Thoughts on The Way

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The Body and the Blood (Sabbath Thoughts)
“For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.”
What a weighty, uncomfortable verse.
Members of the church in Corinth were dead not just sick, not just inconvenienced, not just troubled, but
dead because they didn’t treat the Passover service correctly.
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. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. (1 Corinthians 11:27-30)
That’s an easy passage to panic about in our own lives, especially with the annual Passover service right around the corner. The context here is important Paul began by chastising the Corinthians for their approach to the service, not because they weren’t spiritual deserving of the Passover.
None of us are deserving of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and none of us can be. That’s not what “an unworthy manner” means. But the Corinthians were failing to discern the Lord’s Body:
Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you. … Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment.
(1 Corinthians 11:20-22, 33-34)
The Corinthians were missing the entire point of the Passover service they were there to have a meal, and not only were they failing to acknowledge “the body and blood of the Lord,” they were treating their fellow brethren in disrespectful and shameful ways. Through their actions, they were despising the Church of God and heaping judgment on themselves.
The symbols are important. And, Paul tells us,
the brethren are important.
This year is going to be a Passover unlike any Passover in living memory or even in recorded Church history. It’s going to take extra effort from us to treat it as the solemn, meaningful evening that it is.
We’re going to be alone. We’re not going to be with our brethren. We’ll have the symbols and the service, but we’ll be missing such an important part of the equation. And we’re going to feel it.
But the divine promises from our Passover sacrifice tell a different story:
“If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (John 14:23), and, “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).
We’ll be alone, but not alone. In every household eating of the bread and drinking of the cup, Jesus and the Father promise to be there, too.
And what were we baptized into, brothers and sisters?
You heard the words. You remember them: Not into any sect or denomination of this world, but into the name of Jesus Christ. We are bound together across the longest ages and across the farthest distances. The Jesus who promises to be in our midst is the same Jesus who sat in the midst of the disciples, explaining the bread and wine to them for the very first time. And He is the same Jesus who will be there in the home of every baptized member of the Church as they take of the symbols that remind us of the eternal bond we all share.
Passover reminds us of so many things. The cost of the forgiveness of our sins. The patience and love waiting for us at the mercy seat. The value we have in the eyes of our Creator. The undeserved hope and promise of salvation that we cling to.
It will be harder to experience this without each other. But this year, the bread and the wine will also remind us that, no matter the distance, the same body was broken for us, the same blood makes us clean, and the same God now calls us His children.
Let us examine ourselves. Let us eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
And let us discern the Lord’s Body.

It’s not about the Toaster (Sabbath Meditations)
The Days of Unleavened Bread. A toaster’s day in the sun. Only during these days does a normally mundane appliance get thrust center stage in the relentless endeavor to purge out the leaven, aka sin, from every corner of our homes.
It’s a ritual re-enacted every year by those of us who take seriously the command to keep the annual high days, given by our Lord in the Old Testament and observed by Him, and His Church, in the New, reminding us of His sacrifice and the covenant relationship we have entered with Him.
Our toaster is of course not the only item in our home that gets the attention of our vacuum cleaner. In our valiant effort to eradicate every vestige of the symbol of sin from our dwelling, no appliance, no couch cushion, no cupboard is left untouched. But our toaster, being perhaps the greatest potential carrier of the sin virus, has typically commanded the top spot. We’ve fretted about it, inspecting it with the intensity of a police dog sniffing for narcotics, meticulously scouring every last nook and cranny where a wayward crumb or runaway piece of crust might linger, no matter how minuscule or incinerated it might be.
In short, for a brief period every Spring, our toaster became a rock star.
If our family toaster could speak, it would probably tell you that in the last few years in our house it’s begun to suffer from an identity crisis. It just hasn’t been treated like the rock star that it once was. Oh, it’s gotten some attention, but it has commanded nowhere near the spotlight it held back in the glory days.
Why?
Well, our family simply came to the realization that these days of Unleavened Bread, for lack of a better way of putting it, are not about the toaster.
In Colossians 1:26-28 we read “…the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
Above all things this season is to teach us is that it is His life, living within us, that is the hope we have of salvation. While Passover reminds us that we are justified by His blood, Unleavened Bread reminds us that we are saved by His life, the “Unleavened Bread of Sincerity and Truth” living within us, continually covering our sin.
There is a reason these are called the Days of Unleavened Bread rather than the Days of De-leavening. The primary focus is on the putting in, not the taking out. We take in of Jesus Christ, the Unleavened Bread of Sincerity and Truth, for seven days. In the Bible the number seven represents completion. The symbol of taking in of His life, His nature, for seven days pictures the completeness of the work He is doing in His people.
De-leavening in this context becomes, then, a symbol, not of my efforts to become sinless, but of my becoming de-leavened, sinless through the cleansing sacrifice of our Lord. I put the leaven out, not to symbolize my struggle to overcome sin, but to symbolize what He has done through His sacrifice for me.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not among those who believe Christ has done it all so there is no need to obey. We do need to overcome. We do need to strive to become like our elder Brother. We do need to struggle against sin. But the season of our overcoming, of growing up in Him in all things, is more appropriately pictured after, not before, the Feast of Pentecost, picturing the giving of the Holy Spirit which helps us in that process. The period between the early and late summer harvests represents a time of growth. Just as the crops are allowed to grow to maturity and produce their fruit, so you and I grow to spiritual maturity and produce spiritual fruit prior to the return of our Master, Jesus Christ.
These early harvest festivals are awesome pictures of the love He has showered on those He has called to be the first fruits of His harvest. It is right that our focus this season be on Him, not on ourselves. He gets all the glory.
The truth is that no matter how clean I get my toaster, or anything else in my home for that matter, no matter how determined my effort to make myself spiritually clean, I fall miserably short of God’s standard. My righteousness before God is as filthy rags. It’s His life continuing to live in me that makes me worthy, that allows me to be in relationship with the Father. “We who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Jesus.” That’s the awesome lesson of these days.
Yes, my toaster might be feeling a little more lonely now, but it will just have to get over it. It’s not as if it’s getting completely ignored, it’s just not the rock star it once was. That spotlight is shining elsewhere, onto the Master.

I’m in Time Out, and So Are You (Morning Companion)
When my kids were in elementary school and the kids misbehaved, the teacher would put them in “timeout”. When I was a kid the same behavior would land us “in the corner”. As we stared at the two walls, we were admonished to “think about what you did”, which was usually disrupting the classroom, bickering and fighting, showing disrespect to the teacher, or something similar to that. I understand that in the school district where I live there is a similar practice called “The Focus Room”. Again, it’s a place where the wayward one can “think about what he/she did”.
For the next 30 days or so I’m going to be in “timeout”, sitting “in the corner” (only now staring at four walls instead of two), confined to a “Focus Room”, and you probably are too.
It’s time to “think about what I did”. It’s a good time for all of us to “think about what we did.”
I wonder amid the great scheme of closures, shutdowns, ugly news, economic dislocation, and stay-at-home orders if there isn’t something more significant going on.
Think of the world as we have come to know it the last few years. Overall things have been going fairly well. People were busy, so busy that we were running to and fro, many of us without time to think. Many looked to a burgeoning stock market as a source of security. Others became enraptured with entertainment and sports idols. Others worshiped a false “liberty”, defining new moralities and deconstructing cultural norms in an attempt to “discover who they are”, which has the ring of “ye shall be like gods.”
In the midst of pretty good times for most, in all irony we divided sharply into two camps, flinging shouts and screams, ink and tweets at each other, thus disrupting the classroom of life. We forgot to be thankful, confusing our blessings for rights, then throwing a tantrum of victimhood over every petty peccadillo.
Around us today our idols are falling, our false gods and warped priorities are being stashed in the closet out of reach. We have been sent into Timeout, sitting in our Focus Rooms to think about what we did. But our Focus Rooms are filled with family and food (and hopefully TP), and we can still communicate with those we love. We are still free to care about each other and free to reconnect with what is virtuous.
We’re also free to turn on each other.
But I suspect there is more going on here than a mere response to a virus. Could it be that a loving Father has simply heard enough bickering, lack of priorities, and destructive behavior that He needed to take away our toys and sit us in the corner for a while to “think about” what we did?
If that’s the case, things will be rough for a while, but it’s also a hopeful thing. In the last chapter of II Samuel we read of a sin that required God’s attention. The king had to choose what the penalty would be, and none of the choices were pleasant. King David said exactly the right thing, the thing that we should also say, “Please let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercies are great; but do not let me fall into the hand of man.” That was the right decision, and although God gave them an attention-getting response, the response was tempered with mercy.
I’m not one to say that what I wrote is “what God spoke to me”. To say that would be presumptuous. These thoughts did come to me today during my morning prayer time, so it was either the nudging of the Spirit of God or the imagination of the spirit of Lenny. Judge it for itself on its possible merits.
And while we’re here sitting in the corner, be kind to each other. Replace your false gods with the true One. Virtue will cost you nothing of any value and will come back to you tenfold.

When Authenticity Isn’t Enough (Sabbath Thoughts)
“Authentic” is the word to be these days.
To call something authentic – a business, a product, a person – is an incredible compliment, and most of us instinctively know what it means.
It means there’s no bait and switch. It means no one’s hands are tied by unhelpful customer service scripts and corporate double-speak. It means every interaction feels genuine, unaffected, kind, considerate, and intentional. It means the superfluous layers are stripped away, and what’s left behind is something relatable, enjoyable, and trustworthy. No games, no acts, no personas – just people being open and honest about who they are and what they’re doing, and conveying it in a way that doesn’t make them feel like emotionless robots.
I love it when things feel authentic. I love it when I’m not confronted by a high-pressure sale or forced to read between the lines to decode intentions and secret objectives. I love when I can relax and know that I’m in the presence of other people – not titles, not positions, not suits, not a status hierarchy, just … other people.
But “authentic” is also the dumbest standard in the world.
In school, you probably learned that words can have both a connotation and a denotation. Denotation is the dictionary definition of that word – the exact definition given to it by the good people at Merriam-Webster (or Oxford, or Cambridge, or whatever literary authority you turn to for your word clarification needs).
Connotation is a different beast altogether. Connotation is all the ideas, concepts, and feelings that come bundled with a word – not just what the dictionary says about it, but what your head and your heart say about it, too.
When we talk about something’s authenticity, we’re mostly operating in the realm of connotation. We’re talking about a certain feeling, a certain experience, and “authenticity” communicates all that pretty effectively. But authentic (according to the good people at Merriam-Webster) really just means “not false or imitation” or “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.”
In a literal sense, authentic doesn’t mean good. It doesn’t mean enjoyable. It doesn’t mean friendly or uplifting or relatable. It just means “the real deal.” And sometimes, especially when it comes to human nature, the real deal is
awful.
Connotations and denotations invariably start to blend into and influence each other – and so there’s a lot of encouragement out there for everyone to be their “authentic selves” and let the world see them for who they really are, because who you are is enough. If authentic is the only standard that matters, then no one needs to change. We all just need to work harder at being ourselves.
That’s not the Christian message, though. The Christian message is that there’s a serious problem at the core of our identity, and that if we don’t do something about it,
we will die. The Christian message is that we need deliverance from “this body of death” (Romans 7:24). The Christian message is that we should not be “conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2). The Christian message is that the old man must be crucified with Christ, and that “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).
The Christian message is that a fundamental change in our identity is both necessary and
beautiful. When you get right down to it, sin is authentic. Evil is authentic. Wickedness and perversity is authentic. And so just authentic isn’t enough. It’s a good starting place. None of us should be trying to hide who and what we are – but none of us should be content to stay who and what we are.
God isn’t looking to make you into His identical clone – but He
is looking to reach into your heart and fix the broken, self-destructive things that are hiding there. He is looking to take hold of your character and chisel away the traits that cause pain to ourselves and to others. As we continue to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18), God promises to transform us from just plain authentic to Godly.
This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.
But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.
(Ephesians 4:17-24)
It turns out that “Godly” is the best kind of authentic we can be.

The Paradox Commodity (Morning Companion)
About those limited supplies on the store shelves, if I grab more for myself, I leave less for you. If I give some of my hoard to you, I have less for myself. That’s the way the world works. You and I have a certain something we can hoard, but if we hoard it we will have less of it ourselves. That
is a paradox, but it’s true.
Most people I see are taking the current dislocation as much in stride as they can, but not all. These are frustrating and depressing times for most, and maybe more so for those who are working the front lines of this battle. Think of health care workers, those in transportation, and critical retail operations. Think of those whose livelihoods are being threatened and businesses that won’t survive. Think of those in high risk groups.
This gives us the opportunity to live a paradox. Think of the good we can do by giving something away.
If you venture out and sense a frustrated store clerk, offer her encouragement and a thank you.
Your friends and loved ones could use a phone call and an understanding ear.
Your neighbors might need someone to fetch some badly needed supplies. If you need to go out, offer to grab a few things for them.
Offer faith and hope — and even a few laughs — on social media. Do what’s virtuous. Be patient with long lines and kind to those who are laboring among us. Be in control of your own emotions and desires. Persevere through the coming weeks. Show the character of God through your brotherly kindness. Put differently, live a life full of love.
Do these things and you will live the paradox, because the more you share these virtues, the more of them you will have yourself. That’s the paradox of love.

On Pride and Prejudice and Pianos (Sabbath Thoughts)
“I certainly have not the talent which some people possess,” said Darcy, “of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done.”
“My fingers,” said Elizabeth, “do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women’s do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault – because I would not take the trouble of practising. It is not that I do not believe my fingers as capable as any other woman’s of superior execution.”
(From Chapter 31 of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice)
While watching an adaptation of Pride & Prejudice with my wife, I was struck by the above exchange between two of the story’s main characters. When Mr. Darcy seeks to excuse his lack of people skills as a lack of talent, Elizabeth Benet cuttingly replies that talent is a result of practice. In other words: If you don’t like where you are, work on it. Talent isn’t a state of being, but rather something acquired through continual effort.
Part of the reason it struck me the way it did was because of a similar exchange I’d had with a friend several years ago (again with a piano as the backdrop). After listening to him rather skillfully play the instrument for several minutes, I remarked on how much I wished I could play that well. He told me that the truth was, if I really wanted to play as well as him, I’d be learning how.
And he was right – the little smart-aleck. My last piano lesson had been at least five years ago and, while I occasionally toyed with the instrument, I never gave it any serious attention. I wanted the talent without all that tedious hard work.
But that’s not the way it works. That’s not the way it has ever, in the whole history of the universe, worked. While some people may find themselves blessed with more of certain talents than others, any ability – be it Elizabeth Benet’s piano playing or Mr. Darcy’s people skills – requires continual effort to maintain and improve. It doesn’t just … happen.
Beyond Pride & Prejudice
As you many have rightly guessed by now, the purpose of this Sabbath Thought is not primarily to cross-examine nineteenth-century novels or discuss the proper techniques of advanced piano-playing.  Rather, every example thus far Pride and Prejudice and Pianosentertained has been to reinforce one singular point of Christian living: improvement requires work. So many of us are so eager to wish ourselves to a more accomplished state of discipleship that we forget what it takes to get there – or worse, we convince ourselves that we simply “have not the talent which some people possess,” and throw in the towel on ever developing in the areas in which a Christian ought. It’s so much easier to say to ourselves (and others!), “I’m just no good at _____” and be done with it. The real challenge is admitting, “I really need to work on _____” and then following through.
The best way to get better at playing the piano is by spending time playing the piano. In the same way, the best way to get better at Bible study is to spend time studying the Bible. The best way to get better at praying is to spend time praying. There is a definite pattern here, and I don’t think it is overly difficult to discern.
A matter of talents
Christ gave to His disciples a parable concerning preparing for the Kingdom. In Matthew 25:14, a man sets out on a journey to a far country, but not before delivering some of his money (here referred to as “talents”) to his servants with the expectation that they “do business” (Luke 19:13) until his return.
Upon his return, the man finds that two of his servants have been busy – in his absence, they used what they had been given and doubled what their master had entrusted to them (Matthew 25:20,22). They meet with the praise and approval of their returning master, being rewarded with rulership “over many things” (Matthew 25:21,23).
The last servant took a different approach. Rather than improve what he had been given, he admits to his master, “I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours” (Matthew 25:25).
This servant met with a less favorable outcome than his fellows. Denounced by his master as “wicked and lazy,” he is cast into outer darkness and destroyed (Matthew 25:26,30). Because he was afraid to do anything with what had been entrusted to him – which was his master’s expectation – he loses everything.
Digging up your coins
The difference between the first two servants and the unfortunate third was a matter of initiative. The first two saw that they’d been given something valuable, knew they were expected to do something with it, and did. The third saw and knew the same things, but opted instead to bury his stewardship in the ground. The master in this parable expected his servants to change the status quo, not preserve it. Our Master likewise expects us to take what He has given us and work toward changing. It’s far too easy to tell ourselves that we simply don’t have the ability to excel in a certain area of Christian living. It’s far too easy to take our talent and fearfully bury it in the ground.
Don’t. Don’t sell yourself short. God committed this calling to you because He knows you can live up to it. He doesn’t leave us to do it on our own; in fact, He promises to guide us through every step of the way (Hebrews 13:5). But you cannot allow yourself to believe that it’s okay to not be okay in the areas He expects you to grow in. It is not acceptable for a Christian to grow complacent and stagnant – we must always “press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).
If your approach until now has been to look at the areas of Christianity in which you are lacking and write them off as unachievable, to tell yourself that you “have not the talent which some people possess,” then it’s not too late to change. Dig your talent back up from wherever you buried it, and start seeking, with God’s guidance, to improve in the areas where you fall short.
A continual task
There will never come a day in this life when you find yourself having mastered every aspect of Christianity. If you already excelled at every facet of your calling, there would be little purpose in your presence here on Earth. The calling of a Christian is one of continual striving for improvement – of wrestling with our weaknesses using the strength of God, rooting them out of our lives and replacing them with our Creator’s righteous character.
What God wants to find – what God expects to find when He brings His Kingdom to the earth – are disciples who have not shied away from improvement, who instead have thrown themselves continually at the task of growing in Godly character. They will not be perfect, nor will He expect them to be – but they will be trying. They will be practicing the piano, not just wishing themselves good at playing it.

How Do I Pray For My Country? (Morning Companion)
During trying times for our people, it is normal to ask why it is so. Is God punishing us for our national sins? While thats a question thats hard to answer, it is fair to note that God certainly doesnt bless our sins. Often what we see in times of trouble is not a proactive God who rains his fire from heaven, but a God who lets our sins find us out (Numbers 32:23). All God needs to do is to withdraw his hand of protection and let nature take its course.
What does this mean for those of us who are believers? There is much we can do to reflect the love of God.
I was speaking with a gentleman earlier today. In light of poor children who are on free and reduced lunch plans and whose schools are closed, his church is prepackaging meal kits for distribution to families in need.
You might check on your neighbors and make sure they are doing okay, especially the elderly and infirm.
At the very least, do what you can to keep from being infected, even if you are not in a high risk group. You might sail through the pandemic, but what you do could cost someone elses life. That love your neighbor thing has legs beyond pleasant feelings.
As does prayer.
You see, prayer might make us feel good, but there is much more involved in an intercessory prayer than a simple plea to God, although that of course is a good thing in its own right. Take a look at an intercessory prayer offered by Nehemiah on behalf of his own nation.
The Jewish people were sent into exile from the Holy Land by the invading armies of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, and 70 years later the Persian defeated the Babylonian Empire and allowed the Jews, if they wished, to return to their homeland. Many did, including a number who returned to rebuild the Temple and City of Jerusalem.
Some decades later the work had not yet been completed, and the walls of the city were is disarray. Nehemiah, who was both Jewish and a senior adviser to the to the Persian monarch, when he learned of this, became highly distressed. He needed a favor from King Artaxerxes, bu he had no way of knowing how the king would respond. So prayed on behalf of the plight of his people. His prayer is found in Nehemiah 1:4-11. Here is how it reads from The Message:
“God, God-of-Heaven, the great and awesome God, loyal to his covenant and faithful to those who love him and obey his commands: Look at me, listen to me. Pay attention to this prayer of your servant that I’m praying day and night in intercession for your servants, the People of Israel, confessing the sins of the People of Israel. And I’m including myself, I and my ancestors, among those who have sinned against you. We’ve treated you like dirt: We haven’t done what you told us, haven’t followed your commands, and haven’t respected the decisions you gave to Moses your servant. All the same, remember the warning you posted to your servant Moses: ‘If you betray me, I’ll scatter you to the four winds, but if you come back to me and do what I tell you, I’ll gather up all these scattered peoples from wherever they ended up and put them back in the place I chose to mark with my Name.’ Well, there they are – your servants, your people whom you so powerfully and impressively redeemed. O Master, listen to me, listen to your servant’s prayer – and yes, to all your servants who delight in honoring you – and make me successful today so that I get what I want from the king.”
Note what he prays and how this should be a model for us.
First, he reminds God of his covenant and mercy to his people, but then acknowledges the sins of the people.
Note that he prays in intercession for his country. Some translations say on behalf of his people (New English Bible, International Standard Version, New English Translation, Amplified Bible, New American Standard Bible). The force of this is to say that he is not just praying for them, but is holding them up in prayer, because they dont know how to pray themselves. If you have ever been sick and had others praying for you because you didnt have the energy to pray for yourself, you understand what that means.
Nehemiah then confesses the sins of the nation as if the sins are his own. Nehemiah has no room in his heart heart for pride in his own faithfulness. In holding up his nation as a people in need of forgiveness he also holds up himself and his family as being equally in need of the loving kindness and mercy of his Creator.
Even though Nehemiahs prayer ends in chapter 1 and God begins to move in chapter 2, we see Nehemiahs constancy in prayer throughout the book. Whenever he faces a tough decision (or even not so tough decisions) or meets a roadblock, he immediately cries out to God for guidance and help. Read the book through and see what I mean.
The point is this. We believers have much we can do to loosen the heavy burdens that others are facing. Many will lose their jobs. Well laid plans will be tossed into the trash bin. Many will sicken, some will die. We as Gods people can choose to lift up the hurting and brokenhearted, or we can choose to be smug and condemning. Personally, I want to pray a Nehemiah prayer today and every day.

Christians Whom Satan Loves (Sabbath Meditations)
Waking to the rumble of thunder and the drum beat of rain on our bedroom window, I lay there enjoying the sounds of nature. Years ago, when our children were little, storms, especially violent ones, would have sent one or both of them scurrying down the hall to crawl into bed seeking refuge. A loud clap of thunder and lightning, a bad dream, a mysterious noise or a strange shadow on the wall were enough to propel them out of bed and straight to our door.
I remember one night, when my daughter came running to our room more frightened than usual. Apparently some kids had told a particularly scary ghost story on the bus on the way home from school. She was convinced that ghost had taken up residence in her bedroom. As any father would, I spent the next fifteen minutes peering into every dark corner, investigating every possible hiding place, to reassure her that there was nothing to fear, that ghosts aren’t real, and that it was simply her imagination running out of control.
Over the next few days her mother and I also used the opportunity to talk to both of our kids about the concept of evil and the spirit world. Now it’s touchy to follow up a conversation about imaginary ghosts with a conversation about the spirit world, which, of course, is very real. We certainly didn’t want to make the problem worse, but we did feel it important for them to know the difference. We wanted them to understand the things they should be wary of versus those things that are merely superstition, based on irrational fear.
As adults, you and I have grown beyond irrational fears. Although we know there is a spirit world, we also know there are no ghosts in the closet or evil monsters under the bed. There might be some pretty nasty smelling socks, but not evil monsters.
However, there are some Christians who do seem to spend an inordinate amount of time consumed with irrational fears about the the spirit world and the influence of the Devil. These are the Christians who blame Satan for every mistake and every bad thing that happens in their lives. They are constantly searching for signs of his influence around every corner and under every rock.
Satan is not at all displeased to get the attention. He loves Christians that allow him center stage. He is in the business of attempting to usurp God’s power in our lives. He couldn’t take over God’s throne by force long ago, but he is still trying to do it in other ways. He does all he can to deceive us into believing that he has more influence, more power than he really has over the life of a Christian. To the degree he is able to shift our attention away from confidence in God’s love, God’s protection and toward an inordinate fear of him and his power, he is successful.
Why? Well, if we are constantly focused on the enemy, worried about the evil that might befall us, we will never have the courage to take risks. The times in our lives when we should be stepping out in faith we will instead be holding back in fear. Our inordinate focus on the enemy will immobilize us and make us ineffective tools in God’s hands. And that’s just where the enemy wants us.
James 4:7-8 tells us, “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”
In I John 4:18 we read, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has torment. He that fears is not made perfect in love.”
If you are one of those Christians that tends to look back over your shoulder a little too much; worried about Satan getting the upper hand; consumed by what influence the enemy has over you; inordinately fearful of falling into the traps he sets, you are really only running from shadows on the wall and bumps in the night. You are giving Satan way more attention than he deserves.
Should we be wary of Satan’s deception? Should we strive to resist him? Yes, of course. But the most effective resistance is not letting ourselves be sucked into Satan’s vortex of fear and doubt, but rather, as James tells us, to “draw near to God.” If we learn to focus confidently ahead on our God and His promises of protection, His promises of strength in time of need, and His promise to finish the work that He has begun in us, Satan cannot touch us. By surrounding ourselves with the reality of God’s love, all inordinate fear is cast out.
It’s been quite a while since either of our children have come scurrying down the hall to our room. Now that they are older, and braver, these visits are a thing of the past. It takes more than just a little shadow on the wall to spook them, which is a good thing, since they would now take up a lot more real estate on our bed than they once did. As a parent, it’s nice to see our children outgrowing their fear and growing in confidence. I’m sure it pleases our God when we do the same.

Let My People Go (Morning Companion)
Finish this sentence: “Let my people go …”
You’ll recognize those words as those coming from Moses’ mouth to Pharaoh’s ears. They were God’s demand to free the Israelite slaves, and thus became a rallying cry for those of us who love freedom.
And yet the sentence quoted above is incomplete. “Let my people go” is a phrase closely identified with the Passover and freedom from the slavery of Egypt. For Christians, not only does it look to the freeing of the people of Israel from bondage, but also the freeing of all mankind from the bondage of sin through the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb without blemish (I Peter 1:19, I Corinthians 5:7).
But freedom from bondage is only part of the story. The rest of the story is found in the rest of Moses’ words: “Let my people go that they may serve me.”
Freedom is a wonderful thing, but it is not the ultimate good. When we have freedom, it must be exercised for a greater cause than freedom for its own sake. Experience enough generations of freedom defined as doing whatever we please, or in Biblical parlance, whatever is right in our own eyes, and you’ll get a world like that of the last days in the Book of Judges. Read the 19th – 21st chapters of Judges to see what a society of unfettered freedom produces, a society that has forgotten the purpose for freedom. Read either that or tomorrow’s newspaper.
The fact is, the path of freedom without responsibility leads to chaos, which in turn leads back to slavery. We are meant to have freedom so that we can reach our true God-given potential.
The point we can take from Moses’ full statement is that freedom from sin, while great in its own right, is simply not enough. In fact, that’s why some fifty days after the Exodus the Israelites found that Moses had led them to the foot of Mt. Sinai where they were about to receive the Ten Commandments. Those commandments taught them how they were supposed to serve God.
Put differently, they were given a law that would ensure their liberty. It defined how free men and women were to live together in such a way that everyone’s rights could be respected.
Freedom is not enough. Ironic, is it not, that we are made free so that we can serve a better Master?

What We Do In The Storms (Sabbath Thoughts)
I will always have a lot of respect for Job.
He catches a lot of flak for his behavior toward the end of the book, and it turns out, yes, when you’re at the lowest point of your life and dealing with three insensitive and unhelpful “friends”, some character defects are going to rise to the top. It’s inevitable. But I think leaving the camera zoomed in on those failures gives us an incomplete picture of who Job was.
To me, the verse that really defines Job’s character is in the very first chapter. A flood of messengers rush in to tell Job the worst possible news:
He’s lost everything.
His possessions are gone. His children are dead. In a single moment, he transitioned from “the greatest of all the people of the East” (Job 1:3) to the most pitiable. So what does he do?
He tears his robe, shaves his head, then falls to the ground and worships: Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there.
The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord. (Job 1:21)
Where does a response like that come from? Not the heat of the moment; I can tell you that. You don’t lose nearly everything you hold dear and
then decide to turn around and praise God. It doesn’t work like that.
The decision to praise God in the storms of life comes
before the storm, not during. It’s something we chose to do before things get bad – a choice we make in advance when we understand who God is and what He means to us. Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah made the choice to obey God at all costs long before Nebuchadnezzar was threatening to throw them into the fire. Peter and the other disciples knew whose opinion of them mattered long before the Sanhedrin tried to browbeat them into submission. Stephen knew what was worth saying long before his life was on the line.
The decision, the attitude, the mindset – it comes first. Storms will come. They’re inevitable. Inescapable. What we’ll do when the next one hits depends on the decisions we’re making right now, in this moment.
When the winds start picking up, it’s probably too late to change course.

Principles for Prophets (Morning Companion)
Would you like to be hailed as a guru or prophet who is never wrong?
Follow three simple rules and you too can be known as an expert prognosticator.
Whether in the lucrative fields of economics, stock market prediction, or the
very lucrative field of end time prophecy, you can learn to amaze your friends and family, and maybe secure a gig on CNBC, the Weather Channel, or even Trinity Broadcasting Network!
Here they are! Three Principles for Prophets!
1. If you are going to predict what, don’t predict when.
When making predictions, it is important to have enough specificity so that when something happens it can be recognized as something you said. When you face a skeptic — and there will be skeptics — who say, “Your prediction didn’t happen,” you can answer, “You mean it hasn’t happened
yet.
2. If you are going to predict when, don’t predict what.
Example: Bible prophecy says that something significant will happen in the year XXXX (fill in the blank). Even if nothing apocalyptic happens in year XXXX, a review of that year’s news will reveal significant events that can become the “what” of your prophecy.
A variant of this is to say that a big event will happen in three to five years. This is especially effective in a fundraising newsletter. If you send out the same letter every year with no revisions, you can always have that big event happening three to five years out. If your followers are True Believers, they probably won’t even notice.

3. If forced to predict both what and when, make lots of predictions.
The more predictions you make, the greater the likelihood that one of them will be right.
Skilled prognosticators know how to make two contradictory predictions in one sentence, often sprinkled with qualifiers such as “maybe”, “could be”, “more likely than not”, and (my personal favorite) “50% chance of rain”.

There you are, all you aspiring Elijahs. Go forth and prophesy!

The Overclocked Christian (Sabbath Thoughts)
The Raspberry Pi is a $35 credit-card sized computer that programming hobbyists have used in some pretty spectacular projects. A quick search will pull up hundreds of guides explaining how to use a Pi as the brains of a homemade weather station, arcade cabinet, media server, security system, home automation hub, AI assistant, motorized garden enclosure, robot, and a dozen other projects that might interest you.
One of the more useful things you can do, especially if your project is taxing the limits of your Pi, is a little trick called “overclocking.”
Overclocking is the process of taking a computer and pushing it a little harder than the manufacturer intended for it to go. For the Raspberry Pi, it’s a relatively simple process – open the right text file, find the right numbers, and replace those numbers with bigger numbers. Voila. Restart the system, and you’re overclocked. A higher clock speed means your computer can chew through difficult tasks faster – which, depending on what you’re using the Pi for, can make a huge difference in what your project is capable of accomplishing.
But there’s a trade-off, of course. Otherwise the manufacturer would have the clock speed cranked up as high as it could go. The trade-off is this: Overclocking requires more power. More power produces more heat. More heat and faster speeds generally mean a shorter lifespan for the components involved. Besides all that, changing the manufacturer’s clock settings both voids the warranty and introduces an element of instability into the system. Even with a dedicated cooling system, there’s a chance that tweaking those settings will crash your operating system or fry something important. In the case of the Pi, we’re talking about an easily replaceable $35 computer. As far as taking risks goes, messing with the settings a little bit isn’t exactly a huge gamble.
But it’s possible to overclock more than computers. If you want, you can overclock yourself.
I think Martha was probably an overclocked Christian. At least, I think she was during the brief little window we get to see her the first time we see her in the gospels. Martha and her sister, Mary, were hosting Jesus in Martha’s house. “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’” (Luke 10:40).
Martha was focused on being a good host. She was focused
intently on that. The Bible says she was distracted with much serving. How much? Enough to forget what really mattered in the moment. Jesus (gently, I imagine) responded, “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 10:41).
Worried. Troubled. Distracted. I think we all know an overclocked Christian when we see one – especially because we all have the capacity to
be an overclocked Christian. The overclocked Christian never believes she’s doing enough, and every time she’s reminded of this, she tries to compensate by pushing herself a little harder.
The overclocked Christian is stressed and anxious because he sets standards for himself that go above and beyond what God expects of him. The overclocked Christian works hard to maintain the image of a picture-perfect life, because she’s afraid of what others would think if they saw the flawed human being beneath the façade.
The overclocked Christian confuses money with God’s approval, and focuses his efforts on earning – or at least spending – as much as his successful fellow Christians (who, for all he knows, are drowning in their own debt).
The overclocked Christian finds solace in her own track record of obedience to God, living in fear that past or present failures might disqualify her as a child of God.
The overclocked Christian fixates on a distant, difficult milestone and tells himself that God will be happy with him once he gets there – that he will be at peace with himself once he gets there – that he can slow down once he gets there.
The overclocked Christian forgets a lot of important scriptures. Scriptures like, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Or scriptures that warn us not to stray from “the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3). Or ones that remind us of the faithful men and women who went through this life “destitute, afflicted, tormented – of whom the world was not worthy” (Hebrews 11:37-38). Or ones that draw a line in the sand and tell us, “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4).
Grace … Grace is what the overclocked Christian so often overlooks. Christianity is not about being perfect, but becoming perfect. Overcoming. Growing. It’s a process that begins with repentance, forgiveness, justification, and the Spirit of God – all gifts we can never earn or deserve. These gifts make our journey possible, and we rely on them every step of the way. Overclocked Christianity is what happens when we put these gifts to the side and try to fill the gaps ourselves. It’s what happens when we demand (our own version of) perfection from ourselves – or at least push ourselves to maintain the illusion. But no matter how hard we strain, our own righteousness can only ever serve as a record of all the times we fell short of God’s standards. We’ll burn out our circuits trying to plug holes we can’t possibly plug.
And so we see Paul berating the Galatians, “Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? … He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” (Galatians 3:3,5).
The Christian, overclocked or not, has work to do. There is no place in the Kingdom for those who refuse to let go of a lifestyle of sin (Revelation 22:15). We need to be changing. We need to be growing. We need to be overcoming. But we don’t need to be perfect. We don’t need to be at the end of the road the day after we start walking the trail. We just need to be walking.
Your journey will be marked with struggles, setbacks, complications, misfires, and moments of incredible failure.
So what? You’re human. We all are – and all our stories look like that.
But it doesn’t matter.
Paul, after reminding the Corinthians of the sinful lifestyles that have no place in the Kingdom, explained, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).
Do you think the Corinthians had somehow transcended sin? Hardly. Paul spends most of that letter taking them to task for serious congregational sins. But he still uses the past tense: “Such
were some of you.” When we’re washed, justified, and sanctified, we’re not what we were before. We’re “a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Not perfect. Not yet. But new. Set apart. Forgiven. Granted access to the throne of grace whenever we need it (Hebrews 4:16). And that very grace is what makes the concept of overclocking ourselves so incredible pointless – and not just pointless, but harmful.
When we try to “do enough,” we try to earn an entirely unearned gift. When we set our standards higher than God’s, we reach for something unattainable. When we project the picture-perfect life, we make others feel inadequate while God remains unfooled. When we rely on our own track record of obedience, we’re forced to stare at our own failings with no way to erase them. When we conflate wealth with righteousness, we pursue money as a divine badge of approval. When we put all our chips on a distant milestone, we reject both the love and peace God offers us right now, in this moment. Christ’s yoke is easy. His burden is light. When it’s not, there’s a good chance we’re overclocking ourselves – and the only thing we can accomplish with overclocking is unnecessary stress and inevitable burnout.
The Manufacturer set your clock speed where He did for a reason. Within those boundaries, you can be all the Christian you’ll ever need to be.

Festival of Firstfruits (New Horizons)
As a ‘
Pharisee of the Pharisees’ and schooled by the renowned Gamaliel, the apostle Paul was well-versed in the rites and customs prescribed by God and recorded in the Scriptures and which were his life-long custom to observe. Not least were the ceremonies associated with the annual festivals.
The festivals form a pattern based on the agricultural cycle, perfectly understandable in an agrarian society. The apostle has much to say about the ‘
First-fruit’, and he expands its significance beyond the harvest theme to embrace the glorious destiny mapped out for true believers.
The first festival of the Hebrew year is
Passover/Unleavened Bread, and the firstfruit of the barley harvest was celebrated during it. When the Sabbath ended the Temple authorities cut a sheaf of ripe barley, which was presented next morning before the altar: ‘…he [priest] shall wave the sheaf before Jehovah for your acceptance; on the morrow of the sabbath [Sunday] he priest shall wave it’ (Leviticus 23:10). It was called the ‘Wavesheaf’.
The apostle applies this symbolism to Jesus: ‘…
now Christ has been raised from the dead; He became the firstfruit of those having fallen asleep [ie who died]’ (I Corinthians 15:20). Passover marked the death of Jesus—which occurred as the Passover lamb was slain in the Temple. The harvesting of the Wavesheaf marked his resurrection from death, Jesus having spent three days in the grave (Matthew 12:40).
Sunday morning we find Mary at Jesus’s tomb, early, ‘
while yet dark’—only to find him gone (John 20:1). Jesus then met Mary, but forbade her to touch him: ‘Do not touch Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father’ (v.17). He was about to ascend to heaven to be presented to the Father as the firstfruit (I Corinthians 15:20) —at the time the firstfruit sheaf was to be presented in the Temple. We note that the disciples later that day embraced him when he appeared to them. Mission accomplished.
Noting that the wavesheaf consisted of
many stalks of ripe grain, Paul unravels the significance: ‘…ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit’ (Romans 823). Every true Christian is a part of the ‘firstfruit harvest. James echoes this theme; if you are ‘in Christ’ you are ‘…a kind of firstfruits’ (James 1:18).
The barley harvest began only after that first sheaf of grain had been cut (Leviticus 23:14), and continued until the next festival seven weeks later. God instructed: ‘…
you shall count unto you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be com-plete: Even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall you number fifty days’ (vv.15-16). It culminated in the Feast of Weeks—in the New Testament called Pentecost (Acts 2:1).
It is of note that the first Christians joyfully accepted that the LORD expected them to observe His festivals. Thus we find Paul ‘
was in a hurry to arrive in Jerusalem by the day of Pentecost, if at all possible’ (Acts 20:16). He had also issued guidance to the Corinthian brethren on the manner they should be observing these festivals (1 Corinthians 5).

Whiter then Snow (Sabbath Thoughts)
I wonder how long David hated himself for what he did to Uriah. I wonder how long it took for him to be able to look at Bathsheba without thinking immediately of the man whose death he ordered and the child God took from him in response.
We don’t know. The Bible doesn’t say. What we do see are the words of an emotionally and spiritually broken king, throwing himself upon God’s mercy and begging for forgiveness.
“Do not cast me from your presence,” pleaded David, “and do not take from me your Holy Spirit” (Psalm 51:11).
David knew the road he was on, because he had watched Saul walk it before him. It was a road of self-justification and excuses; it was a road upon which genuine repentance could never set foot. David had come dangerously close to following his predecessor’s footsteps – but when brought face-to-face with the truth of his own ugly heart, David chose a different road.
“Have mercy upon me, O God,” he begged. “For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51:1,3).
We don’t know how many sleepless nights David spent tormented by his own terrible actions, but the man we see in Psalm 51 is a man who could not,
would not, attempt to reason away his sins before God. He chose a path contrary to human nature – he took ownership of his wrong doing and repented.
But David asked for more than mercy and forgiveness in this psalm. He makes the special request that God would
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean. Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me hear joy and gladness, that the bones You have broken may rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalm 51:7-10)
It’s snowing as I write this – has been for several hours. The world outside my window is blanketed in sheets of white. It’s a peaceful scene – with the occasional exception of a solitary car making a cautious descent down the road, my little town is all hunkered down for the night, while a curtain of pure white snowflakes gently covers the ground. That’s the beautiful thing about a snowfall. For a few precious hours before that white carpet is sullied by muddy footprints and vehicle sludge, the whole world is peaceful. Pure. Untainted.
And that’s what David was asking for: a clean slate. David, the man whose hands were stained red with the blood of one of his most faithful servants; David, whose heart had been blackened by the sins of lust and adultery; David, whose outright disregard for the law of God had damaged his kingdom in a way that would last until it was carted off into captivity – that David was asking to be restored to purity, to become once again a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14).
Mainstream Christianity loves the word “grace”. It’s one of their favorites to use, and one of their least favorite to define. And because we know that God hasn’t done away with His perfect law, hearing a word so burdened with false doctrines and misconceptions makes it easy for us to swerve from one ditch and into another – to focus so heavily on what we need to be doing that we start to overlook what is
impossible for us to do. We can become so focused on refuting some of the lies that others have built upon the doctrine of grace that the idea of grace itself can make us uneasy.
The epistle of Galatians was written to a very sincere, but very misguided, group of first century Christians. These men and women of God had become so focused on the importance of keeping God’s law that they had forgotten its function. They had begun to believe that keeping the law itself was enough to earn them salvation. Paul reprimands them by asking,
“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:1-3). He continued, reminding them that “no one is justified by the law in the sight of God” (Galatians 3:11).
God never negated His law, and Paul never attempts to explain it away in Galatians. If that were true, what need would there be for repentance? Rather, what Paul wanted the Galatians (and us!) to understand is that no amount of perfect law keeping today will blot out a sin committed yesterday. Only one thing can do that – the very word we tend to shy away from because of its man-made connotations. Grace.
Grace, the unmerited pardon available to use through repentance and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Grace, a gift given from the goodness of the giver without regard to the worthiness of the recipient. Grace cannot be earned, cannot be purchased, cannot be worked for.
Grace is what David was praying for in Psalm 51. He knew that no amount of future righteousness could cleanse him of his present iniquities. There was nothing he could do to remove the spiritual stains for which he was responsible … but there
was something God could do, and did do. We know from the prophet Ezekiel that David will be once again be the king of a resurrected Israel in the future (Ezekiel 37:24), and we also know that God would not put an unrepentant leader in that position.
Do you want a clean heart? Do you want a renewed and steadfast spirit? Do you want to be whiter than snow? Well, there’s nothing you can do to make those things a reality. Keep every jot and tittle of the law without flaw for the rest of your life and you’ll never succeed in erasing the stains of your past actions.
God, however, can. When we repent of our sins, when we seek God’s help in changing our course, when we ask Him to wash away our past missteps with the blood of our elder Brother, He
will do those things. Whatever our past transgressions, whatever sins are ever before us, our Creator stands ready and willing to wash us whiter than snow. He promises us, “Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)
God’s law is just as valid today as the day He created mankind. We are still required to obey it. But it’s not like balancing a checkbook; we don’t make up for breaking the law by just keeping it really well in the future. No,
“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).
None of us go through life perfectly. We all stumble, we all falter, and we are all powerless to remove the stains those transgressions leave behind.
But God isn’t. By the grace of God, we can find forgiveness. We can overcome our shortcomings. We can be whiter than snow. But first, we have to ask.

The Animal Treatment Test (New Church Lady)
I am not much of a pet person. I have had pets – everything from goldfish to gerbils to dogs and cats to rabbits and even a pig. But I haven’t had any pets for at least 15 years, in part because my husband is decidedly not a pet person and in part because I travel so much for work that it makes having a pet impractical and potentially unfair to the animal.
The Bible tells us that you can tell something about a person by the way he/she treats animals. We see that in
Proverbs 12:10 [ESV] for example, where it says: Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.
Our merciful Father is also concerned with the life and well-being of animals. After all, He created them with carefully planned design and purpose too. Matthew 10:29, 31 [NIV] Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care … So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
And, even though animals do not have a divine purpose, He gave Israel instructions for being kind to the animals in their care. Here are just a couple of examples:
Deuteronomy 25:4 [ESV]: You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.
Deuteronomy 22:4 [ESV] You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and ignore them. You shall help him to lift them up again.
Further, God’s instructions to the nation of Israel also included warnings to not let a contentious human relationship cause them to neglect or be cruel to animals.
Exodus 23:5 [ESV] If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him.
Animals in the wild can and do take care of themselves. In the wild, each one performs a role. It might be to keep vegetation down, or to pollinate plants or to be food for those beasts that are higher up on the food chain. In the wild, they are also subject to natural disasters, like famines, wildfires and floods, where they have to fend for themselves. This is the natural order of things and all part of the natural balance of living things on the earth.
However, when we press them into human service, whether to tread grain, or to become a meal for us, or to provide eggs for a meal, or to act as guardians of our herds or property, or simply to provide companionship, God asks us to consider their well-being as creatures in our charge.
As is so often the case, Jesus bridges the gap between lessons on how to act in secular matters, like instructions on the humane way to treat animals, and a greater spiritual lesson for us.
We see this in
Matthew 12:10-12 [ESV] And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?– so that they might accuse him. He said to them, Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.
And in Luke 6:6-9 [ESV] On another Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him. But he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man with the withered hand, Come and stand here. And he rose and stood there. And Jesus said to them, I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?
Jesus showed us that the leaders of His day had distorted their priorities in a way that devalued human life and would have preferred to leave a man in misery for one more day than to have Jesus break the rules they had instituted. Further, it seems like they believed God the Father felt the same way.
Jesus tells us that how we prioritize the well-being of our fellow man is even more important to the Father than our care of animals, although He watches both. And He bids us to prioritize the well-being of our fellow man in all our decisions – both large and small.
We should think about this valuation in how we treat our co-workers. It should inform the decisions we make about how to treat our children and what to prioritize in their lives. It should guide how we treat our mates. We should think about it in regards to how we treat the server at that restaurant or the customers, if you are the server at the restaurant. We should think about it before telling a joke or posting a meme or spreading gossip (even if it is a fact) that would hurt someone else.
God cares about animals. He takes care of them and He bids us to do the same. In fact, He indicates that one can tell a lot about a person by how they treat the animals in their care.
God cares much
more about our fellow man. He created the whole earth and the animals in it to serve and support us. He asks us to reciprocate by treating our fellow human beings with even greater care and respect than the animals.
God requires that we treat each other with loving care in every interaction and to consider the well-being of our fellow man in every thought, word, deed and decision. He instructs us to prioritize the well-being of our fellow man, just as Jesus did.
 

It’s All Borrowed Time (Sabbath Thoughts)
“He’s living on borrowed time.”
He cheated fate, in other words. He used up the days allotted to him, came up against the moment that should have ended his life, and kept on living. From here on out, it’s borrowed time –
minutes, days, maybe even years that he was never entitled to, never knowing when it might end.
Except that’s not really true, is it? The idea that we have a set amount of time that we’re inherently entitled to – where did it come from? When we say someone was “taken before their time,” what are we implying?
The truth is more uncomfortable than all of that. David wrote:
Lord, make me to know my end, and what is the measure of my days,
that I may know how frail I am. Indeed, You have made my days as handbreadths, and my age is as nothing before You. Certainly every man at his best state is but vapor.
(Psalm 39:4-5)
Translation: It’s all borrowed time. Every bit of it. Starting from day one, you aren’t making withdrawals from your own personal time bank – you’re getting the moments God gives you, and nothing more.
That’s true for all of us. It’s true for the cancer survivor and for the man who’s never had anything worse than the flu. It’s true for the passenger who barely survived the crash at the intersection and for the woman who’s never broken a bone in her body.
It’s borrowed time. All of it. We’re not promised one moment beyond this one, and yet it’s so easy to live like we’ve been given eternity.
But we haven’t. Not yet. We have right now, this moment, and that’s it.
What are you doing with it? How are you using it?
Moses asked God,
“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). Until we understand that our days are limited, that our time is borrowed, a heart of wisdom is going to be forever beyond our reach. There’s always tomorrow, after all. Or the day after. Or the day after … And then God thunders, “Fool! This night your soul will be required of you” (Luke 12:20), and that’s it. Time’s up; game’s over. No more moments to waste.
Paul offers a better alternative:
“See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:15-17).
Our days are limited, our time is borrowed, and the clock is ticking. That ought to light a fire under our butts and help us to fix our attention on the things that really matter – not the distractions of this life, but the coming Kingdom of God and who we need to become to be there.
Jesus offers these words of hope:
“Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). God is on our side here. He wants to see us succeed. He wants us to make it – but that requires action from us.
“Borrowed time” has such an ominous connotation. It sounds like a loan that might be snatched back at any moment, and maybe that’s not the most encouraging way to look at it. This isn’t time we’ve borrowed from God as much as it is time God has given to us, so maybe that’s what we need to start calling it: gifted time. Time gifted to us by a loving Creator who wants us in His family.
We don’t need to be terrified of God waiting to take His gift back just to spite us, but we do need to understand that if we choose to squander the time we’re given, then the fault lies with us, not God.
Brethren, the Kingdom awaits. The race is waiting to be run. The clock is ticking. What are you doing with your gifted time?

Sitting On Our Laurels (Morning Companion)
The first employer I worked for was founded by a couple of young guys whose goal was to get on the cutting edge of their profession, and they managed to do it. We struggled and fought through the first few years, but it was worth it because, even if we weren’t the best, we were certainly among the best.
But on our way up, we took a turn to our laurels in the sense that we began to sit on them. We became comfortable. We were making money. We were helping our clients. We were chugging along on cruise control.
And, we lost our edge.
We lost the fire in our bellies.
We drifted along while everybody raced past us.
Church congregation can have the same problem. Many of the churches in Revelation 2 & 3 succumbed to it. They started on fire but ended in apathy.
Ephesus lost its first love and were counseled to regain it.
Pergamos held fast to Jesus’s name and the faith, but they allowed themselves to become polluted by the world and to slip into idolatry.
Thyatira was full of love, faith, and service, but they tolerated sin and false teaching.
Sardis had a reputation of being alive, but they apparently did nothing but drift along until they died out.
And the church at Laodicea never had any fire to begin with.
All the churches received counsel to overcome so that they could granted their crowns.
Paul in his first epistle to the Corinthians made reference to “the prize” and what it takes to win the prize. Corinth was the site of the Isthmian Games, and thus an analogy to an athletic event would correctly convey Paul’s thoughts to the residents of that city. He wrote:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (I Corinthians 9:24-27 NIV)
The crown awarded to the victor in those games was a temporary crown, a perishable crown, a crown that will not last forever. It was a laurel wreath, made of plant material and thus subject to decay. Winning this wreath was a temporary thing. It would not last forever, but Paul lifts this analogy to a higher purpose, pointing out that the crown for which we strive is an everlasting one. Still, even in this world, striving for the mastery and for the crown requires us to strive hard, not to drift, through the finish line.
If you want to see a modern-day illustration of what not to do, watch this one-minute video. Don’t run your race this way. Strive all the way through the finish line. Don’t even think about coasting through to your reward. Don’t sit on your laurels. As the man says at the end of the video, “The race wasn’t over.”

Abusive Pastors, Abusive Churches (Dynamic Christian Ministries)
Sometimes we have to have frank talks about church pastors. The following is not meant to hurt anyone’s feelings. It is for the purpose of helping Christians understand the role of pastors.
AND … it’s to help pastors understand that – too many times – they can’t see themselves as they really are.
Recently, a pastor I know posted an article on Facebook that was filled with self-pity. This man had basically been run off by his congregation for being oppressive in his pastoring of that church. The brutal truth is that the brethren just didn’t want him anymore. Apparently, he feels that church people expect too much from pastors. He claimed the following:
—Congregations feel the pastor must be perfect and can never make a mistake.
—Congregations expect a pastor to be available 24/7.
—Congregations expect a pastor to never get angry.
—Congregations expect the pastor to do all the work.
—Congregations expect the pastor to never miss church.
—Congregations expect the pastor to never take a vacation.
—Congregations expect the pastor to never get sick.
—Congregations expect the pastor to not drive a car that’s too nice.
He then quotes from I Thessalonians 5:12-13 which says: “
Beloved Brothers, honor your leaders in the work of the Lord. They work hard among you and give them spiritual guidance. Have a lot of respect and of all heart show them love for the work they perform. And live in peace with each other.
In his post, he puts much emphasis on the pastor being THE LEADER.
And therein lies the problem. In his post, he never uses the word “servant”! He doesn’t understand that a pastor’s primary role is to be a SERVANT.
Oh, I’m sure he THINKS he is a servant. He thinks that his service is to be the boss – el jefe – the one who tells everyone how the church is to be run.
That is NOT the job of the pastor!
We must face the fact that the body of Christ is NOT divided into two classes: ministers and laypersons. That’s an outdated Catholic concept. Christians living in the year 2020 know better. Or at least, they should know better.
When this man laments that church members don’t give pastors the proper respect as LEADERS, he forgets what Jesus told His disciples in Luke 22:25-26: Jesus said, “
The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.
Granted, there are congregations that do not sufficiently appreciate their pastors. But there are also pastors who look down on their congregations as people who are inferior – children who need to be disciplined.
Like it or not, we must admit that we have many men serving as pastors who are NOT qualified to be ministers!!
I hope that the abusive pastors who are out there can come to grips with the concept that: “Yes, you are a leader in the church. But you are not THE leader. AND … your first job is to be a servant. Leadership is secondary (and even tertiary) in your ministry.”

Milk or Solid Food? (Morning Companion)
I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready,  for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?  (I Corinthians 3:2-3)We were sitting in our living room one evening and heard a bang. We weren’t sure what had happened until we went into the basement and saw a large crack on the west side of the foundation. A bad foundation is not something to ignore. Without a healthy foundation the rest of the structure can begin to crack and eventually the building becomes unsound.
It’s the same with out faith. It must be built on a solid foundation. Jesus Christ is called the chief cornerstone (Acts 4:11) for a reason. He is the first foundation stone. If that stone is not square and firmly grounded, the rest of the foundation will be defective.
In addition to Jesus being the cornerstone, chapter 6 of Hebrews talks about laying a foundation of doctrine. In addition to the doctrine of Christ, six specific doctrines are listed as foundational. Without these foundational doctrines along with the chief cornerstone of Jesus Christ, we cannot expect the building of our faith to stand.
Can anyone, after understanding the foundation of our faith, treat doctrine as unimportant? But note this. Doctrine is merely the foundation. Without a building on top of that foundation, that foundation doesn’t fulfill its purpose.
In fact, that’s pretty much what this section of Hebrews is telling us when it says, Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment (Hebrews 6:1-2).
This is saying that the foundation of doctrine, though critical to the integrity of the structure, is not enough. If we keep trying to lay the foundation over and over again, the foundation will never achieve its purpose, we’ll never have a building, and we’ll never reach maturity.
So about the building on that foundation — how does it look? Of what is it constructed?
Let’s take a look at the one big word that begins chapter 6 of Hebrews. That word is therefore. That word therefore points back to what was said in the chapter before. The final few verses in chapter 5 point forward to what is said in chapter 6:
About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.  For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:11-14, Emphasis added)
Here we see a different metaphor, comparing milk (for children)to solid food (for the mature).
Note the words basic principles. Note that the basic principles are called milk, and that everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word, not just any word, but the word of righteousness.
Note that solid food is for the mature, and that the mature learn how to distinguish good from evil.
The phrases word of righteousness and distinguish good from evil are associated with maturity and solid food. Milk is associated with basic principles, being unskilled in the word of righteousness, and being a child.
When we get to the early verses of chapter 6, the instruction is to move on to maturity, to start building on the all-important foundation rather than trying to lay the foundation all over again.
Look at the wording in Hebrews 6:
Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, etc., etc. (Hebrews 6:1-2).
Doctrine is not solid food. Doctrine is milk. Doctrine is necessary, just like a foundation is necessary for a strong building, but it’s not enough. Solid food is for the mature, and the mature learn how to discern good from evil and strive toward righteousness in their lives.
It’s easy to understand the nuances of repentance and faith, baptisms and laying on of hands, resurrections and eternal judgement. Or perhaps we should say it’s easy when compared to living a life according to the Sermon on the Mount. Try loving your enemies or praying for those who have harmed you. Try forgiving someone who did you wrong. It’s profitable to learn the Greek and Hebrew, but it’s a greater challenge to walk the extra mile like a Good Samaritan, or to care — really care — for orphans and widows. It is easier to theorize on the return of Christ than to ease the path of others in the here and now.
Doctrine is important. Understanding the resurrection and the plan of God are not to be trifled with. The doctrines surrounding the Second Coming are right and good to know. Those things are foundational and important. But we must build on those foundations of faith by living our faith.
Build the building! Feast on solid food! Move on to maturity!
For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. (I Corinthians 3:11-14)

YHWH Nissi : The Lord Our Banner (Sabbath Thoughts)
I’m a lot of things.
I’m a husband. A father. A writer. An employee. A son. A brother. A friend. A blogger. A board gamer. A tinkerer. These are some of the hats I wear, each with varying levels of frequency and importance.
You are a lot of things, too. I don’t doubt it. We all are. But what are you most of all? Out of all those hats, what’s the one that always comes first, that defines you more than any of the others?
You have options. A lot of options. It’s the 21st century there are more options for hobbies, entertainment, and professions than ever before in human history. There are easily accessible, fiercely passionate niches for every conceivable interest, and you can find a whole host of like-minded compatriots in almost no time at all with a quick Google search.
So what are you? More importantly, how do you want to be remembered? As a film enthusiast? A parent? A musician? A social butterfly? A political activist? A spouse? An advocate for social justice? A welder? A salesman? A leader?
If your gravestone could have a single epitaph, “Here lies a good ________,” what identity would you want chiseled into that blank space?
Israel’s first real taste of battle came from an Amalekite surprise attack in the wilderness. Moses told Joshua, “Choose us some men and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand” (Exodus 17:9).
What happened next was a miracle: “And so it was, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed” (Exodus 17:11). With some support from his friends (holding a staff above your head for a day doesn’t sound too hard until you try and do it), “his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. So Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword” (Exodus 17:12-13).
Amalek was defeated. Israel was victorious. But why? Because Moses held a magical stick in the air all day long? After the battle, Moses built an altar and named it YHWH Nissi ”The-LORD-Is-My-Banner” (Exodus 17:15). It was a reminder where Israel’s victory had really come from not from Moses, not from the people supporting him, and not even from the stick itself. The Eternal God has defeated Amalek, and He was the Banner of His people.
To really understand that sentiment, we first have to understand the role banners played in the ancient world. When I think of a standard or a banner, I usually think of a colorful, ornamental cloth emblazoned with some elaborate crest or design but that’s not necessarily how they worked in Israel’s day.
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia notes that the Hebrew words degel [H5251] and nes [H1714] indicate “a flag, streamer, or wrought emblem” affixed to the end of a pole and that “the purpose of the banner was to indicate the rallying point for any group holding a common cause.”
We don’t know exactly what Israelite banners looked like, but it’s interesting to note that the bronze serpent God instructed Moses to build in the wilderness was fashioned as a banner [nes] as well (Numbers 21:8).
When God instructed Israel how to set up camp in the wilderness, He explained that “the people of Israel shall camp each by his own standard, with the banners of their fathers’ houses” (Numbers 2:2, English Standard Version). The rest of the chapter deals with the marching order and camping layout of each tribe, as well as a record of the size of each tribe’s army.
Whatever form those standards and banners took, they served a valuable purpose for the Israelites:
Identification
This was a nation of hundreds of thousands of people, but banners made it possible to identify tribes at a glance. There was Judah’s banner, and there was Simeon’s, and over there was Dan’s there was never any doubt about what tribe was where.
In battle, the banner became even more important. With the ancient Romans, we know that “the Standard was important as a rallying point, symbol of pride and, more practically, as a means of communication in battle. A trumpet blast would draw the attention of the troops to the Standard which would then direct which action should be taken on the field. The Standard bearer would lower, raise, wave, or make some other motion with the Standard to indicate what the next move was for the troops or to change some tactic or formation.”
Warfare was loud. Communicating instructions to an entire army mid-battle was a challenge, but banners made it possible for soldiers to see instructions they couldn’t hear. Was it time to fall back? Surge forward? Change formation? Regroup? The banner was there to make it clear.
In many ways, Moses was something of a standard-bearer during the battle with Amalek. He was high atop a hill, raising a pole in the air on behalf of the army of God. Maybe that’s why he was so quick to build an altar that would remind the people that the real banner of Israel was not any masterfully crafted metal emblem or flag, but the Master Craftsman Himself the LORD Our Banner.
David knew it, too. “You have given a banner to those who fear You, that it may be displayed because of the truth … Through God we will do valiantly, for it is He who shall tread down our enemies” (Psalm 60:4,12). And again: “We will rejoice in your salvation, and in the name of our God we will set up our banners!” (Psalm 20:5). Jesus Himself was prophesied as “a Root of Jesse, who shall stand as a banner to the people” (Isaiah 11:10). All those hats you wear; all those things you are which one is most important? Which one is the one you’d cling to if all the others were being ripped from you, one by one?
What is your banner?
What is the primary flag you stand under when it’s time to say, “This is me, this is my identity, this is who I am at my very core”?
You have a lot of options but you only have one good option.
The LORD Our Banner. When we set up camp, He needs to be our identity; our unmistakable, defining marker. When others are looking for us, they can find us here, under the banner of our God. And when we step onto the battlefield, it is YHWH Nissi who gives us instruction, who guides us to victory, who treads down our enemies.
I asked what you’d want on your gravestone if you could only have a single epitaph, and I think the best inscription I could hope for is this one: Here lies a good Christian.”
The battle rages on. Follow your Banner.

Pray for our enemies (Morning Companion)
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you — Jesus, Matthew 5
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. Paul, I Timothy 2:1-2
In my country we live in one of the most polarized periods in our history, or so we are told. If we were to track the roots of our divided family tree, we could rationally lay the blame on our political environment, although, if we were to ask the neighborhood, we would probably find that most of our neighbors don’t like the squabbling any more than we do. In fact, as is often the case under such ruckus, we could probably surmise that a few rock throwers on opposite sides of the road are the ones who are making most of the noise in the hopes that well all join the rumble.
It has degenerated to the point in some quarters where those who have opinions differing from the politically acceptable wisdom of the day are being referred to as enemies, with the implication that the word should begin with a capital E.
I dont know where all of my readers stand on every issue. We likely disagree — and disagree mightily — on something. That does not mean we need to be Enemies.
Sadly, not all look at the world in that way, and we can rightfully say they might very well be enemies.
And if thats the case, we need to treat them as such.
So let me ask you a question. When was the last time you prayed for your enemies? Think of the sleaziest politician that you can and make that person a focus of your prayer, not in hate, but in love. Why would we not do this? Whats the worst that could happen if we did? What if they, like Saul of Tarsus, were to repent? Or maybe we need to do some repenting ourselves over our own attitudes. Would that be such a bad thing?
Regardless who is in the White House and who is in the outhouse, its good to remember how Paul instructs us to pray.
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

My Umizoomi Car (Sabbath Thoughts)
In the world of my two-year-old nephew Mark, there are few things in life that rival the joy of a box of Hot Wheel cars or a set of trains sitting atop a wooden track. He can keep himself busy for hours on some imaginary adventure with his favorite die-cast machines – the entire outside world tuned out as he helps Thomas and Percy deliver the mail around Sodor, or while he races his favorite Umizoomi car up and down a track only he can see (a journey fraught with gratuitous explosions and requisite slo-mo mid-air backflips). To the average adult, they’re a pile of toys – but to Marky, they’re an integral part of his world.
One night, not too many months ago, my wife Mary and I had the opportunity to be with Marky as he said his nighttime prayers. We knelt on the ground beside him while he bowed his head and began to thank his Father in heaven for everything God had given him.
… And I mean
everything.
Mary and I knelt there for a good ten minutes while little Marky named off every blessing in his life that came to his mind. He’s still not quite mastered the art of communication (but who has?), which means much of his prayer was unintelligible to us, but we still got the gist of it from the snippets we caught, like, “Umizoomi car … and Tomash and Pershy …and rocket car and the VROOM-VROOM.” There was no end to the blessings my nephew was thankful for, and he was intent on expressing his gratitude for each one, individually.
The apostle Paul admonishes us to be
“giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20). That night, in a little child’s prayer to God, I saw that scripture followed beautifully. There was nothing forced about Marky’s words – and while not all of them were clear to Mary and me, not a single one of them was misunderstood by our Creator. I can only imagine God’s joy each night as He listens to the heartfelt thanksgiving of a little one still learning to speak. The world around us is crumbling as societies and nations degenerate farther and farther into a state of godlessness and strife, and yet the Master of the universe still takes special note of the prayers of one little boy who wants to say thanks for his toys.
Having seen Marky pray, I can’t help but wonder about my own prayers. Am I really as thankful as I ought to be? It’s too easy to spend most of my prayer asking – asking for my daily bread, asking for the hastening of His Kingdom, asking for the welfare of the Church, asking for my needs and wants. Marky spent most of his prayer genuinely
thanking.
I guess that’s what happens when you get older. You stop noticing the things you have, and start paying attention to the things you lack. Start worrying more about the ends you can’t seem to make meet instead of looking at the consistent examples of God’s hand in your life. Start glancing warily at the long road ahead instead of remembering who guided you through the long road behind you. It’s that Israelite state of mind that says, “God may have delivered us from slavery, brought us dry-shod across the sea, and sent down bread daily from heaven, but I’m thirsty and none of that counts for anything now.”
It’s not that I have nothing to be thankful for, either. I have a job. I have a roof over my head. I have food to eat. I have the most fantastic wife in the world and the calling of Almighty God to join His eternal family. If Marky can take ten minutes to express sincere gratitude for his favorite toys, how many more hours should I be able to spend thanking God for the multitude of blessings He’s poured upon me?
So it’s time for a change of pace. Yes, there are things in my life that I need or want or hope for that I still intend to include in my prayers – but hearing my nephew’s prayer reminded me that maybe I need to be working a little harder to include some more thank yous along with all my pleases.
It’s like Paul said:
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
So whatever your Umizoomi cars or Thomases and Percys might be … remember to say thanks for them every now and then.

A Warning to the Imperious (Morning Companion)
Woe to you who are at ease.” (Amos 6:1)
The tribes of Israel were in a time of national peace and strength when Amos delivered his warning. The Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah were in alliance, and together controlled almost as much territory as the Kingdom of David and Solomon.
It was a time of wealth and extravagance for some (Amos 6:1), who enjoyed luxury that the populous as a whole could not imagine. They reclined on ivory beds and couches, ate rich foods, and led soft lives of leisure and exorbitance. These few imperious souls enjoyed the glister of life while most of the population suffered under the weight of their excesses. They drank wine from bowls and they anointed themselves with the best of ointments, but they were
“not aggrieved for the affliction of Joseph” (verses 4-6). Amos’s lament at the oppression of the many by the few concludes with a dire warning:
“Therefore you will be among the first to go into exile; your feasting and lounging will end.” (Amos 6:7)
They were to be the first to be judged for their lack of concern for the common people. In our world, as it was in the ancient world, the oppressors often hold themselves out as champions of the people. Jesus warned about despots who tried to wear white hats as heroes of the people, even though they were actually the oppressors of the people.
“The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.” (Luke 22:25)
He excoriated religious do-gooders with scathing words such as these:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation … You are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:14,27-28).
These condemnations call out the pretense so many “Benefactors” display when they attempt to bolster their credentials by expressions of loving the oppressed while they themselves are the ones doing the oppressing. They seem to love the poor so much that they are intent on making more of them. Jesus seems to be warning that those who wail the loudest about injustice are often the worst offenders.
The challenge for those of us who desire to discern between the phony and sincere should take to heart another admonition of Jesus:
“By their fruit you will know them” (Matthew 7:20). Do their actions empower people or make them more dependent on their “benefactors”? Are they lifting people out of poverty or making them more dependent? Do they feed resentment or do they deliver hope? Do they encourage anger or self-respect?
The Word of God is clear in both Testaments about the need to care for the less fortunate and downtrodden, but one overriding theme that appears over and over again is the theme of freedom. Whether it be the freeing of the Israelites from the slavery of Egypt or being free from the bondage of sin, freedom and dignity are held as ideals for human fulfillment. That’s why one such system to help the needy required something of both the haves and the have nots. Consider this law and the principle behind it from Leviticus:
“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:9-10)
The practice required providing sustenance for the needy, but it also placed a requirement on the poor. Read the book of Ruth to see how this worked in practice. Note also from the book of Ruth how the system worked best when family members helped one another so that those who were less able could also have a means of sustenance.
If you believe that our human nature has advanced from the world of Jesus’s or Amos’s day, consider this. Our “public servants” often enter “public office” with meager net worth, yet on a politician’s salary many manage to become multi-millionaires. They never built a business, never met a payroll, never risked bankruptcy. Yet so many of them seem to know what is best for those of us whom they consider to be their charges. If you want to know who the real benefactors are in our world, look to those who create real jobs that perform real services for real people, jobs that lift people from dependency to dignity. Look to those who instruct the poor in righteousness, who teach sound principles of living and family, thus giving them the moral and emotional foundations for success in life. And remember the words of Amos against those false benefactors, those who enjoy the fruit of another’s labor while pretending to care about the less fortunate: “You will be among the first to go into exile.”

A Tale of Two Kings (Sabbath Thoughts)
“And he did what was right in the sight of the Lord.”
It’s not a statement that appears often in the history of the kings of Israel and Judah. In fact, after the kingdom of Israel was split in two, it became an accolade that (when it applied at all) belonged exclusively to kings of Judah. That statement alone sets apart a small handful of rulers who stand out for their dedication to honoring and observing the commandments of God – but of those kings, the story of King Uzziah stands out for an entirely different reason.
Uzziah took the throne at the age of sixteen, and right out the gate we read that
“he did what was right in the sight of the Lord” and “as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper” (2 Chronicles 26:4-5). The account goes on to mention his conquests against the Philistines, his army of 307,500 men and his 2,600 mighty men of valor, his innovations and fortifications in Jerusalem, and most importantly, the fact that “he was marvelously helped till he became strong” (2 Chronicles 26:14, cf. 26:7).
But then Uzziah suffered what we might call a spiritual heart attack. We’re told that
“when he was strong, his heart was lifted up, to his destruction” (2 Chronicles 26:16). Probably intended as an act of worship and thanksgiving to God, Uzziah entered the temple and did what only the priests had been consecrated to do: burn incense before God. Somewhere along the line, Uzziah became convinced that the rules didn’t apply to him – that the same God who had strengthened him wouldn’t mind if he transgressed His law in an act of worship.
So when 81 priests charged into the temple after him and commanded him to stop trespassing before God, his response wasn’t one of repentance. It was of fury. He
was Uzziah. King Uzziah. He had crushed armies, fortified his kingdom, and brought peace and prosperity to Jerusalem. How dare a lowly priest presume to tell him what he could and could not do!
“And while he was angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead, before the priests in the house of the Lord, beside the incense altar. And Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and there, on his forehead, he was leprous; so they thrust him out of that place. Indeed he also hurried to get out, because the Lord had struck him. King Uzziah was a leper until the day of his death. He dwelt in an isolated house, because he was a leper; for he was cut off from the house of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 26:19-21).
Because Uzziah did not keep his heart in check – because he forgot where his strength and success came from – his pride and arrogance cost him his health, his kingship, and the aid of his God.
Several generations later, twelve-year-old Manasseh came to the throne of Judah – and to call him wicked would be tantamount to calling Goliath “above-average in height.” Manasseh set himself apart as the most perverse king to ever rule over Judah, seducing
“Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord had destroyed before the children of Israel” (2 Chronicles 33:9). Not only was he the worst king Judah ever had, he was more wicked than the pagan nations Israel had displaced. The beginning of 2 Chronicles 33 reads less like a biography and more like a laundry list of the worst possible sins a human being can commit – consulting spiritists, setting up altars and idols in the temple of God, worshipping every false god he could find, and even sacrificing his own children in fire.
In response to Manasseh’s flagrant sins (and refusal to heed divine warnings, cf. 2 Chronicles 33:10), God vowed to bring
“such calamity upon Jerusalem and Judah, that whoever hears of it, both his ears will tingle. And I will stretch over Jerusalem the measuring line of Samaria and the plummet of the house of Ahab; I will wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down” (2 Kings 21:12-13).
Manasseh had earned the wrath of God in a way few people ever have, and so it was little surprise that God allowed the armies of Assyria to carry away Manasseh with hooks and fetters into captivity.
What 
is a surprise is what happened next. Manasseh again did what few others in his position have done – “he implored the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed to Him” (2 Chronicles 33:12-13). The most wicked king in the history of Judah humbled himself before God and changed his ways. The result? God “received his entreaty, heard his supplication, and brought him back to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God” (2 Chronicles 33:13).
Rather than fall back into his sinful ways, Manasseh’s account ends by recording how he sought to reverse his terrible sins – tearing down his pagan altars and idols, repairing the altar in God’s temple, making peace and thank offerings on it, and commanding Judah to serve only the true God.
These two kings of Judah – Uzziah, who became mighty by seeking to follow God and then lost everything for the sake of pride, and Manasseh, who set a record in wickedness and then made a complete about-face by turning to God in humility – serve to illustrate one of the Bible’s most vital principles: namely, that we are judged for who we are, not who we’ve been.
God inspired Ezekiel to spell this out in Ezekiel 18, where God promises,
“‘if a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; because of the righteousness which he has done, he shall live. 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?’
“‘But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, because of them he shall die’”
(Ezekiel 18:21-24). Righteousness, God tells us, is not a bank. It’s not a balance where good deeds add to it and sins take away from it. On the contrary, it’s a state of being. Should we choose to sin and remain in sin, all the past righteousness in the world will not detract from our present state of being.
Uzziah did not get a free pass from his sin because of all the time he spent seeking God. He transgressed the law in pride, refused to repent, and was struck down in leprosy. His sin didn’t just detract from his righteousness, 
it erased it. Likewise, when Manasseh humbled himself before God, God didn’t tell him, “I’m sorry, but you’ve just sinned too much. There’s nothing I can do for you.” He was instead restored to the throne and allowed to live out the remainder of his years seeking after God.
The application for us, I hope, is plain. There is no such thing as a little sin (James 2:10). There is no sin in the world that can be counterbalanced by past righteousness, 
and no amount of living God’s way can cancel out the death penalty for our sins. There is no bank account, no balance – there is only living God’s way, or not. When we fail, we must repent, ask God to wipe away that sin with the blood of Christ’s sacrifice, and continue on in righteousness. The alternative is eternal death (Ezekiel 18:4).
We have, every moment in our lives, a choice: God’s way, or ours. Our failures or successes in the past aren’t what will determine our future – it’s the choices you and I are making right now, in each successive moment.
Therefore choose life.

The Prince, Hardball & The Screwtape Letters (Morning Companion)
An odd thought occurred to me while reading Tim Parker’s translation of Machiavelli’s famous work
The Prince: Was I reading Machiavelli or was I really reading C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters? Parker’s modern translation attempts to capture the engaging style of the original, which in many cases is a lighthearted exposition of tactics of tyrants in obtaining and retaining power.
It is universally acknowledged that Machiavelli wrote this book to the young Medici ruler Lorenzo as a sort of employment application and that he really believed in what he was writing. He was trying to show off the “wisdom” he had accumulated before falling out of favor, hoping to be hired on by the newly installed young Lorenzo. Lorenzo set the book aside, apparently never bothering to read it.
The Prince received little attention from anyone at first, but when it public awareness it seemed to horrify people. The Catholic Church placed it on a banned book list. Rulers decried the “ends justify the means” premise, the “ends” being the accumulation and retention of power and control. The glorification of tyrants such as Cesare Borgia and other corrupt potentates led many to wonder if the devil himself were the inspiration behind it.
Hence my wonder whether C. S. Lewis’s
Screwtape Letters was in a sense a mockery of The Prince.
Yet I had another thought. I wonder if popes and potentates were really shocked at Machiavelli’s words. It’s possible that the philosophy of
The Prince was not the problem. These people were troubled because he dared to blow their cover. It’s evident that rulers have used the principles of the little book for as far back in history as we can go, and it’s evident that the rulers of Machiavelli’s day right down to our own engage in the same practices. It’s just expected that this is something no one is supposed to talk about. In a very real sense, Machiavelli, whether naively or not, tore the mask off feigned respectability and exposed the devil for what it is.
And then there is a third book. I want to be careful about characterizing this book, but it seems to fall into a similar context as the first two. If
The Prince is a Renaissance exposition of how to gain and retain power and control, and if Screwtape is a warning on the devices of the Devil, the a modern book that touches on the same subject would be Chris Matthews’ Hardball. This is not to imply that Chris Matthews is a modern day Machiavelli. It is a book to read if you want to understand how the game is played in a modern context. I recommend the three books not so that we can learn how to manipulate others. These books properly understood can help us avoid being manipulated. In this day of spinmeisters and fake news, that’s a worthy pursuit.

Forgetting to Remember (Sabbath Meditations)
“Ughh … ten more miles to go … Come on … ignore the biting winter wind. Ignore the aching legs. Push through the burning in your lungs. Keep pedaling … just keep pedaling.
I was pedaling my Surly Crosscheck along the snow and ice flanked country roads near my house when these thoughts began running, or more accurately, throbbing, through my mind. This day the winter wind was especially brutal, making my normal 24 mile training route feel more like 50. If the physical discomfort weren’t enough to make me question my sanity, the looks of passers-by gawking at me from the comfort of their heated car seats certainly did. “Why, exactly, am I putting myself through this torture again?!
But as fast as that thought flooded my mind another thought, or rather an image, pushed it aside, strengthening my resolve to pedal harder. The image of a guy, 300 pounds and counting, sitting on the edge of a kayak on the muddy bank of a winding, secluded river, certain he was about to meet his Maker.
The source of that image? I took my kayak out alone (my first mistake) on what was supposed to be a leisurely two hour scouting trip to check out a route for an upcoming men’s group outing. Somewhere around 2½ hours into what turned out to be a four hour ordeal, just having pulled my kayak out of the river for the fifth or sixth time, up a muddy slope, through tangled brush and weeds around yet another of the many snags that had blocked my progress, I began to experience symptoms of what I feared was a heart attack. They were all there: shortness of breath, tingling in the arms and legs, a tight feeling behind my breastbone, cotton dry mouth … and fear, lots of fear … fear of dying … fear of my kids growing up, getting married, having their own kids, my grand children, without me. Fear of not seeing my wife again. Fear of dying … alone … here in this place.
It’s amazing how believing you are about to keel over can bring clarity to your thinking and sharpen your resolve. Sitting on the edge of that kayak, I determined that if I got out of there alive I’d do whatever was within my power to never feel that physically helpless again.
Needless to say, I lived to tell the tale. After half an hour of resting and fervent prayer, I summoned the strength to climb back in my kayak and paddle the mile or so, thankfully snag free, to the pickup point and call my by now very worried, and very relieved, wife.
The next week, after having been reassured by the guy with the stethoscope that what I had experienced was not a heart attack, but more probably physical exhaustion compounded by dehydration, I pulled my old mountain bike out of the rafters of our garage and began pedaling like there was no tomorrow.
Today, 70 pounds lighter, feeling healthier than I have since my college days, I’m still pedaling. What started out as a herculean sweat fest just to churn out a couple of miles around the neighborhood has turned into an average of 60 miles per week all over the county … wind, rain, snow or shine. When weather or darkness makes it impossible to ride outdoors I ride indoors.
I’m not trying to toot my own horn, though … okay, maybe a little toot … after all, it was a lot of work! The reality, though, is that my climb back from the brink of a health disaster had a lot more to do with the love, support and encouragement of others than it did with me. I have a lot of people to thank. My wife, who, though worrying every time I leave the house that I’ll end up as road kill somewhere, says a prayer and lets me go anyway. My kids, who support and encourage me while suppressing their horror at the spectacle of dad in Lycra. And my good friends, Pat, Jeremy and Doug, who, rather than roll their eyes … have pulled their own bikes out of the garage and pedaled along side.
It’s not only the image of the guy I was that inspires me to keep pedaling another mile, and another, but also the memory of all those who’ve shared, in one way or another, those miles with me.
It strikes me how this physical journey I’ve had mirrors the spiritual journey we all walk. I’ve tested my limits, struggled to be disciplined and committed and resisted temptation to go back to my old ways.
In Philippians 3 Paul tells us,
“Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
As a rule, Paul tells Christians that they should focus their attention forward. Forward to God’s Kingdom. Forward to the return of our Lord. Forward to the joy that is set before us. Spending time looking back, re-living past failures, past defeats can keep us immobilized, unable to see, much less experience, the good things God has in store for those who love Him.
But there are times when looking back, remembering, can actually give us the resolve to keep going forward. Times when we get discouraged. Times when we get weary. Times when we question whether it’s all worth it. These are times that we can draw tremendous strength from remembering.
In fact, God, knowing the power of memory to re-energize and re-focus our commitment, gave us an entire season to do just that. It’s all about remembering.
Jesus, in Luke 22:19, after taking the bread, symbolic of His body which would soon be broken gave thanks and said to His disciples, and us by extension,
“This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
In the symbols of the Passover we bring to remembrance what Jesus did for us. We remember His body that was broken and His blood that was spilled that we might be saved from our wretched state apart from Him. We’re reminded of where we began.
Ephesians 2 paints an even clearer image of where we once were without Jesus.
Ephesians 2:11-13:
“Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh – who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands – that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”
We were, all of us, afar off, without hope, figuratively sitting in our kayaks in the middle of a wilderness, facing the prospect of eternal death.
Yes, Passover is a time to soberly take stock of the road ahead and how far we have yet to go, but it’s also a time to be encouraged in remembering. The strength to continue the journey sometimes comes from looking back at how far we’ve come down the road, but also reflecting on those who have traveled it with us. People the Lord has put in our lives so that we might grow to become more like Him. Those who have comforted us and encouraged us to persevere through hard times. Those who have modeled Godly marriages, Godly parenting, Godly responses to suffering. Those who have remained faithful when it’s hard to be faithful, and whose examples have strengthened and grounded our faith.
I’m thankful that I have been free of anything like the fear I felt sitting on my kayak on the edge of that river. Worries about a heart attack, diabetes, stroke, though never certain, for the most part I left somewhere many miles in the wake of my Surly’s rear tire. My health still isn’t quite where I want it to be. I’m still looking ahead, focused on conquering the next hill, seeing what lies around the next corner, and testing what this middle-aged body can do. But I know there are always going to be times, whether on my bike or along this Christian walk, when the long road ahead, the biting wind in my face, the weariness of mind and body might prompt me to question if it’s really all worth it. Those are times that I never want to forget to remember.
This Passover season, my prayer for all of God’s people is that none of us will forget to remember … and that in doing so we’ll each find the strength and encouragement to keep on pedaling.

Mark of the Beast? (Morning Companion)
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 about what we see (“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 C
ause 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, 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 the norm 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.
Consider this from Ezekiel:
They had not executed My judgments, but had despised my statutes, profaned My Sabbaths, and their eyes were fixed on their fathers’ idols, therefore I also gave them up to statutes that were not good, and judgments by which they could not live. (Ezekiel 20:24-25)
Removing the Law of God and giving ourselves over to what seems good through our self-centered eyes is devastating to a culture and a nation. It is impossible to have any kind of society without law. What kind of law will we be given up to in the absence of any semblance of God’s law?
What law will fill the vacuum created by the absence of the perfect law of liberty?

Life Without a Filter (Sabbath Thoughts)
Recently, our water filter converted itself into a hydro-powered jet engine. It’s the kind that screws on to your water faucet, and it seems like the threads on the actual faucet itself have decided to throw in the towel on corporeal existence. Which is fine, especially since this particular faucet was procured in (I believe) the third century B.C., and the poor things probably needed a break. It just comes with the added complication that, whenever we try to run water through the filter, the filter flies off like the world’s most poorly designed rocket ship, leaving us with a cluttered sink and a stream of city water.
There’s a very specific reason Jesus did not promise His followers “a pipeline of living city water” in John 7:38. Actually, there’s two. The first is that it would have been anachronistic and made no sense to His disciples; the other is that it would have been disgusting. Speaking as someone currently on city water, I’d say there’s a very good chance my water already
is living, and not in the way Christ meant.
I didn’t always notice this, though. My wife, Mary, grew up drinking well water, whereas I’d spent the majority of my life drinking whatever came through the city’s pipes. So when we got married and moved into our apartment, it wasn’t long before Mary was begging for a water filter.
No filter, no problem?
To me, the water was fine. I could drink buckets of the stuff. (Although I didn’t, since I can only imagine the ramifications on my digestive tract.) But because it bothered her so much, we went ahead and purchased one. I didn’t notice any difference, although she claimed it tasted million times better.
And then it fell off. And I figured, “Oh well, the city water isn’t really that much different on its own and I don’t see how one little filter could make much of a difference and besides
ppppbbbblllaaaauuugghhahhh WHO REPLACED OUR WATER LINE WITH THE GARBAGE PIPE.”
As it turns out, one little filter can make a very, very big difference. After a month of drinking water separated from most of its impurities, having to go back to the city’s supply was cringe-worthy. I had trouble even finishing a glass; it wasn’t long before we were buying bottled water from the grocery store.
How a filter works
The purpose of a filter, in any application, is to separate two things that are stuck together. The spam filter on whatever email service you use is intended to keep you from receiving the stream of junk email that countless online shysters are sending your way. A circular polarizing filter for a camera lens makes sure only certain aspects of sunlight make it into your photo. And a water filter, of course, is for keeping unwanted sediment and debris from making it into your drinking glass.
A water filter does this by forcing the water from your faucet to run a sort of gauntlet. Physically, it provides a sort of “net” that anything bigger than a water molecule gets trapped in. Chemically, carbon blocks act as a sort of magnet, coaxing smaller debris out of their bond with water and onto itself. The end result is much, much cleaner water in your glass, with most of the unwanted gunk trapped in the filter.
Appearances can be deceiving
What shocked me the most about my adventure with the water filter was that, not long ago, I’d been perfectly content to guzzle away at the same water that I now have to fight not to spew out. Until I was drinking filtered water on a regular basis, I couldn’t tell that there were any impurities in the city water. It was just normal, clean water to me.
When I was in Kenya to help out with a church camp, I was reminded on multiple occasions not to drink the local water. Sanitation was so non-existent there that well water was usually infested with the kind of bacteria your colon has nightmares about meeting, and drinking it would likely give you plenty of time to familiarize yourself with the layout of the country’s bathrooms. Native Kenyans, on the other hand, drink it on a regular basis. Because they’ve spent their whole lives with water that polluted, their bodies don’t make as much of a fuss about it. It seems as clean to them as city water once did to me.
In other, very simple terms:
Just because what you’re allowing in your life seems clean doesn’t mean it is.
A spiritual filter
So let’s talk spiritual implications. We live in an unbelievably polluted world. Dissect any aspect of society’s day-to-day life, and you’ll find all manner of impurities. And as Christians, we face the challenge of living in it, without being a part of it (John 17:14-16). But how is that even possible?
Well, in simplest terms: a filter. That’s exactly what God’s law is a filter designed to allow in the good parts of life while filtering out the garbage. Take a look at each of the Ten Commandments and what you’ll find aren’t arbitrary laws or whimsical statutes, but a set of filters to ensure better living. Keep lies out of your life and you’ll earn trust. Don’t allow yourself to covet and you won’t be plagued with the stress of keeping up with the Joneses. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy and you’ll find a much-needed day of rest and rejuvenation every week. The list goes on and on.
And it’s not just the Ten Commandments. The
entirety of God’s law is a filter against the worst kind of garbage sin. It is sin that tears apart relationships, shatters trust, destroys entire lives and just generally degrades us until nothing good remains. Remove even one facet of that filter, and you allow an entryway for sin to snake its way into your life.
Put your filter to use
You might be like I was with my city’s water. It tasted fine; I assumed it must be fine. Likewise we can look at our lives at what we’ve come to accept as clean and not realize just how much garbage we’re actually letting in. Christ reprimanded the congregation in Laodecia because “you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’ and do not know that that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17). Our imperfect senses can sometimes convince us that our condition is better than it really is.
God didn’t give us the Bible as a paperweight. It is filled with all the information we need to construct the perfect filter in our lives, keeping sin away from us and allowing the good in life to come through untainted. That filter requires continued maintenance, meaning we need to look at it every day and compare to what God recorded for us and make sure the two match up.
God didn’t intend our lives to be filled with garbage. But it’s out there, and when we don’t use His perfect law as a filter, we’re going to run into it.
As David writes, “Who is the man who desires life, and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry. The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth” (Psalm 34:12-16).
It sounds to me like a filter is a pretty worthwhile investment

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 duration of 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.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? 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 clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”
(Matthew 5:23-34 NRSV)
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.
Clearly a discussion of faith and and its related virtue of hope would be in order here. But my purpose today is to acknowledge the real struggle we all have in living 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. While we struggle with this, it might be good to remember that Mad Magazine was probably 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.

Greek Present Tense Offers Hope for Salvation (Sabbath Thoughts)
I’m not a Greek scholar.
I should probably start with that before I get too far into writing a blog about ancient Greek verb constructs. I don’t speak Greek, I can’t read Greek, and I don’t pretend to have the foggiest idea of the proper way to translate ancient Greek manuscripts into modern-day English.
But I am a Christian who reads the Bible, and I do sometimes read verses that make me think, “How can that be?” And sometimes I read verses that make me more than a little concerned about my future as a child of God. Verses like, “Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9), and, “If we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:26-27).
I have sinned since I came up out of the water twelve years ago. Many times.
Some of those sins, I’m ashamed to say, were committed not in ignorance, but in weakness. Knowingly. Willingly.
When I look at verses like 1 John 3:9 and Hebrews 10:26-27, there’s always a part of my mind that can’t help but wonder, “Does this mean you’re not going to make it?”
I’m writing all this because I doubt I’m the only one – and if you’ve looked at those verses and thought those same thoughts, this is for you.
You’re not out of the race. Here’s why.
This is where we get into the Greek stuff, which, once again, I have to emphasize how woefully underqualified I am to be explaining. But if you take a look at an interlinear translation of those verses, you’ll find that both verses refer to sinning in the present tense. That might not seem especially noteworthy – until you realize that the English present tense and the Greek present tense are not identical.
Here’s how the Ezra Project explains the difference:
In English, we know that the present tense describes something happening right now. It informs us of the time when an action takes place.
In Greek, however, the present tense primarily tells us the type of action. The Greek present tense indicates continued action, something that happens continually or repeatedly, or something that is in the process of happening. If you say, for instance, “The sun is rising,” you are talking about a process happening over a period of time, not an instantaneous event. The Greeks use the present tense to express this kind of continued action. A process. Not an instantaneous event.
That’s huge. That completely changes the meaning of those passages from 1 John and Hebrews – and, in fact, brings them back in line with the message of the Bible.
I should mention that the primary Bible translation I use in my studies is the New King James Version, and for the most part, I think it gets things right. Any Bible translation is going to have involved people much, much smarter than me, but even brilliant people make mistakes – and in this instance, it looks like the New King James translators failed to convey what the Bible authors were actually saying.
Here’s how the English Standard Version renders those verses:
No one born of God
makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. (1 John 3:9, ESV) and:
For if we
go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. (Hebrews 10:26-27)
In fact, it’s not just the ESV – many other translations render these verses using similar language. And that’s important, because the message of the Bible is one of repentance – of putting your past sins behind you, seeking forgiveness, and pressing forward on your journey toward the Kingdom of God. The idea that a single sin is enough to sunder us forever from God’s plan for us doesn’t just conflict with what the Bible as a whole has to say; it conflicts with what the books of 1 John and Hebrews themselves have to say!
John wrote, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9), 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).
We can always repent. We can always come back to God. We can always wash our robes and make them “white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14).
I don’t mean to minimize the seriousness of sin. The ability to “come back” from sin isn’t a license to go there as often as we like – or even at all.
We should be terrified of committing sin. Sin is awful. Sin separates us from God. Sin destroys relationships. Sin demands a ransom, and that ransom is the blood of the Son of God. There is nothing laughable or inconsequential about sin.
But sin is not so powerful that it strips away the hope of our salvation.
Our own mistakes and poor decisions do not move us beyond the scope of God’s intervention or His love. What sunders us from God forever is making a
practice of sin. Going on sinning deliberately, refusing to turn around, refusing to repent, refusing God’s earnest plea that we return to Him and change our ways.
When we understand what these verses really mean, what we have is not a pronouncement of doom, but a reminder of how we ought to be living our lives.
No one born of God makes a practice of sin. There is no sacrifice to cover the sins of those who go on sinning deliberately.
Live like someone born of God – because you are.

A Peace of Him (New Church Lady)
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” So said Jesus in John 14:27.
What is peace? It can be simply a reprieve from outright war or actual harmony among individuals. However, probably the best definition of the word that is translated “peace” in
John 14:27 is “the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ.” This is the peace – this tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation – that we are assured, I believe, in the promise Jesus gave His disciples.
In fact, Jesus said that we would not have peace when it came to the world around us.
John 16:33 “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” [Emphasis mine] So, we can hope for, pray for and work for peace in the world, and possibly have it for a time, but it isn’t promised to us. We are promised, instead, that we will have peace in spite of the tribulation.
God’s peace, this tranquil state, is available to those who love His law according to
Psalm 119:165:Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble.” And it seems to me that this peace is connected to letting nothing cause us to stumble in our walk of faith. Makes sense, since it is very much easier to deal with trials and troubles in this world when (1) we know that our Savior has already overcome the world and (2) we love and obey that perfect law of love that He has outlined for us.
When we weather trials and troubles, the peace of God and Christ keeps us from losing our way or, I would venture, from wanting to quit the path of obedience.
We are offered a peace that really doesn’t make any sense, to the natural, human mind.
Philippians 4:7 [NIV] “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” After all, does it make any sense to be at peace when being buffeted by trial? Yet, that is what we are promised.
In the Old Testament, we find that God both offered a covenant of peace [See Numbers 25:12] and also removed His peace at times [See Jeremiah 16:5] according to Israel’s actions.
Jesus also offers peace, which we will have as long as we walk in the way and which, according to
Psalm 119:165 will also help us to stay in the way.
The difference between believers today and the Israelite nation is that we also have the advantage of a piece of Him in us – that piece being the Holy Spirit. And we know that the fruit of the Holy Spirit includes peace [
Galatians 5:22]. By in large, the nation of Israel did not have that in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit. This reminds me of Philippians 2:13 [NIV] “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”
That doesn’t mean that we cannot walk away from peace – or at least lose sight of it. We can forget that Jesus is for us, that innumerable angels are also available to help us, that God is in control, or that He loves us and hears our cries. We can lie awake at night, worrying about things that we cannot change, or fearing things that might happen, or fretting over the hurtful words or actions of another. This is ignoring His peace or stifling it. I have certainly been guilty of this many times.
The peace He gives us assures us that, unlike unbelievers, we have
within us the capacity to have great peace, no matter what is going on around us, because we have within us a piece of Him by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Nevertheless, for Christians who both believe in and obey the one, true God (
James 2:18-21), and have a piece of Him within us and therefore peace within us, shouldn’t there also be at least a lack of war if not outright peace in our congregations and between our fellowship groups? Yes, there should. However, we can ignore or stifle the way to peace among us – just like can ignore or stifle the peace within us. If there is not peace among God’s people, and at times we have all experienced a lack of peace among brethren, I would venture to suggest that the first step to rectifying that would be to reconnect to the piece of Him that gives us inner peace. From peace within us, surely peace among us is easier to renew. The promise of His peace, however, is that even in situations where among brothers there is a lack of peace, we can still have inner peace – His peace within us. We only have peace that cannot be taken away because we have a piece of Him in us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

El Roi – The God Who Sees (Sabbath Thoughts)
There are few things more discouraging than discovering you’re invisible – that your opinions don’t matter, that no one cares how you feel, that nothing you do is acknowledged or valued by anyone around you.
I wonder sometimes if Hagar felt like that. Her son, Ishmael, was not part of God’s plan to make Abraham into a great nation. He was, instead, the product of a lack of faith – an attempt to work out a divine plan through human reasoning.
It wasn’t Ishmael’s fault that he existed. It wasn’t Hagar’s fault, either. She was a handmaid, with precious little control over what happened to her or how she was treated – but that probably came as little consolation to the mother who found herself running away from a harsh, vindictive mistress. It must have been hard not to wonder if that’s all she and her unborn son were in the grand scheme of things:
Disposable. Inconsequential. A regrettable mistake. Invisible.
And then God spoke:
“Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from, and where are you going?” (Genesis 16:8).
Not that He didn’t know. He knew who Hagar was; He knew where she had come from and why. He commanded her to do the hard thing – to
return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand” (Genesis 16:9). But He also explained that He knew what Hagar was going through, and that He had a future in store for Ishmael, regardless of how Sarai felt about it.
And Hagar wondered:
“Have I also here seen Him who sees me?” (Genesis 16:13).
And she called God El Roi, “You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees” (Genesis 16:13).
The God Who Sees – maybe that moniker feels too obvious. Of course God sees. What kind of deity would He be if He couldn’t? But don’t forget that in the ancient world, gods were so often imagined with human shortcomings. They could be distracted, they could be in the wrong place at the wrong time, they could be asleep – they could simply not care. During the confrontation on Mount Carmel, the prophets of Baal “called on the name of Baal from morning even till noon, saying, ‘O Baal, hear us!’ But there was no voice; no one answered” (1 Kings 18:26). Elijah couldn’t help but mock the false prophets: “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened” (1 Kings 18:27, English Standard Version).
It’s easy to take it for granted that we serve the God who sees. It’s easy to forget how incredibly spectacular that truth is.
Jesus told the disciples,
“But the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Luke 12:7). Not just the disciples’ hairs. Not just yours. God has a perfect working knowledge of every hair on every head the world over.
Imagine knowing that. Imagine knowing the total number of hairs in the entire world at any given moment. Imagine knowing the exact moment when one fell out or a new one grew in. Imagine having all that information in your mind – having the capacity to
see that, all at once, all the time, and not have your brain short out from the sheer overload of calculations and running tallies you’d have to keep track of every second of every day.
God does that. And He does it without letting it distract Him from seeing and knowing everything else there is to see and know:
“The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3). Never missing a beat. Never missing a thought or intent or feeling or action. He is not the God Who Sees Some Things, Depending on Where He Is Looking. He is not the God Who Sees Sometimes, When He Is Not Distracted.
He is the God Who Sees – all things, all the time. He saw the handmaiden, running away in fear – and He sees you, too.
That can be a comfort or a terror, and the difference depends on us.
God knows when we’ve been wronged – and when we’re doing wrong.
He knows when we’ve been persecuted – and when we’re persecuting.
He knows when we’ve been deceived – and when we’re deceitful.
He knows when others refuse to forgive us – and when we refuse to forgive others.
He knows, in short, when our hearts are right before Him and when they are not. And when they are not, when we are too stubborn to repent and change, there should be a certain terror in knowing that
“there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13). But when our hearts are right, we can take comfort knowing that “the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him” (2 Chronicles 16:9).
We serve the God Who Sees. He sees
you. No matter how small and insignificant you might feel some days, no matter how invisible you might be to everyone around you, the God of the universe sees you. He sees you when your own problems feel a million miles away from anyone’s spotlight. He sees you while entire governments are in the throes of geopolitical upheaval. He sees you as He skillfully guides and weaves the threads of human history to a place where His plan will unfold in the perfect way and at the perfect time.
When you’re surrounded by a million other things that feel more important and more significant than you, God sees you. And loves you. And wants you in His family.
No matter what’s going on in or around your life, you are never invisible to God. You are known and loved by the God who holds the entire universe in His hands.
That’s what it means to serve the God Who Sees.

Is it OK to call ourselves Christians? (The Word and The Way)
And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. (Act 11:25-26)
Sometimes in our zeal to “come out of Babylon” we tend to throw out the baby with the bathwater. This is the case with the title “Christians”. I have heard and read it taught for many years that this verse above shows that the term “Christians” was an epithet branded on the followers of Yeshua by those who did not like them. This is usually put forth very authoritatively in an effort to get us to call ourselves something other than Christians. Granted, a lot of the antipathy toward using that title is due to the false teachings within mainstream Christianity, but we really need to look at what the word means and if the New Testament authors really did treat this term as an insult.
For starters, the context of Acts 11 doesn’t show any antipathy toward the word at all. We need to remember in our studies
when things were written. The book of Acts is not a journal, but rather a memoir written years after the events described within occurred. If this word carried a negative connotation, verse 26 or somewhere else in the book of Acts would provide an explanation of that. The reality is that there is no context within the book of Acts or the NT at all that shows this. King Agrippa uses this word in his banter with Paul and says that Paul will convince him to become a “Christian”. Surely if the word was an epithet a king would not use it to describe his own conversion. Peter also uses this word to describe the believers and also doesn’t hint at it being a bad thing.
Now we have to look at the history of using the word Christian at all. It comes from the root word “Christ” which first shows up in our modern Bibles in the beginnings of every Gospel account and it is a good word. In fact, John the Baptist uses this word with utmost honor, not allowing it to be applied to himself but saying there is another who is greater who is the Christ. So concluding that the root word “Christ” is a bad word is another dead end. All four Gospels were written many years after the events within them occurred and no author indicates anything negative about this word, either.
The literal definition of the word christ means to put oil on something. It’s a Greek word and it is the closest thing Greek has to the word “messiah” in Hebrew. Because our modern Bibles don’t start using this word until the NT, we get the notion that this is a new concept, unique to the first century writings. This is another error we have picked up through the ages. The decision to use the word “Christ” for Messiah was made hundreds of years before Yeshua’s birth. There is a translation of the Tanakh called the Septuagint, referred to in print at the LXX (which means 70), that translated the Hebrew Tanakh into Greek roughly three hundred years before Yeshua.
These are the guys who decided to use the word Christ for Messiah, not the NT writers or translators. And the word messiah ought to occur far more often than it does in our English bibles. This information is quite important and will help those of you who don’t know it to understand who Yeshua is in much better context.
The LXX has been translated into English and is available to E-Sword users for free. Just download the Brenton version. This is a Tanakh (Old Testament) that includes the books of the Apocrypha that were written 300 years before Yeshua. And here is the first time the word Christ was used for Messiah:
The Lord will weaken his adversary; the Lord is holy. Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, nor let the mighty man boast in his strength, and let not the rich man boast in his wealth; but let him that boasts boast in this, to understand and know the Lord, and to execute judgment and justice in the midst of the earth. The Lord has gone up to the heavens, and has thundered: he will judge the extremities of the earth, and he gives strength to our kings, and will exalt the horn of his Christ. And she left him there before the Lord. (1Sam 2:10 Brenton)
The word Christian means one who follows the Christ. In the context of 1 Samuel, do you think that being called a Christian, or a follower of Messiah, is a bad thing? Me neither.
My friends, when you see the word Christian, substitute the word Messianic. Because that’s the short answer. The word Christ is the word that was used
prior to Yeshua’s coming to announce it to the Greek speaking world. The word Christian is synonymous with the word Messianic, which means follower of Messiah. I think calling oneself a follower of Messiah is a badge of honor in any language.

Do You Miss the Matrix? (Sabbath Thoughts)
Your world is a lie.
In the year 2199, the human race lost its bitter, drawn-out war against the machines, but not before delivering one grievous parting shot. They scorched the skies and blotted out the sun, the machines’ primary power source. Enraged, the machines took advantage of a different power source: the human race itself. One by one, they plugged the humans into a virtual reality designed to mimic the height of our civilization. The simulation was so real, so convincing, that the humans forgot about the war, forgot about the outside world, and carried on living their imaginary lives filled with imaginary things. Generations passed while their captors quietly harvested energy from their comatose bodies.
But a few people saw through the ruse. They found a way to disconnect themselves from the simulation and began a resistance, slowly helping others to unplug and join the war against the machines.
It sounds absurd, of course. Clearly the world around you is real. But … what is real? How do you define “real”? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then “real” is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.
Do you think that’s air you’re breathing?
You might recognize the preceding description as the plot of The Matrix, a blockbuster from the late ’90s. In fact, much of the last two paragraphs is a direct quotes from Morpheus, one of the movie’s main characters. In the movie, Morpheus offers a hacker named Neo a choice between a red pill and a blue pill – a choice between seeing the truth and forgetting about it. “You take the blue pill,” he tells Neo, “the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” Neo chooses the red pill and finds himself yanked out of the Matrix and in control of his physical body for the very first time.
As the movie continues, Neo meets the rest of the resistance – a group of rebels dedicated to waging war against their robotic overlords, within the Matrix and without. One of the rebels, Cypher, greets Neo with the infamous line: “I know what you’re thinking, ’cause right now I’m thinking the same thing. Actually, I’ve been thinking it ever since I got here: Why oh why didn’t I take the
blue pill?”
Now, before I go any further, let me slap a giant disclaimer on this whole post. We’re talking about a rated-R action movie, here. I spent a long time debating whether I should even post this blog, because I don’t want to seem like I’m endorsing this movie. I’m not – and if you haven’t already seen it, I’m certainly not suggesting that you should. But I watched it over a decade ago, and since that time, there’s one incredible analogy I haven’t been able to forget.That’s what I want to talk about today – not the movie itself; just one single character: Cypher.
Cypher, who wanted to forget. Cypher, who regretted knowing the truth. Cypher, who fought the machines out of a sense of obligation, who secretly wanted nothing more than for things to go back to the way they were.
In one of the movie’s pivotal scenes, Cypher arranges a secret rendezvous with an agent of the machines. They meet inside a virtual restaurant, where Cypher enjoys a virtual steak while striking a deal to betray his friends in exchange for reintegration into the Matrix. During this scene, Cypher looks at his steak and remarks, “You know, I know this steak doesn’t exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize?” He pauses to take a bite of the steak before finishing: “Ignorance is bliss.”
Cypher wanted the lie. Even with his eyes open to the truth, Cypher was begging for deception. He desperately wanted to unlearn the things which, for the past nine years, had made his life miserable.
Is any of this sounding familiar? A deceived world, a small group of people given the ability to see through the lie, an impossibly powerful enemy, and a mission fraught with danger and personal sacrifice?
That’s right – the same phrases can describe the Christian calling as well. Satan has deceived the whole world (Revelation 12:9), many are called but few are chosen (Matthew 20:16), our adversary commands “spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12), and a small group of faithful men and women have been tasked with exposing that lie and taking a stand against the devil himself (Mark 16:15; Ephesians 6:13).
There’s a major war going on, and you’re in the middle of it – but why?
None of us came to Christ without God first drawing us to Him (John 6:44), so it’s not like you volunteered to be called. God opened your mind to the truth, but the question is, why are you fighting this battle? Is it because you believe in the mission, or because you don’t believe you have a choice?
In other words, do you regret learning the truth?
Some people do. Some people are like Cypher, resentful of having their eyes opened, resentful of the truth itself. They accept it because they cannot deny it, but they hate how it limits them. The Sabbath is a burden. Honesty is a burden. Integrity is a burden.
They obey, but they’d much rather forget.
Here’s the thing, though: You
can forget. Satan can’t take your calling from you, but he can convince you to give it up. Like the agent in Cypher’s clandestine meeting, our adversary is eager to help you reintegrate into his deceptions, and only too happy to help you forget all those difficult truths holding you back.
People do it all the time. You’ve probably seen it yourself – people who walk away from their calling and, in a year’s time, can’t remember the order of the Holy Days or even what they represent. They’ve reintegrated. They’ve embraced the lie because it was easier than holding on to the truth.
Regarding the faithful men and women who fought this battle before us, the author of Hebrews notes that “if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return” (Hebrews 11:15). Either your calling is precious to you or it isn’t. And if it’s not – if the Word of God becomes your burden instead of your blessing – then it’s only a matter of time before you let go and fade back into the Matrix.
Jesus promised, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). But not everyone wants to be free. Some people prefer the chains of self-deception – they’re easier and they require less from you.
There are treasures buried deep with your calling, but you have to want them. They have to matter to you. You have to know what you’re fighting for and
why it matters – because the blue pill never really goes away. Satan will always be right around the corner, hand outstretched, offering you the chance to “wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe.” You can always go back to the country from which you came.
That verse in Hebrews goes on to say that the faithful men and women of ages past didn’t turn back because they had their eyes on “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 11:16).
You could forget. You could throw it all away. But as for me … I’m eager to see just how deep this rabbit hole goes. I hope you are, too.

Wise as Serpents (Morning Companion)
Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. (Jesus of Nazareth)
For we are not ignorant of his devices. (Apostle Paul)
Jesus’s short but pointed comment is a direct reference to that old serpent whose cunning was more subtle than any other and that we should be aware of his tactics. We must learn to understand such tactics (“be wise as serpents”) but not to engage in them ourselves (“be harmless as doves”).
Let’s take a look at the serpent in action in Genesis 3 and see what some of his devices are.
First, raise a false premise or accusation. “Has God indeed said, You shall not eat of every tree in the garden?”
Clearly God said no such thing. The intent of this opening gambit is to raise a question or doubt. If Eve accepts the premise, the discussion can proceed to doubts about God’s unfairness. If Eve rejects the premise and tries to correct it, then a conversation can begin, with the same goal in mind.
The woman does not accept the premise, and the conversation begins. “We may eat of the fruit of the trees, all except one of them. We can’t take the fruit of that one. We’re not even supposed to touch it or we’ll die.”
The next move in this gambit is to introduce a new thought. “You’re being lied to. The fruit on that tree isn’t going to kill you. God is withholding something from you because he’s selfish.”
The serpent offers no proof of this accusation. The only way to prove it was to pick it off the tree. One can imagine touching the fruit, and lo and behold, no one died! Note that the original command concerning the tree had nothing to do with “touching” it, as she mistakenly thought (verse 3), but referred only to “eating” it (Genesis 2:16-17). Not understanding the facts can lead to poor decisions, and often our antagonists, for their own advantage, are more than happy to have us remain mistaken.
“God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
That last sentence is a real twist and a classic mixture of part truth leavened with a giant lie. Sampling that fruit would indeed open their eyes, but that wouldn’t make them like God. Though they already lived in a world surrounded by good (read Genesis 1), why in the world would they want to become acquainted with evil? Two pieces of truth (your eyes will be opened, then you’ll be acquainted with good and evil) are here sandwiched between a giant lie (you’ll be like God).
That rhetorical sandwich — and in fact the entire episode — was laced with sour seeds and bitter roots. In my profession I frequently saw this type of deception all the time. Part of my responsibility was to point out to clients where facts ended and fantasy began. It is one thing to say that a certain investment outperformed every other investment of its kind last year, while ignoring that it was the only year out of the last ten where this was true.
Or consider a life insurance illustration that shows low premiums for 35 years only works if the policy credits extraordinarily high interest rates to cash value.
And if you are looking for a mountain of examples, listen to a few politicians talk for about ten minutes. Watch the parsing and spinning of language and discussions over the what the meaning of “is” is.
Here’s another thing, and it’s just as relevant. The serpent was hyping the merits of moral relativism. “Being like God” means that you will have the right to decide for yourself what is good and what is evil. You don’t need someone else to tell you what’s right or wrong. You can figure that out for yourself based on your own wisdom. If you decide that looking out only for your own interests is the “good” way, then no one else has a right to tell you it’s “evil”. Nothing is morally good or evil unless we choose to make it so.  And as an added bonus, you get to have your own truth!
This brave, new world of personal autonomy means that we humans can imagine ourselves into a heaven on earth apart from God. We can see how well that has worked out over the millennia.
One last thing to think about. The original command said, “In the day you eat of it you shall surely die.” Yet in the day that they did eat of it, they did not die. Was God merely bluffing?
The answer to that question tells us something about the character of God. Do you believe that God can show mercy and change his mind?
If you don’t believe that, consider that he did just that. Read Exodus 32:7-14. Out of mercy, he can change his mind.
Remember that.

What’s My Motivation? (Sabbath Meditations)
I was driving home on my hour and a half commute, dreading what awaited to greet me upon arrival at my driveway. A wet, heavy snow had been falling for much of the night before and had continued mercilessly throughout the day. To make matters worse, my ancient snow blower which had gone on the fritz last season was still out of commission. “So much for curling up in front of the fireplace with a good book,” I thought. What remained of my evening would be spent in the bitter cold, pushing and heaving, pushing and heaving, occasionally interrupted by brief pauses to rub my aching back. “Looks like an Ibuprofen night for me.” I muttered to myself. “I’m gonna need the maximum dosage after dealing with this mess.” Needless to say, I wasn’t looking forward to the chore.
Imagine my joy and amazement when I turned onto our street and my eyes fell upon my driveway, incredibly free of snow! “Could that really be my driveway?!” “And could that really be my son standing there in my driveway, holding my
snow shovel, tossing the last bit of snow into the yard?!” Yes, it was! My evening was not to be a miserable ordeal after all.
Now, it must be said that he hadn’t done a perfect job. There were a few areas he missed. The path he shoveled from the road to the garage was about two feet narrower than it should have been. But that didn’t matter to me. In my mind, he couldn’t have pleased me more had he brought in a Zamboni and cleared the entire yard! My son had shoveled that driveway without being asked, of his own free will, and that fact alone qualified his work as pretty near perfect in my book.
What could possibly have motivated this strange behavior? This wasn’t among the chores I had given him. And believe me, he had plenty of his own to deal with. He couldn’t have done it in hopes of getting something for the effort. Both our children know we don’t play that game. So what could possibly have motivated him to pick up the shovel? Could it be that he knew how much I would be pleased … how happy it would make me? Could it be he was responding out of gratitude for all that I had done for him in his short life? No … couldn’t be … could it? If it was, and I do believe it was, man, was it ever effective. I, and my middle-aged back, were not only pleased, but absolutely elated with him that evening. My boy had made his dad proud. The Ibuprofen bottle would stay in the cupboard for some other day.
In 1 John 4:15-18 we read:
“Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.”
I have to admit that there was time when my Christian walk held its share of torment. So much of my obedience at one time was motivated less by my love for God than by a hope that He would love and accept me because of the effort. If I could somehow manage to overcome enough, build enough character, stay on the straight and narrow, perhaps I could be accounted worthy to one day be accepted into His Family. If not, well, that wasn’t an outcome I wanted to contemplate. Bottom line, I was in a relationship with God based not on love, but on fear; a very real fear that I just wouldn’t make the cut.
You know, from a human perspective, we do so many things in this life motivated out of fear, don’t we? We pay our taxes so Uncle Sam doesn’t come after us. We drive the speed limit so we don’t get a ticket. We fill our cupboards with supplements and pills so we don’t get old or die before our time. There no end to the fears that can torment us in this world: Death, taxes, rejection, failure, vast right wing conspiracies, left wing lunacy, teenage children with credit cards … you fill in the blanks … the list could go on and on. I just can’t believe the Father intended His relationship with us to be among the things on that list, can you?
Of course our heavenly Father wants and expects obedience from us. But He doesn’t want it motivated by fear, compulsion or a quid pro quo. He wants us to obey because our hearts are set on returning the love He has so freely given us. He wants a response of the heart. When we are motivated by a heartfelt gratitude for all that He has done for us; for saving us when we couldn’t save ourselves; for bringing us into His family; that is when, I believe, we bring Him the most joy.
After all, isn’t that what abiding in His love is really all about? His love in us, filling us, assuring us of our place in His Family, enabling us to have bold confidence to come to Him, knowing that, despite our frailties, despite our weaknesses and imperfections, despite not having done a perfect job of shoveling the driveway, He is pleased with us. Isn’t it knowing that we are accepted and secure in His love?
It’s the heart
behind the effort, not the perfect result of the effort, that makes our Dad proud. And that’s motivation enough for anyone.

Punch Above the Ceiling (New Church Lady)
In her best-selling book, The Path Made Clear, Oprah Winfrey offers this advice to the girls at the school she funds in South Africa: “Don’t just shatter the glass ceiling, reach beyond it.”
Ah, this is exactly what our loving Father asks of us. He supports our success in this world, of course – good health, a happy marriage, career success – but this is not His ultimate goal for our lives. Nor should it be your goal or mine. Success in this world is the glass ceiling. We are called to punch beyond it to success in the future world of God’s Kingdom. God offers more than anything this world could possibly offer – more than the best, the brightest, the most powerful and the richest of this world have achieved or ever could achieve. He bids us to reach beyond.
Good health, a healthy human body, is a great blessing. We should strive to keep ourselves well with good food, proper rest and appropriate exercise. When our bodies and our best efforts fail us and we do become sick, we pray for healing. God wants to bless us with good health. More than that, more than He wants you to have a healthy human body, the Father wants to give you an immortal body.
1 Corinthians 15:53 [NIV] For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.
Even the healthiest human body will eventually die. God wants to give us eternal life.
1 Corinthians 15:54-55 [KJV] 54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where [is] thy sting? O grave, where [is] thy victory?
[See
1 Corinthians 15:35-58 for the full picture.]
Revelation 21:4 [ESV] He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.
Reach beyond good health today – reach for eternal life.
A happy marriage is a great blessing. We pray for that for our children. We work toward that in our own marriages. God wants to bless us with happy and successful marriages in this life. More than that, He seeks to marry us (the Church) to His Son.
Revelation 19:7-9 [NIV] 7 Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. 8 Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear. (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.) 9 Then the angel said to me, Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb! And he added, These are the true words of God.
Beloved, reach beyond a happy marriage in this life – reach toward that eternal union.
A successful career is a great blessing. It is good to be able to provide for yourself, your family and those in need/those less fortunate in this world. We are called to share our abundance with others and we are promised a reward for it – one that is immeasurably more than what we gave in the first place.
Luke 6:38 [NIV] Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
Paul prepared for a successful career and carried it out with zeal, but he understood that God wanted something more from him.
Philippians 3:4-7 [ESV] 4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.
[Read all of Philippians 3 for the full story]
Dear ones, be thankful for success in this life, but be willing to give it all, use it all, for the greater success of attaining and knowing Christ. Reach beyond success in this life – reach for the success that lasts forever.

Lessons from Quebec (Morning Companion)
The Quebec Act of 1774 was an act of Britain’s parliament during the aftermath of the French and Indian War. Its purpose was to set the procedures for the governance of Quebec and other North American territory ceded to Britain as a result of France’s defeat. In its time the document was an enlightened one, although many American colonists didn’t see it that way.
Britain, by this time a solidly Protestant nation, guaranteed the free practice of the Roman Catholic faith in these newly acquired territories, a common sense provision given the heavily Catholic French population. But this provision for religious tolerance set off a storm of alarm in the thirteen colonies. Many of the colonies had designs on the formerly French lands of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and other areas that would eventually comprise the Northwest Territory, and these areas were included in the new act. Quebec was not that far away, and antagonism inherited from the European religious experience was very much in the cultural memory. Alexander Hamilton spoke for many when he said, “The act makes the effectual provision not only for the protection, but for the permanent support of Popery.”
Put differently, many colonists felt betrayed by what they viewed as a sell-out of principles.
Even as late as 1770, most of the colonies had a lingering, deeply engrained suspicion of Catholicism. Only three colonies allowed Catholics to vote. In the New England states, except Rhode Island, they were unable to hold public office. In addition, “the state of New York held the death penalty over priests who entered the colony; Virginia boasted that it would only arrest them. Georgia did not permit Catholics to reside within its boundaries; the Carolinas merely banned them from office.” (Religion and the Continental Congress: 1774 – 1789, by Derek Davis, p.153)
The Continental Congress eventually petitioned the King, expressing their concerns over “establishing an absolute government and Roman Catholic religion throughout the vast region.” (Davis, p.154)
History teaches an abundance of lessons. Several come to mind immediately.
1. The Olympic sport of “Jumping to Conclusions” was practiced during the Colonial days. British motives behind the Quebec Act were nothing more than a recognition of the reality on the ground. The newly acquired lands were unshakably Catholic, and anything but religious tolerance would ensure further conflict and bloodshed. The British understood the art of the possible, a lesson lost on many people then – and many people today. A small political compromise in order to ensure the enactment of 80% of what one wants is too often branded as a sell-out of principles and is often taken as proof of sinister motives and subterfuge.
2. The British move to enlightened self-interest in Quebec was a wise one, but it didn’t stop demagogues from milking it. The Continental Congress on the one hand protested to the King about the encroachment of “Popery” (notice the name calling, which should be a red flag in its own right), while with the other hand they were trying to court these same “papists” to the revolutionary cause. They even attempted to assure the Quebecois that the freedom of conscience in religious matters is one of the inalienable rights granted by the Creator. One must believe that the people of Quebec noticed the disconnection, but whatever they did or did not notice, they remained loyal to the British Crown during the conflict.
If you have ever been through a “church war”, you know about the barrage of accusations, personal attacks, and name-calling that seem to be the standard ammunition of such affairs. You know about the courting of prospective followers and the promises made. You also know about the political hay that is often made in the wake of decisions that are often simply a small administrative detail, but are viewed by others as the proverbial camel’s nose under the proverbial tent that will eventually lead to a full-blown retreat into paganism. And you would also know that most of the time this is overblown for political purposes.
3. The third lesson I draw from this is a positive one. Within a short radius of my office are numerous houses of worship, both churches and synagogues, reflecting the rich diversity of the community. That diversity is typical of most places in the country. That’s completely unremarkable today, but that’s unusual in the annals of history – indeed it is unusual in most of the contemporary world.
But the past few weeks I have noticed something that is in fact remarkable, and I noticed it more than once. The neighborhood around my office has a number of synagogues, and recently I have noticed next to the synagogues’ normal signage a second sign. The second sign announces to passers-by notice of Sunday Christian church services to be held in the same building. Here are cases of two diverse religious groups, historically at odds to the point of persecution, sharing the same building for their respective worship services.
I have to believe that the great Virginians such as Madison, Jefferson, and Washington, all champions of religious liberty, would be very happy to see something like this that would have been unthinkable in Colonial times.

Potato Salad and Other Reasons to Love Going to Church (Sabbath Meditations)
I
ve been thinking a lot about this thing we call church lately.
Why do we go to church anyway? After all, it
s sometimes a lot to put up with, isnt it? Dont get me wrong, there are the good things, the things we enjoy. But, theres also a lot of stuff we could just do without, isnt there? Theres the couple with the crying baby that cant seem to get the concept of a mothers room; theres the deacon who fools everyone with his show of piety, when you know full well hes anything but that during the week; theres the well-meaning elder who couldn’t give a cohesive sermon to save his life; and then theres the monthly church potluck, an event filled with culinary land-mines of runny jello, meat dishes of questionable origin and potato salad teetering a little too close to the edge of rancidity for comfort.
The list could go on and on … the gossip, the posturing, the power trips, the hypocrisy. All of this and more begs the question,
Is it all really worth it? Wouldnt it be easier to just stay in our own world, carry on our own private Bible study, our own personal worship service, have our own private religion between just us and God? You have to admit, sometimes it would be a lot less of a hassle, wouldnt it? So, why do we do this church thing anyway?
Well, there
s the obvious answer. God says do it. Theres that pesky little scripture that tells us, Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together. But why?
My sister called me the other day. There
s a handful of States separating us physically and were both not that great at phone conversation so, when she called me, after several months of not hearing from her, I knew something important was on her mind. She had stopped attending church as a teenager sometime back in the early 1980s, ditching it along with pretty much everything else having to do with religion in favor of going out to find herself. Now, twenty or so years later she realizes that she had, in fact, left a very huge and important part of who she was behind. She asked me a lot of questions during the course of our conversation, but they could all pretty much could be summed up as: How can I find my way back?
There were so many things I could have told her. I could have explained the importance of repentance and faith. I could have encouraged her to get into her Bible and get on her knees. But that
s not what I led with. Not that she doesnt need, at some point, to do these things. She does. I just didnt feel it was where she needed to start. So, what did I encourage her to do? Get to church.
Sure she could have studied on her own, prayed on her own, been nourished in her faith on her own, but that is just not how God wants us to walk in relationship with Him … on our own. He wants us to be connected to others, to be in an environment where we can support, encourage and carry one another
s burdens, and yes, put up with one anothers imperfections and baggage. Its all part of the package.
In the western world we are conditioned to believe in the
pull yourself up by your own boot straps mentality. We embrace the ideal of rugged individualism. We are a very individualistic centered society. Its so easy to bring that mentality into our walk with God. The problem is God really isnt all that into the individual. In His word, there just isnt a whole lot of focus on the me, the I of our faith. Rather, the focus throughout is on the we, the us, the community of believers. Yes, we come to Him individually in repentance and faith, yes, we are individually restored to a relationship with Him. But, after having been individually restored, we then lay down our lives, our individual identities, and are placed into a community of believers, into the body as it pleases Him.
Hebrews 8:10, quoting Jeremiah, says,
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
Ephesians 2:19-22 tells us,
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.”
We are His
people” (plural). We are fellow” (not individual) citizens. We are members (plural) of the household of God.” We are fitted together.” We are being built together (not separately).
Not much gets built if the bricks are all scattered around doing their own thing. The bottom line is, as I expressed to my sister, God doesn
t want our faith to be about only my walk and my relationship with Him. He wants our walk of faith to be outward, focused on the us, our walk together. He wants us to get outside of ourselves and get connected to the body. Serving each other, encouraging one another, building one another up, and collectively witnessing and ministering to a world that desperately needs it.
I told my sister that I would pray that God would continue to work in her heart to return her to that community some day. Yes, she
ll be returning to some hassles. There will always be hypocrisy. There will be one or two annoying super deacons. Its sure shell hear the occasional boring sermon. And, unfortunately, the need to keep a keen eye out for rancid potato salad will never go away. But all of those hassles pale in comparison to the sense of shared purpose and community that doing this life together will bring her.
As we said our goodbyes and I hung up the phone, it hit me what a blessing it is to be there already. Hmm … I wonder what the mystery meat will be this Sabbath.

How do we know that there really was a Jesus? (Morning Companion)
How can we know that Jesus Christ really walked the face of the earth? Most people assumed that he lived. But is there any evidence of his existence other than what we find in the Bible?
The Bible tells us to prove all things. How can you know for a certainty that there really was a Jesus Christ?
Scripture tells us that Jesus’s life did not pass in obscurity – that his deeds were known and garnering much attention even during his lifetime. “Now when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceedingly glad; for he had desired for a long time to see Him, because he had heard many things about Him, and he hoped to see some miracle done by Him.” (Luke 23:8)
Paul before Herod and Festus recounted the story of his conversion in Acts 26:24-28:
Now as he thus made his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning is driving you mad!” But he said, “I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason. For the king, before whom I also speak freely, knows these things; for I am convinced that none of these things escapes his attention, since this thing was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you do believe.” NKJV
Outside the pages of the Bible, can we prove that around 30AD a man named Jesus, called the Christ, walked the face of the earth?
The Babylonian Talmud is a record of writings and sayings from Jewish scholars, much of which had its origin in oral tradition. We read in the Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 43a:
On the Eve of Passover, they hanged Yeshu, and the herald went before him or forty days saying, “[Yeshu] is going forth to be stoned in that he hath practiced sorcery and beguiled and led astray Israel. Let everyone knowing aught in his defense come and plead for him.” But they found naught in his defense and hanged him on the eve of Passover.
Note that John 19:14 says that Jesus indeed was crucified on the eve of the Passover.
Following the above comments from the Talmud are remarks of ‘Ulla, a disciple of the Rabbi Yochanan, who lived in Palestine at the end of the third century:
‘Ulla said, “And do you suppose that for [Yeshu of Nazareth] there was any right of appeal? He was a beguiler, and the Merciful One hath said: Thou shalt not spare, neither shall you conceal him. It is otherwise with Yeshu, for he was near to the civil authority.”
What did the Pharisees and Scribes say Jesus was guilty of, that he would be worthy of death? See Mark 3/22, Matthew 9/34, and Matthew 12/24. “He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the Prince of demons.”
Note what these passages tell us, and note also that they were written by people who were not allies of Jesus:
1. That Jesus was hanged.
2. That it was on the Eve of the Passover
3. That Jesus lived and died.
4. That he was a “beguiler”, i.e., that he performed miracles, though they ascribed those miracles to Beelzebub instead of the Father.
5. And then an intriguing remark “He was near to the civil authority”, implying that he “got away with” his deception as long as he did because he knew the right people.
Item number 5 is almost a tacit admission that he knew people in high places. We do know that nobleman and wealthy people came to him for healing and advice. In Luke 8:3 we’re told that Joanna, wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household was a follower of Jesus (NIV).
The point here is that Jesus’s own enemies admitted that he lived. and did not deny that he did miracles. First century contemporaries of Jesus and the apostles tried to discredit him through ad hominem attacks rather than than denying what he did.
One example is Rabbi Eliezer, a first century rabbi and contemporary of the apostles. He says the following:
Once I was walking along the upper market of Sepphoris and found one of the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth, and Jacob of Kefar Sekanya was his name. He said to me, “It is written in your Law, `Thou shalt not bring the hire of a harlot, etc.’ What was to be done with it: a latrine for the High Priest?” But I answered nothing. He said to me, “So Jesus of Nazareth [or Yeshu ben Pantere] taught me: For the hire of a harlot hath she gathered them, and unto the hire of a harlot shall they return.”
Why did the Rabbis refer to Jesus as “Yeshu ben Pantere”? See John 8:41. “We be not born of fornication.” Jesus’s enemies knew of the unusual circumstances of his birth and accused his mother of bearing him because of fornication. The phrase “Ben Pantere” means “son of Panther [or Pandera].” Rumor had it that Pandera was a Roman soldier who was supposed to have fathered Jesus. John 8:41 records their retort to Jesus. (“We be not born of fornication”).
The Greek word for “virgin” is parthenos, which could easily be corrupted to “Pantere” or “Pandera” to obscure the claim of Jesus being the son of a virgin.
We also have the testimony of Flavius Josephus, a first century historian and general. His two most famous works were Antiquities of the Jews and Wars of the Jews. He writes in Antiquities, Book XX, chap. 9.1:
And now Caesar, upon hearing of the death of Festus, sent Albinus into Judea as procurator … [The younger] Annanus … took the high priesthood … He was also of the sect of the Sadducees who were very rigid in judging offenders … When therefore Annanus was of this disposition, he thought he now had proper opportunity … So he assembled the Sanhedrin of the judges, and brought before him the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.
James the brother of Jesus is referred to in Matthew 13:55, 27:56, Galatians 1:19, and James 1:1. In Acts 15:13, he was the presiding officer at a major conference held in Jerusalem.
Again, from Antiquities, Book XVIII, chap. 3.3:
Now there was about this time, Jesus, a wise man [if it be lawful to call him a man]. For he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. [He was the Messiah]. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him [for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him]. And the tribe of Christians, so named for him, are not extinct at this day.
Note: Some scholars believe that the bracketed phrases in the above passage were added by editors during the Middle Ages.
Even non-Christian Roman chroniclers refer to Jesus, such as the passage below from Tacitus’s Annales, written about 115 AD. Tacitus, no friend of Christianity, was a Roman historian. In this passage he discusses the burning of Rome in the time of Nero. He explains the origin of the name “Christian”:
Nero, in order stifle the rumor [as if he himself had set fire to Rome] ascribed it to those people who were hated for their wicked practices, and called by the vulgar “Christians”: these he punished exquisitely. The author of this name was Chrestus, who, in the reign of Tiberias, was brought to punishment by Pontius Pilate, the Procurator.
Note the salient points:
1. Tacitus wrote in the early 1st century.
2. He was a senator and had access to the official records of the Roman Empire.
3. By referring to the “mischievous superstition” that had at first been suppressed, but then broke out throughout the empire, he brings direct and unconscious testimony that the early Christians taught that Jesus had risen from the dead.
Other ancient writers appealed to official Roman records as proof that Jesus lived. Justin Martyr in 150 AD informs Antonius Pius of the fulfillment of Psalm 22:16:
But the words, “They pierced my hands and feet”, refer to the nails which were fixed in Jesus’ hands and feet on the cross; and after he was crucified, his executioners cast lots for his garments, and divided them up among themselves. That these things happened you may learn from the “Acts” which were recorded under Pontius Pilate” “That he performed these miracles you may easily satisfy yourself from the “Acts” of Pontius Pilate.
Justin asks the emperor to check up on him by reference to official records of the Roman Empire. Elsewhere, Justin appeals to census records to prove that Jesus really did live.
Says Joseph Klausner, professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and author of Jesus of Nazareth: His Life Teachings, and Times, says of the non-Christian historical evidence of Jesus:
If we possessed them alone, we would know nothing except that in Judea there had existed a Jew named Jesus who was called the Christ, the “Anointed”; that he performed miracles and taught the people; that he was killed by Pontius Pilate at the instigation of the Jews; that he had a brother named James, who was put to death by the High Priest Annas, the son of Annas; that owing to Jesus there arose a special sect known as Christians; that a community belonging to the sect existed in Rome fifty years after the birth of Jesus, and that because of this community the Jews were expelled from Rome; and finally, that from the time of Nero the sect greatly increased, regarding Jesus as virtually divine, and underwent severe persecution.
The ancient testimony that there really was a man named Jesus who walked this earth when the New Testament says he did. Was he merely a man? Was he what he and his disciples claimed him to be? Consider the words of C.S. Lewis: in Mere Christianity, Collier Books, pp 55-56:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.” That is one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He does not leave that open to us. He did not intend to. (From Mere Christianity, Collier Books, pp 55-56:)

Love is the only answer (New Church Lady)
I can sum up the theme and message of the film, Paul, Apostle of Christ, as it impacted me, in just four words: love is the answer.
If you think it is hard being a Christian now, you may feel differently after seeing this movie. There are definitely places in the world where Christians suffer great persecution today. The USA is not one of those places. In that, we are greatly blessed. However, perhaps our growth in this fruit of the spirit, love, is a bit stunted or at least in danger of being stunted because of that lack.
The writer, director and actors try really hard to make you passionately hate the Romans of the time. Christians are lit on fire as human torches to light the streets. Children, women, men and old people are flogged, beheaded, stoned, kicked, chained up, imprisoned and fed to the lions at the Roman Circus for the amusement of the crowds. (Note: The movie gets pretty graphic sometimes, but you won’t actually see anyone torn apart by the lions.)
And then at these moments when evil is coming at them full force, Paul says or Luke says or Priscilla or Aquila (who figure prominently in the film as well) says something along the lines that the response to this must be to love them. They all drive the message home that love is the hallmark of Christianity – especially love that is the response to even the most heinous persecution. Paul, as well as Luke, Priscilla and Aquila continually model it themselves in spite of what the Romans do to them.
The death of Stephen is an important part of the film, because of how it contrasts Paul’s character when he was Saul, before his conversion, and because of Stephen’s example of love in the face of tribulation. We read about that in
Acts 7:58-60 [ESV] Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
One of the most poignant scenes in the movie is when at movements of dire circumstances and eminent danger, a group about to be fed to the lions, a group hiding out and in danger of being exposed, and Paul in his dank, dark and lonely cell are all, are shown all to be, at the same time (but in different locations), praying the “Lord’s Prayer” as found in Luke 11:2-4 [KJV] … Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.
“For we also forgive every one that is indebted to us” has a lot more impact and meaning when you are actually facing the lions. Don’t you agree?
“Deliver us from evil” is a part of that prayer that would seem most necessary at the precipice of their lives and in facing imminent death.
Since the story is told from Luke’s vantage point, of course they used
Luke 11:2-4 instead of the version found in Matthew. But that means that they did not include the last sentence as Matthew records the same prayer. Matthew 6:13 [KJV] And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
It seems to me that the acknowledgement of the power and glory being God’s is a vital point in understanding how we can, even in the face of lions, torching, beatings and death, still offer forgiveness to the persecutor. Surely, this is not possible on human strength alone. Surely, it is only possible by the divine power of God, available to us by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Love in the face of persecution goes directly to the glory of God Himself.
I think it is good to be reminded, via the scripture, via a thought-provoking movie, via news about the persecution and execution of Christians in places like India and the Middle East, that Satan has driven and does still drive brutal persecution of Christians.
However, I am not likely to face the lions or become a human torch in my life. You and I are more likely to face trails of health issues, loss of loved ones, “friends” or family who desert us, people we trust who stab us in the back or gossip about us. We may be robbed. We may lose a job for Sabbath-keeping. Even then, love is still the only way for Christians to respond.
Even with these examples in the forefront of my mind. I’ll likely struggle in the future with showing love in response to people who treat wrong. That is the way of human nature.
The evil that I will need to be delivered from is more likely to be my own human nature than a public stoning. But, our God, who was able to deliver Christians of old from their trials, delivers us too. Our God, who was able to develop in Stephen the kind of love that forgives those stoning him, can develop that in us too. We grow in love by offering it to others in good times and bad. The more you give it, the more you have to give.
Until His Kingdom comes, an important part of His will to be done on this earth, as it is also always done in Heaven, is this: respond with love. Love is always the answer.
Forgive us, Father, and help us to forgive. Grant us your power to overcome evil with love – to respond with love in the face of evil. For this, we give You the glory.
Love is the only answer.

Doctor D’s Coping Strategies (Morning Companion)
Doctor ‘D’, a medical doctor who suffered a personal journey through the wilderness, gave me a simple list of personal exhortations on how to acquire peace of mind and fulfilled days. They are distinctly Biblical in origin and practical in application.
1.
Admit you have a problem, and be brave enough to seek help.
2.
Begin your day with positive affirmations. We live in a negative world, a world that seems to take delight in convincing us that we are aren’t good enough. When you arise in the morning, don’t turn on the news or go on the internet until you have read a devotional, prayed a prayer, or have otherwise impressed your mind with something positive. Once you have made contact with the Divine, then it is okay to pick up the newspaper and find out what the other side is up to. And don’t forget to write down ten good things about yourself. God sees the good in you. Why shouldn’t you?
3.
Do a gratitude list daily. Write down ten things that you are thankful for. It is a paradox of the world that those who have the most can be the least thankful. God warned Israel that when they were full they would have to beware of forgetting God and concluding that they did it all themselves. (Deuteronomy 6:10-12). It is impossible to be joyful if we constantly strive after wind. We should be thankful for what we have rather than envious for what we don’t.
4.
Be willing to give it away. Do something good for someone without anyone else knowing about it. Keep it between you and God only. Otherwise it doesn’t count. Sometimes when searching for a parking space, you will notice that a prime spot might be available right next to a handicap space. It’s perfectly legal to park there, but why not leave that space for someone else and find one at the back of the lot? No one will ever know about this random act of generosity, but if even just a 10% of us preferred others rather than ourselves, think what difference this could make in our world. This is what my friend Dr. ‘D’ meant when he said, In order to keep it, you must first give it away.” Solomon said it a little differently: “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you shall find it after many days.” (Ecclesiastes 11:1). Whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap.
5.
Pick up cigarette butts.” ‘D’ was a doctor, but in rehab that had to teach him the hard lesson that M.D. does not stand for Mr. Divinity. As part of his therapy, he was made to prowl the parking lot and pick up cigarette butts with his fingers. By this harmless but potentially humiliating exercise, ‘D’ learned that no act of service is beneath any of us, even if you happen to be a highly educated, financially successful bag of hot air. Figurative cigarette butts are all around us waiting to be picked up, if we have eyes to see them and the humility to remove them.
6.
Keep a daily journal. Track your moods and what is going on around you. What events are triggering your defeated thoughts, and what events are driving those thoughts away? What can you do to remove the triggers from your environment?

Seed Packets and Water Pails (Sabbath Meditations)
I can’t help sometimes getting a little impatient with this whole witnessing to the world thing.
I’ve long been of the opinion that witnessing is about more than just paying someone else to produce a magazine and television broadcast. Not that I’m into standing on a milk crate somewhere with a megaphone either, but I do believe Jesus expects me to be ready, even desiring, even praying for, the opportunity to give an answer to the hope that lies within me.
Statistics on church growth confirm the fact that most new converts to the faith are the result of personal contact with a believer anyway. God uses His people. He always has. Magazines, television broadcasts, websites are great tools, but in my opinion they are resources to supplement, not substitute for, our personal witness. We are lights in a dark world, conduits through which God works to bring those He is calling into relationship with Him.
So why am I impatient? It’s not that I don’t feel prepared. There’s always more to learn. After all, it’s a big Book, and my mind, well … not so big. But after a lifetime of being immersed in the truth of God’s Word, I feel I have acquired a decent arsenal of clear, scripturally supported, rock solid, Theology. When it comes to sharing the hope that lies within me, I’m pretty much loaded for bear. I suspect the same is true for most of you reading this. My problem isn’t with the what to say, it’s with my expectations of what the saying of it will produce. I want results now. I want to see the fruits of my effort now. I guess, in a nutshell, I’m looking for the Acts 2 moment. Unfortunately, it doesn’t ever seem to happen that way. Hence the frustration.
I remember a few years ago being excited when a co-worker asked me, “So where do you go for eight days every Fall anyway?” Seeing an opening that only God could have inspired, I launched into a treatise on everything from the plan of salvation revealed in the harvest festivals, the empty counterfeits that are Christmas and Easter, to the significance of understanding the digestive tracts of pigs vs. cows. I was on a roll man! More excited still was I, when, rather than returning a blank, glazed over stare, he actually exclaimed, “Wow, that makes a lot of sense! I need to look into that!”
I left that conversation pretty confident that this co-worker would be attending church with me the next week, and, more than likely, be counseling for baptism within a month. My expectation took a fall of Babylonish proportions when the very next week this same co-worker, on whom I had unloaded all of this precious, life altering truth, casually asked if I’d be at the happy hour after work that Friday night. Sigh … once again, my Acts 2 moment fell flat on its face.
I should have known better. The truth is, we live in a different world today. Most of the world knows about Christianity. They have heard about Jesus Christ, almost ad nauseam. They’ve heard the hype. They’ve heard the promises. They’ve seen the bad examples and the million or so competing interpretations of Christian “truth” (small t). Frankly, many if not most are just a little jaded about the whole thing. So, can we really be surprised when eyes glaze over when we launch into an explanation of what really happened under Constantine in 325AD!
Even those God may be calling, whose eyes He is opening to understand, have a lot of garbage to wade through to get to the real deal. So, it’s not surprising that our revelations of truth don’t immediately land on fertile ground.
In Hebrews 12:1-2 Paul encourages us to
“lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 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, Jesus, not my co-worker, not my neighbor down the street, not the pastor of my church, is the Author and Finisher. He is in charge of the process from beginning to end.
Hmm … so if He’s the Author and Finisher of my faith … it probably follows that He’s the Author and Finisher of everyone else’s faith as well. He’s the Author and Finisher of the faith of everyone I might have the opportunity to witness to in the short life He’s given me, including my neighbor down the street, my uncle Joe, and that co-worker who just invited me to the happy hour on Friday night. If I’m to lay aside every weight and trust in Him to bring this process He has started in
me to completion, I should probably lay aside my impatience and trust in Him to complete that process in their lives as well.
1 Corinthians 3:7-8 tells us,
“So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.”
Basically, when it comes to witnessing, you and I are seed planters and waterers. We might never see the end result of the little bit of truth we plant over here, the small drop of water we sprinkle over there and, if I’m reading it right, we aren’t always meant to. He is the Master Gardener. He is the one who shepherds the growth of His people.
That doesn’t make our role unimportant. We are tools He has chosen to use in that process. My labor of planting and watering, combined with the planting and watering of other laborers in His harvest might ultimately, over time, bring uncle Joe, my neighbor down the street, or that co-worker in the office to repentance and faith.
If you think about it, it’s a whole lot less stressful letting God worry about how it all turns out, isn’t it? Not that I won’t still get impatient with the whole process sometimes. I’d love to see that Acts 2 moment unfold before my eyes just once. And maybe someday I’ll be so blessed. But until then, I’ll keep my seed packet and water pail at the ready.

Even the Demons (Morning Companion)
Then the seventy returned with joy, saying,
“Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name.” (Luke 10:17)
These seventy had just returned from a mission trip, going two by two ahead of Jesus to proclaim the kingdom of God, and they were jubilant at the results of their trip. Even the demons were subject to them! Jesus responded with a statement, a charge, and a warning.
His statement: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”
His charge: “I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you.”
His warning: “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”
First, let’s examine the statement part.
His statement that he saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven could be taken to mean a literal fall from heaven such as the description we find in Revelation 19:7-12, where a battle in heaven occurs between Michael’s forces and the Devil’s forces. The Book of Revelation seems to suggest that this takes place near the end of the age, But Jesus’s statement seems to indicate past tense. Isaiah also suggests past tense in Isaiah 14:12: “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of morning! How you are cut down to the ground, you who weaken the nations!” However, later in the passage, the verbs change to a future tense (see verses 15-17).
Some commentators have posited that Jesus was merely using a figure of speech rather than pointing to a specific event. Barnes Notes on the Bible asserts that ‘lightning’ is an image of rapidity or quickness, thus rendering Jesus’s meaning to ‘I saw Satan fall quickly or rapidly — as quick as lightning’, with the phrase ‘from heaven’ referring to the lightning rather than Satan. By this understanding, Jesus saw the demons fleeing from his disciples as quickly as lightning falls from heaven.
Take your pick what Jesus meant. Great orator as he was, he might have meant both.
In the ‘charge’ part of the passage, Jesus asserts that he has given power over the enemy. This implies, of course, that Jesus has the power himself, else he couldn’t give it away. It’s a powerful statement in a time where so many recognize that spiritual warfare is underway, and it underlines the power the followers of Jesus have in fighting that battle.
But Jesus also gives a warning: “Do not rejoice in the fact that you have this power.” Bad things can happen if your approach to spiritual warfare is conducted in a spirit of arrogance or pride. If we are to enter into a spiritual battle, we must prepare properly for that battle, unlike the sons of Sceva (Acts 19:13-16), who tried to use the power of Jesus in an unworthy manner with disastrous results.
If we enter the battle with arrogance, we have already lost the battle, for arrogance, or pride, was Lucifer’s deadly sin (Ezekiel 28:17, Isaiah 14:13-14). By so entering the fight we are succumbing to the poisoning of our spirits, for we are no longer relying on the authority of Jesus, but on our own strength.
Thus Jesus tells us, “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).
It’s also why, before entering spiritual warfare, we are to humble ourselves with prayer and fasting (Mark 9:28-29).
In the course of this piece I have used the phrase ‘spiritual warfare’ several times. While demonic manifestation through apparitions, possessions, and things that go knock in the night might get a lot of attention, a more subtle form of demonic influence involves the steady, patient perversion of culture, politics, and morals. We might not recognize it immediately, but the enemy of mankind works some of its worst damage through the world of ideas. Look at the temptation in Garden in Genesis 3 and the temptation of Christ in Matthew 4. These were attacks on both the spirit and the flesh.
If we are going to engage in this battle, we must indeed to put on the whole armor of God, and that means we need to be prayed up and thoroughly humbled — yes, through fasting — just as Jesus said in Mark 9 and what he practiced in Matthew 4. Our job is to confront the world of darkness in humility and faith, even on social media, and let the Lord do the rebuking where necessary (Jude 1:9).
Don’t go into this battle relying on your own power. It takes true spiritual strength to fight with humility.

The Open Church (New Horizons)
All too often an organization
can, almost imperceptibly, drift into what can be described as a ‘cult’.
Cults (‘New Religious Movements’) abound. All too often they hit and monopolize the headlines for weeks and months. Often they simply fade away – or end with a bang in conflict with the authorities.
Jim Jones seduced his followers to mass suicide. Texas based David Koresh and his Branch Davidians battled it our with the FBI. Or the Order of the Solar Temple in Switzerland … the list could be expanded.
‘Cult’ is a pejorative term and is applied to any group that raises suspicions as to motive. One common element is their secretive nature with the leadership.
How do you identify a ‘cult’? Could your church be one, or become one? Do you belong to one? Words change meaning, and cult and sect are no exception. Cult derives from the Latin cultus, signifying simply a form of worship. A sect (or section) is just that – a division, smaller part. In the New Testament it translates the Greek word heresis and is applied, without condemnation, to Christians (Acts 24:5), Pharisees (ch.15:5), Sadducees (ch.5:17). Recent meaning of both terms, however, is derogatory, and focuses on those religious and secular groups viewed as unorthodox, different, even weird.
heresis itself has taken on a different meaning, now applied to serious false teaching that places its believers outside orthodoxy. And of course ‘heresy’ is a charge directed from the mainstream at cults and sects.
What, though, is ‘false teaching’? Every religion harbours those who are considered to teach falsely, not least Christianity. Examine Christian belief, however, and there’s a dilemma. Which denomination should we choose as orthodox? What, indeed, is orthodoxy, or correct teaching?
Wrote Jude: [I] exhort you to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints (v.3).
Clearly, there is a discernible core body of teachings to which all true Christians ought to adhere. Every Christian denomination, cult, sect claims to place the Bible at the centre of its teachings. So why such wide variation of belief? There’s a ‘supermarket of ideas’ from which a seeker after truth can choose. The teachings of Catholic Rome are far removed from those of the ‘Bible Belt’. And within each there are doctrinal conflicts – some of which, if you please, are considered ‘heretical’. Cults? Sects? The dividing lines are blurred.
If, then, the Bible is central to orthodoxy – what identifies a cult? ‘Believe the Bible, not me’ is a common Christian cult leadership pronouncement. But inspection of their teachings uncovers a very personal interpretation.
Added to – and distorting – the Scriptures (read Jude 3 again) are visions, tradition, unique textual translations, infallibility, personal encounters with God, visits to heaven, association with angels, special revelations, new Bible translations. ‘Doctrines of demons’ the apostle calls them: But the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, cleaving to deceiving spirits and teachings of demons (1 Timothy 4:1).
So – are you in a cult? Or, is your ‘mainstream’ church, in reality, a cult? No matter how venerable or respectable or how large? Here are some more keys, some cultic techniques and principles of which to be aware:
authoritarianism. Any church or local assembly (or indeed secular association or club) needs structure. A cult will use this essential to impose
a hierarchy of control. You were, in fact, recruited to serve the leadership, not vice versa. Its an informant network by which the membership is closely monitored to ensure conformity.
exclusivism. ‘We’ alone have the truth, the cult teaches. All other churches are ‘of the devil’. Don’t contaminate your spirituality by associating with ‘the world’, they say. Shun those who depart the group. Avoid family contact , we are your friends now.
manipulation. You are educated to conform to the group image. Fine, if that image is Christ-like living. So powerful is this manipulation that once ‘in’ members fear to leave. It’s like leaving God behind.
financial pressure. There’s a heavy, regular claim on your income (to your last penny) for ‘God’s work’, while the leadership is likely to live in luxury ‘to the glory of God’, to reflect His lifestyle.
total commitment. To the detriment of your family your time is consumed by endless meetings, Bible studies, evangelism, prayer meetings, fastings. Historically it has led to voluntary mass suicide.
love-bombing. You are recruited by a superficial display of intense interest in your personal well-being accompanied by the promise, in the bosom of the group, of inner peace, success, future reward, friendship.
secrecy. You won’t know the ‘depths’ of the cult’s requirements and teachings at the beginning. First comes commitment (e.g. in baptism) – then comes the hard stuff , the secret stuff.
A ‘true church’ is up-front and open.

The Court of the Gentiles (Morning Companion)
The Court of the Gentiles was a filthy place, even though it was the entry way into the Temple of God. It was here that animals for sacrifice were for sale, and they left their excrement and waste in the only place in the House of God that the Gentiles were allowed to experience.
This bazaar was not the only foul thing about the Court of the Gentiles. It was here that inscrutable money changers exchanged Roman coin into temple coin at exorbitant rates, for the polluted Roman coin bore the idolatrous image of Caesar. It was also the place where they evaluated whether the animals the people were to offer were suitably unblemished for sacrifice to God. Usually they were not, and therefore the people were obliged to buy pre-approved livestock for sacrifice, of course with a suitable mark-up for convenience sake.
This was what Jesus saw when he entered the Temple, and filled with rage he overturned the tables of the money changers. “Is it not written, My house house shall be a house of prayer for all nations? But you have made it a den of thieves.” (Mark 11:17)
That phrase — “house of prayer for all nations” — is a direct quote from the prophet Isaiah 56:7). It’s consistent with Solomon’s dedication of the First Temple, where he prays:
Moreover, concerning a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, but has come from a far country for the sake of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm, when they come and pray in this temple, then hear from heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you … (2 Chronicles 6:32-33)
Is it any wonder that Jesus’s anger was roused by the stumbling block known as the Court of the Gentiles? But if that’s true, why was there a Court of the Gentiles in the first place?
The Court of the Gentiles was the first chamber of entry into the Temple. Anyone could enter the Court of the Gentiles, including of course Gentiles. But only Israelites could proceed into the next court. Both male and female Israelites could enter the next chamber, known as the Court of Women. Women could not go into the next court, known as the Court of the Israelites. Only ritually pure Israelite men could enter that chamber.
After that was the Court of the Priests, reserved solely for Levites or priestly caste. Finally, once a year on the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, the High Priest and the High Priest alone could go “behind the veil” into the “Holy of Holies”, or Most Holy Place, to offer a sacrifice to God.

Think of this as a symbol of how people thought of their relationship with God. The further away a person was from the “Holy of Holies”, the further they were considered to be from God. Look at this progression again, from farthest away to closest and see who was valued more worthy than others:
1. Court of the Gentiles
2. Court of Women
3. Court of Israelites
4. Court of the Priests
5. Holy of Holies where only the High Priest could go.

But here is the thing to remember, and it relates directly with what angered Jesus. The plans for the original tabernacle did not have all those courts. There was a Holy Place and there was a Holy of Holies, but no Court of the Gentiles and no Court of Women. All of these various courts were a part of Herod’s Temple of the first century, but in Exodus chapters 24-27 there is no mention of anything other than the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. Remember, Solomon in the dedication of the his Temple, as quoted above, assumes that Gentiles can enter the Temple and have full access to God.
All of the above is to say this: Jesus had a number of reasons to be angry at what was going on in the Temple. Clearly he was upset with the greed of the den of thieves. But he had another point to make as well. The Temple was supposed to be a house of prayer for all nations, not just one nation. A dung-filled court punctuated with unsavory business practices was an unfitting introduction to the God of Israel, and to restrict the Gentiles to such conditions when they seek God was a travesty. And to put the symbolic barrier of different courts between them and access to God simply compounded the problem.
Not long after Jesus cleansed the Temple, the veil in front of the Holy of Holies, which symbolized the barrier between God and man, was ripped from top to bottom, signifying that the way to the throne of God was now open to all. No longer is there a distinction between male and female, Israelite or Greek, slave or free. The way is open to all, as it was always intended.

Annoying Christian Phrases (Sabbath Meditations)
There’s some phrases making the rounds that I wish would just go away. In no particular order, my top five are:
“Don’t go there” – What does this really mean anyway? I guess I know what the intent is but if I’ve already gone there how can I not go there? Shouldn’t it be “stop going there” or “turn around and come back from there?” I’d just like to tell people where they can go when I hear them say “don’t go there.” (Oops…not very Christian of me, sorry!)
“Just so you know” – Is that just so I know as opposed to anyone else knowing or do you want me to know because everyone else already knows or are you worried that if you tell me I won’t really know what you told me unless you tell me you just told me? I don’t know.
“Just saying” – If you just said it why do you have to tell us you just said it, unless what you said was so trivial that you have to remind us you just said it … but, if what you just said is so trivial, why did you have to say it in the first place?
“I got nothin” – Usually an expression signifying they don’t know what to say, they’ve drawn a blank. Why state the obvious? A wise old saying goes “it’s better to remain silent and thought a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt.” “I got nothin” pretty conclusively removes all doubt.
“I know! Right?” – This has got to be the one that drives me the craziest. It’s usually used at the end of a statement, not a question. It’s almost like the person wants to agree with you, but is not confident enough to do it themselves, so they have to ask you for permission.
Friend one: “Wearing black is so-o-o yesterday.”
Friend two: “I know! Right!?”
Open mouth, insert finger.
People in our secular culture aren’t the only ones guilty of soiling the language with annoying phrases. We Christians hold our own just fine thank you. In fact, I’m guessing there a quite a few catch phrases we Christians use that drive our God crazy.
I can think of a number of top candidates:
Annoying Christian Phrase # 1: “Bless her heart”
An ingenious way to disguise a back door insult as a spiritual sounding compliment. It’s a way to make subtly make fun of a person while sounding really Godly in the process.
“Did you see what so and so did at church last week! Bless her heart?”
“She’s really is naive, isn’t she, bless her heart.”
“He’s as homely as an ox, bless his heart.”
Somehow I don’t think this is what God had in mind when He told us to “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” (Eph.4:29)
Annoying Christian Phrases # 2: “It must be a sign.”
Okay, try to follow the logic here:
Friend 1: “My wife made waffle fries for dinner on Monday. Then Tuesday she put potato chips in my lunch sack for work. Tonight she made mash potatoes. It must be a sign. She’s telling me I need to iron my shirts better for work.”
Friend 2: “Huh?? I Don’t get it.”
Friend 1: “You know…potatoes…more starch in the diet…get it?”
Friend 2: “Sorry…still don’t get it.”
Friend 1: “(Sigh) More starch in diet…more starch in on my shirt when I iron. It’s a pretty obvious sign…don’t you think?”
Ludicrous, right?
We would never expect to have any meaningful communication with our spouse this way, so why do some think that this is how our loving God would choose to communicate with His people?
Yet how many well meaning Christians steer themselves through their Christian walk taking cues from obscure coincidences, making life decisions based on information about as reliable as reading tea leaves.
In Luke 11 tells us “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened…”
Who needs to waste time looking for obscure signs when God says the answer is there for the asking? Beats reading tea leaves in my book.
Annoying Christian Phrase # 3: “The Lord put it on my heart”
This phrase is awesome! You can use it to justify just about anything. Your friends can tell you it’s a bad decision. Your parents might recommend against it. Your pastor might question your judgment. God’s Word could even condemn it. But utter the magic phrase, “The Lord put it on my heart” and suddenly whatever decision you’ve made takes on the air of the sacred, as if God Himself reached down and tugged on your heart strings.
You: “I’m leaving my spouse and children to do missionary work in India.”
Concerned other: “Huh? Have you been drinking?”
You: “No, you have to understand that the Lord has put it on my heart.”
Concerned other: “Well, then. That’s of course what you need to do. Sorry I questioned you.”
Hebrews 1 tells us that “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son…”
Note the words “has spoken.” Not, “is speaking.” Not “whispers quietly in your ear while you’re sleeping.” “Has spoken” in the pages of your Bible.
Hebrews 4 tells us, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
If some Christians spent half as much time seeking answers in the Word of God as they do trying to divine His will from their emotions, the vague voices inside their head or whatever it is tugging at their heart strings, their decision making ability would be on much firmer ground.
Annoying Christian Phrase # 4: “It’s a God job.”
The intended translation of this phrase is one of two things:
1) There is nothing anyone humanly can do to help so God’s going to have to take care of it, or…
2) I don’t have the time, resources, or inclination to help my brother or sister in this situation, so it’s all Yours God.
The first meaning states what is annoyingly obvious. After all, when it comes down to it, isn’t everything pretty much a God job? When God hears this He must think to Himself… “Really?? You’re just now getting the fact that I’m in charge?! Hello…”
The second meaning is a bit more presumptuous. Who are we to think we can just willy-nilly pass the baton to Him when and if we decide we’re done with it? Who are we to think we have the baton in the first place?
Galatians 6:2 instructs Christians to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
God doesn’t give us Christians the luxury of determining when we’re done showing love to our brother. After all, aren’t we the vehicle through which He expresses His love? Last I checked 1 Corinthians 13, it still read, “His love never fails.” If it truly is a God job, then you and I have to be willing to be the tools He works through to get it done, whatever it takes, as long as it takes.
Whew! It felt good to get that off my chest.
Just so you know … I suspect that right up till the time Jesus returns, His people, bless their hearts, will continue to come up with trite, meaningless and wholly un-biblical phrases that will drive us, and probably God as well, just a bit crazy. We’re pretty helpless to stop it so I guess, in the end, that too is a God job … Just saying …

Omnipotent and Omniscient (Morning Companion)
God is often described as “omnipotent” and “omniscient”. What do these two theological words mean, and is it possible for God to be both? First, some definitions.
In their simplest forms omnipotent means “all-powerful” and omniscient means “all-knowing”.
To most of us who are believers these two terms can rightfully be applied to God. Why would anyone worship a god who isn’t all-powerful? If your god is not all-powerful, why not find the God who is and worship him? And if your God is all-powerful, wouldn’t he have the power to know everything?
It might be surprising, but biblically speaking, there are some things that an all-powerful God can’t do.
God can’t lie. “… it is impossible for God to lie …” (Hebrews 6:18)
God cannot be tempted. “God cannot be tempted by evil.” (James 1:13)
God cannot deny himself. “He cannot deny himself.” (II Timothy 2:13)
Wayne Grudem is his book
Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith says:
“God cannot will or do anything that will deny his character. It is not absolutely everything that God is able to do, but everything that is consistent with his character.”
All-powerful, yes. But God has self-imposed limits on his power. There are certain things that he won’t do because they are the opposite of who he is, and he simply will not act that way.
So what about the all-knowing attribute? Does God see the entire sweep of history from beginning to end, knowing about everything that is now and everything that will ever happen, including those people, both born and unborn, who will and will not have salvation?
If God is all-powerful, he certainly has the authority and power to create such a universe, one where nothing is left to chance, where nothing is out of his complete control, where the unfolding of history is predetermined as sure as every cause leads to a predetermined effect.
But if God is all-powerful, he could also choose to create a world that has the freedom to make its own choices independently of God’s will. He could create a world where he chooses not to know what choices people will make. He could create a world where the beings he creates have the freedom to make their own choices. More than that, he could create a universe with a specific, predetermined end in mind (let’s call it the Kingdom of God), but an end or destiny where not every turn in the road in planned for in advance.
Put differently, an all-powerful God could create a universe and a plan that is sure, but at the same time not determine in advance whether you or me or anyone else will choose to accept that plan.
In fact there are hints of this throughout scripture.
When God tested Abraham, and Abraham showed his faithfulness to God through that test (Genesis 22), God sent this message: “Now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (verse 12). “
Now I know”? Did not an all-knowing God know in advance what Abraham’s actions would be?
When Israel was about to enter the Promised Land, God sets a choice before the nation. He lays before them two ways of life: the way of following God or the way of following the world around them. “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil” (Deuteronomy 30:15). Just as in the garden, where the first man and the first woman had the choice of choosing the fruit that God had given them or the fruit of the one tree that was forbidden, Israel was given the freedom to make a choice.
“I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)
“Choose”! It’s all up to you! God’s Kingdom is sure. God has predetermined it. It’s baked in the cake. Things will happen because God has already decided some things. But he has not decided everything, and one of those things he has decided is how you and I will live our lives. That’s up to us. We have the freedom to choose roads we take.
God is all powerful, and therefore he has the power to give up control and yield some to us. We get to decide how to exercise it.

Does He Know Me? (Sabbath Meditations)
The setting: A time yet future.
The King has descended and having subdued the kingdoms of this world, now sits on His throne in the Holy City, peoples from every nation and tongue making their way to appear before Him.
A middle aged man, dressed in His best pinstripe, confidently enters through the throne room doors, approaches and kneels before the King.
The conversation begins thus:
The King: Do I know you?
Man: Well yes, of course you know me Lord. I’ve been an active member of the Church You built since my youth.
The King: I have no reason to doubt you. But I just don’t recognize you. You must understand that merely sitting among my people does not make you one of them. Tell me a little more about how I might know you.
Man: Well, maybe you recall me from my efforts to share the gospel. For years I have placed church literature in waiting rooms, answered phone calls for booklets and worked to get our churches telecast on our local television station. Not to mention the two times that I witnessed to some co-workers in my office.
The King: Well, those are admirable. It certainly seems like I should know who you are. But there are many who have preached My name for their own reasons; some with motives which were noble and others selfish. Tell Me more. How else might I know you?
Man: Well, let’s see. Certainly you must know of the many financial sacrifices I have made to further Your work I’ve faithfully tithed of all I possess so that your Gospel might be preached to this world prior to your coming. I gave a great deal toward that effort.
The King: Well, certainly My work must have been furthered because of it. Thank you. But there are weightier matters than these that would have made you known to Me. Simply sacrificing through the giving of money, for some, can be a convenient excuse for not to sacrificing of themselves. I’m still not clear how I know you.
Man, exasperated: But Lord, I spent hours on my knees in prayer before Your throne. Do you not remember them?
The King: The prayers of many have ascended to my throne throughout time. Some motivated by fear. Some motivated by desire for gain. Some uttered in grief or desperation. Although I hear them all, I listen to the prayers of the ones I know, who beseech Me with a pure heart.
Man, pointing to the Book that lay open before the throne: This Book Lord; I’ve studied to understand all of Your Words. The pages of my own Bible are worn, tattered, with margins overflowing with countless insights learned from Your teachers and my own studies.
The King: In this you have done well. My Word is truth and it is right that you should seek so diligently to rightly divide it. But knowing and comprehending all that I’ve said through My servants isn’t the same as knowing Me. Understanding words does not build a relationship or change a heart. The demons know the same things of Me but they are far from really knowing Me.
Man, voice now growing strident: But I spent endless hours in the study of prophecies foretelling your coming and the events at the end of the age! I felt I had been given a special understanding that only Your people had been given!
The King: It’s true much of My Word is filled with revelations of the future. And indeed I commanded My people that they should watch. Unfortunately some gave so much of their energy to understanding what lay ahead that little was left to focus on the work I had for them now. My Kingdom is now here and all the mysteries they had pondered have been fulfilled. If that was the primary focus of their effort, what now have they left to show for their work? Though you might very well understand all mysteries and all knowledge contained in My Word, it profits you nothing if you don’t have love. I am love and most certainly I would be more likely to know you by the love in your heart than by your understanding of the writings of my prophet Isaiah.
Man: I observed Your Sabbaths which reveal Your plan for mankind and the hope of this Kingdom which you have now established. I came out of this world’s pagan practices and religious idolatry.
The King: My people Israel observed My Sabbaths as well, but I despised their acts of worship, because their heart was far from Me. Sadly, it’s all too easy for man to go through the motions of worship without truly knowing the One they worship. I’m beginning to sense that may be true of you.
The man, feeling frustrated and defiant: Lord, Lord … how can you not know me!? If these things I’ve mentioned so far have not jogged your memory of me, I don’t see what else there is that could!
The King: Well, let’s see. From where have you journeyed to my Holy City?
The man, confused, gives Him the address: What significance does that have, Lord?
The King: I know there to be a homeless shelter not more than five miles from your house. Maybe I met you there at some point? Did you ever volunteer to serve meals in the kitchen?
Man: Well, no. You see I commuted a long way each day to work and didn’t have much time to spend in my community. I thought about it more than once but just never found a way to make it happen.
The King: Hmm, there was an elderly woman who lived a few doors down from you. She lost her husband six years ago and has never recovered from her grief. She suffers from loneliness and depression and sometimes skips meals in order to use the money to pay her other bills. But of course you must know her situation well since you live so close to her. Perhaps we met during one of your visits?
Man: Well, I know I often saw her from a distance, usually Sabbath morning, sitting on her porch, while heading out the door with my family to go to church. I always made a point to wave, but we were usually running late. Most of our weekends were so full of fellowship and participating in various church activities with the other brethren that I just didn’t have much time to get to know my neighbors. I figured most of them thought we were some kind of religious nuts anyway, you know, because of our keeping the Sabbath and all, so our family preferred to keep most of our friendships in the church. It was just less complicated that way.
The King: If you desired so much to know Me, why did you not spend any time looking for Me in the places I could be found; serving in your community, ministering to the poor, visiting the widows or fatherless?
Man, becoming defensive: Well, Lord. I guess I thought that, because this is Satan’s world, the poor would always be with us. Anyway, a portion of my taxes went toward programs to serve the poor and needy so I knew they were being cared for. I put my effort into studying to learn about You and Your Kingdom, helping spread the message of Your coming and striving to overcome my sin so that I could be worthy to rule with You at Your return. I figured that once Your Kingdom was set up You would take care of all the suffering that was in the world, which you have. So I guess I didn’t put much thought into doing anything back then.
The King: O foolish, man Do you not see the vacancy that is in your heart? Did you not know that all of these things you’ve done, you’ve done for your own reward? Even your attempts to obey me, as determined as you were in them, have been motivated by self-benefit. Your acts of obedience were rightly done, but you left so much that is of greater importance undone.
The places I would have met you would have been places where you sacrificed yourself for others. I was in these places but you never were.
If you knew me, you would have known that My heart is set to provide food to the hungry, to give freedom to the prisoner, to open the eyes of the blind, to raise up those who are bowed down, to watch over the strangers and to relieve the fatherless and widows. (Psalm 146:7-9)
If you had known Me you would know that I am a refuge to the oppressed. (Psalm 9:9)
If you would have known Me you would know that My ears continually hear the cry of the poor and needy and he that has no helper. (Psalm 72:13)
If you had a heart that truly knows Me, you know that I have compassion on those who are weary and scattered, having no Shepherd. (Matt. 9:36)
If you truly knew Me, You would have set your heart of these things also. You would have loved as I loved. You would have given even an ounce more of your time to minister to and serve the least of these My brethren … whether they were those I had already called to dwell safely within the body of My Church, or those still in bondage, yet to be called at a time appointed for them.
Wicked man, would that you truly knew Me and your only error simply one of understanding … a misapplication of My Law, a misguided conviction concerning how or when to worship Me or a weakness to which you were blinded. These I would graciously forgive, knowing that once you understood your error, your heart would convict you to fall to your knees saying, Yes, Lord.
But you have come to me, having spent your life mastering the form of worship and every minutiae of religious obedience, yet possessing a heart that cannot see beyond its own desire for self-preservation. Therefore, all of these works you have done in My Name are as lawlessness before Me.
The King, saddened by the lack of repentance He sensed in the man’s heart: Though it pains Me deeply to confirm it, it cannot be denied. I simply do not know you. Depart from Me.
The man, teeth now clenched in anger and bitterness swelling in his heart, turned and made his way across the throne room, back to where he had entered so confidently just a few moments before.
As he walked, another man, plainly dressed, head down and trembling noticeably, made his way past Him for his turn to appear before the throne. He seemed vaguely familiar. He thought he had seen this man once or twice before, sitting on the porch next to the widowed neighbor lady that the Lord had asked him about. Or, no, maybe he was one of the people who, each fall, he’d seen raking leaves and painting the weathered houses of other elderly people on His block. He thought he recognized him, but he couldn’t be sure.
He heard the now distant sound of the King’s voice as He warmly reached out to embrace his new visitor. That was the last the man heard, as the door closed shut behind him.

Reflections: Humility and Pride (Morning Companion)
Note: Hat Tip to my friend and neighbor Rod Handley for his fine teaching on this subject.
My random reflections on humility and pride, in no particular order of importance.
C. S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity,
The essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere flea bites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind … it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began.”
If C. S. Lewis is right, does this mean that God is humble?
Philippians 2:5-8: 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.
What are the attributes of humility? Here are some.
* Compassionate and forgiving
* Looks for the best in others
* Seeks to win people and not arguments
* Gives others credit
* Realizes that we fall short and have an overwhelming need to grow.
* Realizes only God knows a person’s true motives.
* Leaves to God the judgement of others’ hearts.
What are the attributes of Pride? Here are some:
* Focuses on others’ failures
* Overly critical and fault finding
* Looks at one’s own life through a telescope and others’ lives with a microscope
* Looks down on others who aren’t as committed as they are
* Thinking they know who is truly proud and truly humble
* Thinks everyone is privileged to have them involved
Proverbs 25:14 – Like clouds and wind without rain is the man who boasts of gifts never given.
Proverbs 13:10 –
By pride comes nothing but strife, but with the well-advised is wisdom.
Proverbs 18:12 – Before his downfall a man
s heart is proud, but humility comes before honor.
Remember, every hubris has a nemesis.
Management consultant John C. Maxwell tells us that
pride deafens us to the advice or warnings of those around us.”
Would you rather be prideful or humble? Are you humble and proud of it?

Harry Truman once related a conversation he had with Winston Churchill about Clement Atlee, the Labour Party leader who replaced Churchill as Prime Minister in 1945. Said Truman, “He seems like a humble fella to me”, to which Churchill replied, “He has a lot to be humble about.” It’s healthy to look at yourself that way. It’s humorous but maybe not so humble to see it said about others.
Rick Warren begins his book The Purpose Driven Life with four earth-shaking words: “It’s not about you.” And it’s not.
James 4:6 — God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.
Colossians 3:12 — Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

C.S. Lewis again: “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”
Finally, Luke 18:9-14 – 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.

It’s Not About Us (Sabbath Meditations)
The Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. An incredibly joyous occasion.
There is so much to celebrate that will occur on this day, yet future. The Saints will have risen to meet their returning Lord in the air and will descend with Him on the mount of Olives. All who come to make war with the returning King will have been vanquished. Satan, that old serpent, the devil, who enslaves the whole world will himself be bound and cast into darkness, no longer able to lie and deceive mankind. All who have lived will, at last, have opportunity to enter into At-One-Ment with the Father through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The events this day pictures are wondrous.
I have to admit, though, that in all the years I
ve observed this day, there is one aspect of it that has caused me confusion.
If it
s such a joyous occasion, why are we afflicting our souls? For me, it just doesnt seem to follow.
I understand the explanation that says we fast as a means of humbling ourselves, so that we might recognize our dependence on Him, our need for His atoning sacrifice. On one level, I get this line of thinking. Fasting is a powerful reminder that we are human, that we need a Saviour. But on another level, something about the idea of fasting on this day to remind
me of my need for His sacrifice just didnt seem to fit. Why?
Those of us who observe both the Spring and Fall holy days recognize that the two seasons are pointed toward two distinct groups of people whom God is calling; They point to two distinct phases of His plan for salvation.
The Spring holy days are directed toward those who are called during this present age. They are the Firstfruits, part of the early harvest. It is toward those who are called now, placed in His body, the Church, that the typology of the Spring holy days is directed.
The Fall holy days, in contrast, represent the great harvest to take place after Christ’s return, when the vast majority of those who have lived will be resurrected and have their minds opened to understand the gospel. They will be given the opportunity, as you and I already have, to know and enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ as their Saviour. It will be an awesome time.
So, if this Day of Atonement pictures salvation being offered to those who have not yet been called, why then would we, as Christians already called, already in this relationship, fast as means of being reminded of
our dependence on Him? Havent we pictured that lesson already during the Spring holy days?
In Isaiah 58:6-9 we read
“Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens, To let the oppressed go free, And that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; When you see the naked, that you cover him, And not hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light shall break forth like the morning, Your healing shall spring forth speedily, And your righteousness shall go before you; The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; You shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am’.”
Fasting is about the breaking of bonds. Its about recognizing the helplessness of man apart from God and beseeching Him for deliverance from oppression and heavy burdens. Its a yearning plea to our God for healing, for deliverance and for renewal. Sometimes we fast on our own behalf. But often, as is the case here in Isaiah, we fast on behalf of others who are in bondage, that they might be free and made whole.
So, in the context of these Fall Holy Days, for whom then are we fasting? For us? For our own deliverance? Or, are we fasting for those who are still in bondage to the god of this world? Isn
t that the true reason why we are fasting on this Day? Arent we fasting, beseeching our God for that day to come, when His Son will return, Satan will be bound and the vast majority of mankind will finally have their chains removed? Isnt this fast about them and not about us?
You and I have already experienced our freedom from bondage, haven
t we? Every year we commemorate that freedom we have been given during the Spring holy days, at Passover. This day, the Day of Atonement, looks forward to the time that Passover sacrifice will be made available for all of those who have not yet had opportunity.
So, to those of my brethren who are fasting on this day, I encourage you to focus your prayers, focus your heart, not on yourself, but on a world still waiting to taste the freedom you now enjoy. Pray for those who do not yet have the awesome relationship you have with your God and Savior. Pray for your co-workers, your neighbors, your family and friends. Pray that He would send His Son quickly to a world that is in suffering, in desperate need of deliverance. Fast and pray to break the bands of wickedness, that all who are oppressed might go free.

Evil does not give up easily (Morning Companion)
Jesus had commanded a Legion of demons to release their possession of a poor soul (Luke 8:28-29). Oddly, they did not immediately leave, but instead protested, using the half-truth excuse that it wasn’t the time for their “torment” (Matthew 8:29). Eventually, of course, after some back and forth, the Legion did let go, being forced to leave by the power of Jesus Christ.
It seems to me there is a lesson here. When evil is confronted with righteousness, it’s not an immediate win for the righteous. Evil resists. Darkness will fight the incursion of light. In John’s Gospel Jesus says,
“The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19). In its panic it is not going to give up without a fight.
If you wonder in this world why those who are trying to set things to right have a difficult time, it’s because of the vested interest so many have in the promulgation of ungodly thoughts and activities. They will do everything in their power to hang on. Note that when Jesus did cast out the demons and allowed them to enter into and drive to insanity a herd of swine, the people of the town were none too happy about it. An insane man restored to sanity was not enough to convince them that a change in their culture might be a good thing.
Who knows the reason for this. Maybe they were afraid. Maybe they were angry about the monetary loss of their herd of pigs. Maybe they they so used to the world as they knew it that someone who was willing to drain their swamp of filthy swine appeared to be more of a threat than a savior.
Whatever it was, Jesus didn’t argue with them. The people didn’t want him around, so he left them and went home. That might be sobering, but do remember that he doesn’t force himself on anybody, but he did leave a witness behind.
And he will always win in the end.

Proselytize – the dirty eleven letter word (Sabbath Meditations)
Webster’s defines Proselytize as: “to recruit or convert especially to a new faith, institution, or cause.”
Most, correctly or incorrectly, think of proselytizing as actively seeking to win one over to one’s faith. Witnessing, in contrast, is viewed as sharing one’s faith only as the opportunity presents itself. Proselytizing is seen as aggressive. Witnessing is seen as more passive.
Proselytizing seems so, well, protestant sounding. And if there is anything that can turn a Sabbath Keeper off faster, it’s whatever smacks as being overly Protestant.
Proselytizing conjures up for many of us the image of someone standing on a milk crate in the middle of a park with a megaphone, belting out pleas to repent to anyone within earshot.
Another reason proselytizing is frowned on might be because scripture speaks of our coming to a relationship with Jesus Christ as a “calling.”
1 Thessalonians 2:12 tells us that
“we should walk worthy of God who called you into His Kingdom and glory.”
“Our church doesn’t believe in proselytizing? If God is calling them, He will bring them to us” is a sentiment I’ve heard expressed more than once.
Some reason that, if it is God who does the calling, our job is not to try to convert people to Christ, but rather to witness to them, warn them, sound the trumpet, if you will, at the end of this age that the Kingdom of God is at hand.
Also playing into this viewpoint is the concept held by some in our community, myself included, that this is not the only day of salvation. Unlike most in the protestant community who believe that souls who don’t except Christ now are condemned to everlasting torment, we see in scripture clear teaching that those called out of this world now are among the “firstfruits”, a small subset of the larger harvest that is to occur subsequent to Christ’s return. The vast majority of mankind will not be called until then. This rationale is sometimes cited as further justification for not actively seeking to “win” converts to Christ in this life, because all will ultimately have their opportunity, if not now, in the second resurrection.
Thinking of our role in such narrow terms makes for a convenient excuse for some to shut themselves off from the world, even going so far as to set up artificial barriers, obstacles, to keep outsiders from getting in without first being assured that God is, in fact, calling them into fellowship. “If God is really calling them to repentance and faith, they will come to us, no matter how difficult we make it for them to do so.”
Yet, if such an approach is biblical, what is to be made of Paul’s example here in 1 Corinthians 9:
“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” – 1 Corinthians 9:19-22
Some key words jump out at me from this passage; words like “win” and “save.” Paul sought to “win” people to Christ, not just to warn or witness. Sounds pretty active, wouldn’t you agree?
He says that he became all things to all people. In other words, he adapted His message to the hearer. It wasn’t merely a general trumpet blast warning of impending events. It was a message tailored to have a specific, calculated impact on the hearer. He didn’t set up artificial barriers or make potential converts jump through hoops. He did everything he could to remove barriers to belief in the gospel.
What was the desired outcome? “…that I might by all means save some.”
It seems clear that Paul was actively, even aggressively, seeking converts to the faith. Dare I say it? Paul was being a little “seeker sensitive.” Hmm … no lightning striking yet.
Jesus said He would build His Church. Yes, He is doing the building. Yes, He is doing the calling. But here’s the rub. He’s doing it through you and me. We are His messengers. We are the conduits through which He is calling individuals out of this world and into relationship. It’s not a passive activity. It’s not our prerogative to determine whom He is calling now as His firstfruits and whom He will call later. We can’t be content to sit behind the walls of our churches and wait for those He is calling now to stumble upon us. We can’t make the path to our front door the end point of some giant maze or obstacle course.
In John 4:35 Jesus tells the disciples to look up for the fields are white to harvest. Nothing is going to get harvested if the laborers aren’t out in the fields working.
We, like Paul, do need to be out there working, seeking to find ways to win our neighbors, our loved ones, our friends, to Christ. We do need to strive to be all things to all people, meeting them, within the bounds of God’s law, where they are. Our churches do need to be active in their communities, opening their doors, finding new ways, creating new opportunities to expose, and potentially win, others to the hope of the gospel.
I don’t have any intention of standing on a soap box in some park anytime soon. But I pray to have a heart like Paul to win others to a relationship with Jesus Christ. I pray for the courage to get out of my comfort zone, to reach out to others, in my community, in my family, to neighbors on my block, meeting them where they are, so that maybe, just possibly, I might be used by God to save some.

God’s Precision Guided Missiles (1st Century Christianity)
The contemporary teaching called “the Rapture” generally has the believers being swooped up or to a save place prior to the really bad events of the end times. I don’t hold this belief but believe that there will be believers being protected and martyred right up to the moment when Yeshua returns in power and glory with the host of angles with him. I am also one who believes that future Biblical events are foreshadowed by historical Biblical events.
One instance of the historical Biblical events foreshadowing the future is the story of Rahab the Harlot. In Joshua 2 we see the Israelite spies being hidden and protected by this woman of ill repute. Whatever her motivation was, she realized which side was the right side very early on her actions preserved her entire line. In Joshua 6 we see Jericho come down and all within it destroyed except Rahab and her family. This is incredible because it is recorded that she lived on the wall – the same wall that came down on the sound of the last trumpet. Is it a coincidence that Jericho fell at the last trumpet just like the last trumpet is the marker for the end of this age? I think not. Isn’t it also interesting that Rahab, a sinner, was saved by her actions just like the ‘good’ thief on the cross? And think about the precision required to save Rahab and her family during the plunder of a walled city by tens of thousands of marauding Israelites. This level of precision is miraculous indeed.
There is another even more precise miracle in the book of Joshua that I had overlooked for years until we started our Joshua study. I had missed this miracle because it immediately precedes the miracle of Yahweh making the sun stand still for Joshua and the Hebrews so they could finish their battle:
And the LORD confounded them before Israel, and He slew them with a great slaughter at Gibeon, and pursued them by the way of the ascent of Beth-horon and struck them as far as Azekah and Makkedah. As they fled from before Israel, while they were at the descent of Beth-horon, the LORD threw large stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died; there were more who died from the hailstones than those whom the sons of Israel killed with the sword. Joshua 10:11-12
This is phenomenal precision bombing from thirty thousand feet. The Hebrew army was vast at this point and it was going against an alliance of nations. The battle field must have been immense. And the hailstones fell on Israel’s enemies
while Israel was fighting them and it missed the Israelites. That is impossible to imagine.
So, keeping the theme of history being an indicator of prophecy in mind, is there even a need for a rapture? The scriptures say that believers remain until the very end, but even without those, doesn’t the idea of a rapture limit the power of God? If He was able to preserve Rahab in the rubble of Jericho and He was able to strike down 100,000 of Israel’s enemies on the same battlefield as Israel’s warriors, then surely He is still able to do that for us!

Just Around The Bend (Morning Companion)
The Rock Island Trail is a newly commissioned biking and walking trail. It begins just west of Highway 291 in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, winds along the edges of various neighborhoods and undeveloped real estate, crosses roads and under an interstate, and when completed will emerge somewhere in Kansas City. It follows an old railroad bed.
I confess to loving that trail. It’s rural enough to make me feel free and flat enough to be kind to the knees. And like all trails it invites its travelers to keep going just to see what’s around the next bend. Usually it’s just more trees and bushes, but occasionally a deer or a vista pops into view, which whets the appetite to take just one bend more.
The desire to see what’s just around the bend has a long and noble history. The explorers of old had that instinct, and it’s the same bug that motivates space exploration. It seems to be something that is built into the human psyche to seek, explore, expand — the desire to see what’s on the other side, the freedom to make your own way.
Cities lack that allure. Despots have long understood that it’s easier to control a population when they are holed up in cities. The legends about Nimrod building Babylon (obliquely referred to but not expounded upon in detail in the Genesis account of the Tower of Babel) allude to this.
It is no accident that God commanded Abraham and family to leave the city of Ur of the Chaldees (Genesis 11:31-12:4). As much as anything else it was a matter of gaining freedom, just as generations later the nation of Israel was extricated from the heavily populated Land of Goshen.
We have the same need today to look beyond the routines of our lives and the spirit-killing sameness of concrete and asphalt, to dream of better things.
An ancient shepherd boy and future king named David looked up into the dark skies of the hills of Judea and dreamed of worlds beyond. He wrote:
When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained, What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him? For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with honor and glory. You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands. (Psalm 8:3-6)
It’s right for us to dream of adventures beyond the horizon, to seek what’s around the bend, and to dance among the stars.

Cure for the isms (Sabbath Meditations)
I love my son. He’s a joy to have around and I couldn’t be a prouder father. But like most teenage sons, from time to time he is afflicted with that dreaded malady, teenage know-it-all-ism. Thankfully, I’ve found a wonderful defense in the battle against this dreaded disease: Google©.
My last opportunity to deploy this powerful weapon came when I found my son standing before the open door of our kitchen refrigerator, hacking and coughing, broadcasting germs like an oscillating lawn sprinkler.
Dad: “Jordan! What do you think you are doing? You’re going to get us all sick! Get out of the kitchen!”
Jordan (sounding authoritative and professorial): “Dad … sniffle, cough … don’t you know that once symptoms of a cold start displaying themselves, you are no longer contagious. Coughing and sneezing are simply the body’s way of clearing out the effects of a cold that has already run its course. You can’t get sick from it … wheez … sputter.”
Dad (beginning to feel a little unsure of himself, starting his retreat): “Well … hmm … that can’t be right, can it? But it kind of makes sense … I guess …”
Jordan (continuing his rummaging through the fridge): “So, dad … cough, sputter … there’s nothing to … hack … worry about.”
Dad (feeling suddenly empowered): “Wait a minute! Come on, that can’t be true. Let me check this out. I’m googling this one.”
“Hmm … Jordan, it says here on WebMd that a cold is contagious from three days before the onset of symptoms and up to five to seven days after the onset of symptoms. What do you say to them beans!”
Jordan (slinking out of the kitchen, acknowledging defeat): “Uhh … oh … hmm … I guess I was wrong.”
Slowly, cooly, like a gunslinger re-holstering his smoking Colt 45, I close the lid to my laptop. I could almost hear the background music to one of those old Clint Eastwood flicks. You know, the one we all try to whistle but can never get quite right .. Google© saved the west again. Or, at least my kitchen.
I can’t be too hard on my son though. Even as adults, we struggle with not only know-it-all-ism, but all kind of other isms from time to time. Our human nature is often prone to believing it has all the answers, that it knows what is best. Thankfully, we have a loving Father who has provided an even more powerful weapon than Google©.
In Hebrews 4:12-13 we read, For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
The cure for know-it-all-ism and all of the other isms of our human nature against which we battle? God’s Word. Immersing ourselves in it daily allows it to work in our hearts in concert with His Spirit that is in us, convicting us of what is true, and laying bare those areas of our lives that are diseased and in need of healing.
Proverbs 3:5-8 tells us to Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.
It’s up in the air whether my son will grow to be a better man because his dad was adept at using a search engine. I have to admit I sure enjoy bursting his bubble from time to time though.
There is no doubt, however, that submitting ourselves fearfully before the One who does indeed know it all, looking to Him, following His ways rather than our own, will bring us healing from all the isms to which our human natures are prone.

A Time For That (New Church Lady)
You are probably very familiar with
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 where Solomon begins with this “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” Thereafter, he lists many of the works of mankind and natural processes of life – birth and death, sowing and reaping, etc.
In 1965, a band called The Byrds released a song called “Turn! Turn! Turn!” that used verses from this section of scripture. I don’t want to contradict the wisest man of all time, Solomon, or even one of the greatest rock bands of all time, but for Christians, I wonder if there really is a time for some of the things that Solomon listed in Ecclesiastes 3?
A time to kill? A time to hate? A time of war? Solomon was not just any random wise man. He had been gifted his great wisdom by God. However, Solomon was also the king of a nation. So, perhaps, he had reason to feel that he needed to think about when there might be at time in which that nation should go to war and a time to hate and kill Israel’s enemies.
Let’s look at this well-known segment of scripture and see if we can apply it to our lives from the viewpoint of a Christian’s life and purpose.
· “A time to be born, and a time to die.”
I cannot argue with the fact that in this life we each have our time to be born and we each face death of this mortal body. However, we Christians don’t just consider the time of our human birth – when, after about nine months, we exited a mother’s womb into the world and breathed our first breaths of air. For Christians, we must also understand that there is a time to be “born again.” This is what Jesus explained to Nicodemus in John 3-7. I’ll just quote part of that here:
John 3:5-6 [NKJV] 5 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
In addition, when we think of “a time to be born and a time to die,” we Christians should be thinking that at the time of being “born of the spirit” – that is also the time of the death of the “old self” which stays down in the watery “grave” at baptism – that the “old man” has been crucified with Christ. [See Romans 6:3-11]
It is this death that frees us from the confines of a life of sin.
Romans 6:7 [KJV] For he that is dead is freed from sin.
For followers of Christ, there is the time beyond the death of self and being symbolically reborn as a Christian. For us, there is more than the death of the old man and the death of this mortal body. For us, there is also “a time to be resurrected.”
In
1 Corinthians15:52 [ESV] we read, “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”
For a Christian, there awaits so much more than just a time to be born and a time to die in the flesh.
· “Time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.”
I have a garden and have experienced the issues of planting too early or too late, as well as being out of town and missing the best time to harvest. I also know that, after a garden has run its course and the growing season is over, in order to prepare for the next growing season, you pluck up all the remaining stems and roots of the now-spent annual plants.
As Christians, we ought to think about more than just planting flowers and vegetables when we read this. We should also think about what Paul said in
1 Corinthians 3:6-9 [ESV] 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.
Just as we, individually, represent God’s field, we are also to be working with Him in the planting of other fields for God.
Jesus knew that the work of the harvest might seem daunting, so He offered this in
Matthew 9:37-38 [NKJV] 37 Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly [is] plentiful, but the laborers [are] few. 38 “Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”
Although our work of sowing the see of God’s word in this world is never without reward, we know that not all of it will bear fruit. [See Mark 4:4-9 and 13-20] We are to sow anyway. Our work of sowers in the fields of this earth only ends when God harvests us out of our mortal bodies – either to await the resurrection in the grave or at the return of Jesus. There is a time for us to plant spiritual seed, which will be part of God’s great harvest at the time of Christ’s return and beyond.
· “A time to kill, and a time to heal.”
Jesus, in His ministry on this earth, often used the gift of healing right along with Gospel preaching. [See Matthew 4:23 and 9:35] I believe it made His message all the more impactful. Of the gifts of the spirit outlined in 1 Corinthians 12, this verse creates the most longing for me: 1 Corinthians 12:9 [NLT] 9 The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. How I would LOVE to raise children up off their hospital beds and remove the cancer from their bodies or give sight to the blind, etc. I have personally been healed and witnessed healing in my lifetime. I don’t have the gift, though. And, I have also seen many times when God has allowed the disease (mostly cancer in the case of my family) to kill. It was, as we say, “their time.”
For Christians, there is also time to heal broken relationships. As much as is in our own control, be ought to be working at that type of healing whenever there is something that needs healing between us. It is always a good time to be working at healing a relationship.
The only thing we Christians should be focused on killing are the “deeds of the flesh” – as outlined in
Romans 8:13 [KJV] For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. It is always a time for killing the deeds of the flesh.
Solomon and I may not be on the same page on these things. He might have only been thinking about how life works, not about how Believers should comport themselves. But his words give us plenty to think about.

In The Desert (Morning Companion)
Earlier this week Diane and I returned from a trip out West visiting numerous National Parks in the state of Utah. That mountainous, often desolate, always breathtaking part of the world got me thinking about a few things.
How much mineral wealth is stored in those mountains?

Given current regulations, would it be possible to build another Hoover Dam or irrigation systems that allow for prosperous farms and towns?
Why are old mining roads propagandized in official comments as scarring the land while bicycle paths and tourist-infested asphalt are not?
And most important of all, why in the Bible does the desert so often serve as a meeting place with God?

Think about it.
God commands Abraham to leave the city and go into the desert.
Moses flees Egypt and retreats to the desert.
It is in the desert that Moses meets God in the burning bush.
The children of Israel leave Egypt and meet God in the desert.
David when fleeing Saul rides into the desert and composes many of his Psalms.
The Holy Spirit drives John the Baptist into the desert where he exercises his ministry.
Jesus goes into the desert for forty days and forty nights where he does battle with the devil.

After spending a week in a desert land and experiencing its glorious barren beauty I can almost understand the allure of the desert as a place to meet God, but I can’t quite grasp what that special allure is. I get the same closeness to God hiking through the well-watered woods here in Missouri or staring at the stars on a clear, dark night. Maybe it is merely making a connection with what God has built as opposed to the steel and concrete that man has built. Maybe that’s all there is to it.
But I have to believe there is more to the references to the desert than that, and I think the message is metaphorical as much as anything else.

Often we find ourselves going through desolate places. At times our lives seem like a hot and thirsty land. We long for bread, but all around us we see stones. We crave a fish, but all we see are serpents. Yet we read that our Father in heaven would never give us stones and serpents in place of bread and fish.
Think of it this way. In every one of those cases where God has sent his servants into the desert it is in preparation for a higher purpose. When we find in our walk that we are traversing the desert, God will be there to meet us although we might not see it at the time.
And guess what. What look to be serpents and stones in the end will prove to be fish and bread.

Where Would You Live? (New Horizons)
You are presented with a choice of nations in which you will spend the remainder of your life. Would it be a nation – and there is a wide choice – where uncontrolled violence is rampant? Where murder is tolerated? Or where personal property isn’t sacrosanct and theft is the order of the day? A nation where bribery and intimidation and lying secures the court’s verdict?
What about a nation (though you might think you already live in one) where the older generation is side-lined and neglected, where sexual dalliance is almost universal? A nation where greed on a personal or a national scale has racked up unpayable debt and misery?
That’s not what any sane person would choose. We want a tranquil life. We want to be free from personal diseases. We want to be safe and secure – certainly in our declining years.
Given the opportunity to design the perfect Constitution for your choice of nation – how would it be framed? May I suggest the following:
Respect the elderly
Do not murder or be violent
Be faithful in marriage
Don’t steal
Don’t lie to the Courts
Do not lust after what belongs to someone else
Don’t want anyone’s house, wife or husband, employees, electronic gizmos
Sound familiar? It is, of course, (part of) the much maligned ‘Ten Commandments’ given by our Creator to ancient Israel as their founding Constitution. Indeed in essence it has been incorporated in some form in the legal system of all civilized nations and extends as far back as Abraham (Genesis 26:5, 1900BC) and beyond. Why, then, the animosity towards this sound guidance for life by – of all people –
Christians?
God had told Israel: ‘…Don’t worship any other god but Me’ (Exodus 20:3). But – how would you identify Him? You may have your own idea of ‘god’, but does it conform with His? In fact, God–the one true God – goes on to give us a sign, an identifying mark, and this is perhaps the sticking point for many.
The God of the Bible is ‘…the
same yesterday, to-day and for ever’ (Hebrews 13:8). He says ‘…I change not’ (Malachi 3:6). Nor does His ‘sign’ change – a sign that was embraced by the early church – both Jew and Gentile. ‘Remember’, God said, ‘remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy’ (Exodus 20:8). It is the day set apart at man’s creation – a welcome day of rest and spiritual refreshment. A day for fellowship and to enhance our relationship with Him through His Word. A day to worship the One who ‘…made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it’ (v.12). It is, He said, ‘… a sign’ for His covenanted people (ch 31:17).
As a
physical nation Israel was required to observe the seventh day under penalties for non-compliance. As a spiritual nation in whom is the Spirit of God dwells Christians embrace the Sabbath willingly, joyfully and rejoice in all its benefits – in spite of the opposition from the world in general and the challenges of observance in a secular world. Such worship is alone acceptable to God, and all other is in vain, empty, useless. Other worship may excite a frisson of personal pleasure and self-satisfaction, but, said Jesus ‘… It is no use for them to worship me, because they teach human rules as though they were my laws!’ (Mark 7:7, Daniel 7:25).

The Favorite Indoor Sport of Christians is … (Morning Companion)
to change each others’ minds.
A thought occurred to me when I was reading Romans 14. In those days in Rome the brethren were having a disagreement over food, the point of disagreement centering around whether one should eat meat or should eat only vegetables (verse 2). But Paul sees the vegetarian vs. omnivore division as a side issue. The animosity over food was a symptom of a larger problem.
He hints at the problem in verse 1 (“Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things”), and expands on his concerns throughout the chapter (quoting from the New King James Version):
Verse 4: Who are you to judge another’s servant?
Verse 10: But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother?
Verses 12-13: So then each of us shall give an account of himself before God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.
Verse 15: Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer working in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died.
Verses 20-21: Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.
Chapter 15:1: We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves.
Paul is seeing beyond the dispute at hand. For Paul the heart of the matter was a concern over spiritual health and maturity. It wasn’t about food at all. The food argument is merely a symptom of a spiritual deficiency.
As I thought about this, I wondered about a way to apply the principle in a modern context. If we make a few changes to Romans 14 to reflect a modern subject of dispute, would we understand the principle a little better and maybe prevent disputes over doubtful things? What follows is a modern application of Romans 14 through Romans 15:2, adapted from the New American Standard Bible. Note that it doesn’t matter to me which side of the discussion you support. It does matter that we understand and apply the principle.
Romans 14: Now accept the one who is weak in faith,
but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. 2 One person has faith that he may eat in a restaurant on the Sabbath, but he who is weak eats at home only. 3 The one who eats out is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat out, and the one who does not eat out is not to judge the one who does eat out, for God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
5 One person regards one day above another, another regards every day
alike in this matter. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. 7 For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; 8 for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
10 But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall give praise to God.”
12 So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.
13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.
14 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 15 For if because of your food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.
16 Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
18 For he who in this
way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.
19 So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.
20 Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense.
21 It is good not to eat out or to drink wine, or
to do anything by which your brother stumbles.
22 The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.
23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because
his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.
Romans 15: Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not
just please ourselves.
2 Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification.
As I mentioned earlier, Paul was more interested in matters of the heart than in matters of dispute. Rather than treating the symptoms, he was treating the underlying disease. More than that, he was encouraging the Romans themselves to treat the underlying disease, which he addressed in a similar way in Galatians 6:2.
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

Chronic Gift Wasting Disorder (Sabbath Meditations)
Some years ago my wife and I attended a very inspirational seminar sponsored by my daughter’s high school The presentation was called Rachel’s Challenge.
Rachel Scott was the first of thirteen people killed during the Columbine High School massacre on April 20, 1999. She was sitting on the grass eating lunch with a friend, when one of the shooters approached and opened fire on her before making his way into the school building.
Just weeks prior to this tragic event Rachel had written an essay for a school assignment titled ‘My Ethics, My Codes of Life’. Perhaps the most poignant section of her essay reads as follows: ‘Compassion is the greatest form of love humans have to offer … I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness can go.’
Since her death, Rachel’s ‘chain reaction’ theory has been a source of inspiration and motivation to thousands who have heard her story. In a desire to curb the damage caused by bullying, schools have rightly championed her message as a means of encouraging their students to show kindness and compassion toward their fellow classmates. One small act of kindness can have a ripple affect that, when multiplied, can ultimately change the environment and the lives of many.
Ecclesiastes 11:1 says much the same thing in a different way. There we read: “Cast your bread upon the waters, For you will find it after many days.”
Imagine sitting in a boat on a large lake and throwing a small piece of bread out onto the water. It seems insignificant, doesn’t it? Almost meaningless. Yet God says here that it is the seemingly insignificant things we do for others that often have the greatest impact.
The man who cast the bread didn’t expect anything in return. He didn’t cast the bread and then sit there and watch it like some investment, seeing what might happen. No, it’s as if he walked away, never expecting to see it again.
Think about this. If you were to throw a literal piece of bread out on a lake and then come back after several days what do you think the chances would be of your finding it? Pretty much nada right? So what has happened? Well my guess is that, much like the miracle of the loaves and fishes, that small piece of bread multiplied exponentially, so that, over time, there was no way the man couldn’t find it. It’s impact had spread, was reproduced by others and now was noticeable to all.
Maybe some of you are afflicted, as I have from time to time, with this disease I’ll call Chronic Gift Wasting Disorder. Symptoms of this affliction include:
Viewing oneself as a failure because one feels that God has yet to use them for anything that they deem a significant contribution.
A sense that one’s gifts and abilities are not valuable, or, that one doesn’t have any gifts or abilities to offer.
A compulsion to spend one’s life waiting for that big event, that big something, to happen, that will signal that one’s life has been meaningful.
Waiting and hoping for some validation that they weren’t just needlessly occupying real estate.
It’s a disease that can be spiritually debilitating. It causes the sufferer to allow opportunities that might positively impact the lives of others to pass by unseen, because their attention is riveted on some hoped for significant event to occur just over the horizon. By always waiting for that ‘big’ thing to happen, they miss all the little opportunities to truly make a difference.
I have a friend who pastors a Sabbath keeping church in a small town in East Texas. I’ve always had a great deal of admiration and respect for this guy, not only because of his seemingly unending supply of energy, but because he has a heart for people as big as the state of Texas is wide.
I always wondered what makes him tick; how he kept going week after week, year after year, serving the brethren as he does. I know he has a love for God and a desire to do His work, but, then, so do a lot of other people. Something about this guy is different. This summer I figured out what that something was. He let it slip in a message he gave while I was visiting one Sabbath. It wasn’t even a major point of the message, only an offhand comment. If I hadn’t been listening closely at that moment, I might have even missed it. He said, ‘The greatest contribution we each can make in life is to do good in our little corner of the world.’ A very simple, yet very profound statement.
Rachel Scott was right. Living a life focused on small, often unseen, acts of compassion and kindness can be a challenge. It’s so much more rewarding to the ego to make the big splash, the larger than life impact. It’s difficult to work on the sidelines when our human nature all too often wants to march in the victory parade. Even so, it’s the work done unseen on the sidelines, through untold numbers of acts of kindness and compassion, cast unselfishly upon the waters, that gives God the greatest glory and, ultimately, gives our lives the greatest meaning.

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

The picture above is from Zion National Park in Utah. It is an illustration of what it happens today when the seed that fell on rocky ground found some soil and water. That lone tree with the bushes sticks out like a sore thumb. It is a lush, fertile contrast to the desolation surrounding it. But if you look to the left of that greenery you’ll see a short, dead stick.
The moral? Don’t be that stick. Be the greenery.

Jesus was an Iconoclast (Morning Companion)
Iconoclast:
 (noun) a person who attacks or criticizes cherished beliefs or institutions.
By this definition, Jesus was an iconoclast.
He told the people in his home town synagogue that it would be the Gentiles who would receive his message and the favor of God before they would (Luke 4:23-27)
He healed on the Sabbath in contradiction to the straits the religious leaders had placed on that holy day (Mark 3:1-6).
He showed mercy to a woman caught in adultery, pointing out that the men condemning her were just as guilty as she (John 8:1-11).
He visited a village of the despised Samaritans, had a lengthy and productive conversation with a Samaritan woman at the town well, and spent several days with the citizens of that town preaching the gospel (John 4:1-43).
Contrary to the peoples belief that they were to love their neighbor but hate their enemy, Jesus taught to love their enemies too (Matthew 5:43-48).
He called out the religious leaders for being more interested in their rituals and traditions than the people they were supposed to serve (Matthew 23, Mark 7:1-13).
Those are just a few of the examples of Jesus as a counter cultural figure, a man who was not afraid to challenge the prevailing wisdom of the day. Its not easy to go against the culture, and its a challenge for modern day followers of Jesus to take up that gauntlet in a world that seems to be turning biblical values upside down. Who would have thought even a half dozen years ago that it would be accepted practice to contemplate pumping little children full of hormones and surgically mutilating them because they arent comfortable with their current biology? And who would have thought that one could be accused of being a bigot or a bully for questioning that approach? In another time it would have been considered child abuse, and Im pretty sure Jesus would have reminded people that it is better to have a millstone hung around your neck and be thrown into the sea than to offend one of these little ones.
There is one more iconoclastic issue that I want to present to you here. It is related to one if Jesuss most famous parables: The Parable of the Good Samaritan.
Remember the Samaritans and the Jewish people of the First Century despised each other for reasons rooted in hundreds of years of vicious history. Yet Jesus casts the Samaritan in the role of hero — the only one who was willing to offer humanitarian aid to someone in dire need (Luke 10:25-37). Once again Jesus acts the part of the iconoclast.
this clip from the July 28, 2018 print edition of the conservative publication
National Review:
Farmers in central Nigeria fled their village when about 300 gunmen attacked, firing guns into the air and burning houses. Most of the farmers were Christians. They sought refuge in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood nearby. The local Imam took charge, leading 262 men, women, and children into safety into his house and mosque. When the gunmen caught up with him, he refused to let them enter the buildings and said no to their demand to hand over the people inside. The gunmen threatened to set the mosque on fire. The imam prostrated himself, wailed, and pleaded with them to leave. They did, surprising him, although they set a couple of churches on fire on their way out. Before moving to a camp for displaced people, the refugees stayed with the imam for five days. “Not once did they ask us to leave,” one of them said, “not even for them to pray” in the mosque. For his own security the imam asked to BBC, which reported the story, to preserve his anonymity.
“Who is my neighbor?” someone once asked Jesus. The Good Samaritan has many faces.

A Spiritual Blackberry (Sabbath Meditations)
I have a confession. I am addicted to my Blackberry. If you don’t have one you might not identify but trust me, it’s addictive. Maybe that’s why some affectionately call it the “Crack” berry. It’s like a drug. Now, I know there are those of you out there with your I-phones that would beg to differ … more apps, bigger touch screens, cooler graphics … I get all that. But my Blackberry has one thing that sets it apart. A little blinking red light. Yes, for me, that’s what blows all of the competition out of the water.
I guess I’m not really addicted to the Blackberry as much as I am to that little blinking light. Whenever I get a text or someone sends me an email, that little red light on the top right corner of the phone blinks to let me know I have something waiting. And I have to admit, I’ve developed a bit of a co-dependent relationship with it. It needs me to keep its battery charged, and I need it for the sense of belonging it gives me. It blinks to say someone cares, someone needs me. It reminds me that I’m important to someone out there. It provides me with a sense of connectedness, like a guiding beacon, a lifeline. If I go too long without seeing the little red light, I begin to feel, well, isolated, lonely. Okay, maybe I need an intervention. Is there a Blackberry 12 step program?
You know, I wish there were a little red blinking light on the top corner of my Bible. A light letting me know when God has something He wants me to hear. A blinking light alerting me to just the right scripture I need at the right time for the particular circumstance or trial I’m going through. Wouldn’t that be awesome?! Kind of a spiritual Blackberry if you will. I want one of those, don’t you?
Wait a minute, in a way it already exists. In fact, David owned one. Talk about a man ahead of his times! In Psalms 43, David writes:
“Oh, send out Your light and Your truth, let them lead me: let them bring me to Your holy hill, and to your tabernacle.” – Psalm 43:3
David wasn’t asking for a spiritual Blackberry, he had one. In a sense, it was as if he was holding it in his hands waiting, asking, pleading for the light to start blinking. His focus was glued there. You might say he was a little addicted to it, a little dependent on it. It brought him a sense of connection, a sense of being in relationship with God. It was a guiding beacon in his life when everything around him was in turmoil.
Jesus came that you and I could have access to our own spiritual Blackberry. In John 16, He told His disciples:
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.” – John 16:12-14
In sending His Holy Spirit, He gave us a powerful blinking light to guide us into all truth. To connect us to Him. To be our Comforter, our Teacher. To bring us into remembrance of all that He has taught us in His word, when we need it the most. His spirit is the blinking red light of our spiritual Blackberries. And if we just get in tune with it; allow ourselves to become dependent on it; let it be our guiding beacon; let it be our lifeline – we’ll never feel isolated or alone.
So maybe my love for the little red blinking light on my Blackberry
is a bit unhealthy. I’ll work on it. But, I think you’ll agree, being dependent on the guiding light of our spiritual Blackberry is a healthy addiction worth feeding the rest of our lives.
“Send out your light and truth! Let them lead me to your holy hill…”
Translation: Come on light, start blinking!

The Time of Day (New Horizons)
We don’t give much thought to it — the ‘day’. It’s there, always with us day
and night, 24 hours, seven in a week, 365 of them in a year.
Then there’s the not so precise definition.
His day will come. Doomsday. In my day. Call it a day. This fuzziness of meaning we take in our stride. And when we turn to the Scriptures the fuzziness continues.
Jesus said, ‘
Are there not twelve hours in a day?’ Then we find that Adam, were he to sin, would die ‘in the day you eat of [the forbidden fruit]’ (ch.2:17). Yet he lived a further nine centuries plus. The Day of the LORD spans more than twenty-four hours.
Then there is the account of creation by Moses: ‘
These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day [Heb. yom] that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens’ (Genesis 2:4). But there is an anomaly here, for he had just recorded that it took six days for Creation (ch.1). ‘Day’ clearly is not limited to twenty-four hours!
We note that in
Genesis 1 that God ended each ‘day’ with the observation ‘the evening and the morning were the …day’. Closure. But when God addresses the seventh day, when He Himself rested, there is no closure. His work of creation was complete, but the seventh ‘day’ continues. As wrote the author of Hebrews: ‘…he [Christians] that is entered into his [continuing] rest, he also has ceased from his own works, as God did from his’ (ch.4:10).
There’s much symbolism in the Scriptures and we might consider the days of creation as symbolic. Look at it this way. God set in motion the processes for a physical creation in which to carry out His plan. By His awesome power He shaped the invisible ‘dark energy’ with which He had created ‘space’ into planets and stars and galaxies: ’…
the universe was created by God’s word, so that what can be seen was made out of what cannot be seen’ (Hebrews 11:3). Having sited Earth in its perfect location in space God, using natural law, proceeded over perhaps billions of years to prepare it for human occupation.
There followed a series of divine interventions in six stages each of countless aeons during which earth’s eco-systems matured. The creation of mankind was the pinnacle, and there has since been no special creation. Each was symbolized as a ‘day’. Then, when all was completed, ‘
God rested from all His works’.
God then divided time into seven-day units — a unique system that had no connection with the planetary movements, as do the month and the year. Each ‘day’ represented a symbolic commemoration of a particular phase of creation. The
seventh was a memorial of the whole of creation: ‘…in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day’ (Exodus 20:11). The seven day week proclaims the LORD as our sole Creator.
It is noteworthy that each phase of creation continues in our day.
Space continues to expand generating new dark matter. Earth continues to rearrange its physical features through volcanic and seismic activity. Vegetation continues, from its created genetics, to generate variation. And the purpose of the whole creation, mankind, is still a ‘work in progress’ as God the Father selects from among us — and trains — those individuals who will reign with Him in His approaching earthly Kingdom and throughout eternity. God initiated the processes, each after its kind, and they continue to unfold in accord with in-built law.
This interpretation of early
Genesis may be alien to many of my readers, but is worth considering in the light of the vast research findings of geologists and cosmologists. They are faced with hard facts which they report — but (the scientific approach) they are not unwilling to change tack when the facts warrant it. Properly understood, natural science and the Bible are in perfect harmony.

His Home Town Rejected Him (Morning Companion)
Nazareth knew Jesus. They watched him grow up. He was Joseph the carpenter’s son, and he had curious circumstances surrounding his birth. They had heard about his preaching in other cities and villages in Galilee and probably wanted to hear what he had to say, but there was a bit of skepticism involved as well because, as Jesus describes a curious attribute of human nature, “no prophet is accepted in his own country” (Luke 4:16-30).
They were not prepared for the lesson Jesus was about to teach.
Jesus opens the scroll of Isaiah and reads from a Messianic passage in Isaiah (61:1-2). It describes what the Messiah would do during his first coming.
1. Proclaim the Good News to the poor
2. Proclaim liberty to the captives.
3. Give sight to the blind
4. Set free those who are oppressed
5. Proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
At this point Jesus closes the book and sits down. When a rabbi “sits down” in “Moses’ seat”, he is assuming a teaching position. He has their attention at this point, and then he makes a startling statement to his neighbors of his home town: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Imagine how audacious this seemed to be! Jesus, the guy who grew up down the street, is claiming to be the fulfillment of prophecy, and without quite saying it, he makes a claim to being the Messiah.
Initially, they “spoke well of him”, astonished that the carpenter’s son could speak with such eloquence, but this Messiah’s claim was a bit too much. Likely these friends and neighbors had him into a limited, small box. After all, he was just a carpenter’s kid from their backwoods town. He couldn’t possibly be important. He was just one of them, some kid from the neighborhood.
It’s a bad habit to pre-judge people.
And then Jesus lays something on them that sets the tone for at least some of the opposition against him.
Exclusivism is the word to describe the poison that can affect religious people.
Jesus confronted this problem in his home town of Nazareth when he tells this parochial people that God loves the Gentiles and that those Gentiles will listen to the word of God, whereas his own people would not. He backs up this assertion with examples from their own Holy Books, and the people turned on a dime from admiring his eloquence to wanting to throw him off a cliff. The truth can be hard sometimes, and for whatever reason the people of Nazareth couldn’t grasp that the God of Israel is the God of all nations, including the despised Gentiles, and that God loves all of humankind.
Call it exclusivism, call it denominationalism, call it chauvinism if you will. We are all susceptible in one way or another to the arrogance of our own tribe. Having a special regard for your own tribe is one thing. Arrogance over it is another.

Heal Their Spirits (Morning Companion)
In Luke 8 Jesus embarks on an evangelistic tour of various towns and villages along with his twelve disciples. Notice that wherever he goes he does three things:
He brings the Gospel (the Good News).
He heals people’s infirmities
He heals their spirits.
Perhaps you and I have dreamed of having a gift to heal the infirm. If we are compassionate people, of course we would like to end such suffering. While we hope for such a gift, we need to realize that even now we
do have the power to ease the path for others. There is a reason Luke places the Parable of the Sower and the Seed immediately after telling us of Jesuss tour with his his disciples. With this parable he tells us what he is doing and also gives you and me a hint of what we can be doing even if we don’t have the power to heal physical infirmities.
When the sower casts the seed, some of it falls among thorns (Luke 8:7, 14). Jesus explains it this way:
Now the ones that fell among the thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and brings no fruit to maturity. (Verse 14)
Notice the word “cares”, which is from the Greek
merimnon, meaning anxiety or worries. If left to itself anxieties and worries will impede spiritual growth. Merimnon, though not a physical disability, needs healing as much as any other infirmity, and unfortunately our world likes to feed us a daily dose of negativity. Its the sea we swim in, and It can paralyze us.
Thats something to guard against. It is also something where we can provide healing for others.
When we walk into a room, do we light up people’s spirits or do we bring in the gloom of a wet blanket?
Do we show an interest in others’ dreams, trials, and joys, or do we draw attention to ourselves?
Are people comforted by our presence or made uncomfortable by it?
Do you think thats what Jesus meant when he tells us, immediately after explaining the Parable of the Sower, that “no one, when he has lit a lamp, covers it with a vessel or puts it under a bed, but sets it on a lampstand, that those who enter may see the light”? (Luke 4:16)
Lamps dont make noise. They just light up the room and drive out the darkness of the
merimnon.

Can We Skip to the Part Where I Care? (Sabbath Meditations)
When I passed a guy wearing a t-shirt with the message, “Can we skip to the part where I care?” my first reaction was to snicker, just a little. My second reaction was to think, “What a selfish jerk!” However, my third reaction was, “Hey, he’s kind of got a point.” Let me explain.
I had returned from a full and rewarding weekend in Big Sandy, Texas, visiting with church brethren, being treated to some amazing southern hospitality, and taking in the very hot but beautiful East Texas countryside.
Consequently, that Monday when I returned to work, I was excited to share my adventure. So, I did the one thing we humans do when we want attention – feign momentary interest in someone else and then quickly switch the spotlight to myself. I asked a colleague, “How was your weekend?” Of course, I was hoping for a brief, “ahhh, it was good, how about yours?”
Unfortunately, my plan backfired. He launched into a minute by minute recounting of everything he, his wife, children and the family dog had experienced that weekend. Apparently, I had made the mistake of picking someone who had a life.
I wasn’t about to give up though. Seeing my opening somewhere after his third paragraph, I dove in with, “Well, at least you stayed cool. You wouldn’t believe the weather in Texas … whew was it …” “Yeah, it wasn’t too bad here,” he butted in, “but you should have seen the …” and off he went again.
I listened politely for a few agonizing minutes until, catching a lucky break, his phone rang and he was forced to break off the conversation. Off I went, searching for someone else with whom I might share my experience. Ideally, someone who hopefully wouldn’t have their own story to tell.
Okay, I realize I’m exposing a bit of personal carnality here. But, come on, you’ve all been there, right? Each of us, at times, gets so focused on our little corner of existence that we forget there are other people out there. People who have lives and experiences they care about just as much as we care about ours. Sometimes we forget that the earth doesn’t stop spinning for other people when we leave the room. It’s those times that, being confronted by a message on a t-shirt that plainly, albeit rudely, tells it like it is from the perspective of those having to put up with our self-centered attitude, might actually do us a service.
Paul, writing to the Philippians (2:3-4) tells them, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
It’s a great idea in theory. Most of us can manage to look out for other people’s interests at least some of the time. But seriously, “esteem others better than myself?!” That’s a pretty tall order, isn’t it? That would require not only showing interest in the lives of others, but actually caring more about their lives than mine. How many of us really do that?
Well, come to think of it, there
is one person who did.
Of all men who have lived, I’m sure we’d all agree that Jesus had the most amazing story to tell. Trip to Texas? Huh? Try a first class seat at the helm of the universe! Yet, with so much that He had to share with others, that’s not what He led with. He came first and foremost ministering to the needs of others. He sacrificed His own needs, His own comfort, and ultimately His own life so that others could find meaning and purpose in theirs. It’s an attitude I wish I displayed more often than I do.
Wait a minute. I can.
Paul continues in Philippians 2:5-7, “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 bond servant, and coming in the likeness of men.”
That mind, that heart towards the needs of others can and should be in me. His mind in me should cause me to care about the things that He cared about. His primary care was directed, not inward toward the self, but outward toward others.
Our Lord’s example is pointing us to a life lived outside the self, isn’t it?
We live that life in a million little ways; sacrificing something we want so that we can contribute to someone who needs it more; directing our energy, skills, and our precious time to further other people’s goals rather than our own.
Paul also tells us here that caring for the needs of others above our own needs is not something we can force. Forcing ourselves to love and care for others, when our heart isn’t really invested, is an exercise in futility and a recipe for resentment. As Paul says here, we have to “let this mind be in (us)”. It’s not something we force, it’s something we allow. We have to allow His Spirit to work in us, filling us with His love so that we can share it freely with others.
Just imagine the day when His love will fill this earth and the hearts and minds all who inhabit it. There will certainly be much less taking and a lot more giving. Folks will be less focused on serving the self and more focused on serving others.
And I’m not sure – it’s just a hunch – but I’m guessing we won’t see too many of those t-shirts around either.

God’s Economy (New Church Lady)
It is true that in mankind’s history, and in many cultures still, men have oppressed women and used their God-given authority to “lord it over” at the least and physically, mentally or emotionally abuse them at the worst. So, is it time to turn the tables? Time for empowered women to give men their “just rewards?”
No. That isn’t the way Christianity works. That isn’t the way God’s economy works.
In the world’s economy, you typically have to push others down to rise up. Often those who get ahead the fastest in business are those who take an adversarial stance – who don’t share information, who don’t offer help to anyone else, who hoard the best opportunities and spread the word about the faults of others.
In God’s economy, we never have to put another down in order to rise up. In fact, the more we help others rise up, the better we prosper ourselves.
Philippians 2:3-4 [NIV] Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
This is, in fact, the example that Jesus set for us. Jesus gave up greatness to walk in humility and His reward was even greater exaltation.
Philippians 2:5-9 [NIV] In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a [stake]! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name.
Those considered “great” in God’s economy are those who serve others.
Matthew 20:25-28 [NIV] Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” [Emphasis mine]
It makes no sense in the word’s economy (which is really Satan’s economy) to achieve greatness by being the slave of another. Truthfully, putting others first, considering the needs of another over yourself, might mean you make less profit as a business owner. It might mean you get passed over for that new mid-management position. It
will mean you never “pay back” the oppression you have received at the hand of a boss or co-worker and we never “pay it forward” when it comes to mistreating those we have authority over, just because it was done to us. In God’s economy, we pass up the chance to sow doubt in the boss’s mind about the other person who is up for a job we want. Instead, we mention their good qualities. We treat those we supervise with the respect that we felt we were never given. We accept responsibility for what goes wrong and share credit for what goes right.
In God’s economy, even if you find yourself first in line, it doesn’t mean you will be the first rewarded.
Matthew 19:30 [NIV] But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
God’s economy makes no sense from a human, carnal, worldly point of view. Part of the problem with the world’s economy is that not everyone can win. But in God’s economy, everyone gets a prize.
1 Corinthians 9:24 [NIV] Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.
EVERYONE gets a crown! 2 Timothy 4:7-8 [NIV] I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
That is, I guess, one of the biggest reason’s that God’s economy actually works the way it does: there is room in the winner’s circle for everyone. So, we don’t need to jockey for limited space or limited rewards. To paraphrase Oprah: “you get a crown, and you get a crown and you get a crown!”
You are of great value to the Father, sweet sisters. Never forget that. And the more you help, care for, and esteem others, the greater your value in God’s economy – both now and in the Kingdom.

When Messiah Comes (Think Red Ink Ministries)
How great it will be when Messiah comes and He explains everything that has been mysterious and contentious for thousands of years. The Samaritan
“woman at the well” mentioned clarifications of doctrine that she expected will come  “when we see Him.”
I would like you to listen carefully to Messiah’s answer.
“Well, sister, you’ll hear the answers from your Samaritan leadership … maybe a big-shot Rabbi … or perhaps your God will send a book with all the answers!
As you know, He said nothing of the sort. Concisely, what He said was,
“No need to wait, I’m telling you now.” She would retort, “What about Messiah?”
Then Jesus drops the bomb.
I am He!”
What I would like to zero in on is that His self description contained an adjective phrase that we should never forget.
John 4:25 “The woman saith unto him, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things. Jesus saith unto her,
I that speak unto thee am he.”
YHVH’s purpose has always been to communicate with us. From the days of walking with Adam in the cool of the day, to the giving of the Law at the first Pentecost, to speaking through His waiting ones at the Pentecost following the resurrection, to this day. He wants to speak to us.
So what was the descriptive used by Jesus to identify Himself?
“I that speak unto thee am he.”
Later on, to the chagrin of the religious leadership, Jesus healed a blind man. A man blind from birth. After the interrogations, allegations, and threats to the man and his family from the Synagogue leaders – the man was left alone.  Jesus found him.
John 9:35, “Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God? He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him?
And Jesus said unto him,
Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee.”
And in keeping with His method of identification as Messiah – Son of God – Annointed One, Jesus said to him … It is He … that talketh with thee.
Our Messiah, our Passover, our counselor, has a characteristic that separates Him from any other god.
I Timothy 2:25 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.
Jesus identified His unique position with YHVH through His communication  – with us.
This is precisely why He is known as
“The Word of God”.
Exactly who is Messiah? It is He … that talketh with thee.”

Driving the Straight and Narrow (Sabbath Meditations)
When my daughter passed her driving exam, it wasn’t without a few challenges to overcome, one being, her proclivity for driving a little too close to the right side of the road. How she managed not to take out every mail box on the street at some point I’ll never know. Then there was what I’ll call the “Little Old Lady” period, when she adamantly refused to drive faster than 45 mph, even on a highway posted 65. And finally, there was the trauma of parallel parking. My front lawn was scarred during that very emotional, tearful session. “I can’t do this daddy!” “Yes, you can.” “No, I can’t! I’ll just fail this part!” “No, we’ve only been doing this for three hours. Just a few more tries sweetie. Now let’s pull back on the driveway and try it one more time.”
It struck me, as I was working with her to learn the rules of the road, that all of these traffic skills, these do’s and don’ts we are trying to ingrain in her, are not only for her own protection, but for the protection of everyone else on the highway. As her father, I’m insistent that she learn these rules, not because I want to make her life difficult; but because, one, I love her and don’t ever want to lose her, and two, I would never want her to be responsible for hurting someone else.
There’s a hymn we sang with the kids when they were little that went like this:
“Sing them over again to me, Wonderful words of life,
Let me more of their beauty see, Wonderful words of life;
Words of life and beauty , Teach me faith and duty.
Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life,
Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life.

Our loving Father has given us His words, His commandments, His wonderful words of life, not that they might be a burden to us, not to make our life more difficult; but because, one, He loves us and He doesn’t want to lose us to the Destroyer, and two, He doesn’t want us to be a tool in the hand of the Destroyer to hurt others.
There is no shortage of those in this world who claim the name of Christ while flaunting the “rules of the road” He so lovingly gave us for our safety. They are like spiritual drunks careening recklessly down the highway, intoxicated by false confidence and “feel good” spirituality, oblivious of the danger in which they are putting themselves and others. These spiritual drunkards not only deceive themselves into thinking they are “safe” but risk the disillusionment of many who look to their example to learn what it means to be a follower of Christ.
In Matthew 7 Jesus instructs us to “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
If I’m reading this right, there are a lot of spiritual drunkards on the roads out there. Thankfully, there is another route for those of us who want to make it safely to our destination. It’s not the easiest road to travel. There are a few rules of the highway we have to follow. But, I’d much rather take my chances travelling that road under the guiding hand of a loving Father, than risk crashing and burning on a superhighway to destruction, wouldn’t you?
I couldn’t have been more proud of my daughter. Though my lawn will never be the same, she did finally conquer parallel parking and, all of the mailboxes on our road are still standing. Though her formal road instruction is over, she hasn’t heard the last of her dad providing pointers for staying safe on the roads. After all, that’s just what a loving father does, right? We won’t be revisiting the parallel parking thing though. I never was much good at it myself.

The Centurion and the Meaning of Faith (Morning Companion)
Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with 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.” When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well. (Luke 7:2-10 ESV)
Centurions were officers of the Roman occupation force that controlled the Holy Land in Jesus’s day. From the context of this narrative we can surmise that this centurion was a Gentile (verses 4 & 5). In Luke’s writings Gentiles are not often portrayed in a positive light, and it is particularly striking that a member of the occupying forces is portrayed as he is here.
This centurion might have been what was referred to in those days as a God fearer. In the New Testament period God fearers were Gentiles who were sympathetic to Judaism and to the God of the Jews, but were neither proselytes (those studying to convert to Judaism) nor were they converts to Judaism. Paul addresses God fearers in Acts 13:16, 26.
The human dynamics in Luke 7 provide a lesson in defining faith, but in addition to that we find here that not all leaders of the synagogues were antagonistic to Jesus. Unlike the hateful response that Jesus received in Nazareth (Luke 4:16-29), these elders of the synagogue in Capernaum encouraged Jesus to grant the centurion’s request. Some of the human dynamics:
1. The centurion cares deeply about the welfare of the slave.
2. The centurion respects the Jewish people and their God.
3. The centurion identifies Jesus as a part of the Jewish mainstream and therefore goes through the official synagogue channel as opposed to going directly to Jesus.
4. The elders of the synagogue have faith in Jesus’s ability to help the centurion even to the point of performing a miracle.
5. The elders of the synagogue have a respect and even a fondness for an officer of the occupying force.
6. The centurion presents himself as a humble servant of Jesus.
7. The centurion understands what faith is all about.
Let’s concentrate on the 7th point, as it seems to be the main concept Luke is trying to get across to us.
This Gentile understood faith better than the Israelites (so said Jesus), and I dare say more perhaps than we do today. James in his epistle (James 2:14-16) tells us that our faith must be backed by what we do. The centurion had this understanding. A soldier must have enough confidence in his superiors that he will obey their instructions even though he may not understand everything behind those instructions.
It’s the same with us and our faith, or confidence, in God. We show our faith in God by obeying his instructions even if we don’t completely understand them. Our obedience shows our faith, and faith without those works is a dead faith, not a living one. “I say to one, ‘Go’, and he goes, and to another, ‘Come’, and he comes.” They trust, but they must also trust and obey.
It’s impossible to say one has faith without living that faith through obedience, and obedience leads to more faith in a wonderful type of feedback loop.
The centurion’s words and actions are remarkable in more than merely his insight into the nature of faith. Verse 6: Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.”
By making this statement the centurion shows a humility and respect that is atypical of an occupying army. In verse 8 he uses a word that explains his perspective: “I
too am a man set under authority.” He seems to understand that Jesus is also under a greater authority, which is that of the Heavenly Father, and that Jesus in turn has been delegated authority that he can exercise on his Father’s behalf just as the centurion can exercise authority on his superior’s behalf.
He seems to be implying the he is willing to put himself under Jesus’s authority, something that most of Israel — indeed, most of humanity — is unwilling to do.
No wonder Jesus marveled at the man’s faith.

The Ring Tone of Truth (Sabbath Meditations)
I had never really liked the default tone that was on the phone when I purchased it, but didn’t want to hassle with trying to figure out how to select something different. But one afternoon, finding myself with some time to kill and feeling adventurous, I decided I was ready for a change. I scrolled through the various options available, but none of them really appealed to me. They all sounded, for lack of a better word, a little too “new-agey.”
I was just about to give up when I heard a tone that I knew was the one for me. It was the sound of an old fashioned telephone ringing. You know, from the time when phones used to hang on the wall with cords attached to them. “Vr..r..r..r..i..i..n..n..g..” Something about that ring just made me feel good. In the midst of our digitalized, techno driven world, this seemingly insignificant sound bite from the past spoke to me.
So, after a little trial and error, I successfully selected it as my ring tone and didn’t think about it again. That is, until I sat at the airport gate waiting for my flight. Within the space of the hour or so, I heard my phone ring at least four or five times. But each time I pulled it out of my pocket to answer, I discovered the ring wasn’t coming from my phone, but from some other phone owned by someone among the mass of humanity swirling around me.
Apparently I wasn’t the only one who had found comfort in that familiar, old-fashioned ring. It could have just been an odd coincidence. But possibly, just maybe, it was more than that. Maybe it was a manifestation of one of those traits about being human that we all share. With so much changing around us, maybe that familiar ring spoke to a deep-seated need within all of us for consistency and stability. Maybe we’re drawn to those things that, no matter how small or insignificant, give us a sense of grounding.
Hebrews 13:8 tells us that Jesus Chris is the same yesterday, today and forever.
In Malachi 3:6 we read “I am the Lord, I change not.”
All around us economies are in turmoil. Wars and rumors of wars are sprouting from every corner of the globe. Forces are at work in our schools, the media and even in some of our churches to undermine many of the core values in which we believe. As believers, how encouraging is it for you and I to know that there is one thing that never changes. There is one thing grounded solid bedrock. Our God – His way, His love, the truth that is His Word – never changes. We don’t have to be, like so many in this world, anxious, fearful and insecure about tomorrow. In a world that is swirling with change, our feet are firmly planted.
I don’t know about you, but I draw a lot of comfort from that knowledge. As we who read God’s Word know, this world is only going to become more chaotic as the end approaches. People that don’t know Him are going to become increasingly anxious and desperate as this physical system on which they depend crumbles around them. You and I, having our feet firmly planted, will be in a unique position to lead them to solid ground.
I’m thankful that I don’t need to rely on things that are passing away for consistency and stability. As the chaos and change in this world speeds up, I’ll cling to the things I know will never change.
I do like my new ring tone though.

A Body at Peace (New Church Lady)
Ever trip over your own feet? I have. One time it resulted in breaking my collar bone. At times like that, it seems like my body isn’t working together in harmony – like my feet decided to take a path that my mind wasn’t directing them to go and it created a problem for the whole body. This is a warning to pay attention to where I am going instead of being distracted by other things – like my phone (as in the broken collar bone incident).
On a more serious note, lupus, an autoimmune disease, is literally one’s own body turning on itself and attacking its own tissues and organs. The function of the immune system is supposed to be protecting the body from outside attack. The result of lupus, and diseases like it, is a lot of suffering for the body at war with itself.
Whereas tripping over one’s own feet when jogging is a one-time incident that can be corrected easily, an auto-immune disease is a much more serious issue and not so easily corrected. It may require a life-long fight unless God intervenes and heals the person.
Is your body at peace or at war?
Colossians 3:15 [NIV] says, Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.
Do you attend a congregation that has peace at its core – as the thing that makes it a body of believers? Is it true of the entire organization? Is there never any back-biting or gossip among the members? No struggles for power and control?
We were called to be a body
of peace – a body at peace – but that peace among the body of believers must begin with peace ruling in our hearts. If I don’t have peace in my own individual heart, how can I generate peace and live at peace externally? Because the church is just a body made up of individual believers, a lack of internal, individual peace is often where the trouble begins for the greater body of believers.

The Vending Machine Gospel (Morning Companion)
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:23 – 26 ESV)
The words Jesus used to describe the cost of being his disciples are reminiscent of Winston Churchill’s Blood, Toil, Sweat, and Tears speech. In the passage above he promises the disciples trials rather than blessings even to the point of possible death for the cause.
How different this is from the “Health and Wealth” gospel preached by too many these days!
Do we view God as a kind of vending machine where, if we deposit the right phraseology in our prayers and push the right liturgical buttons, then God is obligated to deliver the goods?
Let’s take a look at some other “goods” Jesus promises to his followers:
Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. (Matthew 10:17-23 ESV)
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
We all know people — faithful people — who face trials and tribulations. Sometimes we’re tempted to think that people facing such trials have fallen out of God’s grace due to some hidden sin. After all, aren’t good times an indication of God’s favor and bad times of his disfavor? That’s not necessarily so. We are not called to a problem free life, and when problems arise we must avoid concluding that they are a result of God’s wrath. Jesus makes a boatload of promises, and some of them are promises we are disinclined to claim:
I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law (Matthew 10:34-36).
That’s something that happens frequently to followers of Jesus in many quarters of the globe, and it even happens in what we like to call “the land of the free”. The message is simple: if you are looking for an easy ride, don’t become a follower of Jesus. He even uses an interesting metaphor in asking us to count the cost:

Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:31-33)

Count the cost before you commit to this way of life, he says. Be willing to sacrifice it all for his sake. How different from the “Health and Wealth”, “Name It and Claim It” vending machine-type gospel! Are you willing to accept that challenge?

Small Choices … Big Consequences (Sabbath Meditations)
I faced a moral conundrum while standing in front of the pop machine at work the other day. Now, I know there may be some health purists who would argue that the act of standing in front of a pop machine is evidence of moral failing, in and of itself. Let’s set that issue aside for the moment.
This particular pop machine has one quirky, some would say delightful, feature. Upon depositing your money and pressing the button, the drink you selected will be delivered. However, if you quickly follow your first press with a second, there’s about a 50% chance you’ll be rewarded with a second drink, gratis.
Throughout the day, my fellow employees make their way to the break room with the same anticipation one would display entering a Vegas casino. It’s not uncommon to hear exclamations of “SWEET!!” and “BONUS!!” emanating from behind the break room door.
While this machine offers a little excitement and diversion during an otherwise hum drum work day, for me it presents a spiritual dilemma. It’s that dilemma I found myself contemplating as I stood before it with my finger on the button. Would pressing it a second time, with full knowledge of what might occur, constitute a clear breaking of the command not to steal? Or, is fretting about such minor matters really being too trivial … even Pharisaical?
I believe a reading of
James 2:10 provides the answer, “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point,he is guilty of all.”
There are a multitude of small moral choices that you and I make every day of our lives. If we really stop to consider how often we fail in these small moral choices, I think we’d be overwhelmed with the degree of our shortcomings. We are all “guilty of all” aren’t we? Hence the need for a Savior.
We typically associate the defining moments that shape our character with life’s large trials and obstacles — a financial crisis, the onset of illness, or a disability. What I believe this passage in James 2 tells us is that its the little choices we make, each and every day, that either help or hurt our ability to meet and overcome the bigger challenges and trials we face.
That’s really the lesson of so many of the moral failings we read of in God’s Word, isn’t it? Eve wouldn’t have eaten the apple had she not wandered too close to the tree.
Esau might not have sold his birthright had he not given in to the grumbling in his stomach.
David wouldn’t have killed Uriah had he not dwelt too long on the balcony.
Sadly, none of these examples crossed my mind as I stood in front of our break room “slot machine” that afternoon. If they had, perhaps I wouldn’t have so quickly pushed the button a second time. If you had been in my office at that moment, you would have been witness to the resounding testimony of my moral failing emanating through the break room door …”SWEET!!”
But then, suddenly stricken with the sinfulness of my action, I was faced with yet another vexing spiritual dilemma. Should I now enjoy the spoils of my ill gotten gain or donate it to someone else? But oh … how cold and refreshing that drink looked there in my hand …
Arrrgh … O wretched man that I am!

Effective as of Today (New Church Lady)
Life cycles through good times and bad for each of us individually. Right now, so many, many people I know are suffering trials and troubles. Our prayer list at church is long. I am on a couple of email lists for prayer requests and via a variety of personal and group connections my Facebook feed is full of prayer request as well. Cancer, terrorist attacks, school shooters, miscarriages, divorce, job loss, natural disasters, car wrecks, and so much more. We pray for them all, don’t we? We labor long and hard in pleading with our Heavenly Father for relief for friends and family, church brethren, neighbors and strangers. Oh, how I have wished for the effectiveness of prayers like Jesus prayed – those that resulted in the
immediate calming of storms, healing of the sick, providing of bread to thousands of hungry souls and raising of the dead.
It was in the light of this desire for a prayer that is effective, that many years ago, as a relatively young Christian, I sought to dissect the “magic” formula for effective prayer as outlined in
James 5:16 [KJV] … The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. [Emphasis mine]
I reasoned, that if I could really understand what kind of a prayer was being outlined here, by diving into their Greek root meanings, and then pray the specific way that their meaning indicated, perhaps my own prayers could be more productive. By that I meant, that they’d have immediate, dramatic and positive results every time.
So, let me share with you what I learned in my dissection of this potential formula for prayer that really works.
“Effectual fervent” – These words are translated from a Greek word meaning “to be operative, to be at work, to put forth power.” That’s exactly the prayer we are looking for – one that works – one that is powerful.
“Righteous man” – Prayers that work are prayers that come from a righteous man. Are you thinking “Houston, we have a problem”? Me too. Because a few scriptures immediately come to mind.
Romans 3:9-10 [NKJV] What then? Are we better [than they]? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; and verse 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Thankfully, we know that, while none of us is righteous on our own, righteousness is ours if we confess our sins. I John 1:9 [NKJV] If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Once I confess and ask forgiveness, all my unrighteousness is taken away and at that moment I am righteous before God.
Also, by the very act of showing faith in Him, and belief in the promises of God, we do receive the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, our Lord, just as Abraham did.
Romans 4:20-25 [NKJV] He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore “it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.
So, confessing my sins, coupled with the very act of reaching out by faith-filled prayer, makes us righteous. Whew! We’ve got this righteousness covered!
Okay, now that we have the requirements outline, we need to ask what the scripture means when it says that a prayer like this “avails much’.”
If we look at James 5:16 in the English Standard Version, I think it clears things up a bit.
James 5:16The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. [Emphasis mine]
Our prayers have power even as they are working toward a specific result – whatever that result. That power, in part, I believe, is the power to change ME as I focus on petitioning the Father for someone else – as I accept the imputed righteousness of Jesus and use it to focus on the needs of another – as I spend precious time on behalf of a friend, family member or even a foe. As I do that, I am changed to be a more outwardly-focused person. I grow in love for and tenderness toward the person suffering. I become more like Jesus Himself, who prayed fervently for each of us during His time on earth and petitions for our sakes before the Father even now.
There is power in the act of praying for another person.
I was much younger in the faith when this idea came to mind – that there might be a special formula for answered prayer. Yet, even now, as a seasoned follower of Christ, who has experienced many answered prayers – “no” and “yes” and “later” answers – I confess that I still feel it would be really nice to always get an immediate “yes” from the Father to my best petitions on the part of others. That just is not going to happen in this life.
However, the effective prayer of a righteous person, is powerful, even before it brings about a result. Prayer changes the people who pray and that, after all, is the whole point of this life, isn’t it? There is power in your righteous prayers.
P.S. A note about praying for our own healing: If we back up a little in James 5, we find a specific requirement to have effective prayer for my own healing.
James 5:14-15 [ESV] Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
If I am the one who is ill, I have a responsibility to contact an elder to be anointed. This act is simply an outward show of inward faith – similar to baptism. The oil itself has no power. But this display of trust in God, is part of what He asks me to do in order to bring a prayer to Him for my own healing. This prayer does double duty, in that it not only brings about healing, but also forgiveness if any sin has been involved.
Anointing is not required, however, for me to pray for the healing of others.

The Helper (Morning Companion)
Then the LORD God said, It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him. (Genesis 2:18)
There you have it. Women were created to be the man’s helper. This proves women are inferior. Right?
Not so fast. Let’s see who else is called a helper.
The helpless commits himself to You; you are the helper of the fatherless. (Psalm 10:14)
Hear, O Lord, and have mercy on me; Lord, be my helper! (Psalm 30:10)
Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is with those who uphold my life. (Psalm 54:4)
Because You have been my help, therefore in the shadow of Your wings I will rejoice. (Psalm 63:7)
But I am poor and needy. Make haste to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer;
O Lord, do not delay. (Psalm 70:5)
In the New Testament we read this:
And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever — the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. (John 14:16-18)
The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me? (Hebrews 13:6)
In light of these passages, is it possible to conclude that the Biblical view of a helper is that of an inferior? Maybe it’s a good idea to listen to the Apostle Paul:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:28-29)

Real Christians Enjoy Mogan David (Sabbath Meditations)
I’m by no means a wine connoisseur. I’m the guy that, in my twenties and early thirties, believed White Zinfandel to be a fine wine. You can hardly fault me. Prior to that, my exposure to wine had been limited to the occasional swallow of watered down Mogan David in a small paper cup, a treat usually reserved for special occasions such as the Night to Be Much Observed or at the Feast of Tabernacles. I think our church should have owned stock in the stuff. That said, for me, White Zinfandel was definitely a step up.
As I’ve grown older my wine palate has matured somewhat. I’ve graduated into an appreciation for Pinot Grigio, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Although far from an aficionado, I’ve not only developed a taste for different types of wine but an interest in the subject of wine itself.
In a blog post, The Subjectivity of Wine, Jonah Lehrer recounted the details of a wine tasting experiment that was conducted in 2001. The results were intriguing. Lehrer writes:
“In 2001, Frederic Brochet, of the University of Bordeaux, conducted two separate and very mischievous experiments. In the first test, Brochet invited 57 wine experts and asked them to give their impressions of what looked like two glasses of red and white wine. The wines were actually the same white wine, one of which had been tinted red with food coloring. But that didn’t stop the experts from describing the “red” wine in language typically used to describe red wines. One expert praised its “jamminess”, while another enjoyed its “crushed red fruit.” Not a single one noticed it was actually a white wine.
The second test Brochet conducted was even more damning. He took a middling Bordeaux and served it in two different bottles. One bottle was a fancy grand-cru. The other bottle was an ordinary vin du table. Despite the fact that they were actually being served the exact same wine, the experts gave the differently labeled bottles nearly opposite ratings. The grand cru was ‘agreeable, woody, complex, balanced and rounded,’ while the vin du table was ‘weak, short, light, flat and faulty’. Forty experts said the wine with the fancy label was worth drinking, while only twelve said the cheap wine was.”
My conclusion upon reading this? My affinity for Trader Joe’s “two buck chuck” maybe isn’t all that crazy after all, and how easily duped we are by what we see on the label.
Jesus spent a lot of time while on this earth condemning those who, from a spiritual perspective, were wrapped up in the externals.

The Pharisees spent a great deal of time focusing on externals. Jesus wasn’t too kind to them. In fact, He went to great lengths not just to condemn their shallow, skin deep religion, but also to model the complete opposite. In many ways His ministry on earth was a study in contrasts between a religion focused on the outside and one focused on the inside.
While the Pharisees made wide their phylacteries and enlarged the borders of their garments in order to set themselves apart as the spiritual leaders of the people, Jesus sought out a man dressed in camel’s hair and leather belt.
While the Pharisees loved the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, Jesus purposely let it be known that the Son of Man had no place to rest His head.
While the Pharisees chose to hang with the who’s who of their day, Jesus hung out with sinners and tax collectors, those considered the dregs of society.
In Matthew 23, Jesus, condemning their shallow, external religion, says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within you are full of extortion and excess. Blind Pharisees, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
Before we shake our heads in disgust at the wickedness of the Pharisees, it’s important to remember that there is the potential for a little Pharisee in all of us. If there weren’t, God wouldn’t have seen fit to devote so much attention in His Word to the contrast.
Someone recently shared with me the story of a couple who lost their luggage one year en route to observe the Feast of Tabernacles. Showing up to services for the first few days, wearing basically their travel clothes, they were shocked by the disapproving glances and judgmental stares they received from the brethren. These poor believers, because they didn’t look the part, were made to feel like outcasts in a sea of dark suits and dresses.
Our human nature’s proclivity for judging based on the externals isn’t limited only to clothing. How easy is it for us to put labels on the man on whose breath we sense the faint smell of cigarette smoke or alcohol, while embracing the guy who may be cheating on his taxes or, worse yet, his spouse? Both men might be struggling and striving to overcome their weakness, but we are quick to judge the one before the other based on what we see. We make judgments about what’s in the bottle based purely on the label.
In 1 Samuel 16:17 God instructs Samuel, to whom He had given the task of searching out a King to rule Israel, “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD sees not as man sees; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.
To summarize: God isn’t impressed with what’s on the label. He’s all about what’s on the inside of the bottle.
I don’t think my palate nor my pocketbook will ever allow me to appreciate the difference between a quality aged wine and the two buck chuck I enjoy from my local Trader Joe’s. Based on the results of that wine tasting experiment, I take consolation in the knowledge that it probably doesn’t really matter. If what’s in my glass tastes like fine wine, that’s good enough for me.
God grant me the spiritual depth and maturity to see my brothers and sisters in Christ the same way.

Guarding the Baggage (Morning Companion)
Do you think you’re not that important? Do you think your contribution to the world is meager? There is a story in Scripture that might help you see things in a different light.
David the king took 600 of his men on a military campaign against the Philistines. It was an exhausting march, and 200 of his soldiers couldn’t continue, so David left them to guard the supplies while the remaining 400 continued on to the battle.
David’s 400 won the battle, rescued the hostages, and returned with massive spoils of war.
The question then arose: should the men who stayed behind to guard the supplies receive the same split of spoils as those who fought the battle?
Let’s pick up the story in 30th chapter of 1 Samuel:
But the evil men and troublemakers among those who followed David said, “Since these two hundred men didn’t go with us, we shouldn’t give them any of the things we recovered. Just let each man take his wife and children and go.” (Verse 22, New Century Version)
It seems to make sense that those who bore the heat of the battle should get all the booty. But David sees the world differently.
David answered, “No, my brothers. Don’t do that after what the Lord has given us. He has protected us and given us the enemy who attacked us. Who will listen to what you say? The share will be the same for the one who stayed with the supplies as for the one who went into battle. (Verse 23-24)
Those men who were guarding the supplies performed a valuable service. With them on guard marauders would be unable to steal their baggage. They provided the important logistical support every army needs to survive. David understood this, and as a leader he knew the importance of recognizing that every part of that team contributed to their success.
We have many members in one body, but all members do not have the same function (Romans 12:4). Recently I injured my pinkie finger on my right hand. I can say with confidence that I never paid much attention to my pinkie on my right hand. When I wake up in the morning, that’s not my first waking thought. But I can tell you that I sure notice how important that finger is when I can’t grasp things the same way I once could, and I start dropping things from my right hand that present no problem with the left.
This is not to compare anyone to a pinkie finger. It is to say that what you can contribute is more than what you might think. You might not have a glamorous job. You might not be the center of attention. And you are not likely world famous. But one thing is certain. Staying back and guarding the baggage is an honorable assignment. And it deserves the same appreciation as any other job.
Never, never, never underestimate your importance. And don’t let anyone else do that to you either.

A Different Temple (New Horizons)
Preparations are afoot to build a Temple in Jerusalem, modelled on the one described by the prophet Ezekiel. The Scriptures indicate that just before the promised return of Jesus Christ there will indeed be a Temple constructed. Many evangelical Christians are working alongside the Temple Mount Institute to make this a reality.
The Scriptures point us to a different ‘Temple’, also now in course of building. The apostle Paul explains: ‘…
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and the Spirit of God dwells in you? (I Corinthians 3:16).
Christians are in-dwelt by the Spirit of God, and are here likened to the inner chambers of the Temple (Gk
naos: the sanctuary, the holy places) where the LORD the Spirit dwelt (II Corinthians 3:18).
Individually we are each a ‘temple’. But in another sense we are individually a ‘stone’ to be added to the spiritual Temple: ‘…
you also as living stones are being built a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ’ (I Peter 2:5). The ‘building blocks’ of this temple will endure for eternity.
There is no other foundation for the temple we are building than Jesus Christ, who is the ‘
chief corner-stone’, for he is the focus of the entire Scriptures. We are warned to ensure we use, as in the original tabernacle and temple, only the finest of divinely approved materials as we build that spiritual temple: ‘…if anyone builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, grass, straw, the work of each one will become evident. For the day will reveal it’ (vv.12-13).
Those selected to become ‘living stones’ are, with the help of the indwelling of God’s Spirit, producing the spiritual fruit of Christ-like character.
Many think a Temple must be built before his return, though others doubt that necessity. No date for the return of Christ is provided in the Scriptures. But given are a few clear indicators.
While recognizing that mankind has always experienced difficult times, Jesus yet outlined (Matthew 24
etc) a sequence of events coincident at the time of ‘the end’, during the closing of man’s day.
Specifically he referred to the ‘
…abomination of desolation…stand in the holy place [Gk. hagios topos]’ ( Matthew 24:15). This doesn’t necessarily mean a temple, but applies to any holy area. The term hagios topos anciently was often applied to the synagogue, and it’s reported that this adequately fulfills the requirements for sacrifice.
However, Judaism incorporates many unscriptural practices (the ‘tradition of the elders’) and the attempt to build a Temple is not necessarily a Scriptural injunction.
Wrote the Psalmist: ‘
Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it’ (Psalm 127)
Either way, each of us must be personally spiritually prepared as living stones for our place in His eternal spirit Temple.

Avoiding the Ruts of Christian Tradition (Sabbath Meditations)
Did you know that the space between rails on all railroad beds is exactly 4 feet, 8.5 inches, no more, no less? Why? Because that was the standard distance between the wheels of a Roman war chariot. Sound ludicrous? It’s true!
Chariot wheels on ancient dirt roads created deep ruts. As Roman chariots gave way to covered wagons, it was necessary that the distance between the wheels remain constant so they could travel smoothly in these ancient ruts. To change the distance between the wheels would make for a very uncomfortable ride, not to mention shorten the life of the wagon itself. Of course, specifications for building wagons were brought with the settlers to the new world of America and when wagon trails gave way to railroads, the traditional distance between ruts became by default the standard distance between the rails. It’s not changed to this day. Why? Because it’s always been done that way.
Besides being humorous, this little known fact points out an interesting truth. We humans love to cling to our traditions. There’s powerful comfort in holding on to things the way they have always been done. Sometimes the traditions we cling to make sense, sometimes they are just plain silly.
It’s not surprising that some traditions that were began in the secular world have, over time, made their way into Christian practice. However, at times the desire to cling to tradition has run contrary to, even usurped, biblical teaching.
Around 155 A.D. Polycarp of Smyrna, a disciple of the Apostle John, went to Rome to deal with various heretics. While there he tried to persuade the bishop of Rome not to switch Passover to Easter Sunday. Irenaeus, a well known church historian of that time, records this:
“And when the blessed Polycarp was sojourning in Rome in the time of Anicetus, although a slight controversy had arisen among them as to certain other points … For neither could Anicetus persuade Polycarp to forego the observance [in his own way], inasmuch as these things had been always observed by John the disciple of our Lord, and by other apostles with whom he had been conversant; nor, on the other hand, could Polycarp succeed in persuading Anicetus to keep [the observance in his way], for he maintained that he was bound to adhere to the usage of the presbyters who preceded him. And in this state of affairs they held fellowship with each other; and Anicetus conceded to Polycarp in the Church the celebration of the Eucharist, by way of showing him respect.”
(Irenaeus. FRAGMENTS FROM THE LOST WRITINGS OF IRENAEUS. Translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Excerpted from Volume I of The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, editors); American Edition copyright © 1885. Electronic version copyright © 1997 by New Advent, Inc).
Here were two church leaders at odds with one another. Polycarp, correctly defended the observance of Passover as he had received it from the Apostle John, who in turn received it from the Lord Himself. Anicetus, on the other hand, defended his observance of Easter, citing the tradition of previous church leaders in Rome who had been influenced by pagan worship.
To which one would you give more weight? It’s kind of a no brainer right? Well, apparently the appeal of tradition, despite the absence of biblical sanction, was so strong in the church at Rome that it trumped the practice and teaching of the Lord Himself.
Although, Irenaeus, surely pressured by the Roman church leadership to which he answered, tried his best to put a positive spin on the resolution to this discussion, other writings of Polycarp and his successor, Polycrates, reveal that the issue was far from resolved.
Writing some years later to the Roman Bishop Victor concerning the change of Passover to Easter, Polycrates proclaims, “I, therefore, brethren, who have lived sixty-five years in the Lord, and have met with the brethren throughout the world, and have gone through every Holy Scripture, am not affrighted by terrifying words. For those greater than I have said, We ought to obey God rather than man.”
(Polycrates. Letter to Victor. As quoted by Eusebius. Church History. Book V, Chapter 24)
Unfortunately the sentiments of Polycrates were not echoed by the majority in the Christian world. Pagan tradition ultimately won out over biblical teaching. Today, the ruts of pagan tradition in the Church have run deep. Most of Christendom travels mindlessly in the tracks of false tradition, blindly accepting them as God’s divine path.
But pagan religious observances weren’t all that were adopted as tradition by the Church.
In his book, Lost to the West, Lars Brownworth, illustrating the influence of Roman culture on the practice of the Church writes, “Even the ceremonies of the church and the (Roman) court had begun to mirror each other. Priests and courtiers dressed in luxurious vestments, elaborate processionals and singing choirs heralded the beginning of services, and incense and candles were carried as a sign of honor … There was a comforting sameness to it all, a familiarity that reassured each celebrant of the divine order.”
Unfortunately, this new focus on the externals of worship, the dress, the pageantry, while appealing to some who wished to assert the primacy of the Roman Church and its bishop among the Christian churches, only served to alienate many of the more “peasant” churches. These poorer congregations neither had the means nor the desire, for that matter, to compete with the opulence of their Roman brethren.
As we know, Jesus had a great deal of criticism for those who would put tradition on an equal footing with His truth. Of these He said, “… you have made the law of God of no effect by your traditions … in vain they do worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matthew 15:6-9)
Of course, compared to the damage done as a result of the adoption of pagan religious traditions into the practice of the church, adopting the pageantry and format of the royal court to the format of services seems rather innocuous. The danger becomes, however, when Christians attempt to attribute to these traditions divine ordination, placing them on par, or even at odds, with biblical teaching.
I recall years ago, sitting in a congregational meeting where the suggestion was made that a relatively minor change be made to our traditional format of worship services. There were many expressions of support for the suggestion, that is, until a prominent member of the congregation stood up and stated their opinion that to change the format of services would be contrary to the order God had inspired previous leadership of the Church to establish. With that, enthusiasm for the change was lost and it was tabled.
In I Thessalonians 5:12 Paul exhorts “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”
As Christians, individually and collectively as a church, it’s important that we examine whether, in our desire to hold to tradition, we have in any way made void the law of God.
And by way of examination, we should ask ourselves, and answer honestly, some basic questions:

  • Have I/we given spiritual weight to a tradition or custom of men that can’t be directly justified by scripture? Or, does justification of our tradition require we engage in scriptural gymnastics or make large leaps of logic? 
  • Do any of our traditions or customs run contrary in their practice to God’s law of love? Are they in any way putting stumbling blocks in front of those who God may be calling into our fellowship? 
  • Do I/we draw more comfort from rigid adherence to religous custom rather than responding to God’s instruction to grow in grace and knowledge, despite the uncomfortable places that growth might take me? 

In short, is our measurement of truth based less on scriptural proof than on the fact that “we’ve always done it that way” so therefore it must be true? That might work for turning ancient dirt roads into railroad beds but it’s a poor way to guide one’s spiritual walk.
When it comes to navigating our walk as Christians, it’s far better to hold fast to what is true than to remain stuck in the ruts of our tradition.

Rich and the Poor Man (Morning Companion)
The title is my playful way of referring to that wonderful parable in Luke’s Gospel commonly known as Lazarus and the Rich Man. This parable is unique because Jesus gives the main character a proper name. Usually he refers to the characters as “a Pharisee”, or a “Samaritan”, or a “tax collector”.
But here is a case – the only case I know of – where the main character is given a proper name, and the name he gives him is Lazarus.
It’s even more interesting that one of Jesus’s closest friends was a man named Lazarus (John 11:5). Was this just a curious coincidence?
The key to this might very well be found in the last words in the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. The rich man laments that if only someone were to visit his brothers from the other side of the grave, surely they would repent! But the parable ends with:
“If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.” (Luke 16:31)
So I ask the question, who was it that rose from the dead, and yet the people still wouldn’t believe, but instead wanted to kill him all over again, and in fact did crucify the one who raised him?
Of course it was Lazarus (John 11:43-57).
This parable was Jesus’s way of warning those who were lining up against him. They were getting awfully close to being hardened beyond redemption, where even one rising from the dead could not convince them.
Quite a warning about how hardened people can become.

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

Feet Firmly Planted (Sabbath Meditations)
My wife and I, our two kids and a couple of their friends visited Valleyfair, Minnesota’s biggest amusement park, this week. I don’t know why they call them amusement parks. In my mind, there’s nothing in the least amusing about them. They should more accurately be labeled panic parks, terror parks, check your brains at the door parks … something more befitting the sensations these parks are designed to provoke.
You probably have surmised that I’m not a big fan of rides. I just don’t think God intended for man to find creative ways to scare the pajeebers out of ourselves. That, and a few other reasons, are why I staged a little passive resistance this week when we went to visit the local ‘death’ park. Despite my teenage son and his friends’ best efforts to get me strapped into rides with therapeutic names such as the ‘Wild Thing’, the ‘Steele Venom’ or the ‘Power Tower’, I resolutely determined to keep both of my feet firmly planted on the ground and the contents of my stomach where they belonged … in my stomach.
As I stood at the base of these towering torture chambers, watching the family I loved being tossed about mercilessly like stuffed pillows in a pillow fight and congratulating myself for making the wise decision to stay on the ground, I couldn’t help but wax spiritually philosophical.
In the realm of the spiritual there are never ending amounts of Christian amusements and diversions to be had. Their flashing neon lights catch our attention, beckoning us to strap ourselves in and let them take us on twisting, turning, thrilling rides to places we’ve never been before. This ride over here promises to rocket us into the Purpose Driven Life. That ride over there promises to help us Find Your Best Life Now and yet another claims to be able to shoot us to new heights of Possibility Thinking. Christians in droves strap themselves into these and other spiritual diversions. They are emotionally tossed and turned, rocketed back and forth until the ride ends, the excitement fades, and they come out the exit somewhat dizzy and unstable, finding it difficult to walk again on solid ground.
2 Timothy 4:3-4 tells us, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.”
Ephesians 4:14
instructs us to “no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine.”
God didn’t intend for His people to be twisted and turned and swept away by every wind of doctrine … some new interpretation here or unique three step plan of fulfillment there. He wants us to keep both of our feet firmly planted on the bedrock of his Word. That is where we find life. That is where we find fulfillment. And ultimately, that is the most thrilling and rewarding ride of all.
I think our family has had its fill of amusement parks for this summer at least. Who knows, maybe next summer my son will finally succeed in getting me strapped into one of those death contraptions. It’s not likely, but I know he’ll keep trying. I’m pretty adamant about keeping my feet planted firmly on terra firma. I’m determined to keep my spiritual feet there as well.

Loving Jesus but Hating the Church (Morning Companion)
“Do you like Jesus, but hate the church?” This is a sign I saw on a booth during our local street festival. The idea was to elicit comments, many of which were video recorded for later reference. During a lull in the street traffic I asked the lady in the booth what kind of response she was getting. I soon learned there was something interesting going on here.
Did you know that 70% of the American population self-identify as Christians, but only 17% attend church on a weekly basis? At the same time a significantly higher percentage (the exact number is somewhat in dispute) claim to have a “religious renewal” weekly, but they do so without the benefit of a formal church service. Many of them, by some estimates as much as 10% of the population, are attending informal home churches at least once per month.  If true, as many as 30 million Americans are getting their religion in small groups at home. What’s going on, and why is it going on outside the confines of organized religion?
Steven Walden in his book
Founding Faith says of Thomas Jefferson, “He was anti-Christian and pro-Jesus. He was anti-religion and pro-God.” Is that what’s going on in America today? Walden goes on to say that Jefferson “resented being considered a heretic, because he believed that his approach to God and Jesus was more faithful to both of them.” It could be rightly said that Thomas Jefferson loved Jesus, but hated the church, which is very similar to the question posed on that booth sign.
It is instructive to hear what people outside the walls of formal religion say about their church experiences and why they don’t attend church. The interviews the lady in the booth conducted suggest that people view “the church” as being too judgmental, too hypocritical, too political, too negative, homophobic, and too interested in money.
Stereotyping? Probably.  At least a kernel of truth? Absolutely!
Those of us who are a part of “organized religion” need to be cognizant of how we appear to visitors when they happen by our church doors. When they crank up the courage to come in, what do they notice? What jumps out at them?
The past few months, albeit on an irregular basis, I have visited a number of churches around town just to see what it’s like to pop into a church uninvited, disguised as a seeker. The very first thing I have noticed is how hard it is to get out of the car and walk in for the very first time. I’m reminded of a fellow who finally attended our congregation on his third try. The previous two weeks he had pulled into the parking lot, lost his nerve, and went home. It takes a certain amount of courage to walk into a church where you know no one and have no idea what to expect.
One church I visited relieved the anxiety immediately. I was greeted by friendly people who welcomed me into their church home like an old friend, they gave me a little welcoming gift that I still have on my desk, and made every effort to get to know me as me and not as a potential statistic on their membership roles. And when it came time for the offering, I was not expected to contribute.  Believe it or not I had to track down the usher in order to drop in my wad of bills.
In other churches, one can bask in blissful anonymity if you so desire. You can sit in the back, listen the music and sermon, and leave quietly with nary a human interaction.
But the thing that is most important about these churches, warts and all, is something that would be difficult for an individual whose main spiritual experience revolves around personal devotions.  All of these churches have ongoing programs during the week to serve the community of believers. In addition to the regular youth groups and coffee klatches, they often sponsor support groups. One church has a weekly meeting for those battling depression. Other groups will address recovering from divorce, or twelve step programs.  Many are involved in serving the community and making an impact that would be missed should the church decide to leave town.
If you are in a home fellowship or prefer to study alone as opposed to attending an “organized” service, few if any of these churches would turn you away from their smaller weekday groups and ministries if you have a need or even just a curiosity.
There is something to be said for a community of believers caring for each other and for those around them, and I would submit that this is the model we see in the New Testament.  But I must add that the last chapter of Romans strongly suggests a church at Rome that was built around home fellowships.
In my town there are many churches to choose from, and the ones I have visited boast excellent preaching. The pastors know how to give coherent messages with staying power. They all have need for active, engaged people to help them fulfill their missions.  The reality is, not a one of them is perfect. Every last one of them will have something or someone that you won’t like.
But that’s what makes it a church: imperfect people learning and growing and serving together till we all come to maturity and become more like our Savior.

The Jews Today (OzWitness)
There are two main cities in Israel, but they could hardly be more different. Jerusalem is still centred on the old walled city: historical, Palestinian/Israeli, choked with tourists, so ‘religious’ that parts virtually shut down for the Sabbath, and the orthodox Jews make their presence felt with their black hats, ringlets and public praying – reminiscent of the Pharisees of Jesus Christ’s day.
Tel Aviv is humming. Centred on the beach. The Sabbath sees the streets almost empty, but the beach is crowded with sun worshippers, an endless parade of hedonistic, sun bronzed Israelis, macho, muscled IDF soldiers, and still feminine girls, despite their gun toting service in the army for three years. There is no Sabbath on the beach. The musak never stops and it seems half the population is racing back and forth on electric scooters and bikes, some carrying two or three people at highly dangerous speeds.
It used to be that there were 3 kinds of Israelis. The orthodox religious black hats, the liberal religious Jews, and the secular Jews with no religion. Now we are told that a fourth group is emerging, combining a liberal, free and easy approach with a nationalistic bent, almost like the state has replaced their religion, maybe due to their experience in their army. This seemed more evident in Tel Aviv.
In fact, neither city appeals. Christ was rejected in Jerusalem:

Matthew 23:37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
Tel Aviv has never known Him.
The Jews have been replaced as God’s chosen people by Spirit Begotten Christians of all races –
Spiritual Israelites.
Galatians 3:28 ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’
They are the ones who will assist Christ in the reconstruction of both cities, after the coming Great Tribulation, and in their rule, after Christ’s return, in the future Kingdom of God.

The Hymnal Guy (Sabbath Meditations)
I found myself watching the ‘hymnal guy’ do his thing before and after services. He was everywhere, smiling and greeting members at the door, carrying a hymnal to an elderly woman who was already in her chair, scanning the congregation during the song service for anyone who may have forgotten to get one at the door, and finally, making his way down each aisle to collect hymnals randomly strewn among the chairs after the service had ended.
The care and concern this gentleman paid to such a seemingly mundane task was nothing short of amazing. The ‘hymnal guy’ had been quietly performing this act of service, without accolades, without praise, without recognition, week after week, Sabbath after Sabbath for as long as I had been attending.
As I observed this man, the thought struck me that I wasn’t just watching someone pass out hymnals, I was observing true leadership in action.
When it comes to leadership, we Christians, including yours truly, are often overly influenced by the definitions of the culture around us. The quarterback on the field, the power player in the board room, the guy at the head of the table, the loudest, most eloquent, confident person in the room; these, our culture would have us believe, are true models of leadership. It’s the image on the outside, rather than the quality of the character on the inside, that is portrayed as the ideal.
Jesus came, modeling and teaching a decidedly other worldly concept of leadership.
In Luke 22, he says,
“The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves.”
And, in a move which completely rocked the disciples’ worldly paradigm of leadership, Jesus performed what was, at that time, considered one of the lowliest, most menial of tasks. He stooped to wash their feet.
The true leader in God’s eyes? The person with the ability and confidence to stand in front and inspire others to follow? Maybe, sometimes, but not primarily.
Leadership, as God’s sees it, is primarily defined by character, not ability. It’s the one who consistently and selflessly chooses to do for others what most would not.
It’s the person who sees the needs within their families, within their churches or their community and steps in to fill it. It’s the father or mother who goes to a thankless, unfulfilling job day after day, year after year, sacrificing personal goals and dreams, in order to provide food, shelter and clothing for their family. It’s the spouse who remains loving and faithful through good times or bad, through sickness and health. It’s the parent who, not only teaches, but consistently strives to model God’s love and way of life to his or her children. It’s the person who refuses to compromise what is right, even in the face of ridicule and rejection by their peers.
It’s a type of leadership to which the world pays little respect these days but one, upon which our Savior, beginning with His disciples, began building and developing in His church some two thousand years ago. It’s the kind of leadership He desires be promoted, encouraged and developed within His body still today.
1 Corinthians 1:27 tells us that,
“God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty.”
Ultimately, God is preparing leaders to rule with Him at His return to establish His Kingdom. It’s a government which will confound and bring to shame all false notions of leadership for it will be a government led, not by quarterbacks and executive types, but by foot washers and, yes, ‘hymnal guys’.
Originally posted November 19, 2011. Mitch, your labor of love will be greatly missed.

At the Crossroads (Morning Companion)
Imagine you’re in Jerusalem on the day Christ died. Imagine you considered yourself a disciple. You had witnessed some healings, and you had heard his teachings. You had mused that maybe the rumors were true, that this was the promised Son of David who would restore the kingdom to Israel.
But then you hear it yourself, from his very lips. As he is dying on that instrument of torture, he cries, “It is finished!” (John 19:30)
Had you heard these words, you would have heard them in their context, coming from the mouth of a dying man. “It’s finished. It’s done. It’s over with. The dream has ended.”
Given the context, that very thought must have been on the minds of the disciples as they gathered in small, despairing groups around Jerusalem. The one they thought would be the consolation of Israel proved to be just one more disappointment in their history of dashed hopes.
So as two disciples traveled on the road to Emmaeus and lamented the trials of the previous few days, they encountered a stranger who asks, “What is this you are talking about, and why are you so sad?” (Luke 24:17)
They did not recognize him as the resurrected Jesus, and who can blame them for not perceiving that a previously dead man was now walking along side them and asking questions? These were suffering and forlorn people, after all. And to add to their confusion, they had heard rumors that the crucified body had disappeared, and of all things some were claiming that he was still alive.
Even though this stranger attempted to explain to them what the scriptures say about the Messiah and how he had to suffer, they still did not perceive the true identity of their travelling companion.
And then they came to a crossroads, where the two companions were to enter their village while this stranger acted as though he was going to continue on down the road. This was not just a crossroads on a road map. It was also a crossroads in their lives because this was not just any stranger, and at this point this stranger was giving them a choice: Choose to invite him home or allow him to quietly walk away.
We have that same choice. Jesus is a perfect gentleman. He’ll walk along side us whether we recognize his presence or not. He will bear with our non-recognition of him. He will encourage us with the truth of his teachings. But if we do not invite him in, he won’t force himself on us.
We don’t know what would have happened had the two disciples on the road to Emmaeus let the stranger go on his way. Imagine what they would have missed had they done so.
Whatever road where we find ourselves, it’s in our hands to make that same decision.

The Doors of God’s Plan (New Church Lady)
You have probably heard the saying, “When God closes a door, He opens a window.” Doors, closed doors and opened doors, have been an important part of God’s relationship with mankind since the beginning. During this three part series, I’ll examine some of the places where a door – either one that closed or one that opened – has made a difference to mankind and his relationship with God.
PART ONE – Well, that went downhill quickly!
THE “DOOR” TO THE TREE OF LIFE — THE END OF GOD’S OPEN DOOR POLICY
God and man started out with a personal, intimate and face-to-face relationship. Seems like God came to chat with Adam and, later Eve, every day. We all know what happened to that relationship. Eve and Adam ate the forbidden fruit and sin entered the world. Among the punishments God invoked was their banishment from the Garden and being shut off from the tree of life.
Genesis 3:23-24 [NIV] So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
At that point, God closed off the way to the Tree of Life, using an angel with a flaming sword as a very effective closed and locked door that barred their way from coming back. Once that door was shut, it was too late for Adam & Eve to decide to partake of the tree of life. Surely, they regretted their decision all the days of their lives – just as we believers today still lament what was lost there in the Garden.
The door to that face-to-face relationship also slammed shut on all the rest of mankind for a very long time. But it wasn’t shut forever. The rest of our story – the story of God and man – is about getting back to what was lost on that fateful day – about getting back to God’s open-door policy in His relationship with man.
THE DOOR TO THE ARK — MANKIND GETS A RESET
Since Adam and Eve left the Garden, mankind had been on a path of self-destruction.
Genesis 6:5-6 [ESV] tells us The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.
This word properly translated regretted here is literally “to sigh” and can be translated to grieve, repent, regret. I think of the times my children frustrated me and I gave a heavy sigh before taking action.
I don’t mean to minimize the actions God took. He wiped out every human with the exception of Noah’s family. But I don’t want us to think that this translation means that God came to be sorry He ever created mankind in the way that if He had a do-over He would just prefer do without us. If that was the case, I don’t think He would have saved Noah. God still had hope for a future with mankind. And He had a plan for mankind – to get us back to that intimate relationship. God had in no way lost His will or nerve for continuing that plan to redeem mankind and to rebuild a personal, intimate relationship with His creation.
I believe that, had they repented, others could have joined Noah’s family on the Ark. There is every indication that Noah preached to those around him, while he was building his own ark that would provide safety and survival for his family and the animals.
1 Peter 3:20 [ESV] because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.
2 Peter 2:5 [KJV] And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth [person], a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly.
Noah preached to the people who came to see what crazy thing he was up to. When he answered why he was building a huge boat on dry land, surely, the words “repent and be saved from the flood that is coming” were part of Noah’s message. No one listened. No one repented. Once the rain began to fall, I imagine everyone who had heard God’s message through Noah wished they had listened. But once that door was shut, it was too late for the people of that time.
When the flood was over, God set about continuing to work His plan to redeem mankind. The rainbow He sent, and that we still see today, reminds us that His plan is still in motion.
Who of us have not been guilty of doing something we know we should not? Sin entered the world via Adam and Eve, but it didn’t end with them. Sin is alive and well in the world today. Even we believers who strive for obedience still trip up and sin.
However, God had a plan from the beginning, it is actually revealed in:
Genesis 3:15 [NKJV] And I will put enmity between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.
Satan strikes at our heels today, but Jesus was destined, from the foundation of the world, to strike a deadly blow to the serpent’s head. And this is good news for all of us sinners.
I’m getting ahead of myself, though. Next week we will examine a couple more doors, in a blog titled: “When following God’s instructions meant life or immediate death.”

Spiritual Poison Ivy (Sabbath Meditations)
When my daughter had an encounter with poison ivy, the right side of her face became almost unrecognizable, as it became swollen and turned a bright shade of red.
This vile plant grows prolifically on our three acre plot of land. Over the years I’ve waged a battle to eradicate it from those parts of our property that we use and maintain. But even though you can’t see evidence of its existence above ground, its root system, which seemingly never dies and extends like a vast network, continues to thrive in the soil underneath. We’re fairly certain that it was from soil containing these roots that Courtney, while weeding a flower bed, came into contact with the stuff.
The problem with poison ivy is that once it’s on the skin, it’s almost impossible to stop its damaging affects unless recognized and dealt with immediately. In very rare cases, exposure to large amounts of the plant’s oil can cause complications that can lead to death.
As we watched our daughter’s face swell, we did become a little concerned that this was more than just an uncomfortable nuisance. After consulting the local nurse line and after doing some research, we did finally find some medicine (very expensive medicine I might add) that did wonders in alleviating some of the discomfort and in helping to draw out the poison faster.
Paul writes in Romans 7:18-20, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.”
He continues in Rom 7:24-25 “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 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.”
As Christians we have had our senses trained by the Holy Spirit and by God’s word to recognize sin. But, as Paul here recognized in his own life, even though we do our best to eradicate any vestiges of it from our lives, because we are human and because we live in a fallen world, we will never be able to completely keep ourselves from its harmful affects. Its tentacles reach into areas we cannot see before we have fallen prey to its poison. It still has the power to bring us under the death penalty.
Paul, however, does reveal the antidote. There’s only one way to be released from its grip. We have the utlimate healing balm … and it’s not expensive … it’s freely given. It’s the blood of our Savior, who gave His life for us so that we could be released from the penalty of sin.
We still might have to suffer the consequences of sins in our lives. We might need to let the infection run its course. But it should be comforting to know that through the power of His blood, our ultimate healing is certain.

Why did God allow that to happen to me? (Morning Companion)
I like reading different translations of the Bible in order to pick up various nuances in the text. One of my favorite “reading” Bibles (as opposed to a “study” Bible) is one that came out of Britain several decades ago. But its translation of I Corinthians 11:28-32 startled me:
Everyone is to recollect (examine – KJV) himself before eating this bread and drinking this cup; because a person who eats and drinks without recognising the Body is eating and drinking his own condemnation. In fact that is why many of you are weak and ill and some of you have died. If only we recollected (judged – KJV) ourselves, we should not be punished like that. But when the Lord does punish us like that, it is to correct us and stop us from being condemned with the world. (Jerusalem Bible)
These mighty strong words seem to say that when bad things happen, it is because God is punishing us for one reason or other. I know of no other translation that hits this point in quite that way, including The New Jerusalem Bible, and therefore I doubt that the Jerusalem Bible’s wording is as Paul intended.
But the fact is, people do believe the theology as espoused in that translation, that if something bad happens, it must be God’s punishment. That misconception can lead to unwarranted self-flagellation.
True, there are scriptural examples of God-caused unpleasantness throughout scripture including things that happen to godly people (Job, Joseph) and other cases of God’s judgment for sin (Deuteronomy 28, Leviticus 26).
But there are also examples of bad stuff just happening that as far as we know God did not have a hand in. Things just happen.
One example would be the Apostle Paul. An unfriendly mob had stoned him, dragged him out of the city, and left him for dead. Was this God-ordained punishment for something he did? Did he have some terrible character flaw that God saw fit to punish?
All that is doubtful. More likely this event was no more than the price one sometimes pays for telling truths that this world doesn’t want to hear. For proof of the volatility it can usher forth, say something politically incorrect and watch what happens.
This story of Paul does have an interesting ending. He recovers from the attempt on his life and goes right back into the city that tried to kill him. Can you imagine the encouraging effect this must have had on the church at Lystra? It would have likely bolstered their courage and commitment. As so often happens under such circumstances, what some intended for evil in the end turns out for good.

Last Time in Jerusalem? (OzWitness)
It’s been years since I was here in Jerusalem, actually the largest city in Israel, as well as its capital. I found it hot and rather humid in comparison to winter in Australia.
I took my first drive out to a village South of Jerusalem, called Tekoa, the hometown of the Prophet Amos. The GPS in the car took me a long way round through several Arab villages, something the Jews would never contemplate. But when I ended up in a dead end, it was a kind Palestinian who got in his car and led me to the correct route.
Arriving at a Tekoa, it was obviously a Jewish town, though it was surrounded by the West Bank. The comparison was clear: neat, tidy, trees, shade, no litter or rubbish, and the infrastructure quite Western. I felt sorry for the inhabitants of the West Bank, who had been unable to achieve the same facilities.
In fact Jerusalem ranks as Israel’s poorest city, and I suspect that the 36.5% who are Muslim figure in that number. Christians are just 1.8%. Strangely for a Western county, Jewish women produce an average of 4.3 children and the Arabs 3.3% (2017). In total 31% are religiously observant.
But here, something new is happening. A new Interior Ministry report shows a significant increase the numbers of the city’s Arab residents requesting Israeli citizenship, up 47% from 2015. most Arabs are “residents” not citizens. They are entitled to social services and rights like health, National Insurance and employment rights, but do not hold passports or citizenship.
Citizenship brings better jobs, use of Ben Gurion Airport and safeguards the rights of residents of Jerusalem. These new applicants often try to hide it from the Palestinian Authority and Hamas activists, but secretly many of them already have passports.
This trend reflects a recognition that maybe the Arab leadership are making many mistakes. Who would want to live in Syria, or Iraq? Israel is obviously better, and many Arabs must be asking what could be the cause of those very bitter fruits in their nations?

Celebrating Defeat (Sabbath Meditations)
A momentous milestone passed in our family a few weeks ago. You know, as you go through life there are little events that mark turning points in our lives, experiences that signal the end of one season and the beginning of another. That was this event for me.
What was it? Well, my son Jordan beat me arm wrestling.
I know, I know. I was just as stunned as you are. And here’s the thing; It wasn’t even close. It was decisive, indisputable in fact. Not that I didn’t attempt to dispute it mind you.
I had tweaked my back just a few days before … okay, a week and a half before. But surely that played into the outcome. And, I mean, I am still recovering from my knee surgery back in December after all. Never mind that this was an arm wrestling content, not a leg wrestling contest. The rationale seemed logical at the time. We all know the body is a complex organism. Everything’s potentially connected somehow. A weakness in one part of the body can negatively impact the health of other parts of the body. So that arm/leg connection, not such a stretch in my mind. It makes sense, right? Right?
But my son didn’t buy it. And to be honest, neither did I. We both knew I had been beaten, my loss undeniable.
So okay, admittedly it seems like a small thing. Just get over yourself, Tony, and move on.
But there were a lot of emotions attached to that loss! For me, this was so much more than just an arm wrestling match. As I said it signaled the passing of one season and the beginning of another. And I had some conflicting emotions about it.
The one that rose up immediately was good, old fashioned carnal pride. I mean, I’m the alpha! I’m the dad, the master of my domain! The King of the Castle! The protector of the house! And, well, that “master” moniker, that protector status, maybe not so much. At least not
as much, as far as my continued physical dominance is concerned anyway.
This loss was a not so subtle reminder that, “Hey guy, you’re getting older. Your not quite the man you used to be.” Somewhere, somehow I had crested the high point in my life in terms of strength and vitality and now I was teetering toward the downward slope. Not an easy pill to swallow.
But, at the same time as those feelings of pride and loss arose, I began to sense another emotion well up somewhere beneath the surface, blunting and softening my sense of loss and defeat. It was a different source of pride … pride in my son. All of my aspirations, my hopes for him, to see him grow, to see him become a man, the master of his own domain, they were happening. He was increasingly becoming, had become, a man. The baton, in a small way, was passing from me to him. Not that physical strength defines manhood, mind you. There are, of course, many other areas – emotionally, mentally, professionally and spiritually – where he has grown and is growing. This physical milestone was symbolic of all of that. And the fact that this would happen, well, is as it should be. As parents, our goal, our purpose, is to prepare the way for our sons and daughters to thrive and to grow after us. It’s the way God designed it to work.
In John 3, John the baptist was approached by some of his disciples, who were concerned that this Jesus of Nazareth, who had been with John beyond the Jordan, was now baptizing and drawing disciples to himself.
Now, John’s disciples understood his mission. John had been clear that he had come to prepare the way for the Messiah, the hope of Israel. But still, even with the excitement of knowing what John had proclaimed had come to pass, it seems some pride was making this reality a bitter pill to swallow.
And it’s not hard to understand how they may have been feeling. It must have been a heady experience to be part of such a work. They had watched God use John powerfully. And they had been apart of this exciting, compelling ministry. People had flocked from all over Palestine to hear John speak and be baptized.
But then suddenly they weren’t. This exciting, thriving ministry they had given their time and effort to, was beginning to wane. The surge of people coming to John were now moving past him, and them, and going toward this Jesus. So they were, understandably, beginning to feel somewhat marginalized.
And so, in somewhat of a panic, they came to John, likely believing that he would share their concerns and perhaps take some kind of action to preserve what he, and they, had worked so hard to build. But what they found in his response was something entirely different than they expected.
In verses 27-30 John responds,
“A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.”
“He must increase, but I must decrease.”
John recognized that his season was passing. The ministry he had been called to was descending, was drawing to a close, and the ministry of the one of whom he had been preaching, who He had been proclaiming would appear, was now here, and beginning to increase.
He recognized that process required that he necessarily step aside. And although we aren’t told as much here in this account … because he’s human, it’s certainly not a stretch to imagine that John may have had some of those conflicting emotions, from a fleshly perspective. Even though he knew that this was his purpose, on a carnal level, there undoubtedly must have been some feelings of loss. But, if those feelings were there, it seems they were short lived, replaced by the elation and awe at witnessing the ministry of the one he’d been proclaiming beginning to grow and thrive.
So in this context, I read John’s response here not as a tepid, “Yes, I suppose he needs to increase and I need to step aside.” Rather, what we read is a resounding, almost joyous declaration: “He MUST increase, but I MUST decrease!” John was, in a sense, celebrating defeat.
God put His spirit within us with the intent that it would increase within us, transforming our hearts and minds to be like Him. This process is not an optional one in the life of a Christian. It’s a MUST!
In Romans 8:12-17 we read
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation – but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.”
You and I MUST make the choice to push aside the pull of the flesh to focus on itself … to promote the self … and instead … embrace letting His life grow and thrive within us through the Holy Spirit. That’s not an easy transition. We’re told the flesh wars against the spirit. And it’s not just a one time choice. Because we are still in the flesh, it requires we make a daily, continual choice to die to ourselves, to let the influence of His Spirit take pre-eminence in our hearts and minds.
Daily decreasing, dying to ourselves, is not an easy process. But it’s the reality of the Christian life. It’s our obligation. But when we embrace that obligation, that reality, the joy of another reality can begin, will begin, to well up inside of us.
Reading on in Romans 8, verse 14:
“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit itself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”
If we truly allow ourselves to decrease, and let Him increase within us … we can have confidence, we can rejoice fully in hope we’ve been given. We can truly rejoice in the purpose our God is working here below, and the purpose He is fulfilling within each of us to become sons, heirs and co-heirs with Christ, ultimately sharing in His glory.
That is our goal. That is His purpose for us. And what a wonderful purpose it is.
I can’t say that I’ve totally given up on the idea of being the master of my domain, at least on the physical level. I will, more than likely, challenge my son to an arm wrestling rematch … after I hit the weight room a few weeks … or months. And who knows, maybe I’ll get lucky and reclaim the title. But the writing is on the wall. The trend is there. And you know what? I’m good with that. In fact, though it’s not always easy to accept, I not only accept it, I embrace it … even celebrate it.
It’s the way of this physical life, after all. The way God designed it to be. As disciples, spiritually speaking, it’s the way He designed it to be as well. So let’s embrace it, let’s rejoice in it. Let’s celebrate defeat with a joyous declaration: “He MUST increase, and I MUST decrease!”

Pursuing What Matters (New Church Lady)
Proverbs 12:11 [ESV] Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense. …
When we read about worthless pursuits, let’s not be tempted to think of young people and their video games or Youtube watching. Nor should I only consider the potentially worthless pursuit of binging a season of my favorite show on Netflix. Instead, we must remember that the definition of what God might consider to be a “worthless pursuit” can be much more complex and far-reaching. For example, anything not guided or blessed by God – anything not within His will – can become a worthless pursuit.
James 4:13-15 warns us about setting about on any plans not guided by God [ESV] 13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”– 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
While God’s will does not need to be consulted in deciding if you should serve broccoli or green beans for dinner, buy a blue car or a black one, etc., I believe that there’s much more of our lives that could and should be subjected to the “God’s will test” than not, especially if you and I want to ensure that we don’t pursue something that is worthless.
So, we need to search God’s scriptures, lay out our plans to Him via prayer, and seek wise council among trusted advisors before life’s big decisions – like marriage, college, career choices, and volunteering. Volunteering, helping others, is an important component of the Christian walk. But we should ask God, “What should I spend my time doing? Where would you have me serve?” before getting involved with a women’s shelter, church program, service project or any other charitable deeds.
God has invested each of us with talents and 24 hours a day. Any time or talent not nestled in His will can ultimately be a worthless pursuit.
Solomon has a lot to day about pursuits in this life that don’t end up with any value. He uses the word “vanity” scores of times in the book of Solomon. The word translated “vanity” means, literally, breath or breathe. However, the implication is clear: so much of what we pursue in life is temporary and has no lasting value.
Just a few things he mentions include:
The pursuit of pleasure – Ecc. 2:1
Working to keep up with your neighbors – Ecc. 4:4
Love of money – Ecc. 5:10
Lots of words – Ecc. 6:7
Solomon actually leads off with the idea that everything pursued in this life is vanity.
Ecc. 1:14 [ESV] I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.
What does that leave us to pursue that is not worthless? What lasts? Of course, you know this. It’s the things that last beyond this life. Things like:
Good works –
Hebrews 6:10 [NIV] 10 God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.
Labors of love – 1 Corinthians 3:12-14 [NIV] 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward.
Caring for others – Matthew 25:31-46
In addition, we must consider that when we do seek and receive guidance from God on what to do with the time, resources and talents, failing to do it becomes a new problem.
James 4:17 [ESV] So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
When we seek the Lord’s will and follow it, we will not be lead into worthless pursuits.
Likely, we will be so busy doing the will of God, doing the works that last past this life, that we won’t even have time the fit in any worthless pursuits.
Consulting God’s will and pursuing the works that matter will keep us from the worthless pursuits which Solomon warns us about.

Wandering in the Wilderness (Morning Companion)
What must it be like to lead the life of a nomad while realizing you are supposed to be destined for a promised land?
Look at a map that illustrates the 40-year wanderings of Israel in the wilderness. You’ll notice that they would bivouac in one location, but once settled in a camp — and settled in their ways — the word would come to break camp and move on. For a while they would traverse the desert only to discover after some time that they were passing by the same mountain that they had passed before.
I like being comfortable. I like sitting on the porch in the front of my house and watching the world go by. But such a life without risk is a dangerous way to live, and it is clearly not the way to add purpose to your life. Israel was in the wilderness for forty years because they had refused to take a risk. They needed to learn lessons of faith, and they weren’t going to learn those lessons by sitting in front of their tents and waiting.
So every now and then that pillar of fire stirred, and the people of Israel had to break camp, pack their belongings, and follow that pillar wherever it went.
That means to break out of habits, routines, and comfort zones. Climb out of self-imposed ruts, take some risks, and try some new things, things that are bigger than you.
Maybe that means what might seem like something small. Pick up that phone and make a phone call to someone who is lonely. Drop off a casserole to a family in need. Make new friends who have different interests or backgrounds than yours.
Or maybe it might be a big thing. Organize a community service group. Run for office. Write a book. Change careers. Climb a mountain a two.
Comfortable might be comfortable, but it can lead to stagnation, laziness, and lack of personal growth. Without a little discomfort, we’ll never learn new things, never hone our gifts and talents, never reach the potential that God sees in us.
When the forty years of wandering were complete, Moses passed the baton to Joshua to lead the people to their Promised Land. His instructions to Joshua for the new challenge they were to face: “Be strong and of good courage. Do not be afraid … The Lord, He is the one who goes before you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6, 8)

The Rock, the Keys and Pentecost (The Word and The Way)
“I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”
Matthew 16:18
That verse is used to justify a recreation of the Levitical priesthood without the blood line by the Catholic church. But who is Yeshua really referring to when He says He will build His church on the rock?
The English language lacks two things that are present in the Greek that helps to obfuscate this verse. The first is gender and the second is a plural “you”. OK, some places in the south of the United States have a plural “you” rendered y’all, but you get my drift.
Gender is a function in many languages. In Spanish, a door is a puerta. It is a feminine word because the word ends in an “a”. A book is a libro, which is masculine because it ends in “o”. Jesus renames Simon to “Peter” in Matthew 16:18 and that word is “Petros”, a masculine word. When He refers to “this rock”, it uses “petra”, a feminine word. The importance here is that Matthew does not use the exact same word twice, so the bible is not indicating that Peter is the rock He would build His church upon.
Yeshua says He will build His church upon this rock. The word for “church” is the Greek “ekklesia” which is not what we in the 21st century would consider a church. An “ekklesia” is an assembly or congregation. It is not a building or an organization, but an assembly of believers. The first place we see “the assembly” is at Mt. Sinai where the entire assembly of Israel plus a large number from the nations are gathered together to receive instructions from the Almighty. At the end of the 10 commandments, it is the assembly that cries out for a mediator. Yahweh was going to speak all the commandments directly to the congregation. In Matthew 16:18, Yeshua is telling us He will build His congregation on a rock. Peter is part of the congregation, not the rock! The only person present in that dialogue who could be considered apart from the congregation, or rather above it, would be the Son of Yahweh, Yeshua the Messiah! Just like on Mt. Sinai, where God was above the congregation, the Messiah is above the congregation today, building it by sending the Spirit to help us! Peter is never considered above the congregation in the scriptures.
With respect to the plural “you”, we need to look at Matthew 16:18-19 in context.
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He *said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Matthew 16:14-15
Jesus starts speaking to the entire group. Then Peter answers and gets rewarded with his new name. Then comes the question: Whom does Yeshua give the keys to? In context, it’s to the whole group, the congregation! Remember, He is talking about building his congregation here, an assembly! So, in verse 19, when it is written, “I will give you the keys…”, it is more appropriate to say, in southern USA parlance, “I will give y’all the keys…”. We can take even more confidence in this because verse 20 and subsequent verses talk about Jesus talking to the lot of them, not just Peter in the singular.
Another thing to note is that the giving of the keys (supposedly to Peter) is absent the other three gospel accounts. If Peter was named a Super Apostle in Matthew 16:18, the head of the new religion no less, then why isn’t it all over the gospels? It’s even absent the letters of Paul, Acts, and the rest of the NT. It’s important to remember that the 66 book bible we use today did not come to fruition for three hundred years after the ascension of the Messiah. Different regions used different gospel accounts and had different resources in addition to the Tanakh or the Septuagint. If Peter was named the Super Apostle in Matthew 16:18, then millions of believers in the decades after the ascension were completely ignorant of that fact if, history is our guide.
More compelling is how we see the makeup of the NT congregation after the ascension. Do we see anyone asserting control over the assembly? Do we see a singular head of the congregation making all the big decisions? Do we see the supposed lower-level Apostles looking at one individual man for their leadership? The answer is a resounding “no”.
When Paul discovers a controversy over circumcising the gentile converts, what does he do? Does he write a letter to Peter asking for his imminence to clear it up? Nope. In
Acts 15, we see a council of the spirit-led believers tackle a very important issue of the NT assembly: circumcision. In this banter, Peter is clearly not the figure in charge. The one who ultimately “makes the call” is James, but even he can’t be considered as having authority because it goes on to show the entire congregation accepting the solution and then sending out the messengers to spread the word. In other words, the entire assembly of believers had the keys, not Peter, just like in Matthew 16.
Since Pentecost is on Sunday, there is yet another place to look to see if Peter was really the Super Apostle. That’s Acts 2. In
Numbers 11:25, Yahweh took some of the Spirit that was given to Moses and divided it among the 70 elders. In this case, one man, Moses, really was in charge. So, when the Spirit descended upon the Apostles, did it descend on Peter and then from Peter to the rest? Let’s look:
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. Acts 2:1-4
All the believers received and equal share, all at once. Take heed, brothers and sisters, and do not be deceived. The keys were given to the congregation. Today, we are that congregation, if we follow the Spirit who leads into all truth.

Bigger, Deeper, Wider (New Church Lady)
My daily journal offered up
Proverbs 11:24-25 as the journal prompt one day last week. You may know it from the NIV to say: 24 One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. 25 A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.
Solomon repeats this in Ecclesiastes 11:1 [NKJV] Cast your bread upon the waters, For you will find it after many days.
The New Testament echoes this sentiment in Luke 6:38 [NIV] Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” This is also the message of the Parable of the Sheep and Goats [Matt.25]
The Bible is clear that generosity is the key to abundance and it is extremely important for us believers to practice a life of giving – of sharing our blessings with others. What you give may be time or money or food or any number of things.
However, it seems that the version used by the devotional journal, The Message Bible, offers an entirely different view of verse 24.
Proverbs 11:24 [MSG] The world of the generous gets larger and larger; the world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller.
I know that The Message Bible is widely panned by Bible experts as being more of a paraphrase. Indeed it is the only translation I could find that varies from the theme that a person who gives generously gains more back. So, I cannot say that the MSG has it right. But I am fascinated by the idea that the generous person’s world expands.
What this inspired me to think about is how giving to other broadens our horizons and world view. Perhaps it is true that when we give to a neighbor, it expands our world out from our own homes and families. If we give time to a soup kitchen, we are perhaps expanding our world from our neighborhoods to the city or county. If we donate to a cancer research organization, our world expands from county to the nation. And if we sponsor a child in a third world country or give to a non-profit like the
Tabitha Outreach Foundation, our worlds expand from our own nation to the world.
Giving feels good. Who among us hasn’t wished we could do more than the time or means we have available allow us to do? When you see floods, disease and famine on the news, don’t you wish you could reach out and clothe, feed and heal the whole world or maybe put a hedge of protection around them? Don’t you give what you can, perhaps a small donation or some heartfelt time in prayer?
When your prayers are answered, when the money you donated contributes to supplies for impoverished or war-torn nations, when the food you donate to your church’s food pantry helps a struggling single parent, when the fans or blankets you give to an elderly person or the time you spend singing at a nursing home brings a smile and comfort to the recipients, your world expands and so does your heart.
God’s economy makes no sense from a human, carnal standpoint. How can you give yourself into prosperity? Only by God’s blessing.
Similarly, the way our hearts and minds expand when we give makes no sense from a human, carnal standpoint. Shouldn’t we give what we have responsibly decided we can and then say “I’ve done enough?” Maybe. But I don’t think that is how it works for those with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. When a Christian gives, his/her world expands and he/she wants to reach further, dig deeper, sow blessings wider, give more, maybe even save the world.
Can you expand your world a little further today? One more minute in prayer or $1 more in donation or another pair of warm socks for the nursing home or one more note to a lonely person or one more word of encouragement to a struggling teen. Not so you’ll reap the promised prosperity, but so that your world will grow bigger, deeper and wider.
The more you do, the more you’ll want to do. The more generous you are, the more generous you’ll want to be. That’s God’s way.

A New World Order (New Horizons)
[We want] ‘a man of sufficient stature to hold the allegiance of all the people … Send us such a man and, whether he be god or devil, we will receive him’. Paul-Henri Spaak
Our world is fast moving towards unity – a new world order in which education, business, politics, religion are all unified under one world leader. The process has developed silently, slowly, largely unseen over many decades, but is soon to affect all of us.
The global elite can’t wait and are actively promoting it. To them the nation state is archaic and best eliminated. A ‘global state’ is seen as a golden future for all of us – a world of total equality, shared resources, peaceful co-existence, extinction of the divisive concept of ‘race’, the end of hunger and disease.
Utopia!
This transformation, by this plan, is to be activated by the United Nations, and was actively promoted by Robert Muller, the former UN Assistant Secretary-General: ’…We must move as quickly as possible to a one-world government; a one-world religion; a one-world leader’.
It is the UN’s stated policy: ‘The age of nations must end. The governments of nations have decided to order their separate sovereignties into one government to which they will surrender their arms.’ (U.N. World Constitution)
Official UN departments oversee each sector (
e.g. UNESCO for education and science), and for purposes of political administration the world has, reportedly, been sub-divided by the UN into ten regions, each with its own leader, who cedes his authority to a single world leader.
One department, Muller adds, oversees religion: ‘
Peace would be impossible without the taming of fundamentalism’ through a United Religions’.
The path to religious unity is strewn with many way-marks. Anglicans have formally acknowledged the Pope as pre-eminent. Methodists actively discuss merger with the Anglicans – a return to their roots. Lutherans have long since abandoned the pretence of being reformers. Inter-denominational services are increasingly commonplace and include ‘speaking in tongues’ and emotional arm-waving. And leading United States Protestant evangelists have signed up to the Catholic doctrine of justification (by works).
Central to all the changes sits the Papacy. Papal occupants of ‘the throne of Peter’ have pursued this agenda since the early sixteenth century.
Protestant denominations are viewed not as spiritual partners, but as rebellious children who must return to ‘mother church’. All ‘heresy’ is, eventually, to be eliminated – if necessary, as with the Inquisition in the Middle Ages, by torture and death.
God, however, has an alternative agenda which will supersede man’s faulty and ultimately despotic plans. Messiah will return, not in the disguise of a mere human, but as the all-powerful divine Ruler of our planet. He will have observed the dire universal consequences of the United Nations plan (or, probably, a similar alternative) and will, having put down all opposition, start the process of re-construction.
His rule will encompass all nations – a true thousand year
reich presided over benignly by the King of kings and where all mankind will, with transformed hearts and minds, have free access to the Spirit of God.

Minute by Minute (Sabbath Meditations)
One of my favorite music groups as a kid was the Doobie Brothers. One song of theirs I liked in particular was titled ‘Minute by Minute’. I never really thought about what the song was about, I just liked the beat … Minute by Minute by Minute by Minute … I just keep holding on …
Many people don’t really know how to live minute by minute do they? Although there is some merit in looking and planning for the future, many of us tend to spend too much of our time there. We’re constantly looking ahead to the next big event, racing to and fro across the face of the earth, checking our watches and marking our calendars. Precious little time is spent enjoying the moment, being 100% in the present.
Even though it might be the by-product of living in our frenzied, fast food society, I don’t think it’s a healthy one, and certainly not one conducive to personal or spiritual growth. In fact, I would guess that all of our rushing ahead to be somewhere else or to do something else must at times frustrate God.
In Psalms 46:10 He tells us to
“Be still and know that I am God.”
Being still is a tall order for a lot of us. But God wants us to more than just occasionally step out of our frenzied pace and focus on the here and now. He’s saying, I have something I want to teach you right now, in this moment … so stop running around doing and planning all of these things you think are so important and be still … take the time to know me … to reflect on the creation I have made, to enjoy the family I have given you, and the relationship you have with Me. Be still and know that I am God. You can’t very well do that if your constantly racing ahead at light speed.
So maybe we can take a life lesson from that Doobie Brothers song … well, at least the chorus. It’s the only part I remember anyway. Minute by Minute by Minute by Minute …
I will meditate on Your precepts, and contemplate Your ways. I will delight myself in Your statutes; I will not forget Your word.” Psalms 119:15-16

Ahithophel and Betrayal (Morning Companion)
How can you tell whether a friend is really a friend or just someone who pretends to be a friend for personal advantage? Short answer: sometimes you can’t.
We do know friendships of convenience happen. In one of his psalms (Psalm 41) David laments that “even my close friend whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.”
While John’s gospel takes this as a prophecy of Judas Iscariot, David was referring more immediately to one of his trusted advisors, a man named Ahithophel. Like Judas, Ahithophel betrayed his friend. Here is the context of the betrayal and a lesson to go with it.
King David’s son Absalom foments a coup against his father. By all appearances the rebellion is about to succeed. In fear for his life David flees the capital. Absalom moves into the palace and even co-opts David’s harem. Ahithophel, one of David’s trusted advisors, reads the political map and does the expedient thing: he joins Absalom in the rebellion, abandoning his long-time friend David.
Motives are hard to accurately impute, but the descriptions “hanger-on” and “opportunist” might fit this situation. “I will be your friend as long as there is potentially something in it for me.” That succinctly defines political alliances and realities, and it seems like an apt characterization of this case.
If you want to know who your real friends are, you’ll find out when they have nothing to gain from having you around. A certain subset of people will love things and use people instead of loving people and using things. That appears to be so with Ahithophel and also with his archetype Judas.
But we must also realize another truth. 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. The 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.

Ten Pounds of Rock (New Church Lady)
My husband has two frequent sayings:
“Don’t put that rock in my bag.” This applies to someone who tries to place responsibility on his shoulders that doesn’t belong there.
“You are trying to put 10 pounds of rock in a five-pound bag.” This is usually said to me because I try to do too much in a given day and am never satisfied that I have done enough.
As a Christian, are you letting others place burdens on you that they should not?
In the early New Testament, there was great debate over whether or not the Gentile converts to Christianity must be circumcised.
Acts 15:24 [KJV] Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, [Ye must] be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no [such] commandment.
You can read more about that in Acts 15.
It was debated among the leaders of the day, who concluded that circumcision was not required. [See
Acts 15:28-29] Perhaps the Apostles were appropriately wary of adding their own requirements to God’s because they had seen Jesus take the religious leaders to task for doing just that.
Here are two examples of Jesus calling the religious leaders of His day for adding burdens to the law and the lives of the people:
Matthew 23:2-4 [NIV] The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
Luke 11:46 [NIV] Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.
Don’t let others put burdens on you that the Father and Jesus have not called you to bear – not other Christians, not non-Christians, not the religious leaders of our day.
As Christian, are you, yourself, taking on burdens that you should not?
I am one of those people who might get 20 things done on a Sunday, but still feels bad that there were five more things on my list left undone. I’m the same at work. At work, this can create a topnotch, star employee who contributes a lot. However, it does not create a balanced employee and it opens up the very real possibility of burn out.
As repentant believers, sometimes we continue to carry the burdens of past sins, when we should be letting go. Jesus does not load us up with burdens.
Matthew11:30 [KJV] For my yoke [is] easy, and my burden is light.
We have to let go of what is behind us, that sin we have already repented of, if we are to move forward, following the example of Paul.
Philippians 3:13-14 [KJV] Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but [this] one thing [I do], forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
The burden of sin, once repented of, is gone. We should not burden ourselves by continuing to carry it around. We have other burdens we ARE supposed to be bearing and we cannot do that if the 5-pound bag of life already has 10 pounds of unnecessary burdens in it.
Sisters, do not carry burdens that Jesus Christ died to take away – that He carried to the cross so that you would no longer have to carry them.
As Christians, are we bearing the burdens we should bear?
We have a responsibility to help each other bare the burdens of this life.
Galatians 6:2 [NKJV] Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
That is difficult to do if you have 10 pounds of rock in your own bag or if you are carrying unnecessary burdens others have placed on your life.
Bearing the burdens of others – helping to share their load by providing comfort, prayers, food or whatever else we can – is what we are called to do. The needs of others is all the burden we are to be carrying.
Let’s think about what we are carrying and cast off the unnecessary burdens of guilt or responsibility or service that we or others put on our lives. Only when we lay down the burdens that don’t belong on our shoulders can we then be free to help others with the burdens in their lives.

Share Your Energy! (Sabbath Meditations)
“How you all doing?! Let me hear how much you love this!”
“Come on! You can do better than that! Let me hear you!”
I was about thirty minutes into an hour long spin class, pedaling my brains out on a stationary bike, along with thirty or so others who’d signed up for the same torture session.
At this point in the workout, my legs were hurting, my lungs were burning and frankly this over-enthusiastic instructor was getting on my nerves. Why couldn’t he just leave us to suffer alone in silence? Is yelling and screaming really necessary? After all, I’m here working my tail off aren’t I? Isn’t that enough confirmation that I’m committed?
So, I decided to ignore him. I thought, maybe if I don’t respond, he’ll eventually grow tired of trying and just shut up. That sentiment seemed to be the consensus among most of my fellow sufferers in the room.
But then he said something so profound that I almost fell off my bike.
“You guys are all way too into yourselves!! Look up!! Look around!! You’re not in this alone, you know!! You’ve got to share your energy, people!”
Share your energy? I’d never thought of it in quite that way before. Maybe all of that yelling and hype served a worthwhile purpose after all.
Sure I was hurting. Sure I wanted to quit. But I wasn’t alone. There were others around me who knew how I was feeling because, at various times throughout this hour long ordeal, they were hurting just as much as I. No doubt all of us could ride harder and longer with the power of our combined energy and encouragement than we could just by relying on our own.
It’s a powerful principle. Not only for surviving the occasional grueling workout, but for surviving our spiritual battles as well.
Galatians 6:2 tells us to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
God put us in this thing called Church, His body, so that we’d have a means of drawing energy from, and sharing energy with, others.  He gave us one another so we wouldn’t have to struggle against sin, trials, hardships, the ups and downs of this Christian walk, alone.
But sadly, so many of us don’t use our relationship with others in the Body for the purpose God intended. Instead church becomes, as the lyrics to one contemporary Christian song,
Stained Glass Masquerade, goes, a place filled with “happy plastic people … with walls around our weakness, with smiles to hide our pain.” In such an environment, the opportunities God provides His people to tap into a tremendous source of power and energy for personal change and growth are too often squandered.
In Malachi 3:16 we read, “Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another.”
Hmm … what do you suppose it is they spoke to one another about? The standing of their favorite sports teams? The politics of the day? The weather? Let’s read on.
“And the LORD listened and heard them; So a book of remembrance was written before Him. For those who fear the LORD. And who meditate on His name. ‘They shall be Mine,’ says the LORD of hosts.”
Isn’t that amazing? Have you ever thought of God listening in on your conversations with your brothers and sisters in Christ?
And what did He hear? He heard them speak of their love for Him, their fear and respect for His ways. These Christians were sharing their burdens, encouraging and building each other up in the fear of the Lord.
Satan wants you and me to be spiritually isolated. He knows that when we are weak and isolated we are most vulnerable to attack. God placed us in a body of believers as a buttress against the enemy, especially during times of weakness. It’s during those times that our God knew we would most need the encouragement of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
That encouragement is only possible in an environment where people feel safe, supported and cared for enough to share their brokenness. God has put us together. He has seen to it that none of us need struggle against sin, trials or weakness, alone. He created the forum, His Church. It’s up to us to create the environment.

Making Lemonade (Morning Companion)
“If life hands you a lemon, make some lemonade”.
I don’t know about you, but when I’m going through a rough spot in life, the last thing I want to hear is someone telling me to “take that lemon and make some lemonade.”
Instead of proverbs, I would rather have comfort.
That’s what Job was hoping for when lemons entered his life. To his three erstwhile friends, after they gave him their third degree treatment, he said, “Miserable comforters are you all!” (Job 16:2). In fact one of the lines of argument from his “friend” Eliphaz was to just cheer up. Good things can come of this if you take these lemons and make some lemonade (Job 4:1-9).
Job was not comforted by such comments, and I doubt most of us would be.
And yet there is something to be said about having trials in life. We might not understand them, but as James says, “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith works patience” (James 1:2,3). Tough times can build something that easy times cannot.
The adventures of Joseph in the Old Testament begins with a description of a rather arrogant young man, his Dad’s favorite kid, who likes to taunt his older brothers with revelations about his own greatness, while tattling to Dad about their antics.
The brothers seize the opportunity to get him out of their lives by selling him into slavery, but resourceful fellow that he is, Joseph does quite well for himself even in slavery, until one day he finds himself in the dungeon through no fault of his own.
Life handed him some verifiable lemons, and even though we are not told he was discouraged, we can certainly guess that he was.
But as the story unfolds, we learn that the events in Joseph’s life were in fact a part of a grand Divine plan. Joseph arises from prison and slavery with a new level of maturity and high responsibility. His wisdom and skills save Egypt from starvation, and along with it he saves other nations as well.
Even his own estranged family is saved from extinction through Joseph.
Joseph’s words to his brothers after their reconciliation tell us something about lemons and lemonade: “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20)
And this is the real question behind the lemons to lemonade story. Notice the way Joseph phrases his statement. “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good.” Put differently. “You thought you handed me a lemon, but God used it to make lemonade.”
Life hands you a lemon? You can try to make it into lemonade if you wish, but Joseph gives us a better alternative. Let God make the lemonade. God loves making lemonade.

A Beauty to be Shared (Sabbath Meditations)
As my wife and I went on a walk in our country neighborhood, we came upon a scene that elicited both a chuckle and a feeling of sadness at the same time. It was a house whose owners had obviously put a great deal of work into a flower garden that lay to one side of their property. It wasn’t a large garden, but it was exploding with beautiful color … that is … what color you could see. It would have been the perfect scene of natural beauty had it not been for a four foot tall metal fence that they had erected around the perimeter of the entire flower garden. It was as if the flowers had been placed in the state penitentiary. Much of the beauty of the garden had been horribly masked by the ugliness of cold steel.
It was obvious to us why they must have put up the fence. Given the mildness of the previous winters, these well-meaning people had erected this barricade to defend their prize flowers from becoming critter salad. Flowers and shrubbery aren’t cheap, and rabbits in particular can take out quite a few flower plants in short order.
I couldn’t help but think that, had it been my garden, I would have tried to find some more unobtrusive way to protect my flowers. If, having found none, I think I would rather run the expense of occasionally replacing a few plants than hiding them away in Fort Knox.
Looking at the flower bed, I was reminded of an acquaintance I had while in college. This person had qualities very similar to this garden. It took me quite a while to learn that this individual was a wonderful person on the inside. She was witty, thoughtful and enjoyable to be around. The problem was that she was terribly shy and closed up on the outside. Unless you were lucky enough to get behind the walled off exterior, you never would have the pleasure of getting to know much about her at all.
I never knew what circumstances in life caused her to shut herself off emotionally from much of the world. Her emotional closure exceeded simple shyness. Perhaps, like the flowers in the flower bed, her leaves had been chewed on a few too many times in life. She might have been picked on or teased as a child or perhaps rejected by peers too many times as a teenager. Whatever the circumstances, they led to her to pound in the stakes and erect a practically impenetrable steel cage around her emotions.
Jesus gives some difficult instruction in Luke 6:27-31, “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.
I think if I were to summarize these words of Jesus it would be “don’t build fences”. Regardless of how people or events might hurt us, we as Christians are to continue to reach out, to open ourselves up, to others. We aren’t to close ourselves off from the world, regardless of how vulnerable we might feel.
I’ve long since lost contact with my acquaintance from college. Actually, it wasn’t till I saw that fenced in garden that she came to mind. I guess there wasn’t much to remember of someone who shared so little of herself. That, in itself, is sad. I pray that she gradually was able to let down her protective fencing and let others in to share her life. I pray that she learned that to risk having a few leaves chewed on is far preferable to the lonelinesss of hiding behind an iron curtain. The work that God is doing within us is simply much too beautiful not to be shared.

Would You Sacrifice Your Son? (Morning Companion)
A friend recently told me about a conversation he had with a Muslim. He asked the man, “Do you believe in Jesus?” Of course the answer was yes. Of course Muslims believe in Jesus.
“Do you believe he is the Son of God?”
His answer: “No. What father would sacrifice his son in such a horrible manner?”
How would you answer that question? If Jesus were God’s Son, how could he do such a thing to Him?
Is John 3:16 a sufficient answer? “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son …”
Maybe that verse is good enough to show how much love God has for us, and that’s why he would do such a thing, but it’s only a partial answer. It’s a partial answer because it’s based on a faulty assumption. It assumes that the decision that Jesus would report for duty as the sacrificial lamb was the Father’s idea, and He drafted Jesus in a Selective Service kind of way. Jesus says otherwise:
“My Father loves me because I lay down my life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.” (John 10:17 – 18 NKJV)
As he was about to be arrested he said:
“Do you not think that I cannot pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53 NKJV)
I can imagine a conversation similar to what a father and son might have where the son decides to join the Marines. The father might not want the son to put himself at risk of the ultimate sacrifice, but the son loves his country so much that he volunteers for duty. The father might try to talk him out of it, but in the end the father is proud of his son for his willingness to sacrifice in the service of a great cause.
It is not beyond possible that a similar conversation took place sometime in ages past. The Father did not order the Son to do anything. It was the Son who enlisted, not drafted, and the Father, if we are to believe Jesus’s words, gave Jesus the authority at any step of the way to opt out. And He volunteers for one reason. “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
This might defy reason for some in this world, but we do not need to sacrifice ourselves for our God. Our God sacrificed himself for us.

All That Glitters (Sabbath Meditations)
A while ago I read an article about the California gold rush of 1848. That winter, people from all walks of life set out for the west coast state. Many pawned their possessions to get there. The gold seekers, also known as Forty-Niners or Argonauts, joined the rush from as far off as Europe and Australia. Many Chinese also flocked to San Francisco to join in the gold rush.
Now some of these gold seekers didn’t know the first thing about mining or gold. A lot of them found, instead of gold, a look-alike called pyrite – fool’s gold. It looks like gold, but it’s worthless. The problem is, there was a lot more of it than the real thing, so a lot of people fell for it. But there is a discernible difference. Pyrite tends to more brittle than gold, it tends to fall apart; it doesn’t last, while gold is soft and malleable. Gold doesn’t tarnish; its value and its beauty don’t fade. Also, pyrite tends to be plentiful … it’s common, while gold is precious, a rare commodity.
Many of the Forty-Niners would stumble on some of this stuff and think they were finding great riches. Others fell prey to crooks who would pawn this worthless substance off as the real thing.
The Forty-Niners weren’t the only people to ever fall for an impostor. There are plenty of things in this world that glitter that aren’t gold. But did you know that people can fall prey to the same type of delusion when they begin digging around for God? In their quest to find God, some fall for what looks like the real deal, feels like the real deal, but is really just fool’s gold.
The reason some fall into this trap is that they really don’t know what they are looking for in the first place. They seek a God who they believe will meet some emotional or physical need; failing to understand that physical blessings, a fulfilled life, a sense of personal purpose, a feeling of acceptance … although they sparkle like gold, are not the real deal.
The fact is that nowhere in the Bible does God promise that, if we follow Him, we will have the best career, the nicest house, the happiest marriage, or the most fulfilling life. Nowhere does he promise that we will never get sick, never have bad things happen. To enter into a relationship with Him expecting these to result is setting ourselves up for disillusionment. It won’t be long before you’ll realize that Christians have problems. They get sick, they get in accidents, they die, they have marriage problems, lose jobs … just like non-Christians.
Make no mistake; the Christian life is not the easy route to take. Rather than having a charmed life, God says that your life will be more difficult. It will be filled with tests and trials. The inevitable realization that what they thought was gold was really just a bag of worthless rocks can be profoundly discouraging to some. Rather than resume their search for the real thing, sadly some chuck it all and walk away.
It doesn’t have to be that way, if we understand what the real gold looks like in the first place.
Colossians 1:19-21, “For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled.”
The person who truly seeks a relationship with God will do so, not because having it will bring some kind of emotional fulfillment or physical reward, but rather because of a heart-felt desire for connection with Him. They have come to understand that they are sinners who have been alienated from Him and are in need of forgiveness. Their desire for connection, for reconciliation, motivates their search for Him.
1 John 3:1-2 tells us, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God. And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”
Once reconciled to God; once brought into relationship with Him; they become His children. They become members of His eternal Family. And that awesome understanding, my friends, provides wealth beyond comprehension.
Matthew 6:19 tells us to lay up our treasure in Heaven, not on this earth. God is less interested in what we get out of this life … than how He’s using the events and circumstances in our lives now to help us recognize our need for Him and to prepare us for our future role as members of His Family. There aren’t any substitutes. Being reconciled to Him; gaining eternal entrance into His Family; that’s the gold He has to offer … and it’s the real deal.

It’s Not My Fault (The Word and The Way)
There it was. The spilt milk. Inside the fridge. And gauging from the texture, it’d been there a while. I instructed the first random child to pass by to clean it up and so began the chorus. The cries of “it’s not my fault” resounded from kid to kid, like an echo at a canyon. These cries prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they all knew about the mess and nobody lifted a finger. Lovely.
So I assembled the adolescent troops before said mess. I opened the refrigerator and confidently declared that, because it was nobody’s fault, all we had to do was to watch as the milk returned magically to the vessel from which it came. We waited but, oddly, the mess remained. What to do, what to do …
You’ll notice that blame was never assigned in the spilt milk incident. No punishment was coming at all. All that was desired was a clean fridge. Nonetheless, the children decided to make sure they were not to be blamed – as if that would be the end of the matter.
Assigning blame is sometimes unavoidable. When a project at work does not work out right or on time, then a forensic analysis is required to find out where things went wrong, for instance. But the investigation and the blame are secondary when there are messes or crises about.
I don’t remember during Navy training that figuring out who let the water into the ship was even part of the damage control policy. Step one: contain flood. Step two: shut down flooded systems and electricity. Step three: begin removing water. Somewhere around step 45 is where the “how did this happen” starts.
Check out this good example of
taking responsibility from the Bible:
I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed and said, “Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and loving kindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, we have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled, even turning aside from Your commandments and ordinances. “Moreover, we have not listened to Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings, our princes, our fathers and all the people of the land. Daniel 9:4-6
Did Daniel commit the sins he is referencing? No. But he understood that the entire people were in a pickle because of the mess that was made by their forefathers. He took the responsibility for things that he wasn’t part of because it was the goal of the exile; to bring the people low enough to acknowledge the things that got them smote in the first place.
Here’s an even better example:
When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves. Luke 23:33-34
Yeshua bore the sins of all who accept Him as Messiah. He died a sinless death to pay the price for sins that we committed. He’s the only person to have ever lived that can actually say “it’s not my fault”. But instead, He said “I’ll bear the iniquity.”
He also said this:
“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13
By laying down His life for us, He showed us how to love. This special kind of love includes taking responsibility for not only our own actions but even the actions of others – especially when it’s not our fault.

Witnessing Through Weakness (Sabbath Meditations)
I feel sorry for Thomas. Think about it for a minute. He sat at the feet of the Master. It’s sure that he was used as a tool of God to bring many to salvation. Yet when we think of him, what is the one attribute that comes to mind? Doubter.
I can’t help but wonder how many believers will approach him in the Kingdom and ask, “Aren’t you Doubting Thomas?” What do you think his response will be? What would your response be? If I were to let my carnal nature take over, I would probably respond with something like, “Yes, that’s me. And you are who?”
After a couple of days of being addressed as Doubting Thomas by well meaning brethren, I’d more than likely make my way to the throne room and, respectfully of course, exclaim to the King, “Do you know all the grief that little story of Yours has brought me?!”
The reality is, Thomas probably won’t have any of those reactions. In fact, I’m pretty confident being addressed as Doubting Thomas won’t phase him at all. Why do I believe that?
In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 the Apostle Paul writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
I’m guessing, since Thomas, like Paul, was working off the same Spirit, he was on the same page with what Paul was saying here. Tribulations, trials, bad experiences, all those things, little and big, that happen to us in the course of our walk, not only serve to make us better people, but also can be used by God to comfort, build and encourage others who struggle with their own weakness.
What most likely will be Thomas’s reaction to so many knowing him by one his greatest moments of weakness? I can think of one word: thankful.
Thankful that his story was used to demonstrate the love and patience of our Lord toward us when we fall short.
Thankful that his failing might have been the tool responsible for strengthening and encouraging others who struggle with doubt or disbelief.
Pondering this I can’t help but ask, how do I view my struggle with past or present weaknesses and failings? Am I thankful for them? Or do I, like so many who don’t know Christ, consider admitting weakness as something to avoid at all costs? Do I look back with regret at the times I’ve stumbled, mentally sweeping them under the carpet as if they never happened?
Or, like Thomas, like Paul, do I view my past failures as tools in the Father’s hands to do His work in the lives of others? Do I see my failures, my weakness, as an opportunity to glorify God?
2 Corinthians 12:7-10, “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Possibly one of the greatest witnesses we give to others is when they see us struggle. We can pour out our heart about God’s love, His purpose, His mercy and redemption to others till the cows come home but it’s when others see our faith in the midst of trial, in the midst of our failings, that our testimony is heard the loudest. It’s when you and I are at the end of our strength that God’s strength is so apparent in us.
I hope I have the opportunity to meet Thomas in the Kingdom. When I greet him, I’ll do my best not to thoughtlessly tack on the “Doubting” title. It might be challenging, as it rolls so easily off the tongue. But if I inadvertently do, I’ll be sure to follow up with a word of appreciation for the impact his life, his story, had on those who followed.

Stand Up (New Church Lady)
Proverbs 12:7 [NKJV] The wicked are overthrown and [are] no more, But the house of the righteous will stand.
The Hebrew word translated “will stand” can mean to endure. It can also mean to take a stand. I believe that the house of the righteous endures specifically because it is a house that takes a stand.
We are not meant to be silent or hidden in this world.
Luke 11:33 [ESV] No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light.
God’s own light, His Spirit, has been given to those who give their lives to Him. We must then hold that light up high – place it on a stand so that it may be lifted higher and shine out further. No one should question whether or not I am a Christian, because the light of God in me should be so obvious that they cannot doubt it.
However, we should not think of taking a stand only in the context of a Christian choosing to be killed rather than denying Christ. Don’t think of it only in the context of some well-known athlete writing scripture on his body or clothing before a game. Don’t think of it only in the context of losing your job over the Sabbath or intervening for someone being harassed by a bully.
Taking a stand happens in small things every day – in a refusal to gossip, in praying for blessings for an enemy, in choosing time with God over screen time, in calling or writing a hurting friend when you have other things to do. It happens in teaching our children and grandchildren to love and listen to God, and modeling godly behavior to them. It even occurs when we choose joy over despair or peace over worry and fear.
If you don’t turn and attack a person who has caused you trouble with gossip or back-biting at work, but instead praise and support that person – show them good in return for evil – people will notice. If you return a soft answer when faced with wrath, people will notice.These are choices to stand in God’s ways – to stand in His light – that we have the opportunity to make almost every day.
Whether in small opportunities or large ones, we must always take a stand on the side of God. If we do, the house of works we do in this life will stand in the minds of others long after we are gone from this life.
1 Corinthians 3:12-15 [NIV] 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved–even though only as one escaping through the flames.
It will stand with God, too, in His heart and in eternal rewards for what we have built with His light in us.
Luke 19:17 [ESV] And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’
Please join me in praying for God’s help to take a stand today – a stand for good and against evil; a stand for love and against hate; a stand for peace in a world where there is none; a stand for hope in a world that needs it so much and a stand for God in any circumstances where we can let His light shine in our lives and in the world around us.
Let’s pray to always stand up for God, for His ways, for His Word and for His Son, our Savior. If we have the determination, strength and Divine help to take a stand in this world, in small ways every day and in bigger situations when they come our way, then the houses we build – houses of godly character – will be built upon the Rock
[Luke 6:48] and they will endure for all eternity.

A Time to Stop Praying? (Morning Companion)
One time God told Moses to stop praying. If we accept that prayer is a good thing, why would God tell him to stop?
God to Moses: “Why are you crying out to me?” (Exodus 14:15).
Given the circumstances, I would think the question should be, “Why not?”
Moses had just led Israel out of Egypt. Through his hand God had turned the Nile into blood, brought many plagues on the Egyptians, and with boldness he had led the nation to freedom. Now, shortly after this triumphant march from slavery, Pharaoh had a change of heart and decided to chase down the fleeing masses with his infantry and chariots in order to drive them back to their former state.
Why shouldn’t Moses cry out to God? Why would God object?
In this is a lesson about prayer. The newly freed Israelites had already cried out to God (verse 10), after which Moses tells them to do something: “Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord” (verse 13). There are indeed times when all we can do is stand still and wait. But in spite of appearances this was apparently not one of those times.
Thus God says to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me?” And then he says, “Tell the children of Israel to go forward” (verse 15). It is time to get off your knees and into your hiking boots. Tell the people the time for standing still is over. Now is the time to do something about your situation.
We can make two grave mistakes regarding prayer. One is to think that we can get along just fine without God’s help. If we just work hard enough, sweat hard enough, and think clearly enough, we can make all the right things happen. I can put on my boots and fight my own way through the wilderness.
Or we can make the other mistake. There is something to be said for waiting on God, “standing still”, shall we say. It’s true that in some circumstances God’s strength is revealed through our weaknesses. But simply sitting in our pajamas while waiting for God can be just as bad as thinking we can do it all on our own. Most of the time God expects us to be actively involved in carrying out his will. “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the children of Israel to go forward.”
God could not have led them through the Red Sea had they had just stood still and waited.

Tamar, Rahab and Bathsheba (Morning Companion)
Matthew begins his gospel with a genealogy of Jesus, and he makes a point of mentioning three women: Tamar, Rahab, and “her who had been the wife of Uriah”, who was named Bathsheba. He does so for a reason.
Tamar (Genesis 38) through subterfuge prostituted herself to Judah the son of Jacob, the result of which were twin boys, one of whom became an ancestor of Jesus Christ.
Rahab was a Gentile in Jericho (Joshua 2). She was an ‘innkeeper’, but most traditional sources offer that she also plied the world’s oldest profession. The New Testament confirms this (Hebrews 11:31, James 2:25), but also calls her a woman of faith. She is best known for hiding the Israelite spies and lying about it.
Finally, Bathsheba, “who had been the wife of Uriah”, allowed King David to seduce her and later became the mother of Solomon the wise.
Matthew seems to go out of his way to relate that all three of these women, who by most standards had questionable pasts, became a part of the genealogy of the Messiah.
Think of it. The very Son of God, the Savior of the world, had questionable spots on his ancestry. But if we think of it in the light of the Gospel, we can understand better the meaning of Jesus’s mission. True, all three women had moments that were other than G rated
*. Yet Matthew mentions them as he does to illustrate not their sins but to give hope for redemption. Yes, they had sinful pasts, but those were set aside, sending us a message that our past does not need to determine our future, that in the Messiah we have hope for a new life and a place in the plan of God.
* Remember too that the men involved were no better and arguably worse.

Israel Folau’s Persecution (Ozwitness)
The controversial comments made by the Australian Football League celebrity have stirred up a hornet’s nest of politically correct idolaters, incandescent in their fury that anyone should dare speak out about their religious beliefs!
We should note that the man was simply responding to a question asked of him on social media, and he must have realised that in his position, it would go viral and cause him problems which he has experienced before.
The fact that Israel has the courage to put his beliefs before his huge income, and it is the protesters who have the problem, not Folau, for he has said that God rather than the AFL has the priority in his life, and he is obviously prepared to pay the penalty.
Jesus said:
‘If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.’ John15:19-20.
Sadly it seems that free speech is no longer so free.
OK, so he could have framed his response more diplomatically, and more accurately, for biblically  he should have said ‘Lake of Fire’ rather than ‘Hell’ but it adds up to much the same thing. If sinners do not repent, and we all sin, the Bible states that is our fate. Tough.
We all have to choose, and the Bible tells us what is right and what is wrong, so in the end, it is the protesters who are making the big mistake. Folau is not a fanatic. He just recognises that God’s word does not change with political correctness. It still says that the wages of sin is eternal death, unless we repent.

Egypt in the Rear View Mirror (Sabbath Meditations)
You know the story. They were in brutal bondage to the Egyptians, forced to slave day after day in the mud pits and fields to make bricks for the Pharoah’s building projects. Year after year they had called out to the Eternal for deliverance and year after year there was no answer. Finally, after many years of toil and hardship, through an amazing sequence of miraculous events, God delivered the Israelites from bondage.
They weren’t more than a few weeks on the road out of Egypt when they began to staring into the rear view mirror, lamenting the life they had left behind. “We remember the fish we ate freely in Egypt” they exclaimed, “the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!” (Num. 11:5)
Their whining always seemed ridiculous to me. How could people who had been so downtrodden desire to go back to that life? Well, when I started a new job, the answer to that question became a little clearer and suddenly their whining, although definitely wrong, didn’t seem quite so ridiculous any more.
It was a job that promised great opportunities for growth and development. It would allow me to work from home a couple of days a week, saving commute time and increasing the precious time I’m able to spend with my family. My wife actually found the job listing, because she had sensed that I was growing weary and frustrated at my current job and knew I was somewhat a square peg in a round hole there. I had held on for quite a while, hoping things would turn around, that I would find my niche. But year after year, I just became more and more unhappy. So when the offer came, after long consideration, I accepted the position.
About mid-way through my first week at this new job, a funny thing began to happen. I began to miss my old job. The office I had there was much bigger than my new space. The computer equipment wasn’t as nice. I was informed that, because of a deadline that had to be met by the end of October, I might have to work overtime for which, because I’m now salaried, I wouldn’t receive any extra compensation, and to top it all off, there seemed to be more traffic congestion on my commute to work than I had experienced before. In the face of these new obstacles, the problems and frustrations I experienced at my old job faded from memory, and mid week I was feeling like I had made a big mistake … that is until my wife, upon listening to my distressed whining that Wednesday evening, lovingly reminded me of all of the reasons I had made the change.
Thanks to her, and some time in prayer and reflection, I realized that these new obstacles were in fact minor compared to the benefits and opportunities this new job offered.
Now I spent only a day or so in distress over this crisis. Some people spend a great deal of their lives looking back at Egypt in the rear view mirror, lamenting over a life that could have been, should have been, had different decisions been made. It’s a strange kind of slavery they subject themselves to.
Paul says in Hebrews 12:1 “… let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
That’s advice the Israelites would have done well to follow and advice that we need to be reminded of from time to time as well.
A race car driver who spends all of his time looking in the mirror is not going to win many races. While we’re on this road of life, we would do better to look ahead at where God is taking us, focusing on the hope for the future, rather than looking back lamenting about what we have left behind.

Unto Us a Child is Born (New Church Lady)
One of the most encouraging scriptures in the Bible is
Isaiah 9:6 [ESV] For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
During Christmas time, it is often quoted by the major Christian religions of our day. At that time, the emphasis is placed on the child being born.
But to consign this scripture to an announcement of Jesus’s birth about 2,000 years ago, or to something quoted around the celebration of a pagan holiday, is to miss the depth and beauty of its meaning for believers today. Jesus came to this earth in human form. He lived and died for us, along the way experiencing what it is like to be human, so that this scripture became true:
Hebrews 4:15 [ESV] For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
But that short walk, around 33 years, was not the beginning or the end of His role in our lives, salvation and future. Isaiah 9:6 encapsulates so much more of what Jesus means to us.
Government shall be upon His shoulder
While we all look forward to Jesus’s return, when all the governments of this world, which are all corrupt and fraught with greed and error, will be replaced by His government of love. However, right now, His government leads and guides His people. We voluntarily submit to the law of love – loving even our enemies – right now, in this life. The government of our own hearts, minds and actions must be His government of love. The government of our homes must be His government of love. The government of our church organizations must be His government of love. In the future, He will govern the world. Right now, He governs every thought, word and deed of those people and organizations willing to submit to Him.
Wonderful Counselor
Jesus left us a body of work, including His words and actions, which can and should counsel our lives today. The Sermon on the Mount alone [Matthew 5,6,7] offers enough wise counsel, guidance and instruction to keep us diligently working toward becoming perfect as instructed in Matthew 5:48 [KJV] Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
There is much more rich counsel to be had, but Matthew 5, 6 & 7 alone, if you had no other words of Jesus is, in my opinion, enough to counsel our lives and to keep us busy and steadily moving toward perfection. But we are also told to seek wisdom if we lack it.
James 1:5 [NIV] 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
God is ready to give it to us. In the future, Jesus will counsel the world. Right now, He counsels anyone willing to listen to His words and obey His voice.
Mighty God
During His time on the earth, Jesus was meek and humble, but He also showed His power and authority in many ways. Some of you might think of Jesus overturning the tables of the money changers. But we should also think about the way He flexed His spiritual muscle and authority by saying, “You have heard that it was said by them of old time” and then explained the greater authority of His ministry and greater depth of these requirements, beginning with the words, “but I say to you.” [Matthew 5:21-44]
For us today, He shows His might by living in us, changing our lives and aligning our thoughts, words and deeds with His example and teachings.
Everlasting Father
While we often think of Jesus as Son, we should never forget that He had an eternal existence before He came to this earth and lives in heaven today. In addition, we should remember that Jesus and the Father are one and were one even as Jesus was on this earth. This was a point important enough to be included in Jesus’ final prayer before His crucifixion.
John 17:11, 21 [ESV] 11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. … 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
Jesus was and is and is to come. [
Revelation 4:8]
Prince of Peace

We all look forward to the time when Jesus will return and bring real, lasting peace to this conflict-torn world – when there will be no more war [Micah 4:3], nor even sorrow, nor crying.
Revelation 21:4 [ESV] 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
How wonderful to never have a reason to cry for the suffering of this world again! However, let’s not forget that peace is available to us today.
Psalm 119:165 [ESV] 165 Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble. [See also Isaiah 54:13; Hebrews 13:20]
Peace was a gift that Jesus specifically gave to us all.
John 14:27 [ESV] 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
He is our Prince of Peace right now – helping us to have inner peace in times of trouble, helping us to sow peace in our churches and families, helping us to find a way to make peace with our brethren and even our enemies when no way toward peace even seems possible. We are to be those who sow peace in this world as well – as we are told in Romans 12:18 [NIV] 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
There is no reason to only look back toward Jesus’s birth and time on this earth as the ultimate fulfillment of Isaiah 9:6. Nor should we only await the time when Jesus returns to see Him as Governor of our lives, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. He is all that to us right now. Praise God for all that He has willed and established Jesus to be to us now and all that the Father has willed and established Jesus to be to this world in the future.
Let’s look toward our Governor, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace to lead our lives now.

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.
Music & Lyrics :
You Gotta Serve Somebody

The Flash of Faith, the Thunder of Works (Sabbath Meditations)
We have an annual ritual in our house. Typically every spring, during the height of the storm season, this ritual occurs about one to two times per week, usually in the late evening. It begins with a bolt of lightning. Upon seeing a flash through the window, the countdown begins. “One one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand, four one-thousand.” Sound can travel approximately one mile in five seconds, so if the rumble of the thunder that inevitably follows that flash occurs before our count gets to five one-thousand, we know we have about five minutes to accomplish the final phase of our ritual; what I like to call “the great unplugging”. We rush around the house disconnecting the power to everything from computers to television that might potentially be fried by a direct lightning strike to our house.
In Ephesians 2:8-10 we read “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
With all of the angst in the Christian world about the relationship between faith and works, I think we’d all do good to learn a lesson from nature.
The relationship of that flash of light to the thunder that follows is reliable and predictable. No one questions which comes first, or whether one can exist without the other. The lightning always comes first, and the thunder inevitably follows.
Paul very clearly teaches that, when it comes to salvation, it’s the lightning flash of faith that saves us. Even in our best state we are altogether nothing. There is nothing that you and I can do, no degree of obedience, that can make us worthy of salvation. Our own attempts to be righteous are as filthy rags. It’s God who gets the glory for our salvation, not us.
Continuing in verse 10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
Do you hear the thunder?
While it is true that good works cannot produce salvation, they cannot be separated from the faith that does. Obedience is the fruit of a life that has been saved by Faith. They are product of a changed heart and mind. Obedience doesn’t save us, but it does reflect the fact that we
have been saved. In contrast, if our hearts aren’t set toward obeying Him, this is evidence that we never really accepted Him by Faith in the first place. There can be no thunder without the flash of lightning.
So how does that truth affect our Christian walk?
We all are familiar with the story of Mary and Martha. Martha was busy working and preparing in the kitchen while Mary, at least it seemed to Martha, was being lazy, just sitting at the Master’s feet.
When Martha basically asked Jesus to tell Mary to get off her butt and start working, Jesus replied, “Martha, Martha, you are careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Jesus wasn’t condoning laziness. Far from it. He was simply providing us a lesson in spiritual focus. Martha thought her worthiness came from working and serving. If she did enough work, then her Master would accept her.
Mary though, rather than striving to prove her worthiness to God, focused instead on developing her relationship with Him.
She understood that the key to her spiritual growth lay in seeking to put more of Him into her heart and mind. The more she trusted in Him, looked to Him, came to Him in Faith, the greater His power would be in her to resist sin and overcome this world.
To put it simply. Mary understood that the thunder of works follows the lightning of faith.
While Philippians 2 clearly commands you and me to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”, in order to do that we must understand how that work gets accomplished. Paul, in the very next verse, provides the answer.
“For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”
It’s the lightning flash of faith, bringing us into relationship with Him, that allows His Spirit to produce within us the rolling thunder of obedience.
The degree to which you and I are overcomers is directly equivalent to the degree that we are growing in relationship with Him.  Inversely, if we are not growing, not overcoming, it’s an indicator, not of a need to simply “try harder”, but rather to “draw closer.” The closer we are to Him, the more time put into growing that relationship through prayer, meditation and drinking in of His Word, the more strength we draw to help in our times of need.  How awesome is it to know that it is not my feeble effort, but His power, His mercy, His strength that helps me to stand! Thunder follows lightning as works follow Faith. It’s a physical law that mirrors a wonderful spiritual reality.

What Then Shall We Do? (Morning Companion)
In my blog of March 15 (Imagine there’s no heaven … and no religion too) I discuss my trip to a nation where socialism had full sway and how that nation looked from the inside. At the end of the piece, I wrote the following:
[H]istory teaches us that every time mankind tries to implement a utopian dream it becomes a dystopian nightmare. I saw it in 1983, and there are places in the world where it is happening today. We can’t let them bring it here.
An astute reader picked up on that last sentence (“We can’t let them bring it here”) and asked the pertinent question: Just what steps can we take to prevent it since Christians appear to be a growing minority in this country?
It’s a fair question, and it speaks to the powerless feeling so many of us have when so much seems to be spinning out of control.
But we need not feel powerless. We have more influence than what we might think, and that influence is born of our words and our example. I think of a statement the prophet Zechariah made: “Who has despised the day of small things?” (Zechariah 4:10). Sometimes it’s the small things that can impact big.
One time Jesus took the small gift of five loaves and two fish, and with it fed a multitude. It was certainly a day of small things, but that small gift enabled Jesus to do a great work (John 6:1-14). While Jesus could have made fish and loaves out of dust, he chose to use the small offering of a small child to do mighty things. He expects us to do what we can do, and then he can use those gifts, however meagre, to do a great work.
So what shall we do? John the Baptist gives us a good indication when people asked him that same question.  Look closely at what he told three separate groups, and note that none of the answers were earthshaking. Every instruction was merely a matter of doing the right thing in one’s everyday course of living.
So the people asked him, saying, “What shall we do then?” He answered and said to them, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.”
Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “What shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you.”
Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?” So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.” (Luke 3:10-14)
Notice that he tells them to live their lives with honor and honesty. Treat people fairly and with kindness. Impact people by living the ethic of the Kingdom (Matthew 5-7). As Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). We can impact people simply by the way we live.
And that leads to a second point. If we influence only a half dozen people, those half dozen people can influence another half dozen people, and those half dozen can influence more, and on and on it can go. After just a few rungs on this ladder of virtue, a multitude will be reached. But it requires taking a risk and stepping into the arena.
So get to know your neighbors. Go to city council meetings. Volunteer. Don’t wall yourself off from your community. You can impact the people you touch. Consider the words in Jeremiah to a people who found themselves in a strange land: “Seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it, for in its peace you will have peace” (Jeremiah 29:7).

You’ll find that you will have a great opportunity for a positive impact in your own town. The ethic of the Kingdom is best served eyeball to eyeball, neighbor to neighbor, and, yes, local citizen to municipal government.
In the 1930s artist Norman Rockwell offered a panel illustrating Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms. Two come into play here, both based on the First Amendment to the US Constitution: Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion. It’s important to exercise both in public square, and don’t let anybody tell you to sit down and shut up.
Finally,
take a look at this video.
The pertinent part, which discusses impacting the culture, begins at about the 6:05 mark. I don’t endorse everything this guy stands for, but here he makes a point worth considering.

Christ in Us – Our Hope of Glory (Sabbath Meditations)
I was almost 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 Feast 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.

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.

Imagine there’s no heaven … and no religion too (Morning Companion)
“Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord God, “that I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst of water, but of the hearing of the words of the Lord.” (Amos 8:11)
In 1983, during the midst of the Cold War, I had the chance to take a trip behind the Iron Curtain into a country then known as Czechoslovakia (now divided into two countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia). This was not exactly a mission trip, but it was close.
I was meeting up with a church group representing various countries that had received permission to hold our annual Fall Festival known as the Feast of Tabernacles in the Czech city of Brno. This was not to proselytize, but to serve church brethren from East Germany who were allowed to make the trip to the neighboring Communist country without much trouble.
It was a trip that changed my life and perspective.
We were told before we crossed from Austria to Czechoslovakia that we could talk to our East German brothers and sisters all we wanted while in the meeting hall, but once outside the hall we needed to be careful. Everything was being watched.
We were told that they were unable to receive religious literature, but to get around that restriction, brethren in West Germany would write out in long hand — in the form of a letter — articles from various sources and mail it to them.
The people from East Germany did not have enough money to buy meals, so they would take dinner rolls and so forth from the luncheon table and save them for their next meal.
I remember the contrast in countries and atmosphere when crossing the barbed wire and fortifications between Austria and Czechoslovakia, and then back across to West Germany the following week. One side was colorful, green, and prosperous. The other was drab, grey, and coldly inefficient. Public housing looked like public housing, and everyone lived in public housing.
The border was a maze of fortifications and barbed wire, and unlike most places, the buses were searched by dogs and guards more thoroughly when leaving country than when trying to enter it.
The workers’ paradise had rivers full of industrial waste. Protecting the environment was not a priority when there was not enough capital to both control pollution  and support a barely-above poverty standard of living. If we had talked about carbon dioxide as being a pollutant, they would have either pitied us or laughed at us.
If ever there was a laboratory experiment to compare socialism and capitalism, of central control vs. freedom, it was the world as seen during the Cold War. There could be no doubt which system delivered a better life for its people because Western Europe and Eastern Europe could not have been a starker contrast.  Central to that freedom was the contrast between those nations that allowed for religious liberty vs. those that actively discouraged it. Why do oppressive regimes fear when their citizens are allowed to think for themselves on matters of faith?
I could go on about the citizens of Brno whom we talked to briefly on the streets and their furtive looks as we did so. I could talk about their concern about being trailed by informers and the lack of even basic goods. Instead I will simply say that when I landed at Kansas City International, I really did want to kiss the ground. My view of my blessings and my country were changed forever by a visit to a land where there was a famine of the Word.
So today, when I see what appears to be an intentional and planned disparagement of Christianity and the Bible in my own country, I think back to my week-long foray into a time and place where faith was successfully marginalized to a few old churches visited mostly by museum goers.  So when prominent politicians begin using the term “freedom of worship” rather than “freedom of religion,” my antenna goes up. I thought of that nearly empty church and where the conventional wisdom of that worldview leads: you can follow whatever liturgy you want in specially designated places of worship, but be careful what you teach, make sure it’s politically correct, and otherwise leave it in the building. You may have a form of religion, but you must deny the power of it.

I’m going to end this piece with a video
. You’ll recognize the music and the artist. The music is wonderful and soothing. That’s part of the propaganda effect.  But listen to the words.  Listen for the utopian dream of a world without God, without borders, without property. Yet history teaches us that every time mankind tries to implement a utopian dream it becomes a dystopian nightmare. I saw it in 1983, and there are places in the world where it is happening today. We can’t let them bring it here.

A Disastrous Miracle (Sabbath Meditations)
In his book titled “It Is Toward Evening”, Vance Havner tells the story of a small town that made its living entirely from growing cotton. It was not a great living; nevertheless, it was a living. Then calamity struck as the boll weevil invaded the community, destroyed the economy, and threatened to ruin everyone. The farmers were forced to switch to peanuts and other crops, which eventually brought them greater return than they would ever have made by raising cotton. Ultimately, what they thought was a disaster became the basis for undreamed of prosperity. To mark their appreciation, they erected a monument-to the boll weevil. To this very day in that little town, that monument stands as a celebration of that disastrous miracle.
Too often we want to forget painful memories … tribulations in our life, don’t we? We want to move on to good times and leave the past behind. I think one mistake we in the Christian world make is to focus only on all of the ways we’ve been blessed, while we gloss over the trials and tribulations that have been visited upon us. But God doesn’t want us to do that. He wants us to recognize the trials that we suffer as blessings in themselves … events that serve to prepare us for greater service to him.
1 Peter 5:10 tells us, “But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.”
God wants us to mark the path of our growth. He wants to use our disasters to produce miracles in our lives. The suffering that we endure often serves a far greater purpose than the good times that come our way. The blessings that come as a result of His purpose being fulfilled are eternal.
Obviously it’s difficult to pretend we enjoy going through hardship. I’m sure the farmers in that small town weren’t having a good time watching the boll weevils eat their livelihood. But if they could have seen the end of the story, the prosperity that would ultimately come out of disaster, they would have no doubt had reason to rejoice while the boll weevils were feasting.
As God’s children, we do know the end of the story, don’t we? In the midst of trouble, in the midst of hardship, we know that God is working out His plan. We don’t need to wait for that miracle to be completely fulfilled to rejoice. We can erect a monument of gratitude in our lives to daily express appreciation to Him for his deliverance from trials and the incredible miracle that He is accomplishing in us through His Son.

On Being Right (Morning Companion)
Let’s admit that politicians flip flop, and they often do it because of the expediency of the moment. But these people are people just like we are and therefore subject to human weaknesses. We can say we expect better from our duly elected officials, but we have what we have and often we have the leadership we deserve.
At the same time, what looks like a flip flop might not be a flip flop. Sir Winston Churchill, who many would say was more statesman than politician, began his political career as a Tory, switched to the Liberal Party, and then between the two world wars flip flopped back to the Tories.
Ronald Reagan, as governor of California, signed pro-choice legislation into law, but after consideration became a strong advocate for pro-life. George H. W. Bush took the same path in spite of wife Barbara’s still pro-choice position. Said Barbara, “With George, it’s a religious question.”
Even Benjamin Franklin initially favored the Crown over the Continentals, but as history unfolded before him, he took the patriot’s position, pledging his life and sacred honor to the cause.
Change is the essence of life, including the Christian way of life. When confronted with the evidence of God’s existence and interest in the affairs of mankind, we come to belief. When convicted of our culpability, we become motivated to change our lives. That happened to Paul on the road to Damascus, to the Eleven in the Upper Room, and to the three thousand on Pentecost. And it happens every day in profound and startling ways, so profound that some people refer to it as a born again experience.
Yes, the essence of becoming a Christian is to flip flop.
But here’s the difference. We don’t flip flop to pander, as is the habit in the world of politics. We flip flop because it is the right thing to do. Once I was lost, but now I am found. I was wrong, but accepted the right. I repented of my faulty words and actions and became a new creature in Christ. The facts change, so I change. What else can I do?
Legend has it that someone once confronted Churchill about his vaults back and forth between political parties. Wasn’t he being inconsistent? Churchill is said to have answered, “I would rather be right than consistent.” I would like to be both, but I will sacrifice the latter if I must.

Exhaustecated (New Church Lady)
I’ve reached an age where even watching kids run around exhausts me – let alone the running around that my schedule requires. Yet, I haven’t reached an age when I can retire. I don’t even really want to give up on any of my service projects, family time, time with friends, church activities or exercise time. Sadly, that means I also cannot give up my job, which funds all I want to do, but also requires travel and sometimes some very long days.
Unfortunately, I am not unique in being exhausted, or maybe exhaustecated – a word I made up to combine exhausted by what you are doing and frustrated that you cannot get more done.
If you are a mother of young children, or active teenagers without driver’s licenses, or a grandmother raising her grandchildren for some reason, I’m sure you know just what I mean. Maybe you are a working mom, trying to balance home and job duties, feeling like some days you need an I.V. drip of caffeine just to get by until you get the kids to bed and can get some more work done uninterrupted by the needs of tiny people.
My husband, Wes, tells me that my problem is that I am trying to put 10 pounds of rock in a 5 pound bag. However, it isn’t really the physical tasks and action items that exhausticates me the most. It is the burden of worry and concern over people and situations I cannot control that really wipes me out. How about you?
This world is a place that attracts worry, sorrow, fear and frustration. There is sickness, war, abuse, poverty, slavery, and so much more. Our children face their own troubles and struggles, and that can add to a mother’s burden of worry. There are church conflicts that break our hearts. And there is no real chance that a bubble bath will “take me away” – at least not for very long.
I don’t know about you, but I need the reminder we find in
Isaiah 40:28 [CSB] – Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the whole earth. He never becomes faint or weary; there is no limit to his understanding.
Good news! Since there is no limit to His understanding, you can rest assured that God understands your struggles, burdens, pain, tasks, duties and worry – as well as the “exhuastecation” it all causes.
Even better news: God never becomes faint or weary. While He isn’t going to send angels over take care of the piles of laundry, run the vacuum or drive your child to soccer practice, He will take on the mental burdens – if we let Him. You can push the worry over your child’s current relationships or the concern over the state of the world off your “to do” list and onto His. You can give Him the task of making the world a better, safer place.
Wonderfully, there is even more good news in the next few verses of Isaiah 40.
Isaiah 40:29-31 [NKJV] 29 He gives power to the weak, And to [those who have] no might He increases strength. 30 Even the youths shall faint and be weary, And the young men shall utterly fall, 31 But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew [their] strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.
If we will lean on Him, God gives us strength to manage both the mental and physical responsibilities that fill our lives. The key is, of course, be willing to at least give some of our burdens to God to handle. Perhaps I could at least hand over the things that He never meant to be my job – like fixing all the ills of the world – like calling my children into the faith.
Sure, we teach our children when they are young and do our best to model godly behavior. Yes, we pray for the world and help those within our reach. Isaiah 40 promises us that God will give us the strength we need to accomplish the responsibilities He gives us.
However, we should not take on the things He has not given us – like worry.
1 Peter 5:7 [NIV] tells us, Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
For me, the problem often is that I take things to God in prayer and then continue to worry about them or try to wrangle solutions for sticky issues. I am not going to eradicate church drama and power struggles, which break my heart, except via prayer for God’s guidance and wisdom on all (including me). Worrying about my children won’t change their lives. Praying for them will. Worry about anything is an unnecessary task on anyone’s “to do” list. I need to leave these burdens with God. Doing that might not eradicate my “exhaustecation” but – at least it will take a few rocks out of my five-pound bag and free me up to rely on God’s promised strength in taking on the tasks that He has given me.

We are Fish in the Water (Morning Companion)
It has been said that a fish doesn’t know it’s in water. I thought about that when reading Mark 5.
Jesus had crossed the Sea of Galilee with his disciples into “the country of the Gadarenes.” This was in an area known as the Decapolis, inhabited mostly by Gentiles. “Decapolis” refers to a loose association of ten autonomous cities that were under Roman protection. Jesus might have gone there because he had some followers from that part of the world (Matthew 4:25).
On this trip a man possessed of a legion of demons approaches Jesus. He was a notorious creature, living naked among the tombstones and was impossible to constrain. But he trembles before Jesus, the demons begging not to be tormented. Jesus agrees not to torment them, but allows them to enter a herd of pigs, which drives the creatures mad and causes them to stampede off a cliff and into the sea. Thus in one act Jesus cleanses the land of foul-smelling spirits and foul-smelling swine.
When the people discover the man talking with Jesus, fully clothed and in his right mind, we might think they would be filled with wonder and gratitude. We would be wrong. Rather, they tell Jesus to get out of there. It’s a puzzle why they would do this, but then I think of that analogy about the fish not knowing it’s in water. The people were used to the world they had. When the demons were cast out, they didn’t know what to make of it. They were confused, even lost. Losing their pigs didn’t set well either.
Can we imagine a world other than the one we have? As humans our tendency is toward maintaining the status quo. When someone comes along and changes the paradigm, we can feel lost, confused. Our thinking and maybe even our lives might need to be re-ordered. If those legions of demons were purged from our corner of the world, would we act any differently than the people of the Gadarenes?
Can we imagine a world without spiritual struggles? Can we imagine a world where we and our neighbors are assured of our peace and safety? Or a world where no one had license to deprive another of life, liberty or property — let alone the pursuit of happiness? Of course that world would require everyone to live under a different set of values. For many that would be a radical change of behavior and world view.
I will submit that if Jesus showed up and changed our culture into a more biblical model, many people would not know what to do with themselves. We are like those fish in the water, because all we know is the environment in which we swim, and that’s what is normal to us. We don’t see that we swim in a tank filled with the results of our own uncleanness, while believing that this is simply the way things must be. When the uncleanness is removed, when the filthy swine are removed from our lives, we are capable of mourning a loss, because it is all we know. That brave new world based on the Sermon on the Mount, free of self-centeredness and filled with concern for others is beyond something we can imagine, because we have never seen anything different.
The story about the man freed from the clutches of Legion ends with this new disciple begging to be taken out of his old country and for Jesus to take him with him. Jesus refuses the request and tells the man to stay in the country where he is, godforsaken as the place might be, and be a witness to the goodness of God and all that had been done for him. Those instructions are the same for us. Though we might long for that better world, for now we are immersed in a fish tank. The good thing is, we know the water we are swimming in.

A Guide to Christian Burn Out (Sabbath Meditations)
I stumbled on an old Jerry Seinfeld clip the other day, a video of his appearance on the Jay Leno show, just after his popular sitcom, Seinfeld, had come to a close. Jerry announced to Jay Leno that he was taking a break from being funny because, after nine years of spending every day trying to make people laugh, he was just plain tired. “Being funny, he exclaimed, is exhausting! I need a break! So if it’s okay with you Jay, I’d prefer this be a serious interview about serious things.”
“Sure,” Jay said with a grin. “Let’s talk about something serious. So, you fly quite a bit in your profession. Is there anything about flying that really irritates you?” Of course, with that opening, Seinfeld immediately launched into a bit about pilots who feel they have to share every detail about what is going on in the cockpit. “We’re dropping down 20,000 feet now.” “We’re banking to the right now.” “Why do they feel they have to do that? We don’t go up and knock on the cockpit door and say, Hey, I just wanted to let you know, I’m eating the peanuts now.”
It was obvious this whole bit between Seinfeld and Leno was just that, and a fairly transparent one. But the premise of this little bit they did resonated with me on a spiritual level. Jerry Seinfeld is a comedian. He can’t help being funny, even if he wanted to. It is who he is.
What about you? As a Christian can you not help but be a Christian? Is it who you are? Or, do you at times feel, well, a little burned out on the whole Christianity thing? Do you just feel sometimes like you’ve reached the end of your rope? Do you occasionally get overwhelmed or frustrated with striving to do the things you should, becoming the person you know you ought to be? If you were completely honest with yourself, are there moments when you’d like to stop struggling “to put on Christ” and just set Him aside for a little while?
Let’s face it, while there are some “christians” – little “c”, who seem content to wear the shoes of discipleship once a week on their walk through the doors of their church, for most of us, walking this walk is a full time, boots on the ground, 24-7 affair. We do get weary. We do become exhausted and overwhelmed from time to time. After all, the road we are called to travel is not called the “wide and luxurious way.” It’s often painfully narrow and uncomfortable.
In 2 Corinthians 4 the Apostle Paul writes, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body … For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.”
If anyone had the right to Christian burn out, it would be Paul. He, it seems, never got a break. No sooner had he suffered stoning in one city then was he cast into prison in another. How easy would it have been for him to throw up his hands and cry, “God, can’t I have a little break here!?” “Could I get maybe just one weekend laying on a hammock in the Caribbean?” “Maybe send me to a little peaceful back water of a town where I can keep my mouth shut and go incognito for a few months? This whole roller coaster of a walk you have me on here is just a little much, don’t you think?!”
Of course he could have gone there, but he didn’t. In fact, if we are to believe what he writes in his letters to the brethren (and based on the example of his life, there is no reason not to), the idea of kicking up his feet in a hammock somewhere never crossed his mind.
Why? Because it was who he was. Or rather, it was who he had submitted himself to be. He was animated not by his own energy, by his own strength, but by the life of Jesus Christ living in Him through the Holy Spirit. It was that life, manifesting Himself in Paul, that motivated him and kept his feet walking the straight and narrow path Christ had set for Him.
Throughout his many letters Paul repeatedly pointed to where the true source of energy for his ministry originated. It’s a powerfully encouraging testimony for those of us who at times grow weary with the struggle.
In Galatians 2 he writes, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
In Hebrews 12:2 we read, “…let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, 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 is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Yes, at times, like Paul, our outward man will perish. We will become weary, we will run up against the limits of our physical bodies. But if we rely instead, not on our physical strength, but on Him to renew His strength, His might within us daily, burn out will not be a part of our vocabulary.
Whether or not you enjoy Jerry Seinfeld’s particular brand of humor, you can’t deny that comedy runs through his veins. It’s who he is. When we keep our focus on Jesus, our daily walk will be energized by His life within us. We are strengthened and renewed by His life running through our veins. Even though our outward man perishes, we cannot
not be His disciples. It is simply who we are.

Godly Selfishness … huh? (Sabbath Meditations)
Once upon a time there was a guy who was physically active. He worked out three, sometimes four, times a week, enjoyed basketball and tennis on the weekends and because, in his twenties, he still had the metabolism of a teenager, didn’t really think too much about what he ate. No matter how much or what kind of food he put down his gullet, it just didn’t seem to impact his weight or his health.
Then he got married, began to eat three large square meals a day (often more), kids came along, work schedules became more demanding, the daily commute became longer. In short, life took over. Exercise? It gradually got tossed aside. There were just too many other pressing concerns. Physical fitness, staying in shape; that was just one of those self-indulgences that a family man, a primary bread winner, had to sacrifice.
Jump forward 15 years … 80 pounds heavier, sitting in a doctors office, breathing heavily as he struggled to bend over and tie his shoes, the distance he had fallen hit hard. Having been diagnosed as obese with borderline high blood pressure and high cholesterol, teetering on the edge of adult onset diabetes and having just been warned by his doctor that if he continued on this path he would be dead by 65 or even earlier, it finally occurred to this guy that maybe he shouldn’t have considered exercise, staying in shape, a throw away activity after all.
And then, being a Christian, this guy began to think about where he had let his physical health slide in spiritual terms. Maybe, he realized, in his desire to sacrifice for his family and his career, he was actually robbing himself, and his family, his Church and even his God of the healthier, more energetic, happier person he could and should have been. Maybe he was robbing his wife, his children and his grandchildren of years of time which he could have given them had it not been cut short because of poor physical health. Maybe by selflessly not focusing a little more on himself, he was actually being quite selfish.
So, he began to make some changes. He started making physical exercise a priority. It was a difficult transition at first, not only for himself physically, but for his family. Taking time to exercise meant he was taking an hour or so in the evenings, two to three times a week, away from them. Dinner schedules were disrupted, some responsibilities needed to be adjusted. There were a few stressful conversations between this man and his wife, who although recognizing her husbands steady physical decline over the years and the need for change, nevertheless was annoyed at some of the inconvenience his determination to claw his way back to health was causing her.
But as his weight came down, his energy increased, his mood improved and concerns about diabetes, heart attack or stroke subsided, she recognized the good that had resulted from his being selfish. She recognized that the time he was taking for himself was allowing him to give much more of himself back to her and the kids, not only now but perhaps for many more years than might have previously been available to him. And though she still grumbled from time to time, she lovingly encouraged him to keep up the battle.
In 1 Timothy 4:6 Paul writes to Timothy, “For bodily exercise profits little: but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.”
It’s easy to read the King James and conclude that exercise has little or no value for the Christian. But that was not at all what Paul was communicating. The Greek word for little here is
oligos, which refers to degree or intensity. Paul was simply stating that in comparison to the importance of seeking to grow in godliness, the desire to grow in physical health pales in significance, because the benefits of godliness reach far beyond this life.
The New Living Translation puts it more accurately: “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.”
Paul, of course, had his own physical limitations, as do we all. He had a “thorn” in the flesh, which many believe was some kind of physical impairment that gave him difficulty in ministry. But regardless of disability, he didn’t use it as an excuse for not taking care of his temple. Though he doesn’t directly state it, his letters are filled with analogies and lessons drawn from the world of athletics and fitness which draw a clear picture of the important connection between the pursuit of physical health and spiritual growth. We are to “…fight the good fight” … “box not as one beating the air” … “run that we might gain the crown” … “wrestle not against flesh and blood.” Nowhere does he write, “lay on the couch that we might wait for the Kingdom.”
The conclusion we can take from Paul’s analogies between the physical and spiritual can and should be applied both ways. Just as our spiritual health impacts our physical actions, so endeavoring to take care of our physical health contributes a great deal to our spiritual growth and well-being. After all, it’s difficult to lay down your life for your brother if it takes all of your energy to just get out of bed in the morning.
It’s silly to argue that setting aside time from our busy lives for prayer and Bible study is an exercise in selfishness. The same is true, it could and should be argued, for taking care of this physical temple.
The guy clawing his way back from the brink of physical disaster is still lugging around some unwanted poundage, but steadily making progress. But the story doesn’t end there. His wife caught the fitness bug too. Now, two or three times a week he arrives home at night, finding that she has gone to the gym or hit the road for a bike ride, leaving him and the kids to leftovers from the microwave. It’s a little annoying at times, but overall it brings a smile to his face. She’s more active and more energetic than ever. And those tight bike shorts she sports around the house from time to time … well, enough said. Most of all, though, he loves the fact that she loves him enough to be a little selfish.
PostScript: If you doubt any part of this guy’s story is true, just ask his wife. She edits his blog every week before it’s published … and, though a little embarrassed, she even let him keep the part about the tight bike shorts. 🙂

Substance and Evidence (Morning Companion)
In 1930 Clyde W. Tombaugh, an astronomer at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, AZ, discovered the ninth planet of the Solar System. The sighting of Pluto was not a complete surprise. Some years before others had discovered the evidence of the planet’s existence by observing certain irregularities in the orbits of Uranus and Neptune. Although no one had ever seen Pluto itself, they had seen the evidence of its presence and were convinced of the substance of what they had hoped to find.
All of which seems to illustrate the meaning behind the first verse of Hebrews 11.
“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
Too often people think of faith as a blind, unreasoning belief without the relevancy of evidence. If we believe hard enough, so the thought goes, whatever we hope for will be fulfilled based upon some mysterious law of the universe. But that’s not what Hebrews 11:1 says. That verse talks about the
substance and evidence of things hoped for, but yet unseen.
Substance
is something that’s substantial, something that’s real. The Greek used here is hupostasis, and it implies a foundation, a substantial quality, that which has an actual existence.
Evidence is something that is admissible
as proof in a court of law. The Greek word is elegchos and is used in that way in classical Greek.
If you think God is telling you that you need to buy that new sports car, to what evidence should you look for validation? If you don’t have any money saved up, should you proceed on faith anyway, because it just feels like God wants you to have it? Should you in faith incur a large debt in order to make the purchase, or would the evidence from scripture about being wary of debt deter you (Proverbs 22:7)?
What if a preacher hints that you should, in faith that God will bless you, take out a mortgage on your house and send the money to his ministry? That very thing has happened. Is that an exhibition of faith?
Questions of acting in faith need to be tested in light of the word of God, not merely “stepping out on faith”. In the absence of substance and evidence from scripture and the facts on the ground, we can’t expect God to bail us out if things go wrong. One of the temptations Jesus faced was to “step out on faith” — actually, stepping off the pinnacle of the temple — because God, so the devil implied, had promised to send his angels to rescue him (Matthew 4:5-6). Jesus rebutted this by pointing to the command in Deuteronomy that applies to all of us: “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.”
Before taking a leap of faith, get all the facts you can. Look for the substance before making a final decision. Look at the evidence. Test it against both experience and scripture. Get the counsel of trusted friends and advisors. The answer might still be unclear — rarely is anything in this life clear cut — but if you look both ways before crossing the street, you’ll have at least some basis for stepping off that curb in faith.

A Pretty Good Egg (Sabbath Meditations)
My wife would tell you I have egg issues. In a nutshell (or should I say an eggshell?), when it comes to the preparation of scrambled eggs, I demand perfection. They have to be prepared just so: consistently yellow through and through, not too under-cooked, sliding around the plate, and not overdone, having the consistency of silly putty. Any of these are simply unacceptable. But perhaps the infraction that catapults an egg from my plate into the garbage faster than anything else is the discovery of one or, dare I say, more than one, egg shell pieces hidden among the folds of an otherwise perfectly prepared scrambled egg.
Okay, so it’s true. I have egg issues. That’s probably why my wife declared long ago, “If you want eggs for breakfast, you’re on your own.” I can’t say I blame her.
I had a strange thought the other morning as I was pushing the spatula around the frying pan, striving for that perfect egg. “Wow, I’m glad that God isn’t as hard on me as I am on my eggs. How thankful I am that when He discovers an eggshell in my character, and there are many, He doesn’t scrape me off the pan into the garbage.”
The fact is, if we are to believe scripture, He does just the opposite.
Did you know that scripture refers to you and me as Saints not 20, not 30, but 240 times? In contrast, of the 28 uses of the word “sinners” and 13 uses of the word “sinner” in the New Testament Scripture, only a few of them refer to people who have come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ.
God doesn’t see us the way we too often see ourselves. We are often so focused on our faults, on the pieces of eggshell that taint our character, that we forget to appreciate the new identify that He has given us despite our imperfections.
We perhaps have the Catholic church to thank for our skewed understanding of what it takes to be called a saint. They, unfortunately, turned sainthood into a right of passage, bequeathing that lofty title only to those they deemed worthy by having lived a magnificent life or having achieved a certain level of spiritual maturity. But that’s not how God sees it. No we’re not perfect. Of course we sin, and continue to sin. We continue to fall short throughout our Christian walk. But, in God’s eyes, being a saint is not about our character, it’s about embracing our identity.Our God wants you to see yourself as one of His saints.
In Ephesians 1 Paul writes, “Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you.”
What does He want to give you … how does He want you to see yourself?
“… may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe.”
Our God wants our eyes to to enlightened that we would know the power of His love toward us and the inheritance He has given to us as His Saints. You are Saint. That’s who you are. He wants you to believe that.
That isn’t to say that should adopt an “I have arrived” mentality. Scripture is very clear that we are to continue striving against sin. We are to grow into the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. This Christian walk is to be one of growing, of overcoming.
In Romans 7 the Apostle Paul makes it very clear that you and I have pieces of eggshell floating around in our lives.
In Romans 7 Paul says of himself and all of us by extension, “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.”
All of us are fit to be scraped off the plate into the trash. Against the measure of God’s law each of us are judged weak, sinful and worthy to be condemned.
In verse 24 he laments, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
Paul could have stopped there. He could have become focused on the pieces of eggshell. He could have become bogged down mentally and spiritually on his unworthiness. But that’s not where He stayed. He quickly moved from there to where God wanted His focus, where He wants all of our focus to be, on his new identity in Christ.
He continues in verse 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.”
and in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Satan would like nothing better than for us to feel that we are defined by our sin. He wants us to become discouraged by our imperfections, to become fixated on our unworthiness, to live as those who are in bondage to sin and worthy only of condemnation.
But what Paul understood and what we too must understand is that, though we
are sinners, it is not sin that defines us. It is not what you do that determines who you are; it is who you are that determines what you do.
If you think you are a no good bum you will probably live like a no good bum. If you see yourself as a child of God who is spiritually alive in Christ, you will begin to live accordingly.
When we sin, and we all will, rather than becoming discouraged and unlovable, we instead draw strength from our identity in Christ to keep on fighting. It’s a mindset that exclaims, how amazing it is that I who am helpless, I that am so sinful, am saved by His grace! How wondrous it is that He has made me, who am such a sinner, to be named among His Saints.
At risk of beating metaphor to death, when God looks at you, he doesn’t see all the broken pieces of eggshell floating around in your life. Through the lens of His grace, He sees a pretty good egg.

In Memoriam: Nelson Caswell (Morning Companion)
Let me tell you about Brother Nelson. When I first met him, my family and I were “between churches”. We had wrangled an invitation to a church’s potluck, and were enjoying the good food and kind people when I noticed Brother Nelson. He was a beehive of activity, first making sure the trash barrels had fresh bags in them, hauling out the trash if they were full, then making sure everyone had enough to eat, or seeing if anyone needed another drink, or sweeping up a spill on the floor. He managed to stop long enough to say a few words with everyone, including me, never once losing the smile from his face.

Finally, after everyone had gone through the line, Brother Nelson picked up a plate and flatware and took his helpings from whatever remained in the serving line.
My family and I had not been to services that day, but as we enjoyed the company around us, out of curiosity and courtesy I asked who the pastor was. They pointed to him, and it was Brother Nelson.
Many reading this article come from a church tradition where a minister serving his congregation is the norm, and therefore Brother Nelson’s activities are no surprise to you. But some of us come from a background where such things were simply not done.
I love the King James Version of the Bible, but it surely has its weaknesses. One such weakness is illustrated by this passage, as it reads in the King James:
“Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister.” (Matt 20:25-26 KJV)
If we read this as translated in the King James, it implies that the greatest among us should be our ministers, and that concept has led some people to look upon certain types of service as being beneath the ministry. After all, aren’t the ministers supposed to be greatest among us?
But Brother Nelson, who as far as I know uses only the King James Version, understands the intent of the aforementioned passage. Here is what it says it the New King James Version:
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.”
Put differently, Jesus’s intent is the exact opposite of how some ministers I know treat their congregations. As Jesus himself said, “For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves.” (Luke 22:27 NKJV)
In the intervening years I came to know Brother Nelson as both a brother and a friend, and he would be the first to tell you that if Jesus could live a life as one who came to serve, then so could he. No greater love has a man than this, to lay down his life for a friend. And that even means emptying a trash can so the other guy can enjoy the potluck.

Called to be in the Choir (Sabbath Meditations)
“You’re tone deaf.” Those are the words I heard, just minutes into an audition for a small musical ensemble at the college I once attended. Those words landed like a brick on my ego. The irony was that I had actually been a member of this same ensemble the previous year. However, the number of those auditioning had been smaller that year and the acceptance threshold had been set much lower. This year, with a large new crop of talented Freshmen clamoring to audition, the director could afford to be more selective. I didn’t make the cut. As I picked my pride up off the floor to leave, he threw me a word of encouragement. “Maybe if you join the college chorale, you can improve and try again next year.”
I never did join the college chorale. I was too deflated. It was like being in the major leagues and being sent down to the minors. I didn’t see the point. If I could no longer perform with the best, I didn’t want to perform at all. So, I decided that my days of singing in front of people were over.
That was three decades ago. I’d all but forgotten about that day until I sat in church, watching the choir take the stage to sing. Now, I know mixed among them are surely some wonderful voices. But, though I can’t speak for the members of this choir, I’ve stood in front of enough choir members while singing hymns over the years to suspect that not all of them are great singers. Some of their voices are probably a little flat, others possibly possess a little too much vibrato or tend to be just a tad out of key. Some of them, like me, are probably somewhat tone deaf. But together, in large numbers, relying on other basses, tenors, sopranos and altos around them, what they lack individually is compensated for collectively. The sound they create together is beautiful. They are in perfect harmony.
In Ephesians 2:4-22 we read, “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 … 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.”
When I read this passage a few key phrases jump off the page: “… made us together … fellow citizens … fitted together … built together …”
In a sense, you could say that our God is the Director of the choir to which we have been called to be members. I think it’s safe to say, spiritually speaking, that none of us are rock stars. And, you know, that’s okay. He hasn’t called us to be rock stars. God has called the weak of the world. We all have areas of our life that are out of tune, where we fall a little flat. All of us have areas of spiritual tone deafness. At those times in our walk when we “blow the audition”, when spiritually we fail to “make the cut”, it’s tempting to become discouraged, to walk away, to let our pride get the best of us and isolate ourselves from our brethren.  It’s those times that it’s important to remember the reason God has put us in His choir. He put us here, fitted together as a holy temple, to support one another, to encourage one another in our weaknesses, to lift each other up so that we, together, can grow in perfect spiritual harmony.
I wish I had swallowed my pride and taken the advice of that ensemble director to join the choir. Maybe with the support of others I could have overcome my tone deafness and not relegated myself to just singing in the shower all these years. Alas, that train has left the station.
I am thankful, though, for my membership in this spiritual choir to which I have been called. I’m thankful for the support and encouragement of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Individually, though we struggle to stay on key, together, with the help of our Director, we make beautiful music.

The Wrong Cardinals (Morning Companion)
Arthur Daley in his book – 
Inside Baseball: A Half Century of the National Pastime, Arthur Daley, Grosset and Dunlap Publishers, copyright 1950 – writes:
When the St. Louis Cardinals came roaring into Detroit for the 1934 World Series, the players were quite astounded to see scores of policemen in the railroad terminal lined up as an honorary bodyguard. They couldn’t understand why they were treated with such respect. They investigated and the truth finally emerged, as it usually does.
A papal delegation was due to arrive in Detroit at the time and the orders were given that the police should guard the Cardinals. The baseball-minded gendarmes, however, knew of only one group of Cardinals, the St. Louis brand. They guarded them zealously.
What we have here, one may conclude, is a failure to communicate. Or perhaps, in the lyrics of Simon and Garfunkle’s The Boxer, “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.” This is a common malady, and it was a part of the milieu of Jesus’s day.
Many longed for a redeemer, a Messiah figure, who would deliver the Jewish people from the occupation of the Roman Legions. When Jesus came on the scene, many understood him to be that Messiah and expected deliverance and redemption. He certainly promised that, but not in the way they expected.
It must have been a puzzle when Jesus told them that if the Romans compelled them to carry the mail for a mile, as the Romans often did, they were not to resist. Instead there were to volunteer to carry it an extra mile (Matthew 5:41).
What must the disciples have thought when Jesus befriended tax collectors (Matthew 9:10), or when he came to the aid of a Roman centurion (Matthew 8:5-13)?
How did they reconcile this with such words and actions as these:
1. Riding into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt, a clear symbol of being the rightful heir to David’s throne (John 12:14-15, Matthew 21:1-11)?
2. His promise to his apostles that they would each reign over a tribe of Israel (Matthew 19:28)?
3. Not objecting when Nathaniel called him the King of Israel (John 1:49)?
4. Referring often to the Gospel as the good news of the Kingdom. (Matthew 4:23, 9:35, 24:14)?
So when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, was it any wonder that some of them believed the revolution was to begin and pulled out their swords (Matthew 26:47-51)? How confused they must have been when Jesus rebuked Peter, telling him to put his sword away, and that his arrest and ultimately his crucifixion were all according to God’s will! No wonder they fled in all directions! (Matthew 26:52-56).
Clearly
they heard what they wanted to here, and even after Jesus’s resurrection, they were still expecting The Kingdom to be established right then and there (Acts 1:6-7).
We all have our own framework upon which we evaluate information. The disciples based their understanding of Jesus’s words and actions through the framework of their own experiences and prejudices. That’s completely human. It’s something we all do, and it often leads to stressful disagreements and tensions among us.
Let me give you a personal example.
One of my favorite meals is meatloaf. I love meatloaf. Early in our marriage one Friday evening Diane pulled from the oven one of the most delicious-looking meatloaves I could have imagined. I’m not a ketchup freak, but when it comes to meatloaf, I believe that great meatloaf can become five-star meatloaf by smothering it ketchup. And that’s exactly what I joyfully preceded to do.
I was operating from the paradigm that ketchup enhances already great food. But Diane was hurt. In her experience ketchup was used to cover up bad-tasting food. She associated ketchup-covered food with liver, which she despises to this day.
It took some discussion to work out our differences, differences that were born of different experiences, but once we got all that straightened out, ketchup has become a welcome addition to the table when meatloaf is served.
Most misunderstandings among honorable people can be attributed to our different mental frameworks and different life experiences. Those Detroit police officers heard the right words but mistakenly placed those words in the context they best understood.
The next time you are in a discussion that turns into loggerheads, it might be a good idea for both parties to stop talking and start listening — provided, of course, that both sides are willing to listen.

Spiritual Over-Training (Sabbath Meditations)
“Tony, you’re over-training. You need to stop pushing so hard.”
I was whining to the physical therapist about the constant ache in my shoulder and the frustrating lack of progress I had made since having rotator cuff surgery. Her words floored me. How could I be doing too much??! Everything I read about therapy warned of the danger of not stretching or exercising enough. Stories abound of people who have permanently lost mobility in their joints because they weren’t diligent in doing the necessary work to regain full function. There’s no way I was going to let that happen to me! I was giving this therapy thing all I’d got, and then some. No pain, no gain! I launched into my recovery like Rocky Balboa preparing for a prize fight.
My therapist proceeded to inform me of what I didn’t know. Pushing too hard through therapy can actually be as detrimental to healing and growth as doing too little. Rather than ramping up my recovery, my overly aggressive regimen had actually begun to impede it. Stretching and working my shoulder too frequently and too intensely had left the joint tissues inflamed and the muscles without adequate time to recover and grow stronger. Forcing my progress was actually setting it back.
In Galatians 6:9 we read, “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”
As Christians, we know we are supposed to overcome. We know we are supposed to be becoming more like Jesus Christ. And if His Spirit is in us, that desire to be like Him is burning in our hearts and minds. We desperately want to do good. We desperately want to be better servants for Him.
But the reality is, for most of us, our progress just isn’t as fast or as satisfying as we’d like. When the weakness and sins we believe we have overcome reappear; when old carnal attitudes and thoughts re-enter, it’s easy to lose heart. It’s easy for our hearts and minds to become inflamed with frustration and discouragement. Our overly aggressive self-condemnation can cause us to overlook and under appreciate the areas of our lives where we are reaping, those areas where God has grown and changed us. By forcing unrealistic expectations on the pace of our spiritual growth, we can actually set it back.
Hebrews 12:1 tells us to “lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”
In 1 Peter 5:6 we are exhorted to “humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.”
How do we not grow weary, frustrated and discouraged in our Christian walk?
Well, to echo the words of my physical therapist, “Stop over-training. Stop trying so hard.”
Not that we should stop doing or stop trying altogether, but that we should lay aside some of the spiritual weight we are attempting to carry around on our own. If frustration and discouragement are overtaking us spiritually, maybe we need to step back and evaluate how much we are trying and striving and becoming frustrated in our own effort versus humbling and submitting ourselves to letting God work in us. Maybe we need to take some time to reflect on and appreciate the areas where He is giving us victory.
It is God who is the Author and Finisher of our faith. He knows our weaknesses. He knows our faults. He knows the things we need and when we need them, in order to change and grow. If we are submitting to Him, if our hearts and minds are passionate about Him and His way, we can cast our cares on Him and be confident that He will finish the work that He started within us.

Parable of the Figs (Morning Companion)
What do you see, Jeremiah?” Figs,” I answered. “The good ones are very good, but the bad ones are so bad they cannot be eaten.” (Jeremiah 24:3 NIV)
In this passage from the book of Jeremiah God makes an interesting and perhaps counter intuitive observation about the people of Judah. He compares them to two baskets of figs, one basket of very good figs and one basket of very bad figs, so bad that they were inedible.
As the parable and explanation unfolds, Jeremiah comes to understand that the good figs seemed to be cursed because they represented the people of the nation whom the Babylonians had taken captive. They had been deported to a strange land, while the bad figs were the ones who had remained in the land.
In this we see an application of a principle that appears both here and elsewhere in Scripture. When Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, it seemed at the time like a curse. Although the brothers had meant it for evil, Joseph explained to them many years later, “You meant it for evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20).
This sentiment is echoed here in Jeremiah 24: “Like the good figs, so will I acknowledge them that are carried away captive of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans for their good. For I will set mine eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them again to this land …” (Jeremiah 24:5-6 KJV).
Sometimes changes that God forces on us are painful. The Babylonian Captivity vs. those who stayed in the land and Joseph’s unplanned trip to Egypt vs. his brothers’ continued normal lives at home might be extreme examples, but the principle is the same. Sometimes we need to be forced into unfamiliar, uncomfortable, even trying situations for our own good or even our own protection.
Maybe a forced change of employment will force you to stretch yourself.
Maybe a move to a different part of the country — or even a different part of the world — is a move that will place you in a better position to serve.
Maybe changing your physical location is best, both physically and spiritually, for both you and your family.
Too often merely staying where you are will cause you to get
cooked in the squat.
Look upon these changes as opportunities and hidden blessings. That very well might be what they are.

Victory through Surrender (Sabbath Meditations)
There was a time when, as a Christian, new in the faith, reading parts of God’s Word was sometimes, well, discouraging.
Sure, there are the encouraging parts. The “God so loved the world” parts, and the “He who has made us to our God Kings and Priests” parts.
But then there are those other parts, the laundry lists of things to overcome, stuff to do, exhortations to change. It’s difficult for a new Christian to read these parts of scripture without sometimes feeling a little defeated and discouraged.
Take 1 Thessalonians 5 for example.
Picking it up in verse 14, “And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive.” Okay, don’t be idle or disruptive. Get to work and don’t make waves. I can do that.
“… encourage the disheartened” – okay, got that.
“… help the weak” – I think I can do that.
“… be patient with everyone” – with everyone? Hmm …
“…make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and everyone else.”
“… rejoice always”
“… pray continually”
“… give thanks in all circumstances.”
Okay, really?! Always?! In all circumstances?! How can anyone do all of this stuff!?
And that’s the point really, isn’t it? We can’t. Years of frustration and discouragement … trying and failing, trying and failing, feeling defeated. I just can’t. No one can.
If only I had realized earlier that God never expected that I would be capable of doing all of these things. If only I had kept reading to the end of the passage, I would have read four short words that make all the difference.
Verse 24 “The one who calls you is faithful, and He will do it.”
Huh? What do you mean, “He will do it?”
In Colossians 1:27 we read, “To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
Galatians 2:20 tells us, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Christ in me is my hope. It’s not I who live, but Christ who lives within me.
So then, in I Thessalonians Paul means exactly what he says. That list of overwhelming do’s and don’ts and must becomes? Christ, through His Spirit that lives in you … He will do it.
Living victoriously as a Christian is not about checking off a list of fifty must do’s or have to becomes. “Check got that one … Check, another one … Oops, that one is back again … knock it back down … Hey, where did that one come from?! Thought I’d gotten that a long time ago … arghh!”
This approach to our Christian walk is a sure recipe, not for victory, but for discouragement and burn out. So, the recipe for victory over sin in the Christian walk? It’s about one thing: Jesus Christ living His life in you through His Holy Spirit.
Victory in our walk is less about us climbing a mountain of do’s and don’ts than about getting out of His way. It’s less about conquering and more about surrendering. It’s less about what we do, and more about what He is doing in us.
Ephesians 4:30 tells us to “grieve not the Spirit.” When His Spirit in us tells us, “No, we don’t do that” or, “that’s not the right way to go,” we stop resisting and surrender to let it change our hearts and minds.
1 Thessalonians 5:19 says to “quench not the Spirit.” When His Spirit within us prompts us to sacrifice for a brother or use the gifts we have been given, we stop resisting and surrender to let it bear its fruit within us.
The list of things we are to become doesn’t get any shorter. But as we focus on submitting and surrendering to the leading and directing of His Spirit, moment by moment, every day of our Christian lives, those long, daunting lists simply take care of themselves.
Discouragement? Replaced by the confidence that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 1:6
Burn out? Replaced by understanding fully what Jesus meant when He said, “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”
1 John 4:4
For the Christian, ultimate victory can come only through complete surrender.
And in complete surrender, we will never experience defeat.
“Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 Corinthians 15:57

False Christs and False Prophets (Morning Companion)
And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.” (Matt 24:4-5 NKJ)
There is a dilemma in Jesus’s words. If someone were to get in a pulpit today and claim to be Christ, I suppose a few gullible souls would believe it. But face it: The vast majority of folks would either get a good laugh out of it or turn away in disgust.
So how could Jesus say that many would be deceived by a charlatan such as this? In fact, we’re told later in Matthew 24 (verse 24) that the deception in the end time would be so great that, if it were possible, even the elect would be deceived. Surely signs and wonders can be fodder for deception, but I think the warning goes deeper than that. The answer can be found by looking at the original Greek in a different way.
Jesus said that many would claim to be “the Christ”. The sentence could just as easily be translated as “I am the Messiah”.
Messiah is a transliteration of the Hebrew word māšîaḥ, which means “anointed one”. A more literal translation of Jesus’s warning would go like this: “Many will come in my name saying, ‘I am the anointed one.’”
Ever hear anyone claim to be God’s anointed? If you do, run home, lock your doors, and keep your hand on your money. That person might not claim to be the literal Jesus Christ, but he is literally fulfilling this prophecy, and in the process he is coming close to blasphemy.
And yes, in this way even the very elect can be deceived.
The message repeated over and over in the Epistle to the Hebrews is that Jesus Christ is our High Priest, and that he became like us so that he might be merciful and faithful. We can now go boldly and directly to the throne of grace without needing a human mediator.
Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 2 that the only mediator between God and man is Jesus Christ. No man other than Jesus can do that job. Anyone who tries to place himself in that position is committing blasphemy.
Strong words, I know. But that’s what Jesus said.

Civilizations Rise and Fall, but The Way of YHVH is Eternal (The Word and The Way)
Does YHVH take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does YHVH require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Mic 6:7-8)
The word for “man” there is “adam” which, in this context, means mankind. YHVH is speaking to the world through the prophet here, not just the chosen people. So that, without a doubt, this information applies to everybody that has access to this information.
The rest of the context is to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our Elohim. This is expressed in the Torah, where YHVH spoke through Moses to the mixed multitude how to do all three things. Justice is established through law and what better justice could there be than the law established by the Creator Himself? Kindness is also expressed through the law. Examine:
You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am YHVH. (Lev 19:18)
Yes, when the Messiah told us the second greatest commandment, He was citing a verse buried deep within the book of Leviticus, a book that is very seldom referenced in Christianity, if at all. It’s a bit of a difficult thing for us to imagine the Messiah citing the Torah for the second greatest commandment (as He did for the first) if the Messiah was going to do away with the Torah in a couple of weeks.
The third part of the selection from Micah cites humility before YHVH. Hmm, I wonder if there’s a connection here with the Torah as well?
Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth. (Num 12:3)
Yes, Moses was incredibly humble and YHVH chose him as his mediator for the first covenant. And He chose His only Son, perhaps the only one have ever eclipsed Moses’ humility, to establish the second.
What is unique about this, according to history, archaeology, and the Bible, many, many civilizations have risen and fallen on this big blue marble we call earth. We know the names of many leaders throughout history and have evidence of very large civilizations that thrived for hundreds, if not a thousand, years. But none of them produce the continuity of the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Sure, we carry baggage from all these fallen societies, but it took a much longer time for those ideas to be entrenched into our culture. Miraculously, the civilization that was established through the Torah which has never lasted fifty consecutive years without either its citizens falling away or it being destroyed, maintains an enormous impact on Western society.
We have explored the amazing fact that there is little to no evidence Israel every made it 50 years without apostasy quite a few times at our assembly. Perhaps it happened after YHVH re-established Jerusalem through Nehemiah and Ezra and perhaps it happened after the Maccabees re-stored Judea. Perhaps someone will respond to this posting with information we haven’t discovered yet showing this. But the point is that we have to struggle to come up with evidence of half a century of faithfulness to the Torah, yet that Torah, the prophets, and the New Testament continue to exist and be our guide to fulfilling Micah 6: 7,8. The other cultures had to exist for very long amounts of time in order to make a lasting impact on society but God’s culture still reigns supreme, as it should.
Yeshua said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. (Mar 2:27)
For another big hint as to how we are live, let’s look at the words of Messiah. The word for man here is the Greek “anthropos” which is equivalent to the Hebrew “adam”. It means mankind and the Sabbath, which was established the 7th day of Creation, was made for mankind. This sentence could be transliterated as “The Sabbath was made for Adam” in both the context of the man Adam and in the context of mankind. The Sabbath, established at creation, was made for us. We fulfill all three parts of Micah 6: 7,8 by following it. We do justice to YHVH by resting ourselves, we love kindness to our household and neighbors by allowing them to rest, and we walk humbly with our Elohim by trusting that His example at Creation is worthy of emulation by His children.
Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, YHVH of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths. (Zec 14:16)
And if we look here in the book of Zechariah, at some point all will indeed humble themselves and agree to obey the words given through Micah. At some point in the future, all mankind will finally reject the ways of the nations and decide to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with the one true God. And let’s remember that He did indeed give His firstborn Son to accomplish it because that’s how much He loves us.

Imperfect Me. Perfect God (Sabbath Meditations)
“He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more …I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” –
Revelation 3:12–21
Some incredible promises those! A pillar in the temple. A seat next to God on His Throne. Amazing! In return for what? Overcoming?
All of us who call ourselves His disciples, at one point in our lives, having embraced those promises, declared “Count me in!” and took up the life long goal of overcoming.
So, Christian, how’s it going? If you were to put a list of all the possible areas of carnal nature to be overcome, how many have you checked off since beginning this walk?
Not sure? Well, let’s narrow down the list to the ten basic commands God gave us. How are we doing on those? Which ones have you mastered?
Have you mastered the ability not to put any other gods before God in your heart? Your career, your desire for money, for attention, for validation. Anything?
How about honoring God’s name, not taking it in vain. Have you perfectly reverenced His name not only from your lips but in your heart and mind?
Do you perfectly honor God in His Sabbath? Sure you keep it, but do you always sanctify it, perfectly?
Do you perfectly honor your father and mother, not only in your actions, but in attitude and heart?
Have you killed anyone lately, not literally of course, but by hating them in your heart?
Adultery? How are you doing on the lust thing. Men, have you looked on a woman, other than your wife, and entertained lustful thoughts?
Have you stolen anything lately? Downloaded pirated music? Taken off early from work but not reported it on your time card? Wasted your energy and time pursuing your own desires, your own entertainment, stealing the time and energy you should have given to your spouse and children?
How are you doing with lying? Have you stretched the truth here and there where it was convenient or self-serving to do so? On your taxes? To your employer? Have you embellished the facts of a story to paint yourself in a good light?
Finally, have you desired anything that wasn’t yours lately? The neighbor’s new car, the figure of the woman you saw on television the other night, the Caribbean vacation your co-worker is taking next month, the list could go on and on…
So how are you doing? Have you made some progress in a few of these areas? Probably. But, have you checked them all off? Have you checked
any of them off…completely? Me neither.
And these are just the things we shouldn’t be doing. What about all the things we as Christians should be doing? Jesus laid out in His word a myriad of do’s that, if we are to become perfect, we should be incorporating into our character. There’s that visiting the fatherless and widow thing. There’s the command to lay down our life for our brother. Esteeming others better than we esteem ourselves. Not returning evil for evil. Turning the other cheek. Giving without expecting in return. Do to others as you’d have them do to you. Look not out for your own needs, but for the needs of others.
Shall I stop now? We’d need more than one lifetime to make a dent in that list. So are we just pathetic losers at walking this walk or what? Well, if we are losers spiritually, we are in good company.
The apostle Paul looked as his own walk and said, “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?” 
– Romans 7:22-24
Paul had the same dilemma each of us finds ourselves in. He was faced with the recognition that he was completely unable, even with God’s Spirit living and working within him, to completely eradicate sin from his life.
So does that mean that God gave us promises for overcoming, knowing that we could never do so? Did He give us a goal for our Christian walk that we can never hope to obtain? Well actually, yes, yes He did. But before you get depressed about that, you have to read Paul’s conclusion to the dilemma.
Reading on in Romans 7:25 Paul says “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.”

Whew! What a relief!
Paul here is basically defining what it means to overcome. Overcoming is less about what I do, and more about having a mind, a heart that is faithful. Overcoming is less about overcoming sin, and more about not being overcome by sin, not giving up, but enduring to the end.
The becoming righteous part? Paul makes it clear here that, if our overcoming were dependent on our own ability to develop perfect, holy, righteous character, we’d all be in a boat load of trouble. None of us would be there. Thankfully, though, that part has been taken care of for us.
2 Corinthians 5:21 tell us, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

In Philippians 3:9 we read “…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.”
1 Corinthians 1:30 says, “But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption …”
If we are in Jesus Christ, if we are one of His, and remain in Him till He comes, we will be counted among the righteous, the overcomers. It’s He that gets the ultimate glory for our salvation, not us.
Revelation 12:10 says, “Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down.”

Satan wants us to be overcome. He wants us to see ourselves as spiritual failures, without hope of ever sitting with God on His throne. After all, if he was prevented from getting to God’s throne, why should we have the opportunity? So he constantly throws accusations about you and I before the Father. “Look at your people. See how hopelessly sinful they are. Look how imperfect and carnal they are. How can you love them? They are not overcoming. How can you let them have a seat on your throne?”
But Satan’s accusations don’t hold water in God’s eyes. Why? Because God’s people, you and I, do ultimately overcome. How?
Reading on in Revelation 12, “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.”
Yes, we strive to become perfect. Yes, we strive to eradicate sin from our lives. But we ultimately overcome, not by
our ability to attain perfect holy, righteous character, but by reliance on His righteousness, His shed blood on the cross.
It’s an imperfect me trusting in the righteousness of a perfect God, regardless of what the enemy throws my way, which allows me to remain faithful to the end, and ultimately to be granted a seat on the throne next to the One who made it all possible.

Not Made Here (Morning Companion)
Imagine the consternation on the part of the disciples. Here they were, the chosen twelve, hired to preach the Gospel, heal the sick, and cast out demons. By any measure they could be classified as a special group of men. And then what appears to be an interloper comes on the scene.
This “interloper” is driving out demons in Jesus’s name, and he is not one of the twelve. Surely, the disciples thought, Jesus would want to stop this usurpation of His authority, and one of them speaks up and says, “Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us” (Mark 9:38).
Jesus’s response might surprise those who hold to a “not made here” framework of thinking. “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. For who is not against us in on our side” (verses 39-40).
Jesus once said, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold” (John 10:16), and it is not for us to decide where those other folds are. Read about the example of Apollos in Acts 18:24-28. He did not come to understanding through the normal channels, but was nevertheless a servant of God. It was wisdom on the part of Priscilla and Aquila to recognize him as a fellow worker and not a rival or usurper.
Moral: Just because a plant isn’t growing precisely where you think it should, don’t assume that it’s not a healthy plant.

Moving Forward On Our Knees … Together (Sabbath Meditations)
There is a saying that the work of God moves forward on its knees. No more true was that statement than in the early first century Church. Those first Christians shared all things in common. Not only did they break bread together, worship together, study the scripture together, fellowship together, but they also shared in something powerful for which we in the modern day churches of God have, I believe, lost some appreciation.
The early church prayed together.
In fact, the very first recorded action of the early church is that they bowed their heads together in prayer.
In Acts 1:13 we read, “And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas the son of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.”
Prayers of this nature were more than just a one time occurrence in the early church. Examples of group prayer are peppered throughout the book of Acts.
In Acts chapter 1 we read that one hundred and twenty brethren prayed together for wisdom and guidance in selecting a disciple to replace Judas Iscariot.
(Acts 1:15-26)
Acts 2 tells us that “…they (the brethren) continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.”
(Acts 2:42)
In Acts 4 the church prayed together at the release of Peter and John.
(Acts 4:23-31)
In Acts 12 the congregation prayed together for Peter when Herod had him arrested and thrown into prison.
(Acts 12:5-6)
Acts 16 refers to Paul and the others who accompanied him praying and singing hymns together.
(Acts 16:13-16; 25)
Acts 20 tells of Paul and the Ephesian elders praying and weeping together.
(Acts 20:36)
Sadly, group prayer, which had been such an important part of the shared life and worship of the early church, gradually, over the course of only a couple of centuries, turned into something that would have been unrecognizable to those early believers. It became a function relegated to the role of the priesthood, part of a vast system of formal liturgy, institutionalized and formulaic.
I recall many years ago now, when our family was meeting with a small independent Sabbath fellowship, that the power of group prayer was brought home to me personally.
One of our brethren, the wife and mother of a family in our congregation, had been admitted to the hospital the previous week to give birth to their fourth child. During labor, complications had arisen that potentially could threaten her life and the life of the baby. We had all been receiving updates and individually praying for her and the baby during the course of that week but things had, as yet, not improved. That Sabbath, somewhere within the first hour of services, one of the members announced that they had just received a message from the woman’s husband requesting urgent prayer as the doctors had informed him that his wife’s situation had become critical and she might not make it through the next few hours. At that moment, we stopped the service and bowed our heads together in group prayer, each member who wished to do so adding their fervent requests and supplication to the Father for this young woman and her newborn baby.
How long the prayer lasted I don’t recall, perhaps ten or twenty minutes. But at the end of that prayer, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. Needless to say, there was no need for a sermon that day. I don’t even remember if we still had one, or, if there was one, who gave it or the topic. That time in prayer is all that I remember. We had never felt as close and as bonded to each other, to God and to the urgent need of that family, as we did that day. You can imagine how we were all affected when, not long after the conclusion of our services, we received the joyful news that the woman’s vital signs had stabilized and it appeared her, and her baby, would make it. It was the kind of faith strengthening moment that no sermon could have ever accomplished.
Having experienced the power of group prayer on that, and on many other occasions over the last fifteen years, it pains me to say that what we shared during that service would have most likely been viewed with disapproval by some, if not many, in our tradition today.
I suppose there is some justification for that view.
Group prayer conjures up images, for many in our tradition, of people swaying and swooning in the isles, emotional outbursts and vain displays of sanctimony. In essence, it’s just too protestant.
The understandable reaction against these obvious abuses is to label praying with other believers as unscriptural.
Matthew 6:5-6 reads, “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”
While clearly public displays of personal prayer, motivated by a desire to appear righteous to hearers, is here condemned by Jesus, the examples we’ve seen in Acts demonstrate that this same passage cannot be interpreted as a prohibition against members of a congregation or groups of believers coming together in prayer. The former is for the self, motivated by selfishness. The latter is for others, motivated by love.
As members of His body, we are joined and knit together through His Spirit. Like those early Christians, we sing together, we study His Word together, we discuss His plan and purpose together. What could be more natural and instinctive for we in this one body to do together? Why wouldn’t we, just as did they, bow our heads, with one accord, together in prayer and supplication to our Father?
I believe that much of the power and vibrancy that existed among the members in the early church would again be realized if we, as His people, only discarded some of our protestant paranoia and rediscovered the power of praying together.
Prayer in the early Church sustained, strengthened and bonded it together through times of terrible persecution. As the end approaches, and the world becomes ever more hostile, God’s people today need to return to our roots with regard to prayer. We need to rediscover this powerful tool for bonding and connecting us to one another and to our God and for resisting the power of the enemy as darkness and persecution spread.
We need to remember that, as the churches of God, the work of God, and the people of God, we move forward on our knees, not only knees bent in private, but those bent together in supplication to our Father.

Signs and Wonders Don’t Matter (The Word and The Way)
As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Mat 24:3)
There is very little record of believers in the Elohim of Abraham being willing to die for their faith prior to Acts 2. Sure, we have a couple instances in the Book of Daniel and other places where individuals were very strong in the faith, but aside from the Maccabees (which isn’t in a 66 book bible), finding a crowd willing to die is pretty rare. Until Acts 2 and then we have a humongous shift.
Signs and wonders don’t matter. Not at all. And yes, that sounds pretty fantastic. But it’s quite true and illustrated with some of the most important texts in the bible.
In the run up to the Exodus, what do we see? Huge signs and wonders, that’s what. Ten plagues to be exact. Then the mixed multitude makes their exit and cross a sea, walking on dry ground. We’re talking about millions of people fleeing a country in a matter of a few weeks. Then they hear the very voice of YHVH, Moses goes up to the mountain, and comes back to find them already having delved into idolatry – something they just swore against 40 days prior. Then they are fed miraculously, cross the Jordan on dry land, discover enough food to feed (and sustain) the millions of people invading the land, and watch as YHVH destroys one of the most powerful cities in the then-known world, and immediately one of them decides to break the rules. The only conclusion here is that signs and wonders do not matter, because the guy who stole the gold under the ban had seen more signs and wonders than the overwhelming majority of people will ever see, and it simply did not matter. It didn’t matter to the point that he thought he could actually cheat God and get away with it.
So, in that context, you can only imagine what Yeshua was thinking when, in Matthew 24, it’s recorded that His own disciples asked for a sign. In the chapter prior, He was chiding people for doing their good works to be seen, these guys had at that point in time seen miracles the likes of which had never been seen before, and they have the audacity to ask for another. Instead of being content with the enormous blessings that had been bestowed upon them, they wanted more. And if they got the more, do you think they would have been content? Not at that time, not at all.
Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Yeshua said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” Therefore many other signs Yeshua also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Yeshua is the Messiah, the Son of YHVH; and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:28-31)
Understand that the signs were written down (recorded) so that we would believe they happened without seeing them. That means we have to have faith that Yeshua is the Messiah and the Son of YHVH and to do it based solely on belief. The Messiah said Himself that those of you who believe without seeing are blessed. Keep in mind that Abraham did the same. Abraham was blessed because He believed YHVH without seeing – even when what YHVH was telling him would happen was not possible: that Abraham would become the father of many nations. Abraham went to his grave believing without seeing, as have many of our brothers and sisters since Yeshua ascended. Let us count our blessings and be content with them.