home the Dr. Lebron Lackey and his uncle, Russel King built and named the Sand Palace of Mexico Beach.
Due to the frequent hurricanes that reach Florida, there are governmentally required building codes for all new construction. In many areas, homes must be built to withstand 175-mile-per-hour winds.  However, in building their home, Lackey and King “did not even refer to the minimum wind resistance required in Bay County” and instead built the Sand Palace to withstand winds up to 250 miles per hour.
According to the New York Times article, Dr. Lackey said, “We’re thinking that we need to build a house that would survive for generations.” Certainly, the Sand Palace has already proven its ability to take a beating and remain standing.
When I read about the Sand Palace, I could not miss the irony that this actually was a house
built upon the sand
.
Matthew 7:24-27 [NIV] “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
The Sand Palace survived in spite of its location because it was built of stronger stuff. The materials and method of construction were more than what the minimum that the authorities and the local regulations required. Lackey and King were looking for long-term success. They didn’t just want to survive what Florida had been through before, but also any much worse storms that might be coming in the future. It behooves us, as Christians, to consider not only where we are building, but also, what we are building and the construction materials we are using.
Remember that the scripture says,
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”
The building blocks for our survival of the storms of life are putting into practice the words of Jesus – not just knowing them. Many studies have shown, for example, that a majority of US citizens believe in Jesus. However, Matthew 7:24 does
not say that acknowledging Jesus as savior is the key to withstanding life’s storms. Rather, Jesus, in His own words tells us that we must put His words “into practice” in order to be like the wise man building his house on a rock.
We build a solid home on the foundation of THE Rock, Jesus, by living His words.
If we back up to verse 21 of Matthew 7, we find that Jesus says,
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. {Emphasis mine}
In Matthew 7 alone, Jesus gives us plenty of words to put into practice in our lives:
He tells us not to judge others, but to be about the business of cleaning up our own faults.
(verses 1-5)
• He tells us to diligently and consistently ask, seek and knock. (verses 7-11)
• He tells us to seek to enter the narrow gate. (
verses 13-14)
• He bids us to watch out for false prophets and identify them by their fruits. (
verses 15-20) (Watch out for what they are using to build their houses!)
It is important to know that, within this text, this chapter, we also find that often quoted “Golden Rule”:
Matthew 7:12 [NIV] So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
Everything we are called to build with or build on is summarized in the “Golden Rule.” It covers everything we find in all the Law and the Prophets.
I know that I could do a better job of calling the “Golden Rule” into mind in making my decisions in life. I could do a better job of asking, “In this situation, would I want someone else to say this, do this, think this, or post this about me?”
Considering some of the other words of Jesus in this chapter alone, I should be doing a better job of ensuring I bear the fruit of a follower of Jesus – so that people know me by good fruit and also know that the Father is good by the fruit I produce – fruit which also points to God’s goodness. I could be more devoted to consistent and passionate seeking, knocking and asking. I could focus more on the plank in my eye and not the specks in the eyes of others and to ensuring I’m on my way through the narrow gate.
Jesus is our Rock and we can be “solid as a rock” – or solid as THE Rock too – if we are using the right building materials.
Living by the words of Jesus. Doing the will of the Father. These are the building blocks of a life that survives the storms, even the ones coming at us at 150 miles-per-hour, to live past future generations into a life that will last all eternity. Build wisely.

“Are you going to believe me or your own eyes?” (Morning Companion)
After a major political event I am more fascinated by the journalistic commentary that follows it than the event itself. I’m interested in other people’s take on what happened, even though it might remind me of Chico Marx’s line at the head of this column.
Jesus had the same type of press. He healed the sick, raised the dead, fed the multitudes, and taught a new and living way. If that’s all he ever did, it’s doubtful that the religious elite of the day would have tried to destroy him. But Jesus had a little problem. His teachings did not fit in the little box of religion that his contemporaries had constructed for their concept of God. He preached unique ideas that threatened the current power structure. That was a threat they could not let stand.
Jesus once healed a blind man, who then came to the conclusion that “if this man were not of God, he could do nothing.” (John 9:33) The religious leaders’ retort? “You were altogether born in sin, and do you teach us?” (verse 34) Are you going to believe us or your own eyes?
Another time the Pharisees and chief priests sent a contingent of temple guards to arrest Jesus, but his teaching was so compelling that the guards refused their orders. “Never has a man spoken like this,” they told the Pharisees, who retorted, “Have any of the rulers or Pharisees believed on him? These people who are ignorant of the law are cursed.” (John 7:46-49)
These religious elites clearly held a high view of themselves and a condescending view of the unwashed masses. When they said, “These people who are ignorant of the law are cursed”, they sound suspiciously like certain elements of our own culture.
It’s good to seek out others’ opinions and to listen to their learned commentary, but no one has a right to tell you how to think or to call you names if you happen to disagree. There is a lot of that going on these days.

The Wonder Years (Sabbath Meditations)
“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord. The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them…”  – Psalms 127:3-5
My daughter and I watched one of our favorite old shows together the other night, The Wonder Years. It’s the reflections of a grown man, reliving the ups and downs, the joys, the pains,  the “wonder” of his adolescent years.  Though uniquely his, they are, in many ways, experiences universal to all of us. It’s a great show.
My daughter has her own memories, her own drama playing out in the hallways between classes, over the seat backs of her school bus and, in an environment unique to her generation, her  texting and Facebooking world.  Maybe that’s why she enjoyed watching the show as much as I did.
I realized, as I sat there with my daughter, that even as both my children have lived through their Wonder Years, I’ve experienced them from a different perspective.
Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy my kids as much as they are getting older. I do … immensely. Watching them grow and mature brings a lot of joy to my wife and I. It’s just that I wasn’t quite ready for the wonder of those early years to fade away as quickly as they have. 
So yesterday morning, as my daughter was getting ready to rush out the door to the bus without so much as a “see ya”, my nostalgia got the better of me. “Hey, wait just a minute princess!” I protested.  “You’re not getting out of here without a kiss goodbye.”  To which she stopped, spun around, threw me a quick air kiss, with a sigh said “love you daddy” and was out the door … leaving me to feel a little needy for asking.
Ah, the fading remnants of the wonder years. I guess I have to let them go sometime. I realize it’s the natural order of things, and that each particular stage of their lives will hold its own new set of wonders, but, for me, none as much as those early days. I only wish I had taken more time to appreciate them while they were here.
So, my advice to parents of young children: Don’t take them for granted. Don’t let the stresses of life, the struggle to make ends meet, to establish your career, to build the home of your dreams, the hassles of carting them from place to place, activity to activity, distract you from enjoying the wonder. Appreciate each and every wonderful moment with your young children to its fullest. Like me, you’ll be looking back on them with nostalgia before you know it.

No Weapon Forged Against Us (New Church Lady)
Often, in the midst of trial, we can be comforted by Isaiah 54:17 [KJV], which says, “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue [that] shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This [is] the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness [is] of me, saith the LORD.”
Often, in prayer for someone struggling with a serious trial or temptation, we remind God of His promise that “no weapon formed against us will prosper.”
But, what does it mean that no weapon formed against us will prosper? What exactly is God guaranteeing in Isaiah 54:17?  “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper”
The NIV puts it this way, “No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and this is their vindication from me,” declares the LORD.
The ESV says, “No weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD and their vindication from me, declares the LORD.”
Does this mean that God won’t let Satan send us trials? No. We see, for example, that God specifically gave Satan permission to cause Job to suffer a very severe trial.
Does it mean that God won’t let us be killed? No. Most of the apostles were martyred. I have personally witnessed many of God’s saints die from cancer – some of them leaving behind young children. I’ve known of faithful servants of God who lost a child to crib death or a mate in a car accident.
Does it mean that God won’t let us lose a job for obediently keeping His Sabbath or Holy Days? No. That happens even in countries like the USA, where the right to worship as we choose without persecution is supposed to be guaranteed.
Doesn’t it seem that, in these cases, the weapons formed against us have, in fact, actually prospered?
Satan’s weapons are powerful. They can hurt “like the devil” – wreck our lives, wreck our finances, wreck our health, rob us of sleep, rob us of loved ones, etc.
But make no mistake about it, the weapons Satan forges against us cannot prosper or prevail as long as we never let go of God. As long as the weapons forged against us do not loosen our grip on the promises of the Kingdom, these weapons do not prevail.
Further, Satan’s weapons cannot prosper because of what we read in Romans 8:35-39 [NIV] Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
As long as we cannot be separated from the love of God, nothing Satan throws at us, no weapon he forges against, can ultimately prosper. Though it kill us, that weapon will not prosper or succeed in its purpose.
You see, the weapons Satan forges against us are not primarily focused on making our lives miserable on this earth. Ruining a mere potential of “3 score and 10 years” of a believer’s life isn’t what Satan cares about. He is far more interested in destroying our eternity. And he fails every time a believer makes it through the trial without giving up his/her faith in God, focus on the Kingdom and commitment to obedience in spite of it all.
E
very time a fellow servant dies in the faith, Satan’s weapon has failed.
Every time a child of God shows love in response to hate or sows peace with one who intended war, Satan’s weapon has failed.
Every time a Christian puts God before job or country, Satan’s weapon has failed.
Every time, in the midst of great loss, a believer hangs on to faith, Satan’s weapon has failed.
Every time a sinner goes humbly before the Just Judge, admitting fault and begging forgiveness, and comes away washed clean by the precious blood of Jesus, Satan’s weapon has failed.
Because, as we are told in 1 Corinthians 15:19 [NIV], If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied, neither should we be focused on what Satan’s weapons may do to our bodies, minds, families, stature in the community or finances in these 70ish years of human life. We too should be focused on our hope in the next life.
With Jesus Christ on our side, the Holy Spirit in us, and our eyes firmly focused on the Kingdom of God, Satan’s weapons cannot succeed in their mission to destroy our eternal futures.
To wrap this up, I want to remind you of Romans 8:31 [NIV] What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? God is for us, sweet sisters. Satan forges many damaging weapons. The weapons of Satan do hurt and destroy, in this life. They can claim a few battles won. But they cannot prevail.
That is a promised forged in the Father’s own love for us and sealed with the precious blood of Jesus.

Whose Side Is God On? (Morning Companion)
“Are you for us or our adversaries?” (Joshua 5:13)
During the Civil War someone asked Abraham Lincoln if he thought God was on the Union’s side. Lincoln is said to have answered, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side.”
As in times of warfare, the temptation during a political campaign is to claim the mantle of God’s endorsement. “God is on our side.” “How would Jesus vote?” “We’re doing the Lord’s work.”
We would do well to remember what happened when the Angel of the Lord stepped into the time and space around Joshua. They were about to conquer Jericho, and as Joshua was apparently reconnoitering the vicinity, he came across a mighty being standing before him, sword drawn as if ready for battle. “Are you for us or our adversaries?” Joshua queried.
The answer? “Neither!”
Face it. It was a great answer. To claim the imprimatur of the Almighty on our endeavors smacks of presumption. It may be so that one candidate is superior to another, and it may be true that living godly values places us on God’s side, but rather than claiming the mantle of Providential favor, it would be better to submit our endeavors to God’s service and will.
In Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, sometimes called the greatest sermon ever delivered on American soil, the theme surfaces again, this time as a reminder that God’s purposes are sometimes beyond our understanding and that victory after such an awful conflict should be viewed with humility, not the arrogance of the conquering self-righteous.
“Neither party expected for the war, the magnitude, or the duration, which it has already attained. … . Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. … The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. … With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds … to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

Delighting in the Sabbath … Completely (Sabbath Meditations)
What a blessing is the Sabbath. It’s especially a blessing for us who live in a culture where each minute seems to be loaded to capacity. If not for the Sabbath, our lives would be lost in a sea of busy-ness … running here, running there. There are so many important places to be and important things to do. Our culture teaches us to put our lives in overdrive. Even our leisure time has become a harried experience. How many of us, after a long weekend getaway or an extended vacation, feel the need to recuperate from the experience?
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize that the prolonged stress of all this busyness takes its toll on our physical, mental and spiritual well-being. We just weren’t designed to take that kind of abuse. That’s why God gave us the wonderful blessing of the Sabbath. In it He holds up a stop sign at the end of each week allowing us to step out of the cyclone that is often our lives and focus and meditate on Him.
Meditation is a quality that has largely been lost in our society, even among many Christians. Take time to think? Who has the time?! There’s too much to do, too much to accomplish. It’s a concept that many of us who have observed the Sabbath for some time and are accustomed to taking one day out of seven to rest might even find challenging to apply. Oh, we have no problem curtailing our normal weekly physical activities. Curtailing the train of our mental activity, however, is a different matter altogether. It’s a little more of a challenge to set aside the cares, concerns and preoccupations of the work week in favor of meditating and focusing on the things of God.
Isaiah 58:13 tells us that we should call the Sabbath a delight. To delight in something entails giving it our full attention. Delighting takes us a step beyond merely resting from our physical activity. It’s about resting the complete self … physically, mentally, and spiritually.
Of course, we understand that entering His weekly rest doesn’t mean a complete cessation of physical or mental activity. The Sabbath rest was given as a means of redirecting our physical and mental activity toward Him. We find our rest in Him.
God wants us to enter completely into His rest; to be renewed, not just physically, but mentally and spiritually as well. Just putting our physical activity on hold while our brain continues to work on overdrive is analogous to accelerating a car while pressing our foot on the brake. The car might not be going anywhere, but would anyone say it is truly at rest? No, it’s only by fully delighting in the Sabbath, resting the complete self, that true renewal can occur.
What a wonderful gift our God has given us in this day. Let’s delight in it … completely.

Looking Up – and Down (New Church Lady)
W
e believers look up to see the glory of God and understand His majesty.
Psalm 19:1 [NIV] tells us, The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
We look up because we know that is where our help comes from:
Psalm 121:1-2 [ESV] …I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
Jesus often looked toward heaven when He prayed.
Luke 9:16 [KJV] Then he took the five loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed them, and brake, and gave to the disciples to set before the multitude.
John 17:1 [NIV] After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. So, we often do too.
Luke 18:13 [ESV] But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’
Our eyes are rightly focused up for these things. But, since we live on this earth, we also have to look down or risk missing the full picture. I learned that lesson the hard way recently.
For about a week after the Feast of Tabernacles, I sported a “lovely” special boot on my left foot. Why? Because I wasn’t looking down. While unpacking the car when we got home from the Feast, and carrying a load of clothes into my room, I rammed my left foot so hard into one of the cases we’d staged in the kitchen, that I thought I broke my middle toe. After trying to tough it out for a day, I gave in and got an X-ray. Thankfully, it is only badly jammed and not broken. 
In this world, there is always something lurking around to trip you up. Literally. 
Our Christians lives are a lot like that, in that Satan and this world he currently rules are always lurking around, seeking ways to trip us up, if we are not careful – if we are not looking.
Hebrews 12:15 says, Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble [you], and thereby many be defiled. [KJV]
Roots are on the ground and the root of bitterness comes from down here on earth – certainly not from heaven. We have to look down into our hearts and minds to be sure that bitterness isn’t growing in us, but also that no other sin is allowed to take root there inside us. 
1 John 3:17 tells us, But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? [ESV]
How are we going to see that a brother or sister has a need, if we don’t look down at the world around us? Our journey is not just about what is going on in heaven. It is also about taking care of things on earth, like helping others in need.
We often quote
Psalm 119:105 [ESV] Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
The Word lights our path, so that we can see the path. And we should look down at the path. Am I traveling closer to Him or further away? Are the steps I’m taking in my day-to-day life building godly character or building habits of sin? God calls us each to a unique path for our lives – how we will serve and grow, use our talents and glorify Him. We should look down and check to be sure we are on that path.
The truth is that we cannot succeed in this Christian journey without both looking up and looking down. We must have our eyes metaphorically fixed on heaven, on our Father there and on our High Priest. We look to the heavens for our blessings, help in time of need, spiritual strength and for Christ Jesus to return. But, we live on earth and we do our works here on earth. So, it is also very important to keep an eye out for what is going on down here. Sometimes, we need to look down.

“Then I Will Know” (Morning Companion)
Theophany. That’s a theological word that means a manifestation of God in a way that is tangible to the human senses. The theophany referred to in this blog is found in Genesis 18, where God and two other beings pay a visit to Abraham.
This encounter is a prologue to the well-known story of Lot and the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. There are a number of curiosities in this account, such as God appearing as a wayfaring traveler in the desert with two companions, God having dust gather on his feet, Abraham offering to wash it off, and God sitting down for a sumptuous meal. The curiosity that interests me the most is found in verses 20 and 21:
Then the LORD said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.
Read this for what it says, and it looks like the LORD (Yahweh himself) didn’t think he had the complete story based upon reports he was receiving, and therefore was unable to make a valid judgement about what was going on in those two cities. The text says what it says, and it has to provide some interesting fodder for discussion among theologians. Are there things that God doesn’t know? But the point I want to pursue here is a more practical lesson. It jumps out of the passage about how God does things, a lesson that we should take to heart.
Most of us have played a game called Telephone. The game involves several people. The first person whispers a short story or phrase to the second person in line. The second person’s task is to retell the story to the next person in line, who then relays it to the next person, and so on. The person at the end of the line then recites the story or phrase to the entire group. Every time I have seen this game played, the story at the end of the line is nothing like the story as recited by the first person in line.
This is why hearsay evidence is of questionable value in a court of law. “Somebody told me that somebody said” is hardly any evidence of anything. It’s also how gossip, slander, and character assassination wiggle their way into our relationships.
We can have all kinds of theological discussion about why God didn’t seem to know exactly what was going on in Sodom and Gomorrah and why he felt a need to check things out for himself. I would love to pursue that bit of theology someday. But the lesson we should take from this is the example he set. Don’t rush to judgement. Get the facts. Don’t believe chatter you hear without verification. Be skeptical. Don’t pass on what you hear on the Telephone because it ain’t necessarily so.

Love is a Decision (Sabbath Meditations)
When my son got his first job, he was very excited and called me at work during the middle of the day. The timing of his call was ironic. I was bogged down in the middle of a never ending project, clicking away at the computer, willing the clock to move just a little faster so I could pack up my lunch bag and my laptop and go home. Not that every day is like this. As with any job there are good days and bad, ups and downs, successes and failures. His call started me reflecting. There was a time when I loved this job. There were new challenges, new opportunities, and excitement about the contribution I could make. Some of that excitement, that promise, had faded. Was this now just a job, mindless labor? Was I going through the motions just to collect a pay packet? And, if I am going through the motions, what’s the point?
Finally, the long work week is over. Time to do what I want to do. Sleep in, read a good book, maybe see a movie with the family, ride my bike, take it easy. Oh yeah, then there’s that church thing. Gotta do that. Oh, and maybe a little extra time (emphasis on “little”) Bible Study and Prayer. Hmmm …
There had been a time when that church thing, that Bible Study and prayer thing, would have ranked a little higher, no, a lot higher on my list of desirable things to do “on my own time.” I guess some of the excitement, some of the enthusiasm for those things, had waned over the years. Had my faith simply become my religion? Had my first love become my 4th, 5th or 6th obligation? Was I just going through the motions, because that’s what people who call themselves Christians are supposed to do, mark off our spiritual to-do lists so we can get on guilt free with the things we really want to do with our free time? Had my faith become like going to work? Ughh … I wished my son hadn’t gotten so excited about getting that job!
In Revelation 2:1-5 Jesus, through the apostle John, says to the Ephesian church, after praising them for their labour in the faith, tells them: “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.”
The Ephesus church was getting some things right, doing a lot of the right things, but there was something missing, they were just going through the motions. What should have been a labor of love, had become just labor. Jesus, loving as He is, doesn’t just leave them hanging with no solutions. He provides a two step solution …
“Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.”
Step 1: Remember. I guess that’s what my son’s phone call at work had done for me. Caused me to begin remembering. Remembering what an awesome blessing it is to know Him. Remember that, of all the firsts I have ever experienced or will ever experience, this first love is by far the greatest. If I truly appreciate it for the blessing it is, my excitement for it should never be allowed to wane.
Step 2: Repent and do the first works. My wife and I read a book by Gary Smalley when we were first married. It was called Love is a Decision. I highly recommend it for any new couple. Basically, the message of the book is that love between a husband and wife is not simply an emotional sense of well being, a feeling. Love, true love, is a conscious decision we make, to love the other person through good times and bad, when we feel like it and when we don’t because, as anyone who has been married for more than five years will tell you, sometimes you just don’t. Love that is based on emotion will be shallow, inconsistent, and disillusioning. Love based on a decision, in contrast, will grow richer and deeper over time. It will see its way through the hard times, the mundane times, the hurtful times. The highs will be higher and the lows will be not so low.
I think that is what Jesus is telling the Ephesians and us by extension. He’s saying in effect, “So you just don’t feel the same excitement about Me as you once did? So what! My relationship with you isn’t based on your feeling. Make a decision to Love Me like you did when our relationship first began. Put your faith, put Me, first. Do the first works.” You know what, over time, your love for Me will grow richer and deeper. It will survive the tests and trials. The good times and the bad. The disappointments. The lows won’t be quite so low and the highs….well, you can’t even imagine!

Big Lessons, Tiny Teacher: Go to the Ant – Lesson 2 (New Church Lady)
Ants have colonized almost every landmass on Earth. The only places lacking indigenous ants are Antarctica and a few remote or inhospitable islands. Ants thrive in most ecosystems and may form 15–25% of the terrestrial animal biomass. Their success in so many environments has been attributed to their social organization and their ability to modify habitats, tap resources, and defend themselves. Some species, such as the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta), are regarded as invasive species, establishing themselves in areas where they have been introduced accidentally.
Like ants, God seeks to place His people in every environment and ecosystem. The body of believers ought to be found in rural communities and mega cities, as well as all environments in between. Children of God should be found in harsh environments, where persecution may take its toll, and in prosperous nations where the greatest threat may be complacency or failing to give God credit and thanks for our blessings.
In order to thrive and grow, like the ants, we believers should rely on social organization. We ought to be flexible enough to modify habitats and tap local resources. We must be able to defend ourselves.
Social organization: We must remember that God very specifically establishes the social organization of the church.
1 Corinthians 12
goes into great detail about the organization of the various members of the body of Christ, outlining that each one is (1) placed in the role by God and (2) important to the well-being of the whole.
1 Corinthians 12:11-12 [ESV] All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.
The governmental structure of churches may differ, but the social organization is the same – a body working together.
Modifying habitats and tapping local resources: Perhaps the best example of this is found in
1 Corinthians 9:19-23 [ESV] For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
We don’t use the same words and examples to explain salvation to our children as we do to adults. We adapt. In a prosperous society like the USA, we can preach via Facebook or Roku channels and reach a lot of people. In India, we may do better by setting up a school. In Africa, maybe we give sewing machines to widows so they can earn a living and feed their families. Our ability to grow and thrive – to be invasive to a society – is impacted by our ability to meet the locals where they are and speak to them in a way that will resonate with their current lives and needs. 
Defense: God provides the equipment needed for defending ourselves.
Ephesians 6:13 [NKJV] Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
However, we are tasked with doing the work needed to be able to properly use it.
1 Peter 3:15 [KJV] But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and [be] ready always to [give] an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear. 
Invasiveness: We all look forward to the day when the knowledge of the Lord covers the whole earth.
[Isaiah 11:9] Until that time, we are to be about the work of preaching the Gospel and “breeding” more of the Christian species.
Mark 16:15 [NKJV] And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”
Certainly, in the time of the early New Testament church, the believers made pests of themselves. At least, that is how some of the locals felt about them. [See Acts 17:6 and 19:24-27]
Like ants, Christians should be an invasive species. We should be able to defend our beliefs and explain them. We should adapt to the people and circumstances wherein we are called to serve, and adapt to the local resources available to us. Most of all, we must we aware of the vital part each and every member plays in the health of the colony of believers.
Go to the ant, and be wise.

Sitting as a Queen and not a Widow (The Word and The Way)
“To the degree that she glorified herself and lived sensuously, to the same degree give her torment and mourning; for she says in her heart, ‘I SIT as A QUEEN AND I AM NOT A WIDOW, and will never see mourning.’ “For this reason in one day her plagues will come, pestilence and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for the Lord God who judges her is strong. And the kings of the earth, who committed acts of immorality and lived sensuously with her, will weep and lament over her when they see the smoke of her burning, standing at a distance because of the fear of her torment, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the strong city! For in one hour your judgment has come‘.” Revelation 18:7-10
The all caps in the verses above is not my doing. The translation I use makes note of when the New Testament cites the Old Testament by putting the words in all caps. In this instance, John is referencing Isaiah 47. In fact, a whole lot of the book of Revelation references the Old Testament.
I am bringing this up because I want to ask the reader a question: from where does a queen derive her power? This is a much harder question to answer for those of us in the Americas than for those on the European continent, because we largely lack monarchies on this side of the world. A queen derives her power from a king. In order for a woman to ascend to the throne of a country, her husband must have died or her father died without having male children.
In a recent sermon, I spoke about identifying Babylon and how to come out of her . The congregation of true believers is analogized as a pure bride by the Apostle Paul and others, but even in the book of Revelation itself we can see that the congregation of those who remain true are referred to as chaste bride clothed in white:
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Revelation 19:7,8
The contrast we have here is a congregation of faithful and obedient believers being identified as a chaste bride clothed in white, and the congregation of syncretic and disobedient believers being analogized as a harlot clothed in scarlet. This is a pretty easy distinction to figure out.
However, the identifier of the Babylon of the end times being a queen and not a widow gives us a little more insight. That means this Babylonian character is a power that believes it derives its power from itself without the need of the husband that is Yahweh (God). There are a couple groups that fit this category, but which country or culture do we see today that has been historically faithful, blessed beyond comprehension, and yet has decided to push any reference to the Almighty from the public square? Western culture as a whole has been pursuing a secular agenda for quite a while, but the United States today is remarkably pushing God out of the public square. We have had the world’s most powerful military and economy for quite a while and have lived in almost universal peace and safety for over fifty years. This degree of security and prosperity for such a length of time makes us start to believe that we will never see mourning, especially nothing like the hard times our forefathers endured to build that peace.
There are a whole lot of things lining up recently that look end-time-ish lately. Is this the end, birth pangs for the end, or just another cyclic change in the power structure on planet earth? Only Yahweh knows for sure. But it is intriguing to explore the parallels between the USA and the Babylonian end-time power. While this nation has sinned a lot historically and has never kept the 4th commandment, it was founded by those seeking to have the religious freedom to worship the God of the Bible as they saw fit. As the USA has prospered immensely in the last fifty or sixty years, its culture has turned into a more secular humanist society. This means we, as a nation, have decided to lean on our own works and reject the Almighty. Our culture has also very rapidly been promoting the mixing of belief systems under the guise of “tolerance”. These things add up to fitting the idea that the USA is starting to believe that she is a Queen who needs no husband – and that is a dangerous place to be.

Practicing Pure Religion (Sabbath Meditations)
According to James 1:27, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to … mumble, mumble, mumble … keep oneself unspotted from the world.”
Striving to stay unspotted from world. Being zealous to overcome sin. Yes, got that one down! Rejecting worldly teaching and immorality and holding onto Truth? Check that! That’s my life, man! That’s what I really care about!
What’s that? Oh, that little part I mumbled through? Let’s see, “to visit orphans and widows in their trouble.” Yeah, well … yes, I suppose that’s there too. But let’s get back to that Truth thing! That’s where it’s at! That’s what God really cares about!
Really? Because it looks to me that serving those who are in need, reaching out to visit the orphans and widows in their affliction, isn’t ranked somewhere way down at the bottom of some spiritual to do list. It’s right up there. It’s one of two things that God say are equally important in identifying those whose religion is pure.
For every place in God’s Word where we are exhorted to love and obey His law, to seek after truth and reject the things of this world, you can find another where we are commanded to give selflessly in service to others.
In Isaiah 1:17, one of hundreds of scriptures like it, we are commanded to “Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”
Scriptures like this one make it abundantly clear that becoming like our Elder Brother isn’t measured solely by our progress in mastering a list of do’s and dont’s. It’s about developing His heart and mind within us. It’s about caring passionately about the things He cared about.
You want to get to know the Lord more fully? You want to be more like Him? Get passionate about the things He was passionate about.
Passionate about Truth? Yes, of course.
But also passionate, big time, about people, especially the needy among us.
“A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows, Is God in His holy habitation.” – Psalms 68:5
You can’t overlook them and think you’re are becoming like Him. You can’t go to church on the Sabbath, read your Bible, share a few platitudes over coffee and cookies with your friends and then go home and think you’re walking in the footsteps of your Savior, because you’re not. Serving the less fortunate around you, in your communities, in your church, isn’t simply something you do once in a while at a weekend Church activity. It’s not something you do if and when you have the time, resources and inclination. It is not an optional part of the program. It is the program. And whether or not we’re fully engaged in that program has eternal implications.
“‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me….inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me’.” – Matthew 25:34-40
My prayer this Sabbath for myself and the rest of God’s people is that the Lord would help us to be more like Him. That He would put just as great a passion in our hearts for serving the widow and fatherless as we have for holding on to His Truth. That we would be as zealous for defending the needy as we are for defending His Law. That each of us would give ourselves fully to practicing pure religion.

Big Lessons, Tiny Teacher: Go to the Ant – Lesson 1 (New Church Lady)
Fire ants! I spent another summer trying to rid my yard of them. Sometimes I think that there is just one big catacomb underground, connecting all around my yard and maybe even the whole world. This would explain why when I kill one mound, another one pops up, seemingly overnight. It’s like a game of “whack-a-mole.” But ants have a lot to teach us.
What parent has neglected to quote
Proverbs 6:6-8 [NIV], by way of encouraging a child to be industrious and hard working? Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.
The ant can teach us much more than just that we should work hard in this life. So, I offer a lesson that we can be gleaned from the Kingdom: Animalia, Class: Insect; Order: Hymenoptera; Family: Formicidae. Lesson 1: Communication is key to the success of individual members and of the colony as a whole.
Ants communicate with each other using pheromones, sounds, and touch. They use pheromones to mark trails in the dirt to lead others to food or to warn them of danger – ensuring that the other ants have the information they need to succeed.
As brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to have this team/colony attitude toward communication that will help our fellow brethren succeed. We need to share what we know, help others find nourishment and warn them of dangers we find along the way. None of this is about bossing the other ants (brethren) or outlining pet interpretations of scripture. It is about finding ways to share what we know with other new parents, with children and teens, or with brethren experiencing the same troubles we have had to overcome. We should not hoard our knowledge.
Malachi 3:16 [KJV] Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard [it], and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon his name.
Malachi doesn’t outline what those who feared the Lord discussed, but I think we can be assured that it wasn’t the latest football stats or political drama. I think it is safe to assume that they spoke words of encouragement to one another and discussed the scriptures and writings available to them.
Proverbs 25:11 [ESV] A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.
We should speak up with words of encouragement for one another at every opportunity. Compliment your brethren in Christ. Say thank you. Say “I love you.” Say, “You can do it!” and “I am praying for you.” These words have great value to God.
Communicate in other ways as well, as the ants do. A timely hug does wonders for me when I am down. A pat on the back or a squeeze of the hand can communicate love, support and sympathy when words just don’t do the trick – or when the right words to say won’t come.
The entirety of our church services are about positive communication. Together, we communicate praises to God and Jesus. We pray together, speaking of the needs of individuals and the church as a whole. The speakers are tasked with offering us words of life, of hope, of encouragement. When we fellowship before and after church, we also have the opportunity to speak words of life, of hope, of encouragement and so much more.
Ants don’t chatter mindlessly or gossip. [See
1 Timothy 6:20 and 2 Timothy 2:16] They communicate with purpose. They communicate for success. We should too. Go to the ant, and be wise.

What a Fish Doesn’t Know (Morning Companion)
Here is a fish story for you: a fish doesn’t know that it’s in the water. It is blissfully unaware that its environment is foreign to us and uninhabitable for our wellbeing. The fish just swims around and does what fish do, which includes soiling the water.
The Gadarenes were like fish in water. In the First Century these Gentile people resided in an area outside of Galilee. It would have been unusual for a Jewish rabbi to visit the area, but that’s exactly what Jesus did. The first person he encountered was a man possessed by a legion of demons. The man lived among the tombs, unclothed, unable to be bound with chains. It must have been a shock to the people of this country when the possessed man falls before Jesus, and they see him begging Jesus to leave them alone.
If you are wondering what my fish story has to do with Jesus confronting a legion of demons, read on.
The text tells us that Jesus casts out the demons, sending them into a herd of swine. When the people see this formerly demon possessed man sitting fully clothed, fully sane, and having a conversation with Jesus, do they rejoice at a great work of God? On the contrary, they beg Jesus to leave their country. He had upset their world. They were like that fish in the water. Having a legion of demons in their neighborhood seemed normal to them. They had gotten used to the world as they knew it, and when someone came along and reordered that world — when they were removed from the water — they became as disoriented as fish on the seashore.
I wonder how many of us prefer the water. I wonder how many people currently in the halls of power would leave town if the swamp really were drained of its water. John in his gospel tells us that “the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, for their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19) True!
Sadly, just like that fish, too many don’t know the environment in which they live, and like the Gadarenes, they are afraid to try a better way.
Scripture reference: Luke 8:26-39

The Courage to be a Friend (Sabbath Meditations)
When my daughter was ten, she experienced her first visit to detention. A friend asked her to break a school rule and, because she didn’t want to risk losing her friendship with this girl, she went along … and got caught.
When I spoke with my daughter I tried to say the things that any good parent would say. I stressed to her the importance of picking her friends carefully. I told her that a true friend would never purposely ask her to do something that might get her in trouble. I told her that friends will come and go, but she will always have to look at herself in the mirror. I told her that if she stands for what she knows is right, she might risk losing a few friends along the way, but the ones she keeps will be stronger and deeper because she did. Basically, I wanted her to understand that being a true friend takes courage.
Proverbs 27:17 tells us that “as iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of His friend.” It’s a beautiful word picture for the type of friends we should have and the purpose for which God has designed them.
Iron, of course, is a very hard substance. It is unyielding. It doesn’t bend easily. The image that this passage in Proverbs brings to mind is one of two swords, both made of iron, being swiftly stroked together for the purpose of sharpening. It takes some skill to master the technique of sharpening blades this way. The blades have to be stroked at just the correct angle or there is risk of actually doing more damage than good. Carelessly clashing one blade against the other or gliding them across each other at two steep of an angle can mar the blade, causing more nicks and imperfections than were there already. However, done correctly, and with care, just the opposite will occur.
Initially the friction needed to sharpen the blades can seem rather rough. The blades can actually bounce away from each other as imperfections are encountered and confronted. But the persistent act of applying just the right degree of pressure at the correct angle will gradually yield a razor-like sharpness in both blades. It’s a beautiful process to behold for anyone who has seen it done. It’s a beautiful process to behold in a friendship as well.
These are the types of friends we need in our lives. Friends, whose values, like iron are solid and unbending. Friends who care enough about us to sharpen us and allow us to sharpen them. That’s the kind of friendship of which this passage speaks.
Unfortunately, there are friends who are more like polishing cloths than iron swords. Those who maintain their relationships by glossing over problems or polishing fragile egos. “If I just show them enough love,” this type of friend might say, “maybe they will change.” “It’s a God job.” It goes without saying that no amount of polishing will make a sword any sharper. The sword being polished might look prettier; it might have a nice shine, but that’s about it. Over time, constant polishing will actually have a dulling affect on the blade. The edge will deteriorate if not sharpened properly. And we all know what eventually happens to the cloth used to give it this pretty finish. It will inevitably become dirty and tattered and outlive its usefulness. Once used up, it will be tossed away only to be replaced by another just like it.
We’ve probably all known a sword polisher at one time or another. Maybe we’ve even been that person. It’s the person who bends and compromises their own standard of behavior rather than make waves. They might engage in hurtful gossip. They might laugh along with inappropriate or crass jokes; perhaps even telling a few themselves. They might use language that as a Christian they wouldn’t normally use. The sword polisher could be the person who, seeing a friend involved in behavior destructive to themselves or others, neglects to go to them for fear of straining the relationship. So they remain quiet, glossing over it, hoping the situation will resolve itself on its own. They hope that, if they just show enough love to the person, set the right example, God will somehow reveal to the friend the error of his or her ways.
Galations 6:1 tells us that if our brother is overtaken in a trespass that we should restore him in the spirit of meekness.
As Christians, God gives us the gift of friendship so that we can be tools in His hands to sharpen each other. We are to be iron swords, not polishing cloths. If we truly do love our friend, when we see them being overtaken in a trespass, we will be willing to risk momentary friction and discomfort, even separation, in our effort to restore them. If done in the spirit of meekness, with the right motivation, with care, we will be sharpened in the process as well.
It takes courage to be this kind of friend. It’s the kind of courage I spoke about with my daughter as she stood before me teary eyed. She was obviously sorry for the mistake she had made. I was encouraged that what I was telling her seemed to have a positive impact. Usually when I launched into lecture mode with my children, I was met with glazed eyes. That time I noticed what I can only interpret as resolve not to make the same mistake again. It’s that kind of steely resolve that’s perfect for sharpening.

Free Range Children (Answers for the 21st Century Thinker) (4-minute video)

A Prism-er of the Light
(New Church Lady)
I
n the middle of the night after being awakened by a leg cramp, I clearly recall, as the cramping subsided, “prism.” And then I went back to sleep.
The crazy thing is that I remembered it the next morning and that the idea has continued to rumble around in my brain. Seems like it is a message I am compelled to write at this time of the year, when many of us celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. (See
Deut. 16:13-15)
Let’s start by answering the question: What does a prism do to light?
Visible light, also known as white light, consists of a collection of component colors. These colors are often observed as light passes through a triangular prism. Upon passage through the prism, the white light is separated into its component colors – red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet. The separation of visible light into its different colors is known as dispersion.
God is light, as we are told in 1 John 1:5
[ESV], where it says, This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
Jesus is the light of the world. John 8:12 [ESV] Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
We are not the light. But we are called to bear witness to the light, just as John the Baptist bore witness to the Light. (See John 1:6-8)
For us believers, God’s light shines into us. He expects us to disperse it out into the world. The way I envision us being prisms is not individually, but as a group. I might be the red of the prismed light. Maybe you are blue, another is green, and so forth. We each, with our own unique gifts and opportunities, show a different component God’s light. Maybe we can disperse more than one color or hue, but none of us can fully represent the perfect light of God and Jesus. It takes each of use to disperse His rainbow of light.
So, while each of us is able to disperse some of God’s loving light out to those around us, together we show that full light in all its multi-faceted colors and hues.
At this time of year we will be gathered together in much greater numbers than typically on any given day or even during the weekly Sabbaths. This is a chance for us to disperse the light of God in blinding prism rainbows of love and light that just cannot be ignored. Whole communities should be saying, “Something is really different here this week!”
Even if you are observing these days at home, please consider how you might help your community “see the light” by doing the work of a prism.
Matthew 5:14-16 [ESV]
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
We are called to disperse the light that we walk in – the light of God; the light of Jesus. We are called to do the work of a prism – to be “prism-ers” of God’s light. Go out and shine.

The Water Ceremony (Morning Companion)
On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39, NKJV)
When Jesus stood up and shouted out his message, it was the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, a mere six months before his crucifixion. His preaching was taking on an urgency as his earthly ministry was coming to close.
On this last day of the Feast the people celebrated with a traditional water ceremony. Water was drawn from the Pool of Siloam, the very pool where Jesus on the next day would instruct a blind man to wash his eyes for healing (John 9). From the Pool of Siloam the priests and the people would walk in procession through Jerusalem, through the Water Gate, and into the Temple. There the priest would pour that water from the healing Pool of Siloam into a silver bowl on the altar as a special offering to God.
It is worth noting that this water ceremony is not a part of any Biblical liturgy. There is no instruction anywhere in the Scripture commanding this tradition, but it is also worth noting that Jesus did not condemn it. Rather he used it as a teaching tool.
During the ceremony a number of scriptural passages might have been in the people’s minds. Maybe they were thinking of Isaiah 44 and the analogy associated with water when it is poured on a thirsty ground.
Fear not, O Jacob My servant; And you, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen.
For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, And floods on the dry ground;
I will pour My Spirit on your descendants, And My blessing on your offspring;
They will spring up among the grass like willows by the watercourses.’
Maybe they thought about Ezekiel 47 and the prophecy of pure healing water gushing from the Temple Mount as a blessing and the bringing forth of life and healing.
This water flows toward the eastern region, goes down into the valley, and enters the sea. When it reaches the sea, its waters are healed. And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live. There will be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters go there; for they will be healed, and everything will live wherever the river goes.
Maybe they were listening to the words that a choir of priests were singing from Isaiah 12:
Lord, I will praise You; Though You were angry with me,
Your anger is turned away, and You comfort me.
Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid;
‘For Yah, the Lord, is my strength and song; He also has become my salvation.’
T
herefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
If those that heard Jesuss voice that day made the connection with the words of Isaiah 12, Jesus’s shout would have been an electric shock to them considering from whom the words were coming. To understand that, understand what the Hebrew says in verse 2.
The phrase “God is my salvation” is “el yeshua”. “El” is Hebrew for “God”, and “Yeshua” is Hebrew for “Jesus”, which in turn means “salvation”. And verse 3 speaks of “draw[ing] water from the wells of salvation [
yeshua].”
So going back back to John 7, a man named Yeshua makes an obvious reference to a passage from the prophets that uses the word “yeshua” in connection with the waters of salvation drawn from a pool of healing. Jesus is offering them a clue to his true identity and origin.
This teaching was shocking but effective. Some believed him (verses 40-41), some doubted (verses 41-42), and some wanted to arrest him for blasphemy (verse 44). Regardless of where they stood, they knew exactly what he was saying about himself and who he really was.
The theological points Jesus was making are obvious ones: He is the way to salvation. He can satisfy our search for meaning. He will send the Holy Spirit and that Spirit through us can help heal the world.
There is also a lesson here on how to reach people with a message. Remember that this Water Ceremony was not a part of the original liturgy from the Torah. It was a cultural thing that was added some time between Moses and Herod’s Temple. Yet Jesus had no problem using the culture of the day as a teaching tool. That should be a clue to us that using our popular culture to teach spiritual lessons is not only acceptable, but also smart. Lessons from movies, lessons from popular books, lessons from news events — these all can be sources of instruction.
Put differently, we cannot afford to isolate ourselves from society at large. We must understand the thinking process and milieu of those around us. Engage the culture from where it is. Speak in terms that they can relate to. And keep the message positive whenever possible.
——————————————————————————————————————-
For more information on the Water Ceremony, go to these links:
http://jewishroots.net/library/holiday-articles/water_libation_ceremony.html http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14794-water-drawing-feast-of https://jewsforjesus.org/publications/issues/issues-v06-n07/sukkot-a-promise-of-living-water/

To the Least of These (The Word and The Way)
The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ Matthew 25:40
I was able to facilitate some tangible help for a family of believers recently. I’m not actually doing the helping, but managed to get the right person to the right place to help these good people out. Once all the plans had been made, one of the family members started thanking me profusely. I tried to tell her that this is just what we are supposed to do and my ability to help them is more like a duty. I accepted the gratitude, but then she started to talk about repaying me in the future because nobody had ever helped them in the past.
A while later, what she told me rang in my head. This is a family that has been keeping the Sabbath and Holy Days for decades and nobody had helped them before, at least not to this degree and not without wanting something in return. What a travesty.
Unfortunately, it is common thing among the Church of God and Hebrew Roots believers to neglect the “love your neighbor” side of our faith. With our incredible devotion to studying erroneous doctrines of days gone by, attempts to find the perfect calendar, and mission to purge all uncleanness from our lives, it is easy to put the loving side on the back burner. Well, that’s part of the Torah, too.
You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord (YHVH). Leviticus 19:18.
Yes, that’s right. The first time that was said was NOT a mere 2000 years ago by the Messiah. It has been in the Torah all along. Further evidence is to be found in Isaiah chapter 1:
Your rulers are rebels and companions of thieves; everyone loves a bribe and chases after rewards. They do not defend the orphan, nor does the widow’s plea come before them. Isaiah 1:23
Isaiah chapter one has been misused for nearly two thousand years to say that YHVH does not care for the observance of the Moedim. But this is not what the chapter is saying. Those in Israel who were still observing the commanded days were doing it with the wrong heart. They were going through the rituals but at the same time they were neglecting widows and orphans and surely all other manner of loving their neighbors. While there have been some incredible injustices perpetrated on the assembly in recent decades, only a handful of people would rise to the level that was written about in Isaiah 1.
So the challenge I issue to the reader is this: read Matthew 25: 31-46 and all of Isaiah 1 a few times. These verses should inspire us to look up even more verses that exalt charitable and compassionate behavior. Meditate on this information. Concentrate on it. And act on it. Help out your neighbor. Help people you don’t even know. Be kind to someone who cuts you off in traffic or takes that parking space you had your eye on. Just be nice. Surely we are all already doing these things because we have had our hearts softened by the Spirit, but let’s be a light to those around us. Perhaps they will be drawn to that light.

A Life of Discontent (New Church Lady)
Proverbs 5:15-18 [CSB] Drink water from your own cistern, water flowing from your own well. Should your springs flow in the streets, streams in the public squares? They should be for you alone and not for you to share with strangers. Let your fountain be blessed, and take pleasure in the wife of your youth.
These scriptures are clearly focused on fidelity in marriage. But it speaks to us about contentment – an important piece of advice for all of God’s blessings, including a happy marriage.
1 Timothy 6:6-8 expands on contentment: But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out. If we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. [CSB]
We believers are not meant to be folks always striving for more things, but people able to appreciate, enjoy, take care of and give thanks for what we already have.
Contentment is defined as “a state of happiness and satisfaction.” We believers are to learn to be happy and satisfied with our goods and God’s blessing. We are called to be content.
However, I want to encourage us to be just the opposite. I’m going to see if I can inspire you to some discontent with your walk in life. I’ll make a case for the idea that being discontent in one area of our lives is beneficial to that same Christian walk.
J. Matthew Sleeth MD, in his book titled
Serve God, Save the Planet (A Christian Call to Action), says: “The content mind is one of the greatest obstacles to a rich spiritual life.” (p.62) He goes on to explain that “To move from thought to action, we must feel some discomfort with who we are. We will not develop any discontent if we compare ourselves to people who behave more selfishly than ourselves.” For example, he says, “We may think ourselves philanthropic and generous until we see a widow giving away her last two pennies.”
Sleeth proposes that, if we are happy with who we are, we have no motivation to change and that discontentment with who we are leads us to better ourselves and the world around us.
I believe that the Bible supports the idea that being content with ourselves, our Christian maturity, is not good. We are called to a path of continual growth. If I come to the point of being content with myself, my understanding of the Bible, my level of wisdom, or patience, or love, then I stop growing in that area. And that is not good.
We find an example of contentment verses discontentment in
Luke 18:10-12
[ESV]: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’
This Pharisee was content with himself, his character, his deeds. That contentment was hampering his worship and, presumably, his growth as a believer.
On the other hand, we have the example of the tax collector, who was quite
discontented with himself.
Luke 18:13-14
[ESV] But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.
We are not called to beat ourselves up. That isn’t what I’m advocating at all. We are not called to look back in shame. Past sins are gone. But neither are we called to look at ourselves now and say, “good enough.”
We are called to
strive forward – to keep working at it – as is advocated in Philippians 3:12-14 [NIV]
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
What we need is a healthy focus on always striving to do better – a little discontentment with where we currently stand. We are called to strive to do better tomorrow than we did today. That is what Christianity is all about.
Contentment with our Christian character or service to others has the power to stunt our growth. The parable of the sower in
Matthew 13:3-9
ends with this: Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop–a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.
What I hear is that, even among those who grow and produce, not everyone will produce at the same level. Could the ones who produce a hundred times what was sown be just a little more discontent with themselves than those who produce thirty times? Maybe the thirty times folks just got to a point where they said “I’m happy with that.” And their contentment caused them to stop growing.
I think we are all capable of producing a hundred times what was sown, if we remain discontent enough to never stop trying to do better, learn more and grow.
Jesus tells us to love as He loved. Are you content with your progress on that? I confess that I am not content with mine. Jesus tells us to take care of the poor – the physically poor and the spiritually poor. Is there more you could do? Wes and I ask ourselves that quite frequently. Also, I confess that I am decidedly discontent with my level of patience.
We are called to both contentment and discontentment. We are called to be content with
what we have, but not with where we are
in our walk with Christ. 

What Not To Wear (Sabbath Meditations)
I heard a comedian joke the other day that, when it comes to clothing style, we men are hopeless. Basically, most of us pick out a point of time in our lives when we felt at the top of our game looks wise, and whatever style we were wearing at that time we just ride out for the rest of our lives. You can walk down the street and see a guy over 40 and pretty much pick the year: It’s funny but true.
There was a time when you probably would look at me and say…“ahh… 1986.” But that all changed when I came home from work one day to find my closet empty and all of my clothes sitting in garbage bags on the floor in our side entrance. To my dismay, while I was at work, my wife and daughter had performed a “What Not to Wear” on me. Frankly, I was a little distraught. Gone were my pleated, cuffed dress pants. Gone were my favorite mock turtle necks. Gone were my sear sucker sport shirts. And gone was my collection of beloved sweaters and sweatshirts I’d accumulated over the years. All gone.
Admittedly, I wasn’t all that much into fashion. In fact, for the most part I really could have cared less. But, even so, I was shocked at how my self-image took a hit that day. I really didn’t think I had looked that bad. In fact, I kind of liked the way I dressed. The 1980s were good years.
It took me a while to recover from the shock. Any confidence I had in my ability to dress myself went immediately down the drain. For some time after that I was afraid to leave the house without first getting the thumbs up from one of my two self-appointed fashion consultants.
Now, in looking back, the whole thing makes me laugh. I’ve come to appreciate the women in my life who love me enough to make sure I don’t look like a throwback from the 1980s.
As Christians, living in this physical world, focused on physical things, it’s easy for us to get a little too wrapped up in maintaining a certain image sometimes. We walk around wearing remnants of the old man, focused on self-image, self-preservation and self-promotion. Remnants of pride or human fearfulness at times cause even converted people to go to great lengths to cover up their blemishes, to dress up their faults, to maintain the image they want others to see. Publicly hiding behind facades of wholeness, they privately nurture areas of brokenness and pain.
James 5:16 instructs us to “Confess your faults to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”
1 Thessalonians 5:10 tells us to “…encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”
This Church thing that we are a part of isn’t some spiritual fashion show. It’s not so we can parade around displaying how put together we are. God put us in the body to do just the opposite. It’s a place we share our hurts, we share our weaknesses and our burdens, so that we might together find strength and encouragement to overcome and grow up into Him, Jesus Christ, in all things. We can’t do that if we are protecting an image.
You know, it might not be a bad idea, if, as Christians, we all did a spiritual “What Not to Wear” on ourselves once in a while. In fact, occasionally going through our spiritual closets and cleaning out some of the outdated remnants of the old man is something scripture tells us we are supposed to do from time to time.
Romans 13:14 encourages us to put off the remnants of the old man and to “clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.”
We are to put on the attitude, the heart and mind of our Savior, who we are told in Philippians 2, “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 cross!”
If only we as His disciples could lay aside aside our facades, lay aside our pride and be clothed with the kind of humility that would allow us to share our weaknesses, to carry one another’s burdens, rather than hiding and shielding them from others. God could and would use to help us to heal. How much more powerfully could God’s Spirit work among His people to grow us and mold us into His image? If only we had the courage to open up our spiritual closets and start tossing.
When I came home to find my clothes in garbage bags, I have to admit that I did rummage through to reclaim a couple of my favorite old sweatshirts. I only got away with it after promising my two fashion consultants that I wouldn’t wear them in public. It was a small price to pay to hang on to some sense of my former identity. Now, they too, have found their way to the garbage. I’ve finally let go of the 1980s and moved on.
My spiritual wardrobe is still a work in progress. There is still some cleaning out to do. I know the same is true for all of us. The more we strive together to put on Christ, in humility sharing, encouraging and building up one another in Him, the clearer we will see to discard the remnants of our old man. Clothed with His heart and mind, we’ll never have to worry about going out of style.

Close Enough? … only in Horseshoes (New Church Lady)
When I worked as a teacher’s aide I was surprised by the number of times some child would rudely ask how old I was. I can only assume that my age, in their minds, was germane to my ability to help them with school work. I would always say, “What do you think?” Then, whatever they guessed (and guesses ranged from 30-60), I’d say, “Close enough.”
As a Christian, is “close enough” ever enough? I say “no.”
As proof, let me offer up
Matthew 5:48 in several translations:
ESV: You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
NLT: But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.
KJV: Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect
.
We are admonished to hit the mark of perfection, not to just get close.
This admonition comes at the end of a chapter that begins with the “Beatitudes” and follows those with even harder things like, these:
Not only should you not murder – don’t even call someone a fool:
Verses 21-22: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.
Not only should you not swear falsely – don’t even be a person whose truthfulness can be questioned:
And verses 33-34: “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God’.
Not only should you not seek revenge – don’t even resist evil:
And verses 38-39: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Not only should you not hate your enemy – you must return good for the evil:
And verses 43-44: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
These are some tough standards.
One word translated “sin” in the New Testament is
hamartanō and one definition of hamartanō is to “miss the mark.” Another word translated “sin” is very similar – hamartia
. It also can mean “miss the mark.” Anything short of “hitting the bull’s eye” of perfection is sin.
There is an old saying that “close only counts in horseshoes.” That is as true for our Christian walk as for anything else. As a Christian, close enough is not enough.
But I have good news for us all, and it is found in
1 John 2:1-2 [ESV] My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
The word translated “sin” in 1 John 2:1 is hamartanō. If anyone misses the mark, we have Jesus as our advocate.
In addition, we find the following in
John 1:29 [NIV] The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
The word translated “sin” in John 1:29 is hamartia. If anyone misses the mark, we have Jesus, the Lamb that takes away our sin.
The mark we are called to hit is perfection. We are told to become perfect, as the Father is perfect. Close doesn’t count. If you are anything like me, perfection “ain’t gonna happen” in this life.
Praise God that Jesus’s blood covers the distance between my best shot and the actual bull’s eye we are called to hit. But we must never be content with close enough. We must always strive to hit the mark “dead on”. We must be working our way, each day, ever closer to perfection and rest in comfort that Jesus covers the gap.

Surviving Life in the Pressure Cooker (Sabbath Meditations)
When I as a kid my mom was big into canning. Strawberries, peaches, apples, you name it … if it grew on a tree or a bush, she canned it. Now if you know anything about canning, which many these days don’t, you’d know that an essential implement in the process is the pressure cooker. And we had a big one. In fact, it was so big and noisy, it used to scare me. When this beast of a stainless steel pot got up to a certain temperature, it would rattle and rock violently on the stove top from the pressure of the steam that was building up inside. The only thing that kept it from blowing was a little cap on the top that let just enough steam out to avoid certain disaster, or at least avoided cooked peaches being strewn all over the kitchen.
As a kid I would steer a wide berth around this thing, because I thought, “if that thing gets clogged, it’s going to blow!” Thankfully it never did…and we spent many a winter enjoying the fruits of my mother’s efforts in the kitchen the previous summer.
I learned about stress when I was in the middle of a job change, transitioning from the career I had known for seven years, where I had grown somewhat comfortable, where some of my co-workers had become like second family. Now I was going to a new environment with unknown challenges, unknown personalities, unknown culture. Needless to say, I felt internally somewhat like one of those pressure cookers my mother used long ago, except in my case I didn’t have a release cap to keep it from blowing.
I didn’t realize just how much pressure was building till I found myself in the back of an ambulance one day hooked up to an EKG machine. I had called 911 on the way home from work, because I felt I was having what I thought was a heart attack. I was short of breath, becoming increasingly dizzy to the point of blacking out with tingling sensations in my toes and hands. Well, after a full battery of tests, including several needle sticks and donations into a little cup, I was given the all clear. My heart was fine, everything else looked fine. The diagnosis? Hypertension brought on more than likely from … you guessed it … stress.
Since that day I’ve been trying to do all of the right things doctors tell you to do. Reduce salt intake, get more rest, exercise daily, eat healthier. In short. Release some of that stress that has been building up in my body. I’ve tackled these instructions with a passion and I do feel better. There is one piece of instruction, however, that the doctor did not give me … but instruction that I know, more than all of these things, would do more to combat my stress than anything else.
1 Peter 5:7 tells us to cast our cares on God for He cares for us.
At the root of stress is really the fear of the unknown. Of all people, we as Christians, should have every reason to be at peace internally. Yes, there are unknowns in life, but God is sovereign. He has called us and is working out His plan within us.
The more I can trust that He cares for me and cast my burden on Him, the greater peace I can have, regardless of the situations I encounter in life. The same is true of major life changes such as my transition to a new job. If I have prayed about a decision, asked God to direct my path, requested that He open and close doors as appropriate in my life, then I need to have confidence that He will do that. In short I need to have faith in Him.
The world will continue to turn the heat on. Responsibilities will always be there, bosses will always expect 110%, family problems will crop up sporadically … but regardless of the pressures we face, we can have faith that our God who cares for us will carry our burden. That faith is the best release cap of all.

The Three Big Questions (Morning Companion)
There are plenty of good teachers in this world, but only a few great ones. Let me tell you about a great teacher. Her name was Mrs. DeFelice. She taught English at my high school.
“DeFelice” is an Italian name. “De” means “of” and “felice” means “happy”. The name suited her well, for she radiated the meaning of her name.
One day she walked into class and wrote three questions on the chalkboard, questions that changed the life of this then-teenager. She called these The Three Big Questions of Life: Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going?
Those three questions addressed that which was churning within me, though I was unable to express it until that time. The search for the answers to those questions became a quest and a journey, and it has been quite a ride.
We all have a need to be somebody, to find meaning in our lives, to live a life of significance. It is built into our being to find purpose and make a difference.
It is important to remember the cultural context of the late 1960s when Mrs. DeFelice chalked those questions on the board. Those were days when Nihilism was a thread in much of the youth culture. It was the subject of the dirge “Is That All There Is?” (You can listen to the song here: Is That All There Is?) Is that all there is to life? “If that’s all there is, then let’s keep dancing. Let’s bring out the booze and have a ball.” Are we no more than “a poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stage and is heard no more?” Is life no more than a “walking shadow”, as would say Macbeth?
The questions led me to the Book I was told was the Word of God. I opened the family Bible for the first time, and the book fell open to the book of Ecclesiastes. This is what I read in that old Catholic version of the Book:
The words of Ecclesiastes, the son of David, king of Jerusalem. Vanity of vanities, said Ecclesiastes: vanity of vanities, and all is vanity … I have seen all things that are done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit. (Ecclesiastes 1:1-3, 14 Douay Version, Copyright 1949-1950, Catholic Book Publishing Company.
Other translations are even more nihilistic — and accurate. They translate “vexation of spirit” as “striving after wind”.) This and the rest of the book of Ecclesiastes provided few comforting words. If this was the Word of God, was it telling me that this is all there is, and all of it is little more than vanity? But I searched more and found this:
When I see thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast established: what is man, that thou art mindful of him or the son of man that thou art concerned about him? Thou hast made him a little less than the angels, thou hast crowned him with glory and honor; thou hast given him power over the works of thy hands, thou hast placed all things under his feet. (Psalm 8:4-7, Douay Version)
The hint of the answer was right there. The Psalm told me where I came from, told me who I was, and told me where my significance lay. More than that, I found the answer expanded in the book of Hebrews. The author of the book quotes the Psalm and then chunks it up to a higher level. After quoting the Psalm, he adds this:
For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But we do not yet see all things put under him. (Hebrews 2:8, New King James Version)
“We do not yet see all things put under him!” The human race was given the mandate to dress and keep the earth. We are to improve it rather than degrade it, though often we have failed in this. But ultimately, the divine plan for the human race is to be co-heirs, not just of the earth, but of everything that Jesus is to inherit.
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ (Romans 8:16-17, NKJV)
It is not too much to say that God wants us as his children and not just as subjects. His ultimate purpose is to share with us everything that is his. It is right for us to look into the heavens and wonder about all the creation in this vast universe and dream about what it is like in its vast reaches. And we, who are mere specks in the vast array of creation, are privileged to dream about it all. But first we must learn how to take care of it in a godly way. That’s what we are to do with what is currently our domain, which means we have a huge responsibility to do it right and a long way to go.

Afraid of the Dark? (The Word and The Way)
The clinical term for it is “nyctophobia”, which means an extreme or irrational fear of the dark or night-time. It is a common thing to teach children not to be afraid of the dark, but when some unexpected sound happens at night while all are snug in bed and the lights are off, the hearts of even the toughest of men beat a little faster until the source of the offending sound is identified.
Are we really afraid of the dark? My contention is no, we’re not. What we are afraid of is uncertainty and insecurity. With the loss of our vision due to the darkness, anything out of the ordinary creates a certain chaos, and we feel incredibly vulnerable. Then we turn on the light and all is well.
Who do we know that likes to dwell in the darkness?
And I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’ Acts 26:15-18
Satan, of course, dwells in darkness. He thrives on it. Darkness is equivalent to confusion and chaos, where the Adversary can use fear and uncertainty to shake our faith. And it gets worse:
No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 2 Cor 11:14
Satan dwells in the darkness, creating confusion, and then disguises himself as an angel of the light! Why? To try to persuade us that he is the comforter, that he is the place of safety, and that we should follow him. But he is a counterfeit. He cannot bring peace or safety. He is not the true Light of the world. He is insanely jealous of the true Light.
“Sunlight is the best disinfectant” is a saying coined by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. This is true on so many levels and in so many instances. We live in a Babylonian world were so much is done in the darkness. Governments are accountable to no one. Many companies and labor organizations say one thing publicly while doing the opposite behind closed doors. And, worst of all, religious leaders fleece their flocks for monetary gain while purposely not telling them the truth about the scriptures. But we can be assured of one thing: all these things will be made known.
Daniel said, “Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, For wisdom and power belong to Him. “It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men And knowledge to men of understanding. “It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, And the light dwells with Him. Daniel 2:20-22
further
Under these circumstances, after so many thousands of people had gathered together that they were stepping on one another, He began saying to His disciples first of all, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. Accordingly, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms will be proclaimed upon the housetops. Luke 12:1-3
Let’s play close attention to these verses. Daniel tells us that God knows what is in the darkness. Daniel also tells us that Light dwells with Him. We know who that Light is: Yeshua (Jesus). Then we look at Luke 12 where Yeshua tells His
disciples to beware of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. He specifically warns them not to be hypocrites and that the decisions they make in the dark will be made known. I think it is very important to note He is warning the people who will start the Church of God that their actions will not go unnoticed and will be brought into the light.
So, take comfort brethren. While we may suffer small or great in this lifetime, Yeshua is going to come back … and turn on the light!

The Faith That Drives Us (Sabbath Meditations)
I’m writing this week’s post from the comfort of a well-worn leather armchair at my local coffee shop. I sometimes like to do my writing here because (1) I’m addicted to Dulce De Leche Cafe Latte (yeah, yeah…) and (2) I enjoy the atmosphere. It’s interesting to witness the broad swathe of humanity that walks in the doors of these places.
Today a large percentage of the patrons seem to be company recruiters interviewing potential hires. In the forty or so minutes I’ve been here, I’ve overheard bits and pieces of three job interviews. In fact, there is one taking place right now at the table five feet to the right of me. A middle aged, confident recruiter type, or could be the hiring manager, not sure, is interviewing a twenty-something, probably a soon to be college grad, who is either very nervous, overdosed on caffeine or suffering from acute Attention Deficit Disorder. He’s answering each question thrown at him as if he’s in the starting blocks of a 100 yard race and has just heard the crack of the pistol. I’m tempted to slide a note in front of this young guy that reads: B–R–E–A–T–H–E !
I can’t be too hard on the poor schmuck. The last time I was in the proverbial “hot seat” I recall being pretty nervous myself. Although overall I think I remained fairly calm and collected, I do remember a severe case of sweaty palms and an involuntary twitch in my right leg. At least I didn’t forget to breathe.
It also helped that I went in prepared with canned answers to what I was pretty sure were the types of questions I would be asked: “Why do you think you’re qualified for this position?” “Do you consider yourself a team player?” “What did you eat for breakfast and what does that say about your work ethic?” … questions like that. For the most part, with the exception I suppose of the last question, I was right on the money. (Hey, you never know when your going to have to answer for what you ate at breakfast.)
There was one other question, though, for which I hadn’t prepared, and my response to it almost capsized the entire interview. The lady in the suit across the table simply asked “So, tell me about what drives you?”
What drives me? Hadn’t thought of that one. It was more than just a work world question. It bridged over into the spiritual realm and I hadn’t prepared to go there. In fact, it scared me to go there. As a Christian being interviewed in a secular world, honest answers to questions like that one can get you in trouble. Initially, my mind raced to land on all the possible answers someone in a secular work environment might expect. What drives me?
Secular answer number one: A desire to be respected in my field.
Secular answer number two: A desire for a sense of personal achievement.
Secular answer number three: The satisfaction that comes with a job well done.
As I began to recite this list of “safe”, secular answers, though, the truly honest response kept pressing its way to the front of my mind, and it definitely was not “safe” and definitely not secular. But because it’s not considered “appropriate” today to bring one’s faith into the workplace, as quickly as it came to mind I pushed it aside and continued reciting my secular list.
And it was sounding pretty good. The interviewer was smiling and nodding her approval, everything was on track, I was hitting all the right notes. But then it happened. Just when I should have shut up, that pesky answer that had been pressing against the front of my cranium found its way to my lips. After a long pause, I took a big breath, looked into her eyes and said, “You know, to be honest with you, these are all important, but they aren’t really what drive me. Personal fulfillment, job satisfaction, monetary reward, praise for a job well done, the respect from colleagues, they aren’t really what I care about. Don’t get me wrong, they are nice … but they aren’t really what drives me. What really drives me is my internal belief system … my faith in Jesus Christ as my personal Saviour. That drives me, regardless of whatever else happens on the job.” (Gulp)
There. I had said it. I watched, horrified, as the interviewer stopped smiling, stopped nodding, put down her pen, and just stared at me. I sat there, heart palpitating and right leg now twitching uncontrollably, thinking, “Now you’ve blown it! It was going so well, and now your chances for this job are pretty much over!” Then, after what seemed an eternity, to my surprise she said, “Yes … that really is what is important, isn’t it? That’s what really matters.” Every part of my body breathed a collective sigh of relief. Whew! I had found another Christian, or at least a sympathizer.
After the interview ended and I had time to reflect, I mused over the difficulty giving that simple, truthful answer had caused me. Why should it have been so traumatizing? After all, I wasn’t trying to push my religion down her throat. I wasn’t warning her that the end of the world was near and she must repent or die. I wasn’t facing martyrdom unless I recanted my allegiance to Christ. It was a simple admission of the faith that defines who I am … who we are … as Christians. It shouldn’t have been so mortifying. But in a culture where tremendous pressure is being exerted to extricate faith from every facet of civic life, it was. Thankfully, it appears the lady interviewing me hadn’t yet gotten the memo. A few days later she called to offer me the position.
We’re told in John 16:2 that “…the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.”
The truth is, the trauma that this little witness encounter caused me was minuscule compared to the trauma suffered by many other Christians before me; being suffered now by Christians in other parts of the world; and will be suffered by all who profess faith in Jesus in the days yet ahead. If I can’t witness even in the little areas now, how will I witness when so much more is on the line? It’s a sobering question.
In Revelation 3 our Lord says through the Apostle John to the church at Philadelphia, “I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name.”
Though it’s understood that Jesus is addressing the mission of the larger Church, I believe this also has meaning for us individually. Each of us has an open door set before us through which we, as opportunity presents itself, can witness to the world. The door of opportunity for our individual witness can open in front of us anywhere anytime. It could open during a conversation over the fence with the next door neighbor who asks where we go every Saturday, or the co-worker who notices that there is something different about us, or the lady across the table waiting with pen and paper for an answer to the question, “what drives you?”
As this world becomes more hostile to all things Christian, giving honest answers to questions like those won’t get any easier. Our efforts to respond can often feel pretty feeble and weak. We might not always receive the positive response I received during my last interview. Sometimes, like the poor soul being interviewed at the table next to me, we might even occasionally make a mess of it.
I’m pretty confident that, regardless of the outcome of this young man’s interview, he won’t give up trying to land a job. Nor should we ever give up on walking through the doors our Lord opens before us to share His Name. Whatever the consequences, sweaty palms, twitchy legs and all, we just have to take a deep breath and step through, witnessing to the Faith that drives us.

The Five Most Important People in Your Life (Morning Companion)
Somebody once posited that you become the average of the five people you spend the most time with.
If we hang around grumpy people, we tend to become grumpy.
If we hang around worriers, we tend to be filled with worry.
If we hang around successful people, we become more successful.
If we hang around happy, positive people, we become happier and more positive.
And so on.
There is a large kernel of truth in that observation, and it speaks to choosing your friends and associates wisely. Some interesting observations from the Book of Proverbs and elsewhere:

Proverbs 12:26 One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.
Proverbs 13:20 Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.
Proverbs 14:6-7 Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge.
Proverbs 22:24-25 Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.
1 Corinthians 15:33
Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”
Proverbs 11:14 Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.
Some practical advice:
* If you are in a toxic work environment, start looking for employment elsewhere. Not every workplace is a sweatshop.
* If your friends and acquaintances are the type who focus on the cloud when there is a silver lining, find some new friends and acquaintances.
* If your church focuses on the negative instead of the Good News, question whether or not they really understand the gospel. If they don’t understand the virtues of joy and grace, find a church that does.
* If the people you hang with or work with are satisfied with “good enough”, reject the settling for mediocrity and find associates who are dedicated to excellence.
* If people in your life are gaslighting you (look it up), get them out of your life immediately.
* If people gossip to you, they will also gossip about you. Keep your distance.
* Find five people who have interests and values you admire. Make these people a part of your life.
Personally, I find spending time in the Gospels to be a good adjunct to surrounding yourself with the people you want to be the most like. Jesus did say, did he not, that he considered his disciples to be his friends (John 15:15), and if so, then why not us?
The four Gospels show us how he influenced others, how he stood for the weak, and how he lived a life of compassion. They reveal a man of character and strength, intelligence and humor, service and self-sacrifice. Who wouldn’t want to become like that?
So pick your five friends carefully – but also remember that Sixth One.

A Wonder (New Church Lady)
It is common in the American South to hear someone say, “I don’t want to be beholden to anyone.” It’s a way of refusing help, so that one doesn’t owe help back to another – even upon pain of failure or facing a long struggle on one’s own when a little help would make the solution much easier. That’s often how the world works – I do something nice for you and I hold that in reserve against the day that I need help. Then I can say, “Well, I helped you when you needed it.” It’s the way of the world and not altogether bad that, if you help me, I feel like I need to also help you. However, this exchange of debt is why some folks refuse help and seek rather to pull themselves up “by their own bootstraps.”
As with most things that are natural in this world – natural according to human nature – that isn’t how it’s supposed to work according to God.
Romans 13:8 [KJV] says, Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.
This would seem to support the idea of not being “beholden” to anyone. I like the NIV better on this one because it seems to clarify what the writer is getting at:
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.
There is a difference, to my thinking, in how these translations instruct me. The NIV seems to imply that I do have an obligation to pay folks back what I owe – whether money or service or goods. It doesn’t say to me that I need to never have any debt or anything I owe others, need to never be “beholden” to anyone, to never accept help. Rather, it tells me that I should pay it back in a timely manner and not let it remain outstanding.
It also says to me that the debt to love one another – a debt that all believers owe – is impossible to pay back – it remains owed no matter how many payments I make.
We do not owe this debt of love to others because of anything a family member or neighbor or friend or stranger has done for us. We owe it to others because of God’s love for each of us and because of what Jesus has done for each of us.
I finally got to watch the movie Wonder, about an extremely disfigured boy named Auggie and the impact his life makes on those around him, primarily the other 5th graders in his school. Auggie, of course, gets picked on and misunderstood in the beginning, but eventually wins over his classmates and gathers a group of true friends who love him for the person he is inside. (I hope that isn’t a spoiler for any of you.) Because of his ability to inspire others to kindness, his mother says, “Auggie, you are a wonder.”
True, godly love, especially shown in acts of kindness, is a “wonder” in the real world we live in too. Love that is outward facing, given generously and without thought of payback, which is given to those from whom I have received hate, and that is given inexhaustibly, isn’t natural in this world. Yet
Romans 13:8 tells us that this is exactly what we owe – and that it is a debt that remains open and owed for our entire lives. We are required make regular payments.

GettyImages-897821744.jpg

Acts of kindness – showing love for others – need not be big and bold – don’t need to involve a large charitable donation or massive group effort. Mark 9:41 [NIV] sets the bar really low for us when it says, Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.
A cup of water – whether literal water or refreshing of the spirit through encouragement – even this most simple acts of kindness is precious to our Heavenly Father.
As in all of our Christian walk, Jesus’s example is the marker toward which we should strive.
1 John 2:6 [NIV] Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.
Jesus lived a life of love that we can only hope to emulate. Though we never achieve His level of love for one another, we must try for it every minute of every day. Simple acts of kindness are one way to inch toward that goal and chip away at the debt we owe.
Be a wonder in this world – a person whose godly love and acts of kindness cause folks to marvel. I say this not so we can cause wonder for ourselves, but so that, then, we can point others to the debt of love we owe to one another because of the great love that God and Jesus have shown each of us. We do this so we can point to the Wonderful God we have.
Because God’s limitless love for us is the greatest wonder in all the earth and through all eternity, let’s commit ourselves to ask what we can do each day to refresh another, to encourage another, to help another – to make a payment on the unrelenting debt of love we owe – by being a wonder in this world.
Please share the acts of kindness that you see around you and/or that you receive. Post them on Facebook to encourage others that there is good – that there is wonder – in the world and to inspire others to do the same. By this we can encourage others to seek the God of all Wonder.
It’s all just a small down payment on the wonderful love of God; on the wonderful debt we owe.

The Gospel According to Angry Birds (Sabbath Meditations)
My name is Tony and I am an addict. I admit it. I love Angry Birds.
From the moment my daughter sat next to me on the couch one evening and said, “Dad, you’ve got to try this new game. It’s awesome!” I was hooked. I just couldn’t get enough of sling-shotting those little angry birds through the air to destroy whatever impregnable pig fortress stood in their way. One night, my wife came over to where I was sitting at my lap top, and asked, “what are you working on so intently? Something for work? A new blog post?” I sheepishly looked up at her and mumbled, “uhh…Angry Birds.”
I think what appeals to me most about the game is its simplicity. It hearkens back to a simpler time. I grew up in the day when video games typically had two controls, a joystick to maneuver and a button to fire. Packman, Tron, Tanks, Pong, Centipede. These were the games of my youth. These are the games I mastered. Unfortunately, they are old school now. They’ve gone the way of eight track tapes and record players.
Sure, I’ve tried playing the new-fangled games with my teenage son. He just laughs at me. By the time I figure out which of the the umpteen buttons or knobs to push, each performing different functions depending on the order or combination in which they are supposed to be manipulated … it’s too late, I’m toast. It’s way too overwhelming and confusing for my old brain to handle.
In II Corinthians 11:3 Paul tells the Corinthian brethren, “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.”
Paul was warning the Corinthian brethren about becoming confused by false teachers coming among them seeking to complicate the simple message of the Gospel. These teachers were trying to persuade the brethren of the necessity of mastering a bunch of unneeded rules and a bunch of different knobs and buttons while ignoring the one button that was most important to “winning.” As a result the brethren were becoming confused and frustrated.
Last Pentecost, I sat next to a lady on a three hour flight to Dallas. When she learned during the course of polite conversation that I was travelling to speak at a church congregation in Big Sandy, her eyes lit up. “I attend a church not too far from there in Gladewater,” she said. “What are you speaking about?” While I was tempted to launch into a dissertation on the meaning of Pentecost and its relationship with the other two harvests, I chose another tack. “I’ll be speaking about the importance of letting Jesus Christ live His life within us.” “Oh!”, she said excitedly, “That’s wonderful! I’m reading a book on that very topic” … and off we went talking for the next two hours about our shared belief in Christ. We talked about faith. We talked about the importance of walking the walk, not just talking the talk. She was a Sunday school teacher, so we talked a great deal about how critical it is to teach children a love for God and His way of life. Then, with a tear forming in her eye, she began sharing with me the ache in her heart for some of those children she had witnessed grow up and wander away from the faith and her deep concern that they will be condemned to a future in hell. It was then and only then that I began to share with her the hope of the resurrection and God’s plan as revealed by the Holy Days.
I feel it’s important to mention that I have no reason at all to brag. Although I’m sharing one of my few successes, there have been many more opportunities that I’ve botched miserably. Times when someone merely asking, “so why do you attend church on Saturday?” caused me to excitedly launch into a treatise on everything from the influence of Constantine on the doctrines of the Church to the prophesied ultimate destruction of the beast in the bottomless pit. “Over the top?” you say?
I think all of us who are passionately convicted about the things that we feel have been lost by so many of our brothers and sisters in Christ would do well to remember Paul’s example.
In I Corinthians 2 he writes, “And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
At the risk of overdoing an analogy, Paul is basically saying that he refused to get lost in all these complicated buttons and knobs on the controller. Though he had mountains of knowledge and years of experience to share, that’s not where He started. Instead, he kept it simple. In his sharing of the gospel, he focused on the majors, not on the minors. In doing so he let people be drawn to the clear, pure core message of the Gospel, Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Nothing else has any meaning, any relevance, aside from that.
How much more effective would our witness be if we adopted Paul’s approach? If, when presented with an opportunity to share, we’d step back, take a breath, set aside for a moment all of those tempting buttons and knobs, and lead with the one button that really matters, Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
It’s not an easy principle to keep in mind, especially when your in the heat of the moment and you’re bursting at the seams with excitement and passion for the truth. If there were only something to always keep us reminded of that simple principle.
Hmm … anyone for a game of Angry Birds?

It Doesn’t Go (Morning Companion)
General Motors had difficulty selling their popular Chevrolet Nova model south of the border, until someone figured out that Nova in Spanish means, “It doesn’t go”. (No va!)
Would you buy a car that “doesn’t go”?
Christianity, in order for it to be successful, must also be aware of the culture around it. Jesus and the earliest disciples all hailed from a Middle Eastern culture and were Jewish by religion and race. They viewed the world from the perspective of that people. But in order to break out of the culture of one people and to appeal to the entire world – a world that largely did not know the God of Israel – the peoples of other lands had to be approached from a perspective that they could understand.
When the Apostle Paul, who had the advantage of both a classical and a Jewish education, entered the picture, he was able to speak in terms understandable to both Jew and Greek. “To the Jews I became a Jew,” he wrote, “that I might win the Jews … To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law … I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”
He knew how to approach people from their perspective, sometimes quoting their poets and always speaking their language. If Christianity is to capture the hearts of today’s world, today’s Christians need to learn all they can about popular culture and what makes the world tick. The language that worked in the more biblically aware world of fifty years ago cannot work today. It no longer works to tell people that they need to “be saved” – because most don’t even know they are lost. Telling them to repent of their sins when “repent” is meaningless and “sin” a doubtful concept will do little more than solidify in their minds a stereotype of Christianity.
Just like those marketing gurus in foreign lands, we can have the best of intentions, but the signals we send do not address who we are and what we stand for. Just as Paul could converse in the language of the day, we must do the same. We must approach people in a way that is meaningful for them, and quite often that means providing a meaning to life in this increasingly nihilistic world. It means learning the rationale behind the relativistic philosophies of the day and showing where such philosophies inevitably lead.
And it means living in a way that is consistent with our values, not only to give glory to God (which is important), but also to show that the way we walk works, even in a world that might scorn it.

Somebody’s Got to be Wisconsin (Answers for the 21st Century Thinker)
(6-minute video)

Vegging Out (Sabbath Meditations)
It had been a stressful day. All I could think of doing after leaving work was to get home, grab the remote, claim some couch real estate, and use as little brain power as possible. Basically, I just wanted to veg (pronounced “vej”) out.

I’m confident I wasn’t the only one on the highway who felt that way. In fact, our lifestyles have gotten so hectic that whole industries are dedicated to helping people find new ways to do absolutely nothing. They couldn’t find a group of more willing consumers. Given the chance to finally relax, we readily reach for the remote, head to the theatre, crank up the stereo, turn on the video games, turn off our brains and become part of the plant kingdom.
The downside of our growing appetite for this type of mindless entertainment is that we spend less and less time pursuing activities that bring deep, lasting pleasure and satisfaction. Activities such as learning to play an instrument, mastering another language, reading a classic piece of literature, studying God’s word, spending time in prayer or thoughtful meditation have, for many, become casualties of our frenzied lifestyles. These activities require work, effort and mental energy. When we’re tired, exhausted from the stresses of life, it’s natural for us to take the path of least resistance, least effort.
The other day I came upon a scripture, a prayer of David, that had quite an impact on me. In Psalms 119:37 David asks God to “Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things, And revive me in Your way.” To put it in the modern vernacular, “Help me to put down the remote; and get fired up about the things that matter.”
It’s a prayer I’ve begun to make my own of late. I don’t want always to go down the path of least resistance. I don’t want constantly to give in to the mindless pursuits that saturate this culture and so easily divert my attention. It might take some effort. It might mean re-ordering my priorities somewhat. But I’m determined to get off the couch and get engaged in pursuits that really matter, that truly bring lasting value and satisfaction. Chief among them the things that strengthen my relationship with my God.
Not that I’ll never allow myself to “veg out” again. Sometimes the brain just needs to sit on idle. It’s okay once in a while. It’s just a practice whose roots I refuse to let go too deep.

A Queen and not a Widow (The Word and The Way)
“To the degree that she glorified herself and lived sensuously, to the same degree give her torment and mourning; for she says in her heart, ‘I SIT as A QUEEN AND I AM NOT A WIDOW, and will never see mourning.’ “For this reason in one day her plagues will come, pestilence and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for the Lord God who judges her is strong. And the kings of the earth, who committed acts of immorality and lived sensuously with her, will weep and lament over her when they see the smoke of her burning, standing at a distance because of the fear of her torment, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the strong city! For in one hour your judgment has come.’” Revelation 18:7-10
The
‘all caps’ in the verses above is not my doing. The translation I use makes note of when the New Testament cites the Old Testament by putting the words in all caps
. In this instance, John the Revelator is referencing Isaiah 47. In fact, a whole lot of the book of Revelation references the Old Testament.
I am bringing this up because I want to ask the reader a question: from where does a queen derive her power? This is a much harder question to answer for those of us in the Americas than for those on the European continent, because we largely lack monarchies on this side of the world. A queen derives her power from a king. In order for a woman to ascend to the throne of a country, her husband must have died or her father died without having male children.
The congregation of true believers is analogized as a pure bride by the Apostle Paul and others, but even in the book of Revelation itself we can see that the congregation of those who remain true are referred to as chaste bride clothed in white:
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Revelation 19:7,8
The contrast we have here is a congregation of faithful and obedient believers being identified as a chaste bride clothed in white and the congregation of syncretic and disobedient believers being analogized as a harlot clothed in scarlet. This is a pretty easy distinction to figure out.
However, the identifier of the Babylon of the end times being a queen and not a widow gives us a little more insight. That means this Babylon character is a power that believes it derives its power from itself without the need of the husband (God). There are a couple groups that fit this category but which country or culture do we see today that has been historically faithful, blessed beyond comprehension, and yet has decided to push any reference to the Almighty from the public square? Western culture as a whole has been pursuing a secular agenda for quite a while, but the United States today is remarkably pushing God out of the public square. We have had the world’s most powerful military and economy for quite a while and have lived in almost universal peace and safety for over fifty years. This degree of security and prosperity for such a length of time makes us start to believe that we will never see mourning, especially nothing like the hard times our forefathers endured to build that peace.
There are a whole lot of things lining up recently that look end-time-ish lately. Is this the end, birth pangs for the end, or just another cyclic change in the power structure on planet earth? Only Yahweh knows for sure. But it is intriguing to explore the parallels between the USA and the Babylonian end-time power. While this nation has sinned a lot historically and has never kept the 4th commandment, it was founded by those seeking to have the religious freedom to worship the God of the Bible as they saw fit. As our country has prospered immensely in the last fifty or sixty years, our culture has turned more into a secular humanist society. This means we, as a nation, have decided to lean on our own works and reject the Almighty. Our culture has also very rapidly been promoting the mixing of belief systems under the guise of
tolerance. These things add up to fitting the idea that America is starting to believe that she is a queen who needs no husband, and that is a dangerous place to be.

The Prayer Lady (Morning Companion)
I was in hospital, naked except for one of those flimsy hospital gowns. As a nurse was preparing me for my procedures, an elderly woman, bent from age, peaked in the doorway. “I’m The Prayer Lady”, she announced. “I’m here to pray for you.”
I’m all in favor of prayer, but must confess to being a little startled and a lot surprised. Here I was, surrounded by some of the best medical personnel and equipment that science and technology can provide, and an elderly retired lady is allowed to roam the halls and interrupt whatever the science and equipment are doing in order to pray.
I said, “Let’s do it,” and, taking my hand, she prayed a gentle, short prayer that reflected all my anxieties. Moved by her words, I could feel tears in my eyes, not just out of gratitude, but more because I needed a reminder. In this jaded world I forget there are still caring people who dedicate their lives to living out the mandates they see in Scripture, and are willing to sacrifice in order to do so. These are the real heroes of whom we rarely hear, and they are among us in greater numbers than we might think. Their presence leavens the world with the light of God. Where would we be without them?
As she left the room joking and chirping I thought of Matthew 25. “Come you blessed of my Father and inherit the Kingdom. I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink … I was sick and you visited me.”
Maybe I have a glimpse now of how Jesus must have felt when he saw the elderly widow drop her two coins in the temple treasury. She had little to give, but she gave what she had and, because she gave what she had, she gave more than the wealthy.

Ambassadors for Christ (Sabbath Meditations)
Recently, I stumbled on a passage of scripture in 2 Corinthians that I hadn’t given much thought to since my college days. In fact the particular college I attended used the term Ambassador not only as its namesake, but also as the focus of its mission in the education of its students, preparing Ambassadors for Christ.
Reflecting on this passage all these years later, something obvious jumped off the page that somehow had, until now, escaped my attention.
In 2 Corinthians 5:20-21 Paul writes, “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
I had always assumed the context of the phrase, “ambassadors for Christ”, pointed us outward to our witness to the world. What struck me in re-reading this passage is that it really has nothing to do with sharing the gospel message to the world. In reality, the phrase is pointed, not outward, but inward, to believers, to the church.Paul is saying that he is an Ambassador for Christ to brethren within the Church, pleading with them, imploring them on Christ’s behalf. Does that strike you as kind of ironic?
Perhaps I’d never picked up on this before because an Ambassador, by definition, is someone who goes to a foreign nation, representing the government, institution, or nation from which they come. It’s a mission on behalf of one’s people, not to them. The fact that Paul felt he needed to be an Ambassador for Christ to the very Church that Christ founded says a great deal about a struggle he faced keeping the true message of Christ’s gospel, who He was and what He is doing, front and central in the minds of believers under his care.
Paul’s struggle? A constant battle against those who would pull newly converted Jewish believers away from faith in Christ’s sacrifice for salvation back into a legalistic servitude to do’s and don’ts of Judaism. Even many of the new Gentile converts, influenced by the fear tactics of legalistic Jews or ‘Judaizers’, were turning to a focus on the law and Jewish rituals to save them.
It must have been frustrating to Paul to witness many who had initially been so responsive to the saving message of the gospel, now being so quickly turned aside to another, to a false message of who Jesus is and what He expected. Certainly he felt at times like banging his head against the wall.
Paul, though he was successful on many fronts of this battle, didn’t win the war. It rages on to this day. Sure the antagonists and the messages they proclaim have changed, but the end result is the same, distorting, even replacing the gospel of Christ with counterfeits.
There are scores of false messages about who Christ is that can be heard today. To name just a few you may recognize:
There’s the ‘grace only’ gospel – preaching acceptance, love and ultimate salvation to all regardless of their desire or lack of desire to do what He says.
There’s the ‘all paths lead to God’ gospel – preaching that religion, in all its forms, ultimately leads to the reality that is God, and as such, are acceptable to Him. Faith in Jesus being only one of those paths.
There’s the ‘health and wealth’ gospel – teaching that fulfillment, both spiritually and physically, can be ours in this life simply by accepting Jesus as our personal ‘Genie in a bottle’.
Even among the Sabbath keeping community there exist some false messages about the gospel of Christ, who He is, and what He expects.
There are those, certainly a minority who, not unlike the Judaizers of Paul’s day, would pull believers back into a legalistic relationship with the law and religious tradition. Rather than a response to the awesome gift of salvation we have been given, the observance of the Sabbath and the annual Holy Days and obedience to the law are seen by some as the path to acceptance and ultimate salvation. Where scripture teaches that our struggle for righteousness should be driven by a desire to become what we already are in Christ Jesus, some would have our struggle for righteousness be driven by a desire to escape eternal damnation. It’s the prerequisite for those who would be deemed worthy, not the response of those who have been deemed worthy.
With this mindset, even religious traditions such as the format of services, the music we use for worship or the type of clothes deemed acceptable to wear to church become cast in a kind of sacredness, becoming litmus tests by which one is judged to be a true believer.
The truth is, there will always be those in the Sabbath keeping tradition, perhaps more so than in other Christian communities, who will tend to put too much of an emphasis on the ‘do’s’, simply because our convictions lead us to believe that there are some very important ones that God expects of us. Not because they earn us anything, but because our love for Him compels us. It’s easy to let the ‘do’s’ of our faith take priority over our focus on the ‘who’ of our faith, Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.
Maybe that’s why Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:1-2:
“And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
It would have been tempting at times I’m sure for Paul, in righteous indignation, to throw up his hands, shake the dust off his feet, and walk away from people, even among his own brethren, who seemed to be denying the very Christ who redeemed them. It would have been tempting to gather with those he deemed ‘true believers’, build walls around his little church community, and proclaim everyone else ‘outside the Body’.
But he didn’t. He saw his role not only as bringing the Gospel of Christ to the world but also as keeping a right understanding of it alive within the very body of Christ. He was an Ambassador of Christ to the Gentiles, the unbelievers, to be sure, but when needed, also to his own brethren. As an Ambassador he was gracious, he came to them with meekness and fear, not with lofty words of man’s wisdom, but with God’s wisdom. He not only preached the gospel of grace, he practised grace toward his brethren, and in so doing, kept them, and, in some cases, restored them to a right relationship with their Saviour.
In a way, being Ambassadors for Christ is a very real responsibility that is passed down to all those who clearly understand the Gospel. If we are to learn the example of Paul, our heart, like his, would be filled with a love for our brethren and a passion for pointing the way toward the true gospel and away from all that is counterfeit.
An interesting passage in Revelation 18:4 reads, “And I heard another voice from heaven saying, ‘Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues’…”
This is the voice of God calling His people, His Church, to come out of the world in the end time. Calling on them to repent of all the things they have put between themselves and Him; all of the worldly, pagan attitudes and practices they have allowed to creep into their worship of Him. He is calling them out of dependence on themselves, trusting in their own righteousness, back to a complete dependence on His saving grace, nothing else.
Whom will He use to bring this message to His people, wherever they are in these end times, if not those who have their focus on the true Jesus and the pure gospel of salvation by grace through faith that He offers?
So, while it might be tempting to shake the dust off our feet and walk away; to build protective walls around ourselves, our families and our churches, how much more useful can we be if we submit ourselves as tools in His hands to graciously and humbly witness of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, as we have opportunity, to our brethren; imploring them, as Paul did, to be reconciled to God and to a right understanding of His Gospel? How much greater to submit ourselves as Ambassadors for Christ?!

Burning the Scriptures We Don’t Like (Morning Companion)
There are times when I would love to take out my pocket knife and slice away the part of Scripture that I don’t like.

Who wants to be told that it’s not “all about me”, and that we need to be concerned about the needs of others? (Philippians 2:3)
Who wants to be told that hard work is better than laziness, and there are consequences to the habit of idleness? (Proverbs 6:6-11)
Who wants to be told that my body is not mine “to do with as I please as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody,” and that I am not really the arbiter of what is right and what is wrong? (I Corinthians 6:19)
Jeremiah’s book recounts a story of a king who, when confronted with some uncomfortable – nay, condemning – words from God, pulled out his pocket knife and began slicing away pieces of the text from which the scribe was reading and, to the horror of those around him, depositing such pieces into the blazing fireplace.
God was not amused, and he ordered Jeremiah to recreate the burned up text and add curses to it. It did not turn out well for that king or his nation when he rejected wholesale the message of the prophet.
We know that some people do like to burn books, and we rightly frown on this extreme form of censorship. But if we accept the Scripture as God’s Word, why would we decide which part is to be condemned to the flames and which part to keep? Do we base that decision on what feels good at the time?
In many ways we are no different than any other people at any time in history. We want to hear what we want to hear. Isaiah wrote of a people who said, “Do not prophesy to us right things. Speak to us smooth things, prophesy deceits.” Tell us we’re doing great, that we don’t need God, and if you do tell us about God, pretend that he doesn’t have any expectations, that any behavior we indulge he will accept or wink at, and it really doesn’t matter how we should treat each other. (Isaiah 30:10-11)
Things won’t turn out well for us if we confine to the fireplace everything that makes us uncomfortable. Sometimes we need to hear what we don’t want to hear, even if we are the king.

Who Is Your Canada? (New Church Lady)
M
ary Ann Shadd Cary, born in 1823, was a writer, an educator, a lawyer, an abolitionist and the first black woman in North America to edit and publish a newspaper. Her obituary was published in the NY Times in June 2018 in a special series called Overlooked.
“In 1850, when the US Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act — which compelled American to assist in the capture of runaway slaves, and levied heavy penalties on those who did not comply — Shadd Cary and some other members of her family left the United States for Canada.”
From there, she published several pieces that “advertised Canada as a safe haven for former slaves.”
During the Vietnam War, many American men, seeking to evade the draft fled to Canada – perhaps up to 40,000, according to some estimates. Among them was Eric Naglar.

In Canada the worst that we had was the French-English problem …” he said. “Why would I want to live there? This is a much, much better place to be.”
According to an article written by Robin Levinson King and published in The Star on March 9, 2016: “When George W. Bush won re-election in 2004, not everyone was thrilled. “That’s it!” many left-leaning Americans presumably said. “I’m moving to Canada.” The day after Bush was re-elected president, there were 191,000 hits on Canada’s immigration website, six times its average traffic…”
Levinson King, in the article titled “A Brief History of Americans Moving to Canada,” recounts this phenomenon going all the way back to the time when “About 100,000 colonists loyal to the king fled the thirteen colonies either during or just after the Revolutionary War” and up through a spike in the search term “how can I move to Canada” on Super Tuesday 2017.
Even in the fictional book “The Handmaid’s Tale” written by Margaret Atwood, published in 1985, those seeking freedom from an oppressive regime that has taken over the former USA flee to Canada.
Who is your Canada? Where do you flee when you need to escape oppression? When you are afraid? When you need to be free? The Psalms repeatedly point us to our place of refuge from any trouble, fear or trial.
Psalm 143:9 [NIV] Rescue me from my enemies, LORD, for I hide myself in you. The King James says I flee unto Thee to hide me.
Psalm 32:7 [NIV] You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.
Psalm 27:5 [ESV] For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock.
Psalm 64:2 [ESV] Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked, from the throng of evildoers.
Hopefully, all of you already view God as your place of refuge to hide from the storms of life and have developed the habit of fleeing to Him in prayer and study.
In addition to finding refuge in God’s presence, your place of worship should be a refuge – a place where you are safe from the struggles and drama of day-to-day living, free from tyranny and oppression and where you are welcomed, as Canada has welcomed US Citizens for centuries. You should look forward to going there and fellowshipping with other refugees from Satan’s world.
It is in my sincere hope that in addition to God and your church services/church family, you have close friends who also provide you with refuge. Hopefully, you are that friend to others as well.
The book of Proverbs has a few things to say about being this type of friend.
Proverbs 17:17 [ESV] A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
Proverbs 18:24 [ESV] A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
Proverbs 27:10 [ESV] Do not forsake your friend and your father’s friend …
Proverbs 18:24 [KJV] A man [that hath] friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend [that] sticketh closer than a brother.
We have a responsibility to be this type of friend to each other – a Canada friend – a place our friends can run to in time of fear, oppression, trouble and trial – one who can be trusted to be open and welcoming.
Further, we have a responsibility to teach our children to be this kind of friend – one who is truly a person who provides comfort to others – one who can be trusted to be open and welcoming.
Too much of society is mean. Too many interactions we hear about among junior high and high school students involve bullying, harassing, and picking on others. Too many interactions we hear about among business associates involve gossip or stepping on others to gain opportunities.
Every health and wellness book I’ve read stresses the importance of having at least one friend with whom you can share everything. I believe it is important to our spiritual health as well. Although your husband (if you are married) may be your closest friend, I still think you need sisters (whether by blood or choice) in whom you can find refuge in fellowship and conversation. I believe we also benefit when we seek refuge in God’s presence together – whether praying together, studying together or singing together.
Find “Canada” in God and Jesus. Find “Canada” in your church or fellowship group. But, let’s each also be “Canada” to others.

Relationship vs. Reward (Sabbath Meditations)
On December 17, 1903, brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright successfully made the first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight.
The Wright brothers weren’t alone in their quest to conquer the air. Their main source of competition was from a man named Dr. Samuel Langley. Langley was the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, and, therefore, had many more resources available to him than had the Wright Brothers. He also had a $50,000 grant with which to develop his flying machine.
In terms of resources, Wilbur and Orville could not compete. Both high school drop-outs, they had no association, no $50,000 grant, no connections, nothing. What little resources they did have came from earnings from their small bicycle repair and sales shop. But what Orville and Wilbur lacked in resources they made up for in passion. Of their passion for pursuing their dream of flight Orville is quoted as saying, “We could hardly wait to get up in the morning.” That passion drove them to undertake endless days and nights of methodical research, countless hours of rigorous testing, punctuated by failed attempts and disappointments too numerous to number.
It’s said that when the brothers took to the fields to test out the latest iteration of their flying machine, it became their practice to take along a replacement for every part on the machine, assuming mishaps and failures to be inevitable. Their passion for the idea of flight allowed them to rise above any obstacle, any set-back they might experience.
In contrast, their chief competitor, Dr. Langley, it seems, was motivated primarily by the glory he anticipated receiving for being first to achieve flight. It’s telling that, after the Wright Brothers ultimately achieved success that day in mid December, Dr. Langley, rather than building upon what had been accomplished, simply walked away. Once there was no prospect of personal reward and glory, there remained, for him, no motivation to continue.
In so many areas of life, the thing that sets ultimate success apart from failure is passion. This principle is nowhere more true than in our Christian walk.
You’d be hard pressed to find any greater example of passion for God and His ways than David. Called as a ruddy shepherd boy, it certainly wasn’t his physical qualities or resources that would cause anyone to deem him worthy of being chosen a future king of Israel. But David had something that made up for all he lacked.
In Psalm 27:4 David writes “One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.”
I find what David doesn’t say here more instructive than what he does say. We don’t read here of his desire to seek the Lord “… that I may be crowned a King and a Priest and rule in Your Kingdom.” or, “…that I may be clothed with immortality and power.” He just doesn’t seem to be wrapped up in the glory that he ultimately will receive as a child of God.
Where was his primary focus? “To dwell with the Lord…to gaze at the beauty of the Lord…and to seek Him in His temple.” In short, what motivated David was his passion for walking, now and forever, in close, intimate relationship with His Savior.
Can you and I say the same?
Is the thing that primarily motivates us to walk this walk our expectation for the promised reward, the hope of glory and immortality to come, or, is it our passion for this relationship we have been given?
Let me ask it a different way.
If there was no hope of eternal reward and glory, would your love for the Lord and the way He has taught be enough to sustain you in this path? Do you consider the gift of your relationship with Him so precious that you would seek Him and His ways regardless of the reward?
It goes without saying that the promised reward we have waiting at the end of this path should give us hope. Even David yearned for that time when he said, “…you will not allow my body to see decay … You will fill me with joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand.” – Psalm 16:10-11.
Even when looking ahead to that future reward, however, David focused not on the crown and the glory he would receive but on “being filled with joy in Your presence.” His primary hope for the future was in a continuation of the relationship he was experiencing with his Lord in the present. It was his passion for that relationship that sustained him through all the failures, the set-backs and disappointments of life.
For Orville and Wilbur, being the first to achieve flight, getting the rewards, the accolades, the glory, although surely meaningful, were really just icing on the cake. Their true joy and fulfillment came from their love and passion for flying. Their success simply meant that they would continue to pursue that passion for the rest of their lives.
One day you and I will, by the grace of God, be among the first to take flight; albeit flight of an entirely different nature than Orville and Wilbur ever contemplated. As the firstfruits of His Harvest, we will someday rise to meet our Lord in the air at His return.
Yes, there will be thrones and dominions to be had. Yes, immortality and power will be our reward, but the real joy, the ultimate reward, will not be the crown, but the continuation of our relationship with our Lord, to “seek Him in His temple” for all eternity.

Seeds on Rocky Soil (The Word and The Way)
When a large crowd was coming together, and those from the various cities were journeying to Him, He spoke by way of a parable: “
The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road, and it was trampled underfoot and the birds of the air ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out. Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great.
As He said these things, He would call out, “
He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Luke 8:4-8)
Every once in a while, Yeshua taught in a parable that wasn’t terribly hard to understand. This is one of those times.
His disciples began questioning Him as to what this parable meant. And He said, “
to you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, so that SEEING THEY MAY NOT SEE, AND HEARING THEY MAY NOT UNDERSTAND. Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God. Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.” (Luke 8:9-15)
Today there are two new dimensions to this parable that didn’t exist until the last ten years or so. The first is the ability for those seeds on the side of the road or on the rocky soil, the ones where the calling doesn’t take deep roots, to become teachers and to do so without any experience or mentorship whatsoever. I’ll talk about the second one later.
Paul warns Timothy explicitly not to lay hands on someone, meaning to legitimize them as ministers, hastily. Our assembly has a rule that a man cannot speak from the lectern, i.e., being in a teaching position of authority, until he has minimally kept one complete cycle of the appointed times and has a solid attendance record on Shabbat. This is our way of applying Paul’s warning to Timothy and the pattern of my own experience. Having experience in an assembly is crucial to being in a leadership role.
Yeshua taught His disciples by having them follow Him around for three years. In this time they got to see how He dealt with ministerial situations that ran the gamut: dealing with sinners, tax collectors, the government, and even stopping a woman from being stoned to death for adultery. During this time, He built a large following in many cities and had even sent 70 men out to spread the good news. His disciples had some head knowledge from attending synagogue, but they needed experience in order to become independent operators and legitimate teachers. And He had to see this experience for himself to know that they would be true believers before being anointed into service.
Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well. Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! (James 3:1-5)
Ten years ago the internet really took off and a few teachers got very popular, particularly those who can speak well. This was a good thing, as it spread the truth far and wide, but today we have people who have decided to become internet teachers based solely off their work. People are picking up the internet teacher mantle without any personal ministry experience at all. Perhaps this has even cascaded to have two levels of “teachers” who have learned exclusively on the computer and perhaps only see others at Sukkot, if that. This is not the model of the first century assemblies at all. Working within an assembly is a very emotional experience that has to be balanced with the technical knowledge of the scriptures and history. We have to experience the love, heartache, joy, sadness, elation, and all the other very real emotions in order to minister to people in all walks of life if we want to fully understand the power of Bible. Just knowing “stuff” was actually the downfall for quite a few groups in the New Testament writings. The people who are teaching need to first actually live the doctrines we hold in common faithfully and also have the experience of fellowship with others
in person
who have different careers and life circumstances in order to fully appreciate the difficulties of life in Babylon.
The second new dimension is that the good soil today dwells among the rocks and along the side of the road. We don’t live in first century Judea and the folks we fellowship with are being called out of Babylon while living in Babylon. Let’s face it, finding a group of true believers is like finding a needle in a haystack. Without personal fellowship and mentorship there is little mechanism for accountability.
Today, since the faith has moved to almost an exclusive on-line experience for many, people are trying to hold others to account in public, on the internet, and without applying the basic investigation requirements set forth by Yeshua when having to confront a brother or sister. This is making our common faith look even more chaotic and less appealing than normal and we frankly need to stop it. If you don’t have first-hand knowledge of a matter, then the only thing you can add to the issue is gossip, and we know how Yahweh views this. Brethren, our faith is meant to be WALKED out – NOT typed out and most certainly NOT Youtubed out.
It is difficult to find personal fellowship for sure, but at least get on the phone and talk to some brethren. Drop the facade of Facebook and other social media, get on the phone, and get to know each other! Find a fellowship and attend once a month if it is far and, by all means, observe ALL the appointed times in person, not just Sukkot.The picture above is from Zion National Park in Utah. It is an illustration of what it happens today when the seed that fell on rocky ground found some soil and water. That lone tree with the bushes sticks out like a sore thumb. It is a lush, fertile contrast to the desolation surrounding it. But if you look to the left of that greenery you’ll see a short, dead stick.
The moral? Don’t be that stick. Be the greenery.

When Your Car Breaks Down, Make Two Calls (Morning Companion)
My summer reading list includes the book
Baseball as a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the Game, written by Professor John Sexton. The book is not as sacrilegious as its title suggests. While this book is heavier in good baseball stories than it is in theology, one story caught my eye as pretty good theology. Ironically, it has nothing to do with baseball.
“It was 1961, my first year coaching the St. Brendan’s debate team … We had piled into my 1955 Oldsmobile, known to the students for its worn and torn condition and affectionately called Betsy. But as I turned onto the Belt Parkway, a cloud of smoke rose from Betsy’s hood.
I made my way to examine the engine, glancing back only to notice that Sister Maria Dolorosa (
sorrowful in Latin) was leading the girls in prayer, petitioning God to start the car. A few unsuccessful attempts at ignition later, and I too became convinced of the need for a higher authority.
‘Sister, you keep praying,’ I said. ‘I’m going to get a mechanic’.”
That calls to mind the faith vs. works tension that seems to call forth much discussion and debate in the world of Christianity. Sister Dolorosa exhibited faith and Professor Sexton was looking toward works. Who among them was right, and who among them was wrong? James in his epistle would say neither, that they were working opposite sides of the same coin.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. (James 2:14-17 NIV)
We find another example of this in Nehemiah. The Jews returning from exile were attempting to rebuild their temple, but they faced not only political opposition from the surrounding people, but also physical attack.
Nevertheless we made our prayer to God, and because of them we set a watch against them day and night (Nehemiah 4:9 NKJV).
It is usually the case that we must do what we can do. In Nehemiah it was a case of
praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.
Your thoughts and prayers are good things. Don’t let anyone shame you out of praying for help if your car won’t start. But then get on the phone and find a mechanic.

Cover Up Job (Sabbath Meditations)
As the Sabbath approached, I began to realize that, although so far I’d made good progress on my ‘to-do’ list in preparation for the party on Sunday, it was going to be a race against the clock to get all the tasks checked off by sunset. So, I began to cut some corners.
Rather than sweep out the garage, I took the wet dry vac, plugged in the hose to the blowing connection and proceeded to blow dirt around. Some of it actually made it out of the door. The rest went to the four corners and dark crevices of my garage. But the main part of the floor, the part that company would see, looked clean. That was what mattered.
Then there was the chipping and peeling paint on the front window trim. Given more time, I would have taken a wire brush and scraper to it. But, as the sun crept lower in the horizon, I desperately grabbed brush and primer and began slathering it on. And, I have to admit, it looked pretty good, well, at least from further than five feet away. That would have to suffice for now. I told myself this was just a temporary fix. A quick touch up job. I’d come back later when I had more time and do it right. After all, no one was going to inspect it that closely anyway.
As I was dabbing my brush at a small section of bare window trim, trying to gingerly push the brush under the edge of a bulging chip of old paint, I couldn’t help but think that it is a good thing I don’t approach my spiritual growth this haphazardly. Or do I?
Have I ever, in my desire to appear the good Christian, done a quick ‘cover up job’, knowing full well that just below the surface things are a lot uglier than I’m making them appear?
In Psalms 139:23-24 we read, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.”
David, it seems, wasn’t much into cover up jobs. He wasn’t into facades, into maintaining an image. He knew that God sees through all of that anyway. He wanted it all to be out there. He wanted the bare wood, the chips, the dirt of his life to be clearly revealed. He wasn’t interested in quick fixes. He wanted the job done right, regardless of how painful it would be.
To be honest, David’s prayer scares me a little. It means taking a wire brush to my heart. It means pulling off the facade and being willing to let others see the cracks, the loose paint below the surface. It means allowing God to scrape down to the bare surface of who I really am and then deal with it head on. It’s not a painless process. But it seems to me, for the person who truly desires to be more than just a spiritual pretender, who truly desires to become like Him, it’s a necessary one.
We have a choice, you and I. We can fake our way through this Christian walk, pretending that we are growing, saying all the right things, doing all the right things, impressing all the right people, but never really being changed, never really growing down deep inside. We can look awful good to others on the outside by focusing only on the externals, slathering paint over the cracks and peeling paint, or, we can be honest with ourselves and with God, asking Him to do His work in us. We can ask Him, as David did, to search and know our hearts, to try us and change us from the inside out and lead us in the way everlasting.
I pray for the courage to choose the latter.

An Eye for an Eye? (Morning Companion)
“If we do an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, we will be a blind and toothless nation.” (Martin Luther King, Jr.)
With all due respect to Dr. King, there is another point to be made about the eye for an eye idea. Understand that this law, which is stated rather forcefully in Exodus 21, was given to a people who were coming out of a culture that was very much like our own Wild West days. It was a “law of the jungle” system, where justice was based on vengeance and retaliation.
If Jacob steals Esau’s birthright, Esau feels justified attempting to murder his brother. Esau did not have recourse to due process or jurisprudence that would allow him to sue for damages.
Tamar tricks Judah into performing his levirate duty, and Judah, as the head of the family apparently could summarily order her execution. Her life was saved solely because her guile and foresight.
Shechem seduces Dinah, and her two brothers retaliate by wiping out the entire clan.
Were any of these retributions proportional to the offense? They sound too much like a famous American politician’s comment that “… if they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun.”
That is pretty much how retributive justice had worked throughout the history of the American Frontier. Whether it be the Hatfields and McCoys, or the Jayhawkers and the Bushwhackers, or the shepherds vs. cattle ranchers, there was the tendency to retaliate by more than in kind.
These incidents, both from Genesis and our own history, happened extra-judicially. That means they occurred in cultures that had weak if any means of adjudicating disputes in a fair court of law.
Then along comes Moses the Lawgiver. If you read Exodus through Deuteronomy you will see the development of a formal code of law, a significant part of which deals with judicial procedure. That would include the need for an impartial judge (Deuteronomy 1:16-17, 16:18-20), a system of appeals (Deuteronomy 1:17, 17:8-9), and at least two independent, corroborating witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15).
It also includes proportionality in penalties. A man who steals a loaf of bread because he is hungry is a different sort of thief than one who pillages widow’s houses (Proverbs 6:30).
The eye for an eye idea is an insightful advance in the application of law. It was another way of saying, “Let the punishment fit the crime.”

In Christ’ (New Horizons)
Given the physical and mental trauma he experienced throughout his ministry, the apostle Paul surely looked forward to his pain-free resurrection body:
…we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle [our flesh] were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands [our resurrected spirit body], eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened [by our inadequacies]: not for that we would be unclothed [die], but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life’ (II Corinthians 5:1-4).
He describes this future state for us in chapter fifteen of his first letter to the Corinthians. The ‘earthly house’ [Gk soma psuchikon] is our present physical body which will in time ‘dissolve’, leaving our (inert) human spirit which returns to God’s safe keeping. Then, for all those who are ‘in Christ’, comes a resurrection –the return to life but on a spirit plane. We – that is, our human ‘spirit in man’ – will be clothed with a spirit body [Gk. soma pneumatikon], a body that will be like the resurrection body of Jesus: ’… we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is’ (I John 3:2).
A key to our understanding is that oft-used expression of his — ‘in Christ’:‘…
There is therefore now no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to flesh, but according to Spirit’ (Romans 8:1).
It is an expression fundamental to our understanding of
who will be resurrected in that spirit body. Simply being a church-goer, or a great philanthropist, or holding a church office, or having the kind of faith in yourself that drives you to move a mountain, won’t suffice.
You must be ‘…in Christ’. You must have made that mature emotional and rational commitment to serve him, to go wherever he leads you.

Ode to a Big Green Cup (Sabbath Meditations)
I had this huge green drinking cup on my desk at work. It was one of a larger set that my wife donated to Goodwill because they, as she said, “are ugly.” That was a gloomy day in the Stith household for me. I loved those green cups, mainly because they were so huge. I drink a lot of water and, well, they held at least two and half cups! Filling one saved me about three trips to the faucet.
Seeing my beloved cups sitting in a bag on the kitchen floor one morning, ready for donation, I was overcome with separation anxiety and did the unthinkable. Somewhere there is a family, one shy of a full set of beautiful, huge, green cups.
For ten years — could be more, I lost count — that cup followed me through two job changes, each time taking its honored place to the right of my computer monitor. It was a faithful companion.
Then I noticed that my green friend had developed a small, almost invisible crack at the rim. Because it was so small, I ignored it, thinking it was no big deal. Sitting at my desk a few weeks later, having just filled my trusty cup to the brim with aqua, I became alarmed to see a small puddle developing at its base. Turning the cup around, I noticed the almost invisible crack had developed into an inch and a half crevice. “I’m going to have to fix that,” I thought to myself. I quickly drank enough water to bring the level below the bottom of the breach and went on with my work.
A month or two later, the crack had crept its way further and further down the side of my beloved green cup. I could only fill it a little over half way full, not much more than a regular sized cup can hold. If I had attempted to solder the crack when it first appeared, this might never have happened. At that point, I realized it wasn’t fixable.
In Ephesians 4:27-32 we read, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil … Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
I realize the analogy isn’t perfect. After all, anger or bitterness toward a green cup is rather ridiculous. I do confess, however, to having had some less than charitable thoughts when I absent-mindedly filled the cup to the brim and got water on my desk. But you get the point. When cracks form in our relationships, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, we should do everything we can to repair them immediately. Left unattended, small cracks can turn into crevices. The level of love those relationships once held can begin to diminish, seeping out through unresolved hurts, perceived injustices or misunderstandings.
The sad truth is, relationships don’t usually disintegrate because of one event. Rather, they are the culmination of months, maybe even years, of neglect. They are the end result of love taken for granted, care and concern never communicated, apologies never extended or hurts never healed. Love, while it may be overflowing on the inside, if left unexpressed or purposely withheld during times of conflict, gradually separates even the closest of friends. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Week after week, I watched the crevice in my cherished cup grow longer. I knew that I had to send my dear inanimate friend to the great white dumping grounds, aka, the trash bin under my desk. If only I had acted sooner. I’m not sure that I’ll ever find another quite as large, durable or reliable. They just don’t make them like they used to do.
Maybe I’ll try Goodwill.

Withhold Not Good (Morning Companion)
John Stossel once produced a creative politically incorrect piece on the homeless. In one interesting sequence a street beggar claimed she was stranded from home several states away and needed money to get home to Seattle. The camera followed her and discovered she was living in a modest but comfortable home two blocks away and had money to shop every morning. Stossel discovered, after talking to people who had given her money, that she was easily panhandling $50 an hour, tax free of course.
That caused me to recall this from Proverbs 3: “Withhold not good to whom it is due when it is in the power of your hand to do it.” The operative phrase is “to whom it is due”. Clearly giving a couple of bucks is within the power of my hand. Clearly it’s good to help those in need. But is this type of help “due” to this woman?
At church I have the unpleasant job of being the point man when passers-by visit our service for the purpose of requesting money. The assignment has been quite an education. One time a fellow in a beat up pickup truck came by with hat in hand, saying that he needed to get to Moberly, Missouri, mighty quick, but his water pump had gone out. Could the church see fit to “lend” him some money to buy one. It only costs X number of dollars and he could install it himself.
I don’t remember what I told him, but a month or two later another fellow in a beat up pickup visited us with hat in hand saying, “I need to get to Moberly, Missouri, real quick, but my water pump’s broke. Can you give me X number of dollars to buy one?” Yeah. Right.
Another time a lady walked in during our before-service fellowship hour saying she was hungry and she needed some money to buy something to eat. We had all kinds of food out on the table, everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to the most calorie-laden cakes and pies imaginable. You know, the kind of things that make church especially enjoyable. “Feel free! Grab a plate! We’re glad to share!” Whereupon she says, “Honey, I need hot food.”
As I said, this has been an adventure.
Having said all that, there are in fact real people with real needs, and along with that a biblical mandate to care for the needy. But we don’t want to enable the fellow in the old joke who asks for money to pay the rent. He was asked, “If I give you money to pay the rent, how do I know you won’t just gamble it away?” He answers, “Well, I GOT gambling money.”
The Parable of the Good Samaritan suggests a solution. It’s likely the best known of all Jesus’s parables, but this Samaritan carries out his kindness in a way that maybe has not been apparent to most. When he rescues the injured, beaten man and leaves him at the inn, he does something very curious. He takes out a few coins, gives them to the innkeeper for the man’s ongoing care, and promises to repay the innkeeper on his return trip for additional expenses that might come up.
Notice that he gives the cash to the innkeeper, not to the man in need.
Based on this, we have a rule that we will not give cash to a stranger. We’ll do what we can to take care of the needs. We’ll offer food if the person is hungry. We keep boxes of groceries filled with non-perishables if food is the problem. There are any number of creative ways to help people in need without doling out dollars. You can even make an exception and respect the person’s dignity by hiring him to do some chores in exchange for cash.
I suspect, though, that many of those offers to help will be somehow refused. That second fellow who came by with the bad water pump? I told him that I would meet him at the auto parts store, but I wouldn’t give him cash. Guess what? He never showed up.

Move or Die (New Church Lady)
Recently, I was watching an episode from the Science Nature Page that showed the connection between physical activity and brain health.
The video gave a summary of a medical study that found that people who are inactive, especially if they are unable to do load-bearing exercise, including bed-ridden people and even astronauts on long trips into space, not only lost muscle mass, but their body chemistry was altered at the cellular level and even their nervous system was adversely impacted. It found that limiting physical activity, even if all other activity was normal, decreased the number of neuro stem cells by 70%.
Further, the study showed that using our legs, particularly in weight-bearing exercise, sends signals to the brain that are vital for the production of healthy neural cells, which are essential for the brain and nervous system.
What does this mean to our Christian walk? Of course it reminds us that God didn’t just throw together some dirt to create us. It also supports what we read in Psalms 139:14 [KJV] I will praise thee; for I am fearfully [and] wonderfully made: marvellous [are] thy works; and [that] my soul knoweth right well. (Emphasis mine.)
But that is not my focus today. What I wanted to point out is the spiritual lesson for us believers today: that activity is essential to our spiritual health – especially to our minds and hearts. Or as James put it:
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. [James 1:22 ESV]
Further, I believe that this is not just true from a personal standpoint (each individual believer), but also from an organizational standpoint (whether you meet in your home with 5 other believers or in a corporate church of 100).
Compassion is engaged, love is engaged, mercy is engaged when we help others. Further, I believe our understanding of scripture is enhanced when we put it to use by serving others. I believe this is true when that activity is heartfelt, sympathetic prayer for others, making cards for others, visiting the sick, taking up a donation for the poor, or any other active living of the commandment found in
John 15:12 [ESV], where Jesus tells us: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
My message today is that if you want to grow in grace and knowledge of the truth, serving others is essential. Yes, I am actually proposing that all the study of scripture, the discovering the root of Greek and Hebrew words, or connecting prophecies from the Old Testament to their fulfillment in Jesus’s life and ministry, or understanding the harmony of the Gospels, or memorizing key scriptures will not do as much for your spiritual health as actually doing something to serve another person.
Jesus’s own example is one of activity-based love. He certainly taught the people Bible truths, expanding our understanding of God’s law of love. He also fed them (Matthew 14, 15; Mark 6, Luke 9, John 6). He healed them (Matthew 14:14; Luke 6:17, 8:36, 13:14). He blessed their children (Mark 10:14-16). Jesus set an example of being a doer of the word, not just a hearer.
Of course, you do not need a corporation or even a group of friends in order to serve others. This is something each of us can do on our own. Further, I believe that the more our “doing” requires of us – the more it incorporates some form of “bearing the load” of others – the more our spiritual health will be improved by it. You know, “no pain, no gain” but from a spiritual standpoint.
It is also my belief that the spiritual health of your home Bible study group, independent church or large church corporation is also directly tied to how much serving you do together. When we don’t make frequent efforts, as a group, at serving the poor and needy, not just in the church, but also in the community or around the world, we become more focused on our own struggles, wants and needs. We become more insular and that is not healthy environment for spiritual growth. In fact, I believe this lack of service activity will contribute to the spiritual atrophy – possibly even death – of any person or group.
So, sisters, if you are feeling that the interpretation of a key scripture escapes you, or if you feel the scriptures taking on a “ho-hum” place in your mind or heart, or if the sermons/studies in your group seem uninspired, then I suggest the remedy is to get moving. Have a food drive and go to the trouble of taking it to the shelter. Make care kits for the homeless, then actually take the kits around the city and hand them out. Collect blankets for a nursing home and then hand them out to the residents yourself. Mow a widow’s yard. Rock sick babies at a children’s hospital or read stories to the children with cancer.
I believe with all my heart that, when we take the time and make the effort to serve others, the Holy Spirit will be activated and our human spirits will be inspired, our Bible study will be enhanced and we will grow – both as individuals and in our church groups.
But, don’t take my word for it. Do your own experiment – exercise your spiritual muscles, bear the load of another person – and then contact me with the results. Even if I’m wrong, you will still have done what Jesus called us to do [See
Matthew 25:31-46]
I’d love to hear your comments and questions. You can write me at Nancy@DynamicChristianMinistries.org.
Here is the video, in case you want to check it out

Something to Smile About (Sabbath Meditations)
God is being tossed out of our schools and our civic life; battles are waging over the definition of marriage and the rights of the unborn to life; fuel prices are draining our pocket books; illegal aliens are streaming over our borders and draining the resources of our economy and terrorism is no longer something that happens somewhere else in the world. These are the realities we live with. It’s enough to wipe the smile away from even the most jovial among us.
Ephesians 5:19 tells us that we as Christians should be singing and making melody in (our) heart to the Lord. It’s difficult to make melody in your heart while your mind is consumed with the negative realities and Godlessness around us.
So, how do we do it? Should we strive to remain oblivious and detached from this world’s problems? I don’t believe so. We are told in Ezekiel 9:4 to sigh and cry for the abominations that are done in this world. We can’t very well be oblivious of the problems around us and simultaneously lament them.So how, then, are we supposed to make melody in our hearts and sigh and cry at the same time? How does that work?
The answer is simply this: Our internal reality must overpower and supersede the external one. We, as Christians, although recognizing and lamenting the state of our current world, should be primarily driven by, influenced by and responsive to our hope and confidence in Jesus Christ, which is our internal, and eternal, reality. The joy that our focus on that reality brings supersedes and overwhelms the negativity that living in this world would otherwise produce.
We are Ambassadors of a better world to come. If we are to be Ambassadors for Him, our countenance, both inside and out, should reflect that reality.
So does that mean we should all walk around with cheesy grins on our faces? No, not necessarily. We can’t very well portray the joy that is in our hearts when all that is etched on our faces is gloom and doom. The witness of a somber Christian is a bit like the ship captain who tells his passengers that the boat’s not going to sink, as he straps on his life vest and jumps into a life boat. He’s not very believable.
If our focus is on the hope that lies within us, the joy that is produced by that focus can’t help but overflow to our outward countenance. We will have a little extra spring in our step; a glimmer in our eye; and yes, the corners of our mouth will tend to turn up a little more often. That smile you have on the inside can’t help but occasionally spill over to the outside.
So, my dear Christian brothers and sisters. Do we live in a messed up world? Yes. Is it getting worse daily? Definitely, Yes. Should we be concerned and at times saddened by what we see around us? Our God is, so, yes, we should be as well. Should these realities, however, overwhelm and cause us despair? Most definitely No. The realities of this world are temporary. The reality we live in, we focus on, is eternal. That’s certainly something to smile about.

Solving a Thorny Issue (Morning Companion)
Scripture seemed to be clear. In order to enter into covenant with God men must be circumcised. It was right there in the Torah and there was no countervailing instruction anywhere else. Some Pharisees were demanding that this sign of the covenant be honored and respected, and that it be required for Gentiles before they could be considered part of the Body of Christ. “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses,” they insisted, “you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1).
Paul and Barnabas, who had worked extensively among the Gentiles, disagreed vehemently with their more traditional brethren. Scripturally speaking, though, it would appear that the Pharisees had the better argument.
How they settled the dispute is a model of civility that we would do well to follow today.
First, they took the case to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem, with the intent that they would hear the case and lend their insight and wisdom. An old proverb says that in the multitude of counselors there is safety. (Proverbs 11:14)
Second, they had an open discussion among all parties and points of view. They debated and disputed the question thoroughly (verse 7). Peter stood up and recounted his experience with the Roman Cornelius and his household who had received the Holy Spirit. Paul and Barnabas declared the miracles and conversions that God had worked among the Gentiles.
After hearing the discussion, James referred to Scripture, specifically from Amos the prophet, although he could have cited passages from Isaiah and Jeremiah just as easily that speak specifically of God calling and working among the Gentiles who “will be called by my name” (Acts 15:17).
Notice what they did and what they did not do. They listened to testimony. They weighed the evidence and they looked for substance. They looked at what God had already done and lined it up with scripture as a whole. They debated and disputed, and it must have been unpleasant at times. They did not act on feelings. God did not whisper the answer in James’s ear. They were willing to study afresh what they thought they already knew. In a very real sense they were proceeding forward on faith, but not on blind faith. They applied the principle found in Hebrews 11:1. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
They were faced with something they could not see, something they could not understand. There was evidence all around them of things not otherwise understood. Peter did not understand what that vision of clean and unclean animals meant in Acts 10 until the substance of it was revealed to him – that no man, whether Gentile or not, should be called unclean.
So when they saw the substance and evaluated the evidence, namely that the Gentiles had received the Holy Spirit, circumcision or not, they knew they could go forward in faith that God had already revealed the answer to them. This was informed faith. It was faith based on evidence, not on wishful thinking.
Clearly, not everyone agreed with this decision. Years later Paul was still fighting the battle with the Circumcision Party as we see the same argument resurfacing in Galatians. That being said, we can learn much from the process.
We can learn that deliberation based on open and sometimes contentious discussion can lead to new insights. Wisdom is a group thing.
We can learn that decision making based on evidence rather than subjective feelings leads to better results. Feelings can lead us astray because we can confuse what we want with what God wants.
We can learn that sometimes God’s answer is so obvious that all it takes is recognizing what already is.
We can learn that Scripture is rightly understood when taken in full context and not rigidly proof texted.
And we can learn that making such judgements can be a really messy process. Are we mature enough that we can endure a messy process?

A Dystopian World (New Church Lady)
Apparently, we humans have a very dim view of our ability to actually better the world we live in or to rule it in peace and kindness, let alone love. According to Hollywood movies and the books some of those movies are based on, the future for mankind is bleak. Literally, every futuristic movie I researched paints a dystopian future, mostly of our own making.
We see our efforts to cure disease potentially going very wrong:
I Am Legend
Planet of the Apes
The Maze Runner series
World War Z, The Walking Dead and every other zombie movie or TV show
We see ourselves as having to fight evil dictators who have accumulated power:
Star Wars
The Hunger Games series
The Divergent series
We see ourselves as creating “haves and have nots” – hoarding resources and power:
Elysium
In Time
We see the machines we created to make life better, taking over and trying to snuff us out:
The Terminator series
I, Robot
Even when we see ourselves being ruled by a religious group, we don’t see it as resulting in love and peace:
The Handmaid’s Tale
For us, according to Hollywood, every scenario and option for the future of mankind results in a dystopian world. Dystopian: relating to or denoting an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one. That is what many, many popular books and movies predict.
I realize this stuff sells, primarily because the stories also include a hero of some sort who fights the zombies, destroys the dictators, rights the wrongs and wins the day. I guess what we really love is a rescue story.
Maybe that is why the Bible remains one of the top purchased books in the USA – at its heart, the Bible is a story of the dramatic rescue of all mankind from an evil dictator who is trying to destroy us.
And, realistically, if it were not for the rescue of Jesus Christ, our Savior, Hollywood and popular books would probably be right. But, SPOILER ALERT: I’m about to quote scriptures that reveal the truth about the future of mankind.
Revelation 20:10 [NIV] And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown…
= Satan gets put away forever. That’s the end of that evil ruler of this world!
Revelation 21:1, 5 [NIV] Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. Verse 5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”
= We get a whole, brand new, shiny clean earth, not a toxic, polluted one.
1 Corinthians 15:52-53 [NIV] in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.
= We get brand new, immortal bodies that will never get sick or quit working.
1 Corinthians 15:54 [NIV] When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
Revelation 21:4 [NIV] “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
= Not only will there no longer be death, we won’t even have any pain or crying.
The good news is that there is NOT a dystopian world awaiting us in the future, because Jesus has overcome the world.
John 16:33 [ESV] “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
And the really good news is that we have victory over this world too.
1 John 5:4 [ESV] For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world–our faith.
Mankind, according to Hollywood movies and popular novels, is destined to muck up this world. They are right, if you take God’s love and His plan out of the picture.
But God
does love all of mankind and He has a plan that will save us all, if we accept it.
John 3:16-17 [NKJV] For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
Thankfully, Hollywood is wrong about the future of mankind. Thankfully, there is something better awaiting mankind in our future. Thankfully, we have the Bible to show us the real future of mankind – the beauty, love, peace and joy that will be ours for all eternity. God speed that day.

Coping with Change (Sabbath Meditations)
Change. It’s inevitable. Everything changes. The seasons change. People change. Clothing styles change. Everything and everyone is subject to change.
Some of us cope with change well. We view change as exciting, challenging, invigorating. Others of us don’t respond well to change at all. Our reaction to it can range anywhere from intimidation to paralyzation and we resist it at all costs.
I’m among those who don’t deal well with change. Once, without warning me, my wife re-arranged all of the furniture in the living room while I was at work and practically sent me into shock. It took me a week to recover and actually admit to her that I liked the new arrangement.
The Bible, as we know, has a great deal to say about change. In fact, if you were to sum up in one word what the Bible teaches respecting the purpose of our existence here on earth, that word might be “change.” We are changed at baptism. We become new creatures. We are to strive to change during our Christian walk to be more like Christ. Ultimately we are looking forward to a change from physical to spirit life.
Change is inescapable. We aren’t given the option in life not to experience change. So for those of us who don’t particularly care for a lot of change it’s important that we come to terms with it and accept it as part of life and part of our Christian walk.
I once attended a seminar at work that was designed to offer encouragement to people like me. It seems there are a fair number of us out there. The presenter who gave this seminar said that a common problem those who don’t like change share is that they try to control too much. The more we try to control, the more we feel anxious and out of control because the more there is that is potentially subject to change.
This presenter drew a circle on the board and then drew another circle inside of that and still another circle inside of that. It resembled a large bullseye. This bullseye he labeled the circle of control. He then labeled the small inner circle, “things I can change.” He labeled the next ring of the bullseye, “things I can influence.” The outer ring of the bullseye he then labeled “things I can’t control.” He went on to explain that many frustrations, anxieties in life, are a result of focusing too much on things outside of our circle of control and influence. He encouraged us to spend the lion share of our time dealing primarily on those things we can control, a little less time on those things we can influence, and spend very little time on those things that are out of our control. In doing this we would find our anxiety level regarding change begin to diminish.
Of course, we can take that one step further with regard to our spiritual walk. If I focus on the things I can change in myself and leave those things I can’t change to God, as a Christian, I will not only be less anxious when changes occur, but I should actually find peace, knowing that God is in control. It’s just a matter of changing my perspective. And that’s a change I can deal with.

One Small Box (Morning Companion)
Today I presented a small box to the executive assistant. In it were a few keys, a building access card, a credit card, a one or two inconsequential items. Hard to believe that after 36 years of plying my skills, it all comes down to one small box, a few hugs and handshakes, and even a few tears.
But that small box was more than a box.
One time an old widow lady dropped a couple of small coins into the Temple treasury. They didn’t amount to much considering the financial needs of the Temple. Others had dumped in bucket loads of coins to noisy fanfare as they were cascading into the bronze offering urn.
In scripture we’re told that the wealthy men of stature cast in vast sums from their plenty, but the two small coins were something that caught Jesus attention:
“Truly I tell you this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:3-4 NIV)
Over the last two thousand years billions of people have learned of this old woman and the true greatness of her gift. Those two small copper coins clinking into the treasury might have seemed insignificant, but they have echoed into eternity.
Do we realize that the small boxes in our lives might not be so small?
A while back I had lunch with my mentor, the man who introduced me to the profession that I would practice for the ensuing 3-1/2 decades. This man taught me how to do my job the right way. When I told him I would be retiring in a few months, he smiled and said something like this:
“You may not know the impact you have had on people’s lives. Someday, maybe ten years from now, you’ll run into the people you helped. It might be in a grocery store or a coffee shop, and they are going to remember you and thank you for the difference you made in their lives. You might not see that now, but you will see it.”
That small box that I turned in today is filled with more than keys. It is filled with friendships, colleagues, and memories. Most of all, it was filled with two small coins.

Salvation – Process or Providence? (Sabbath Meditations)
While visiting a long-time friend, we became engaged in one of those animated theological discussions where you sit on the edge of your chair, leaning forward, red in the face, gesturing wildly at the beginning of every sentence, while your spouse glances around the room at anyone who may be within earshot and apologetically rolls her eyes.

Pausing briefly after having exhausted our brain cells on one topic … I can’t remember which one … probably something deep and weighty like the identity of the two witnesses or the suitability of Petra as a ‘place of safety’, I attempted to launch the conversation in a new direction. I asked my friend, “So, how would you describe the process of salvation?”
He thought for a moment and then responded by way of analogy:
“The process of salvation,” he explained, “is analogous to climbing a cliff. Upon conversion, we stand at the bottom of a high cliff. We’ll call it the cliff of perfection. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we begin to climb. We struggle and we strive throughout our Christian life to make it to the top. At the end of our life, or at Jesus’s return, whichever comes first, whatever distance we haven’t yet managed to climb, God, in His grace, reaches down and grabs our hand and hoists us the rest of the distance to the top.
I was impressed. It was a compelling analogy. One that I, at one time in my life, would have whole-heartedly endorsed. It deftly attempts to balance the tension between the Christian’s responsibility to obey the law and the role that God’s grace plays in the process.
But there was something about my friend’s analogy that, for me, didn’t ring true. Something about the premise that, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on at the time, struck me as flawed. So rather than launch into a dissertation of the ten reasons why I did or did not agree, I simply responded, “Hmmm, interesting. I’ll have to think about that” and then stared blankly at the wall in front of me. I’m sure cutting our discussion short spared my wife the necessity of rolling her eyes a few more times, but I left feeling … well … unresolved.
I now have some definite thoughts on the subject. I’ve put my thoughts on this topic in writing, so that you can have the pleasure … or the frustration … of pondering these things along with with me. Or, maybe, just roll your eyes. Either way, here goes …
With regard to salvation, it’s my conviction that scripture makes two clear pronouncements.
Salvation is not something to be achieved; it’s something to be accepted.
Salvation is the starting point, not the ending point, of our Christian journey.
An abundance of scripture tells us that no matter how great the effort, we cannot achieve salvation. Isaiah 64:6 tells us “All our righteousness are as filthy rags.” Romans 3:10 says “There is none righteous, no not one …” Psalms 39:5 reads “…every man at his best state is vapor.”
It would be easy to dismiss these as statements about non-Christians who don’t have the Holy Spirit working in them, except for the fact that even Paul, who no one can argue was led by the Spirit, said in Romans 7: “For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
Even though he delighted in keeping the law, he had to acknowledge his complete inability to do so. He acknowledged that he was, even with his best effort, even with the Holy Spirit having changed His heart and mind, still a wretched sinner. In short, he acknowledged his inability to climb the cliff.
I’m certainly thankful that Paul didn’t leave us (pardon the pun) hanging. He goes on to share where his assurance of salvation came from. Romans 7:25 “I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.
Notice he didn’t say, “I thank God – through my effort and Jesus Christ.” No, he said “I thank God – through Jesus Christ!” He, not I, gets all of the glory for saving me. I deserve none of it.
Does that mean that Paul didn’t try to climb the cliff at all? Of course it doesn’t. Paul loved the law. He wrote a great deal about running the race, fighting against the flesh. But he had no misconception that his effort contributed one iota to the work Jesus Christ was doing in Him. That work was not his to achieve, only to accept.
So why then did Paul bother striving against sin? Well, that question leads to what I believe is the second great pronouncement of scripture regarding salvation. That is: Salvation is the starting point, not the ending point, of our Christian journey.
As I see it, the formula for salvation according to scripture is not:
Believe –> strive to become like Christ –> receive salvation
But rather: Believe –> receive salvation –> strive to become like Christ
Romans 10:9-11 “… that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”
Receive Salvation: Titus 3:4-7 “But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, which He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (See also 2 Timothy 1:9,10; Ephesians 2:8,9)
Strive to become like Christ: Romans 5:17–21 “For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.) … so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Continuing in Romans 6:11-14 “Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”
These scriptures and many others seem to confirm that our desire to obey is a response to salvation, not an incentive to work for it. Our Christian walk is spent striving to become what we already are in Christ Jesus.
1 Corinthians 1:30-31 tells us, “But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God – and righteousness and sanctification and redemption – that, as it is written, ‘He who glories, let him glory in the Lord’.”
Note the operative word: “became”. Jesus Christ became our righteousness. He became our redemption. I can’t imagine how much clearer it could be, can you? We don’t climb 80% of the cliff only to have Him help us with the last 20%. Our contribution to our salvation doesn’t even measure up to .00001%, so far are His ways above our ways. He is responsible 100% for our salvation. His life in us, His righteousness imputed to us, makes us worthy to be on top of the cliff with Him.
Ephesians 2:4-10 “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 (past tense – upon our conversion) 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, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
Salvation is not something we attain at some future date, but, spiritually speaking, it’s ours, right now. Spiritually speaking, through faith in Jesus’s sacrifice, we sit in heavenly places with Him. Salvation is ours. Membership in the Family is ours. It’s the starting point, not the ending point, of our Christian journey. He has placed us on the top of the cliff.
So now, when the Father looks at you and me, he doesn’t see us. He doesn’t see our sin. He sees His Son. Romans 8:1 tells us that before God, those who are in Christ Jesus are without condemnation. We are worthy, now, at this moment, of the gift of salvation, because His righteousness in us has made it so.
Okay, I get the fact that we won’t receive that gift in all its fullness until the resurrection, when our bodies are converted. So in that sense, I guess it could be said there is a process involved. There are stages to how salvation is ultimately realized. But the fact that we can’t yet walk through walls in no way negates the fact that salvation is ours. No one would argue that a son who has been granted an inheritance is not really a son until he has it in his hands. He can choose not to receive it. He can reject it, but as long as he remains, it’s His, whether it’s in the bank or in his hands. The same is true of us. We are sons. We are in the Family. Our inheritance is in the bank.
“But wait a minute,” someone may protest, “What about scriptures that seem to clearly tell us our effort does contribute to our salvation? Doesn’t Philippians 2:12 tell us to ‘Work out your own salvation with fear in trembling’?” Of course. However, you must understand what that means in the light of the verse that immediately follows: “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”
“But what of the many passages that proclaim ‘He who overcomes…’?” They too must be understood in the context of Revelation 12:11 which reads, “and they overcame by the blood of the Lamb.”
“Surely,” it might be argued, “you must concede the importance of our effort revealed in Matthew 24:13 where Jesus teaches, ‘He who endures to the end will be saved’.” Certainly, but to get the full picture you have to couple that verse with Paul’s words in Hebrews 12:2 “looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
He is the Author, the Beginning, and the Finisher, the Ending, of our faith. He is our endurance. He will finish it for us. We can reject Him, but as long as we remain in relationship with Him, the end is not in question.
Still, there are those who might continue to take exception: “If salvation is already ours, where then is the incentive to obey?” It’s a fair question, but one that if we think objectively, has an obvious answer. Why do we assume that incentive is something the Christian needs? Is not a Christian by definition someone in whom the Holy Spirit dwells? The individual who has truly accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Savior will have a changed heart, correct? Would not an individual who has truly accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Savior, in whom has been put a new heart, want to obey, even if he can never do so perfectly, even if he is completely unable to climb the cliff himself? And wouldn’t this new man, having had his mind renewed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, be compelled by that Spirit to desire to become like his Savior? So then, if the heart of this new man is not motivated by a desire to become like Christ, and the pattern of his life has not become one of working, overcoming and enduring, isn’t it doubtful that he ever really repented and accepted Jesus as his Savior in the first place? Isn’t he by definition still unconverted?
So, what difference does it make how we understand how salvation is obtained?
Answer: It doesn’t…and, at the same time…it makes all the difference in the world.
Huh? No difference?
Nothing changes about what we do. We still strive to obey. We still love God’s law with all of our heart, all our mind and all our soul. We still strive to become like Christ. That goal is in no way diminished.
All the difference in the world?
Though it doesn’t change the what, it has huge implications for the why.
For one, it changes the dynamic of our relationship with God. It moves us from a place of obedience based on compulsion, on fear of not measuring up, to an obedience based on love, on desire to be like Him.
Secondly, it takes the focus off us and puts it squarely onto whom it belongs, God the Father and Jesus Christ. They, not we, get the glory for anything and everything they are accomplishing in us.
Finally, it levels the playing field of comparison between brethren in Christ. It confirms that each of us are not 5%, not 20%, but 100% dependent on His grace and mercy. We recognize, like Paul, that we are all sold under sin. None of us has reason to exalt ourselves above our brethren. That truth drives us too our knees where we, like Paul, exclaim daily, “O wretched man that I am, who shall save me from the body of this death?” To which, we boldly and confidently reply, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord …” He has done it in me. I am saved, not by the process of my effort, but by the strong hand of His providence.
And carried in those strong hands, no cliff is too high.

Brother vs Brother (New Church Lady)
Recently, I was sharing coffee with my younger sister on her porch and chatting about church stuff. She mentioned that she had a hard time with a previous church pastor, because he had lived such a perfect life. He’d grown up a believer, never strayed from the faith, married in the faith, was still married to that woman of faith and served side-by-side with his wife in a Dallas-area mega church. She did not think this pastor had ever sinned. She just wondered how someone whose life was always focused on obedience could ever connect to “real” sinners who had made some painful, life-wrecking mistakes.
I was thinking two things: (1) I wish someone would complain that I was too unstained by sin to relate to normal folks and (2) this reminds me of the non-prodigal brother of
Luke 15:11-32.
I understand where my sister is coming from – you need to feel a connection to your church teachers and leaders. You need to know that they can feel your pain, understand your flaws, and sympathize with your temptations. A former prodigal son can likely say, “I made the same mistakes you did and worse.”
Paul was such a man. Listen to his testimony in his own words.
Acts 26:9-18 [ESV] “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests but, when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities. “In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles–to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
We need the Saul/Pauls of this world for their testimonies of how Jesus can turn a life 180° from its previous path and redeem even the most sordid histories, transforming them into an entirely new story and future.
Recall these words: “I once was lost, but now am found; was blind but now I see.” Grace is never more amazing than when it turns a wretched sinner into a bullhorn for salvation through Jesus.
But the truth is that the church needs both brothers – the prodigal brother and the faithful brother. And, while those life-long faithful followers might not have a dramatic story to tell, I still believe they can minister to those whose lives were once prodigal. It just takes godly love and mercy toward those who did not have the benefit of a life of obedience. A true minister, that is a servant of the people, will have those qualities toward all of his congregants.
Timothy was raised as a second generation believer. In
2 Timothy 1:5 [ESV] we read, I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.
David Guzik, in his study guide/commentary on 2 Timothy 1 says this, “Timothy’s mother and grandmother were believers, but his father was not (at least not at first). In the Roman world, fathers had absolute authority over the family, and since Timothy’s father was not a Christian, his home situation was less than ideal (though not necessarily terrible). But his mother and grandmother either led him to Jesus or grounded him in the faith. God wants to use parents and grandparents to pass on an eternal legacy to their children and grandchildren.” {emphasis mine}
You see, first generation believers may be comforted by a preacher whose life wasn’t always aligned with Jesus and who has made that dramatic change to obedience. But we all also need to believe that the non-prodigal life is possible for the second generation believers – our children. Because, while a first generation believer might feel a special connection to a pastor who had a dramatic story of repentance to tell, I don’t believe there is a parent alive who, having come to repentance and change themselves, still hopes their child will go through the trauma of a prodigal life.
No, we all want our children to learn from our mistakes, and from our teachings, that life is better when lived in alignment with God’s will from day one until their last breath. We all hope our children will be spared the guilt and grief that comes from living a life like the prodigal brother.
The church needs the Paul and the prodigal son stories so that we have hope that a lost, desperate, sin-filled life can be turned around. The church needs the faithful brother and the Timothy stories so that we can have hope that a life of obedience – of good, godly choices, of rejecting temptation and living faithfully – even in this sin-sick world – is possible. These faithful children we have raised will more likely feel a connection to someone who has also grown up in the faith and lived a life of faithfulness.
We can and should learn from both the prodigal brother and the faithful brother. As you read that story in Luke 15, please see that God has a place for the lessons from the lives of both brothers – and for you, whichever brother’s story is more aligned with the history of your life.

Why Are We Doing This? (Children of God)
With our Christian calling, we have embarked on an arduous and difficult journey. There are few who follow this Way. “
Why are we doing this?” This is the kind of question that challenges our deepest reasons and motivations for serving God in the way that we do.
Why do we hold fast to the Sabbath, the Holy Days and God’s commands? Why are we trying so diligently to grow in the fruit of God’s Spirit? Why do we refuse to jeopardize our faith when others are more willing to compromise? Why, when it comes to The Truth, are we willing to stand against the whole world? Why, in the face of so many attacks, do we hold fast to the doctrines of Christ that we have believed for so long?
“Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly
contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” (Jude 1:3)
We know our lives are finite – our days are fading away. We are mortal, weak, and often helpless. Yet, we have been called by God to be His Children. He has taught us His Way and has given us His Spirit. Yes, but
why are we doing it ? “Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22)
Let’s reflect on some of the things we experience as Christians. We deny ourselves – and we enthusiastically bring ourselves into submission. We willingly forsake all that we have. We are put out of the congregation and suffer reproach for the name of Jesus Christ. We intensely walk the strait and narrow path to the Kingdom of God. Yes, but
why are we doing it? “And he said to them all, If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
“Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” (Luke 13:24)
“So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33)
“And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.” (Matthew 11:12)
“For therefore we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those that believe.” (1Timothy 4:10)
Why do we do it? What is our motivation? What compels us to do it? We can cite any number of reasons that might help explain our determination to serve God. Are these the reasons we do it?
Because God has shown us His way, we know it is the right way.
God has said that we shall see Him and be like He is.
We want to become more like God, so that we can be His Children.
God has promised to bless those who serve Him.
God has threatened to punish all who disobey Him.
The last reason is interesting because it is precisely the wrong reason, per se. Indeed, God is just and right in “promising” the lake of fire to all who finally refuse to serve and obey Him, but fear itself will not produce the kind of behavior God expects to see in us. “Seeking to save our own skin” – does not grow into Godly love. In fact, obeying God out of that kind of fear eventually will destroy our faith and cause us to see God wrongly – in the same way as the faithless servant in Christ’s parable of Luke 19. Notice how the unfaithful servant responds to God.
“For I feared you, because thou art an austere man: thou take up that thou laid not down, and reap that thou didst not sow.” (Luke 19:21)
Because of the servant’s misplaced fear of his master, his assessment of his master was incorrect – and so he became too afraid to serve him properly. We do the same if our primary reason for serving God is fear that He might destroy us.
Here is another interesting question. Would we love and serve our God – even if there were no reward? Would we be willing to give honor and glory, respect and obedience to our creator if we were only like a beautiful flower that gives it’s all – only to fade away forever? Isn’t our great God worthy of all glory – without His having to extend the promise of a reward to us? Perfect love would dictate that we serve Him without the hope of reward.
Here’s the good part! We know that our God loves us, and He created us in order to share His LIFE with us forever. For this purpose, He trains us to be His children so that He might ultimately bless us. God wants us to succeed, and in many ways, to succeed “big.” Of course, “big” by His standards! God sent Christ as a sacrifice, and Christ came willingly, because They both want to share eternity with us!
“For it is God who works in you both to will and to do His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13)
“I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)
Notice Christ’s attitude toward us, His servants, and brothers and sisters!
“And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.” (John 10:28-29)
We love God, because He loved us first. (1John 4:19) We serve God because He first served us. He is our creator and savior. We serve God because we want to be His Children! We hold fast to the Father’s Truth because we want to please Him and our Lord, Jesus Christ. We want to be counted among the faithful servants of Jesus Christ when He returns. We love Them because They love us.
We are doing this because we are called now to be a part of that better resurrection with Jesus Christ – the inestimable privilege of being in God’s Family. “And this is the promise that He has promised us eternal life.” (1 John 2:25)
Why are we doing this?” We do this because we are the only people on earth who do know their creator God and who are able to worship Him in sincerity and truth. As though this were not enough – our Father and Jesus Christ want to share their eternal life with us.
“For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2Peter 1:11)

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 90
ºF 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. 

GettyImages-640231462.jpg

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.” (2:1718 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)
“B
e 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)

mark-zuckerberg-facebook-congressional-testimony-3.jpg

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.
Lost World
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 5:16The 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.

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close