Thoughts on The Way


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Into All The World (New Horizons)
The Christian’s commission couldn’t be clearer. So why do so many remain beyond the sound of the Gospel?
It has been estimated that two-thirds of mankind since the Gospel was first preached have never heard Jesus’s name and that 30 million will die this year ‘unreached’ – despite the current 430,000 missionaries!
Christians contribute over $200 billion yearly to the ‘cause’ but only 5% to foreign missions, of which 87% is for work among Christians. Yet it has been estimated that just 1% is spent on the unevangelized. Crank in the fact that the ‘gospel’ preached is a distorted version of the message Jesus proclaimed (Galatians 1;6-7). The church, then, has not yet reached ‘all the world’ with that message!
The modern age has witnessed a variety of facilitators for communication.
As in Roman times transport has aided opportunity to proclaim the Gospel. Then came radio, then television – and now the internet. And various organizations have taken advantage.
Why, then, have so few responded with a life-long commitment?
The apostle Paul in writing to the Corinthian brethren provides insight:
‘…if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the
glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them’ (II Corinthians 4:4).
Mankind’s adversary, the Devil and Satan, has influenced the minds of the opinion formers of the world. Educationalists, economists, scientists, religious leaders have lent their ears to his whispers, mediated through men and women who have ‘sold their soul’ to him.
Jesus, in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13), addressed his hearers:
When any one hears the word of the kingdom, and understands it not, then comes the wicked one, and catches away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side’ (v.19).
This appears to be the largest category!
Then there are those – perhaps emotionally stirred or scared into ‘conversion’ by a hell-fire preacher – who simply don’t last.
Others commit but, said Jesus, ‘…Yet has he not root in himself, but endures for a while: for when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, by and by he is offended. He also that received seed among the thorns is he that hears the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful’ (vv.21-22).
Not a surprise that true believers are few! What is surprising is that we are not talking about a new job or a holiday – but eternal life as a joint-heir of God, of the universe with Jesus Christ, our Creator – for ever. And the alternative – oblivion.
Jesus, in this context, uttered these stern words: ‘…the gate to life is very narrow. The road that leads there is so hard to follow that only a few people find it’ (Matthew 7:14).
How might this background affect our mode of ‘preaching’?
In the parable ‘the seed’, said Jesus, ‘is the word of God’, and that must be the focus of our message – the whole word of God, the totality of God’s revelation in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.
Notice that we are not out to ‘convert’ our hearers. The word ‘preach’ [Gk kerusso] simply means to ‘be a herald’, to ‘announce, proclaim’. He gave the example:
‘…‘From that time Jesus began to preach [kerusso], and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Matthew 4;17).
The hearers are not coerced into acceptance but must make a choice. Those who do listen, who respond positively, have ‘repented’ and been baptized, are then nourished to maturity within ‘mother church’:
‘…teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you’ (Matthew 28:20).
hen you encounter Jesus’s message, God is inviting you to become part of His Family. That message is that we are, from conception, alienated from the Godhead and reconciliation is possible only through the shed blood of Jesus – God become man, sacrificed to give us eternal life.
Embrace that awesome concept and having been baptized and received God’s indwelling Spirit you take on the righteousness of Jesus, your sin forgiven – and you there and then become a ‘new creature’.
God’s Law of Love is implanted inwardly through His indwelling Spirit. A whole new way of life gradually unfolds as you come to learn, through His Word and through competent teachers, what His way of life entails.
Our salvation is by God’s grace – not dependent on our actions, our works. If we have truly repented we are in Christ’:
‘…There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ who
walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit’ Romans 8:1.
God’s Spirit will – in His time – lead us to conform to His will – expressed for us through the authentic divinely-inspired Scriptures and as explained by competent teachers (Acts 8:31) and through fellowship (Hebrews 23-25).
Stay on that learning path and your eternal life is assured.

Yesterday, Today and Forever (Sabbath Thoughts)
Congratulations on the purchase of your brand new electronic device! Because we’ve crammed it full of all the latest technologies and software, we’re including this simple, step-by-step guide to help you get the most out of your purchase from the moment you take it out of the box.
Please enjoy!
1. Before you do anything else, make sure to remove the protective cling wrap preserving your device’s perfect, shiny black finish.
2. Take a moment to appreciate the fact that it will never look this perfect again.
3. Now for the real fun! Power up your device for the very first time, admire the crystal-clear display and crisp audio tones, and then begin to – whoa! Take it easy there! You can’t just start
using this product. You need to check for updates first! A lot has happened in the software world since we boxed up this device, and you certainly wouldn’t want to be using outdated software, would you? We didn’t think so.
4. Waiting for your updates to download is the perfect time to begin thinking up user names for our exclusive services. We recommend choosing obscure, confusing user names, since all the good ones are already taken.
5. Got a few ideas? Great! Now, Check for more updates. It’s been a while, and you never know.
6. Have your updates finished? Terrific! Now, for the final step, carefully place everything back into the box and throw it down a hill. Your electronic device has been rendered obsolete by a newer, cutting-edge technology that’s superior to this product in every way. Everyone but you is already using it, and you’re going to be a laughingstock if you think anyone will take you seriously with this outdated clunker of a machine. If you’re having trouble coping with this change, we encourage you to read our free pamphlet,
So Your Device Was Manufactured in the Stone Age – Now What, Neanderthal? And as always, thank you for your patronage!
That’s how it feels, anyway. Don’t get me wrong; I love unpackaging a brand new electronic device. They’re always so shiny, so new, so
perfect. But there’s also always that looming question: “How long?” How long until this thing stops being so new? How long until some technological advancement makes everything in this box obsolete? How long until “state-of-the-art” becomes a very expensive paperweight?
But if we’re being honest, that sort of thing happens with more than just our electronics. In many ways, it’s become our cultural approach to … well, everything. Cars, household appliances, software, tools, even relationships. We use these things until something better comes along, and then … we upgrade. There’s a social pressure to stay on the cutting edge of everything all the time, and if you don’t, then, well, you’re just a knuckle-dragging caveman determined to live out the rest of his life in a dank, musty-smelling cave.
It’s exhausting. I love flashy technology and fancy toys as much as the next guy, but sometimes the musty cave sounds tempting. I hate feeling like I’m in a race to squeeze as much as possible out of my stuff before it’s broken or no longer compatible with anything produced on this planet. But that’s just the way things are now. Given enough time, everything gets old. Everything breaks. Everything becomes obsolete. Well, almost everything.
In opposing false teachers who were polluting the Church with false doctrine, the author of Hebrews mounted this defense: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Now, the book of Hebrews was written during a time period when indoor plumbing was still a pretty big deal. The Roman Empire had certainly churned out some incredible technology, but I doubt the author could have anticipated his words being read by a society living at such a frenetic pace as ours. The concept of something,
anything, staying the same for more than a couple years is almost laughable. But staying the same forever? Cassette tapes hit the market a little over 50 years ago and they’re already ancient history how can Jesus possibly remain relevant in a world that reinvents itself on a daily basis?
I wonder. Here we are again on the Sabbath day. It’s the very same Sabbath God instituted all those millennia ago when He rested at the end of the creation week
no updates, no revisions, no changes. Twenty-four hours of holy time for rest and spiritual rejuvenation. He never bothered to rebrand or reinvent it it’s exactly what it’s always been. By the world’s standards, that’s obsolete in the worst possible way … and yet, if you keep the Sabbath, then you know. You know what a vital part of your week this day is. You know how essential it is in maintaining both a relationship with God and your sanity. Civilizations have risen and collapsed, society’s standards have fluctuated wildly across both ends of a bizarre spectrum, but the weekly Sabbath has never ceased from being a treasure more valuable than gold.
Why is that? What makes a 6,000-year-old ordinance outlast 50-year-old technology? Simple. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Cassette tapes aren’t. Human beings aren’t. We don’t even know
how to be. In a world driven by the winds of change, Jesus Christ remains an unshakable and immovable constant. As the Word of God (John 1:1,14), He stands as a perpetual beacon of truth and light in a world defined by inconsistency.
The apostle Paul was inspired to refer to Christ as our spiritual foundation
a foundation intended to support the temple of God; a foundation we build upon as living stones in the hands of our Creator (1 Corinthians 3:11-17; 1 Peter 2:4-5). And you know what’s absolutely essential in a foundation? Consistency. That’s why we’re told to build on the Rock and not on sand (Matthew 7:24-27). A foundation has to be dependable and unchanging, and that’s exactly what Jesus Christ is. You’re not going to spend 20 years building Godly character only to find out the project has been cancelled in favor of something new. There has never been and will never be a need for revisions or patches or updates the plan of God was set into motion “from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8), and it is destined to outlast the world and continue on into eternity.
Technology is wonderful, and it’s always exciting to see the latest and greatest advancements hit the market but it’s those same advancements that remind us how far we are from perfection. We’re always going to be trying to make something better than before because we never had it perfect from the start. God does. The Father, the Son, and Their plan for all of humanity have remained unchanged since before time began. There’s a reason God never authored the Bible v.2.0: He got it right the first time. The world will continue changing and upgrading, but the Word of God won’t. Contained within the pages of the Bible is all we’ll ever need to live a happy, fulfilling life in this age and the next. Nothing about that Word will ever be changed not one jot or tittle.
That doesn’t make it obsolete. That makes it amazing.

A New Theory on the Mark of the Beast (Morning Companion)
In this piece I’m taking a different approach to what the Mark of the Beast might be. Search the ‘net and you’ll find plausible theories that range from embedded chips to which day to count as the Sabbath. I’m going to offer another theory which I gladly label “theory”. However, I’m coming to believe this more and more to be the real issue at hand. I welcome comments and insights.
He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. (Revelation 13:16-17)
He shall speak pompous words against the Most High, shall persecute the saints of the Most High, and shall intend to change times and law. (Daniel 7:25)
This enigmatic mark of the beast has been interpreted in a number of different ways. Given modern technology some have posited that implanted microchips could be the fulfillment of this prophecy.
Others identify the mark as a change in the day kept as the Sabbath. Those who believe in this interpretation refer to such scriptures such as Ezekiel 20:12 and Exodus 31:13 where the seventh day Sabbath is referred to as a sign between God and his people. Thus, the mark of the beast would refer to a counterfeit Sabbath “sign”, and conditions would be such that the Fourth Commandment is made impossible to keep because of forced Sunday observance. Refusal to accept that sign would result in economic hardship.
This article is not intended to challenge either theory. It is intended to continue the conversation.
Let’s begin with the observation that the mark is placed on either the right hand or the forehead. In the book of Deuteronomy we find an interesting expression shortly after a listing of the Ten Commandments:
And these words that I command you today shall be in your heart … You shall bind them as a sign on your hand , and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. (Deuteronomy 6:6,8)
This suggests that the Ten Commandments should be the rule for what we do (“bind them as a sign on your hand”) and how we think (“they shall be as frontlets before your eyes”). The mark of the beast is also placed on the hand or the forehead, suggesting that this mark is some kind of counterfeit way of living and way of thinking.
In comparing with this Daniel 7:25 (
“he shall intend to change the times and the laws”), could Revelation be telling us that the time is coming when all ten of the Ten Commandments will be supplanted by some other law? What possible civilized system could say that murder, lying, stealing, and every form of deviancy is not a crime?
It is not too far fetched to see the makings of such a world emerging today. The first four commandments deal with our relationship with and reverence for the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We see Christian groups being banned form college campuses. We see churches and synagogues being attacked with violence and either marginalized as ignorant bigots (Christians) or incited against as shylocks, diamond merchants, and “it’s all about the Benjamins” (Jews). Prayer is prohibited in public places, and professions of faith are ruled out of order. Netflix feels free to spite Christians by portraying Jesus as a homosexual, and the Salvation Army has been assailed for its charity work with the accusation that their sincere desire to help those in need is no more than cover for the sinister purpose of ensnaring people into their religion.
As for “Thou Shalt not Kill”, do we need to bring up abortion for the millionth time, and do we need to remind people that several states allow newborns to be left to die without medical care as long as they are “kept comfortable”? Or that physician assisted suicide, formally known as euthanasia, is now in may places legally permissible?
Or how about the younger generations’ musings about how Boomers have ruined the world. Honoring one’s parents is being replaced by a resentment of the seasoned generations amid the accusation that they screwed up America, and it has become accepted for activists to co-opt our children, using them as bullhorns in loud attacks on the “Cause du Jour”.
And if you’re wondering about that “adultery” commandment, think of the deviancy now celebrated as alternative lifestyles, and if you disagree and say so, you might lose your job and be attacked and threatened mercilessly on social media. Children are celebrated when they or their parents decide it is perfectly normal to pump their kids full of hormones of the opposite sex and even contemplate major surgery to rearrange their sex organs. Worse, in some places it is not just considered bigotry but also illegal to try to help people clean up their lifestyles.
And “Thou shalt not steal”? Did you know that in some places such as California among several others, criminals who shoplift less than $950 per incident will not be prosecuted? Or what about the license some law enforcement agencies have to engage in “civil asset forfeiture“, which means they can seize your property without due process on only the suspicion of a crime, and it is often extremely difficult to recover those assets.
Do we need to talk about bearing false witness in a society where it’s illegal for you to lie to the government, but not for the government to lie to you? How about the growing trend of a culture where everyone is allowed to have his or her “own truth”.
And of course coveting what your neighbor has and electing people who promise to take other people’s property by force is now normal in our election campaigns.
That is why I’m floating the theory that the mark of the beast is much more all-encompassing that merely changing the Sabbath. It could well be that the passage in Revelation is about a complete revolution in how the culture views good and evil, right from wrong.

Global Agenda (New Horizons)
We are determined to end poverty and hunger, in all their forms and dimensions, and to ensure that all human beings can fulfil their potential i
n dignity and equality and in a healthy environment’ (UK Government response to UN Global Development Goals)
They are sentiments that all of us, surely, will applaud and will, when Jesus reigns, be the ‘new normal’. They are in fact a summary of the United Nations Sustainable Development plan – also known as Agenda21, now updated to Agenda30 (the projected date for completion).
This plan, formulated with papal support, envisions a world without national borders and can be realized only under the umbrella of a single overarching authority – a ‘world government’ no less. It is the new ’faith’ of globalism – a utopian world in which all of us accept the diktats of the elite ruling class.
Agenda30 has three elements – social equity, economy, environment and assumes willing compliance by all. Unlikely, given human nature!
Few will willingly relinquish their ancestral faith (part of the equity element). Nor will they relish the redistribution of wealth (economy) nor the appropriation of private property (environment). Inherent in this long-cherished plan, therefore, is the need for coercive enforcement and the elimination of all opposition.
This destructive global kingdom will be short-lived. It will be speedily replaced by the Kingdom of God and the benign reign of Jesus Christ.

My Pirate Treasure (Sabbath Thoughts)
I look back fondly on my time as a pirate.
It was a long time ago when I took up the life of a fearsome buccaneer.
I was seven years old, I think, and my time of employment in the profession only lasted a couple of hours, but I still remember it with warm memories. I didn’t do as much swashbuckling as I’d hoped, but I was able to spend a good deal of time attacking unsuspecting golf balls with an unwieldy metal club in the hope that this time,
just maybe, I could coerce the ball toward the general direction of the hole for which it was intended. Blackbeard was the scourge of the seven seas; I was the scourge of eighteen hapless par-3 mini-golf courses.
One of my fondest memories of that time, aside from the overpriced pirate hat my parents purchased for me that I wore incessantly, was the acquisition of my gold doubloon. It was a token, I was told, that could be traded in at my pirate-y venue for a free round of golf. I never used it, of course, because what seven-year-old in his right mind trades in a piece of
actual pirate treasure for one round of putt-putt?
No, that was my treasure, and for several years I kept it in a well-guarded shoebox under my bed. To the world, it was a useless piece of plastic with little value, but to me, it was a priceless artifact. I loved to take it out and look at it, pretending it was just one doubloon of a vast secret cache I had buried elsewhere for safe keeping. My days as Swashbuckler of the Open Fairway might have ended, but my love of shiny treasure certainly hadn’t. One man’s trash …
Treasure is one of those words that can mean entirely different things to entirely different people. You’ve probably heard the old adage, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” and it couldn’t be more true. Something one person would be willing to toss in the garbage might mean the world to another. And treasure isn’t even limited to physical possessions – we can treasure memories, we can treasure people, we can treasure accomplishments. Anything we deeply value, tangible or not, becomes our treasure.
So we ought to take notice, then, when Christ warns the disciples, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Much as our seven-year-old selves might have wished for it once upon a time, we don’t all have chests stashed away, overflowing with pieces of eight and priceless gems. But we
do all have treasures. What’s yours?
I think we all instinctively want to say that it’s the word of God … but is it really? Christ gave us a powerful litmus test: we find our treasure where we find our hearts. We’re going to seek it at every opportunity – after basic survival needs, our treasure is whatever we make the most time for.
Sometimes I’m ashamed of what my treasure becomes. All too often it becomes a new TV show, or a game, or personal project that soaks up hours of my week while I struggle to find a few minutes for focused Bible study. There’s nothing wrong with having hobbies and interests, and there are a lot of great things to be involved in – the problem is when those same hobbies and interests become more alluring treasures than our calling. The problem is when our heart takes up residence with a treasure that starts to mean more to us than the invitation to join the family of God.
It sounds impossible when it’s put that way. How could anything possibly mean more to us than that? How could a five-hour Netflix binge on some newly discovered TV show become more important than exploring the holy scriptures preserved for us by the Creator of the universe? How could a single attraction of this world become a higher priority than developing the Godly character we need to find a place in the eternal Kingdom of God?
I don’t know if there’s a simple solution to all this – if there is, I sure haven’t found it yet. All I know is that in my life, it’s something I need to constantly reevaluate. There are a million and one different potential treasures in this life, and not all of them are
bad things – they’re just things that we can’t allow to take the place of God.
You have been given the most incredible gift in the entire universe. The God who shaped the entirety of space and time wants you in His family. He wants to guide you down the path to eternal life, and He sent His Son as a sacrifice just to make that journey possible.
Enjoy the good things of this life, but remember that our hearts belong with only one treasure – and we must constantly endeavor to make certain they remain there.

‘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’ (2 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’ (1 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.
must be ‘… in Christ’. You must have made that mature emotional and rational commitment to serve him, to go wherever he leads you.

A Life Worth Reading About (Sabbath Thoughts)
The woman lay still and silent on her bed. She couldn’t say a word – but then, she didn’t have to. As Peter made his way toward her, he found himself surrounded by those whose lives the woman had impacted before her death.
“And all the widows stood by him weeping, showing the tunics and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them” (Acts 9:39).
This story always gets to me. It’s an inset in the book of Acts. So many big-picture things are going on around it: the early Church is exploding in numbers. Saul, the most vicious persecutor of the God’s people, has just been converted and baptized. God is setting the stage to reveal to the Church that the Gentiles – the inferior, reviled, second-class citizens of Jewish culture – are about to become their brethren, co-heirs of salvation. These were some of the most historic moments God’s Church would ever experience – and there, in the middle of it all, Luke pauses to tell the story of Dorcas.
Dorcas, who was
“full of good works and charitable deeds which she did” (Acts 9:36).
Dorcas, who was surrounded by a roomful of widows proudly displaying those good works and sharing the stories of those charitable deeds. Dorcas, who took the word of God and
lived it.
That’s the tricky part, isn’t it? Because it’s easy to talk about being a Christian. It’s even pretty easy, relatively speaking, to write a blog about being a Christian. The hard part is getting out there and being a Christian. But Dorcas did that. Rather than only theorizing or discussing or studying, she took what God had revealed to her and she ran with it. And because of that, her death left a hole so gaping in the local community that no one seemed quite sure how to fill it.
Good works. Charitable deeds. Nothing complicated, and yet it’s hard for me to read about Dorcas without feeling a twinge of shame. It’s not complicated, but it’s not always easy, either. Dorcas invested a lot of time and effort into good works, and her congregation’s reaction to her death speaks volumes about her life.
What about me? If I died tomorrow, would there be a crowd of people holding up
my good works and charitable deed and asking, “What are we going to do without him?” I don’t know.
It’s a sobering thought – not because we should live our lives with the goal of having a heartbreaking funeral, but simply because it reminds us that we’re building our legacy. Right now. Today. In every moment that we speak, act and exist, we’re choosing what we’ll leave behind when we’re gone. We’re deciding the memories others will have to look back and reflect on.
Is your little corner of the world going to be better or worse because you were in it?
Dorcas made her corner better. She doesn’t appear to have had power and prestige and wealth; she wasn’t at the forefront of some sweeping social reform; she didn’t do something that made the world stop and look. She made garments. Tunics. Gave them to people who needed them.
Good works. Charitable deeds.
My favorite part of Dorcas’s story is the end. Through Peter, God chooses to do the impossible and bring Dorcas back to life – a touching, wonderful moment in itself, but not the end of the story. The end is here, in this brief footnote:
“And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed on the Lord” (Acts 9:42).
Question: Were people believing on the Lord because there had been a resurrection, or because
Dorcas had been resurrected? Probably a little of both, honestly – but I’m willing to bet that a lot of people in Joppa knew Dorcas. I’m willing to bet that a lot of people in that town had been on the receiving end of her good works and charitable deeds. And I’m willing to bet that when a lot of people found out that the God Dorcas served – the God that made her unusual and different and an outlier in the community – when they heard that that God had resurrected Dorcas, the road to believing on the Lord was probably not a difficult one. The Roman world was filled with gods – murderous gods, childish gods, irritable gods, gods of every shape, size, and character flaw – but here, in the middle of it all, was a good God with followers who did good things; a God who proved Himself by bringing a faithful servant back from the dead.
You’re leaving a legacy. Every moment of every day, you’re leaving behind a story for those who come after you – a story that says (to those in the Church and to those outside it), “Here’s what I think it means to follow God.”
“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.
For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:7-10).
Dorcas left behind a story worth reading. Will you do the same?

The Enduring Poor (New Horizons)
A hall-mark characteristic of Jesus Christ and etched in gold is his compassion. Wherever he encountered need he met it with all the resources at his command, or as with feeding the crowds, he enrolled the co-operation of others.
It’s a sterling example for all who profess to follow him – and indeed for everyone, as Jesus encouraged the rich young man who sought his guidance (Matthew 19:16-22).
uch need is endemic in every nation, in every generation.
As said Jesus: you have the poor with you always, and whensoever you will you may do them good’ (Mark 14:7, Deuteronomy 15:11).
It was a message picked up, whatever the motives, by nineteenth century philanthropists.
In the modern world, the welfare burden has been assumed by the State. Inevitably, that burden has become heavier, the definition of ‘poor’ stretched ever broader, the demands on the public purse (taxes) ever more demanding.
The Victorian benefactors, however, had a guiding principle, almost forgotten by today’s governments: the universal right to relief undermines the incentive to work and tends to turn the poor into dependants.
The ‘poor’ were deemed to be those who were diligent and in work but had legitimate needs beyond their income and needed temporary support. They benefitted from targeted charitable giving.
Indeed this could be the Bible definition: You shall not oppress a hired servant [employee] that is poor and needy, whether he be of your brethren, or of your strangers that are in your land within your gates’ (Deuteronomy 24:14).
By contrast there are those who simply won’t take responsibility for their own welfare. They are well described by King Solomon:
A slothful man hides his hand in his bosom, and will not so much as bring it to his mouth again (Proverbs: 19:24). He adds: Laziness leads to poverty; hard work makes you rich’ (ch.10:4).
The apostle Paul adds another dimension with the same conclusion: We also gave you the rule that if you don’t work, you don’t eat. Now we learn that some of you just loaf around and won’t do any work, except the work of a busybody. So, for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, we ask and beg these people to settle down and start working for a living’ (II Thessalonians 3:10-12 CEV).
Paul, in addition, urged his hearers to as we have opportunity do good to everyone’ (Galatians 6:10).
He instructs them to teach new brethren, in this context, this fundamental of the faith: personal responsibility: let the one being taught in the Word share with the one teaching, in all good things (v.6)’
The purpose of welfare, as noted by the philanthropists, must be to improve the lot of the worker – for family support in a crisis, for education etc. A ‘reward’ for their own efforts.
Simply shovelling cash at the indigent, by contrast, can fuel a downward spiral into criminality, illegitimate children and abortion, single parenthood, addiction. It fosters an attitude of dependence and a loss of their personal contribution to society. There is, too often, a loss of self-respect.
Whatever the reason for an individual’s descent into pauperism – culture, inadequate education, disability etc – it can detract from the divine image that is inherent in every one of us. We are each extraordinary, with unique characteristics awaiting awakening. (see Genesis 1:26-27) There is, however, a better way than reliance on state handouts welcome as they are in times of crisis. The LORD set out guidelines that are the foundation of a successful society. Ignoring these guidelines leads to a nation in chaos and poverty. Central to this is the stable family:
Be faithful in marriage (Exodus 20:14)
Confine births within marriage (Deuteronomy 23:2)
Take care of your own children (II Corinthians 12:14)
Work hard (Proverbs 10:4). Laziness ends in dependence (ch 12:24)
Be responsible for your own life (Galatians 6:4)
Live debt free (Romans 13:8, Exodus 20: 17)
None of this negates the obligation of others, where possible, to relieve distress when encountered:
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ’ (Galatians 6:2).
Everyone is responsible to assist ‘the fatherless and widows’ in times of crisis
by providing work opportunities (Deuteronomy 24:19).
The poor are ruled by the rich, and those who borrow are slaves of the lender’

What? Me Worry? (Morning Companion)
As an adolescent I found the snarky humor of Mad Magazine to be the highest form of satire. Today I have a doubt or two about that, but the 35 cents (Cheap!) that I expended monthly in those youthful years provided a welcome diversion during the troubled 1960s.
Every issue during those mad times had an encouraging message blazoned around the picture of one Alfred E. Neuman: “What? Me worry?” And for the time it took to read the magazine, I wasn’t worrying about the craziness filling the earth, but was laughing in the devil’s face. As Thomas More wrote, “The devil … that proud spirit … cannot endure to be mocked.”
A wise man once pointed out to me that 99% of the things we worry about never happen, to which I in a rare moment of quick thinking retorted, “Don’t you see? That proves that worry really works!” But to the wise man’s excellent point, Jesus would have had something to add.
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 5:28-34 ESV)
It is understandable when people who do not know God and his goodness find themselves engulfed in worry. But Jesus says that those of us who do know the Father should understand him as a Father. Fathers don’t let their children go naked and hungry, although often good parents will back off and allow their children to learn by a few hard knocks.
No one says this is easy. Jesus even asks the question,
“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8 NKJV) The gospels give us an example of how real faith looks, and it’s not how many of us view faith: Faith is not a feeling. It’s an attitude.
One time a Roman centurion sent a message to Jesus. His servant was sick and dying, and he sent for Jesus with a request for healing. Jesus agreed to help, but then the centurion did something that inspired Jesus to marvel and say,
“I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel” (Luke 7:9). What was it that was so unusual about the centurion’s expression of faith? Let’s take a look at what he said:
Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy that you should come under my roof. Therefore, I did not even think myself worthy to come to you. But say the word and my servant will be healed. For I am also a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (Luke 7:6-8 NKJV)
In addition to this man’s clear humility, we see his profound understanding of a little thing called trust. His faith was based on knowing his boss and trusting his boss to make good decisions even though he didn’t understand everything behind the boss’s decision. Furthermore, the centurion’s underlings knew they could trust the centurion’s judgement, and therefore they could all together walk forward in confidence even without knowing what they would find on that walk.
It’s one thing, of course, to have a fallible human boss.  We have the assurance that our real Boss has our best interests in mind and therefore we can trust him when he says, “Go,”, or “Come,”, or “Do this.” If we have the kind of faith that Jesus couldn’t find in even Israel, we can let go of our fears and approach the future with the peace that surpasses all understanding.
We of all people should have the joy and peace that come with faith and hope in spite of the spiritual warfare around us. In spite of all the attempts in this corrupt world to make us fear, we do not need to succumb to a fretful state. We know the Good News. We cannot let the devil steal our joy. The forces of darkness long to make us fearful because that makes us easier to control. Author Michael Crichton has warned, “Social control is best managed through fear.” Writer Paulo Coelho says, “If you want to control someone, all you have to do is make them feel afraid.”
Along with Paul we must say, as he sat in a Roman dungeon,
“I have learned whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11 ESV), and “God gave us a spirit, not of fear but of power, love, and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7 ESV).
We cannot let others control us through fear. Instead we must control fear through the Spirit of God.
We all struggle to live up to the standard that Jesus set. It’s tough, if not well-nigh impossible, for us on our own to have the strength to let go and just let God be God. We must acknowledge that. While we struggle with this, it is good to remember that Mad Magazine was on to something. Mock the idiocy and expose it for what it is. Don’t worry about the devil because the forces of good will have the last laugh.

Your Final Hours (Sabbath Thoughts)
In 24 hours, you will be dead.
No loopholes. No exceptions. No way around it. This time tomorrow, you will breathe your final breath and that will be that.
What will you do differently, I wonder?
There isn’t time to do everything you wanted to do or hoped you’d do or dreamed you’d do. You’re going to have to prioritize. You’re going to have to decide what matters most on your internal checklist, decide what
needs to get done before you go.
It could be there are burned bridges and broken fences that need mending in your relationships. It could be there are words you need to say to people who need to hear them. It could be there are places you want to go, things you want to see, dreams you want to accomplish.
This is it. This is your last chance. These are your final hours.
What will you do with them?
Look, I’m no prophet. God only knows when your final 24 hours will begin, and I hope you have many more happy years before that happens. But I do know this – in the time since you started reading this Sabbath Thought, roughly 77 people have died. 77 people.
Well, 78 now.
Every second, on average, 1.8 people die worldwide. Every second, someone loses the tomorrow they thought they had. Every second, someone’s final 24 hours come to an end.
In the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), we find five wise virgins who were prepared when the bridegroom returned. Five wise virgins who had their lamps trimmed and their oil burning. When the bridegroom came back, everything was in order and they were ready. They had accomplished the things they needed to accomplish.
The five foolish virgins didn’t. The bridegroom returned and
they weren’t ready. As a result, they lost their role in the wedding. They lost even their privilege to be at the wedding, because they had made other things more important than this momentous occasion.
The lesson?
“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming” (Matthew 25:13).
How’s your relationship with God? Are you praying as much as you should? Studying as much as you should? Fasting, meditating, and yes, fellowshipping as much as you should? Is seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness at the
very top of your list of priorities, or are you planning to seek it during a tomorrow that you were never promised you’d have?
We’re up to 166 now. 166 people without a tomorrow; 167 people who no longer have the opportunity to accomplish the things they were planning on doing later.
If you’ve responded to God’s calling – if you’ve committed yourself to this way of life, if you have the Holy Spirit working in you, then
your time is now. Your opportunity to get closer to God and become more like Him is happening in this moment and you can’t afford to put it off until tomorrow.
Tomorrow might not come.

A Misunderstood American (Morning Companion)
Americans have a penchant for not appreciating their heroes and giants until they are no longer on the scene.
One famous American, while afforded a degree of respect these days, is still overlooked by many who have yet to understand the full depth of his intellect and world view. Sadly, where he stood on the social issue closest to his heart is either misunderstood or bent by his presumed heirs. I am going to quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s own words.
“Some things are right and some things are wrong, no matter if everybody is doing the contrary. Some things in this universe are absolute. The God of the universe has made it so. And so long as we adopt this relative attitude toward right and wrong, we’re revolting against the very laws of God himself.”
“All I’m trying to say to you is that our world hinges on moral foundations. God has made it so. God has made the universe to be based on a moral law. So long as man disobeys it he is revolting against God. That’s what we need in the world today: people who will stand for right and goodness. It’s not enough to know the intricacies of zoology and biology, but we must know the intricacies of law.”
“We just became so involved in things that we forgot about God. And that is the danger confronting us, my friends: that in a nation as ours where we stress mass production, and that’s mighty important, where we have so many conveniences and luxuries and all of that, there is the danger that we will subconsciously forget about God. I’m not saying that these things aren’t important; we need them, we need cars, we need money; all of that’s important to live. But whenever they become substitutes for God, they become injurious.”
“And I tell you this morning, my friends, the reason we have to solve this problem here in America: Because God somehow called America to do a special job for mankind and the world. Never before in the history of the world have so many racial groups and so many national backgrounds assembled together in one nation. And somehow if we can’t solve the problem in America the world can’t solve the problem, because America is the world in miniature and the world is America writ large. And God set us out with all of the opportunities. He set us between two great oceans; made it possible for us to live with some of the great natural resources of the world. And there he gave us through the minds of our forefathers a great creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’
“America, as I look at you from afar, I wonder whether your moral and spiritual progress has been commensurate with your scientific progress. It seems to me that your moral progress lags behind your scientific progress. Your poet Thoreau used to talk about ‘improved means to an unimproved end.’ How often this is true. You have allowed the material means by which you live to outdistance the spiritual ends for which you live. You have allowed your mentality to outrun your morality. You have allowed your civilization to outdistance your culture. Through your scientific genius you have made of the world a neighborhood, but through your moral and spiritual genius you have failed to make of it a brotherhood. So America, I would urge you to keep your moral advances abreast with your scientific advances.”
“I am impelled to write you concerning the responsibilities laid upon you to live as Christians in the midst of an un-Christian world … That is what every Christian has to do. But I understand that there are many Christians in America who give their ultimate allegiance to man-made systems and customs. They are afraid to be different. Their great concern is to be accepted socially. They live by some such principle as this: ‘everybody is doing it, so it must be all right.’ For so many of you Morality is merely group consensus. In your modern sociological lingo, the mores are accepted as the right ways. You have unconsciously come to believe that right is discovered by taking a sort of Gallup poll of the majority opinion. How many are giving their ultimate allegiance to this way?”
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by God, Creator, with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.’ This is a dream. It’s a great dream … [T]hat dream goes on to say another thing that ultimately distinguishes our nation and our form of government from any totalitarian system in the world. It says that each of us has certain basic rights that are neither derived from nor conferred by the state. In order to discover where They came from, it is necessary to move back behind the dim mist of eternity. They are God-given, gifts from His hands. Never before in the history of the world has a socio-political document expressed in such profound, eloquent, and unequivocal language the dignity and the worth of human personality. The American dream reminds us, and we should think about it anew on this Independence Day, that every man is an heir of the legacy of dignity and worth.”
I would think that many Americans would be surprised to learn that the above words were spoken from the pulpit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We can’t know what he would think of those who expropriate his name while ignoring his message, but it is curious indeed that today his stand on natural law would disqualify him from serving on the federal bench. It should also be a reminder not to believe the propaganda we are often fed about history and public figures.

For more words of Martin Luther King, Jr., Stanford University’s research project at

Learning to do Good (Sabbath Thoughts)
After 6,000 years of human history, I think we should all be able to agree: Humanity has no idea what it’s doing.
There are some who would argue that point, though. And understandably – just look at all we’ve accomplished in six millennia! We’ve harnessed the power of flight; we’ve created an information superhighway that connects the entire world; we’ve literally eradicated some diseases; we’ve launched objects far beyond the pulls of earth’s own gravitational field to explore the starry abyss of space. Every day brings us into a new age of unrivaled technological and scientific prowess as the smartest men and women on our planet dissect the universe and unravel more and more of its secrets.
And yet … and yet we still have war. It can be easy to forget when we don’t have direct contact with it, but even as you read these words, there are men, women and children on the front lines of some needless conflict, ending the lives of others before losing their own to a bullet or a blade. We still have shootings. We still have poverty. We still have hunger. We still have greed and oppression and corruption prominent in the highest branches of man’s governing bodies and the smallest of corporations. For all our advances, human nature hasn’t changed at all – we just have bigger, shinier toys to satiate it with.
We may be climbing mountains in the realm of science, but in the world of morality we are flinging ourselves into chasms. As the main antagonist of the 2001 movie
A Knight’s Tale gleefully remarked, we are simply “committing the oldest sins in the newest ways” – and even a cursory examination of human history agrees. Despite our accomplishments, the fundamental flaws in our nature are as prominent as they ever were.
That’s not a new concept, either. The prophet Jeremiah was inspired thousands of years ago to write,
“O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). For literally our entire existence, mankind has proven that left to our own devices, we will make life difficult for ourselves. If you’re in need of proof, look at the world around you. Look at governments and bureaucracies. Look at the top news stories of the day. Look at everything that’s going wrong and falling apart because it was built on a system of humanity deciding for itself what works and what doesn’t. Instead of a sturdy mansion on a strong foundation, we’ve wrought for ourselves an elaborate house of cards, ready to collapse at any moment.
When God sent the prophet Isaiah to warn Judah of its impending destruction and to plead for its repentance, He provided a simple checklist of what He wanted to see from His people. You can find it in Isaiah 1:16-17 – two simple verses that, if Judah had internalized, might have saved them from obliteration and dramatically rewritten the course of history. While they ignored it and reaped the penalty, we as individuals can choose not to make that same mistake.
Among that checklist is the instruction to
“Cease to do evil, learn to do good” (Isaiah 1:16-17). The wording of this verse is integral to understanding human nature. Notice that God doesn’t instruct, “begin to do good,” which is the logical complement of “cease to do evil.” Instead, the verse tells us to learn to do good. The implication?
Human beings don’t inherently know how to do good.
That one statement flies in the face of almost every self-help book or inspirational poster on the market today. As a society, we’ve convinced ourselves that somewhere, buried deep within ourselves, lie the answers to all our problems – that if we only listen closely enough to our own hearts, we can find the keys to true happiness. The Bible says, no,
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). We don’t have the answers we’re looking for, and that very idea ignores that some of history’s greatest atrocities came about from tyrants following the desires of their own hearts.
We must begin by understanding that how to do good is a process we must first
learn before we can do.
Just about every course you can take in college is going to have some required reading, usually in the form of an outrageously expensive textbook. The course of learning to do good is no exception, save that the textbook is dirt cheap, available online for free, and you’ll never require an updated edition. Still, if you want to have any idea what you’re doing, you have to
read the book. It’s only the most important written work you’ll ever encounter in your entire life, so it’s worth one thousand times over whatever time you invest in studying it.
So, okay. If you’re a seasoned Christian, there’s a good chance that little to none of what I’ve said so far has been particularly earth-shaking for you. You know all this; it’s nothing new. Then here’s something to chew on: Do you and I ever get to the point where we feel we’ve mastered the textbook? Do we feel like we have little, if anything, left to learn about what God says is good? The chances are good that you have a lot of the course’s material under your belt – a healthy working knowledge of what God says is good and how to apply it. That’s great! The more you understand and do, the better! But remember the Bible’s warning:
“Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Proverbs 26:12). We can never afford to get to the point where we feel that we know enough. That we’ve studied enough. If we convince ourselves of that, it’s a short trip to being wise in our own eyes.
Our textbook has more information in it than we can hope to glean in a thousand million lifetimes. We should always be eager to scour its pages for the wisdom we’ve yet to glean from it – because rest assured, it’s there. The same verse we’ve read a hundred times before can suddenly have whole new facets of meaning when God helps it to click in our minds. There are always new connections to make and principles to understand in greater depth if we’re willing to spend the time to pray for understanding and look for them.
If “it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps,” then how can we expect to get anywhere? It was King David who called God’s Word
“a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). The more time we devote to understanding God’s way and putting it into action, the clearer and easier it becomes to traverse the path before us.
God’s instructions in Isaiah 1:16-17 aren’t one-time accomplishments. They are goals to continually strive to meet, every minute of every day – because being a Christian isn’t an event, it’s a lifestyle. And so, over the coming days and months and years and decades of our journey toward the Kingdom of God, may we all continue to “cease to do evil, learn to do good.”

Questions Jesus Asked (Morning Companion)
A few days after Jesus’s crucifixion two disciples were walking back to their hometown, distressed at at the events of several days before. The one in whom they had placed their hope, the one they were sure was the Messiah, had been brutally beaten, scourged, mocked and executed. Their lives had lost purpose, true, plus they suffered from post traumatic stress because of what they had seen.
As they walk the long road back to Emmaus, a man appears and begins talking with them. Luke tells us something these two disciples do not know – that they are conversing with the resurrected Jesus.
Jesus knew of their troubled hearts and lost hope (Luke 24:17-21). He knew of their mental distress. Good counselor that he is, he began to work with the trauma of these two followers. He did it in a way he frequently used and should be in the toolbox of everyone who counsels.
He asked questions.
“What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” 
“What things?”
“Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”
Jesus knew the answer to every one of these questions, but he asked them anyway. He did this at other times too, most notably when three times he asked Peter, “Do you love me?” (John 21:15-17). He asked these of Peter for the same reason he asked those questions of the two disciples from Emmaus; he knew they needed to express what was inside, so he asked them questions designed to get them to talk about the stress that had built up inside.
So often people need nothing more than a caring ear. Knowing when and how to ask the right questions is a skill that caring people learn. Jesus has that skill.
Jesus asked the right questions.

A World of Panes (Sabbath Thoughts)
Hummingbirds are fascinating creatures. Their insanely high metabolisms require them to consume their own weight in nectar every day – meaning at any given moment, they are literally hours away from starvation. They are incredible aerialists, beating their wings between 50 to 200 times each
second while flying forwards, backwards, and even upside down at speeds of up to 34 miles per hour.
Also, their brains are smaller than a garden-variety pea, which is an important detail in the story I’m about to relate.
Let me set the scene for you. We’d been doing “finishing work” – assembling fans, hanging lights, wiring switches, that kind of thing – on a custom home for the past few days. Business as usual. I was the first one on the job site this morning, so I fished the garage door opener out of its super-secret hiding place and hit the button. I had just taken my first step inside when an unexpected noise froze me in my tracks.
Tap tap tap tap tap
I looked over my shoulder at the driveway just to make sure I hadn’t miscounted. No. Zero other cars. I was the only one here – so either the noise was all in my head or there was a rabid mongoose upstairs, just waiting for its moment.
Oh well. Occupational hazard. I continued gathering up the materials I needed for the day’s work, and as I passed through the garage a second time, I heard the noise again – and there, in the corner of the room, was a hummingbird, desperately mashing his face against a window pane.
Tap tap tap tap tap
I watched bemused for a couple minutes while he fluttered from pane to pane on the top half of the window, frantically pecking each one in a bid to find some weakness in the magical force field which had entrapped him. It never worked, but that didn’t stop him from doing it again … and again … and again. I decided to leave him alone for a couple minutes. Surely he would eventually turn around and notice the two gaping garage doors were wide open.
Minutes passed, but he never strayed from those four window panes, hammering away with a determination which would have been laudable if it weren’t so misguided. By now the poor bird had worn himself out to the point that, every thirty seconds or so, he would plop down on the ledge to catch his breath before giving it another go.
Okay, I thought. Let’s try something a little less subtle this time. Cautiously approaching my friend’s window of choice, I pushed up on the bottom half until he had a generous clearance to fly through. That should do the trick.
Tap tap tap tap tap
The four top panes hadn’t moved, so my feathered acquaintance continued his barrage of beak thrusts. I waved my arms. I whistled. I pointed. I shouted. “HEY! HUMMINGBIRD. THAT WAY.”
Tap tap tap tap tap
Nothing. I had given the hummingbird no fewer than three obvious escape routes, all of which had escaped his attention. The little guy was going to die pecking at this window unless I found a way to coerce him outside. Fine, I thought. We’ll do this your way. Walking around to the other side of the window, I scooted the top half down … and off he flew. Finally.
I thought a lot about that hummingbird after he left. I thought about how unnecessarily hard he had made things for himself. If he had just paused to look around instead of convincing himself that his way out was the only way out, he would have …
Oh. Right. I’m the hummingbird, aren’t I? How often do I make things harder on myself by not paying enough attention? How often am I convinced in my little pea-sized brain that I know how things need to turn out? How often do I find myself stuck somewhere, pounding my head against the window and begging for divine intervention, all while God is standing behind me and gesturing toward the open garage door?
Too often, I’m sure. We’re human. We get tunnel vision. We think it’s our job to save ourselves, when so often we forget what Moses told the Israelites when they stood “trapped” at the edge of the Red Sea: “Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today … The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace” (Exodus 14:13-14).
When Israel saw no way out, God parted the waters like a curtain. That makes my trick with the garage door opener a little less impressive, but the principle is the same: with any trial, temptation, or difficulty, “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). God will open the right doors at the right time – we just have to make sure we’re paying attention.

Universal Basic Income (World Watch)
Regardless of one’s perspective, the COVID-19 pandemic historically upended the global community. Of the many burdens the world has suffered in its wake, some of the greatest have been economic. In the United States, many businesses – large, medium, and small – were forced to shut down or dramatically scale back their operations for the best part of a year as much of society sheltered-in-place at home. Tragically, many of these businesses never reopened. Unemployment naturally skyrocketed to levels not seen since the Great Depression, and with that unemployment came widespread economic pain.
Responding to the many fiscal woes of the people, the federal government passed “emergency” legislation that authorized economic stimulus in the form of generous cash payments to the majority of all citizens, regardless of employment status. In addition to the cash payments, the government increased the weekly unemployment compensation payment and extended the duration of eligibility for receiving the benefit. In many cases, the monies provided by the government equaled or exceeded what an individual could earn by actually working. Many observers report that the political will exists to continue these stimulus payments as long as COVID-19 remains a threat to economic growth.
An additional “benefit,” quietly included in the federal legislation, is a drastic change in the child tax credit. Initially designed as a benefit (in the form of a tax deduction) for working, tax-paying parents, the credit has now been increased and changed into direct cash payments to the parent(s). More significantly, the legislation eliminates the work requirement. Once a tax credit for the employed, it is now a cash handout to all parents of young children, without regard to employment.
This proposed benefit is a colossal undertaking, especially if it is made permanent. All indications are that it will be if the Democrat party retains control over the executive and legislative branches of the federal government. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C., released a report describing the legislation:
If enacted permanently, the Biden cash grant plan would constitute the second-largest expansion of means-tested welfare entitlements in U.S. history. In constant dollars, its annual cost would dwarf the initial costs of the Medicaid, food stamp, and Aid to Families with Dependent Children programs. Only Obamacare would be more expensive.
Acton Institute’s Jordan J. Ballor surmises: “The creation of a new, permanent entitlement program for parents seems particularly unwise while our federal debt skyrockets and reform for already existing entitlement programs is so desperately needed.”
Oren Cass’ article, “The Biden and Romney Family Plans Go Too Far,” in
The New York Times on March 2, 2021, opines:
To be clear, America should provide basic necessities to those who cannot provide for themselves … But the safety net’s assistance should not replicate the income associated with engaging productively in the society … A generous cash benefit disconnected from work can also be economically and culturally counter-productive. Work plays a critical role in people’s lives as a source of purpose, structure, and social interaction; a prerequisite for upward mobility and a foundation of family formation and stability.
The news and social media overflow with anecdotal reports from employers who have recently reopened their businesses but cannot rehire old employees or find new ones because they cannot compete with the cash “benefits” paid by the federal government.
Richard Giacovas, reporting for on March 31, 2021, quotes restaurant owner Dean O’Neil, who has struggled to staff his restaurant recently: “I couldn’t work out really why. And then I found it was basically they could receive money without having to work.”
Tyler Durden from opines in an April 9, 2021, article:
The trillions in Biden stimulus are now incentivizing potential workers not to seek gainful employment, but to sit back and collect the next stimmy check for doing absolutely nothing in what is becoming the world’s greatest “under the radar” experiment in Universal Basic Income … Early in the Covid-19 pandemic, Melissa Anderson laid off all three full-time employees of her jewelry-making company, Silver Chest Creations in Burkesville, KY. She tried to rehire one of them in September and another in January as business recovered, but they refused to come back, she says. “They’re not looking for work.”
U.S. history is replete with the efforts of conscientious men and women rolling up their sleeves and working to overcome almost any crisis at hand. But powerful, secular, anti-God winds are blowing, and the era of big government is back in vogue in Washington, D.C. With that, we are witnessing a purposeful pivot away from our Judeo-Christian heritage and its conservative, capitalist roots toward liberal, interventionist, and even socialist policies that will eventually bankrupt the country – fiscally and morally. Moreover, if our incentive for employment is taken away, we oppose our Creator’s design for us and abandon one of His greatest gifts – work – while slipping into indolent oblivion (Genesis 1:26; 2:15; Proverbs 19:15; Ecclesiastes 5:18; John 5:17).

How to Play: Lessons from Board Games and the Bible (Sabbath Thoughts)
For a long time I was convinced that the world of board games began and ended at the edges of the Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley catalogues. You could choose from 5,623 versions of Monopoly (in which you can spend a couple of hours trudging around in circles while slightly luckier opponents nickel and dime you into abject poverty), 826 versions of Risk (in which you can spend six hours trying to flush out the wise guy who holed up in Indonesia with ten cannons), or, of course, Candyland (in which you can spend half an hour watching a game play itself).
You can imagine my excitement when I discovered that there other games out there – and not just
other games, but better games. Fun games. Games where the prospect of playing for an hour or two is an exciting prospect, rather than one of soul-crushing despair.
Over the years, I’ve been building up a collection of these games, and it’s been wonderful. I have one game where everyone is frantically scrambling to assemble a rickety spaceship built entirely out of sewer pipes and then fly it across the galaxy, all while hoping it doesn’t get smashed to bits by meteor storms and space pirates. I have another where every player is building their own unique villages and conducting choose-your-own-adventure-style escapades in a vast and unpredictable cave system filled with underground carnivals, mysterious travelers, and a race of fish folk. I have another where two rival spymasters are competing to contact all of their field agents by playing a cryptic word game with the rest of their respective teams. I have another where …
Well, you get the point. I have a bunch of games, and I love them. And one of my favorite things to do with these games is introduce other people to them, because they’re so fun and so different from what most people think of when they talk about board games.
There’s just one problem – and it’s a universal problem. It doesn’t matter what game I bring to the table; it doesn’t matter what the theme is or how long it takes to play – there is always, always, the same ungainly hurdle to contend with before we can all start having fun:
The rules.
There’s no way around them. In order for everyone to enjoy the game, we all have to be operating according to the same set of rules. If I just dumped out a jumbled collection of unfamiliar components and told everyone, “Here you go; good luck!” we’d end up with an evening of chaos and confusion. An explanation of the rules is an absolute necessity.
It is also mind-numbingly boring. I think Quinns of Shut Up & Sit Down explains it perfectly:
And if you’ve never had to explain a game’s rules, you should try it some time, because it’s certainly not as easy as you think. Let me make this abundantly clear. The rules explanation is the worst part of any board gaming night. It is you at your very stiffest, trying to set the tone for the fun evening ahead, yet finding nothing but rules and regulations tumbling out of your mouth as you introduce to your players clause after clause. You’ve got your friends together to have fun, and there you are explaining the REGULATIONS of tonight’s entertainment.
And this isn’t quick. It goes on for minutes on end, minutes that may feel like hours, and for those minutes you become a physical embodiment of the reason that non-board gamers live in fear of playing something new. You are awful. You are the worst thing. You know it, too, as your throat gradually dries, your tongue begins to flap lifelessly in your mouth and you fumble cards, tokens and playing pieces across the tabletop. This is going to be great, you try to remind everyone. We’ll have a fantastic time, you tell all the blank faces staring back at you.

And yes, in case you’re wondering, it really
is that much fun. I think there is a fundamental law of the universe dictating that rules are not allowed to be exciting. They just aren’t. No one has ever read the IRS tax code and said “Wow, what a rush!”
But I think we can also agree that rules matter – and that as followers of God, we’re operating according to an extremely thick rulebook full of instructions that are important but not exactly
thrilling. So what I’d like to do for the rest of this Sabbath Thought is share with you a few lessons I’ve learned while teaching board games that just might make it easier to wrap our heads around the rules of life.
1. Rules are part of a bigger picture
Carcassonne is a fun little game. Here’s a terrible way to start teaching someone how to play it: “Okay, so there are these tiles, right? And you take one and then put it in legal configuration on the table, and then you take your meeple and claim a feature – roads are only worth one point per tile, you see, and cities are worth two, but only if …”
Excited yet?
You bet you are. That description has everything – confusing jargon, in-depth scoring mechanics, vague terminology, and most importantly, a complete and total lack of context. There are tiles, but what are they for? What’s the big deal about claiming features – why would I want to do that? Here’s a better way to start: “Okay, so in this game, we’re all competing to build a medieval landscape, and whoever builds the best is the winner. Every turn, we’ll take a tile and ….”
See how much difference that makes? We’re still going to have to talk about tiles and meeples and features, but now we at least have a framework to hang them on. The tiles are what you use to build the city; the features are what earn you points, and the meeples indicate which features belong to you. That little bit of context at the beginning makes the other information easier to parse, because we can look at it in terms of where it fits in the bigger picture. The nitty-gritty details aren’t helpful if we don’t know the goal of the game. The Bible provides us with a framework, too. Here’s one way to phrase it:
“Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:19-21).
That might look like a mouthful, but in terms of summarizing a book that usually takes more than a thousand pages to print, it’s pretty succinct. The goal is the restoration of all things. Sin is getting in the way. There’s a way to blot it out. We can dig deeper into any of those subjects, but there’s the general framework for everything we might encounter in the Word of God. Some passages in the Bible explain what sin is and what it looks like. Others tackle the concept of repentance and why it’s required to blot out sin. Still others paint a picture of how that restoration will come about and what our role will be in the process – but without the right framework, all we have is a jumble of facts.
The bigger picture of the Bible is God’s plan to blot out sin and restore the world. If we start there, the rest of it is going to make a whole lot more sense.
2. The rules are for your benefit
Without rules, Go Fish is just a deck of cards. The same is true for any game, because the rules aren’t just important to the game – the rules
are the game. If I dumped out all of the pieces for Galaxy Trucker in front of three people and said “I dunno, play it however you want,” there would be chaos. A game might eventually emerge, but it sure wouldn’t be Galaxy Trucker.
The problem would only get worse if each player started making their own rules. (“I think these green stones represent health.” “No way! They’re for speed! Whoever has the most moves the quickest!”) Not only would everyone be playing the
wrong game; they’d be playing entirely different wrong games. With no rules to show who’s right and wrong, player interaction becomes impossible because now everything is a matter of preference. The green stones are whatever you happen to feel they might be.
But you don’t need to discard
all the rules to break a game. You can usually break it by just discarding one. From Machi Koro to Monopoly, the game would fall to pieces if players could, say, just reach into the bank and take as much money as they want, whenever they want. There are very specific rules governing who gets money and when and how and from whom, and if you throw those out the window, you may as well toss the game out along with them. How pointless would Go Fish be if you could search through the whole deck instead of drawing the top card?
The same bad things happen if we ignore or tamper with God’s rules. Look around you. Turn on the news. The violence, the wars, the thefts, the total disregard for human life, the broken families, the deceit, the immoral and unspeakable things that happen on a daily basis – how many of those things would disappear if people just started
doing what God says to do?
Life is so much more than a simple game, but it does come with rules – and as it stands, the world has thrown the rule book out the window. We’re looking at the pieces of life and deciding what we think they mean and how we think they should work, and the end result is chaos. Like Pilate did all those years ago, the world is staring blankly into the face of God and asking, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). They don’t know – and, more often than not, they don’t care to know.
We know better. We know what Christ told the Father:
“Your word is truth” (John 17:17). All of it. Not just bits and pieces. Not just the parts we like. God’s word establishes the parameters in which human life can flourish, and when we ignore those rules, we’re the ones who suffer. Like Moses told the Israelites all those years ago, these rules are “for your good” (Deuteronomy 10:13). If we want life to make sense, we can’t afford to ignore the rules that govern it.
3. The rules show you how to win
When I’m playing a round of
Above and Below, there are a lot of things I can do. The rules set some boundaries for me, but within those boundaries, I have quite a bit of latitude. I can send my villagers out on adventures; I can construct specialized buildings that open up new possibilities; I can train new villagers and send them off to do an honest day’s work or harvest resources. Those are all things I’m free to do.
They’re just not always things that would be
smart to do.
The winner of
Above and Below is the one who ends the game with the best village, as defined in terms of Victory Points. Just because I can spend the game exclusively focused on collecting clay pots, it doesn’t mean I should. There’s nothing wrong with it – as long as I don’t mind losing by a spectacular margin.
That’s the thing about rules – they don’t just give you a framework and boundaries to operate inside; they also give you a goal to work towards. They show you what victory looks like and they show you how to get there.
Above and Below, winning means making every move with a focus on earning more Victory Points. In real life, “winning” requires us to be aware of the choices that are going to move us closer to entering the Kingdom – and the choices that aren’t. Just like in board games, just because the rules allow us to do something doesn’t automatically mean it’s wise to do it. As Paul noted, a lawful action doesn’t automatically translate into a helpful or edifying action (1 Corinthians 10:23-24).
There are other factors to consider as well. Paul gives us a list of qualities that ought to define the things we spend our time thinking about (Philippians 4:8-9). Peter explains the traits we must add to our faith if we hope to enter the Kingdom of God (2 Peter 1:5-10). There are passages about the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), passages about the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18), passages about all manner of important things, each designed to show us the pathway to victory.
Within the boundaries of God’s rules, I have an incredible amount of choices. I can do any number of things with my time – but if my goal is to enter the Kingdom, the question I need to be asking isn’t just “What am I
allowed to do?” but “What should I be doing?”
No one gets into the Kingdom by accident.
Rules might not be exciting, but they are essential. Without rules, the bigger picture can’t exist. Without rules, life stops making sense. Without rules,
there’s no way to get where you’re going.
But it’s not enough to just know the rules. Head knowledge doesn’t do anything unless we put it to use. That’s why Paul writes:
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
God’s rules exist to give us a framework for understanding the world, they exist for our good, and they exist to show us the pathway to victory. Brethren, there is an imperishable crown set aside for every faithful servant who finishes their race.
You know the rules. Now
get out there and win it.

Putting God in a Box (Morning Companion)
“This day this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)
Jesus stood up in his home synagogue in Nazareth, and he read that beautiful passage from Isaiah 61:
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
Because the
Lord has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the
This passage, Jesus claimed, was being fulfilled before their very eyes! What an encouraging thing to say, and the people from his hometown responded with a marveling wonder at such gracious words coming from the mouth of a carpenter’s son.
But Jesus followed up this announcement of the Kingdom with a statement that infuriated his neighbors:
But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”
Odd, is it not, that these simple examples from their own Scriptures should so infuriate them that they drove him out of town and tried to throw him over a cliff. Nice, God-fearing people we have here, wouldn’t you say?
The problem was, they had put God in a box. They saw their God as being just that: THEIR God. The examples Jesus cites were all of Gentiles doing more of God’s work than were the Israelites! But a picture of that kind of God and that kind of Gentile didn’t fit their presuppositions. To them, no Gentiles need apply. So when Jesus followed up his announcing of the Kingdom with examples proving that God is the God of the Gentiles too, and strongly implying that the Kingdom of God is bigger than one nationality, this didn’t set too well with their parochial attitude.
They had put their God in a little box, as religious people are sometimes wont to do. Thereafter, Jesus moved his base of operations to nearby Capernaum, where the climate was more open to his message. He tends not to hang round where he’s not wanted, you know.
That’s another timely lesson from this passage.

Taking It For Granted (Sabbath Thoughts)
The rubble was silent now.
Earlier in the day it had been a temple, the scene of a raucous party where the lords of a wicked nation had gathered to gloat over the defeat of their enemy and offer a sacrifice to their god. Now those same lords were dead, crushed in an instant by the temple that had housed their revelries.
The cause of their death was buried with them as well
Samson the Danite, judge of Israel, deliverer of the oppressed, and far and away one of the most tragic characters in the Bible.
Samson’s story began just about as positively as a story can begin. He was born to parents who were eager to have a child
parents who loved him and wanted him. He was also (and honestly this is just a tiny little footnote, not really a huge deal) prophesied by God to be destined to “begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines” (Judges 13:5), so there’s that. He was just going to be God’s chosen vessel for ending 40 years of Philistine oppression, that’s all.
The terms and conditions were established before Samson was even conceived. He was to be
“a Nazirite to God from the womb” (Judges 13:5), which subjected him to a handful of important restrictions. He was to avoid grapes and everything produced with them, especially alcohol (Numbers 6:2-4). He was to keep himself away from all dead bodies (Numbers 6:6-8). Most notably, he was to let no razor ever come upon his head (Numbers 6:2).
In exchange, God gave Samson supernatural strength. He was able, at various times, to rip a lion apart with his bare hands (Judges 14:6), to snap rope in half like smoldering flax (Judges 15:14), and to kill a thousand Philistines with nothing more than the jawbone of a donkey (Judges 15:15). When the Spirit of God came upon Samson, he was unstoppable.
The tragedy of Samson’s story was self-inflicted. Despite God’s gift, Samson continually flouted the Nazirite lifestyle. When he came across the corpse of the lion he killed, he not only walked up to it, but reached in and eats some of the honey he finds inside (Judges 14:8). He takes a walk through the vineyards of Timnah (Judges 14:5), and later hosts a seven-day drinking party (Judges 14:10, Hebrew
mishteh). Again and again, Samson entered into intimate relations with pagan women and harlots (Judges 14:3; 16:1,4), disregarding not only his responsibilities as a Nazirite, but the very law of God itself (Deuteronomy 7:3-4) a disregard that ultimately resulted in a shaven head and his own captivity (Judges 16:21).
There are a lot of lessons we can draw from Samson’s life. As so succinctly puts it, “Samson’s life illustrates that giving in to temptation leads to sin, that God will use even a sinful man to enact His will, and that God will not let us escape the consequences of our sin.”
But I don’t want to talk about any of those lessons today.
As a third-generation Christian, I want to talk about a serious problem I and all my fellow
nth-generation brethren have to face the very problem that led to Samson’s tragic downfall: Taking it for granted.
Being a Nazirite from the womb meant that Samson grew up different. He operated according to a different set of rules from day one, and his incredible strength
which looked like a superpower to most people was just a fact of life for him. It was the way things always were. Everything that made Samson unique and special in the eyes of others was familiar and routine in his own.
And that’s exactly where you and I can run into trouble. Samson lived by a different set of rules that set him apart from the world around him, and he had access to the Spirit of God whenever he needed it. He had never known another way
to him, that was just how life worked. Sound familiar?
If you grew up in the Church like me, it should. You’ve always been expected to live up to a set of standards the world around you rejects. From day one, the Spirit of God has been actively working in your life, and you’ve never known anything different.
Think about it
unlimited, unfettered access to the transforming power of God’s Spirit? That’s incredible. That’s a superpower. That’s too good to be true. And yet, for a follower of God, that’s just an average day.
Samson’s downfall came from treating the extraordinary as ordinary. God had given him rules, parameters to live within, and Samson disregarded them all.
I’ve often wondered what possessed Samson to share his secret with Delilah. He knew
he knew from the past few nights that Delilah was eager to exploit his weakness, that the Philistines would seize the first opportunity to enslave and torment him. So why did he tell her?
I think there were two things at play here, and both deserve our full attention. The Bible tells us that Delilah
“pestered him daily with her words and pressed him, so that his soul was vexed to death, that he told her all his heart” (Judges 16:16-17).
wore Samson down. Samson shouldn’t have been in Philistia, he shouldn’t have been in a relationship with a pagan woman, and he certainly shouldn’t have been staying in a place full of people actively trying to kill him. He was deeply entrenched in a toxic environment with no intention of ever leaving. And why would he leave? He was in control. He thought.
What about you? Are there places you go, people you spend time with, environments you enjoy that are slowly eating away at the foundation of your faith, vexing your soul to death? Are you getting comfortable with something that’s fundamentally toxic? Because if you are, be warned: In those situations,
sin wins. It will wear you down like Delilah, and unless you get out, it will break you. None of us is strong enough to invite the world into our lives and not pay the price.
The other lesson is just as important, and something I only realized recently:
I don’t think Samson believed what he was saying. Look at what happens when the Philistines set upon him after his head was shaved: “So he awoke from his sleep, and said, ‘I will go out as before, at other times, and shake myself free!’ But he did not know that the Lord had departed from him” (Judges 16:20).
Samson thought, even after giving up his secret, that God would still be with him. After all, he’d already been near the carcass of a lion and spent seven days at a drinking party
at this point, what was one more broken rule? Where was the harm in disregarding one more warning?
He didn’t even know that God had left him.
I suspect that at this point, Samson was considering God’s gift to be his own immutable possession. He may have thought that his great strength actually belonged to him, that it could not be taken away or revoked by anyone, including God.
“the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away” (Job 1:21). Samson didn’t get that. We must.
The Holy Spirit that’s at work in your life
you can quench it. You can abuse it to the point that God decides to take it back. You’re not entitled to it, you’re not entitled to God’s hand in your life you’re not entitled to anything. But, like Samson, we grew up with all those things. It’s easy to forget that a relationship with our Creator (and all the blessings that come with it) is not the default. Billions and billions of people don’t have that, have never had that, can’t even conceive what that might look like but you and I, we’ve had it for as long as we can remember. So how do we avoid following in Samson’s footsteps?
Despite his failures, it’s worth noting that Samson made it into the faith chapter:
“For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens” (Hebrews 11:32-34).
At some point, it sounds like Samson got it. He figured it out. I suspect that had a lot to do with the end of his story. The last time we see Samson, he’s blind and in chains. He’s a captive of the very people he felt so comfortable hanging around, and ever since God took his strength away, he’s been powerless to escape.
…And then an opportunity presents itself. Brought out in fetters to entertain the lords of the Philistines during a ritual sacrifice to their god, Samson cries out a short and heartfelt prayer that must have struck fear into the hearts of his gloating captors:
“O Lord God, remember me, I pray! Strengthen me, I pray, just this once, O God, that I may with one blow take vengeance on the Philistines for my two eyes!” And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars which supported the temple, and he braced himself against them, one on his right and the other on his left. Then Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” And he pushed with all his might, and the temple fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So the dead that he killed at his death were more than he had killed in his life. (Judges 16:28-30)
for maybe the first time in his entire life finally acknowledged that his strength came from God, that he was powerless without Him, that he needed Him. And then it was all over. That’s how Samson’s story ends: buried under rubble. One last victory, and then deafening silence.
Is that what God wanted, do you think? When He raised up a deliverer to rescue Israel from the Philistines, was that His plan all along to crush Samson under the temple of a pagan god?
I have a hard time believing that. Samson was a man God worked with in
spite of his choices, not because of them. How different would Samson’s story have been if he had obeyed God consistently if he had kept himself from carcasses and strong drink, if he had not given away the secret of his strength, if he had not continually given his heart to those who did not share his faith?
What could God have done with a man who was dedicated to seeking Him instead of his own desires?
With Samson, we’ll never know. That story is over. What’s written is written. Samson followed his own rules and missed out on the better story God had in store for him.
Your story, though
your story isn’t over. Samson’s downfall was the end of a long chain of taking things for granted. His redeeming moment hinged on his realization that his strength came from God and God alone.
What if we skipped that first part? What if we make an effort
not to take what God has given us for granted? What if we take the time to acknowledge those gifts as coming from our Creator? What if we go out of our way to thank God for the things we can so easily take for granted our calling, His Spirit, the knowledge of the right way to live, and a relationship with the God of the universe?
These things don’t belong to us. They were given to us by a God who loves us, but if we treat them as commonplace,
we can lose them.
Samson’s story ended in blindness and captivity. He lost sight of what mattered and unwittingly traded his blessings for things that could only hurt him.
Your story can be different. God
wants it to be different but that process has to start with us treasuring the things God has given us.
It’s easy to take it all for granted. Like Samson, our lives have always been different. We’ve always lived by a different set of standards; we’ve always had God working directly in our lives. It’s easy for all of that to start looking incredibly
But it’s not. It’s the farthest thing from normal. The Creator of the Universe is transforming you to be like Him to be His child. And so we have to do the hard thing the thing that doesn’t come naturally. We must, from time to time, take those God-given treasures and remind ourselves, “I’m not entitled to this. I don’t deserve this. Not everyone has this. It was entrusted to me, and if I’m not careful, I can lose it. If I want to keep it, God expects me to use it and wisely.”
Samson didn’t do that. We must.
None of us can afford to take any of this for granted.

The Roaring Twenties Again? (David Hulme, Vision)
“When the pestilence abated, all who survived gave themselves over to pleasures: monks, priests, nuns, and lay men and women all enjoyed themselves, and none worried about spending and gambling. And everyone thought himself rich because he had escaped and regained the world, and no one knew how to allow himself to do nothing.”
So wrote Agnolo di Tura, an Italian chronicler from Siena, as he recorded his experience of the plague in 1348. The Black Death had killed one-third of mainland Italy’s population within one year.
But when the crisis was over, the survivors cast aside their concerns and plunged into celebration, making up for lost time.
“After the great pestilence of the past year each person lived according to his own caprice, and everyone tended to seek pleasure in eating and drinking, hunting, catching birds, and gaming.”
Agnolo di Tura del Grasso, “Plague in Siena: An Italian Chronicle” (1349)
This pattern would repeat itself in other places and times struck down by devastating widespread disease. On the heels of the First World War, the 1918–20 flu pandemic killed an estimated 50–100 million people. The religiosity, self-reflection and austerity of those dark times were replaced in the United States and Europe by “the Roaring Twenties,” known for everything from liberal government spending programs, a flowering of the arts, and the growing popularity of radio and jazz, to flapper fashion, gangsters, illegal bars, and sexual abandon.
Yale sociologist and physician Nicholas Christakis believes a similar reaction awaits us as the world gets beyond the COVID-19 crisis:
If history is a guide, it seems likely that consumption will come back with a vengeance.” Expect “increased expressions of risk-taking, intemperance, or joie de vivre in the post-pandemic period. The great appeal of cities will be apparent once again. People will relentlessly seek opportunities for social mixing on a larger scale in sporting events, concerts, and political rallies.”
There have been indications of this already as citizens have rejected standard measures of controlling virus spread, determined instead to party or rally. The anti-mask, anti-lockdown sentiments of many have resulted in confrontations with police in various countries across the globe and in surges of virus transmission, illness and death.
Freedom has become a rallying cry against the constraints recommended by health authorities and government bodies, begging the age-old question of which takes precedence when the demand for individual freedom intersects with the health and well-being of fellow man.
What’s the best way to cope with a pandemic?
While the pandemic has highlighted such dilemmas, it has also created opportunities for selfless service. Christakis tells the story of 43 petrochemical plant employees who volunteered to shift-work 24-hour days for a month to produce raw material for N95 masks and other protective equipment. They never left the plant and produced enough polypropylene for half a billion masks. This was their contribution to repay the selfless service of the overstressed, overworked and under-provided medical staff.
It brings to mind what we have covered so often in
Vision, because it’s an aspect of what we believe: The answer to so many of our problems lies in how we see others. If the immigrant or homeless, or a particular ethnic group, race, gender or generation is always viewed as the Other, and never treated the same as the Self, no progress will be made. Selfishness will rule, compassion and empathy will be mere words, and justice will never be served.
Not for nothing did the servant of all say,
“Treat people the same way you want them to treat you” (Luke 6:31, New American Standard Bible).

You Can Have Any Opinion You Like – As Long As It’s One Of Ours (Sabbath Thoughts)
If there’s one thing we love doing, it’s promoting tolerance.
I say “we,” but I guess what I mean is “the recurring sentiment pervading Western media and popular culture.” News stations and large corporations everywhere want you to know how accepting they are of a vast smorgasbord of conflicting values and belief systems.
Except the unpopular ones, of course.
See, that’s the problem with the tolerance movement
it has nothing to do with tolerance.
Not really. Not if we’re being honest
and this time, yes, “we” means “you and I.”
Ah, tolerance. A movement filled with love and acceptance, unless you’re in the way.
Henry Ford once remarked that his customers could purchase his cars in any color they liked, as long as it was black. The tolerance movement of today has a similar message for the world:
“You can have any opinion you like, as long as it’s one of ours.”
And that’s what it comes down to. When people today push for tolerance, they aren’t encouraging everyone to believe whatever they’d like while co-existing in peace. Knowingly or not, they’re looking to pressure the world into a adopting a new set of standards, a set that redefines concepts as fundamental as gender, faith, education, sexuality, marriage, and life itself. And so far, they’ve been hugely successful.
But let’s call a spade a spade. This brand of “tolerance” has a much older, far more accurate name, and it’s high time we start using it: Godlessness.
You can’t champion the world’s version of tolerance and still follow God. God defined gender. He defined faith. He set standards for education and sexuality, and He drew clear lines in the sand when it comes to what constitutes a marriage and what constitutes life. Tolerance takes all that and throws it out the window. Tolerance says, “No no; this is all wrong. Use these standards instead.”
You cannot serve God and the whims of the world. It’s one or the other. Not both.
Never both.
It’s funny, because Jesus Christ actually instructed His disciples to go above and beyond anything today’s cries for “tolerance” demand. Here’s what He said:
“I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. … Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:44-45, 48).
Christians are called to the high standard of loving even their enemies
something the loudest proponents of tolerance don’t seem to believe in. Christians love their enemies because they are all potential children of God because they are all people God can and will work with in the future.
But love doesn’t mean approval. Love doesn’t require accepting and encouraging the actions of an individual. It doesn’t change the fact that one day, God will open their minds to His truth and give them the opportunity to repent of their sins and join His family.
So yes, I’m intolerant. I’m intolerant of sin because sin is a destructive force that ruins lives and shatters potential. Christians cannot afford to tolerate sin because
God does not tolerate sin.
Here’s the thing, though: intolerance of sin doesn’t equate to hatred of people, and tolerance of sin doesn’t equate to love of people. On the contrary, truly loving yourself and others requires hating the things that cheapen and destroy lives
that is, sin.
This world is filled with pain, and tolerance often means celebrating the things that cause it. It means praising people for actions that God warns will bring sorrow and brokenness. That’s why God forbids certain things in His perfect Word
because these are things that will hurt us and ultimately destroy us. Transgressing the law of God carries with it a hefty price tag that none of us are equipped to pay.
So I guess what I’m asking is that we all strive to be a little more intolerant. That we strive to hate sin the way God hates sin
that we seek to purge it from our lives and that we refuse to celebrate it in the lives of others. The more that happens, the more we begin to eradicate the pain, the sorrow, and the suffering that weighs us down.
So many people are looking to make the world a better place. Intolerance is a great place to start.

Where is Cancel Culture Headed? (Forerunner)
Though “cancel culture” is a recent phrase, the practice has been around for a very long time, as John 9 attests:
They brought him who formerly was blind to the Pharisees … But the Jews did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind and received his sight, until they called [his] parents … His parents answered them and said, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but by what means he now sees we do not know … He is of age; ask him. He will speak for himself.” His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had agreed already that if anyone confessed that He was Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue … The man answered and said to them … “If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing.” They answered and said to him, “You were completely born in sins, and are you teaching us?” And they cast him out. (John 9:13,18,20-22,30,33-34) According to the New York Post, cancel culture is “the phenomenon of promoting the ‘canceling’ of people, brands, and even shows and movies due to what some consider to be offensive or problematic remarks or ideologies.” Villanova University professor Dr. Jill McCorkel insists that its roots are found throughout human history. Many societies punished their members with various forms of banishment – exile, excommunication, shunning, blacklisting, boycotting, etc. – for conduct that violated accepted social standards. What we see today, she asserts, is merely another variation. Many believe that the current American version is a spinoff of one at work in Communist China, where the government and major corporations monitor its citizens’ views on social media. They give each person a social credit score, and depending on where it falls, an individual may not be hired for a job, rent an apartment, attend a school, stay at a hotel, eat at a restaurant, or fly on an airplane. The system is designed to force citizens to endorse – publicly, at least – the “right” ideas and policies, those of the politically powerful.
A similar, fascistic alliance of the political Left and mega-corporations exists in the United States, and they are likewise trying to force conformity on the citizenry. The giant tech companies – those that own popular social media sites and Internet services (Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Amazon, among others) – have essentially censored non-Leftists by labeling their posts as “false” or “misleading” or terminating their accounts altogether. If they have done this to a sitting President of the United States and other well-known conservatives, they will not be shy about canceling others of a related bent.
It is not just about canceling social media accounts. A corporate publishing house withdrew Republican Senator Josh Hawley’s upcoming book that it had asked him to write, ironically, about political censorship by powerful American corporations. He had sinned by contesting the recent Electoral College results. Subsequently, a major hotel firm canceled his upcoming political events that had been scheduled at its properties.
Whole platforms are at risk, not just individuals. By shutting down the servers it hosts, Amazon took down the conservative social media site for what it called the site’s lack of enforcement of rules against content that incites violence. The tech giant accused Parler of allowing the planning, coordination, and execution of the January 6 riot at the Capitol to be done on its site, an accusation that Parler’s executives vehemently deny and statistics confirm. This action serves as an example of what can happen to any website that dares cross the Left’s ideological lines.
In these cases, the Constitutional ramifications of these cancellations are muddied because the first amendment forbids
governmental, not corporate, censorship. At this point, under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (1996), which acts as a liability shield, Big Tech can do whatever it wants. According to Rachel Bovard, senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute and an editorial contributor to USA Today, tech companies can “restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be … objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected” under Section 230.
Cancel culture, then, allows mainstream and social media and the Leftist oligarchs behind them to mandate conformity to progressive ideas – or else. The objective seems to be a state in which public discourse is confined to a narrow band of tolerated opinion, that is, a flat and frictionless zone of “right” thinking (a society-wide “safe space,” if you will). Those who comply will be permitted to continue under the watchful eyes of fact-checkers, but any ideas that dare poke beyond the accepted boundaries will be mercilessly cut off. Jesus tells His disciples in Matthew 5:14,
You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” In today’s idiom, He maintains that true Christians and their beliefs stand tall in stark contrast to the monotone, lifeless ideas of unredeemed humanity. Others will see them as different, and the powers-that-be will try to erase them, just as they did to Jesus and His preaching. While we cannot water down God’s revelation, Christians will need to learn to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16) in their communication as the end nears.

Keep Going (Sabbath Thoughts)
You didn’t get it all, did you?
Even now, as the Feast ends and we’re allowed to bring things like bread and baking soda and self-rising flour back into our lives, we’re faced with the uncomfortable truth that we missed something. Maybe it was the bagel sitting in plain sight all week. Maybe it was the nearly invisible crumb of a long-forgotten muffin nestled deep within the crevices of your living room couch. Either way, no matter how hard we tried,
we missed something. Short of burning your house to the ground and starting over, there’s simply no way to get it all.
No matter how many times I keep these Days, that’s the inescapable truth: I can’t do it. Not perfectly. Not on my own. No matter how surgical my approach, no matter how precise my attack plan, I am practically guaranteed to overlook
There are a lot of lessons in all that. We can talk about how easy it is for sin to hide right under our noses, completely unnoticed. We can talk about sin’s capacity to burrow deep into the crevices of our hearts and remain untouched for years. We can talk about the way our favorite activities and pastimes can be laced with sin, but we never bother to check the ingredients label, because what could possibly be wrong with that?
We could talk about all those things, but I think, buried deep underneath it all, is a far more important question:
Why bother?
If we’re going to fall short of God’s command – if no amount of effort can guarantee that we’ll remove every solitary scrap of leavening from our homes – why bother at all?
When we find ourselves up against the impossible, there are two paths we can decide to take:
It’s impossible, so give up.
It’s impossible, so look to Christ’s sacrifice and
keep going.
The Days of Unleavened Bread remind us of a standard we’re incapable of reaching on our own: a perfect, sinless life. Even as we’re striving to put sin out, we’re forced to accept the fact that we can’t do it perfectly on our own. But we’re not on our own. Jesus reminded His disciples,
“With God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26), and the author of Hebrews reminds us, “We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16).
If the message of Passover is
begin, then the message of Unleavened Bread is keep going. Even when you’ve failed. Even when the task at hand seems impossible. Christ has your back, and He’s already paid the price of falling short. All He and God the Father ask now is that you keep going. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try again.
A righteous man may fall seven times and rise again” (Proverbs 24:16).
And next year, maybe you
will notice the bagels sitting in your pantry. Next year, maybe you will vacuum a little deeper into the couch and get the crumb that’s been hiding there for the past decade. Next year, maybe you will check the label of that food you thought was leaven-free and throw it out in time. And that’s why we bother. Unleavened Bread reminds us of the bigger picture. Even though we didn’t overcome all our sin this year, we hopefully did a better job than last year. And even though we won’t overcome it all next year, we’ll hopefully do a better job than this year – every year becoming a little more aware, a little more diligent, a little closer to where we’re supposed to be, all while trusting Christ’s sacrifice to fill in the gaps when we fall short.
Unleavened Bread isn’t about being perfect. It’s about pushing toward it.

Christ in Us – Our Hope of Glory (Sabbath Meditations)
Halfway through the Days of Unleavened Bread and so far so good. I’d yet to a plow down a donut in the office cafeteria without thinking or munch down a handful of croutons with my dinner salad. The symbol of sin had not, knowingly anyway, crossed my lips.
Although I’d done well with the command not to eat, I wish I could say as much about the command we are given to eat. After all, we are commanded to take the leaven out of our dwellings on the first day. The commandment to take in of unleavened bread covers all seven (Ex.12:15)
In some ways remembering to eat unleavened bread every day is more challenging than avoiding the leavened stuff. If I’m not careful an entire day can get by me before I realize, “Hey, I haven’t eaten any unleavened bread today.”
This tendency to forget such a simple command got me thinking. What if unleavened bread were all I had to eat? What if my physical life depended on it for sustenance? How much more focused would I be on getting my three square servings of unleavened bread each day?
In Galatians 2:20 Paul writes, “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.
Paul is basically saying that His spiritual life is dependent on Jesus Christ living in Him. Everything he does, all that he is, is made possible by the life of Jesus living in him by faith. Paul knew that taking in of the Unleavened Bread every day of his life was critical to his spiritual survival, his spiritual salvation.
Taking in of unleavened bread each day of this festival is a fairly basic exercise. It’s pretty much just a matter of remembering to pick it up and put it in my mouth. But what does it mean to have Christ living in me? How do I, in a real sense, take Him in spiritually, every day of my life?
Just a cursory search through scripture gives some insight.
Ephesians 3:14 tells us that Christ dwells in the heart of the believer through faith; faith in His sacrifice and the promise of salvation, made possible by His resurrection. It’s a promise which He has given to all who are His. So taking in of Jesus Christ means continually being reminded of and renewing our trust in His sacrifice and the work that He is doing in our lives.
1 Corinthians 1 tells us that God has chosen the weak of the world that no one should give glory to themselves for what He has done. By virtue of being in Him and His life dwelling in us, He has become our righteousness, our sanctification and our redemption. So if any man glories, he should glory in the Lord. So taking in of His life each day means to daily give glory to the One who gives us life, to the One who redeems us.
Romans 8:9-11 tells us that Christ dwells in us through His Spirit. Our bodies are dead because of sin, but His Spirit that dwells in us gives us life. Paul goes onto say that as Christians, we are to put to death the old man and submit to power of His Spirit working in us, changing us. Taking in of Him means to not resist, but submit daily to the leading of His Spirit within us.
Philippians 2:5-13 tells us to let Jesus Christ’s mind be in us. A mindset of humility, a mindset of a servant, willingly sacrificing for the needs of others. Taking in of Him daily means to daily put on humility, daily present ourselves as living sacrifices in service to others and to Him.
Paul goes on to say in Philippians 2: 12-13, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”
Taking in of the Unleavened Bread of Sincerity and Truth means to submit ourselves daily to let Him work in us both to do and to will of His good pleasure. It’s recognizing that any good that is in us comes from His work in us. We submit in fear and trembling daily to let Him do that work.
Colossians 1:24 tells us that to us, His saints, has “been made known the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
Taking in of Him each day of my life is about humbly dying to myself, my desires, my attitudes, and submitting to let Him do His work in me. It’s trusting in Him by faith, understanding that it’s His work in me that has made me righteous, not anything I have done. My righteousness is as filthy rags. As far as the heavens are above the earth, so far are His thoughts above my thoughts, and His ways above my ways. It is He who has made me unleavened through His awesome sacrifice, so that when the Father looks at me, He doesn’t see me, He sees His Son. It’s His righteousness imputed to me, His life in me, that allows me to live. And the life I now live I live through faith in the Son of God who died for me and lives in me. As long as I remain in Him and He in me, I live a life free of fear and full of hope. His life in me is my hope of glory.
In a nutshell, it’s about Him, it’s not about me. He gets the glory. My response to that awesome gift is to desire to be like Him, to strive to become, in reality, what I already am in Him, each and every day of my life.
So much meaning in such a small piece of unleavened bread. Maybe it’s so easy to forget to eat it during these days because there are so many other culinary delights to be had. Come to think of it, maybe that’s part of the lesson. Our lives become so readily immersed in all this world has to offer that we often forget the one thing that truly gives us life. His life, living in us.
What a blessing it is our God gave us these days of Unleavened Bread to refocus our attention on Him.

Spiritually Sunk (Sabbath Thoughts)
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the things we have are worth what we paid for them. They’re not. They’re worth what they can do for us. I love how Seth Godin put it:
When making a choice between two options, only consider what’s going to happen in the future, not which investments you’ve made in the past. The past investments are over, lost, gone forever. They are irrelevant to the future.
You have two pieces of land. One you bought for $1,000,000, one for $10,000. On which one should you develop a gas station?
I know. The one that’s right next to the huge subdivision being put up, not the one next to the condemned shopping center. Does it matter how much the land cost to buy? No. Not at all.
If the land next to the condemned shopping center was the one that cost you a million dollars, and you insisted on building the gas station there because you’d already invested a million dollars into it, you’d be making a terrible decision. The land isn’t valuable because of what it cost you; the land is valuable because of what it can do – which means your million-dollar land is worthless for the purpose of building a gas station.
It’s called the “sunk cost fallacy.” We tell ourselves that because we’ve already heavily invested in something, we’re bound to stick with it instead of cutting our losses and trying a better alternative.
But of course, a sunk cost can be more than just a financial matter. We invest time and effort as well – and these investments are just as susceptible to the sunk cost fallacy.
Passover is an annual benchmark – one that offers us a unique opportunity to reflect on investments of a different kind.
Nearly every choice we make is a spiritual investment that either moves us closer to the Kingdom or farther from it. Passover invites us to ask ourselves, “Are there investments in my life I need to think about walking away from?”
“I spent so long in pursuit of this” is not relevant.
“I put so much effort into obtaining this” is not relevant.
These are sunk costs. What it
cost you to get where you are right now has no bearing on whether it’s worth being where you are right now. The only criteria that matters when evaluating spiritual investments is, “Does having this in my life bring me closer to God – or does it push me farther away?”
Blessings are not excluded from this evaluation. The eye is a blessing from God (Proverbs 20:12), and yet,
“if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire” (Matthew 18:9).
Closer? Or farther?
We get past spiritual sunk costs by letting go. Letting go of the idea that we need to stick with bad decisions, letting go of the idea that our mistakes have to define us, letting go of
“every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us,” and choosing instead to “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).
The amount of effort you’ve put into a bad decision up till now isn’t part of the equation. I don’t think Seth Godin had a spiritual slant in mind when he wrote that little blog, but he’s right. Thanks to the sacrifice that Passover reminds us of, “The past investments are over, lost, gone forever. They are irrelevant to the future.”
The decisions that brought you here, to this moment, are behind you. You are where you are. Your goal is the Kingdom.
What spiritual investment should you make next?

Free to be a Servant (Morning Companion)
The Passover that we read about in Exodus has an obvious theme that is repeated over and over:
“Let my people go that they may serve me.” (Exodus 9:1)
The Israelites were in slavery, and the demand from God was to free them. From that we can conclude that one of the themes of Exodus — and indeed we can extrapolate this to the entire Bible — is freedom. Freedom from slavery. Freedom from sin. Even the law of God is called the law of liberty (James 1:25).
But Paul gives us a warning about freedom. Freedom unconstrained leads to tragic consequences:
“What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.
For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:15-23 NKJV)
If you think about it, Paul seems to be channeling Bob Dylan (or the other way around): You gotta serve somebody. “It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”
So when the message to Pharaoh is, “free my people from slavery so that they are free to serve me,” we’re not looking at a self-contradiction. We’re looking at people being free to choose whom they will serve, whether sin unto death or accepting the gift unto joy in the present world and eternal life in the next. It will be one or the other. Because you gotta serve somebody.
Lyrics :
You Gotta Serve Somebody

Bread in the Wilderness (Sabbath Thoughts)
Time limits change things. When we’re free to complete a task at our leisure, it’s easy to put it off. “I’ll get to it later.” And later. And later …
A day becomes a week, a month, a year. For most of us, setting our own timetable means there’s a good chance of that task never getting done. After all, there’s always “later.” Later is wide open; later will be there when we’re ready.
Manna didn’t work that way. From the moment it appeared each morning, there was a time limit. Tick tock, tick tock. Get it now; get it while you can. Later was never an option, because when the sun warmed things up, any manna still outside melted like frost (
Exodus 16:21).
The obvious solution was to stockpile it – but that didn’t work, either. Any manna that remained in tents overnight bred worms and stank (Exodus 16:20). Completely useless. The only option (for anyone interested in eating, anyway) was to be out there every morning (except the Sabbath), gathering up what you needed for the day. Any other route meant a stinky tent or an empty belly.
But manna was just a lesson, not the main point. It was an illustration of something bigger. Moses explained:
And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. (Deuteronomy 8:2-3)
The Word of God is a precious treasure, and we need it as desperately as the Israelites needed manna. Are we eager to gather what we need each day, or are we content to wait until later?
Later doesn’t always happen. Our Bibles might not dissolve in the noonday heat, but the openings in our schedules have a way of getting more and more crowded. Unless we’re gathering the Word of God with the same urgency the Israelites had while gathering manna, we’re probably not getting what we need out of it.
This is food. This is life. If we wait until we’re starving to gather it up, we might not find what we need in time. You can only go hungry so many days before it catches up with you.
Stockpiling doesn’t work, either. A big meal one day doesn’t make up for an empty plate the rest of the week. There’s only one option: Make God’s word a priority every day. Be as loath to be without it as you would be loath to miss out on a day’s worth of meals. Bread alone isn’t enough – we need and must
hunger for the truths contained in the pages of the Bible.
Time limits change things. “Later” is the wrong time to gather spiritual bread. Get it now; get it while you can.
Tick tock … tick tock …

I Made a Mistake (The Word and The Way)
I made a mistake last week. OK, I am sure I made more than one, but I made one that had immediate ramifications.
Throughout life we make mistakes continually and need to atone for them. Perhaps we forget to pay a bill on time and incur a financial penalty. Maybe we say things to loved ones in the heat of the moment that can’t be taken back. These mistakes start long before the incident occurs, because we should not even permit ourselves to think evil of our loved ones, but it happens. Thinking about our mistakes too much can lead to depression which can lead to more mistakes.
The mistakes we make to each other can often be made right, but what about the mistakes we make with YHVH? How do we atone for those mistakes? What can we give the Creator to compensate for our sins since He created everything? Remember, He is a very jealous God, so He does notice when we deviate from His will, especially if we were supposed to know better. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” John 3:16-21
Well, right there is the plan for how we make ourselves right with YHVH. We have to believe in His Son and then come into the light. Belief that YHVH sent His Son to die for our sins is the starting point. The next part, coming into the light, takes incredible effort. It really shouldn’t take that much effort, though. If we stop and think about it, either we step into the light now or it gets shined on us at the judgment. Either way, all of our deeds will be exposed.
Often times, when we quote scripture, we forget the context of what we are citing. This is very true of the verses I just referenced above. All of us read those verses like they are written specifically to us. We read them like a letter to all mankind. But that’s not what is happening there. I believe those words were preserved for the purpose of all mankind, but there is a context and it is quite profound.
Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” John 3:1-2 (emphasis added)
Nicodemus came to Yeshua at night. The entire conversation takes place in the dark. Yeshua was scolding Nicodemus for coming to Him in secret. Nicodemus wanted to become a closet believer and Yeshua knew it. Nicodemus wanted to retain his high position among the Jews and also strike up a relationship with the Messiah. He wanted to have his cake and eat it, too. He was conflicted. Yeshua’s teaching in this dialogue has many layers but he essentially told Nicodemus, “If you want to be part of this, you’re going to have to do it where everyone can see”. This is the same theme when Yeshua said that he who loves his live will lose it.
In John 7:50
, Nicodemus sticks up for Yeshua. OK, he doesn’t do that, but he does start to come out of his shell a little and tries to help out while maintaining his distance. But at John 19:39, Nicodemus’s conversion is complete as he is there to help bury the dead Messiah. At this point, Nicodemus has fully come into the light and no longer cares that all will know of his belief in Yeshua. It was the preparation day for Pesach and Nicodemus, a high ranking Jew of the Pharisees, was clearly not where he was supposed to be. This well recognized man was now converted and had taken hundred pounds of supplies to bury a dead body, thus defiling himself from observing Pesach. Remember how the Jews wouldn’t even enter the Praetorium to accuse Yeshua because that would defile them? Now Nicodemus, one of their rulers, is openly defiling himself because he knows it is the right thing to do.
As we enter into the Passover season and recall our mistakes, let’s take Nicodemus’s transformation into consideration. We all make mistakes. Sometimes we make them so often we just can’t fathom a time without mistakes. But let’s keep in mind the gravity of the Messiah’s sacrifice and be strong in our belief that God did indeed send His Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish. Those mistakes that we make which we cannot atone for have been covered, if we believe and come into the light.

Passover, Antidote for Self-Reliance (Sabbath Meditations)
In 1 Corinthians 11:27 we read regarding the Passover observance:
“Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”
Self-examination. It’s a solemn exercise in which we, as members of His body, are to be engaged in preparation for taking the symbols of the Passover. But just what are we to examine?
Paul, in 2 Corinthians 13, provides the answer:
“Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless indeed you are disqualified.”
So we are to examine ourselves whether we are in the faith, whether Jesus Christ is in us. How do we do that? What does it mean to be “in the faith?” Galatians 3:26 tells us:
“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
In Philippians 3:9 Paul writes:
“Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.”
Some key phrases jump out of these passages related to faith: “…sons of God through faith…” and “…righteousness which is from God by faith…”
So being “in the faith” refers, then, to being in a state of complete trust and dependence on the righteousness of Christ Jesus applied to me by my acceptance of his broken body and spilled blood upon the cross.
There’s a key principle woven throughout all of this self-examination we are to be doing this season. It’s a principle of reliance on His righteousness, not my own. In short, self-examination should draw my attention upward, not further inward. It’s simply a matter of focus.
Perhaps the greatest weakness we have as humans is self-reliance. That was the sin that got Satan cast out of God’s presence; it’s the reason Adam and Eve were banned from the garden and cut off from a relationship with God; and it’s the reason so many of God’s children become discouraged, hopeless and defeated in their Christian walks, the inevitable result of a fruitless dependence upon the self.
God gave us this season, in a sense, as a yearly booster shot, an antidote for self-reliance. Self-examination is the syringe, if you will, that delivers that needed medicine. Self-examination should bring each of us into remembrance of our reliance, not on our own righteousness, but upon His righteousness applied to us, by our complete acceptance of His spilled blood and broken body on the cross for our sins. It’s the degree to which we acknowledge our need and dependence on Him which determines whether or not we are “in the faith.”
Only by having examined ourselves, having been reminded and convicted of our need for Him and complete reliance on His sacrifice, can you and I take of the symbols of this Passover in a worthy manner. Only in recognizing our need for Him do we find the antidote for self-reliance.

Cleansing The Temple (Charles Whitaker)
In John 2:13-17, the apostle John records Christ’s cleansing of the Temple near the commencement of His ministry:
Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables. And He said to those who sold doves, “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!” Then His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.”
The incident mentioned by Mark in Mark 11:15-18 (and by Matthew in Matthew 21:12-13 and by Luke in Luke 19:45-46) takes place about three years later, at the end of His ministry:
So they came to Jerusalem. Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple. Then He taught, saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’” And the scribes and chief priests heard it and sought how they might destroy Him; for they feared Him, because all the people were astonished at His teaching.
Both incidents occurred during the Passover season, as thousands of visitors from east and west milled around the Temple precincts.
The Jews, working in tandem behind their Roman masters, had turned the Temple into big business. Inns aplenty serviced the many pilgrims who flooded Jerusalem’s streets during the holy days. Priests inspected offerings brought by the people; if they were not acceptable, another animal had to be purchased, from the priests, at exorbitant prices. Behind it all was an extensive banking arrangement that supported the collection of the Temple tax (see Exodus 30:11-16), which was generally paid around Passover. Moneychangers, who served as currency traders through whom sojourners could change their money into the half-shekel required to pay the tax, facilitated this collection. Conceptually, the operations of these moneychangers did not differ from those of today’s international bankers, who enjoy sometimes incredible profits from low-risk (or even no-risk) trading in foreign currencies, a practice commonly called “currency arbitrage.” In other words, the Jewish leaders were
arbitrageurs, a name given to those individuals who really add no value to a financial transaction. They merely bottom-feed in the murky waters of international finance.
It was not religion or philanthropy that drove Herod the Great to enlarge and beautify the Temple complex. Along with the Jewish leadership, that Edomite king recognized the vast profit waiting to be realized from the Temple operation. His building activities are best understood to be not unlike those who build mega-hotels in Las Vegas or theme parks in Japan. In cahoots with the Jewish leadership, he invested heavily to create an attraction to which thousands of people would flock every year – only to be fleeced. Herod was in the religion business, pure and simple. It is no wonder that Jesus called one of his sons “that fox” (Luke 13:32).
Violently, with righteous indignation, Christ responded to this corrupt, moneymaking establishment, overturning tables, driving away people and animals. But why did He do so twice?
In answer, consider this question: How long before it was “business as usual” in the Temple again? An hour? Maybe a few hours before the moneychangers slinked back to their tables? Either would be good guesses, and either answer should illustrate something to us: The persistence of an economic system.
Christ’s actions provide a dual witness to the resiliency of an economic system. Such a system is founded on human greed and self-interest. It is highly persistent in the face of cyclical booms and busts. Yes, it takes some hits, but it survives. It is extremely adaptable to controlled change, but strongly resistant to external changes that it perceives to be a threat. This only makes sense: After all, economic systems are designed by the rich and for the rich – to maintain and grow their wealth and status. The “movers and shakers” of this world have interest in maintaining and defending the system that supports them. They view any alternative system as a competitor and dismantle it as soon as they perceive it to be a threat.
Christ Himself was not able to overthrow the system during His ministry, though He twice violently set His hand against it. The Temple system continued decades after His resurrection, until
AD 70, when the Romans finally destroyed the Temple. That time is a type of the Great Tribulation. The overthrow of this world’s systems will not be possible until Christ’s return. Then, “the kingdoms of the world [will] become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ” (Revelation 11:15). Then – in His third try – He will effectively uproot this civilization’s economic, military, and educational systems, which seem so deeply entrenched today.
Yet, even when He has done so through His wrathful activities during the Day of the Lord, He knows that these man-made (though Satan-inspired) systems will grow up again unless He changes the heart of mankind, changes the way people think. He will set His hand to do just that. The time will come when:
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. (Isaiah 2:3)

The Illusion of Gray (Sabbath Thoughts)
The remarkable thing about the human race is our ability to botch things up, even when the odds are undeniably in our favor. Our story began in the Garden of Eden – a lush paradise designed by God Himself and filled with “every tree … that is pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Genesis 2:9). A husband and his wife lived in this utopia, surrounded by the creation of a loving God and sharing a close, personal relationship with their Creator. And all they had to do was keep their hands off of one tree.
One, Measly, Tree.
But they couldn’t do it. They succumbed to temptation. Satan came in and muddied the waters with lies and half-truths until Eve saw the tree as “good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise” (Genesis 3:6). So husband and wife took of the forbidden tree, the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and officially began the proud human tradition of “every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes” (Deuteronomy 12:8). (Re)drawing the line
Not much has changed since that historic sin. Adam and Eve got exactly what they asked for: knowledge of good
and evil. What they didn’t get was knowledge of the defining line between the two categories – and for 6,000 years of human history, some of the greatest minds of our race have been engaged in a never-ending debate about where that line belongs.
One of the more interesting ideas to come out of that debate is the concept of “gray areas”. The idea is pretty straightforward: if we define wrong and right in terms of black and white, then gray areas are actions that are ethically ambiguous. They’re harder to pin down as strictly right or wrong because they appear to contain elements of both. Maybe it’s a question of stealing… to keep your family from starving. Maybe it’s a question of lying… to protect someone else’s life. Or maybe it’s the classic question that ethics professors love so much about you standing next to a railroad switch with the opportunity to throw it and save someone’s life … at the cost of ending someone else’s.
To be fair, the average Christian faces slightly less dramatic gray areas. I can’t remember the last time I stood by a railroad switch, pulling my hair out over an ethical dilemma while a train barreled toward a junction. You know what I
do puzzle over, though? The kinds of entertainment a Christian should avoid. What constitutes an acceptable activity on the Sabbath. When and how a sin should be confronted. These and similar topics are extremely tricky when it comes to providing definite answers, simply because there are so many opposing viewpoints to consider. Whatever the gray area happens to be, we’re pretty much guaranteed a mental workout when we attempt to understand it. What’s the right course of action? What’s the wrong course of action? How can we be sure?
Does God see gray?
Before we head any further into this maze of questions marks, let’s look at the bigger picture for a helpful dose of perspective. We’ll start with a different kind of question:
Do you think God struggles with gray areas?
Think about that for a second. Do you think God, arrayed in divine majesty and unsearchable wisdom, ever looks at the action of a human being and thinks to Himself, “That’s not ri… actually, wait a minute. I’m not sure about this one.
that a sin?”
If we answer yes to that question, then we need to very seriously consider how much faith we place in God’s omnipotence and omniscience. But if we answer no – if we believe that God is never uncertain about any action being right or wrong, that “His understanding is infinite” (Psalm 147:5), then we are faced with an immutable fact:
There are no gray areas in the eyes of God.
A matter of perception
So what does that mean? If there are no gray areas from God’s perfect vantage point, we must conclude that
there are no gray areas at all. What we perceive as gray areas are nothing more than illusions resulting from an imperfect understanding of God’s will.
Here’s the real question, though: Why does this distinction matter? What difference does it make if gray areas are real or not when the effect on us is still one of confusion and uncertainty?
It makes
every difference in the world. Just because we can’t see God’s standards in a particular scenario, it doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Any action or thought can only fall into one of two categories: acceptable before God or unacceptable before God. There is no middle ground. When we find ourselves enshrouded by a gray area, we must keep in the forefront of our minds that, although the waters might be murky to us, they are perfectly clear to God. The boundaries between right and wrong are still perfectly defined, even if we’re having trouble perceiving them.
The way things are
The world loves gray areas, because it’s easy to treat gray areas as free passes. If the waters are murky – if black and white have blended into shades of gray – then judgment is impossible and anything goes. It becomes an excuse to act without restraint and without consideration, because, after all, who’s to say for sure what’s right? And if we have the audacity to suggest that there might actually be a concrete right and wrong, we’ll be met with criticism – we’re seeing things in black and white, refusing to consider the more nuanced aspects of an issue.
There’s no good way to segue into this, but there’s actually a great
Calvin and Hobbes strip on the subject, and I’m including it here:


I love the last panel. Calvin’s unamused father explains, “The problem is, you see everything in terms of black and white” to which six-year-old Calvin replies, “SOMETIMES THAT’S JUST THE WAY THINGS ARE!!”
Watterson meant it as a joke, poking fun at the stereotypical dogmatism of a six-year-old. But honestly, when we get right down to the core of it, that really
the way things are. God created very definite boundaries between right and wrong, and however fuzzy they might look to us, they remain constant and unchanging. Christ warned “that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few” (Luke 12:47-48).
Not knowing God’s will doesn’t excuse us from it – it is our constant duty to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). How do we do that? “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20). God’s word contains the priceless wisdom we need to sharpen our discernment and draw closer to our Creator.
That passage in Isaiah continues with a warning against those who walk outside the light: “They will pass through it hard-pressed and hungry; and it shall happen, when they are hungry, that they will be enraged and curse their king and their God, and look upward. Then they will look to the earth, and see trouble and darkness, gloom of anguish; and they will be driven into darkness” (Isaiah 8:21-22).
The more time we spend embracing the “freedom” of gray areas, the closer we move toward the darkness. And that’s not where the children of light belong.

Why Did Pilate Panic? (Morning Companion)
When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out,
“Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. (John 19:6-8 ESV)
When the chief priests accused Jesus of blasphemy by calling himself the Son of God, why did Pilate panic? He had no interest in Judean religious controversies, but somehow this caused him great consternation. To understand why Pilate reacted as he did, let’s take a look at what was behind this exchange.
When the religious leaders brought Jesus before Pilate, they hoped to get a conviction for sedition. He spoke of a new regime which he called the “Kingdom of God”. Just a few days before he had ridden into Jerusalem on a donkey to the shouts of Hosanna from the streets as the people hailed the coming of the Son of David (Matthew 21:1-9). Both they and the religious leaders knew what the prophet Zechariah foretold concerning the coming of a king from David’s dynasty (Zechariah 9:9). When he dismounted from his steed at the temple and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, he called the temple “my house”. After that, when he healed in that very temple the blind and the lame, the people took all of it together as a sign that he was indeed the promised Son of David and shouted more Hosannas to him. Even more provocative, he refused to disavow their convictions (verses 10-16).
The religious leaders of the day understandably concluded that Jesus was about to start a revolution against the Romans and proclaim himself king of an independent Jewish state. If that were true, and the miracles would point in that direction, it might be considered good news to the oppressed Jewish people, but it would have been very bad news for the chief priests. They owed their positions of authority to the Roman occupiers. If the Romans were to get word of an insurrection, the supposed rebellion would be brutally crushed, but if the rebellion somehow succeeded these religious leaders would be out of a job. Either way, the established positions they enjoyed would be jeopardized.
So they did what any politically savvy operatives would do. They brought Jesus to Pilate, accusing him of sedition and potential rebellion because he claimed to be the rightful king of the Jews.
Sadly for them, Pilate didn’t buy the story. He questioned Jesus about those claims to kingship, and Jesus explained that he was not claiming an earthly kingdom, that his kingdom belongs to another world, and therefore his followers were not going to pick up arms.(John 18:33-37). Whatever Pilate understood Jesus to be saying, he concluded that Jesus was no threat, maybe concluding that he was merely another religious mystic arising from what appeared as a strange religion to his Roman eyes. Whatever the case, he admits,
“I find no fault in him at all” (verse 38).
But the accusers had another gambit to play, and it is one we might think would be a trivial difference to Pilate. “We have a law, and according to our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God!” (19:7).
This statement sent Pilate into panic mode (verse 8). To our ears it sounds like an affirmation that Jesus was a religious mystic, but no threat to the Roman system. To Pilate, however, it was frightening and concerning. The Romans were superstitious people. What if Jesus really was a son of some god? Pilate was a afraid of the consequences of angering whatever deities he would be the son of.
And that was not his only concern. That phrase “Son of God” had a specific political significance in the Roman world. In Latin the term is divi filius, meaning “divine son”, or son of god. Many Caesars used that term as part of their title, including Tiberius, the Caesar of Jesus’s day. That was tantamount to blasphemy against Rome, a defiance of the Roman state. This was no longer just a purported claim of being some mystical king of the Jews. It had now been escalated to something on par with the emperor of the entire Roman Empire. Pilate could not let this slide. To not follow up on that accusation could put himself in peril.
“Where are you from?” Pilate asks Jesus. Was Jesus really sent by the gods as a divi filius? We know the answer to that question, but Jesus refuses to answer. Pilate threatens Jesus with capital punishment, and Jesus acknowledges that Pilate has such power over him, given to him “from above”. Jesus meant that Roman power came ultimately from the Almighty, but Pilate apparently took that to mean that such power came from the emperor, alleviating his concerns about Jesus’s motives. Pilate then sought for ways to release him (19:9-12).
Which of course did not happen. Pilate got maneuvered into a political corner with no way out accept to give the rabble what they demanded.
I share this to make a couple of points. The exchange between Jesus and Pilate in John’s gospel has a deeper subtext than a first glance might reveal. Scripture has a richness that can be missed in a casual reading. Reading the Bible is good. Studying it in depth, including an understanding of the history and culture behind it. is a richer experience.
It illustrates something else as well. The governments of the world, some to a smaller and some to larger extent, seem to tend toward a God complex. They can take to themselves the power of life and death over their subjects based upon their own set of laws. They take to themselves the right to know good and evil, taking and eating of a tree whose fruit leads to, shall we say, unpleasantness to those who eat of it. The Roman emperors had tyranny down to a science and in some cases have passed it down to our world: Worship the state, which will provide you with all your basic needs, but the needs of the state are paramount. The individual exists to serve the state, which in practice reduces society to two classes, masters and slaves, with the slaves being dispensable. That’s a clear illustration of the mind of the devil, and why the world needs to be rescued through the true Son of God.

Begin (Sabbath Thoughts)
When Israel first kept the Passover, it was with the backdrop of a broken, shattered Egypt. God had brought the mighty nation to its knees for the sake of His people, ending years of oppression and captivity in a single, masterful stroke. In years to come, the Israelites were to continue keeping this day, teaching their children about
“the Passover sacrifice of the Lord, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households” (Exodus 12:27). Likewise, the days that followed – the Days of Unleavened Bread – were to serve as a reminder “of what the Lord did for me when I came up from Egypt” (Exodus 13:8). Begin.
Decades later, when a new generation of Israelites finally settled in the Promised Land, the message of Passover was even clearer. The year had just begun (Leviticus 23:5). The crops were growing in the fields. The world around them was budding and chirping and singing and just generally coming back to life after a cold, rainy winter. The sheaf of the firstfruits would soon be waved before the Lord with gratitude for the harvest He was providing for His people (Leviticus 23:10).
Jesus Christ told His disciples, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you” (Luke 22:15), because this was going to be the Passover that changed everything. Christ was slain “from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8), which means this Passover had been in the works since the events of Genesis 1:1. From here on out, the focus wouldn’t be on God breaking the chains of Egypt, but the chains of sin and death itself. Through death, Christ was going to “destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:14-15). The penalty would be paid, once and for all – and for all those willing to repent and change their ways, the slate could be wiped clean.
Can you hear it? Can you hear the message of this day?
The Passover season is a season for
beginning. For starting fresh. It’s a reminder that the focus isn’t on the mistakes you’ve made in the past. Whether the backdrop is Egyptian captivity, a field full of new crops, or the sacrifice of the Son of God Himself, it’s clear that God doesn’t want us defining ourselves by our past failures and our forgiven sins. Christ’s sacrifice was intended to sever you from the things holding you back.
Passover reminds us to
“put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him” (Colossians 3:10) and begin. Yes, we all have regrets behind us. We all have things we’d do differently and decisions we’d take back. But the Passover is about how God called us out of sins – how the Son of God gave His life to keep us from being held down by them.
What haven’t you accomplished this past year? How haven’t you grown? Where are you lacking?
It’s time to shore up those weaknesses, to “strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees” (Isaiah 35:3), and to grow ever closer to our God and King.
The chains are broken. The fields are ready. The debt is paid.

Changing the World with a Washbasin and Towel (Morning Companion)
Imagine, if you will, walking the streets of a typical Middle Eastern city two thousand years ago. You see no cars, no trucks, no streetlights, nor much else of our modern world. You see no paved streets, except perhaps a few with cobblestones. The dirt streets will become a sea of mud in rainy season. Beasts of burden transport people and goods through the narrow spaces between buildings. Rather than exhaust from diesel engines, you notice that donkeys, mules, and horses leave behind other evidence of their passing. Residents also leave their mark, dumping wastewater from their homes, water from their washings and other sources adding to the mixture in the streets.
Now imagine yourself walking through these streets as you search for an upper room where you and twelve others will eat the Passover. Imagine the filth that covers your sandaled feet as you traverse the various streets to the room your teacher described to you.
Now imagine yourself in that upper room. The one called Teacher and Lord rises from his place at the table and does a most unusual thing for a teacher or lord to do.
And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.” (John 13:2-5)
There is both symbolism in Jesus’s action and a practical fact. This was the job servants normally took on, but not one of the disciples thought about becoming a servant. Maybe they were drunk on the wine of the cup of that woman who rides the beast, for we know that some of them mused often about who would be the greatest, and there are indications
they were arguing that very thing at this Passover service (Luke 22:24-27).
Yet here was Jesus, the Lord of all, lowering himself to the role of humbly cleansing the filth that clung to them as they walked the paths of life.
Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself,” Paul wrote to the Philippians. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2: 3-8)
He thus modeled for us that whoever humbles himself will be exalted (2:9-11). Jesus was doing nothing more than illustrating what he, the Creator of the universe, really expects of us, that we should become like him. But Peter was having none of this. After 3-½ years of following Jesus, he still didn’t grasp what Jesus was all about (John 13:6-9).
“You will never wash my feet,” he said. Peter did not understand that it’s not about authority for its own sake. It is not a matter of “power over” but a matter of “power to”. It’s all about power to serve, and that means that power and authority will not be given to those who wish to exercise power for its own sake. In God’s world authority is to be given only to those who have proven that they can exercise it in humility. Remember that Lucifer’s downfall came because of his arrogance. It came because of his pride and his lust for power for its own sake (Isaiah 14:13-14 and Ezekiel 28:17).
In response to Peter’s objections, Jesus makes this metaphorical statement.
“He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not all of you” (John 13:10).
Here he reminds us that even though we might be made clean through our baptism, we do pick up the filth of this world through the simple act of walking through it. That requires us to recognize our need for Jesus’s sacrifice daily. But then he says something that should have shaken them to their core. “You are not all clean.” Jesus knew that there was a betrayer in their midst, and though he knew who the betrayer was, he still washed the betrayer’s feet. Even at that late hour Jesus never stopped reaching out to Judas. Shocking though it might have been to have a traitor among them, Jesus left the door to repentance open until it could be kept open no longer.
Imagine the discomfort these disciples must have felt, having their teacher and Lord serving them in this humble way. But Jesus had to do this to make a point, an important point, that this was more than a mere ritual. It’s a way of life dedicated to humbly serving the needs of others just as Jesus dedicated his life for others, even to the point of loving those who hate us (Matthew 5:43-44), and it must extend to beyond those who are in our own circle (verses 46-47).
By the simple act of washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus demonstrates the need for his sacrifice, his love for the lost, his forbearance for all, and the purpose of our calling. And he also warns us that in spite of all of that, he cannot save someone if they refuse to receive him. What better object lesson could he have performed before offering them the bread and the cup?

A Long Story about a Middle Name (Sabbath Thoughts)
Two weeks ago, I woke up angry with God.
I wasn’t proud of it. I didn’t
want to be angry. But I was.
I propped myself up on an elbow and looked around the room, trying to clear the fog in my mind and reorient myself. I was lying on a couch. My wife was, too. A couple feet away from us was an empty hospital bed – my wife’s bed, technically, but after yesterday, we weren’t ready to sleep apart from each other.
Then I looked for the thing I knew wasn’t there: My son’s bassinet. They had wheeled it out late last night. His blood sugar was too low, they told us after multiple tests. His little four pound, thirteen ounce body wasn’t regulating it the way it should. He’d have to stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. The place some babies go when they’re barely hanging on. The place our son needed to be.
It was hard to tell then, in that late-night, sleep-deprived moment, how serious things were. How concerned we should be. We only knew our son was being carted off to a scary place where scary things happened. He’d be hooked up to IVs and monitors – away from us.
That news came at the end of an extremely long day. Little Peter had kicked things off around 2 a.m. on Thursday morning – a good two weeks before his due date. We scrambled around in a panicked fog, throwing pre-packed bags into the car, hoping we had everything we needed. My parents came to watch our daughter, and we drove off into the middle of the night.
The labor didn’t go smoothly. Mary’s blood pressure was often distressingly high. With every contraction, Peter’s heart rate plummeted. I tried to put on a brave face. We were terrified. After hours of that, things stalled. The nurses kept turning the Pitocin drip on and off based on how Peter was responding. Mary’s contractions were coming farther apart – then closer again, then farther apart. And every time one came, we’d listen on the monitor as our son’s heartbeat slowed to a terrifying crawl. The whole process was agony – physically for Mary, mentally for both of us. Toward the end, Mary’s epidural wore off. The slow, uncertain pace that had plagued us for hours accelerated rapidly. The doctor almost didn’t make it in time.
Seventeen long hours after our 2 a.m. wakeup call, Peter Lallier made his entrance into the world. He was perfect – but so fragile. He was born a pound lighter than his big sister. It was hard to believe he’d had enough time to grow. I guess he hadn’t. We spent months waiting to meet our little boy – and eight hours after he arrived, a nurse came to wheel him away and told us we should get some rest. We didn’t even have a middle name for him yet.
So, like I said, I woke up angry on Friday. It was a hard emotion to wrestle with. I knew in my head that it didn’t make sense to be angry. We were all here. Our boy was a few hallways away, and we could visit him as often as we wanted. He was surrounded by skilled professionals who had the resources to get him the help he needed.
In my heart, it was hard to let go of the feeling that God was ignoring our prayers. As difficult as things had been the day before, it felt like He was intentionally holding back. But that wasn’t true.
On Thursday, we were listening to Peter’s heartbeat temporarily drop with every one of Mary’s contractions. He was in distress. We were scared. Mary asked me to pray. We held hands and I said a quick prayer, asking God to watch over Mary and Peter and keep them both safe. As we started praying, another contraction came. Peter’s heart rate dropped lower and lower, growing fainter until the monitor couldn’t pick up anything at all. It wasn’t the first time it had happened, but that didn’t make it any less terrifying. And then, as I asked God to be with us – in that exact same breath – Peter’s heartbeat came back on the monitor, first quiet, then loud and clear. It was enough – a reminder that God was there, listening to us and helping us, even though it didn’t look like it.
But I lost sight of that reminder. As the day stretched on, every hour seemed to demand more and more of us, and our situation started to feel bleaker and bleaker. Where was God? What was He doing? Why wasn’t He doing more? We had prayed a lot on Thursday. We prayed on the way to the hospital. We prayed during Mary’s labor. We prayed in the post-natal ward. We asked God to step in, to intervene, to keep Mary and Peter safe, and at every step, things felt more overwhelming and hopeless than they needed to be.
We knew there was a reason – but we didn’t know what the reason was. We didn’t know
why God was allowing these things to happen. We didn’t know why Peter was coming before he seemed ready; we didn’t know why Mary’s epidural mysteriously wore off when she needed it most; we didn’t know why God didn’t spare our son a three-and-a-half day stay in the NICU.
We knew He could have. And I guess that was the tough part. He could have, but He didn’t. He had the power to spare us so many of those agonizing hours – hours that eventually stretched into days – but for whatever reason, He chose not to. As we got ready early Friday morning to go visit Peter in the NICU, I had a chance to talk with Mary about how I was feeling (and how much I didn’t want to feel that way). The sleep deprivation wasn’t helping – we’d been up almost 24 hours when they took Peter away – but mostly I was having trouble with all the unanswered questions.
Mary reminded me of what I’d lost sight of – our answered prayer from the morning before. The heartbeat that came back. The reminder that God was involved in everything that was happening. The fear and anxiety were still there, but I started to let go of the anger. I asked God to forgive me for my misplaced feelings and for help remembering that this was all in His hands. Walking into the NICU was eye-opening. Seeing our newborn wired up to leads and monitors and stuck with an IV in his impossibly tiny hand broke our hearts, but seeing the other babies there left us humbled. Some were encased in incubators, others were bathed in the blue glow of phototherapy lights, others couldn’t have weight more than a couple pounds. Peter’s temporary room-mate had been on a feeding tube for a week already, and that wasn’t likely to change anytime soon.
Peter had low blood sugar – a problem that was slowly resolving itself. Some of the babies here were fighting for their lives. As stressed and worried as we were about our boy, it was clear that he was in the NICU for a relatively minor problem. God was with him. God
had been with him – with all three of us – from the very beginning, keeping us safe. Yes, what we were going through was hard.
It was hard to worry about our son’s heartbeat with every contraction.
It was hard to wait patiently for his numbers to stabilize.
It was hard to see an IV in his little hand.
It was hard to spend three minutes scrubbing our hands every time we stepped into the NICU.
It was hard to spend the rest of our time in another room, trying to sleep instead of worry.
It was hard to spend so much time away from our daughter, who didn’t fully understand where we were and why we had disappeared from home in the middle of the night.
But things could have gone drastically differently in the hospital.
No. That’s too vague. God could have allowed things to go drastically differently in the hospital. It’s still hard to think about some of the things He could have allowed – some of the things He
has allowed for others in the past. Knowing that God loved us and wanted the best for us was no guarantee that all three of us would be leaving that hospital. We knew God would do what was best for our son. We just didn’t know if that meant this life or the next.
Which brings me to Peter’s middle name.
Salvation is one of those big, impressive-sounding religious words, but really, it just means delivered or protected from danger or destruction. Spiritually, when we talk about salvation, we’re talking about the process through which God saves us from eternal destruction – the process that begins with the sacrifice that pays the penalty for our sins and ends with our resurrection as immortal children of God.
That’s salvation with a big “S”. Without that salvation, life is robbed of meaning and purpose. That’s the salvation that gives us perspective, knowing that no matter what happens in this life, something better is waiting.
But there are other kinds of salvation, too. There is salvation when God delivers us from a problem we don’t have the means to solve. There is salvation when He keeps us safe from dangers we can’t fight. There is salvation when He shields us from the things that threaten to crush and overwhelm us in this life.
And there is salvation when God protects a little four pound, thirteen ounce baby from all the what-ifs waiting right around the corner. There is salvation when He brings back a heartbeat loud and clear while the courage of two scared parents begins to falter. Not everyone gets that kind of salvation in this life. I’m painfully aware of other stories with far more tragic moments.
We picked Peter’s middle name before he was out of the woods – because it wasn’t about him getting out of the woods. We still weren’t sure what kind of road was ahead of us when we chose it, but we knew what the name needed to be:
Elisha. “God is salvation.”
I’m holding Peter Elisha Lallier in my arms as I write these words. He’s still so tiny. And I know he’s not going to remember anything about these past two weeks – but I will. His birth, and the days that followed, will be something Mary and I will remember forever. We still don’t know why things went the way they did. We might not ever get to know in this life.
But knowing the reason isn’t the important thing. Trusting the God who holds our lives in His hands – knowing that
He has a reason, and trusting that it’s a good reason – that’s the important thing.
I’m eternally grateful that God delivered my boy from the dangers he faced, but I hope “Elisha” serves as more than just a memento of a few harrowing days he’ll never be able to remember. I hope instead it’s a reminder that, no matter how things go in this life – no matter if they go the way we want them to or not – at the end of it all, when the last chapter of this temporary age has been written and the troubles of this life fade into the farthest reaches of eternity
– God is our salvation. Always.

Preparing to Meet Your God: Arrogance, Schisms and Purging out Leaven (Morning Companion)
If we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged” (1 Corinthians 7:31 English Standard Version)
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle has at least three objectives in mind.
Achieve church unity. This was a church wracked by division. They were divided by their preference for teachers (1:10-17). They were divided by economic status (11: 17-22). They were filing lawsuits against each other (6:1-8) And there are some indications of ethnic strife (9:19-23).
Deal with specific problems. In addition to division among them, the church had other internal problems, including an openly incestual relationship (5:1-5), arrogance (3:18-23, 4:8-13,5:6), and even a judgmental arrogance toward Paul (9:1-19).
Answer specific questions. In addition to addressing problems, Paul devotes major portions of his letter to answering specific questions they had posed to him (7:1), including questions about marriage in troubled times (chapter 7), food offered to idols (chapter 8), their misunderstanding about law vs. liberty (10:23-24), spiritual gifts (chapter 12), the resurrection (15:35), and specifics regarding a special collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem (16:1-4).
To be fair to the Corinthians, the problems and questions that issued forth from the Corinthian believers are universal in nature. True, living in the cultural cesspool of immorality and paganism as was the city of Corinth would be a more challenging atmosphere than a believer might face in a pious small town in Iowa, but the fact is, churches everywhere – even Iowa – face the same challenges as those in Corinth. The only difference is often (but not always) a matter of degree. That’s what makes 1 Corinthians such a valuable letter 2,000 years later.
The urgency with which Paul writes his letter speaks to the magnitude of the problems in that congregation. Alongside that was another bit of urgency, for he wrote this letter at the time of year when the church should have been involved in some special spiritual preparations. There are strong hints that 1 Corinthians was written as Spring approached, because Paul makes a number of references to the Holy Day season.
In chapter 5 he says,
“Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (verses 6-8 ESV).
These verses point to physically cleaning out leaven from homes and diet, a common practice when preparing for Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread. Paul uses this as an analogy illustrating that sin is like leaven. A little bit of it in a lump of dough spreads and infects the entire lump, just like a little bit of sin can grow and corrupt everything it touches.
Then Paul reminds them that they need to become a “new lump”, an unleavened lump without corruption, making an analogy to the practice of removing physical leaven from their homes (“as you are unleavened”) “because Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed”. Because Christ our Passover has been sacrificed, the leaven of sin in our lives can be forgiven. This indicates that they had in fact prepared themselves
physically for the festival but clearly had neglected the spiritual aspect, which includes the purging out of malice and evil intent.
It is also significant that Paul throughout this letter uses the Greek word
phusiousthe, which some translations render “arrogant” and others as “puffed up”. Both translations catch the sense of the Greek (see Strong’s entry #5448 and Thayer’s Greek Lexicon), and Paul in this clever word play shows how leaven, which “puffs up” dough, can also “puff up” us, exhibiting itself as arrogance.
When Paul uses these teaching tools, he presupposes that these gentile Christians would understand the deep meaning embedded in the Passover lamb, leaven, and the importance of becoming “unleavened” spiritually, all of which are prefigured in the ancient festival of Passover.
This brings us to 1 Corinthians 11. It is here where Paul focuses on how their arrogance, their internal divisions, and their lack of love make a travesty of a most serious and solemn occasion – that of the taking of the bread and the wine. The pertinent passage begins in verse 17 and ends in verse 33. In verses 23–26 Paul is clearly pointing his readers to Jesus’s last Passover celebration (Luke 22:7-13), and he takes the Corinthians to task for desecrating this most serious of observances by their carnal behavior. They had turned the taking of the symbols of Christ’s sacrifice into a gluttonous and drunken affair.
He tells the Corinthians to take a good, hard look at themselves – to “examine” themselves – before taking of the bread and of the cup, lest they bring judgment upon themselves. Introspection coupled with repentance is a good thing. Not only is it a good thing, it’s a critical thing when preparing for Passover.
Finally, Paul makes a profound statement.
“If we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged” (verse 31). This indicates that if we are introspective about our faults, God will offer us forbearance and mercy because repentance should be the outcome of self-examination.
Of the lessons embedded in a study of 1 Corinthians, the one that relates to preparation for the festival in Chapter 11 appears to be a key pivot point. Putting physical leaven out of our diets and abodes is a good teaching exercise, but it is not the most important thing we can do. It’s more critical to take stock of our own walk with Christ and how much we (better said, “I”) need the broken body and the shed blood, not how much my brother or my neighbor or my enemy needs to repent. It makes no sense to purge out the physical leaven while leaving untouched the spiritual leaven. It is no accident that Paul includes in his letter that poetic passage of chapter 13 about what it means to love.
To prepare for our meeting with God, “judge ourselves truly” so that we will not be judged.

Choosing That Good Part (Sabbath Thoughts)
One year, Mary and I decided to deleaven our house in the most exhausting way possible: Extensive. Home. Remodeling.
We were hosting the Night to Be Much Remembered, so we wanted to liven up the room with a bit of paint. (Most of our walls and ceilings were a color I can only describe as Nicotine Yellow. Everything else – I’m talking doors, baseboards, trim, tile, switches,
everything – was a lovely shade of “I Heard This Goes With Everything” Beige.) The immediate problem: Our vintage 1967 home is filled with vintage 1967 lead paint. That alone wouldn’t be an issue (we could just paint right over it), but we’ve got a lot of cracks throughout the house thanks to a bad sheetrock taping job, so painting over it would just temporarily mask the underlying problem until it gets worse. Which it would.
As you can imagine, the next weeks were busy. I peeled away old tape, exposing seams, retaping, remudding, and retexturing – all things that were completely new and terrifying to me, and all things that I had to do after isolating the rooms with big plastic sheets so I didn’t spread lead dust throughout the house. And we (well, mostly I) figured, hey, since I’m going to be making a mess of things
anyway, now is probably a good time to install those can lights and fan we’ve been wanting. That meant time in the attic pulling wires and running circuits, then carving out space for new switches and making sure everything was doing what is was supposed to do. Then and only then would we be able to start painting. (Remember painting? The thing that launched this whole project?)
This was a construction project and Murphy’s Law is not to be mocked. Everything that could go wrong
did go wrong, sometimes multiple times. Plastic sheets fell down. Wires got stuck. I got halfway through remudding before realizing I hadn’t taped the seams yet. Trying to match knockdown texture was an impossible nightmare. The paint we bought from Lowe’s was the wrong tint. Half of our house was really only accessible by first walking outside, and it poured buckets all week long. I ran out of mud. I ran out of masking tape. I ran out of duct tape. I was doing a lot of this first thing after work and going until midnight, so I frequently ran out of stamina and patience, too. I was frazzled and stressed and angry and exhausted and just not handling anything particularly well.
I don’t think my experience is particularly unique. I think we’ve all had spurts of that insane kind of stressful business, the kind that asks you to give 120% and leaves you feeling burned out before you’ve even finished. In fact, it reminds me of a Bible story most of us know pretty well:
Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”
And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”
(Luke 10:38-42)
Martha was stressed. She was distracted with
much serving. She was hosting the miracle-working Teacher who had the whole countryside abuzz with everything He was saying and doing the most pre-eminent guest she had ever had under her roof.
And Mary was just sitting there.
Who knows what kind of spread Martha was trying to set up? Who knows how much effort what she was doing required? And then to look over in the middle of it all only to discover that her own sister had abandoned her to take care of everything on her own it was too much. She confronted Jesus with the injustice of it all: “Lord, do You not care?”
Christ’s response was gentle, but firm: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Jesus didn’t say that the dishes didn’t need to be done. He didn’t say that food and the comfort of others was unimportant, so don’t worry about it. He said that one thing was
needed. One thing was paramount. One thing was so important that it outweighed everything else, and Mary was busy doing it. Martha was worried and troubled about the things that didn’t matter as much; the things that had significance in the moment but were ultimately inconsequential.
How often are we coming to sit at the feet of the Master?
During the most frustrating moments of my recent remodeling adventure, Jesus could have told me the same thing He told Martha: “Jeremy, Jeremy, you are worried and troubled about many things.”
The project was important. Getting everything done before the holy days was important. Doing a good job was important.
But one thing was needed. While I was busy pushing myself until I was ready to collapse, I was spending less time sitting at Jesus’s feet and hearing what He had to say. I did my best to squeeze in a chapter of reading every night, but let’s be honest – speed-reading through a single chapter of Proverbs at midnight is a far cry from really engaging with the Word of God. It’s a lesson I keep learning and relearning – there is no substitute for taking the time to sit at the Master’s feet and listen. It doesn’t matter how busy, how hectic, how important, how urgent everything else might be – one thing is needed. That good part. And if we make the effort to choose it, God promises it won’t be taken away from us.
What I think is interesting about the account of Mary and Martha is that it just ends there. We don’t know how Martha responded. Did she go back to serving, still grumbling? Did she wrap up what she was doing as quickly as she could with a newly adjusted focus? Or did she drop everything and join her sister in listening to Christ’s words? We can’t be sure, but it’s fun to wonder about. I like to think the light bulb went off for Martha and she made time to sit down as soon as possible, but who knows? The lesson for us is the same, regardless:
Life is going to get busy, and it’s not always going to be with pointless distractions. There are days and weeks (and probably years) where our to-do list will be crammed full with important things that need to get done, sometimes through no fault of our own and sometimes through our own poor planning. But Jesus’s reply to Martha was recorded as a reminder for us – never forget what’s
most important.
Passover is coming up quickly. Our enemy would love to distract us with lots of to-dos – even ones that matter. One thing is needed. Choose that good part. Make time to sit at the Master’s feet.

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.

Preparing for Passover – what the Pharisees can teach us (Sabbath Thoughts)
During His time on earth, Jesus Christ had a lot of things to say about the Pharisees. They weren’t kind things.
Because they sat “in Moses’ seat” (Matthew 23:2), they were responsible for the spiritual guidance and development of the people they served – and yet, over and over, Jesus took them to task for their continual failure to perform that role. He warned His followers,
“They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen by men” (Matthew 23:4-5).
It’s pretty clear that Jesus didn’t intend for the Pharisees to be a modern-day Christian’s role model, but their example is important all the same. By taking a look at where they went wrong, we can learn a lot about how God expects us to approach our calling – a subject that’s especially relevant as we approach this coming Passover. So what can the Pharisees teach us about preparing for Passover?
1. It’s not about how others see you.
The Pharisees were masters of presentation. Christ said so Himself:
“All their works they do to be seen by men.” Everything they did was designed to draw attention to themselves – to show the world how impressive and pious they were. When they did something charitable, they would sound a trumpet “in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men” (Matthew 6:2). When they prayed, it was “standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men” (Matthew 6:5). And when they fasted, they did so “with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting” (Matthew 6:16).
In their desire to be seen and admired, the Pharisees began to value the motions more than the meaning
behind the motions. The point of doing a good deed is to help someone. The point of praying is to bring ourselves into communication with God. The point of fasting is to humble ourselves and bring ourselves in accordance with God’s will. None of those things require an audience.
In His most scalding oration, Christ compared the Pharisees to dishes which appear clean on the outside,
“but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence” (Matthew 23:25) and whitewashed tombs “which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27-28).
The Pharisees were so focused on how they looked in the eyes of their audience that they neglected the most important parts of themselves – the parts no one else could see. But Christ
could see through the whitewashed exterior, and what He saw was spiritual filth.
2. It’s not about your rules.
Another thing the Pharisees had a knack for was redefining what it means to obey God. When they “found fault” with Jesus because His disciples did not
“walk according to the tradition of the elders” (Mark 7:2,5), Jesus fired back, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition” (Mark 7:9).
The Pharisees had extra rules about what vows counted and what vows didn’t (Matthew 23:16-22), they had loopholes for how to avoid providing for their parents (Matthew 15:4-6), they had extra restrictions for what was acceptable on the Sabbath (Luke 6:6-11), along with “many other things which they have received and hold” (Mark 7:4). And they were
good at following those rules.
When Christ told the multitudes,
“For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven,” (Matthew 5:20), it must have sounded completely impossible. More righteous than the Pharisees? How could anyone do that? The Pharisees wrote the book on righteousness.
And that was the problem, really. The Pharisees were using their own book and their own rules when they should have been using God’s.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” Jesus told them. “For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23:23-24).
The Pharisees were so focused on doing things the way they thought they should be done, they completely neglected the things that really mattered to God. And that points us toward the most important pre-Passover lesson we can learn from the Pharisees:
3. It’s about who you are in the eyes of God
Jesus knew the hearts of the Pharisees – He knew what was important to them, He knew how they looked at themselves, and He knew how they looked at others.
Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise 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, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
(Luke 18:9-14)
The Pharisee came to God to brag about how great he was, but the tax collector was not quite so disillusioned. He knew who he was in the eyes of God, and he came before God accordingly. His prayer – a plea for mercy – carried far more weight with God than the prayer of the man who could only see his own greatness.
As we prepare for Passover, which one are we? Are we the Pharisee – or the tax collector? Are we focused on how righteous we appear to others and how we measure up to our own standards – or are we analyzing ourselves in light of
God’s Word and holding ourselves up to His standards?
It’s fine to be doing better in certain areas than we were last year. In fact, if we’re living the way we’re supposed to, we
ought to be better Christians than we were last year. God doesn’t expect us to ignore our strengths or pretend they don’t exist – but He also doesn’t expect us to be so focused on those strengths that we stop seeing where we need to improve.
It would be a mistake to look at the example of the Pharisees and just roll our eyes at all their foibles. Especially with Passover right around the corner, we have a lot to gain when we realize that the Pharisees’ mistakes can easily become
our mistakes. We can fall into the trap of putting on a show for others, we can start putting our own rulebook above God’s, and we can miss the weightier matters of the law in the process.
Instead, let’s make an effort to be more like the tax collector in Christ’s parable – to strive to see ourselves for who we are in the eyes of our Creator. He sees through our facades and down into the core of our being – and the more we learn to see ourselves the same way, the more opportunities we’ll have to grow. And the more of those opportunities we take advantage of, the better our upcoming Passover will be.
Turns out the Pharisees have a lot to teach us after all.

The Corona Virus Blog (The Word and The Way)
“Thus says YHVH of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, ‘Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to YHVH on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.’ (Jeremiah 29:4-7)
I know that verse can get played out, but there really isn’t a better one to say what needs to be said today. While we all want to enter the Kingdom of God desperately, we just aren’t there yet. We live in Babylon. In our case, we’ve been born in Babylon. We have never seen a land that keeps the commandments of YHVH and also holds to the testimony of Yeshua, His Messiah.
The end times scriptures speak of a system that will fall and cause enormous financial chaos. The scriptures also speak of plagues, wars, earthquakes, and various other calamities occurring before the great and terrible day of the Lord. It would be impossible to try to say the times we live in right now do not reflect these verses.
The Covid-19 virus has infected the entire world and caused the global economy to come to a screeching halt. Many of us have anticipated some sort of large calamity for quite a while. One where we are forced to stay home and watch the virus slowly spread across the country and world, while people fight for bathroom essentials, was not what any of us expected.
Since we are at home and communicating through social media, I wanted to write about some topics that are popular among believers like us. The first is that we do have a civic duty to our country, which is why I opened with Jeremiah. Whether you like it or not, whether our country is moral or not, we are a part of the countries in which we live and we have a civic duty to them and to our neighbors. While we have a much clearer understanding of the scriptures than most, we still share the same planet, air, water, and society as everybody else. And, just as the prophet said of literal Babylon, we need to seek the welfare of our nation, for in it we will have welfare.
So, along those lines, please obey the civil authorities. Please obey the social distancing and stay home orders. And even if your pastor decides to have services, don’t go. Watch at home. This virus is not some conspiracy. It has affected all races, creeds, and people that it has come into contact with. From the Far East to Europe to the Americas, people are getting really sick and dying. It is not an affront to YHVH to both pray for Him to heal and protect us, while also doing what our governments and the medical professionals tell us to do.
On the topic of conspiracy theories, as my friend Aaron likes to quote me, just stop it. However this virus started, whether being launched as a weapon or through the disgusting culinary practices of a province in China, it’s a real problem and the entire world is struggling to overcome it. Some of the conspiracy theories I have seen online have my head spinning. So, please, let’s just come together, follow the guidelines, try to stay healthy, and then pray diligently for the sick and for the caregivers and leave the fantasies to the confines of our heads.
Why, yes, other illnesses and abortion have killed more people. Bringing that up helps exactly how? This happens after every mass shooting, too, where people will say that more babies are aborted each day than the people who just got murdered. Brethren, there’s no benefit in bringing that up. It doesn’t bring the murdered back to life, nor does it stop one baby from being aborted. And in this case, we should be alarmed at how many deaths are attributed to influenza and lobby our government officials to do something about that, too. We should want everybody to live and have the chance to know Yeshua, our Messiah, and His Father whose name is blessed forever and ever.
Brethren, we’re believers, and we need to be examples to the rest of the world. Let’s be patient and wait this thing out. Let’s be glad to have time with our families. Let’s make sure to reach out to our brethren by phone and video chat and spend time really catching up and getting to know each other. Let’s also make sure the brethren have all they need and joyfully share if we find any in need. We have patience. We purge our houses of leavening each year, looking for the return of Yeshua with eagerness. We patiently eat that matza for seven days. We rest each Shabbat. We know how to do this. Let’s pray for our country and our neighbors to get healthy and stay healthy. Let’s pray for our economy to come back and for those affected to be protected in this storm. Shalom.

The Gospel According to Angry Birds (Sabbath Meditations)
I’m 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 tried playing the new-fangled games with my teenage son. He just laughed at me. By the time I figured 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 2 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.
One 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 1 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?

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.
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.

Our World: Ripe with Opportunities (Morning Companion)
Recently, within a matter of days, I came across two articles, both of which I took for some odd reason as personal rebukes, but also as words of encouragement.
The first is from
Metrovoice News, dated January 2, 2021 entitled Worldwide Bible Sales increase during the Pandemic. From the article:
“Although it’s hard to find positive news during the pandemic, it appears that more people are looking to God for answers. Lifeway Christian Resources, one of the world’s largest providers of Christian books and educational materials, said there was a significant increase in Bible sales from April through June.”
The second article is from National Review Online, dated January 10, 2021. We read this from the article entitled The Bible in a Year Is the Most Popular Podcast in the U.S.:
“What are we to make of the fact that
The Bible in a Year has now spent more than a week sitting atop the charts ahead of wildly popular, long-running news and crime podcasts such as The Daily by the New York Times, Crime Junkie, and The Ben Shapiro Show? It is hard to understand this popularity as anything but a blazing sign of hope.
So many of us are hungry for more than news, for rest within a world fraught with division. People long for clarity beyond the sound bites, for a reality that is meaningful and soul-filling, for an answer to the ache we feel for peace and stability amidst suffering and turmoil.”
Sometimes it can get overwhelming as the world feasts us on a diet of despair. In an atmosphere of fear-induced manipulation it’s easy to lose sight of a basic fact: in times of stress people either search upward for answers or around them for scapegoats.
The other day I walked down to the neighborhood Panera. With book in hand, I ordered my coffee, and headed to my favorite booth. It was already occupied by two young adults huddled over their Bibles, discussing scripture.
The seat I ended up choosing was situated in such a way that I could see people coming and going, and two more young adults, Bibles in hand, entered and seated themselves at another booth where they sat sat with Bibles open.
There is no way for me to know exactly what was going on in those conversations, but it did remind me of the beautiful statement that Jesus made to his disciples before dropping the seeds of the gospel in a spiritually hungry Samaritan village: “
Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.”
Opportunities abound during these days of despair, and I feel a bit rebuked because of it. As I state what I am about to write, I realize how obvious it sounds and how foolish it is to not recognize how obvious it is: the world is ripe for a message of hope, I have a message of hope, and therefore I should share the hope. By that I do not mean sending money elsewhere to do the work for me, although sending money is not necessarily a bad thing. I think instead of those ‘groups of two’ in those coffee shops, or the neighbors who offer unasked to pray for you in times of personal stress, or any of a dozen other simple ways to share in an open way one’s commitment to an authority that is higher than those on statehouse daises and executive mansions.
Opportunities abound in these days of despair, and it is time to seize the day. And rather than despairing over who is in the White House and who is in the outhouse, let’s remember that God is still on his throne.

Knowing the Heart (Sabbath Thoughts)
A wise man once said, “Know thyself” – but a wiser man said,
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
Ours is a culture that places a growing emphasis on doing what feels right, looking to the heart as the ultimate discerner between right and wrong. We fail to comprehend that the human heart is a labyrinth of self-deception, ignorance and ulterior motives. The point to take home from Jeremiah’s inspired rhetoric is that, even with the best of intentions, we cannot expect to navigate the corridors of our own hearts in their natural state.
Does this mean, then, that the heart is a lost cause? If the human heart is so unknowable, so vile, should our goal then be to keep ourselves away from it? Should we seek to quarantine it, lock it in a box and keep it hidden away?
On the contrary! The Bible reveals that not only is it
possible, it is essential for salvation that we come to know and understand the condition of our own hearts.
Jeremiah wasn’t unsure of the answer when he asked, “who can know it?” at the end of verse 9. His question was rhetorical, a set-up for God to respond in the very next sentence:
“I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings” (Jeremiah 17:10).
The disciples understood this when they prayed to God for guidance in replacing Judas after his betrayal of Christ and subsequent suicide. They began their prayer,
“You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all” (Acts 1:24). The Greek shows us that the disciples address God as the kardiognōstēs, literally “the Heart-Knower.” Our God possesses a perfect working knowledge of the state of every heart on the face of this planet, which includes yours and mine. The heart, then, is knowable – not by us, but by the God who searches it. Searching out and understanding my own heart is impossible for me … but not for the God who created me.
It’s an important distinction, although it might not immediately appear that way. Any discussion of the heart has to begin with the understanding that it is
God who opens our eyes to the state of our hearts, not us. Why is this important? Well, let’s look at a story.
Jesus Christ spoke a parable about two men who went to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a tax collector.
“The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess’” (Luke 18:11-12). In other words, the Pharisee’s approach was, “Hey God, I just wanted to say thanks for making me so awesome! It’s pretty great being flawless.”
The tax collector took a different approach. He,
“standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’” (Luke 18:13).
Christ adds that only one of these men “went down to his house justified”
(Luke 18:14) – because only one of these men had a decent understanding of the state of his own heart. The Pharisee had only ever seen his heart through his own biased eyes, and that deceitfully wicked heart told him that he was the pinnacle of piety. The tax collector saw his own heart through a different set of eyes: God’s. He saw that his lifestyle was in conflict with God’s standards, and he cried out for help. He went to his house justified, because he saw himself not as his heart told him he was, but as God told him he was. He saw problems that needed overcoming and sought mercy. The Pharisee failed to see the need for it. To request God’s mercy is to admit the need for that mercy, and that requires an honest look at our own hearts.
We can’t stop there, though. The life of a Christian does not culminate in admitting fault and obtaining forgiveness. That’s just the first step on the road to perfection. Thankfully, another story from the life of Christ makes apparent the next step in this struggle with our own hearts.
This story begins with a father – a father who, for years, had watched helplessly as his own son was tossed about in the clutches of demonic possession. Time and again, he was only able to watch as a fallen angel seized his child and sent him into convulsion as he foamed at the mouth and gnashed his teeth. He was powerless to help – until, one day, he heard the story of a miracle worker traveling from city to city in Israel, He and His disciples casting out demons and healing the sick wherever they went. What hope he must have had when he began to realize that these men had the power to save his son! … And how that hope must have been dashed to pieces when he found that the disciples were just as powerless as him to cast out his son’s demon. As a heated debate broke out between the disciples and some onlooking scribes, Christ arrived on the scene and asked for an explanation. The father explained why he had come and what Christ’s disciples had failed to do, adding that his son’s demon
“often … has thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us” (Mark 9:22).
The father’s request was also something of a challenge.
If You can do anything. It was the “if” of a man quickly losing hope that there was anything to be done for his son. It was the “if” of a man wondering whether the stories he’d heard were really true. It was the “if” of a man plagued with doubt.
Christ parried that challenge with His own. He knew the son’s father was struggling with doubt – and so He responds,
“If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes” (Mark 9:23, emphasis mine). The issue wasn’t whether or not Christ was capable; the issue was whether or not the father believed Him to be capable. The father’s response is one of the more heartfelt pleas in all of Scripture: “Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!’” (Mark 9:24).
The father could have lied. He could have replied, “Of course I believe!” But he didn’t. Christ’s statement led him to take an honest look at his own heart, and he reported what he saw – he had faith, but not enough. Here’s where he could have thrown in the towel; his heart wasn’t up to snuff and he knew it. Instead, though, he looks to Christ for help. He doesn’t say, “I have unbelief,” but, “
help my unbelief.” His plea, in essence, is, “I understand where I am – please help me get to where I need to be!”
That was enough for Christ to work with. With God’s help, he was able to see his shortcoming and
then sought to fix it. We haven’t reached the finishing line when God grants us the insight to see our own corrupt hearts, nor have we finished our race when we own up to our sins and obtain forgiveness. The rest of our journey (and arguably the hardest part!) is, with the help of God, coming to a deeper understanding of those sins and flaws, overcoming them, and replacing them with Godly character. In other words, we begin the Christian journey by allowing God to show us the truth about the darkness within our own heart – we spend the rest of the journey cleaning that heart up.
The heart of a converted, seasoned Christian shouldn’t fit the description given in Jeremiah 17:9. If, after years of striving to draw close to God and replicate His character, we haven’t allowed God to open our eyes to our own condition, we’re missing an integral piece of the puzzle. If, after all that time, our hearts can still be described as “desperately wicked” and “deceitful above all things,” then
we’re doing something horribly wrong. We must continually seek to evaluate the condition of our heart through God’s eyes (lest we fall into the same trap as the Pharisee from the parable), praying always:
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.
(Psalm 139:23-24)
Because that’s what God’s looking for – sons and daughters who keep close tabs on the condition of their hearts, seeking always to find and root out anything contrary to God’s way of life.
For thus says the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, And to revive the heart of the contrite ones. (Isaiah 57:15)

A Crisis of Ignorance (World Watch)
Many people have experienced incidents of rank ignorance, stupidity, or incompetence in the modern world. Everyone seems to have a tale of young cashiers being unable to calculate the amount of change to return to a customer.
The Internet is full of such stories. Man-on-the-street video interviews also reveal ignorance of common historical facts that college students should know but do not. Regrettably, formal surveys back up the anecdotal evidence these videos supply. Writes Max Boot in a February 20, 2019,
Washington Post editorial, “Americans’ ignorance of history is a national scandal” :
A survey by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni found that “more Americans could identify Michael Jackson as the composer of ‘Beat It’ and ‘Billie Jean’ than could identify the Bill of Rights as a body of amendments to the U.S. Constitution,” “more than a third did not know the century in which the American Revolution took place,” and “half of the respondents believed the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation or the War of 1812 were before the American Revolution.” Oh, and “more than 50 percent of respondents attributed the quote, ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs’ to either Thomas Paine, George Washington or Barack Obama.” [The correct answer is Karl Marx.]
Even the formidable bastion of science – to many secular minds, the true savior of humanity – has fallen prey to society’s diminishing working knowledge. A classic example is the “protester” who marches against the evils of “dihydrogen monoxide,” decrying its terrible corrosive abilities, its major role in acid rain and erosion, and its ability to suffocate children and even adults with just a small amount. Only later are gullible petition signers informed that they had advocated for the banning of water!
Over the past few decades, political debates have exposed willful ignorance of scientific facts. To push feminism, progressives have claimed that women are just as strong and physically capable as men, for instance, as soldiers in the military. Yet, while a few women can keep up with the average man, it is demonstrable that most women lag far behind in strength and endurance. The military has had to lower its test standards for female soldiers.
Liberals have shown similar deliberate obfuscation of biological reality in claiming there are scores of genders (currently 112!) when God says He created only two, male and female (Genesis 1:27). Further, the present response of “experts” to the coronavirus pandemic demonstrates a marked disdain for what doctors and scientists have learned about drug efficacy, quarantine, mask use, herd immunity, and the virulence of the virus itself, all to push a political agenda. People seem to trust whatever experts claim. Despite the United States supposedly boasting the world’s second-best education system, it consistently scores lower than many other countries in math and science benchmarks. The 2018
Business Insider rankings rated the U.S.A. as 38th in math scores and 24th in science. In addition, most of the large school systems have lowered standards dramatically in grammar, literature, and history for reasons of “fairness.” Compared to international standards, the nation’s education rankings have fallen for the past three decades.
Biblical literacy has plummeted drastically too, especially among younger people. The 2019 Barna State of the Bible survey found that about half of Millennials (the youngest generation surveyed) believe the Bible’s teachings oppress the LGBT community, women, and certain races. Sixty percent of them assert that the nation would be about the same or better off without the Bible.
Despite keeping Christmas every year, just over half of respondents could correctly name Bethlehem as Jesus’s birthplace (while 20% said Jerusalem, and 10% said they did not know). Only half of Christians can name all four of the gospels, and the same percentage think the Golden Rule is one of the Ten Commandments (only about 40% of American adults can name just five of them). George Barna’s assessment of his and other survey results: “The Christian body in America is immersed in a crisis of biblical illiteracy.”
God says in Hosea 4:6,
“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.”
He speaks specifically of “knowledge of God” (verse 1), but a lack of general knowledge causes similar problems. Ignorance is truly a curse; it is the ultimate cause of many misunderstandings, misguided decisions, marred relationships, and disastrous wars. Many a tombstone could have been inscribed with the epitaph, “If only I had known …” Ignorance – especially ignorance of God and His Word – will one day spell disaster for this nation.
God says in Proverbs 1:29-32, speaking as Wisdom:
Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD, they would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their own way … For the turning away [waywardness, margin] of the simple will slay them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them.
Solomon later writes, “Wise people store up knowledge” (Proverbs 10:14). We could solve many of our nations’ ills by banishing the cloud of ignorance – feigned and real – that befogs so many of our fellow citizens’ minds. It is not too late, but is it too much to hope for?

Your First Steps (Morning Companion)
You don’t remember this day, but you were scared. You gripped the finger that steadied you. You paused. You paused again. Then you let go. Your foot shot out. Then the other foot. The room exploded in applause at your awkward, determined wobbling. Waiting arms stretched before you, calling you. Life had opened up in a way you had never experienced before. Once you crawled, but now you walked. (From
New Thing, by Lisa Supp)
Part 1: Walking in the Way
How do you face scary situations?
Imagine, if you will, a mob of would-be murderers mistakenly leaving you for dead. Would you walk back into the same crowd again?
In Acts 14 Barnabas and Paul visit the three cities of Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. In the city of Lystra, after they heal a lame man, the people of that superstitious town conclude that the gods have come among them. But they are a fickle people, and after provocateurs enter the city and manipulate the people’s emotions, the people flip flop from attempting to worship Paul to stoning, leaving him for dead.
But he wasn’t dead. He recovered, and in verse 20 Paul does a brave thing. “He rose up and walked back into the city.” He goes right back into the fire. Then, after travelling to the city of Derbe to preach there, they returned again to Lystra where the attempted murder took place, reminding the people that “we must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (verse 21-22). Dealing with fear means facing what is feared. That’s what Paul did: he faced the fear. While it might seem that Paul was fearless, he himself said otherwise. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians about his emotional state when he visited their city, he said he was with them “in weakness, in fear, and much trembling” (1 Corinthians 2:3). About his ministry in Corinth, Luke tells us in Acts that Paul needed a direct vision from Christ himself as encouragement to continue his work. “Do not be afraid but speak out, and do not keep silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you, for I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:8-10). It seems that Paul still carried with him trauma from his Lystra experience.
Good soldiers must act under extreme pressure, often by instinct and often without prior deliberation. The same is true for athletes, and it’s also true for our daily trials. To succeed in trying situations advance preparation is crucial. A good soldier – or a good ballplayer – must train and practice daily in order to be prepared for the challenges that are sure to happen. That means repetition and habit in how one swings the bat, or the instinct to find cover when the bullets fly, or the wisdom to know when to speak and when to remain silent.
All of that means taking the right first steps – baby steps, so to speak – which are essential before we can run the race, or walk on stage to face the crowd, or stand before an incited mob. For us the training and preparation are spiritual in nature. Use the spiritual tools available to us. If you wonder what those tools are, spend a little time unpacking the instructions from the apostles. Follow these links and read the scriptures.
2 Corinthians 10:3-5    Ephesians 6:10-18     2 Peter 1:5-8
And remember: when you took your first steps, you were probably scared and certainly wobbly. You fell a few times too, but you always got up and tried again.
Part 2: Walking in the Wrong Way
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).
We saw how Paul dealt with a fearful situation: he picked himself up from the ground and faced his fear in faith. We also saw that he was not immune to weakness, fear, and much trembling (1 Corinthians 2:3). What happens when we are reactive rather than proactive toward fearful situations? Paul gives us a hint in that passage from 2 Timothy 1, where he contrasts a spirit of fear with the workings of the Spirit of God.
The spirit of fear saps our spiritual power, rendering the Holy Spirit ineffective. The spirit of fear leads to anger and hate, never to love.
The spirit of fear can cause us to act from the panic of irrational thoughts and actions, not from a sound mind.
When King Saul disobeyed a direct command out of fear of the people rather than the fear of God (1 Samuel 15:24), he effectively sacrificed his kingdom. When the reconnaissance mission brought back a fear-filled report about the Promised Land, the people’s fear caused them to panic, leading to a forty year delay in their inheritance.
When Pilate let the corrupt religious leaders have their way out of fear for his own position, an innocent Man was put to death.
Jesus once told a parable known as the parable of the ten pounds (Luke 19:12-27). A rich man gave ten servants one pound each with instructions to invest the money. One of the servants does nothing with his pound, wrapping it safely in a piece of cloth so that nothing could scratch the precious metal. He admits that his fear had frozen him in place. He was afraid to step out and take a risk, opting instead to cocoon himself in a veil of false security. The rich nobleman was not pleased.
I wonder sometimes, not about the three servants that Jesus addressed — the one returning ten pounds, the one who returned five, and the last one who returned the original investment only.
I wonder about the other seven that seem to be ignored. Is it possible that these seven were willing to step out, took a risk, but lost the entire investment? And is it possible that the rich nobleman doesn’t condemn them because at least they weren’t afraid to try?
Succumbing to the spirit of fear can freeze you in place. Or it can cause you to make irrational, dangerous decisions and do irrational, dangerous things. The spirit of fear can lead to anger and hate. That is the wrong way to walk. The brave ones are those who, when they fall, rise to their feet and keep going forward in faith. As John F. Kennedy once said, “Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be better men.”

The Culture of Disposability (Sabbath Thoughts)
I know a couple who own a piece of furniture from the Civil War.
It was a huge milestone when our Walmart-brand cabinet survived an entire year of use without disintegrating into a heap of pressboard and plastic hardware. I wanted to post about it on Facebook. Meanwhile, there are pieces of furniture out there that have been in service for over 150 years. That boggles my mind. I can’t begin to imagine a market offering wares designed to last for one and a half centuries. I’m impressed by anything that lasts for one and a half decades – centuries isn’t even on my radar. Our global marketplace is optimized to deliver cheap, disposable goods. When your $10 toaster breaks, it’s not the worst thing in the world – after all, it was only $10. So we throw it away and buy a new one.
We’re used to things breaking. A lot of things are even
designed to break. It’s called “planned obsolescence.” Products with planned obsolescence are engineered with a limited lifespan, at the end of which they are designed to either break down or become useless. There are a couple reasons for this. The first and most obvious: If you have to replace your printer every couple of years, HP makes a much bigger profit than if you’re only buying ink for the rest of your life.
The second reason is a little less obvious: The average consumer puts price above quality, so the average company is perpetually cutting corners to offer lower and lower prices. The $10 toaster breaks so often simply because it’s a $10 toaster, built with the cheapest components available. Quality costs more, and in the eyes of most consumers, that quality isn’t worth the extra investment.
So instead we buy the cheapest things, expecting them to break, usually within the decade. Computers. Appliances. Cars. Houses, even. It’s frustrating when it happens, but never really unexpected. And when it does happen (with the possible exception of houses), we pitch it out and get a new one.
But it doesn’t stop there. That outlook is infectious. It’s not just the toaster that’s replaceable, but our friendships, too. Our commitments. Our values. Our beliefs. Our marriages. When they stop performing the way we want, we swap them out for the latest model. Problem solved … until, of course, that model breaks, and the one after that, and the one after that …
But hey, that’s just the way it works. You can only get so much mileage out of a toaster, right?
I think it’s hard to understand God’s way of life when we’re looking at it through the lens of our culture of disposability. Hard-wired into that culture is the idea that everything
– everything – can be discarded, replaced, or traded in for something better. Nothing is designed to last. Not really.
Civil War-era furniture doesn’t mesh well with that culture. Neither do 50-year anniversaries (Proverbs 5:18). Neither does honoring your word, even when it means taking a hit (Psalm 15:4). The culture of disposability does not allow for things that never need disposing.
And yet, with God, that’s exactly what we get. He offers us “an everlasting covenant” (Ezekiel 16:60) we can count on, because He “is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). While the world is chasing after the latest and greatest fads, God reassures us, “I am the Lord, I do not change” (Malachi 3:6). And when the heavens and the earth have fulfilled their purpose:
They will perish, but You will endure.
Yes, they will all grow old like a garment;
Like a cloak You will change them, and they will be changed.
But You are the same, And Your years will have no end.
The children of Your servants will continue,
And their descendants will be established before You.
(Psalm 102:26-28)
What an absolutely incredible picture. With the backdrop of a world busy tugging at an unraveling thread, God paints us a picture of permanence. Of belonging. Of eternity.
In our physical world, things do end. Even a $500 toaster, built with the finest materials known to man, is going to stop working eventually. But we live in a world very much built around that obsolescence, designed to take advantage of it and turn it into a business model – a business model that can so easily color the way we look at everything in our lives, from our relationships to our religion.
But God does not change – and He offers us a way of life that is dependable, sustainable, and as unchanging as He is. In the middle of the world’s turbulence, we can have peace and calm, knowing we are anchored on a Rock that cannot be moved.
In the ultimate stroke of poetic justice, our disposable culture cannot last forever. One day, it must end – but God, along with His saints and His perfect way of life, will outlast it all.
Even furniture from the Civil War.

The Goebbels Diaries 1942-1943 (Morning Companion)
After World War II some charred remains of a manuscript were unearthed, which turned out to be portions of the diary of Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s chief propagandist. Goebbels had kept extensive diaries of his activities as a Nazi operative from 1923 until he ended his life in 1945. For many years the only evidence of the diaries was this one charred document, which was published in 1948 after being translated into English by Louis P. Lochner. When the Soviet Union fell in the 1990s and their archives were opened to the public, some researchers discovered glass plates that contained the majority of his work from 1923-1945 and had been taken as war booty to Moscow.
Some years ago I picked up a copy of Lochner’s translation of the 1942-1943 portion at a used book store for $4. If Amazon is any guide, this volume turned out to be one of my best investments. But it sat on my bookshelf unread for many years.
As of this week it is no longer unread. Goebbels writings are fascinating, and my impression of the man I will here share with you. Ten points, not all of which are surprising, but they are a word of caution to those of us who want to avoid the devices of the devil.
1. Control the flow of information and tell people what the information means. Don’t give them “just the facts”. They can’t be trusted to figure things out for themselves.
2. Most of the Nazis hated the churches. Despite today’s propaganda, they were not Christians, but as good utilitarians they attempted to use the churches as pawns to advance their own agenda. Goebbels complained about the churches continually and promised they would be dealt with after the war.
3. He practiced unmitigated hero worship of Adolph Hitler.
4. He had a hungry ego that needed to be continually fed.
5. He had a lust for power, striving to enlarge his fiefdom continually.
6. He never admitted to making any mistakes. When things went wrong, it was always someone else’s fault.
7. He loved being in the spotlight and the applause that followed. Not once in his accounts of his speeches and articles did he, in his own mind, ever do a bad job.
8. He was delusional about winning the war even when the tide had clearly turned against them.
9. He was cynical. His efforts to provide food and shelter to hungry and homeless Germans were not from a motive of humanitarianism, but from a motive of keeping them quiet.
10. He accused his enemies of what he was guilty of. He projected on to Churchill and others his own motives.
One thing Goebbels got right: He saw Bolshevism for what it is, but even that was skewed by his hatred of the Jews. He firmly believed that the Jews were the real power behind the Soviet Union while at the same time believing the Jews were the real power behind the British and Americans. That conundrum did not seem to bother him. I’m sure he had some way to rationalize the inherent contradiction — without proof, of course.
Delusional, cynical, egotistical, hate-filled – it’s all there. It’s also something we can all be guilty of – or manipulated by – if we’re not careful.

You Get What You Look For (New Church Lady)
Proverbs 11:27 [RSV] He who diligently seeks good seeks favor, but evil comes to him who searches for it.
There is an old rock song by the Rolling Stones that says, “You can’t always get what you want, But if you try sometimes you might find, you get what you need.”
Proverbs 11:27 tells me just the opposite. It says that I will get what I look for, whether that is seeking good or searching for evil.
Looking at the definitions of the Hebrew words translated seek and search gives us some additional insight. The word translated “seeks” in the phrase “seeks favor” means to seek early, earnestly or diligently.
But the word translated “searches”, speaking of the one searching for evil, means “to tread or beat a path, or frequent.” This paints a better picture of what is going on here. The person seeking evil isn’t just casually looking around to see if there is any bad to be had – he is really working at it – going again and again to the places when you can find evil to the point of wearing down a path toward it.
Proverbs 11:27 is describing someone whose goal and focus is to find evil or, as it is translated in the King James Version: “mischief.” Trouble isn’t finding this person, he is doing his best to find it.
But, what about the early part of the verse, “He who diligently seeks good; seeks favor?” What do the root words tell us about this person’s efforts?
The Hebrew word translated “diligently seeks” means “to be up early at a task.” The word translated “procures” means “searches after, strives for” and the word translated “favor” means “to be pleasing, acceptable, approved.” Perhaps you, like me, are up early in the day on most days, spending time searching for what is pleasing or acceptable to God by praying or reading the Bible or meditating on God’s word.
It’s okay if you do this late in the day instead. The implication is that it is a priority to this person to seek to be pleasing or approved in the same way that the other person is seeking mischief or evil.
This Proverb reminds me of a folk tale that goes like this:
A traveler came upon an old farmer hoeing in his field beside the road. Eager to rest his feet, the wanderer hailed the countryman, who seemed happy enough to straighten his back and talk for a moment.
“What sort of people live in the next town?” asked the stranger.
“What were the people like where you’ve come from?” replied the farmer, answering the question with another question.
“They were a bad lot. Troublemakers all, and lazy too. The most selfish people in the world, and not a one of them to be trusted. I’m happy to be leaving the scoundrels.”
“Is that so?” replied the old farmer. “Well, I’m afraid that you’ll find the same sort in the next town.”
Disappointed, the traveler trudged on his way, and the farmer returned to his work.
Some time later another stranger, coming from the same direction, hailed the farmer, and he stopped to talk. “What sort of people live in the next town?” he asked.
“What were the people like where you’ve come from?” replied the farmer once again.
“They were the best people in the world. Hard working, honest, and friendly. I’m sorry to be leaving them.”
“Fear not,” said the farmer. “You’ll find the same sort in the next town.” Whether you seek to do good, or seek to find good in people, you will succeed. Whether you seek to do evil, or seek to find bad in people, you will succeed.
When it comes to wanting favor or wanting mischief, finding good in others or seeing them as bad, sorry Mr. Jagger, you CAN get want you want. In fact, you can count on it.

For God Still Loves the World (Sabbath Thoughts)
I saw this phrase on the December 2020 cover of Christianity Today. A giant, cosmic hand reaches out toward a world wrapped in darkness, drifting alone in the starry expanse. The phrase floats along the curvature of our little planet, printed in letters so tiny you have to lean in to read them: “For God Still Loves the World.”
The cover was striking. So was the phrase.
They’ve both stayed with me, but the words especially have been floating around my head – probably because of the way they contrast with John 3:16, arguably the most well-known scripture of all time:
“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” (John 3:16).
That’s such a beautiful verse. We might roll our eyes at it when we see it overused or emphasized to the exclusion of all other context, but it doesn’t change the fact that these words contain a truly incredible truth:
loved the world. The world full of wayward sinners and wicked miscreants, the world where even His own chosen people had (again) lost sight of what mattered – He looked at that world and loved it enough to send His Son to die in a truly excruciating way, all so that the doors of salvation could be opened to a planet full of people who didn’t deserve it. Who couldn’t deserve it, not in a million billion years.
And His Son loved the world enough to agree to the plan and follow through. But the problem with that verse (I speak as a fool) is that it’s in the past tense. Of course it is. It has to be – it’s talking about an event in the past. The real problem – not with the verse, but with the way we might be inclined to read it – is that it’s easy to look at
God’s love as past tense.
“God so
loved the world.” Then, but not now. Once upon a time.
I guess that’s why the phrase stuck with me the way it did.
For God still loves the world. As if to say, “He’d do it all over again if He needed to.”
Even now. Even today. For any of us.
But He
doesn’t need to do it over again, and that’s a beautiful thing, too.
Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.
For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfected forever.
(Hebrews 7:25-28)
The sacrifice that tore the veil to the Most Holy Place in half two thousand years ago is the same sacrifice that covers our sins today and lets us run our race to the Kingdom.
But it’s bigger than just our sins. It’s bigger than just the relative handful around the world who know God and who obey Him.
“And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:2).
The whole world doesn’t know or understand that yet. It doesn’t know
how to accept that propitiation or even why it needs it. But it will. In time, it will.
In time,
“Ten men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you’” (Zechariah 8:23).
In time, everyone will come to understand that the God who so loved the world is the God who
still loves the world, and that from the dawn of time itself, He has been working toward the completion of His plan to transform flesh and blood humans into His sons and daughters, made fully and completely into His likeness, ready to explore the depths of eternity as His spiritual family.
The world is a confused and angry place right now. A lot of people are doing a lot of things they will one day look back on in shame and disgust. It’s hard, knowing the truth, not to be angry at so many of the things that are happening.
It’s hard not to be angry at the
people doing those things, too. But maybe not wise. Wisdom asks us to be discerning about where our anger is directed. Yes, be angry at the sins. Be angry at how the beauty of God’s creation has been corrupted and trampled and perverted into a deformed husk of what it was intended to be. Be angry that our adversary the devil has convinced billions upon billions to heap pain and misery and suffering upon their own heads while believing they are doing something good and noble.
Be angry at all that, but never forget that God so loved the world.
That God
still loves the world.

The Cornerstone of our Studies (Morning Companion)
The law is holy, just, and good, wrote Paul.
James calls the law the perfect law of liberty.
The Israelites were to keep the law in their hearts, teach it to their children, and bind them to their hands and heads, symbolizing how the law should inform our passions, our actions, and our thoughts.
The law is so important that it will be a central part of reforming the world when the Messianic Kingdom comes to the earth. At the same time it is so antithetical to this world’s evil that powerful personages will seek to replace it.
The first five books of the Bible, often referred to as the Torah (Torah = Hebrew for “instruction” or “law”) is thus held in high esteem by Christians and Jews alike. If all of that is true — if the Torah is holy, just, and good, and if so many accept it as divinely inspired — it is curious that so many view the Torah in different ways.
On one extreme some say that Christians are no longer under the law but under grace, and therefore we no longer need to live under the law.
On the other extreme, some say that both Christians and Jews should strive to fulfill the law to the letter except for the animal sacrifices which cannot be performed in the absence of the Temple. Living the law to the full would include the wearing of tassels, the use of prayer shawls, and the use of Hebrew names for God.
Others make other differentiations, asserting that all the laws were done away, but some were reintroduced in the New Testament under a new covenant, and that any law not specifically repeated in the New Testament is not necessary for Christians to keep.
Why the many different perspectives on this? Why so many interpretations? Allow me to state a principle of Scripture: the five books of the Torah, the books from Genesis to Deuteronomy, are an integral part of the Word of God. Believers in the God of Israel do not dispute this. The dispute is in how the law should taught and applied. Which Rabbi or which text should be the guide to proper application of the law? Is it Hillel? Is it Maimonides? Is it the Talmud? Is it Billy Graham, or the Pope, or any other religious preacher?
Many of these teachers have some value and insight, but none would claim to be the final authority.
I have a simple suggestion for the proper interpretation of the five Books of the Law. A certain chief rabbi can claim this mantle, the one who taught with authority about the Torah. He’s the one who said, Do not think that I have come to destroy the law or the prophets. I have not come to destroy but to fulfill.
This is the man who is figuratively referred to as the chief cornerstone of the foundation of his apostles and the prophets. They are those interpret the law, and he is the Rabbi, the master teacher of us all.
Those first five books of the Bible have the words of life. They are best understood in light of the first four books of the New Testament, the gospels, without neglecting the additional teachings of the apostles found in Acts and their letters to the churches. They teach us what the law is really all about.
It’s about what happens in our hearts.
It’s about loving God and neighbor.
It’s about forgiveness.
It’s more than merely keeping it in the letter, although that is important too.
It’s about having the law in our hearts.
Read the Sermon on the Mount (Chapters 5, 6, and 7 in Matthew’s gospel), where hatred is equated with murder and lust with adulter.
The law as Jesus taught it requires a radical transformation of our hearts, something well beyond a technical obedience to the literal commands of the Torah.
Jesus is our chief rabbi. Are you up to his radical challenge?

Political Science (World Watch)
The modern age of man owes much to the efforts and achievements of the scientific community. With little concern for political fealty, most scientists promote a search for truth through an unadulterated examination of the physical world around us
asking and answering critical questions and expanding our vision for the welfare of all. Whether we consider the formal sciences, including mathematics and statistics, or the natural sciences, such as physics, chemistry, and biology, or even the social sciences like economics, sociology, and psychology, humanity is enormously more productive and our world infinitely more habitable, predictable, and enjoyable due to the advances brought about by these disciplines.
For generations, mathematicians, engineers, physicists, sociologists, and physicians enjoyed venerated roles in society and a certain mutual admiration within their professional community, friendly rivalries notwithstanding. While there have always been outliers who have used science for nefarious purposes or unseemly personal gain, particularly in the corporate environment, most practitioners prefer to play a benevolent role in society. Today, however, rather than expanding our knowledge, science is increasingly called upon to narrow, manipulate, or diminish our vision to promote a political agenda. Gone is the persistent questioning
real scientific inquiry that characterizes honest examination of any subject. For instance: Is the transgender lifestyle healthy and normal?
Can same-sex parents raise emotionally healthy children?
Does carbon provide a relevant metric for measuring man’s impact on the climate?
Should we wear masks and lock down our society to combat COVID-19? These pertinent questions should inspire incessant and transparent investigation until theory and opinion must give way to observable, empirical, evidence-based facts. Instead, scientific inquiry yields to politically correct emotional appeals, snappy slogans, and factoids while bureaucrats yammer on about “settled science”. Worse, those scientists who dare to question the popular narrative, who appropriately insist upon further scientific inquiry, are experiencing vicious, verbal assaults upon their professional reputations, threats to their livelihoods and even their lives, from within and without the scientific community, intimidating them to compel their silence or acquiescence.
Oxford professor and epidemiologist, Sunetra Gupta, a principal signer of the Great Barrington Declaration, a document critical of the COVID-19 lockdowns, recently commented on the venomous nature of the criticism she received for daring to question medical orthodoxy:
“I expected debate and disagreement about our ideas … but I was utterly unprepared for the onslaught of insults, personal criticism, intimidation, and threats that met our proposal.”
Science is being hijacked, and the scientific community is suffering irreversible harm to something it cannot afford to lose: credibility.
Vernon R. Cupps, Ph.D., writes in his 2014 article, Acts and Facts:
“Observation and reproducible experimentation are the foundations of science and as such are the established facts upon which the various hypotheses, theories, and natural laws rest. To portray any hypothesis or theory as fact is a clear misapplication of the scientific method. Hypotheses must be verifiable or falsifiable through observation and reproducible experimentation to be considered a legitimate participant in the scientific method.”
When political agendas and corporate profits are “blended” with science, the result is not scientific and often injurious, not only to society at large but also to the honest practitioner.
Different scientific ideas regarding the treatment and support of transgender persons, along with the ongoing debates over same-sex parenting, climate change, and the coronavirus pandemic, are rife with contention but little political will for truth-based resolution. Scientific credibility
and public trust
is being undermined, while the level of vitriol is leading to societal disorder. People are hitting the streets armed with woefully incomplete or deliberately inaccurate science to back their polemical invective.
In his article, “Unsettled Science,” published in, October 11, 2020, Donald R. McClarey declares:
Science is a method for gathering facts.
That much which is claimed to be science in the contemporary world is politicized junk.
Elected officials will often claim “because science” in order to defend indefensible actions.
That scientists are no more immune to having their judgment swayed by political beliefs than any of the rest of us.
Science is useful; Scientism is a malign superstition.
The outlook remains bleak for a godless world that allows its leadership to hijack, politicize, and eliminate authentic scientific inquiry into the manifold questions of our physical existence. When mankind refuses to ask the right questions or to consider even the most obvious answers and solutions because they conflict with political will, they become “futile in their thoughts and their foolish hearts [are] darkened. Professing to be wise, they [become] fools.” (Romans 1:21-22)

2021 Doesn’t Care What You Want (Sabbath Thoughts)
It’s easy to make a big deal about that transition from one calendar year to the next. It feels like such a weighty moment
a new year, another 365 days around the sun, another milestone in the history of our lives. And in those ways, it is a big deal. It is a weighty moment especially when people are ready to be done with a particular year. Like, say, 2020.
And that’s where the absurdity sets in. We talk about the calendar year as if it’s the one responsible for everything that’s going on
as if this year’s forest fires, COVID-19 pandemic, heightened racial tensions, and deepening political divide are all the fault of 2020. As if, at 12:00 AM on January 1, 2021, the universe is going to stop and say, “Oh no, it’s a new year! Time to let up on the crazy!”
It doesn’t work like that. We
know it doesn’t work like that. 2021 doesn’t care what you want, because 2021 cannot care what you want. It’s an arbitrary division in our yearly cycle around the sun. It couldn’t change the state of world affairs even if it wanted to. So why do we talk about it like it will? Why do we say we’re “so done with 2020” or we “can’t wait for 2020 to be over”? Forests will still burn in 2021. We’re still going to feel the impact of our global response to the coronavirus in 2021. The worsening relations between blacks and whites will not suddenly improve as we head into 2021. And the vast, vast chasm between those on the right and the left ends of the political spectrum will absolutely not be bridged by hanging a new calendar on the wall.
I’m taking the time to write this increasingly depressing post to make sure that we, as Christians, aren’t looking to 2021 as the Get Out of Jail Free card that it isn’t. The problem with 2020 isn’t the Gregorian calendar. We’re living in a world that has largely rejected God (or else largely misunderstands Him), and what we’re seeing play out on the world scene is very much a reflection of that. Unless the world starts seeing God in a very different light between 11:59 PM on December 31, 2020 and 12:00 AM on January 1, 2021, I don’t think we can count on 2021 to bring any significant improvements to the state of the world. I think we should instead be expecting another verse of the same song the human race has been singing for 6,000 or so years.
Except … there’s one thing that should change in 2021 … us.
Not because it’s 2021, but because God’s people are called to constantly be examining (and re-examining) ourselves. What do we believe? Why do we believe it? And
are we putting it into practice? Last year’s news items have given us plenty opportunities to ask ourselves, “How does God view this situation? How would Jesus respond to it if He were here? Am I reacting to this with my human nature, or am I taking the time to analyze things from a Godly perspective? How should mercy, justice, faith, patience, righteousness, and love change how I approach this?”
I suspect this year will present us with even more opportunities to ask those questions. Let’s make it our goal to go into 2021 answering those questions with increasing scrutiny and honesty.
2021 doesn’t care what you want. But God does care what you’ll do with 2021.

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.
Whom 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 where 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
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 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 had a glimpse 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.

The Secret to a Pure Language (Sabbath Thoughts)
I love words. That’s a good thing for a writer to be able to say, but what I mean is, I love what you can
do with words.
Here’s an example. If I told you, “Hank gave me five dollars,” what information would that give you? Well, you’d know that someone named Hank had five dollars and then gave it to me.
But what happens if I start putting emphasis on different words? If I say, “
Hank gave me five dollars,” suddenly there’s a lot more information in that sentence. I’m telling you that what I consider noteworthy is the person who gave me the money. Is it because he’s stingy? Is it because I was expecting the five dollars to come through someone else? You’d need a little more context to be sure, but you know I’m pointing your attention in a certain direction. If I tell you, “Hank gave me five dollars,” you might surmise that I’m shocked Hank willingly parted with his money. Or if I say, “Hank gave me five dollars,” maybe the point of the sentence is to highlight that Hank didn’t give you five dollars. I can do that with every word in that sentence, and it changes the message every time.
Then there’s punctuation. “Hank gave
me five dollars?” is a totally different sentiment than, “Hank gave me five dollars!” And if I add in quotation marks, I can tell you that the words I’m using don’t actually convey the whole picture. “Hank ‘gave’ me five dollars” implies that the money was really a loan and not a gift, or else it came with some unwelcome terms and conditions.
Sometimes, we can use words to communicate even more than we’re actually saying, but other times, it turns out the words we’re looking for … just aren’t there. When that happens, we run into something called “lexical gaps”
words that could exist in our language, but don’t.
Let me paint you a scene. You’re in a cozy little cabin in Colorado. You’re in a chair, comfortably wrapped in a blanket, sipping hot cocoa and staring out the window as snow gently drifts through the frosty, moonlit air. What’s going on outside is beautiful, absolutely gorgeous. But you don’t want to be out in it. What do you call it?
There isn’t a word for it in English, but you probably know that feeling I’m describing. It’s a concept, it’s a
thing, that we lack a word to properly describe. In English, it’s a lexical gap.
But not in Icelandic. In Iceland, they have a word for it.
Gluggaveður. It roughly translates to “window-weather” any kind of weather that’s beautiful to look at through a window, but miserable to be out in.
Other languages are great for showing us are lexical gaps. What do you call an overly-inquisitive person who asks too many questions? In English, we’d call him… “an overly-inquisitive person who asks too many questions.” In Russian, you’d just call him a
What about when your teeth start chattering uncontrollably, either because of the cold or out of anger? The Persians have a word for it: zhaghzhagh.
When you run your hand through the hair of someone you love, the Portuguese call that cafuné. And then there are big, complicated feelings. Like longing to return home, but knowing it’s impossible, because your memory of home isn’t the home that exists in reality or maybe it never really existed at all. The Welsh call that hiraeth.
Like I said. I love words. So it shouldn’t surprise you that, for a long time, I’ve been fascinated by the prophecy in Zephaniah where God promises to “restore to the peoples a pure language” (Zephaniah 3:9).
I find the idea of a
pure language intriguing. What does that mean? How would it work?
We just explored a handful of things that words can do, but that’s the tip of the iceberg. With the right words in the right combination, you can encourage someone, make them laugh, offer them a new perspective, help them understand something confusing, repair a relationship, and inspire them to overcome tremendous odds.
But there’s a dark side to words. With the wrong words in the wrong combination, you can verbally assault someone, bring them to tears, entice them to sin, burn bridges, misrepresent the truth, and ruin their future.
For a long time, I’ve wondered how a pure language would fix those problems. I’ve heard people theorize that God will give us all a language with no bad words in it
with no way to say bad things.
I promise you, it is possible to say terrible, awful things without ever using a taboo word. I mean, I just made Hank sound stingy and tight-fisted without using either of those words, and I wasn’t even really
trying to. Imagine the damage someone with an agenda could do, even with those restrictions.
How will this pure language deal with things like innuendo and euphemisms? Or what’s to stop someone from just … adding a bad word? Because that’s the thing about language. It evolves. It changes over time. English has its roots in Old English, which people stopped speaking about a thousand years ago. That evolved into Middle English, then Early Modern English, then our own Late Modern English, which itself is over 200 years old.
Look up the original text of Beowulf sometime, and you’ll discover a version of English with incomprehensible words and a handful of letters we don’t even use anymore (“Hwæt. We Gardena in geardagum, / þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon, / hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon”).
Crack open Geoffrey Chaucer’s
the Canterbury Tales and you can probably make sense of most of the words, although it’ll take some work (“To telle yow al the condicioun, / Of ech of hem, so as it semed me, / And whiche they weren, and of what degree”).
By the time we get to Shakespeare, the words are much more familiar, if a bit more formal-sounding than we’re inclined to speak today (“Two households, both alike in dignity, / In fair Verona, where we lay our scene, / From ancient grudge break to new mutiny / Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean”). Words change. Meanings change. Even
letters change.
To keep a pure language pure, God would have to put some kind of supernatural boundary on the way language works. He’d have to stop it from changing and evolving the way it has for thousands of years of human history. Can He do that? Absolutely. He’s God. That’s entirely within His capability. But I think, when we inspect the Bible a little closer, we’ll discover that the real secret to a pure language is a little more elegant than that.
When God talks about a pure language in the book of Zephaniah, the Hebrew word translated “language” is
saphah, and it means “lip.” Sometimes in the Bible, “lip” is a stand-in for “language.” When God confused the language of Babel, the literal translation is that He confused their lips. So here, in Zephaniah, many English translations talk about a pure language.
But here’s where things get interesting. The
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges says, “The term lip often means ‘language’ (Genesis 11:1), but here it seems rather to denote the organ of speech.” The Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament agrees: “Lip does not stand for language, but is mentioned as the organ of speech.”
When God first called the prophet Isaiah, what was Isaiah’s response? Do you remember? He said,
“Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5).
Isaiah and his countrymen spoke Hebrew. Was that the problem? No
they weren’t the people of an unclean language. They were the people of unclean lips. The problem was with the kinds of things that were coming out of their mouths not the language itself, but the thoughts, the ideas, and the expressions. In other words, this verse in Zephaniah is not necessarily a prophecy about God providing the world with a brand new language, but a prophecy about how God will change the way we use our words in the first place.
Jesus told the Pharisees,
“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things” (Matthew 12:33-35).
Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.
If we want to change what comes out of our lips, we have to start by changing what’s in our hearts. That’s something God helps us to do as we seek Him, repent of our sins, and strive to emulate His perfect character. The more our hearts are in line with God’s heart, the fewer impure things we’ll have trying to scoot their way out of our lips.
There’s another prophecy I want to take a quick look at, this time in Hosea. God is talking about Israel as His unfaithful wife, who ran off to commit harlotry with the Baals
false gods of the surrounding nations:
Therefore, behold, I will allure her, will bring her into the wilderness,
And speak comfort to her. I will give her her vineyards from there,
And the Valley of Achor as a door of hope; She shall sing there,
As in the days of her youth, As in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt.
“And it shall be, in that day,” Says the LORD, “That you will call Me ‘My Husband,’ [
And no longer call Me ‘My Master,’ [
Baali] For I will take from her mouth the names of the Baals, And they shall be remembered by their name no more.” (Hosea 2:14-17)
When the true God takes the names of the false gods from the mouths of His people, He’s not going to just supernaturally stop them from talking about false gods. He’s going to remove the false idea of who He is
the false idea spread by Satan and replace it with the truth. The change in their mouths will begin with a change in their hearts.
Which brings us to the scripture that started this whole thing:
“For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language” – why? – “that they all may call on the name of the LORD, to serve Him with one accord (Zephaniah 3:9).
The whole point of the pure language
the pure lip is to bring us all into unity with God. We can’t serve God when our heart is wrong, and when our heart is wrong, that’s going to have an impact on what comes out of our mouths.
As Christians, we shouldn’t be waiting for God to divinely impose a pure language on us. The time for a pure language
a pure lip is now, and it has to begin with our hearts.

Favor and Glory (New Church Lady)
Proverbs 11:16 [NKJV]
A gracious woman retains honor, But ruthless [men] retain riches.
The Hebrew word translated gracious here means to find favor in the eyes of someone; to be acceptable to him. And who is it that we are working to find favor with? It is God, Himself, isn’t it? You know who found favor with God? Mary, mother of Jesus. Luke 1:30 [NKJV] Then the angel said to her, Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
Interestingly, finding favor does not seem to be an action verb either in Proverbs 11 or in Luke 1:30. It seems to be a gift of favor bestowed on someone. The favor of God is not something we can earn, any more than we can earn His love. He chooses to give us favor, and love, because of who He is, not because of what we have done.
Having found or received favor with God, then what? According to Proverbs 11:16, a woman who has found favor retains honor.
The word translated “retains” means to grasp, hold, support, attain, lay hold of, hold fast.
The word translated honor could also be translated “glory” and is used in the phrase “glory of the Lord” in
Exodus 16:10 and other verses.
So, to put that all together, let me suggest this – a way that we could reword
Proverbs 11:16. We might say, “The woman who has been given favor by God, holds fast to His glory.”
As with all our goals as Christian, Jesus is our example.
Luke 2:52 [NKJV] tells us And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. And in John 1:14 [NKJV] we read, And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
Jesus had the Father’s glory and favor. He held onto the glory of the Father by the life He lived – a life of love and service. He preached the gospel, fed hungry people, healed others, cast out their demons and lived a life of integrity – in other words, He did the works the Father sent Him to do.
That is how we will hold fast to God’s glory as well. The glory of the Lord is in us through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit enables us to live lives that serve others and, thereby, glorifies the Father. We don’t hold tight to glory by keeping it to ourselves, but by using it to serve others.
We have the favor of the Lord, because He loves us, not because of what we have done. However, we must hang onto His glory by using our lives to glorify Him. If every thought, word and deed is done to glorify God, then we are holding tight to His glory.

The Two Extremes (Ozwitness)
It is interesting to contrast the progressive liberalism of Britain with the authoritarian dominion of China, and learn how not to govern a nation.
There was a time when Britain, even as recently as the last world war had great unity, moral standards, freedom and respect for the law, and was predominantly “Christian”, at least in name. China was only just beginning to accept Communism, which sounded good to the millions who had never had freedom or rights, and liked the idea of a classless society where the State would look after them.
But look at them now. Britain is thoughtlessly tearing itself apart, and so struggling with covid-19, has lost all moral standards, their freedom subject to evil ‘human rights’ laws, and Christians are disappearing rapidly. China has dragged itself out of the Middle Ages, but the Emperor has been replaced with a dictator and his elite, self serving supporters, just as we saw in Russia, so the classless society never arrived, and the cost of Communist ‘care’ is no freedom or genuine individual rights, with an overpowering state controlling every move.
Neither country is a place most of us would chose to live. It all reminds me of my crusty old history teacher in his civics class, who, in relating the various forms of government, said: “The best form of government is a benevolent despot”. Well, in modern language that is a King who loves and carefully rules his subjects entirely for their benefit rather than his own advantage.
The good news is that the governments of both Britain and China will soon be overthrown and be replaced with just such a ruler, the returned Jesus Christ, this time in great power and glory, who will govern the whole world with the help of His Saints in His Kingdom – those who have proved their dedication to service.
Zechariah 14:6-7:
‘On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward … Then the LORD my God will come, and all the holy ones with him.’
Revelation 20:4: ‘I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge … they came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.’
The atheists will laugh at that, but they won’t be laughing when the whole world receives a miraculous, earth-shaking, advance warning, projected graphically into their minds to encourage them to repent and avoid the Great Tribulation, God’s wrath because of our sins.
Revelation 14:6-7:
Then I saw another angel flying overhead, with the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on the earth – to every nation and tribe and tongue and people. And he said in a loud voice, Fear God and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come. Worship the One who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and the springs of waters.

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.

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.

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, one rainy Wednesday, 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.

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?!

One Small Box (Morning Companion)
I presented a small box to the executive assistant, in which were a few keys, a building access card, a credit card, and one or two inconsequential items. Hard to believe that after 36 years of plying my skills, it all came 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 was filled with more than keys. It was filled with friendships, colleagues, and memories. Most of all, it was filled with two small coins.

Hearing Counselors (New Church Lady)
Proverbs 11:14 [NKJV] Where [there is] no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors [there is] safety. [ESV] Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. [NLT] 14 Without wise leadership, a nation falls; there is safety in having many advisers.
Whether the Bible translators chose to use counsel, guidance or wise leadership, the message is that a nation is best served by a getting input from many wise voices. We know that, in business, it has been proven that crafting a team with mix of genders, ethnic backgrounds, ages, talents and experience who work together toward a common goal is the best way to keep a company healthy and moving forward.
Whether you are buying a car or choosing a career, you’ll make a better decision if you look at all key factors and get a variety of input. The key, though, is actually
listening to all the different and wise counselors – not just the ones who say what you want to hear or who agree with your own opinion. This passage is almost prophetic for the nation of Israel. After Solomon’s death, his son, Jeroboam had the chance to improve his rulership and seal himself as king. The elder counselors gave him the advice to ease up on the people. But Jeroboam refused their counsel in favor of the advice of his young friends who appealed to his machismo. Essentially, he said, “you thought my dad was tough? I’ll show you tough!”
He lost the better part of the nation of Israel over his failure to listen to wise counsel.
I get it – no one likes to hear that they are all wrong, or to receive counsel that goes against what we really
want to do. But that is the whole point of seeking a multitude of wise counsel – to hear the things we might not think of on our own. And, using this advice, to make a decision that brings success instead of failure.
The ultimate wise counselor is someone I bet you
do love to talk to and to hear from: Jesus. Isaiah 9:6 [NKJV] For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
ood counsel from a variety of wise sources is the way to make smart decisions and true success in both this life and in your Christian walk. We should start with the counsel of God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Bible. We should also seek wise counsel from experienced fellow believers and from secular leaders, experts and advisors. who can give experienced input.

Be Cézanne not Picasso (Sabbath Thoughts)
When it comes to art, I have two basic rules: 1) It has to look nice and 2) I’m not paying more than $60 for it.
This makes me uniquely unqualified to appreciate high art.
We were at the Dallas Museum of Art a few years back, and we were looking at a lot of really nice paintings and sculptures. The people in those paintings generally looked like people and the objects generally looked like objects. I saw a picture of a ship coming to shore that really spoke to me, conveying the artist’s profound message, namely, “This is a ship coming to shore.” Good stuff. Art I could really relate to.
Then we came to the contemporary section. For those of you unfamiliar with the distinctions of art, the contemporary period is generally defined by critics as, “the period in which people were taking a lot of recreational LSD.”
One of the exhibits in the contemporary section was a lit fluorescent tube stuck in a hay bale. Another was a room littered with shredded pieces of black felt and a sign explaining that the artist had spent hours carefully arranging each piece. These pieces spoke to me as well, although the message was generally, “Someone
made this? On purpose?”
You might be wondering where I’m going with all this – and quite frankly, I’m starting to wonder as well – but my point (I think) is that high art and I don’t usually see eye-to-eye. This is important because today I want to talk about two renowned artists. I think these artists embody a fascinating lesson, but if I’m being honest, I look at a lot of their work and I think, “Hey, you gave it your best shot, but we can’t all be good at everything.”
Then I look at the prices their paintings fetch at auctions and I think, “But hey, what do I know?” In other words: I may be an uncultured Philistine incapable of appreciating most high art, but I can appreciate that others appreciate it, and I’m hopeful that counts for something.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about Pablo Picasso and Paul Cézanne.
Picasso and Cézanne were both artists who changed the world of painting forever – Cézanne with his Post-Impressionism and Picasso with his Cubism and Surrealism. Both honed their craft in Paris. Both produced works that today are worth hundreds of millions of dollars – and yet, both were as different as night and day in their approach to painting.
Malcolm Gladwell, a columnist for New York Times, wrote a fascinating article contrasting late bloomers with young prodigies – Cézanne and Picasso among them, respectively. Picasso, Gladwell writes, began his career with “blindingly obvious” talent, while the young Cézanne “couldn’t draw.”
That fundamental difference affected how each artist viewed the entire process of creating art. For Picasso, “To search means nothing in painting. … I have never made trials or experiments.” His different styles, he said, “must not be considered as an evolution or as steps toward an unknown ideal of painting.”
Picasso knew what he wanted to paint, and he knew how he wanted to paint it, so he did. For him, it was as simple as that. For Cézanne, it was less simple. He had the vision, but lacked the natural talent. His art was a journey, a progression, with each attempt bringing him closer to his “unknown ideal.”
“I seek,” he said, “in painting.”
When it comes to your Christian walk, which one are you?
Are you Picasso, confidently equipped to handle everything you set out to do and uninterested in improving your technique? Or are you Cézanne, taking hours to consider the best way to tackle a single brush stroke and slashing your canvases to ribbons when they fail to capture your vision?
When I look at Picasso and Cézanne, I see two different ways of looking at life – that is, either feeling confident about our skill or feeling confident about where we’re headed. Picassos do what comes naturally, never giving much thought to refining their abilities, while Cézannes push forward, making each new step an attempt to master the next skill that’s eluding them.
Which approach do you think is best suited to the calling God places before us? I think it’s no surprise that I’m in Cézanne’s corner on this one. I don’t think Christians get to be Picassos – not spiritually, anyway. None of us start off with everything we need to finish the job we’ve been tasked with completing. There are no spiritual prodigies to whom Godly character comes naturally and flawlessly.
If there were, we wouldn’t have scriptures telling us that
“the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be” (Romans 8:7). We wouldn’t have scriptures explaining that “a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again” (Proverbs 24:16). And we certainly wouldn’t have scriptures that say, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).
Sometimes, though, in spite of those verses, we convince ourselves that we need to be Picasso anyway. That we need to get it right on the first try or else we’re a failure. But that’s not how it works. Spiritually speaking, God designed us to be Cézannes, not Picassos – not young prodigies, but old masters who wrestle with every brush stroke, knowing in our hearts that every stroke, every painting, every frustrating and inadequate attempt brings us that much closer to our intended destination.
Paul (the apostle, not the painter) knew that feeling. It comes bleeding through his epistle to the Romans:
“For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice” (Romans 7:19). Paul knew who he wanted to be, but so often he found the same frustrating truth you and I encounter on our own spiritual journeys – he wasn’t there yet. It’s why he cried out in frustration a few verses later, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).
Christ offers us deliverance, but it’s not a switch we can flip or a button we can push. It’s a path we have to travel, one step at a time.
It’s okay not to be perfect right now. Perfection is your destination, not where you’re expected to be this very moment. Your next brush stroke is going to be imperfect. And the one after that. And the one after that.
But the imperfection isn’t the point. The point is that with each stroke – with each decision, each word, each action in your pursuit of Godly, righteous character – you’re getting closer. Closer to the “unknown ideal” Picasso scoffed at; closer to growing up
“in all things into Him who is the head – Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).
Remember, we’ve been tasked with creating something beautiful, too – the temple of God. The foundation was laid a long time ago, but now
“let each one take heed how he builds on it … Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it” (1 Corinthians 3:10, 12-13).
We don’t come into this life equipped to add something beautiful to God’s temple – but in time, we’ll get there. Little by little, we’ll refine the skills we need to make a meaningful contribution to God’s masterpiece. If we let Him refine us through the trials and frustrations we face in this life, we’ll emerge closer and closer to perfection every time.
Cézanne sought in painting. We must seek in living.
Here’s another fun fact about Picasso and Cézanne – they each produced their most valuable works at different points in their lives. Economist David Galenson compared the auction prices paid for the two artists’ paintings and found, according to Gladwell, “A painting done by Picasso in his mid-twenties was worth … an average of four times as much as a painting done in his sixties. For Cézanne, the opposite was true. The paintings he created in his mid-sixties were valued
fifteen times as highly as the paintings he created as a young man” (emphasis added).
Picasso got different. Cézanne got better.
At the end of his life, the apostle Paul – the same Paul who confided in the Romans about his unending struggle against his human nature – was able to tell Timothy,
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
Your best work is still ahead of you, and every step you take is bringing you that much closer to it. Being Picasso is overrated. Be Cézanne.
P.S. One more fun fact: Picasso and Cézanne both created some of the most valuable paintings in the world. Picasso painted more items on that list, but in April 2011, the Royal Family of Qatar bought Cézanne’s
The Card Players for around $250 million or so – the highest known price ever paid for a painting. That distinction was then held by Willem de Kooning’s Interchange, which sold for around $300 million in September 2015. It looks like someone ran into a wall at high speed while carrying a bucket of paint – which only goes to reinforce my earlier assertion that I don’t understand art.

The Progressives’ Error (Ozwitness)
You may have noticed the increasingly common use of the word ‘progressive’, as it is claimed by many who feel they should lead society. It is no coincidence that most claiming to be progressive are of the left – though they repeatedly and fraudulently claim to represent the interests and beliefs of the majority.
Anyone who is not “progressive” must, in their eyes, be inherently stupid or uneducated, unable to see the obvious need for government action to correct past history, and the wrongs of our ignorant forebears.
It is not surprising then that God is not in favour of this radical activism – in fact He wants us to do just the opposite!
Jeremiah 6:16
This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’
He wants us to think twice before entertaining such ‘progressive’ ideas:
Proverbs 14:12
There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.
It should not be too hard to recognize that such ideas are divisive rather than harmonious and often are accompanied by anger and violence, as we saw in the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests. In fact, most of the causes espoused by the progressives stem from political correctness, the foundation of the ‘woke’ elite.
For thousands of years our ancestors accepted the moral standards of God’s word. In the last just 70 years we have rejected those standards and claim to be progressive. We are in for the biggest shock the world has ever seen, as God’s warning is projected into the minds of every man and woman on Earth, in the most graphic form, in just one day. To ignore that warning would cost your life, but 90% will be progressive enough to disbelieve.
Isaiah 6:13
And though a tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste. But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.

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?

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 might 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 rolling 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 hanging (pardon the pun). 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.

Non-Profit (New Church Lady)
Proverbs 11:4 [NKJV] Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, But righteousness delivers from death.
The phrase “day of wrath” calls to mind prophesies of catastrophic and end time events where similar words are used.
Romans 2:5 [NKJV] But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God. [See also Zephaniah 1:14-15]
Right now, we say things like “money talks” and that the world’s Golden Rule – the Golden Rule that mankind actually lives by is “he who has the gold makes the rules.” Even the most needed and impactful charities require donations – need money – to get the food, goods, medicine and education they offer into the hands of those they serve.
We may idolize folks like Mother Theresa who lived with nothing and helped the poorest of the poor, but we know that she (and other humble servants like her) never influenced the big governmental decisions. Her words and actions were never used to set policy – not in her country nor even with the Catholic Church.
We don’t need to be told that none of what we gain by money matters when we stand before the judgment of God, do we? We are well aware that the things we have accumulated will not influence the Great Judge on judgement day in any way. We cannot buy off God’s wrath or judgement – whether it is His judgment upon the world or His judgment of my life. God cares about character that we have built [See
1 Corinthians 3:11-15] and He cares about good works we have done [See Matthew 25:31-46]
Therefore, we also have to think about how money is used in our churches. Even though we know that money and what the church acquires by it will not matter in the day of wrath and at the time of judgment, does the world’s version of the Golden Rule apply inside your church organization too? Do bigger donors get a higher place within church government or influence? The early New Testament church leaders were concerned about that kind of partiality to the rich showing up within the congregation.
James 2:1-4 [NKJV] My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, [the Lord] of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?
I am blessed with a lot of “things” in this life, including a well-paying, steady job that has allowed me to have a nice home, new car, and the means to help my children and to help the needy in the world around me. God is not impressed with any of the things I have acquired. Even good works I have done with my money have less influence on my judgement than the character I have built through showing genuine love and concern for others.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3 makes that abundantly clear. Verse 3 says: And though I bestow all my goods to feed [the poor], and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
God cares about my character and that I show genuine love for others. It isn’t what I have or even what I give, it is how I have used it to grow in love, peace, faithfulness, etc.
Whether we fall into the pool of the needy or those who can and do help the less fortunate, we must guard against judging ourselves or others based on the wealth of this life or even the things we give to the less fortunate. We cannot look at ourselves or others as having more authority or more of the Holy Spirit just because we have more physical blessings, nor even because we are abundant in sharing what we have. That is not the measure God uses in His righteous judgement.
We can have much and give it all away and yet fail to be profitable in the end – in the day of wrath and judgement. Anything but the character of love motivating and building us is unprofitable work according to God.
I must keep this in mind when I am tempted to view the rich and the big givers as being something more or better than others (a better Christian, smarter, more deserving of praise or power). I must keep this in mind even if that rich and giving person is me.

They Will Never Believe (Morning Companion)
Jesus ends his story about the rich man and Lazarus with these words:
If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead (Luke 16:31 NIV).
Some who heard must have thought that at the very least he was exaggerating for effect. After all, wasn’t this the same teacher who talked about people having logs coming out of their heads (Matthew 7:3-5) and camels passing through the eye of a needle (Matthew 19:24)? Surely if Jesus were to raise someone from the dead, that convincing evidence would remove all doubt about the truth that Jesus preached.
But there was a real man named Lazarus who did walk out of his tomb after four days, covered in grave clothes, and it was obvious that Jesus, in front of many witnesses, had called him forth (John 11:38-44). Even with irrefutable, eyewitness testimony enough powerful people refused to acknowledge undeniable evidence, including a walking dead man. Look at what they said:
What are we accomplishing? they asked. Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation (John 11:47-48 NIV).
These men saw the evidence. They could not deny the evidence. All the same they insisted on gainsaying the evidence because of a perceived threat to their privileged power and position. Those who lust for power and position are disinclined to relinquish it and will use any sort of subterfuge to keep it.
Remember that fact of life when irrefutable evidence of corruption comes to light, and that evidence is either ignored or denied by those in influential positions. Truth does not matter unless it’s their “truth”, and they will always choose their “truth” over facts. Even if allegations are proved beyond any doubt – even if someone were raised from the dead – there will always be some who choose not to believe. Worse, there will be some, as Caiaphas of old, who know the truth but will try to hinder it in unrighteousness.

Drunk with Blood (part 3 of 3) Beyond Justice (Sabbath Thoughts)
Let’s recap on parts one and two of this series.
We know that the nations God sent Israel to annihilate were corrupt in ways we can only begin to imagine, and that they had no intention of changing. We know that sin, unchecked and unchallenged, spreads like a disease. We know that the decision to wipe these nations out was just, fair, and ultimately an act of love from a patient God who was no longer willing to watch His creation engaged in a cycle of self-destruction.
But there’s more to the story. I’ve been dancing around it this whole time, because the full weight of this truth can only be felt once all the groundwork is laid. This final piece of the puzzle reveals that God is
beyond just, beyond fair, and more loving than we can ever really comprehend.
God, who is “not willing that any should perish” (2 Peter 3:9), isn’t done with the Canaanites yet. They’re going to live again in the second resurrection, where “the dead, small and great” (Revelation 20:12) will stand before God and have their eyes opened to the truth
and it’s all going to happen after Jesus Christ and His transformed saints invest a thousand years into fixing and repairing our broken world (Revelation 20:5).
When the Canaanites wake up, standing alongside the billions and billions who never truly knew the God who created them, it’s going to be in a world far different than the one they remember. They’re not going to wake up in a toxic culture with a backdrop of child sacrifice and a litany of other socially acceptable sins. They’re not going to wake up in a world where environments like Sodom and Gomorrah could ever exist.
They’re going to wake up in a world where “your eyes shall see your teachers” and “your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left” (Isaiah 30:20-21). They’re going to wake up in a world where “ten men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you’” (Zechariah 8:23). They’re going to wake up in a world that is actively seeking to develop a relationship with God and walk in His ways (Micah 4:2).
They are going to wake up in a world designed to give them their best possible opportunity to join the family of God.
So many people look at the Old Testament and see an angry, vindictive God eager to destroy and kill
and when we take scriptures like Deuteronomy 32:42 out of context, it’s easy to have concerns about a God who appears to be bragging about “arrows drunk with blood.” But once we take a step back and look at the bigger picture a God who set boundaries for the good of the human race, a God who held His patience for centuries as His own creation rejected Him and started down a horrific path of self-destruction, a God who was actively working out a plan that would open the doors of salvation, at the cost of His own life, for everyone who has ever lived those misconceptions begin to fade away.
God understands the damage sin causes. When we sin, God watches on as the work of His hands begins to tear itself apart. He hates that. When He gave Israel the command to utterly destroy the people of Canaan, it was as if He was saying, “Enough. You’ve hurt yourselves enough. It’s time for you to sleep
and when you wake up, I’m going to show you how life was meant to be lived.”
A fair God would leave us all rotting in our graves. A just God would demand our lives as payment for our sins, and He would be completely right in doing so. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
God is love. Always. That’s true when He’s answering our prayers, and it’s true when He’s punishing us for our sins. Godly love isn’t about making each moment as painless and as easy as possible; it’s about seeing the bigger picture and doing what’s best for us instead of only what’s pleasant for us. And so we are to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4). Every moment of hardship God allows in our lives (whether we brought it on ourselves or not) is designed to bring us that much closer to becoming the men and women God called us to be.
Not one moment is arbitrary. Not one moment is without purpose.
God is building a family. He wants you to be part it. He wants me to part of it. He wants ancient Israel to be part of it. He wants, ultimately, for the Canaanites the Israelites killed to be part of it.
That’s the key. That’s the lens through which we must view the entire Bible if we really want to understand it:
God is building a family. For the past 6,000 years of human history, He’s been slowly moving the world to a place where that goal can be accomplished. Right now, we can only see glimpses of the bigger picture
God can see every piece, knowing exactly how each one fits into the next.
If we fixate on scriptures about being “drunk with blood” and refuse to use the correct lens, we’re going to miss the point. But if we’re willing to step back and look at the context, we might start seeing what’s been there all along. Just a few verses earlier, God remarks:
Now see that I, even I, am He, And there is no God besides Me;
I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal;
Nor is there any who can deliver from My hand.
(Deuteronomy 32:39)
That feels backwards. Shouldn’t it say, “I make alive and I kill; I heal and I wound”?
No. God put them in that order, and not by accident. Because
“making alive” has been the plan all along. Building a family has been His focus since before He declared, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). Even as He commanded the Israelites to wipe out the corrupt and wicked Canaanites, He had plans to bring them back in a world where they could be redeemed; where their hearts could be molded and inscribed with His perfect Law.
And it doesn’t end with the Canaanites. The billions and billions of people who have died without God, without His truth, whose bones cry out with the bones of Israel, “Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!” (Ezekiel 37:11)
all these will live again and stand before the God who loves them, who created them to be His children.
So yes, God promised to make His arrows drunk with blood. Yes, God eradicated entire nations because of their depravity
but He was right in doing so. He was just in doing so. And what’s more, He has a plan still has a plan to be beyond fair, beyond right, beyond just, “that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19).
He who does not love God does not know God, for
God. is. love.

Gains that Last Forever (New Church Lady)
Proverbs 10:2 [CSB] Ill-gotten gains do not profit anyone, but righteousness rescues from death.
Ill-gotten gains don’t profit anyone?! Apparently, the world Solomon lived in worked a little differently than the world we live in today. In modern times, it seems to me that a lot of people do profit, prosper and even become wealthy in a less-than-honest manner. Ill-gotten gains, whether cutting dangerous corners in construction in order to make a bigger profit, or loan and banking fraud, or rate hikes on medically vital drugs or treatments, to name a few, lead to multiple mansions, gold watches, and personal planes. Televangelists who live like kings even sell the idea that those believers who finance their kingly lifestyles with tithes and offering are paving their own way to financial rewards.
Of course, Solomon could have meant that ill-gotten gains do not profit one
forever. Eventually, many of these modern-day scammers do get caught and punished.
Jesus made the point that the benefits of ill-gotten gains do not last forever when He said in
Matthew 6:19-21 [NKJV] Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Of course, whether those goods or treasures are compiled in this life by criminal activity or honest work, they could rust or be stolen. And even wealth that is acquired by honest work cannot be transfered to the next the next life. When we stand before the judgement seat, the Lord is not going to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant, your honest labor allowed you to acquire 3 homes, 6 cars, and a personal helicopter.”
Matthew 25:31-46 goes into great detail about the work that we do in this life which will create rewards in the Kingdom and earn us the phrase Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: That work is the acts of love and service to others that we perform. These acts of love and service outlined by Jesus are precisely the acts of righteousness that “rescues from death” – as Solomon put it.
I hope you
have earned some nice things in this life. If those things are earned by honest work, there is no shame in living a comfortable, nice life. You don’t have to give everything away and live in abject poverty like a monk. But we do need to share our physical goods with others.
Even then, we still need to realize that those well-earned goods will not travel with us past this life. We all know the phrase “you can’t take it with you” is 100% true.
We only gain reward in the Kingdom by giving away things in this life – whether time or money, food or goods – to benefit others. The “treasures of wickedness” (as the New King James puts Proverbs 10:2) will not last. The treasures of hard work and honest labor will not last past this life either.
We might as well share with others what we do gain by honest work in this life. We might as well share the talents we have received too. This is the only way to true and lasting rewards that will earn us a place in the Kingdom. These are the only gains that we
can take with us.

They Went Before Us (Morning Companion)
Diane and I like to visit old graveyards. This doesn’t mean we’re morbid types. Not at all. In those fields of monuments we find loads of history. When we lived in Independence, Missouri, there was a plot of land not far from our house that the developer had left untouched. One day I walked there to investigate and saw what looked like a small family burial plot. One worn tombstone rested on the grave of a man born in the 1700s, making him one of the early settlers of what was to become Jackson County.
Just down the road from where we now live is an old church building, more of a chapel by today’s standards, on Woods Chapel Road just off Missouri Highway 291. The woods are mostly gone, but the chapel remains along with its ancient cemetery, nestled among trees and dotted with with tombstones badly weathered by the years, each with a dash surrounded by a beginning and ending date.
Those quiet resting places lack the order and magnitude of an Arlington, but each one has a solemnity and a dignity befitting those who have gone before us, who in their own small way prepared the path we now walk.
Our fascination with graveyards is neither fetish nor oddity. Those are places of memories, of honor, and yes, of love. In those places and in all the places where the traces of their DNA remain are perhaps billions of lifetimes filled with their own hopes and loves, of  their sufferings and longings, each unique to themselves and each waiting for a greater hope.
The Apostle wrote, If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. … For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. … The last enemy that will be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15:19,22,26 NKJV).
I must admit my gratitude for the blessings in my life. It has been a great ride, filled with trials and disappointments for sure, but the joys and opportunities have been beyond what I could have imagined back in my boyhood neighborhood. Very few of those who have gone before us — and most who struggle on this globe today — could make that claim. If we listen closely we can almost hear their pleading from below the altar: How long, O Lord?
The cloud of witnesses we perceive only in shadow as we read their epitaphs have not yet received the promises, “God, having something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us” (Hebrews 11:40).
It would be great if I could continue my daily contented walk through life, going where I please, when I please, and ending each day with family and friends on the front porch. But then I think of the others, some with us and some not, and I have to remember the promise of the ages that would be selfish to shun: The best is yet to come. So let it come. For all of us.

Drunk with Blood (part 2 of 3) Understanding Love (Sabbath Thoughts)
We conflate a lot of other things with love. Love is tolerance. Love is acceptance. Love is unqualified approbation of anything we choose to do. Love is warm and fuzzy at all times, because love is blind. Love doesn’t expect or require anything; it simply is.
The Bible tells a different story. Jesus told His disciples, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Paul told us that Godly love “does not rejoice in iniquity” (1 Corinthians 13:6). Godly love makes a clear distinction between right and wrong, good and evil – and what’s more, it refuses to condone or approve of anything wrong or evil.
Godly love comes with the understanding that the best life we can live exists within the boundaries of God’s law, and that by stepping outside that law, we expose ourselves and those around us to pain, suffering, and death (James 1:14-15).
Let’s step back a moment and try to view this from God’s perspective. He creates the earth, the entire
universe, as a cradle for the human race. He gives them laws and standards designed to keep them safe, prosperous and happy – and then He watches them discard those laws like trash. He watches His creation hurting itself.
He watches the work of His hands willfully stepping outside His law, creating a miserable environment and encouraging others to do the same. The cycle self-perpetuates and worsens, worsens, worsens, until the sons of Belial are sexually assaulting unsuspecting passers-by and the people are offering their own children to gods of wood and stone.
What does a loving God do in a situation like this? How does He express His love toward a people bent on causing themselves pain?
There’s only one thing He really
can do. He ends that pain. He ends the existence of those so obsessed with self-destructing. He cuts off their ability to hurt themselves and others by cutting themselves off from the life they are determined to ruin.
The United States’ Declaration of Independence styles life as a God-given, “unalienable Right.”
That’s half true. Without a doubt, life is God-given, but it’s a long way from an unalienable right. When something is unalienable, it is “impossible to take away or give up.” An unalienable right is something we are inherently entitled to, something no one has the authority to take from us. It’s burned into the conscience of Americans everywhere – our lives are sacrosanct, untouchable, and inherently ours. But are they really?
Do we have a right to our lives no matter what? Can we do whatever we want with our lives and expect no consequences?
Isaiah cried out, “Woe to him who strives with his Maker!” (Isaiah 45:9), and Job acknowledged, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away” (Job 1:21). Before we can understand why God does what He does, we first have to come to terms with the fact that the God who gives life has every right to take it back whenever He pleases.
Not that He
wants to take it back. “‘Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?’ says the LORD God, ‘and not that he should turn from his ways and live?’” (Ezekiel 18:23).
Peter confirms that God is “longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
But God will not abide sin. Not forever. He is longsuffering – He gave the Canaanites
four extra centuries, even when it was obvious what direction they were heading – but that longsuffering has a limit. The Canaanites didn’t turn things around. They just got worse. And worse. And worse.
They got to the point where a loving God decided they were better off dead than living in the twisted reality they’d built for themselves.
There was another reason, too. In part one, we read God’s command to “utterly destroy” the inhabitants of Canaan, but we didn’t read the very next verse, where God explains why: “lest they teach you to do according to all their abominations which they have done for their gods, and you sin against the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 20:18).
Paul wrote, “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits’” (1 Corinthians 15:33). The people of Israel were supposed to be the people of God, to be a light in a world that did not know God – but God knew that if Israel settled among these wicked nations, if it integrated into the existing culture, His people would become just as corrupt. The Canaanites would be a spiritual cancer, infecting and spreading through God’s chosen people.
We don’t have to wonder if God was right. During the settlement of Canaan, Israel repeatedly failed to follow God’s instructions. They let kings and nations live that God had sentenced to death – and as the era of the judges began, the land was filled with the evil influences that should have been destroyed (Judges 1:27-2:3).
In time, those influences took their toll. At the end of the book of Judges (Judges 19:22-25), we see an account nearly identical to Lot’s encounter in Sodom – except this time, the wicked men looking to rape the guests are
Israelites. God’s people.
Like the Canaanites before them, Israel got worse. And worse. And worse. Under later kings of Israel, we see the unthinkable emerge again – child sacrifice. Ahaz and Manasseh both practiced it. We see it under the reign of Hoshea. Jeremiah and Ezekiel cry out against it over and over again (Jeremiah 7:30-31; 19:4-5; 32:35; Ezekiel 16:20-21; 20:30-31).
The nation called by God’s name was no better than the people they had displaced, in large part because they chose to tolerate wickedness instead of stamping it out.
There’s a lesson for us here, if we’re willing to hear it:
Sin Spreads. Wickedness and evil are contagious. Sin is a cancer, a life-sucking parasite without empathy or mercy. We cannot protect ourselves by turning a blind eye to it. We cannot protect ourselves by tolerating it. We certainly cannot protect ourselves by making alliances with the people who accept and embrace it.
James writes, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Resisting isn’t passive. It doesn’t happen by failing to respond. The Greek word here for resist was a military term meaning to “‘take a complete stand against’ … to establish one’s position publicly by conspicuously ‘holding one’s ground,’ i.e. refusing to be moved.”
We resist the devil when we plant our feet on the truth and tell him, “This is where I stand; I will not move.” When Satan pushes,
we push back. When sin creeps up to the threshold of our hearts, we drive it away. God has given us the tools to wage this war and we must use them.
When Israel became like the nations around them, they suffered the same fate as the nations around them. They were consumed by their own wickedness, they were carted off into captivity, and they were slain by the sword. Just as God had promised would happen, “their Rock had sold them, and the LORD had surrendered them” (Deuteronomy 32:30).
Being God’s chosen people did not give them any extra leeway when it came to sin. If anything, it gave them less.
Rather than drive it out, Israel chosen to ignore and to tolerate the sin around them. We cannot make that same mistake.
We must resist.
In part three of this series, we’ll look at the final – and most important – part of this story.

Correcting Scorners (New Church Lady)
Proverbs 9:7-9 [NKJV] He who corrects a scoffer gets shame for himself, And he who rebukes a wicked [man only] harms himself. Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you; Rebuke a wise [man], and he will love you. Give [instruction] to a wise [man], and he will be still wiser; Teach a just [man], and he will increase in learning.
The King James calls this person a “scorner”. The literal meaning is to stammer or speak in a foreign tongue. It puts me in mind of a phrase my husband uses – “Does that make any sense?”
It is like we are being told to not bother trying to correct someone who just does not make any sense to us.
It also brings to mind
Proverbs 26:4-5 [KJV] Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.
Clearly, we need to know when to reach out and correct another person and when not to – whether that person is a scoffer or a fool or a wicked person. It can be risky business.
Wise people are an entirely different matter. Correcting a wise person brings good results because a wise person values correction and instruction.
I believe that the most important piece of advice here isn’t about correcting others. The most important piece of advice in these verses is that I should seek to be that wise person – that person who appreciates correction, appreciates the person who corrects me, and grows wiser as a result of it. I cannot afford to be a scoffer who when corrected brings shame or harm to the person seeking to correct me. I cannot afford to lash back just because I don’t like what I am hearing. Reacting with anger at the person who corrects me should never be my knee-jerk reaction to correction, no matter how difficult it is to hear.
God is always motivated by love in His correction of us. However, I know that sometimes those correcting me can be harsh or go at it in a way that is self-serving rather than really trying to help. But still, I must not be a scoffer. I must look at the correction, not only the source, and see if there is value in the correction – see if it could make me wiser or a better person. It just doesn’t make any sense to reject correction that could help me just because of how it came to me.
Even the correction of God, given out of love and only with the best of intentions, can be painful. It’s painful precisely when it is true, because we believers are seeking to be more like God – more loving, more merciful, wiser, smarter – and we don’t like to know that we have failed. We know that we need God’s loving correction and instruction and guidance in order to grow to be more like Him. A loving child of God wants to change, and for that very reason it can be hard to see that we’ve been wrong and need correction.

Parable of the Paratrooper (Morning Companion)
One of our generals was once being ho-hearty with the ranks, as I understand generals are sometimes, especially if newsmen are present. He asked a paratrooper, “Why do you like to do an insane thing like jumping out of airplanes?” The paratrooper answered, “I don’t like to, sir, I just like to be around the kind of people who like to jump out of airplanes.” (Whitaker Chambers)[1]
Chambers’ little parable reminds me of the tail end of my working life. I no longer liked my version of “jumping out of airplanes”, but I had fellow “paratroopers” around me who provided the kind of environment that Whitaker Chambers lauded. They gave meaning to the adage that we become like the five people we spend the most time with, so much so that I turned down lucrative offers from elsewhere.
Look around yourself and evaluate your fellow paratroopers. Listen to the things they say and the things they do.
Is their conversation all about themselves and the things that interest them?
Do they subtly change the subject to bring it back around to themselves?
Are they concerned about the needs of others?
Do they have a vision and purpose beyond their own circle?
Are they encouragers or discouragers?
Do they put down or lift up?
As Paul once reminded the Corinthians, “Evil company corrupts good habits.”
Come to think of it, are you a paratrooper with whom the reluctant ones would jump?
[1] From personal correspondence to William F. Buckley, Jr., quoted in The Reagan I Knew, by William F. Buckley Jr., page 255, Basic Books, copyright 2008.
[2] 1 Corinthians 15:33. Paul is quoting a proverb from the Greek poet Menander.

Drunk with Blood (Sabbath Thoughts)
In his first epistle, John writes,
“He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8).
In Deuteronomy, God who is love says,
“I will make My arrows drunk with blood, and My sword shall devour flesh, with the blood of the slain and the captives, from the heads of the leaders of the enemy” (Deuteronomy 32:42). At first glance – or fourth, or fifth – it can be difficult to reconcile these two verses. These are the kind of verses skeptics point to as they accuse the God of the Bible of being inconsistent or cruel or unjust. Someone even wrote a book about it. Drunk With Blood: God’s Killings in the Bible aims to be a comprehensive catalogue of what its author perceives to be the awful, unconscionable actions of God as presented in the Bible.
I’ve seen that sort of argument a lot, especially online. People latch onto one of the more graphic stories of the Bible and ask, “How could a loving God do that?” or “How can you believe in a God who told His people to do this?”
Fair questions. The problem is that, almost universally, these stories are presented without any context. Standing on their own, yes, so many of these stories look brutal, heartless, and unforgiving – but within the proper context, these stories all make sense.
The hurdle? The proper context is
enormous. Before those stories can make any sense at all, we have to understand not only everything that led up to the event in question, but more importantly, many things that haven’t even happened yet. And after that, we have to identify our own misconceptions about what love looks like, what justice looks like, and what we’re really entitled to.
Even if they’re willing to listen, that’s not the sort of thing anyone can explain to a skeptic in five minutes or less. There’s far too much groundwork required before we can even begin to scratch the surface of the subject.
All the same, it’s a question we ought to be able to answer – if not for the sake of the skeptics, then for ourselves. If we believe that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, then we need to be able to explain how a God of love could promise to make His arrows drunk with blood.
This isn’t going to be a short journey. If we really want answers, we’re going to have to dig through the word of God, carefully inspecting passages as we go. If you’re ready, let’s start at the beginning.
When God created the first man and woman, He entered into a personal relationship with them. He spoke directly with them, and they spoke directly with Him. For all intents and purposes, God had a close and meaningful relationship with the entire human race.
Then Adam and Eve rebelled. After being driven from the Garden, mankind became so incorrigibly wicked that God
“was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart” (Genesis 6:6). Why was God grieved? The reason is important: “the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).
The human race was so evil, so corrupt, so absolutely wicked that God decided to wipe them from the face of the earth and start over with Noah. Evil was so deeply entrenched in the culture of the world that nothing short of a hard reset was going to make any difference.
From there, God took a step back. As the world wasted no time recorrupting itself, God began working directly with a select few to produce a nation that would bear His name. When God promised the land of Canaan to Abraham’s descendants, He made a cryptic remark:
“But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete” (Genesis 15:16).
“Not yet complete.” At that point, the Amorites in the land of Canaan weren’t wicked enough for God to be willing to destroy them. It’s easy to overlook the magnitude of God’s patience here: It would be another
400 or so years before they reached that point.
So … how wicked
were these people? We’re not told exactly, although we do get a brief glimpse of their contemporaries – two little cities called Sodom and Gomorrah.
In Sodom and Gomorrah, things were bad. Really bad.
These were two cities that God
was ready to destroy, and it’s pretty clear why. He sent two angels in disguise to rescue His servant Lot before the cities fell – and that night, every man of Sodom surrounded Lot’s house with the intention of gang-raping his guests (Genesis 19:4-5). Lot had brought the angels under the shadow of his roof specifically to protect them from the men of the city (Genesis 19:8), which suggests that this wasn’t the first time such a horrific thing had happened.
And that was just a
single evening in Sodom. Who knows depravities happened within the two towns on a daily basis? All we know for sure is that Lot “tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds” (2 Peter 2:8).
We also know that Sodom and Gomorrah existed in the same cultural sphere as the tribes of Canaan (Genesis 10:19). God destroyed these cities because of their exceptional wickedness, but it’s not like they existed in a vacuum. How far behind were the Amorites, whose iniquity was not yet full? How much worse would they become, carrying on with their degenerate ways for
four more centuries?
We don’t have to do too much guessing. Four centuries later, Israel stood at the border of Canaan, ready to claim the inheritance God had promised Abraham. Before they entered, God warned them about the people they would encounter:
When the LORD your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, “How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.” You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way; for every abomination to the LORD which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods. (Deuteronomy 12:29-31)
These nations were abominable. They had deviated so far from the boundaries of right and wrong that setting the flesh of their own children on fire seemed like a perfectly reasonable way to appease their gods and receive blessings.
It’s not that they did not – or could not – know any better. Paul chastised the Corinthians for approving of a sin “not even named among the Gentiles” (
1 Corinthians 5:1).
Even the Gentiles, apart from God and apart from God’s law, understood that some things are inherently wrong. And “when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them” (Romans 2:14-15).
We all have, in other words, an innate moral compass. It’s a long way from perfect, hardly comprehensive, easily warped, and in desperate need of God’s fine-tuning – but it’s there. We have it, and the child-burning, gang-raping nations of Canaan had it, too.
God was not unjust in eradicating the Canaanites. For
400 years after fire rained down on Sodom and Gomorrah, Canaan continued its descent into a moral abyss, filling up the measure of their iniquity. The brief glimpses we get into their culture are absolutely horrifying, and it’s hard to imagine anyone making the case that God had no justification for doing what He did.
justified and loving are two different words. Was it a loving God who told Israel, “of the cities of these peoples which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance, you shall let nothing that breathes remain alive, but you shall utterly destroy them: the Hittite and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite, just as the Lord your God has commanded you” (Deuteronomy 20:16-17)? Are those the words of a God of love?
I’ll admit that for a long time, verses like that troubled me. From my limited human perspective, they made God look so detached, cold, and uncaring. These were cities filled with men, women, and children – all of whom were being sentenced to complete annihilation.
Next week we’ll discover how that annihilation was an act of incredible love.

If Jesus held a Press Conference (Morning Companion)
I confess it. I’m a news junkie, or at least close to having that addiction. For whatever reason I get an unnatural kick in the adrenalin when watching White House press briefings. Journalists by nature and training need to be skeptical. They need to ask a lot of questions. But I wonder, if given overwhelming evidence that destroys their preferred belief system, would they accept the truth of some matters if Jesus Christ himself verified it?
The gospels record a number First Century
press conferences, most notably the one we find in John 8:12-59. Read it while picturing the scene as it might appear in a screenplay. We can hear the press shouting questions, talking over Jesus and each other, the challenge to provide proof for everything he says, and a rejection even if proof is offered. (Quotes below are from The Message).
“All we have is your word on this. We need more than this to go on.”
“Where is this so-called father of yours.”
“So, is he going to kill himself? Is that what he means by ‘You can’t come with me’?”
“Just who are you anyway?”
“But we’re descendants of Abraham. We’ve never been slaves to anyone. How can you say, ‘The truth will free you’?”
Our father is Abraham!”
We’re not bastards.” (Note the slander they here render, making reference to the circumstances surrounding Jesus’s birth.) “We have a legitimate father: the one and only God.”
“That clinches it. We were right all along when we called you a Samaritan and said you were crazy – demon-possessed!”
“Now we 
know you’re crazy. Abraham died. The prophets died. And you show up saying, ‘If you practice what I’m telling you, you’ll never have to face death, not even a taste.’ Are you greater than Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you think you are!
Though he met all of these challenges with great aplomb, the press conference ends with this: “They picked up rocks to throw at him. But Jesus slipped away, getting out of the Temple.”
In spite of all the cacophony that this press conference produced, this is what we read in verse 30, smack in the body of this food fight: “When he put it in these terms, many people decided to believe.” Some were reached, though many refused. The press conference was not a worthless exercise.
A friend once told me that times might change, but people don’t. That’s why it shouldn’t surprise us that when people are confronted with the truth, they find reasons to reject it no matter how compelling the evidence. “It’s just Russian disinformation.” “He was just speaking in dog whistles.” “We don’t like the messenger.” “Ever hear of Deep Fake?”
Some skeptics wouldn’t believe even if Jesus Christ himself were to verify it. Times change. People don’t.

Not Of This World (Sabbath Thoughts)
“My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36).
I’ve been thinking about that lately. The Jews of the first century – up to and including Jesus Christ’s own disciples, even after His resurrection – were looking for a Messiah who would overthrow the Romans and “restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6). What they got was a Savior who sacrificed Himself for the world and then asked His followers to do a very difficult thing: To wait.
Those are His last words in Luke’s gospel account: “tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).
Wait. Be patient. So they did. And they were. Finally, on the Feast of Pentecost, God poured out His Spirit on them, and they set about fulfilling their divine commission: to make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them and teaching them to obey the words of God (Matthew 28:19-20). All the while, these faithful disciples were looking to the horizon, waiting for the Kingdom their Lord and Savior had promised to establish at His return.
But it didn’t come – not during their lifetimes, anyway. Even Paul, who wrote with confidence about “we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:15), eventually came to accept that Jesus would be returning after his own death, and not before (2 Timothy 4:6).
For the last 2,000 years, Christ’s disciples have been waiting. And while we wait for the Kingdom not of this world, Jesus asks us to do another difficult thing: To
live like we’re not of this world.
Because, of course, we aren’t. Jesus told the Father, “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (John 17:16). Paul told the Philippians, “Our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). He told Timothy, “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him” (2 Timothy 2:4, ESV). The author of Hebrews urges us to follow the example of those who “confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth,” who “declare plainly that they seek a homeland” (Hebrews 11:13-14).
The world wants you to get involved – to get
entrenched – to find a hill to die on and battle it out till the bitter end. And if you want a hill to die on, this is the year to find one. There is no shortage of highly polarized issues you can focus on and fight about for as long as you like. Political issues, cultural issues, societal issues, environmental issues – you name it, it’s there to fight over. Pick your platform and air your stance – and that’s all it takes to enter the fray.
The hard part is stepping back.
The hard part is remembering that this isn’t how things get fixed.
The hard part is confessing that we’re just passing through, declaring that our homeland is somewhere else.
Those who came before us faced their own challenges, too. “And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:15-16).
Satan would love to see you return to the country you left behind. He’d love to see you lose your focus by investing all your time and energy into arguing over temporary band-aids for a world that’s already irreparably broken.
Remember why you’re here. Remember where you’re going:
A city not of this world, prepared for a people not of this world. A Kingdom where all the issues of this world will be fixed by the God who knows how to fix them. Our
Jesus is coming quickly. “Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).

Never Refuse (New Church Lady)
Proverbs 8:33 [KJV] Hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not.
We are studying the word of God right now. We seek His instruction. That’s why we are here. So, it is difficult to imagine that you or I would be the type of people who would flat out refuse the instructions of God. Even when we read or hear hard things, we seek to understand and accept – we welcome knowing God’s will and word more deeply. However, the English Standard Version chooses to put it like this: Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it.
The Hebrew word translated “refuse” and “neglect” can mean let it go. Hear the word and don’t let it go. Not only should we not outright refuse the instructions of the Bible; not only should we be careful not to neglect it (maybe letting days go by without Bible study); but we should also be actively doing all we can to hold onto it – to keep it at the forefront of our minds as we go through the days, struggles and joys of life. It can be easy to forget God’s guidance in a moment that is fraught with fear, pain or anger.
James 1:23-25 holds the key to how we can hold onto the instructions of God’s word.
23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues [in it], and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. [NKJV]
The key to holding onto God’s instruction is doing what the word instructs us to do. Our Father God doesn’t just want us to have knowledge of His word, His instructions for our lives. He wants us to live them.
We are not called to academic knowledge of the scripture. We are called to put into action what the word teaches us. We are called to be involved – to live it.
I’m the kind of person who learns better by doing something. Just reading something does not stick with me very well. Actually doing something is what sticks with me.
Similarly, an instruction like “love your enemies” becomes ingrained in our minds when we actually do something good for someone who has positioned themselves as an enemy. You’ll never forget what it felt like to have the inner power to answer kindly when someone is ugly to you or to help someone who has previously done ill toward you. It is impactful. It makes an impression that is not easily forgotten.
The best way to prevent neglect of God’s word is to live it. I pray that we all will be doers of the word so that that the word is never refused nor forgotten nor neglected in our lives.

An Ambassador in Chains (Morning Companion)
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. (Ephesians 6:18-20 NIV)
Paul wrote that he was an ambassador in chains. As a a prisoner of the Romans, why would he call himself an ambassador rather than a prisoner? Perhaps it was a matter of perspective. At about the same time that Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians, he also wrote his letter to the Philippians. Both were Prison Epistles, that is, written while he was in prison. Look at his perspective about his situation:
I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole Palace Guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident in my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. (Phil.1:12-14 NKJV)
How did the gospel get preached to the Palace Guard? I found this footnote in the NKJV Study Bible on verse 13:
Paul’s imprisonment furthered the gospel in two ways. First, the Palace Guard heard it as Paul preached in prison. Second,
all the rest — Paul’s visitors — heard the gospel. Some of his visitors were leaders of the Jews in Rome (see Acts 28:17), The Palace Guard (the Praetorian Guard) consisted of several thousand highly trained, elite soldiers of the Roman Empire who were headquartered at Rome. For the one or two years that Paul had been under house arrest in Rome, different soldiers had taken turns guarding him. Because they were chained to Paul, they had no other choice but to listen to him proclaim the gospel; they could not beat him into silence because he was a Roman citizen. Although Paul could not go to the world to preach, in this way God brought the world to Paul. In an ironic twist they were the captives and Paul was free to preach.
We know this preaching brought forth fruit, for Paul says later in this letter that “all the saints greet you, but especially those of Caesar’s household” (Phil 4:22).
Isn’t that a marvelous way to use a trying time in life? With that attitude, it’s no wonder that Paul could write in that same letter,
For I have learned in whatever state I am to be content (Phil 4:11). He knew that wherever he might be, whether speaking to the scholars on Mars Hill or in a Roman prison, he had an opportunity to do the Lord’s work. That’s a perspective to aspire to.

The Only Thing We Have To Fear (Sabbath Thoughts)
The year was 1933.  In the United States of America the Great Depression had reached its peak. What remained of the fragile economy was fading quickly, and all attempts to stem the bleeding had failed. The public had lost faith in President Hoover and instead turned their hopes to newcomer Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It was then, during his inaugural speech, that President Roosevelt delivered to the American people words bound for the annals of history:
“This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
It was a rallying speech, followed quickly by action – radical legislation and sweeping reforms that would begin to revive the failing economy. All of this was framed by a handful of words that still hold a prominent place in the American consciousness: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Roosevelt was saying, in essence, that the only thing we need to be afraid of is being held back by our own fears. If we can just escape the paralyzing grip of those fears, we will begin to “convert retreat into advance” and overcome any obstacle before us. Fear, and fear alone, separates us from our goals.
In his first of many famous radio-hosted “fireside chats,” Roosevelt promised the American public that “Confidence and courage are the essentials of success in carrying out our plan,” and invited the nation to “unite in banishing fear.” Fear was the enemy restraining the country, and Roosevelt was determined to root it out.
Fear can certainly be a paralyzing force. No human being has made it through this life without experiencing its icy clutches. We can fear people; we can fear the future; we can fear failure – if it’s out there, it can be feared. But … is fear really the enemy? Is “fear itself” really what we need to be afraid of?
The author of Ecclesiastes was inspired to conclude his book with these words:
Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, Including every secret thing, Whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)
“Fear God.” What does that mean? Is that the “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror” Roosevelt warned against?
The Hebrew word translated here as “fear” is
yare’ (H3372), and it refers to a fear brought about through awe and astonishment. To fear God is to stand in awe of who He is, to have a healthy sense of respect and honor for His position as Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Coupled right beside this admonition is another to “keep His commandments.” If we truly fear God, if we truly respect and honor who He is, then we will be doing the things He tells us to do!
In the prophecies given by God to Micah, we are given a brief vision into the time when
the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains…and peoples shall flow to it (Micah 4:1).
In that time, we are told,
everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree, And no one shall make them afraid; For the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken. For all people walk each in the name of his god, But we will walk in the name of the Lord our God. Forever and ever. (Micah 4:4-5)
There is so much we can be afraid of in this world. In our personal lives and on a global scale, it can often feel as though we are perpetually one false step away from a self-destructive meltdown. It’s increasingly difficult to place any sort of confidence in the stuff of day to day life.
But we don’t have to. In fact, we shouldn’t. Our trust – and our fear – belongs in one place, and one place only: in the Lord our God.
“we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:6).

A fool and his money (New Church Lady)
Proverbs 8:1-11 [NKJV] 1 Does not wisdom cry out, And understanding lift up her voice? 2 She takes her stand on the top of the high hill, Beside the way, where the paths meet. 3 She cries out by the gates, at the entry of the city, At the entrance of the doors: 4 “To you, O men, I call, And my voice [is] to the sons of men. 5 O you simple ones, understand prudence, And you fools, be of an understanding heart. 6 Listen, for I will speak of excellent things, And from the opening of my lips [will come] right things; 7 For my mouth will speak truth; Wickedness [is] an abomination to my lips. 8 All the words of my mouth [are] with righteousness; Nothing crooked or perverse [is] in them. 9 They [are] all plain to him who understands, And right to those who find knowledge. 10 Receive my instruction, and not silver, And knowledge rather than choice gold; 11 For wisdom [is] better than rubies, And all the things one may desire cannot be compared with her.”
“A fool and his money are soon parted” is a saying that is credited to Thomas Tusser, English poet, 1524-1580. Many people think it is in the Bible. It isn’t. But, certainly, this sentiment – that a fool is easily separated from the things of value in his life – permeates the book of Proverbs. The book of Proverbs talks about fools who invest in risky schemes, who lend money or things unwisely, who foolishly spend on pleasure, or drink away their income and so much more.
Proverbs 8:10-11 warn of another way that foolishness assigns value. These verses encourages us to appropriately assign value and worth to the riches of wisdom and God’s Holy word – value equal to or greater than rubies, silver and gold. The implication is that fools don’t know the great value of wisdom and God’s word.
Wisdom helps us to make good choices in all things – careers, the choice of a mate, business relationships, friendships and family relations. Wisdom will have us choose God’s way over Satan’s temptations and the world’s ideas about fun and truth and right. Wisdom will help us not only speak the right words, but also know when
not to speak. It will give us the power to keep those lips shut. The perspective of wisdom helps us to see trouble coming and get out of its way.
We can probably each easily think of a time or two when we should have held onto wisdom like it was a ruby and gold ring, but instead gave into human reasoning, Satan’s temptation or the pressure of a crowd, and made a decision which later cost us dearly – either in money or time or relationships or at least cost our pride when we had to be humbled and apologize.
I have a beautiful wedding ring that means the world to me because of the love it represents. So, I care for it, polish it, keep safe and have the stones checked from time-to-time to ensure they aren’t loose. Proverbs 8:1-11 bids me to take as much care of wisdom as I do that ring – to value it not only as precious to my spiritual health (which it is) but also as valuable to keeping my body safe.
Just as a wedding ring is a symbol of the love of husband and wife, wisdom is a precious symbol of God’s love for us. We must be sure to recognize its value and treat it accordingly.

Betrayal (Morning Companion)
The disciples scattered in all directions when Jesus was arrested. The dreams they had associated with their version of the Messianic Kingdom were crushed. Instead of the spoils of victory from the defeat of their enemies, they were gazing into the maw of prosecution and possibly death. And so they fled.
But every one of the remaining eleven came back. Your friends might leave you in times of need, but in time through an act of grace they can be friends again.
Jesus, though denied and abandoned, went searching for those who had done the denying and abandoning. First he appeared to them in the upper room and encouraged them not to be afraid. Then he appeared to them in a more forceful way, especially with Peter, who had publicly denied him three times. Three times Jesus pointed his finger in Peter’s face and asked him to affirm his undying friendship, even if such affirmation would claim Peter’s life. Your friends might leave you in your time of need, whether from weakness or lack of character. Still, never burn bridges and never build walls. People do change.

The Past: Learning From It, Without Living In It (Sabbath Meditations)
We may know of someone for whom 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, 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 a while, but it’s definitely not a healthy place to live.

The Other Siren Call (New Church Lady)
Proverbs 8:1-12 [NKJV] 1 Does not wisdom cry out, And understanding lift up her voice? 2 She takes her stand on the top of the high hill, Beside the way, where the paths meet. 3 She cries out by the gates, at the entry of the city, At the entrance of the doors: 4 “To you, O men, I call, And my voice [is] to the sons of men. 5 O you simple ones, understand prudence, And you fools, be of an understanding heart. 6 Listen, for I will speak of excellent things, And from the opening of my lips [will come] right things; 7 For my mouth will speak truth; Wickedness [is] an abomination to my lips. 8 All the words of my mouth [are] with righteousness; Nothing crooked or perverse [is] in them. 9 They [are] all plain to him who understands, And right to those who find knowledge. 10 Receive my instruction, and not silver, And knowledge rather than choice gold; 11 For wisdom [is] better than rubies, And all the things one may desire cannot be compared with her. 12 I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, And find out knowledge [and] discretion.”
In a previous blog I talked about the seductive advertising of sin. Luckily, sin is not the only voice calling out to us. Much like the adulterer of sin is calling out to those “devoid of understanding” as we read in Proverbs 7:6-27, wisdom is calling out to those who are “simple ones.” Furthermore, wisdom is not just standing in the doorway trying to pull us into her trap like the adulterer. Wisdom is pictured as yelling at the top of her lungs, from the top of a hill and at the city gates – working hard to be heard above the seductive call of sin. How is it, then, that mankind can so easily tune out the cry of wisdom in favor of the seductive call of sin? First of all, unconnected to God, wickedness and sin lives in us. Jeremiah 17:9 [NKJV] The heart [is] deceitful above all [things], And desperately wicked; Who can know it? So, since we naturally are connected to sin, we must deliberately break that bond in order to connect to the call of wisdom and to connect to our Father who sends wisdom out to call to us. We must work to stay connected to God, because even the best of us can listen to the wrong voice from time-to-time if we let our guard down. The book of Proverbs repeatedly advises us to seek wise counsel. [See Proverbs 1:5; 20:18; 24:6] But, in his own life, Solomon did not heed his own advice. Instead, he listened to his pagan wives, who drew him away from worshipping God and into worshipping their idols.
This happened even after Solomon had been blessed with incomparable wisdom from God. [See
1 Kings 11:4] From Solomon’s example we need to learn that the people we hang around with can influence us to listen to the call of sin instead of the call of wisdom. We need to follow Jesus’s example and deliberately expel Satan from our presence. But we also might need to stop associating (or at least limit our association) with people who would influence us to listen to him.
Jesus called out Peter for this type of thing in
Mark 8:33 [NKJV]. But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”
I don’t think Peter realized he was being a bad influence. Peter was reacting to Jesus telling them about His coming death.
The ladies of sin and of wisdom are both out there, actively calling to us. Each one has a clear and consistent messages about the virtues and benefits of listening to “her”. Each on is striving to pull us toward her. We must make a deliberate effort to tune out the siren call of sin, expelling her influence from our lives, and, just as deliberately, open our ears to the voice of wisdom.

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.’
Therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
If those that heard Jesus’s 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:

Prism-ers of the Light (New Church Lady)
In 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 there 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 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.

Return: what does it mean? (Morning Companion)
I write this the day before “The Return”. The Return is a nationwide prayer event that will be broadcast from The Mall in Washington, DC. It’s scheduled on a special Sabbath day, the Sabbath between the Day of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). In the Jewish faith, the Sabbath between these two High Holy Days is a special day of repentance. called Shabbat Shuvah, which literally means “Sabbath of Return”. The organizer of The Return event clearly has the ancient Biblical High Days in mind. He also has in mind that passage in II Chronicles:
If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (II Chronicles 7:14)
The Day of Atonement, after all, which follows the Sabbath of Return, was — and is — a day set apart for repentance of our sins, but more than that, it is a day for the people as a whole, the community, the entire nation, to fast and pray together for our collective falling short, whether from weakness or ignorance (Hebrews 9:1-7). Indeed the time between the two High Days is a fitting time for all who claim allegiance to the God of the Jews to come together and pray for the healing of our land. All of this is good and honorable.
But is a single ten-day period once a year enough? Are we willing to stand in the gap every day of the year? If so, how should we stand in that gap? How do we take it from the prayer closet to the housetops?
How we, as individuals, answer that has to be has to be personal. Each of us will have a different way to stand in the gap, for we each have different gifts and different abilities.
For some, the mighty power of prayer must be the focus.
For all, making a difference will be living the difference by living the Sermon on the Mount.
Some will cry aloud as a trumpet.
Others as the salt of the earth will go into our communities and participate in its life and culture, reflecting the light of the city on the hill.
I can’t tell you what your job might be when called upon to stand in the gap, but I know Someone who can answer your question. Next time you talk to Him, ask. It’s what I intend to do.

Yom Kippur – Afflicting Your Soul (Truth on the Web Ministries)

Remember Your Creator (Sabbath Thoughts)
Six thousand years of human history. Six thousand years of empires rising to the height of power, of discoveries allowing us to harness the laws of the universe for our own purposes, and of civilizations producing wonders that leave us in awe of what mankind is capable of accomplishing. Six thousand years of that, and all it takes is 24 hours without food to rob us of our strength and reduce us to almost nothing.
The human race has accomplished some incredible things, but at the end of the day, what are we?
“All flesh is grass” (Isaiah 40:6), says God. “Certainly every man at his best state is but vapor” (Psalm 39:5), muses David. “All are from the dust,” writes a despondent Solomon, “and all return to dust” (Ecclesiastes 3:20).
Grass. Vapor. Dust. For everything our race has accomplished, our lifespans are blips on eternity’s radar – and the Bible makes that clear.
And yet, even then, it’s easy to forget. Nebuchadnezzar forgot when he praised himself for building Babylon
“by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty” (Daniel 4:30). The rich man forgot when he told himself, “You have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry” (Luke 12:9). The entire nation of Israel forgot once they found themselves in “large and beautiful cities which you did not build, houses full of all good things, which you did not fill” (Deuteronomy 6:10-11). And if we’re honest, sometimes we forget, too.
Atonement cuts through the noise and reminds us. It doesn’t matter how much money we have; it doesn’t matter what we’ve accomplished; it doesn’t matter who we are – 24 hours without food or water reminds us that we are
dust. We came from it; we’re going back to it.
Grass. Vapor. Dust. Moments in time. That’s all.
Atonement also reminds us of a momentous step in God’s plan: the step that deals with the angel who thought he deserved to be God. Since the Garden of Eden, Satan has been actively deceiving the human race (Revelation 12:9), masquerading as
“the god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
But the Bible tells us that Satan wasn’t always this way. He was created to be
“the anointed cherub who covers,” “the seal of perfection” (Ezekiel 28:12,14). When Satan was created, he was absolutely splendid – one of the crowning jewels of God’s creation.
And then he forgot. Satan forgot who he was – and
what he was. God laments, “Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor” (Ezekiel 28:17). Satan, the enemy of God’s people, the deceiver, the serpent of old, the accuser of our brethren, the devil himself was once a favored angel of God. But it wasn’t enough. He wanted more. He deserved more – at least, that’s what he believed in his increasingly twisted mind.
“I will ascend into heaven,” he told himself, “I will exalt my throne above the stars of God … I will be like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:13,14). God responds, “Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, to the lowest depths of the Pit” (Isaiah 14:15).
Atonement is the day that sees Satan bound for a thousand years, powerless to influence mankind or interfere with God’s plan. It’s also a day with a clear message for God’s people – a message that Satan failed to act on:
Remember your Creator.
Pride. Pride is what ultimately brought Satan down, and it’s what can ultimately bring us down, too. God’s calling doesn’t make us immune to pride, either. Quite the opposite – that calling gives us a whole new list of things to be prideful about.
After all, out of the whole world, God picked us as His firstfruits. We know the plan of God, we have the spirit of God, and we know the right way to live. We’re special. The Bible even says so. We’re “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people” (1 Peter 2:9).
Satan wanted to be like God. We
will be like God, “for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). Behind us is the Feast of Trumpets, which reminds us that we will be transformed into eternal members of the God family. Ahead of us is the Feast of Tabernacles, which reminds us that we will reign with Christ for a thousand years. “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). We have every reason to feel a sense of pride at who we are and what we’ll become – that is, until we step back and look at the bigger picture.
God didn’t place Atonement between Trumpets and Tabernacles by accident. Yes, we are His own special people, but we weren’t always. We were called out of darkness. We were once not a people. We had once not obtained mercy (1 Peter 2:9-10).
What changed? Was it us? Did we somehow earn the right to be God’s people? Did we become entitled to His light and mercy?
No. We were dead. We were worthless.
“And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). Why? Because we deserved it? “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” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Our calling, God’s Spirit, our future in the Kingdom of God – it’s a gift, every bit of it. An unearnable, undeservable gift extended to us because of God’s goodness and not our own. Paul calls it
“this grace in which we stand” (Romans 5:2). Remember your Creator.
Remembering our Creator requires something of us. It requires acknowledging that we were created. We exist because God said so. That’s the key; that’s what Satan forgot and we must remember. We are grass. Vapor. Dust. Dust with the potential to join the family of God, sure, but dust all the same: for “we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).
When our eyes were opened to the truth, that was of God and not of us. When we obtain forgiveness for our sins, that’s of God and not of us. When Christ returns and welcomes us into His family as His brothers and sisters, it will be of God and not of us. And when our adversary is at long last chained and bound and removed from the affairs of men,
it will be of God and not of us.
The gift we have is not earned, “lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:9). We have work to do – work God expects of us – but the most important things cannot be earned. They’ve already been given. “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:7-8), for “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).
Atonement pictures the day our battle with Satan finally comes to an end – but it’s also a day for us to bow our heads and bend our knees before the God who makes that end possible.
All flesh is grass,
And all its loveliness is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
Because the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever.
(Isaiah 40:6-8)
Remember your Creator.

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.

In Whom Is No Deceit (Morning Companion)
While preparing a 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.

But the Message is the Same (Sabbath Thoughts)
What a year.
I just …
What. A.
Way back in 2019, I remember joking that 2020 was going to be a great year for hindsight jokes. “In retrospect, we really should have seen this year coming” – that sort of thing.
Yeah, uh … at this point, I think it’s safe to say that no one could have seen this year coming. Fires, riots, hurricanes, and a pandemic that has thrown a monkey wrench into the global economy while prompting some of the angriest and most misinformed social media disputes I have ever seen in my life. Each month brings some new facet of this dumpster fire of a year into sharp relief, and none of it is surprising me anymore. If October rolls around and someone tells me Godzilla has been spotted emerging from the murky, irradiated depths of the Pacific Ocean, I’m not sure I’ll be able to manage anything more than a resigned shrug.
It’s still surreal to think we didn’t get to come together for Passover this year. Or … any of the spring holy days, for that matter. I remember thinking this would all
have to be over by Pentecost, and yet … here we are … Trumpets. Very, very soon we’ll be leaving for Tabernacles – where we’ll wear masks, stand six feet apart from others, and attend services every other day. As excited as I am to be there, absolutely nothing about this year’s holy days has felt like normal.
Except the message. The message is still the same.
Even when we’re wearing masks and giving each other space – even on the days we aren’t able to come together at all – the all-important message of God’s holy day plan remains intact and unaltered. The reason we keep these feasts and holy days, that yearly reminder of God’s plan of salvation and deliverance for the whole world, is not contingent on things feeling normal. Passover still teaches us to begin and equips us to enter the fray. Unleavened Bread still teaches us to keep going and continue resisting. Pentecost still teaches us to do the work and to stay busy during the gap. Trumpets still teaches us that the King is coming and shows us how to reverse-engineer our destiny.
Atonement still teaches us to remember our Creator and stay focused on the goal in whatever state we are.
Tabernacles still teaches us to look ahead and reminds us that we have less time than we think.
The Last Great Day still teaches us to continue onward and invites us to reflect on the journey so far.
There are recurring themes woven through these days like threads through a tapestry: the sacrifice that made God’s plan possible, the battle that remains for us to fight, and the unshakable, unconquerable, unending Kingdom that waits for us at the end of it all. There are markers reminding us, “Here you are,” “Here you were,” and, “Here you’ll be.” The feasts of the Lord are a beautiful and intricate map that helps us focus and refocus on the reason we were called – the reason we
exist. Nothing and no one can cancel the intrinsic value and purpose of these days.
No matter how crazy this year – or any year – gets, the message is the same:
“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” (John 3:16).
“But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Timothy 6:11-12).
“Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22).
“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
“Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished” (Revelation 20:1-3).
“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).
“Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).
In a world where nothing feels normal anymore, the message might be more important than ever. Hold on tight to what matters.

Seductive Advertising (New Church Lady)
Proverbs 7:6-27
[NKJV] 6 For at the window of my house I looked through my lattice, 7 And saw among the simple, I perceived among the youths, A young man devoid of understanding, 8 Passing along the street near her corner; And he took the path to her house 9 In the twilight, in the evening, In the black and dark night. 10 And there a woman met him, [With] the attire of a harlot, and a crafty heart. 11 She [was] loud and rebellious, Her feet would not stay at home. 12 At times [she was] outside, at times in the open square, Lurking at every corner. 13 So she caught him and kissed him; With an impudent face she said to him: 14 “[I have] peace offerings with me; Today I have paid my vows. 15 So I came out to meet you, Diligently to seek your face, And I have found you. 16 I have spread my bed with tapestry, Colored coverings of Egyptian linen. 17 I have perfumed my bed With myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. 18 Come, let us take our fill of love until morning; Let us delight ourselves with love. 19 For my husband [is] not at home; He has gone on a long journey; 20 He has taken a bag of money with him, [And] will come home on the appointed day.” 21 With her enticing speech she caused him to yield, With her flattering lips she seduced him. 22 Immediately he went after her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, Or as a fool to the correction of the stocks, 23 Till an arrow struck his liver. As a bird hastens to the snare, He did not know it [would cost] his life. 24 Now therefore, listen to me, [my] children; Pay attention to the words of my mouth: 25 Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways, Do not stray into her paths; 26 For she has cast down many wounded, And all who were slain by her were strong [men]. 27 Her house [is] the way to hell, Descending to the chambers of death. And all who were slain by her were strong [men]. 27 Her house [is] the way to hell, Descending to the chambers of death.
Here we read one of Solomon’s main themes – avoiding the trap of the adulteress. This lady is everywhere, according to Solomon, luring men to buy her goods.
These days, advertising is everywhere: on billboards when we drive, on the radio, in print, on social media and on television. While some ads might try to shock us, the vast majority strive to lure us into purchases by telling us either that they are better than the rest or that we will be better (or at least look better) for having purchased or used them. It seems to me that advertisements focus on what is good (like: whole grain!) and not on the down side – like the fact that one bowl of cereal has 3-4 times as much sugar or salt or fat as you should have in a day.
There are a surprising number of products that use sex or sexiness to sell. Unless the ad is showing a before and after type promotion, the folks in ads are beautiful, happy, prosperous, smart – implying that you can be too, if you just use the product.
And people are charmed into buying things they don’t need or that are not good for them because human nature is lured by these tactics.
That’s exactly what is going on here. This seductress is luring someone – a young man who did not have his guard up – into an action that might seem great to start but will end up in disaster. She uses all the same lures as modern advertising: it will be fun, it’s convenient, you deserve it. And the clincher – no way will we get caught.
Even if you and I would never be convinced to commit adultery, we have to admit that Satan knows exactly were to and how to encourage us to buy the sins that do tempt us. Whether it is a temptation to pay back unkindness with unkindness of our own. Or to flirt inappropriately at work. To eat or drink too much. You can bet that Satan knows my weaknesses and will offer those things to me.
Just like advertising today and the harlot in Proverbs 7, Satan will use persuasive tactics like: “you deserve it” or “it’ll be good for you” or “you cannot let them get away with it” or whatever advertising he can to lure us into sin. He is the master of one-to-one advertising, customizing the siren’s call toward whatever tempts me most, with whatever reasoning will work best on me. Blessedly, the Holy Spirit is also a master at giving us the exact help we need to resist the exact temptations that Satan throws at us. I just have to tune my mind to the advertising of the Holy Spirit, turn the volume up, so that I cannot hear Satan’s promotions.
I must listen to the messages of the Holy Spirit that encourages me to love my neighbor as myself, to return good for evil and never seek revenge, to be true to my marriage, to be honest/never steal, to be truthful in all communications/never lie, etc.
Through the Holy Spirit, God calls to us each day to follow His path, to buy into the product He is selling. What God is calling us to invest in is a product that has no negative side effects. It is a product that is good for every aspect of our lives (mind, heart, body and soul). It is a product that does promote better relationships not only with the Father and Jesus, but also with family, friends and coworkers. It is a product with positive results that will last for all eternity.
Whatever Satan is selling always, always leads to death. The world we live in is complicit in selling Satan’s ways. But the Holy Spirit is pure truth in advertising and its call leads to eternal life and tuning into it helps us to “just say no” to what Satan and the world are selling.

Undermining the Value of Life (Ozwitness)
Black lives matter, and so do yellow lives and white lives too, though I saw one poster, suggesting the above, torn from the hands of one young man by an angry mob of ‘racist ‘ protesters. Therein lies the problem with protests like that. It has lost its connection with that which
provided the West with its basic universal human rights, its marvellous freedoms and its obligations, which , at the moment we enjoy.
Instead, it has diverted from its just and positive origins to a negative ideology which lifts one race above others, or natural sexual orientations, or gender, into political issues organised by those who “mistake the strength of their feelings for the strength of their argument”, as William Gladstone said, 200 years ago.
The result is that such protesters take their angst out against long dead members of society, famous or infamous, by destroying their statues as though this will somehow re-write history, and right the wrongs of previous generations. We often see how easily these protesters are led into violence against police and property by anarchists and extremist ideologues, to the extent that we have seen cities in the USA set on fire.
The fact that the protesters will not accept is that there never were any perfect people, any more than there are today, and we cannot judge our forebears by the standards of today, which did not exist 100, 200, or thousands of years ago. They have to be viewed in the context of their time, and we must not be taken in by politicians who jump on the popularity bandwagon and give in to those who would remove all traces of our forebears’ mistakes from our streets, apologise for their mistakes in parliament, or attempt to right their wrongs by elevating one race or group above the rest of us, which would be the exact opposite of democracy.
Such foolishness would leave us without the opportunity to acknowledge their errors and learn from them, as well as the achievements of great men such as Captain Cook, Sir Francis Drake, Horatio Nelson, or Sir Winston Churchill, none of whom were perfect. We would be the poorer and more ignorant for their absence.
Who amongst these protesters can claim one fraction of the contribution these men made to the freedoms and privileges they enjoy as members of Western Civilisation? Not a one!
So we should recognise that what we in the West so enjoy, which makes our nations the envy of the world, are the freedoms, dignity and values placed upon human life here, not by accident , but by Genesis 1:26,
Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us…”‘ That statement gave equal value to all human life and is the origin of true human rights based upon the Laws our Creator provided, Laws which are today under attack as never before, though they are all that stand between us and the total destruction of Western Christian civilisation.
Ironically, it will be through the undermining of those laws by the political correctness of the identity politics these protesters espouse, that will bring about the fall of the USA, UK and its ex-colonies, and the decimation of their people by those with a total disregard for the Bible’s teaching of the value of each human life. Isaiah 6:11-13,
‘And though a tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste. But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed [the godly remnant] will be the stump in the land.” NIV.
This awful news, clearly spelt out in prophecy, is given to us for just one purpose. To help bring as many of us as possible through the Tribulation ahead through our repentance, that we should turn from our sin, and begin to keep God’s Commandments.
Only then will we experience the peace, prosperity and happiness in the Kingdom of God, in a world put to rights, under the rule and example of Jesus Christ.

The Faces We Used To Have (Sabbath Thoughts)
The first time I saw my daughter’s face, she was still in the womb. We were so eager to catch even a glimpse of our little girl that we paid for the 3D ultrasound – a purchase that, only a year earlier, I would have considered absolutely ridiculous. Why pay extra for fuzzy, imperfect, sometimes terrifying renderings of a face you’d see with your own eyes in just a matter of months? The answer, I eventually learned, was simple:
Because we wanted to. That was our baby in Mary’s belly – the baby we’d been talking to, reading to, singing to – and we had a chance to get a sneak peek ahead of schedule? Yeah, of course we were going to do that.
I remember the day I finally
did get to see Primrose’s face with my own eyes. The ultrasound wasn’t perfect, and she’d grown a lot since then, but we immediately recognized the similarities between the face on the monitor and the face that was beginning to glance around its brand new world. They weren’t the same face, but it was easy to see how they were connected.
And that’s more or less been the theme of the past two years. Every time my phone shows me a picture of Prim from a year ago, I see a different kid with a different face – and yet at the same time, there’s no doubt that it’s my Primmy’s face. Her face has grown with the rest of her, but never so much that I can’t look at an old photo of her and say, “Of course. Of course you used to look like this.” In those old photos, I can see the obvious beginnings of what her face looks like today.
It’s funny, though – it never works the opposite way. I can’t look at her face now and imagine what she’ll look like in another five, ten, or twenty years. It only works in reverse. It’s only obvious in retrospect. The future is still very much a mystery – at least to me. And I guess as a byproduct of that, the face I’m looking at in the present always feels like the end of the journey. Sure, Prim’s face has been changing throughout her life, but the face she has now,
that’s her face. How could it ever become anything different?
But it will. It already
is. The change happens so gradually, I forget that it’s happening before my very eyes. Truth be told, if it wasn’t for old photos, I’m not sure how aware I’d be of how drastically my daughter’s face has changed. I’d know it was changing, sure, but there’s a part of my brain that keeps insisting, “No, she’s always looked like this.” Without photos, I’d be more inclined to believe that.
Of course, this isn’t just true for Prim. This is how it works for everyone. The face you have now – it’s not the same face you had five or ten years ago. It’s not even the same exact face you had yesterday, if we’re being technical. It’s been changing – slowly and imperceptibly, but changing all the same. That’s why it can be such a shock to catch up with an old friend you haven’t seen in ten years – but if you’d had lunch with that friend every week for the past ten years, those same changes would have flown right under your radar.
And that, I guess, is growth in a nutshell. Really hard to see when you’re looking at it consistently. Hardest to see when it’s happening in the mirror. Easy to look back and see how who you are today had roots in who you were decades ago. Impossible to see how who you are today will be reflected in who you’ll be decades from now. We just have a hint: “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).
We’ll look like our Father. All the faces my daughter will ever have from the genes Mary and I gave her. And our spiritual faces, slowly but surely, are changing to look more like the face of the God who calls us His children: “His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire … His voice as the sound of many waters … and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength” (Revelation 1:14-16). That was John’s attempt at putting into words the majesty he saw in a vision. It’s a glimpse; a preview; an idea. “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Spiritually and physically, the face you have now isn’t the face you had ten years ago—and it’s not the face you’ll have ten years from now. You’ll change. Slowly and often imperceptibly, but you will. And as you let God lead you, you’re moving closer to a face that shines like the sun in its strength.
It’s easy for me to look in the mirror and feel frustrated – to feel like I’m not changing fast enough, well enough, or in the right ways. To feel stuck and stagnant and adrift. I take comfort in knowing that change is happening even when I’m convinced it’s not – that the process continues no matter how inadequate I’m feeling.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:22-25)
As Christians, we spend a lot of time looking into that spiritual mirror. We’re continually measuring ourselves against the perfect law of liberty – and the more we watch, the harder it is to recognize the slow growth we’re hoping to see. But it is happening. We have to trust that, as long as we stay focused on living the life God wants for us, then that change will proceed the way He designed it to.
I don’t know what Primmy’s face will look like next year. Or the year after. Or twenty years from now. But I know that when I see it, it will make perfect sense. I’ll see clearly how every face she used to have was a stepping stone culminating in that moment.
And us? There will come a day when we look upon the face of God Himself – and by extension, our own faces – and say, “Of course. Of course this is what I was always supposed to look like.”

Stalin and Kim, Marx and Engels: Christians? (Morning Companion)
Joseph Stalin went to seminary. Kim Il Sung, the first Communist dictator of North Korea, was once a church organist. Friedrich Engels wrote religious tracts and poetry, warning against the evils of Satanism. And then there is this, written by a young Karl Marx:
Through love of Christ we turn our hearts at the same time toward our brethren who are inwardly bound to us and for whom He gave Himself in Sacrifice. (Marx & Satan, Richard Wurmbrand, copyright 1986, Ninth Printing, Crossway Books, page 11, quoted from Marx’s The Union of the Faithful with Christ)
He also wrote this in the same work:
Union with Christ could give an inner elevation, comfort in sorrow, calm trust, and a heart susceptible to human love, to everything noble and great, not for the sake of ambition and glory, but only for the sake of Christ.
It’s a puzzle what happened to Karl Marx shortly thereafter, when he wrote the following verse:

So a god has snatched from me my all,
In the curse and rack of destiny.
All his worlds are gone beyond recall.
Nothing but revenge is left to me.
I shall build my throne high overhead,
Cold, tremendous shall its summit be.
For its bulwark – superstitious dread.
For its marshal – blackest agony.
Who looks on it with a healthy eye,
Shall turn back, deathly pale and dumb,
Clutched by blind and chill mortality,
May his happiness prepare its tomb.

(Ibid, pp.12-13)
Wurmbrand then quotes from another of Marx’s poems:
Then I will be able to walk triumphantly,
Like a god, through the ruins of their kingdom.
Every word of mine is fire and action.
My breast is equal to that of the Creator.

(Ibid, p. 13)
Other chilling quotes – even more chilling – from the pen of Karl Marx can be found in Wurmbrand’s
Marx and Satan. You can access a free PDF copy of the book at the link I provide at the end of this article. You can also obtain an inexpensive Kindle version from Amazon, although there are very few paper copies on the market today.
Based on documents Wurmbrand was able to examine, he believed that Karl Marx never became an atheist, but instead embraced a form of Satanism, not denying the existence of God, but harboring an attitude of hatred toward a God that he knew existed.
What could have happened to people like Stalin and Kim, Engels and Marx to turn their backs on the God of the Bible and instead embrace an approach to life that is bent on destruction and a demand to have oneself worshiped? The answer to that question is hard to know. The point is this: it can happen.
Back in the early 1970s, when I was a student at the State University. I encountered a follow student who adopted the
nom de plume of Beethoven, a nickname, I suppose, derived from his music major and the way he grew his hair. This Beethoven was a Marxist, whose modus operandi was to make a provocative statement while standing two inches from your nose and challenging you to respond. He also bragged that he had once been a dedicated Christian.
This same type of thing apparently happened to one time companions of the Apostle Paul named Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom Paul
handed over to Satan that they learn not to blaspheme (1 Timothy 1:20 NIV).
Still, it hurts to know young people who were brought up in the faith and see them in their young adulthood turn to atheism and even Marxism. Could it be that much of what we are seeing in the streets these days is the same phenomenon that happened to Marx, Engels, and the others? Could it be that, in spite of their early writings and backgrounds, they were never truly grounded in the faith?
I caution against pursuing the mindset of Satan beyond what we are told in Scripture. It’s a dark place that is best left where it is. Scripture tells us all we need to know about that. But Paul does tell us not to be ignorant of the devices of the darkness (2 Corinthians 2:11). The hatred, narcissism, the need to control others, the desire to destroy – these are all tracks that lead to darkness and misery. Look at the street demonstrations and tell me if you see any joy. We must guard the door to our minds, and we can do that through the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible Study, and fasting. Strengthen the armor of God.
We must also be careful of the company we keep. We tend to become like the five people we spend most of our time with. Your friends need to be encouragers, not discouragers. They need to be people who are striving to care about others and not just themselves. You get the picture here, I’m sure.
And there is one more thing, and it’s a good thing. The Beethoven I mentioned above was an angry young man. At the same time, on the same campus, there was another group of young people who also had the Beethoven hairstyle, but they also picked up a special Book and read it. And then they studied it. And then they found a joyful purpose in life. How many of them there were for every Beethoven I met, I cannot say. It was under the surface, but it was there. Maybe that can happen again.
Click here for a PDF Copy of Marx & Satan. In this book you’ll see extensive quotes from the writings of Marx and others that reveal the influence of the mind of Lucifer which is described in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28. Also fascinating are quotes from Friedrich Engel’s religious writings before his seduction. He clearly saw the dangers of the French Revolution and the demons it released. See pages 39 & 40 of the PDF copy linked earlier in this paragraph.

The Way to Success (Ozwitness)
I was driving North through the Pilbara on the Great Northern Highway accompanied by huge road trains with cargoes of machinery for the mines, the size of houses. To be honest I found the drive through the red dirt and bush to be monotonous and boring, and was looking for a place to park up the campervan for the night, fed up of dusty , uncivilised caravan sites which made even the bush seem attractive.
And then I saw trees up ahead, and a sign ‘Karalundi’, about 50k north of Meekatharra, which led me to a green oasis in the red dirt and bush!
What was this miracle with palm trees and green lawns, clean facilities and a kitchen, with a very welcoming young lady? Apparently, it used to be a 7th Day Adventist mission, but Christian Missions fell out of favour as political correctness began to arrive, and it has to be admitted that some were patronising because they regarded aboriginals as benighted, in need of rescuing from their pagan, uneducated and uncivilised ways.
But I learned that this mission had a vision to advance the education and conditions of the aboriginal children they served, by giving them the skills and abilities that would enable them to gain jobs and make progress in society. They also hoped that teaching Christian ways would benefit their charges by improving their lifestyle.
In the end, the challenges were too much. The farm, which was an important part of the mission, providing food, training and jobs, could never make enough to be self-supporting, mainly because of the hot, dry climate. Funding was scarce from the church, and bad choices were made, so that , in the end, the church sold up, feeling their efforts to teach the children a better way of life were not appreciated and had failed in the face of political correctness – the criticism of church missions in general.
For many years the farm gradually reverted to bush, and the buildings stood idle, but those kids who were educated there, were growing up, and low and behold, as
they became parents, they wanted their children to enjoy an education like the one they had, complete with the Bible and the Seventh Day Sabbath! So much for the political correctness which overcame missions!
These aboriginal parents, whose lives were so much better because of the mission, got together, bought the property, reintroduced the school, and asked the Seventh Day Adventist Church for guidance and help! By the way I’m not a member!
Today it is a flourishing school, the environment has recovered its beauty, and is financially supported by the caravan site they have included, which is quite understandably popular.
Aboriginal children are once again having an education which includes the true Creator and His Laws, simply because their parents recognised how valuable that had been to them in making their lives successful.
This has to show the politically correct ‘know it alls’ how the government should be working with aboriginal people to advance their inclusion in society; in fact it is an example of how it will be worldwide in the coming Kingdom of God, as all races learn the way of God, which produces harmony, prosperity, and happiness!
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. Psalm 1:1-3

Creating Our Own Weather (Sabbath Meditations)
I was biking one of my favorite routes, trying to best my previous time. About two thirds around the route it became clear that it wasn’t going to happen. The temperature had climbed to a sweltering 90ºF accompanied by 68% humidity, so it felt a bit like pedaling through a hot tub. My energy and speed were fading fast. But then I encountered a section of the route that changed everything. As the trail swung by a lake, I was unexpectedly greeted by a cool, refreshing breeze blowing off the water. For a quarter of a mile it was as if I had entered a different climate. I emerged back into the 90ºF heat having been given new life, renewed vitality and enough strength to kick hard the last three miles.
What I experienced on that ride by the lake, is what scientists refer to as a micro-climate. Bear with me while I wax a little scientific. You see, I researched the subject on Google for about 20 minutes, and I now consider myself somewhat of an expert in the area.
A micro-climate is defined as a “variation of the climate within a given area, usually influenced by hills, hollows, structures or proximity to bodies of water. A micro-climate differs significantly from the general climate of a region” and can be as little as a few inches wide. Micro-climates exist as islands of life, in places no life would otherwise be possible.
One of the most dramatic examples of this phenomenon is a line of deep sea vents which form along mid-ocean ridges, such as the East Pacific Rise and the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. These are locations where two tectonic plates are diverging and new crust is being formed. Water pouring out of vents can reach temperatures up to about 400ºC. but the high pressure keeps the water from boiling. However, the intense heat is limited to a small area. Within less than an inch of the vent opening, the water temperature drops to 2ºC, the ambient temperature of deep seawater.
It was long believed that the immense pressure that exists at that depth, combined with total darkness and frigid temperatures were too hostile to support life. However, recent discovery of these incredible micro-climates along these vents, where lush ecosystems thrive in total darkness, have blown that belief (excuse the pun) out of the water.
What I find interesting about micro-climates is; while they occur naturally all over the planet, they can also be created. In fact, any serious gardener will tell you that the ability to create small micro-climates is a key to growing successful, thriving gardens, especially in places where a short growing season can make gardening a challenge. How do they do it?
In colder regions some gardeners use large boulders or rocks, strategically located within and around their garden, to provide not only a shelter for the wind but also a source of warmth when the temperature drops. The boulders draw in heat from the sun during the day and then release it slowly at night.
Another method of creating a micro-climate suitable for plants to thrive early or late in the growing season is to either fully enclose the garden bed in material that can both capture and retain the heat of the sun, or, place reflective sheets or panels next to the garden bed in such a way as to reflect heat and light onto the growing plants.
Raised bed gardening is another popular method used to elevate plants at a higher level, allowing for warmer soil temperatures in which plants can thrive.
Yet another common practice is to plant seedlings closer to together, which not only changes the temperature of the soil, but allows plants to use their shared strength as protection from the harsh elements. Planting closer together also allows for more efficient watering and fertilizing.
In short, gardeners create micro-climates by using large rock, directed and focused light, elevation above the surrounding environment and by placing plants in close proximity to one another. Using one or all of these methods allow life to thrive in areas that would normally be hostile to healthy growth.
I think I feel a spiritual analogy coming on.
As Christians, we live in an environment that is hostile to spiritual growth. On our own we have no chance of survival. Our God has given us everything we need to live in the hostile climate of this world. In essence He has provided us with access to our own spiritual micro-climate. Regardless of the conditions or the weather around us, He gives us the tools to create our own weather. That spiritual micro-climate consists of:
A spiritual Rock to shield me and from which to draw strength.
Psalm 62:6 – 8 “He only is my rock and my salvation; He is my defense; I shall not be moved. In God is my salvation and my glory; the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God. Trust in Him at all times, you people. Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. Selah.”
Christ’s light, to guide, nourish and sustain me through the storms of life.
John 1:1-5 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
2 Corinthians 4:5-6 “For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bond-servants for Jesus’s sake. For it is God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
We’ve been elevated to sit with Him in heavenly places. We are no longer of this world; no longer in bondage to the elements of this world.
Ephesians 2:4-8 “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God…”
He places us in close proximity to other believers so that we can strengthen and encourage one another. We all drink of the life giving water of His Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12:12-14 “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many.”
God has given us each this spiritual micro-climate so that, wherever we are planted, whatever the circumstances of life, we can create our own weather. We do not need to be dependent on external sources. We don’t need to be dependent on the perfect career to give us identity or meaning. We are not dependent on the perfect family environment to nurture and love us. We’re not even dependent on the perfect church organization or the perfect pastor. Christians who create their own micro-climate thrive wherever they are, despite the conditions around them. Rather than be influenced by their environment, they influence the environment around them. Rather than let attitudes, negativity or the hurtfulness of others weaken and destroy them spiritually, His Spirit in them provides a source of love that sustains and nourishes not only them, but allows them to freely extend that love to others.
So how’s your spiritual micro-climate? Do you create your own weather? Or, do you often feel like you’re standing out in the rain, being battered by the wind and other hostile elements of this world? If we have so much at our disposal to create our own weather, why are so many of us still so vulnerable to fear, anxiety and depression because of our circumstances or the environment around us? How many of us allow ourselves to be defeated by negative people or events?
Because we have all been there from time to time, perhaps the better question is how can we get this micro-climate thing working for us?
The Apostle Paul is a great example of a believer that had a powerful spiritual micro-climate surrounding him.
In Philippians 4:11-13 he writes “…for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Amazing! Sounds like he was riding through a cool, refreshing breeze no matter where he went. I want some of that weather around me, don’t you? How did he get it?
Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
He was able to live in that micro-climate because he was completely sold out, completely in tune with the source of the weather he enjoyed. He rejected his old man, complete with its desires, its fears, its anxieties and hurts and its need to control his own environment. He surrendered it all, in faith laying it all at the Master’s feet so that He might come and live in Him.
Jesus Christ living in Him, was the life force that sustained Paul. He basked in the strength of the Rock. He allowed the light of God’s love and His truth to nourish and strengthen Him. Rejecting this world, he embraced his citizenship in heaven, elevated to sit in heavenly places. He thrived on the the close proximity he felt with the brethren. Their encouragement and comfort gave him confidence to continue in ministry.
In a nut shell, it was dying to himself, and surrendering to let Christ live every day in him which created the micro-climate that sustained and strengthened Paul. It’s that same attitude, that same perspective, that can allow us to survive and thrive when the weather around us turns hostile.
I know I’m going to make a point to bike by that lake again this summer. It made all the difference in my ability to finish strongly. It would be great if I could figure out a way to get that refreshing breeze to envelop me for more than just a quarter mile. However, short of strapping an air conditioner to my handle bars I don’t think it’s possible.
Spiritually speaking though, I’m thankful that our God has provided all the right conditions for His people to grow up in Him. Safe in the micro-climate that He provides, fair weather can be with us wherever we go.

That New-Fangled Religion (Morning Companion)
Nancy Pearcy, in her book
Total Truth, says that the great philosophies and religions of the world attempt to answer three questions:
1. How did it all begin?
2. What went wrong?
3. What can we do about it?
Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity, Nancy Pearcey, page 128, Crossway Books, copyright 2004)
The Christian world view constructs the framework in this way:
1. It began with creation. “In the beginning God …”
2. The “Fall” is what went wrong. Sin had entered the world.
3. The solution is redemption through Jesus Christ.
By these lights, political and social movements often take on a near religious if not fanatical tone. Here is how Marxism presents itself:
1. Origins: Self-generating matter. Primitive communism.
2. The Fall: The advent of private property.
3. Redemption: Revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat leading to a return to primitive communism.
French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau’s world view was something like this:
1. Origin: State of nature.
2. The Fall came when society or civilization organized people away from the state of nature.
3. Redemption comes when the State takes over all aspects of society.
New Age spirituality takes this approach:
1. Origins: The Absolute, the One, a Universal Spiritual Essence.
2. The Fall: The sense of individuality.
3. Redemption: Reuniting with the Universal Spiritual Essence.
(Note: For a more complete explanation of these world views and others, see Pearcey’s lengthy explanations in pages 127-150 of
Total Truth.)
One way to view all of the world philosophies is to see them as perversions of the biblical paradigm of origin, fall, and redemption. That’s a valid observation. It’s also an indication of something else: that people need to find a structure for meaning. People want to know not only where they come from and why bad things happen, we also have a need to find solutions – redemption – if you will.
This speaks to the great spiritual hole in our hearts, a hole that needs to be filled with something. That longing can be a dangerous opening for demagogic exploitation (Communism, Nazism, and other demonic promises of redemption). Or, that longing can be an opportunity to open one’s heart for real redemption.
If you are looking for something to pray about these days, notice that the fields are ripe for harvest. That chase for new-fangled religions and tempting ideologies speaks to a need. To get a little personal here, I was once on a quest for ultimate meaning, and my journey led me to take from the shelf a two-decade old Bible that had barely been cracked. My sincerity in my journey was rewarded, and the presence of that Book was a cornerstone of that. For others that cornerstone might be a friend, a friend who lives a life that lives the words instead of just mouthing them.
If sincere seekers are looking for answers, surely the Father can draw them. Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send more workers into the field. And you know what? Maybe you can be one of those workers in the field even if it’s face to face with one person at a time.

Hand and Heart (New Church Lady)
Proverbs 7:3 [NKJV] Bind them on your fingers; Write them on the tablet of your heart.
In encouraging us to bind the words of wisdom he offers on our hands and heart, Solomon brings to mind the words of God in Deuteronomy 6:8-9 [NKJV] You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. [See also Deuteronomy 11:18-21]
In my travels, I have seen Jewish men with copies of the law strapped to their wrists or in a little pouch strapped to their foreheads. I have known families to post the 10 commandments by the front door or wear miniatures as a necklace. Personally, I have been known to post scriptures on my bathroom mirror if I am trying to memorize them or if I need to be reminded of God’s promises or if I am seeking comfort during a difficult time. That makes them kind of between my eyes – or at least within my eye line as I get ready for work in the morning and get ready for bed in the evening.
This literal posting of scripture can help remind us of God’s law or His plan or His promises as we go about our daily routines. However, we know the Father is after more than just scripture written in public places or warn on our persons. Literal posting only serves to remind us of the need to make the scriptures an internal part of who we are – to bind them in our hearts. Literal posting only serves to remind us of the need to make the scriptures the overarching guides in all we do – to bind them to our hands/fingers.
My heart, if it is engraved with scripture, will lead me to live patiently, make decisions based on love, to seek peace, to walk faithfully, to trust in God and to stay true to God’s will. My hands, if they are bound with the scripture, will do the work of helping others, saving, serving, giving at every opportunity.
God is seeking children whose hearts, or internal compasses, are guided by scripture and, thereby, produce all the fruit of the spirit. God is seeking children whose deeds are led by the scriptures to do His works on this earth.

Taking Your Calling Personally (Sabbath Thoughts)
“For you see your calling, brethren …”
Wait. Stop. Don’t just read past it. You’ve seen this verse a thousand times – this time, read it again for the first time.
“For you see your calling.”
Your calling.
It doesn’t belong to anyone else. Not to the Church. Not to your peers. Not to those who came before you, and not to those who will come after.
It’s yours. Your calling belongs to you and you alone.
The implications are as unsettling as they are liberating. No one can take this from you. No one – not the Church, not your peers, not those above or below you. But it also means that it’s entirely on us. On our shoulders. No one else can ruin it for us, but they can’t make it work for us, either.
If you fail to enter the Kingdom, the fault is ultimately yours.
That’s what all this means. No one on earth, not even Satan himself, can prevent you from entering the Kingdom. God has given us – will
continue to give us – everything we need to make that journey. It all hinges on our choices.
No one can snatch us from our Father’s hand, it’s true – but no one is going to stop us from hopping out of it, either. If we’re holding fast what we have, no one can take our crown – but there’s nothing in place to prevent us from handing that crown over out of boredom or frustration.
When God stands before us and commands us to
“choose life, that both you and your descendants may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19), there’s not a thing in the world that can stop us from saying no. The choice to turn our backs and walk away is always, always on the table. This is our calling, after all.
The problem is, after accepting and truly understanding it, we only get to reject that calling once. Just once.
“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame” (Hebrews 6:4-6).
It’s not that we
can’t repent. We can always repent, and God always stands ready to forgive and cleanse us (1 John 1:9). The terrifying implication of that passage is that we can come to a point where we’re no longer interested in repenting. Where we refuse to repent. And at that point …
At that point,
“there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” (Hebrews 10:26-29).
Brethren, are we talking our calling personally? Because we must. We absolutely
must if we intend to enter the Kingdom of God. This is the most intensely personal thing you will ever do in your entire life – for although we’re instructed to “bear one another’s burdens” on our collective journey to the Kingdom, the truth is that “each one shall bear his own load” (Galatians 6:2, 5).
When the seventh trumpet sounds, you will either rise or you will not. There isn’t a thing anyone can do in that moment to help you or hurt you. This is your calling. Your decision.
Your choice.

Do You Trust Truth Over Facts? (Morning Companion)
We’re now entering the political silly season (yes, even sillier than before), but not everything that’s silly is something to laugh at. Some of us are laughing at a now infamous line from one of the presidential candidates that many have taken as a gaffe. Here’s the video.
“We choose truth over facts.” (!!!!)
I will submit that this was not a gaffe at all, but an intentional reflection of the spirit of the age. Watch this video beginning at about the 3:20 marker, and I’ll explain.
Did you catch the interesting linguistic construction, “your truth”? Many of us believe that truth is truth, that when something is, it is what it is. It isn’t “my truth” versus “your truth”. Our perceptions may be different, but that doesn’t change what is objectively true. Truth is objective and verifiable, but a growing
zeitgeist asserts that truth is relative. What might be true for you is not necessarily true for me. Feelings count more than facts, that’s all the evidence one needs, and therefore “we choose truth over facts”.
Corey Booker can talk about “your truth”, and campaign strategies are built on emotion and feelings rather than rational debate about the issues. Verifiable facts? Not in this brave new world of perception over reality and style over substance.
Look at this from Adolf Hitler’s chapter on propaganda in Mein Kampf:
“The receptivity of the masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous. In consequence of these facts, all propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan.”
And there is this from the original community organizer, Saul Alinsky:
“An organizer working in and for an open society is in an ideological dilemma to begin with, he does not have a fixed truth – truth to him is relative and changing; everything to him is relative and changing … To the extent that he is free from the shackles of dogma, he can respond to the realities of the widely different situations.”
And this from George Soros:
“In politics, manipulating reality can take precedence over finding reality.”
’m going to ask you not to laugh at the curious Joe Biden construction about trusting truth and not facts. That statement is an accurate reflection of a growing spirit of the age, the same spirit that motivated Pilate to plaintively lament to Jesus, “What is truth?”

Flattery (New Church Lady)
Proverbs 6:23-28 [CSB] For a command is a lamp, teaching is a light, and corrective discipline is the way to life. They will protect you from an evil woman, from the flattering tongue of a wayward woman. Don’t lust in your heart for her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyelashes. For a prostitute’s fee is only a loaf of bread, but the wife of another man goes after a precious life. Can a man embrace fire and his clothes not be burned? Can a man walk on burning coals without scorching his feet?
Solomon seems to have some specific themes that he hits on throughout his Proverbs. He frequently writes about the commands being a light to our path. The next verses go into at least one area of sin that we are protected from when we have the command and teaching and correction of Proverbs 6:23 – that is: adultery. Avoiding the temptress and eschewing adultery are also frequent themes.
But the act of adultery is only the final result of a whole lot of bad choices – choices that we are to avoid. These scriptures also advise us to avoid a couple of specifics steps along the path that leads adultery. This scripture tells us to be careful not to succumb to flattery that leads to lust.
In the example outlined in Proverbs 6:23-28, flattery by a person leads to lust for that person and results in adultery. I’ve seen it happen at work and even in volunteer service, that a couple of people will work so well together and spend so much time together on projects that the relationship becomes “the work wife” or “the work husband.” The dynamics at work are so different from the dynamics at home. A different set of skills and goals apply. Perhaps you feel more successful at work and are struggling at home. If not guarded against, that work relationship can edge into in appropriate ground.
But is this really the only way that flattery can lead to lust, which is already a sin, and then perhaps into a second sin of adultery? I don’t think so. I think there are other areas where flattery leads to lust.
It seems to me that most advertising begins with flattery that seeks to create the desire for something we may not need like a new car or the latest fashion. Advertisements use words like “you are worth it” or “you deserve better”. Sometimes ads advise you that “smart people choose/use this thing” or that parents who “really care about” the health or education of their children would buy this particular product. These ads seek to lure you with flattery.
We have to guard our minds against the subtle and not so subtle flattery inherent in a lot of advertising that leads to lusting after something we don’t need or maybe can’t afford. I have to be careful so that I am not charmed by the idea of how much better my life would be if only I had that thing that they are selling. I have to guard against being tricked into believing that thing they are selling is
required for me to be a good mate or a good parent.
Flattery that leads to lust and the sin of adultery is something to be aware of and avoid. But flattery that leads to lust isn’t confined to someone trying to get you to commit adultery. In the world we live in today, flattery is a tool used to make us lust after all kinds of things we don’t need – from soda to a new car to a new pair of tennis shoes.
The lamp of God’s commandments, the light of His teachings and His corrective discipline are tools that help us to filter out that flattery and see it for what it really is. The lamp of God’s commandments, the light of His teachings and His corrective discipline keep us from lusting after anything we don’t really need – whether that is a person on a product.

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; our pocket books are being drained; illegal aliens are streaming over our borders; 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.” Its 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 worlds 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.

Carry the Message (Morning Companion)
Having a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry the message to other addicts and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” —
Step 12 of the Twelve Step Program
Carry the message,” the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous said. To those in the Twelve Step Programs it’s more than just a nice thought. It can be the difference between life and death. This twelfth step requires those who are recovering from the cauldron of substance abuse to form a network of support for others who suffer from the same problem.
This is a unique concept, this idea of sinners helping sinners. It’s a very biblical one, but one that many churches might find troublesome.
Sinners helping sinners? Horrors!
Yet Jesus himself said,
“First remove the plank from your own eyes, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5) That means if you have overcome a specific problem, you are in an excellent position to help those who struggle with the same thing. We are all nothing more than recovering sinners, and who better to understand the mind of an addict than a recovering addict?
In the book of Hebrews, we read about the high priests of ancient Israel, who were able to
“have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray, since he himself is also subject to weakness.” (Hebrews 5:2 NKJV) Indeed, we have today the greatest High Priest of them all, who “had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God … Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (2:17-18 NIV) Though he never sinned, Jesus was nevertheless a recovering human being who laid aside his immortality in order to transcend his humanity with the hope that we can transcend ours.
When we face various trials or overcome our many weaknesses, the glory belongs to God, but our duty is to our brothers and sisters in Christ. When we have walked the road ourselves, we have special compassion and insight that can only come from the hard experience of suffering.
As Paul once wrote,
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ … who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God … If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. (2 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.

Go to the Ant (New Church Lady)
Proverbs 6:6-8 [NKJV] Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise, Which, having no captain, Overseer or ruler, Provides her supplies in the summer, [And] gathers her food in the harvest.
There are 22,000 species of ants that scientists have identified. There are fire ants with a very painful sting. There are carpenter ants that create their homes by excavating wood to form smooth tunnels inside of the wood. There’s the pharaoh ant, small yellow or light brown, almost transparent ant that is notorious for being a major indoor nuisance pest, especially in hospitals. There is the weaver ant that lives in trees and is known for its unique nest building behavior where workers construct nests by weaving together leaves using larval silk.
God created so many types of ants, each with a different and unique purpose within the ecosystems where they exist.
He only created one type of human and we have only one ultimate purpose. Although each of us is as unique as a snowflake and our cultures, backgrounds and genetics play a part in how we look, act and think, mankind was created to become the sons of God – to ultimately spend eternity with Him as spirit beings. Every human is a child of God. Every human is loved by God. Every human has the potential to live eternally in God’s kingdom. Every. Single. One.
God gives us different and unique talents, opportunities, situations and jobs to do as we each make our way to that specific destiny we share. There are many gifts of the spirit but each with the same purpose.
I Corinthians 12 outlines the gifts of the Spirit. This outline begins in verse 4 with this: There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. 6 And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.
Why? What is the purpose of your gift or gifts?
Verse 7 tells us:
A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. [NLT] God gave you your gifts because He wants you to use those gifts to help your fellow human beings.
It is in serving others that we serve the God who loves us all and created each of us with the same ultimate purpose – to become His children and live with him for all eternity in His Kingdom.
If you don’t know what your gift or gifts are, you can read through 1 Corinthians 12 to help you find it or take one of the many tests out there that help you determine your gift or gifts.
Then, once you know the gift or gifts God has given you, it is time to “go to the ant” – find your place in God’s plan of salvation for all mankind and use that gift or gifts to make the world around you a better place.
You are unique. You have your own unique place in this world. Enjoy it. Use it to glorify God and to advance the Kingdom.

Warrior Builders (Sabbath Thoughts)
For seventy years after Nebuchadnezzar’s raids, the city of Jerusalem lay desolate. Its walls were toppled and burned, and the once awesome temple of God had been razed to the ground. Streets which had once been overrun with noise and clamor were as silent as the grave, and any houses that remained upright stood silently collecting the dust of seven decades. Centuries of God’s people rejecting His way and His protection had finally wrought the city’s destruction – those who hadn’t been slain in the battles were living as captives in a foreign land. Jerusalem was empty.
Empty, but not deserted. The God whose “eyes… run to and fro throughout the whole earth” (2 Chronicles 16:9) had never stopped watching over the city of His people – and even in the quietude of desolation, He was arranging events to bring His people back. At the end of the timeframe established by God and at the command of a king whose name had long ago been prophesied (Jeremiah 25:12; Isaiah 44:28), a decree was made:
“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah. Who is among you of all His people? May his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel (He is God), which is in Jerusalem. And whoever is left in any place where he dwells, let the men of his place help him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, besides the freewill offerings for the house of God which is in Jerusalem.” (Ezra 1:2-4)
After seventy years of captivity, the Jews were free to go home to their country, and even King Cyrus had been divinely inspired (Ezra 1:1) to know the reason why: it was time to build.
Your purpose on earth
Let me ask a question. Why are you here?
It’s not a new question. The human race has been looking for an answer ever since it left the garden of Eden, and in that time we’ve managed to invent a staggering number of solutions … some mildly more coherent than others. But if you’ve been in the Church for any length of time, you know the real answer: we’re here because God is building a family, and because He wants us to be part of it.
But why are you
here, specifically? If becoming part of God’s family is the ultimate goal, what’s the reason for this stint on earth as a human being? Why this life? Why this existence? Why are you here?
We talk sometimes about fighting the good fight (1 Timothy 6:12), about putting on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:11), and about standing “against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10). These are all important things, and they are things a Christian can and must be doing. But are they the reasons we’re here? Did God put us on this earth just to fight against Satan and his demons?
A lesson from the exiles
The Jews in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah had the need to take up arms as well. Returning from captivity, they faced opposition from antagonists who wanted nothing more than to stop the reconstruction of God’s temple. When mountains of red tape and intimidation tactics ultimately failed, these adversaries resorted to a plan of outright bloodshed. They decided to attack and kill the Jews, reasoning that “They will neither know nor see anything, till we come into their midst and kill them and cause the work to cease” (Nehemiah 4:11).
Except God’s people caught wind of it. They took up swords, spears, and bows and stood watch wherever the wall was weak or unbuilt, and Nehemiah spurred the people on:
“Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses.”
And it happened, when our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had brought their plot to nothing, that all of us returned to the wall, everyone to his work. So it was, from that time on, that half of my servants worked at construction, while the other half held the spears, the shields, the bows, and wore armor; and the leaders were behind all the house of Judah. Those who built on the wall, and those who carried burdens, loaded themselves so that with one hand they worked at construction, and with the other held a weapon. Every one of the builders had his sword girded at his side as he built. And the one who sounded the trumpet was beside me. (Nehemiah 4:14-18)
The Jews had not returned from captivity to fight. Circumstances, however, forced them to adapt, building with one hand and ready to fight with the other. Under Nehemiah’s guidance and God’s blessing, these former captives became a force to be reckoned with – they became warrior builders, prepared to do battle with anyone seeking to destroy what God had called them to build.
Warrior builders
Does any of this sound familiar? A chosen people, called out of captivity to build the temple of God under oppression from relentless adversaries. If you’re noticing a common thread, there’s a reason. One of the vital lessons of the books of Nehemiah and Ezra is why God’s people were there – and one of the vital truths we need to understand today is why we are here.
God did not put us on this earth just to pit us against Satan.
That’s not to say we don’t
need to fight Satan. Like the adversaries of Nehemiah and Ezra, the devil and his demons are seeking to derail the work God is doing. Taking up the armor of God and fighting the good fight is an absolute necessity, but it’s not the main reason we’re here.
The people under Nehemiah were not warriors who had taken up remodeling as a hobby. They were builders who had taken up arms in order to protect what they had been divinely commanded to build. We likewise are not given the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17) in order wage a one-man crusade against Satan. We take up the whole armor of God so that we can have the strength to “stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:13), but nowhere are we told to go pick a fight with him. No, we’re here for a much greater reason.
The greatest temple
God’s temple had several iterations throughout Israel’s history. King Solomon was the first to build it – a glorious house ornamented with precious metals, colorful threads, and beautiful woodwork. That temple was ultimately destroyed in the raids that desolated Jerusalem and placed her inhabitants into captivity. After seventy years, the temple was rebuilt and defended under leaders like Ezra and Nehemiah … but it, too, was destroyed after God’s people again fell into a pattern of rejecting Him.
But there’s another temple being built. Unlike the previous versions, this temple cannot be built with human hands or with human tools. Paul writes about it, asking, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy,
which temple you are” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, emphasis added). This new temple is God’s Church. Peter writes about us as “living stones”, who “are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ … a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy” (1 Peter 2:5, 9-10). We’re a work in progress. There’s still a great deal of building to be done, but that’s okay, because that’s why we’re here.
We just looked at Paul’s declaration that God’s temple is now composed of His people, but let’s back up just a few verses and get the context. Paul wrote:
For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1 Corinthians 3:13-16)
God has given us a set of plans for the greatest temple of them all – His Church. His
family. You are here to help build it.

‘I Got It Wrong (New Horizons)
‘…leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment’ (Hebrews 6:1-2)
How often do you hear that confession? And how often do you hear it from the pronouncements of church leadership? It is a rarity, though I have experienced it on a few occasions in my church fellowship.
The church of God (Sabbath observing) in all its branches is quite close on its doctrinal stance – differences are paper-thin, some would say. They are largely centered on organization or leader loyalty, though there are a few zealous mavericks who claim to have special understanding of a doctrine (or two).
Most of us have our ‘comfort zone’ – a cosy resting place for our faith. We may have the odd dissenting thoughts about what we hear from the pulpit –but we usually let it pass. We get on with our Christian life, in our daily walk doing our best to reflect the life of our Saviour. We are content to fellowship in ‘my’ group each Sabbath or, if isolated, we get our spiritual nourishment from ‘my’ church via the internet or by videos etc. It works for us.
But why this particular branch of the church of God? It might be the one with which we first fellowshipped, or the one we were born into, or a personal choice – perhaps because of a massive breach of ethics or heretical teaching in a former branch. It might simply be personal taste.
But back to ‘doctrine’. The first churches were far from doctrinally harmonious. Dissent was normal – yet they were undoubtedly the ‘church of God’, and there was brotherly interchange be-tween each independent local assembly. They were, however, encouraged to share a common platform of belief – the faith once delivered’ (Hebrews 6:1-3), while dissent was only rarely a hanging offence (‘disfellowship’).
As in the apostolic era there is today a need to encourage the brethren to be tolerant of minor differences. Too often an idea grips an individual, who comes to see it as ‘essential for salvation’. It can come to disturb a whole assembly. Bingo – division!
Many fail to grasp that when we become a member of God’s Family (ie the ‘Kingdom of God’) through God’s indwelling Spirit we are thereby robed in the white garments of Christ’s righteousness. We will still have our faults, our character weaknesses – even our sins (I John 1:8) – but our Father because of His boundless love for His Son and for His new ‘sons and daughters’ sees us through the prism of Christ’s perfect holiness imputed to us. That understanding (I John 3:2) provides room for us to cease our worries about our standing before God and to strive daily to attain, with his ever-present help, to Jesus’s perfection in accord with His perfect will.

Drink of Choice (New Church Lady)
Proverbs 5:15-20 [NKJV] 15 Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. 16 Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares? 17 Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers. 18 May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. 19 A loving doe, a graceful deer – may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be intoxicated with her love. 20 Why, my son, be intoxicated with another man’s wife? Why embrace the bosom of a wayward woman?
This segment of Proverbs 5 speaks directly about being faithful in marriage. Verse 18 ties all the flowery talk about water and wells, and intoxication directly to being content in marriage. This segment boils down to Solomon’s advice to: “love your own wife and not someone else’s”.
Lack of fidelity in marriage is a problem in modern times – just as it was back then. Solomon had some history with that, given that the relationship between his father, David, and his mother, Bathsheba, began with adultery.
However, if we look at this segment in a broader sense, we can see that it could easily be applied to any part of our blessings. In a broader sense, this segment of Proverbs tells us to “be happy with what we have.”
It reminds me of
Exodus 20:17 [NIV] “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
A lack of contentment with what we have, a lack of thankfulness for the blessing in our lives, can lead to sinful actions like adultery or stealing. If I am happy with my own blessings, I would not seek someone else’s goods. This is supported by 1 Timothy 6:6 [NKJV] which tells us Now godliness with contentment is great gain.
This world breeds discontentment. In every TV, radio or social media commercial and in every glossy magazine touting the new car, bigger TV, more powerful phone, or designer handbag is the subtle (or maybe not so subtle) hint that what I have isn’t good enough.
Proverbs 5 doesn’t
just tell me to stay away from what others have that I don’t, it also encourages me to enjoy what I do have – to drink from the well of blessings that God has already given me. That might include a mate, a car, a job, a home.
If we are busy drinking from our own well of blessings – enjoying them, maybe using some of those blessings to help others, and always being thankful for what we have – we will never be thirsty for the blessings of others.

The Red X Mentality (Sabbath Thoughts)
Even now, it’s there, waiting patiently in the corner of your screen. Waiting for you to get tired. Waiting for you to lose interest. The red X.
It isn’t always a red X, of course. Depending on your operating system of choice, it might be a sideways triangle or a red circle or a circumscribed square, but they all serve the same function:
That button is your ticket out of here.
If this page gets boring; if I spend too much time talking about something you don’t care about, you don’t have to stay. With the click of a button, you can disappear off this page forever, and there isn’t a thing I can do to stop you. And let’s be honest – the Internet is filled with a lot of reasons to employ the services of the red X. There are sites that are written in barely comprehensible English, clearly written in a desperate attempt to pilfer more traffic from Google. There are other sites so filled with ads and poor design that getting to the actual content of the page is more trouble than it’s worth. Some sites are unreadable walls of poorly formatted text, while others are slow-loading behemoths stuffed with a thousand high-resolution images and auto playing videos you never asked to see.
When you come across something online that you don’t want to see anymore,
you don’t have to. That’s the beauty of the red X. Leaving – disappearing without a trace – is always an option.
The problem comes when we take the red X off the Internet and into real life. At its core, the red X is permission to leave when something stops being interesting, when it takes longer than we expected, when we’d rather be doing something else. That’s fine online, but when it comes to our jobs, our friendships, our commitments, our marriages, and our calling, that approach is absolutely disastrous.
The worst part is that I don’t have to ask you to imagine those scenarios, because you’ve probably already seen them all. How many commitments have you seen broken simply because someone stopped caring enough to follow through? What about marriages that fell apart when things got difficult? The red X mentality assures us that it’s okay, that we’re justified in walking away if things start taking too long, or if they get boring or hard to understand. If whatever has our attention at the moment isn’t absolutely riveting, then there’s probably another page out there that does it better, takes less of our time, and offers us more. No need to wait around here.
In terms of web design, God’s way ranks poorly. We’re promised long loading times when pursuing character, our most important book is a wall of text with terrible formatting and no pictures, and our adversary is cramming our lives full of advertisements for thing we never asked to see – and yet here we are.
Why? It’s because you know.
Like the heroes of faith before you, you’ve looked beyond what’s in front of you, and you’ve seen the promises afar off. You’ve embraced them and confessed yourself to be a stranger and pilgrim on this earth (Hebrews 11:13). You understand that the Kingdom of God is more than the immediate things, more than eating and drinking, and is instead centered on righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17).
The red X is always there, whispering that it’s too hard, that it’s taking too long, that you can find somewhere else that looks better and loads quicker and requires less of you.
But it’s a lie, and you know it. You know that you can’t afford to spend your time looking back, because you have a row to plow and it needs to be straight (Luke 9:62). You know that there’s a way that seems right to you, and you know where it leads (Proverbs 14:12).
You know, above all, that some things are worth waiting for. Some things are worth suffering for. Some things are worth
striving for.
The Kingdom of God is one of those things.
What’s more, you know that it’s one of a kind. God is God, His Kingdom is
the Kingdom, and there is no alternative, no substitute, nothing that ever has been or ever will be, that can hold a candle to the future God offers (Daniel 7:14, 27).
The loading time is irrelevant. The user interface is irrelevant. The ease of use and the thousand other things that matter so much online are absolutely, one hundred percent irrelevant, because behind all that is something worth moving toward.
The red X isn’t worth it .

Touchstones and Stumblingblocks (Morning Companion)
Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. (Jeremiah 6:16)
Every society needs its safe places, those cultural touchstones where we can feel the familiar. Whether we are feeling lost or not, we can take comfort in the rituals of living that give us connections to others or a soothing of heavy hearts.
That’s why cultures build rituals around what we hold dear, rituals that we accept so readily as the normal course of life that we no longer even think of them as rituals. Funerals, weddings, graduations, family reunions, summer vacations, holidays, church services, the national anthem before the big game – all are ritualistic and familiar, and because they happen when we are together, they provide a sense of community and familiarity. “We are in this together” is not just a slogan. The cultural touchstones are as ubiquitous as the oxygen in the air and therefore noticed only by their absence. That was the message voiced by James Earl Jones’s character in that great baseball flick Field of Dreams.
As I write this in the summer of 2020, we have witnessed months of restrictions on our lives in the name of public health without regard to mental health and social cohesion. This systematic dismantling of our cultural touchstones has disrupted more than the economy. Think about these, to name just a few:
Funerals, weddings, churches: dismantled.
Schools, entertainment, the way we shop: dismantled.
Vacations, reunions, visiting grandma and grandpa: dismantled.
Restaurants, sporting events, concerts: dismantled.
Movie theaters, theme parks, playgrounds: dismantled.
Handshakes, hugs, sitting together: dismantled.
The way we shop, the way we work, the way we play: dismantled.
And that’s naming just a few.
It is no giant step to progress from this pattern of imposed solitary living to a state of alienation. We are social creatures and need these simple touchstones to maintain a sense of community and belonging. Make no mistake. Impose these restrictions on human interaction long enough and it is a safe prognostication that civil society will unravel. One must wonder if the experts who thought of these measures are able see beyond their own narrow field of expertise.
This is all of a piece with the philosophy of Jean Jacques Rousseau, who taught a philosophy of extreme individualism, that human beings in the the state of Nature were pure and therefore the ideal. Under this philosophy it is the individual who is supreme and that all human connections are mere social constructions, including family and marriage, and that it is from those social constructions that all human pathologies arise.
Oddly enough, in spite of his suspicion of social connections, Rousseau believed in a Social Contract, which can be understood as an agreement between the ruled and the ruler. Can we see that, if the only remaining cultural relationship is between the individual and the State with no intermediary institutions or relationships, then we morph into a trip to a Pleasure Island of servitude?
I began this piece with a quote from Jeremiah pleading with us to return to the old paths, the cultural touchstones that make for a healthy society. Not heading that plea comes with a warning:
Therefore, thus says the Lord, I will lay stumblingblocks before this people, and the fathers and sons together shall fall upon them; the neighbor and his friend shall perish. (Jeremiah 6:21)
It’s important during these times of stress to maintain your touchstones. Without those touchstones, we will succumb to stumblingblocks. Do what you can to maintain your touchstones given the restrictions enforced upon us. Use your telephone. Use your computer. Get together safely in small groups. Enjoy the people you care about, taking of course all the right precautions. Avoid a mental a fetal position based on fear. Be the one who reaches out to others. We were not created hermits.
In short, love one another.
And remember this classic clip from
Field of Dreams. “It reminds us of all that was once good, and it could be again.”

A Sound Mind (New Horizons)
The slave trade is more complex than generally believed.
Local tribal chiefs and Arab slave traders sold their compatriots by the million to all and sundry and to European traders – themselves the ‘children of their times’.
Slavery has accompanied conquest from time immemorial.
Yet it’s encouraging to see how many from ethnic minorities can rise to eminence in the modern world – perceived by many as hostile.

I have often heard the expression ‘the world has gone mad’ – and I’m increasingly inclined to agree. The base-line for the Christian, in whom is God’s Spirit, has to be the apostle Paul’s words to Timothy: God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind (II Timothy 1:7).
It is a stable mind, a rational mind, an enquiring and curious mind, a mind in tune with God and His way.
We encounter this madness amplified by the all-pervasive media – as it wells up on the occasion of a tragedy. Sentiment overflows, both for personal and national tragedies, in a riot of flowers – or in a riot of blood. Tears beget tears. Or it is an excuse for virtue-signalling or an opportunity to loot and burn and to attack authority as much as to express solidarity. Mass hysteria and faux anger grips large sections of the populace, often based on a faulty or incomplete understanding of the facts of the case. It is a reflection of our fragile human nature!
The recent worldwide demonstrations in the name of anti-racism are an example. If the Minneapolis policeman is proven in the courts to have had the intent to murder then he deserves the appropriate penalty. (It hasn’t, as of writing, been tested in court.) But the band-wagon of thoughtless and often violent condemnation, as ever, rolls on inexorably.
The Lord’s guidance to Israel reflects the fact that all of us by nature are self-absorbed: Stop being angry and don’t try to take revenge. I am the LORD, and I command you to love others as much as you love your-self (Leviticus 19:18).
It is only fragile self-restraint that curbs our intolerance of difference – whether of success or race or religion.
Our world has largely cut itself off from the Creator. A century ago the Christian faith (‘love your neighbor’) positively influenced many more of us. Today, Christianity pays lip service to the God of the Bible while failing to do what He says.
Addressing the Pharisees but applicable in general Jesus said: This people [Israel] draws near to me with their mouth, and honours me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men (Matthew 15:8-9).
The traditional institutions (church, Sunday School, missions) that underpinned Christian society have been undermined and the rock-like foundations have crumbled.
In the context of the anti-racist protest, the wise words of King Solomon should have resonance with Bible believers: when they say, Come on! Let’s gang up and kill somebody, just for the fun of it! ….We’ll take their valuables and fill our homes with stolen goods….Don’t follow anyone like that or do what they do.
That should ring bells as we view the wanton destruction of public and private property, personal injuries and attacks on law enforcement officers.
Wisdom, however, is at no level of society a mark of our age: the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid (Isaiah 29:14). Having long ago abandoned any pretence to follow godly principles as a guide to government or personal life, the world reaps the fruit:
The fear of [respect for] the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding (Proverbs 9:10).
The prophet Isaiah (ch 3) paints a vivid prophetic image of our age. It stands as a red flag. Unless we take note, our nations will go the way of Israel.
As we harmonize with the divine way our mind is tutored towards a sound mind, the image of God in us – the purpose for our existence (Genesis 1:27).

The Bigger Picture (Sabbath Thoughts)
We can’t see it. We like to tell ourselves that we can, but we can’t. Sometimes, if we position ourselves just right, we can bolster our perspective and see a situation from new angles or in a new light. But the bigger picture? Your body is made up of roughly seven octillion atoms. That’s 7,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 particles, each invisible to the naked eye, linked and joined together in just the right way to guarantee your continued existence. Zoom the camera in closer and you’ll see an even stranger world of subatomic particles populated by quarks, leptons, and bosons, all interacting according to rules that fly in the face of anything that makes sense on a macro level. Zoom the camera out and you’ll find 118 flavors of atoms combining and separating and recombining into countless formations, structures, and states, eventually resolving into the world we call home. On that world, you’ll find complex and varied biomes, ecosystems, food webs, weather systems, tectonic activity, and magnetic fields that are linked together in ways we’re still discovering.
Keep zooming out, and you’ll find a little blue-green planet hurtling around a giant, erupting sphere of thermonuclear fusion surrounded by a handful of other spectacularly unique planets, each with their own rotational speeds and axial tilts.
Zoom out some more and you’ll see a galaxy stuffed full of these stars and solar systems, all arrayed in a cosmic spiral peppered with gratuitous amounts of space rock and stardust that spins and rotates but never comes undone.
And that’s just one galaxy in a universe that, as near as we can tell, is expanding with increasing speed against – what appear to be the boundaries of this physical reality.
Oh, and it’s stuffed with dark matter, which we think makes up 85% of the universe even though we can’t see it or directly interact with it, so there’s that. You want the real kicker?
That’s not even the bigger picture. That’s just the canvas. No. Not even that. That’s just a freeze-frame of the canvas.
The bigger picture is painted across 6,000 years of human history, and it encompasses the inner struggles of every human who has ever lived, all tied into the rise and fall of political dynasties, conquering empires, and world religions. Every word, every thought, every movement plays into everything that has happened, is happening, and will happen.
And God sees
all of it. All the time.
He can’t just
see all of that canvas – He designed it. Built it from nothing. And He has a plan for the picture being painted across its surface. He understands how every stroke will lead into the next, and He is guiding it to become the finished masterpiece He had in mind since before the foundation of the earth. That’s the bigger picture.
You can’t see it. Neither can I. We get glimpses, and God gives us all the instruction and direction we need to be an effective part of it, but the true, full, complete bigger picture?
If we held even a fragment of that picture in our minds for a single moment, our brains would fry. Consider that the holy day plan itself only takes us to just beyond the end of the human race, when death is cast away and all things are made new. We don’t know what comes after that. We don’t know what eternity really looks like. I doubt we could even begin to comprehend it.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.
“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven,
And do not return there,
But water the earth,
And make it bring forth and bud,
That it may give seed to the sower
And bread to the eater,
So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”
(Isaiah 55:8-11)
A huge part of being a Christian means trusting God with the bigger picture – and more importantly, trusting that even when we think we can see it, we really can’t. We are each of us but a single bundle of seven octillion atoms on a planet of nearly eight billion other bundles of atoms. None of us has the perspective or the brain power required to hold the bigger picture in our head – but that’s okay. We don’t need to. It’s enough to know that God can
and does. And then, in turn, He gives us the framework and guidance we need to make the decisions we need to make and live the life we need to live while we wait for Him to finish the painting.
Because one day, we’re going to stand beside Him, made fully in His image, thinking like He thinks and seeing as He sees. And when He shows us that same masterpiece through a new set of eyes, complete with a mind to fully comprehend what we’re looking at – to appreciate the perfect wisdom and the beauty of each stroke – I can only imagine there will be a single thought to express:
“Of course it had to be this way. Thank You for letting me be part of it.”

Have It Your Way (Morning Companion)
Recently the
Wall Street Journal opined that the Trump Administration has erred in sending federal law enforcement to certain cities besieged with lawlessness. The citizens of those cities, the theory goes, need to learn firsthand that the policies and politics of their elected officials are bankrupt and thus vote them out of power.
Sadly, with that approach people will get hurt, lives and property will be at risk, and, like an unhindered fire, it can and will spread into the greater community and other communities where other anarchists will be emboldened.
But there are times when hearts become so hardened and pathological ideologies become so set in place that the only way to deal with it is the truly harsh way: “Do it your way, and see how that works out for you.”
In this regard, I think of the prodigal son. Dad said, “Go ahead. Learn the hard way.”
I also think of an incident in the Exodus from Egypt story, where God finally has enough of the griping and grumbling, whereupon he essentially says, “Okay, you’ll get what you want. We’ll see if you like it.”
The incident is in Numbers 11 and occurs apparently a little more than a year into their journey (Number 10:11) and about a year after they found an abundance of daily manna. Frankly, they were getting tired of the same old food every day and began to long for the good old days of slavery when they would get some onions and garlic on occasion, and maybe even a melon and cucumber. Freedom seemed expendable for a few vegetables when compared to freedom and a year or so of boring manna (Numbers 11:5-6).
Their desire for something better was not wrong in itself. The problem was their ingratitude, and when the hangers on from Egypt began to complain, the Israelites followed along and chimed right in. And ingratitude was only one part of the problem. The people in essence were saying they preferred slavery with a full belly over freedom with personal responsibility. After all, they had to gather their own manna. There were no Meals on Wheels nor school lunch programs in those days.
The incident became a case of the people getting what they asked for and regretting the result. They wanted meat and, man, they got meat.
The Lord will give you meat to eat. You shall not eat one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor twenty days, but for a whole month until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you despised the Lord who is among you, and have wept before Him, saying, “Why did we ever come up out of Egypt?” (Numbers 1:18-20)
“Until it comes out of your nostrils!” The wind blew in a flock of quail that flopped on the ground three feet thick. All they had to do was reach out and grab one, and their lust was so great they gathered bushels and bushels of them. For thirty days this happened, and the mess from defecating birds, blood-splattered surroundings, and the noise of struggling creatures must have been horrific. They got what they wanted, and maybe they realized that the clean, sweet manna was not so bad after all.
Wall Street Journal opinion piece might have a point. Or maybe not. Innocent people are suffering because of ingrates, thieves, and arsonists. But at some point some need to learn from experience, which is the most unforgiving of teachers. I pray to God we are not to that point.

Regrets, I’ve Had a Few (New Church Lady)
Proverbs 5:9-14 [CSB] Otherwise, you will give up your vitality to others and your years to someone cruel; strangers will drain your resources, and your hard-earned pay will end up in a foreigner’s house. At the end of your life, you will lament when your physical body has been consumed, and you will say, “How I hated discipline, and how my heart despised correction. I didn’t obey my teachers or listen closely to my instructors. I am on the verge of complete ruin before the entire community.”
These verses focus on the end results of choosing the wrong path – loss of vitality, drained resources, a broken body and a ruinous end.
We should live our lives so that we can look back on them without regret. That should be the goal. Maybe you’ve been successful so far. Me? I have a few regrets – things I chose to do; things I failed to do.
We have a High Priest who understands us and the struggle we face in trying to live a life free of regret. He walked among us on a very straight, narrow and difficult path that He and the Father chose.
Hebrews 4:15 [NKJV] For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all [points] tempted as [we are, yet] without sin.
You can rest assured that Jesus does not regret what He did for you. [See
Phil. 2:5-11] And, for those who strive to follow in His footsteps, He is waiting for the opportunity to say to you “Well done, good and faithful servant” – as we see in Matthew 25:23.
We will not regret any of the hard decisions or difficult parts of our lives where we chose God over things like money or power or success or temptation. For those who strive to live without regret, we are told that we will end up with beautiful, perfect spiritual bodies, not wasted ones. [See
1 Corinthians 15:53-54] We will end up in glory, not in ruins. Whatever resources we use in God’s work and to His glory will be paid back many times over. Luke 19:17 [NKJV] “And he said to him, ‘Well [done], good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities’.”
We might regret the mistakes, mis-steps and sins of life – the missed opportunities act and the times we not have acted but did. But in the end we will not regret choosing obedience and walking in the path of righteous.

The Model Nation That Wasn’t (Sabbath Thoughts)
On the cusp of the Promised Land, Moses told the Israelites,
See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?
Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children – how on the day that you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, the LORD said to me, “Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so.”
(Deuteronomy 4:5-10, ESV)
For a brief moment in human history, Israel was uniquely positioned to do something no nation has ever had the opportunity to do, before or since.
They could have shown the world what it looks like to be the people of God. They could have shown the world what it looks like to
“love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5) and what it looks like to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). In a world filled with abominations and wicked acts that would make our skin crawl today, Israel had the chance to make such an impact on the nations around them that the people around them would marvel at their wisdom and their intelligence.
That didn’t happen.
It took a single generation for Israel to do the exact opposite – to immerse themselves in the wickedness around them and leave behind the perfect, righteous laws given to them by God (Judges 2:7-15).
The rest is history. The nation had its occasional high points, but they were few and far between. From Exodus to the end of the Old Testament, Israel’s history is largely one of wasted potential and squandered opportunities. The chosen people of God ignored their purpose until there was no purpose left to ignore.
I said that no nation before or since has had the opportunity to do be what Israel could have been. That’s true. But there are
people with that opportunity: You. Me. Thousands upon thousands of our brothers and sisters around the world. We have the chance to do what Israel didn’t – just by choosing to do the right things.
We don’t need to be loud. Or ostentatious. Or confrontational. We just need to do the things God tells us to do. And you know what happens when we do?
People see.
They see us living a life that is fundamentally different than the lives around us, they see it being fueled by a Spirit that is fundamentally different than the spirits around us, and even if they violently disagree with who we are and what we do,
they see. They take notice.
It won’t make sense right now. It doesn’t have to and we don’t have to shove it in anyone’s face.
We just have to live it. When it’s easy, when it’s hard, when it’s challenged, when it’s ignored it doesn’t matter. We live it because it’s right and good and we believe it and we want it.
“You are the light of the world,” Jesus told His disciples told us. “A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).
That light flickers when we do what Israel did when we immerse ourselves so deeply into the things of this world that it’s hard to spot the difference. That city on the hill gets a lot easier to hide when we start lowering ourselves and participating in the same shouting, the same name-calling, the same underhanded, dishonorable tactics that the world around us is using.
Oh, brethren. The world is fuming right now, and about so many things. It’s so tempting to throw ourselves into those angry debates, to take a stand for truth, to shout down everyone who can’t see what we see. But will they see lights when we do that? Will they see cities on hills?
Fighting the good fight as a soldier of God means remembering that
“we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). That’s our fight. That’s where our attention and focus needs to be the illness, not the symptoms.
Keep fighting that good fight. Keep living the right life. Others are going to see that and one day, it will make a difference.
“For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today? Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life.”
Israel didn’t keep its soul diligently.
We can and we must.

Progressing to Misery (Morning Companion)
Keeping up with the news these days is about as distressing as watching a slow-motion train wreck. One can sense disaster coming, but it seems there is little most of us can do. But we need to remember, in the spirit of Jesus’s command to love our enemies, that these masked bandits are really miserable human beings. By miserable, I am speaking of their psychological state. The anger, the hatred, the foul language, the violence — these things are signs of tortured souls, a sight to behold in a country that has more blessings than any in history.
We can leave it to the professional society watchers to attempt a psychoanalysis of all the factors that lead to such misery, but an adjunct to that analysis should be a good heavy dose of solid theology. Clearly these people seem to have a big hole in their hearts that they are trying to fill with something meaningful. Somewhere along the way they latched on to scorning and mocking, a cynicism about all things traditional, and that root of bitterness grows into a parasite that destroys its host. Author Mitch Albom said it this way:
“Learn this from me. Holding anger is a poison. It eats you from inside. We think that hating is a weapon that attacks the person who harmed us. But hatred is a curved blade. And the harm we do, we do to ourselves.”
Albom is right. Anger eats from the inside. It might satisfy some inner craving at first. The hit of hormones and energy can be as invigorating as any addiction, but eventually all that will be left of the host is a bare skeleton that resembles that of an ogre instead of a human being.
Usually, the distortion of souls takes place over a period of time. The first verse of the 1st Psalm hints at how the pathway into that pit can happen.
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful.
Notice here that the Psalmist is describing a progression. He is describing a process by which someone can become ensnared into the camp of the cynics. Note the three verbs “walks”, “stands”, and “sits”. We can take this as a progression.
First, we see a picture of an individual who is
walking by and encounters a group of “ungodly” men.
Then he stops walking, and we see him
standing in front the sinners, no doubt listening to their grumbling and protesting. Rotten thinking is contagious. We become like the people we hang out with the most, and this man is beginning to hang out with people who fill his head with the poison of negativity.
Finally, we see him
sitting right there with these scoffers and scorners. He has joined the mob, becoming one of them, injecting poison into his own mind.
Much of what we see today is the fruit of our cynical age that was seeded long ago, and it is progressing now to where many are sitting in the seat of the scornful. People will search for meaning in their lives and too often find that meaning through focusing their scorn at what they perceive as the source of their pain. Too often what they perceive as the source is nothing more than a projection of their own neuroses on to others. Our culture’s march toward nihilism has robbed people of transcendent purpose, and that hole in the soul leads to where we are. If there is no transcendent purpose in life, if all we have are our threescore and ten, and after that oblivion, then let’s just eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.
That kind of existence can’t possibly be satisfying for anyone, but the counsels of the ungodly lead inexorably to that mindset. In a world full of scorn, our world becomes what we have.
In the final analysis we witness today the result of a people with no awareness of transcendent truth. In our milieu everyone is said to have their own “truth”. An ideology like that must end in a cognitive dissonance that leads to frustration. When Jesus stood before Pilate and told him that he had come into the world to bear witness to the truth, Pilate’s cynical reply can be heard today in the halls of the educated: “What is truth?” It says a lot about Pilate’s cynicism when we see that he did not wait for an answer to his question. Instead he turned around and walked out of the room (John 19:37-38). So many today who sit among the scorners would do the same.
There really is a God-shaped hole in our being, and the purpose God has for us can fill it. Read the Book and learn what that purpose is. If you are looking for a new road to walk that bypasses the counsel of the ungodly and the seat of the scorners, begin with the last verses of the book of Ecclesiastes:
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is man’s all. (Ecclesiastes 12:13)
Or in the words of Jesus,
Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. That is the beginning of a journey down the right path. But remember: that’s only the beginning.

Solid Path (New Church Lady)
Proverbs 5:5-6 [CSB] Her feet go down to death; her steps head straight for Sheol. She doesn’t consider the path of life; she doesn’t know that her ways are unstable.
The road to life may be narrow and difficult (Matthew 7:13-14). It can feel like a hiker’s mountain trail that’s a constant uphill climb, as it winds in and out of the woods, and over rocky places and fallen trees. However, whatever we face along that path, we can at least, with packed dirt beneath our feet, be sure it is a stable path. A Christian may walk a narrow and sometimes difficult path. It’s part of the human journey. God does not always protect us from the bumpy parts of life.
As Christians, when we walk life’s bumpy paths, at least we know where we are headed. We know that steady obedience to God is a stable path that leads us toward God’s Kingdom, reward and eternal life. There may be twists and turns we didn’t expect, but the goal and our progress toward it never changes.
If we were not walking on the narrow path to the Kingdom we would be walking on the shifting sands of human nature and Satan’s fickle ways. But we’d be on the path to a sure outcome too. The path may look broad and easy, but we’d be following in the footsteps of Satan, who hates mankind and seeks to destroy us. So, it will not be a broad and easy path in the end. Satan seeks to lead you on an easy path to destruction.
It seems contradictory that the path to glory would be narrow and difficult. We want it to be easy. However, those of us who choose it know that it is a path build on the solid rock of love of God. God, whose compassion and mercy never fails is as sure, solid path beneath our feet. We know it is a path paved for us by the precious blood of Jesus. We know it is a path to success because Jesus now advocates for us at the throne of the Father each day. Because we know and trust that our difficult and narrow path is stable, we can choose to walk it every day.
Walk on. Go over, under or around the obstacles that try to block your way, but keep going. You are going to make it along that solid path to glory.

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.

Be Ye Transformed (Morning Companion)
“Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:2)
Imagine, if you will, that you were a Polish Jew during World War II. Frequent incursions into the Warsaw Ghetto have seen your friends and family herded off and stuffed into boxcars. You have seen unprovoked beatings in the streets, and your only means of sustenance is what you can scrounge from the gutters or the black market.
Then one day the SS guy Adolf Eichmann himself knocks on your door. But instead of being surrounded by a detachment of Storm Troopers, he comes alone, and instead of beating you with a night stick, he states that he has changed, and not only has he changed, he now wants to become a member of your synagogue – with all that implies in Nazi-occupied territory.
I would suggest that you would not just be shocked at this turn of events, you would likely wonder at his motives.
Imagine what Ananias, the servant of Jesus, must have thought when Saul of Tarsus showed up at his door, blinded by the light on the Road to Damascus, claiming that he had seen the Lord, and that he was now one of them (Acts 9:1-19). Surely Ananias can be forgiven for being doubtful and maybe a little afraid, suspecting that this sudden change of heart was merely a ruse to gather intelligence on the followers of The Way.
How could the people of God in Damascus know if Saul’s conversion was real?
Some are teaching today – and some have always seemed to teach this – that the proof of God’s favor is prosperity and good health. If God loves you, we’re told God’s blessings will reign down on you. The same teaching implies if you are suffering through trials, you must have incurred God’s disfavor somehow, and your suffering is proof that you are under a curse.
Paul, however, would offer a rebuttal to this, and the proof Paul offered was the best proof of his sincerity to both the believers in Damascus and all who would later challenge is apostleship.
When challenged by some “super-apostles” (II Corinthians 11:5, English Standard Version), a term of sarcasm if there ever was one, Paul cited as proof of his credentials his willingness to suffer for the sake of the Gospel.
“Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one – I am talking like a madman – with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?” (II Corinthians 11:23 – 29 ESV)
A man won’t willingly put his life on the line for a racket, but he will do so if down to his bones he believes in the cause.
And in fact, after Paul’s startling conversion and his road reaches Damascus, the people who were once his friends in crime plotted against Paul’s life for defending The Way, and he had to be spirited out of town for his own safety (Acts 9:22-25).
Paul didn’t need the imprimatur of men to prove his credentials. His life story was all that was needed.

Just Get It! (New Church Lady)
Proverbs 4:5a [NKJV] Get wisdom! Get understanding!
Can I be honest? To me, the words of Proverbs 4:1-19 read like a lecture from my father or mother. As I read through it, I get the image of myself saying these words to my own children while my kids are doing dramatic eye rolls behind my back.
And when it comes to verse 5, I raise my voice for emphasis and shout “Get wisdom! Get understanding” – “Just get it” – in the same tone that I would use if a wet dog was sprinting out of the bath and heading out the door to the mud puddle in the back yard. “Get it! Don’t let it escape.”
It seems like Solomon, who received great wisdom as a gift from God, understood that the rest of us weren’t quite so lucky. We must work toward getting wisdom. Further, Solomon knows that understanding should be the companion of wisdom. We can know a lot without truly understanding it, but just knowing things is not enough.
I go to a primarily bi-lingual church these days and can now sing a couple of songs completely in Spanish. I don’t understand most of what I am saying – only a few key words. So, mostly I am just parroting the rest of the congregation. However, I am gradually actually learning some conversational Spanish because the brethren are teaching me by pronouncing words and giving me the English equivalent. Understanding the words is very helpful to retaining them and being able to use them appropriately.
The Bible is full of wisdom. To get it, we must immerse ourselves in the Word on a regular basis. But really understanding God’s word comes from the Holy Spirit. To get understanding through the Holy Spirit we must be open to the Spirit, listening to its workings in our hearts and minds.
Solomon rightly implies that we have to be active participants in the process of gaining both wisdom and understanding. We must seek it. Go after it. Spend time where we will find it. Run after it and chase it down if necessary.

Speaking the Truth in Love (Sabbath Thoughts)
There are two important facets to that instruction:
“The truth” and “love.”
What are you saying, and why are you saying it?
We can try to show love while obscuring the truth – and we can speak the truth while being out for blood.
Neither one is enough on its own. The two are inextricably bound.
Love “rejoices in the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6), and the purpose of God-given truth “is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5). Remove one side of the equation and you unbalance the other.
It’s happening all around us. There are people who will throw established and irrefutable truths out the window in favor of their own definition of love – and there are people who will take truth like a weapon and bludgeon others with it mercilessly, using it to tear down and mock their opponents.
What about us? Do you and I tend to drift toward one of those extremes?
I think it’s easy to do. I know I do it. When I see truth “fallen in the street” (Isaiah 59:14), it makes my blood boil. It’s hard not to let that anger be my motivation in responding. It can be just as hard to speak the truth when I know it might hurt someone I care about. And yet …
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
Love is a lot of things. It’s patient and kind. It doesn’t weaponize the truth, but it doesn’t hide from it either. It rejoices in it, embraces it, and refuses to rejoice in iniquity. It doesn’t even think evil. You can’t define iniquity without truth. And you can’t live the truth without love.
Does that balance exist inside us?
I’ve seen so many posts on Facebook lately that start with, “Not sure if this is true, but…”
Then why are you sharing it?
I’ve seen other posts that start with some version of, “Maybe now you idiots will finally understand.” Is that what love looks like?
We have to have both. Love and truth. Love knows the dividing line between firm and cruel. Truth knows the dividing line between helpful and harmful. Together, they build the fence that shows us the quadrant God expects us to live in. When we try to operate on only one of those axes and ignore the other, we plunge ourselves into all kinds of trouble.
Paul wrote a beautiful passage about the reason the Church and its appointed officials exist:
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ – from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16)
Truth and love, side by side, are what enable us to stand firm against winds of doctrine and deceitful plotting while growing to be more and more like our older Brother. I don’t much care for the alternative.

The Avenger of Evil (Morning Companion)
Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil. (Ecclesiastes 8:11)
In Seattle a disgruntled driver enters an interstate highway closed for weeks due to anarchists doing what anarchists do. He proceeds to run over two protesters, killing one.
In St. Louis homeowners, frightened because of ongoing violent protests that spread to their neighborhood, emerge from their homes with firearms to discourage threats to their lives and property.
Also in St. Louis an angry mob attacked a peaceful prayer meeting near a statue of King Louis IX of France for whom the city was named. Said one of the victims,
“The righteous must defend themselves, as it appears the government no longer is. I hope Donald J. Trump, Mike Parson, Senator Josh Hawley, Senator Roy Blunt, Sam Page, Mayor Lyda Krewson, and other public officials address this, [and] if not corrected, things will only get worse.”
These stories and more illustrate what happens when duly constituted governments shirk their duty to protect life, safety, and property from the lawless. Make no mistake about it; those in such authority have a God-mandated obligation to be a servant to avenge evil.
“Rulers are not a terror to good conduct,” wrote Paul to the Roman church. “He is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” (Romans 13:3-4 ESV)
Why were the rioters in Seattle allowed to close down a major highway for weeks? Why did the police not respond when the mob spread terror around a private community and then broke into private property in search of the mayor’s house? Why was there no police response to protect a peaceful prayer meeting when attacked by intimidaters from an organization that admits its Marxist roots?
If those charged with providing protection and order to law abiding citizens are unwilling to fulfill their mandate, what we see in those three cited instances will become more common and maybe even the norm: the felt need to take matters into their own hands. In other times this was known as vigilante justice, or the Wild West, or family blood feuds.
If you want to take a look at how a clannish, tribal society looks, go back and read the 18th through 21st chapters of the Book of Judges. In those dark days there was no rule of law in the land and everyone did what was right in their own eyes. It was a world of brutal personal vengeance, and it nearly wiped out one of the tribes of Israel.
Is this the kind of world we want to see? Let me be blunt. Any governmental body that refuses to protect life, limb, and property has lost its credibility and will suffer the wrath of God.

God Has Your Back (New Church Lady)
Proverbs 3:31-35 [NKJV] 31 Do not envy the oppressor, And choose none of his ways; 32 For the perverse [person is] an abomination to the LORD, But His secret counsel [is] with the upright. 33 The curse of the LORD [is] on the house of the wicked, But He blesses the home of the just. 34 Surely He scorns the scornful, But gives grace to the humble. 35 The wise shall inherit glory, But shame shall be the legacy of fools.
Who would envy an oppressor? Do we as adults ever envy or look up to those who oppress others to get ahead?
This is a tricky question for us, because so often in this world people who rise to the top have done so by oppressing others. Sometimes it is just being selfish or taking a “me first” attitude at the office. Other times it can be actively back-stabbing others, taking credit for work a person didn’t do (or didn’t do alone) or even implying weakness in others so you look strong.
We Christians would not want to imitate that behavior, of course. But we can envy the success that comes from it, because we have seen that humble, kind and loving behavior is often not rewarded in this world. We may wonder, “Can a good person get ahead in this world?” It may be hard not to strike back when the oppressor is responsible for my not getting ahead.
We understand that in this life “survival of the fittest” has become “survival of the least moral.” We know that the meek will not inherit the earth until Jesus returns. It can be difficult to press on with meekness and kindness, knowing that sometimes you will get stomped on by others and passed over for success. That is just the way Satan’s world works.
However, we do not want to miss an important point of these verses. That point is that God “has your back.” We might not be rewarded by a boss who cannot see past the self-promoting oppressor. But God sees it and He will reward us.
God blesses the house of the just. He gives grace to the humble. He rewards the wise with glory. We need to remind ourselves of this, as David often did through his Psalms. Psalm 27 begins with these well-known lines:
The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid? And goes on to talk about how God intervenes to take care of His people.
We believers always have to focus on the ultimate goal – the Kingdom. We believers must always focus on the ultimate victory – the victory over sin in our own lives. We believers must always focus on the spiritual rewards – blessings and glory from God. We believers must always focus on the One who is fighting for us – the One who is always on our side.
God is looking out for you always. So there is no need to envy those who get ahead in this life by means of oppression. God is looking out for you always. So, there is no reason to give into the temptation to “just this once” try one of those oppressor type tactics to get ahead. That 25-year watch from the office is not worth it. God has our back – even though it might not seem like it when you are passed up for a promotion in favor of someone whose tactics are not godly. This life is short compared to eternity. We are climbing a spiritual ladder to success that offers rewards that last forever.
This is the example that Jesus set for us. He was faced with great oppression. The leaders of His day got ahead by oppressing their own people. He stood meekly and quietly as He was falsely accused by those who wanted get or stay on top. [See Isaiah 53:7 and Matthew 27:11-14] He stayed true to the spiritual goals set for Him. By the power of the Holy Spirit we can stay true to those spiritual goals in the face of similar treatment.
Never forget that God has got your back in every circumstance.

The Lord Will Provide (Sabbath Thoughts)
“Is anything too hard for the LORD?” (Genesis 18:14)
That’s the question at the heart of Abraham’s story – and at the heart of every Christian’s story. Over and over again, God asks Abraham and Sarah to step out in faith and trust him while doing the impossible and the unthinkable.
They leave their country and their family so they can live like strangers in a land that their descendants won’t inherit until four centuries later. When God promises them a son, they laugh at first, but through faith, 90-year-old Sarah conceives, and 100-year-old Abraham becomes the father of a miracle – a baby boy named Isaac.
Laughter. That’s what Isaac means. He was the baby boy who made them laugh – first incredulously, then with joy.
And then, one night, God comes to Abraham with a command:
“Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Genesis 22:2).
What happens next? “So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him” (Genesis 22:3).
If you’re wondering why Abraham looks like such a cold, emotionless robot in these verses, remember that Genesis is a book condensing more than 2,000 years of human history into 50 chapters. There’s not a lot of room for exposition. But – and this is an important principle when reading the Bible in general – just because the Biblical account doesn’t mention anything between verses two and three, we can’t conclude that nothing happened between verses two and three. That’s a logical fallacy called an argument from silence, and it’s an easy trap to fall into.
John wrote the last of the four canonized gospel accounts, and even he had to conclude his account with,
“And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25). The fourth attempt to summarize a three-and-a-half-year ministry, and John still feels compelled to  say, “There aren’t enough books in the world to hold the entire story.”
I can pretty much guarantee you that, sandwiched between verses two and three of Genesis 22 was the worst night of Abraham’s life. (And this was a man whose wife had been abducted into the haram of a king – twice!)
Do you think he spent the night staring at the ceiling of the tent? Do you think he cried? Do you think he begged God for another way, another option?
The Bible doesn’t say. We don’t know. And there is the opposite ditch of arguments from silence – it’s so easy to project our own thoughts and reactions into the story, inserting ourselves into the narrative. But we know from God’s own words that Abraham loved his son dearly, and so we can be certain that he wasn’t the unflappable stoic that verse three makes him appear to be.
He was a man wrestling with faith and doubt.
God had given him a promise – an ironclad, unshakable promise that Isaac would be the one through whom God’s promises would be fulfilled. Through Isaac, Abraham would become “a father of many nations” (Genesis 17:4).
But now, in no uncertain terms, God was telling Abraham to kill that child. How could it be? How could God fulfill His promises if the son He had promised was about to die? It didn’t make sense. It wasn’t humanly possible. And I wonder if, while wrestling with these thoughts, that old familiar question from decades earlier came drifting through Abraham’s mind once again:
Is anything too hard for the LORD?
Abraham and Isaac spent three days traveling toward the mountains of Moriah. I wonder what they talked about. With their destination in sight, Abraham tells the two young men who came with them, “Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you” (Genesis 22:5).
I remember reading that verse when I was younger. I assumed it was a lie meant to put the servants and Isaac at ease. Abraham knew he was climbing that mountain to sacrifice his son – how could he possibly have expected to walk back down with Isaac by his side?
And later, when Isaac asks where the lamb for the offering is, Abraham answers,
“My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering” (Genesis 22:8). That felt like a lie, too. The only lamb in this equation was Isaac – the boy who had brought laughter into his life.
But Abraham wasn’t lying. That’s such an important part of this story.
He trusted God. He understood that
“with men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). Isaac would be the father of great multitudes, through whom God would bless the earth – but first, he would have to be a sacrifice.
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense. (Hebrews 11:17-19)
Abraham believed what he told his servants, and he believed what he told Isaac. He and his son
would be coming back down the mountain together. God would provide a lamb for the sacrifice. God had made a promise, and Abraham knew that not even death could stand in its way.
It’s easy to assume that Isaac was the unwilling participant in all of this, but don’t forget – he was strong enough to carry the wood for offering, and Abraham was well over 100 years old at this point. It wouldn’t have been very difficult for Isaac to cut and run once he put two and two together. Instead, he stays. Why? We don’t know. But he does, and it speaks volumes.
The rest of the story is pretty familiar to most of us. As Abraham picks up the knife and prepares to end his son’s life, the angel of the LORD calls out to Abraham,
“Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me” (Genesis 22:12).
Abraham looks up and finds a ram waiting for him. He sacrifices it on the altar, and calls the name of that place
YHWH Yireh – ”The-LORD-Will-Provide” (Genesis 22:14). God adds even more blessings to Abraham for his obedience – including a Messianic promise (Genesis 22:18) – and father and son return down the mountain. Just like Abraham said they would.
Here’s my thesis: Abraham’s name for the site of the sacrifice was a mindset, not a reaction. It’s easy to look at it as a reaction – a father, overwhelmed with relief at God’s intervention, expresses his gratitude for the God Who Provides.
But there’s more to it than that. Remember, Abraham was
already expecting God to provide an offering. He was already expecting to walk back down the mountain with Isaac.
And that, to me, is one of the most important lessons of this story: Abraham had decided that God was the God Who Provides long before he reached out to take that knife – long before Isaac had asked where the lamb for the offering was – long before he told the young men to wait for him to return with his son.
He didn’t have all the puzzle pieces figured out, but he didn’t need to. He knew whom he served – YHWH Yireh, the God Who Provides. The God who has the
power to provide – and the wisdom and the love to know how and when.
Life is filled with moments where we’re forced to decide whether or not we truly believe in the God Who Provides – moments when we can’t see the bigger picture; moments when solutions aren’t obvious to us. Nothing about those moments are easy – but they’re definitely easier when we put our trust in YHWH Yireh
before we go up the mountain.
Is anything too hard for the LORD?

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.”

Withholding Good (New Church Lady)
Proverbs 3:27-28 [NKJV]
27 Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, When it is in the power of your hand to do [so]. 28 Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come back, And tomorrow I will give [it],” When you have it with you.
God is looking for those who, when they see a need, respond with giving whatever they have to give. We should not think only of “things” that might be given – money, clothes, or food, for example, although it is important to give those things. Verse 27 says “Do not withhold good”, not “goods”. Although other scriptures do specifically encourage us to give of the things we possess, we don’t always have a lot to share in the realm of material possessions.
People in need often do need clothing and food and money for rent. But they are almost always also equally in need of prayer, encouragement, the good news of the Gospel, someone to listen to them, someone to care, or just to spend time with them.
I don’t know about you, but I do not carry extra clothes or food with me in my purse or car. In the case of coming upon someone in need of food or clothes, I would have to say, “I’ll bring them to you later”. Many times, I don’t even have any significant money with me to hand over.
However, I always have ears to listen, a mouth to speak words of encouragement or to speak of the love of God and His plan of salvation for all. As busy as my life may seem, I often have the time to stop what I am doing and pray for others or with them. And if I am committed to giving good at the moment it is needed or requested, then stopping right then to pray with or encourage them is what I should do.
Remember the example of Peter in Acts 3. He was asked for money and he didn’t have any. But he did not ignore the beggar. Instead, he gave the beggar much more than the beggar requested. Peter took the time to stop, acknowledge the beggar and heal him by the power of Jesus.
You and I may not have the gift of healing. But we do all have the gift of time. We can heal a broken spirit by showing care and concern – by taking the time to stop on our way to whatever else seems (or is) oh so important to encourage another person.
We must recognize these opportunities and be willing to pause our busy lives to give
good when we have it to give. We all have good news to give. We all have time to give. We all have love to give. These things represent the good we are to give others in their time of need.

Remember Lot’s Wife (Sabbath Thoughts)
The only thing we really know about Lot’s wife is that she looked back.
That’s it. We don’t know her name, we don’t know where she was from, we don’t even have a single line of dialogue from her. The angels warned Lot’s family to flee without looking back; Lot’s wife looked back
“and she became a pillar of salt” (Genesis 19:26). That’s the only context we get. And for roughly two thousand years, this unnamed woman is little more than a footnote in Biblical history.
Then Jesus tells His disciples,
“Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32).
It’s a short, haunting sentence.
Remember Lot’s wife. Remember the woman who wasn’t ready to leave behind a world that God had marked for destruction. Remember the woman who looked back.
The clearest lesson from that warning ties in with Christ’s earlier assertion that
“no one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
We’re doing this – or we’re not. We’re citizens of God’s eternal Kingdom – or we’re citizens of this temporary world. One or the other. We can’t have our feet in both, and we can’t spend our journey toward the Kingdom wishing we were back in the world we left behind.
That’s an important lesson. But what really gives me pause is the
context of Christ’s warning. The Pharisees had asked when the Kingdom of God would come, and He warned His disciples not to fall for anyone’s false alarms – “for as the lightning that flashes out of one part under heaven shines to the other part under heaven, so also the Son of Man will be in His day” (Luke 17.24). It would, in other words, be sudden and impossible to miss. Just as important, it would catch the world by surprise – like the Flood in the days of Noah and like the fire and brimstone that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. “They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed” (Luke 17:28-30). The event will be sudden, sweeping, unavoidable, unmistakable – judgment on a world determined to ignore or oppose the commandments of God.
“the days of Noah” and “the days of Lot” (Luke 17:26,28) as a backdrop for the arrival of the Kingdom of God, Jesus continued:
It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. On that day no one who is on the hou