Thoughts on The Way


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember Lot’s Wife (Sabbath Thoughts)
The only thing we really know about Lot’s wife is that she looked back.
That’s it. We don’t know her name, we don’t know where she was from, we don’t even have a single line of dialogue from her. The angels warned Lot’s family to flee without looking back; Lot’s wife looked back
“and she became a pillar of salt” (Genesis 19:26). That’s the only context we get. And for roughly two thousand years, this unnamed woman is little more than a footnote in Biblical history.
Then Jesus tells His disciples,
“Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32).
It’s a short, haunting sentence.
Remember Lot’s wife. Remember the woman who wasn’t ready to leave behind a world that God had marked for destruction. Remember the woman who looked back.
The clearest lesson from that warning ties in with Christ’s earlier assertion that
“no one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
We’re doing this – or we’re not. We’re citizens of God’s eternal Kingdom – or we’re citizens of this temporary world. One or the other. We can’t have our feet in both, and we can’t spend our journey toward the Kingdom wishing we were back in the world we left behind.
That’s an important lesson. But what really gives me pause is the
context of Christ’s warning. The Pharisees had asked when the Kingdom of God would come, and He warned His disciples not to fall for anyone’s false alarms – “for as the lightning that flashes out of one part under heaven shines to the other part under heaven, so also the Son of Man will be in His day” (Luke 17.24). It would, in other words, be sudden and impossible to miss. Just as important, it would catch the world by surprise – like the Flood in the days of Noah and like the fire and brimstone that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. “They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed” (Luke 17:28-30). The event will be sudden, sweeping, unavoidable, unmistakable – judgment on a world determined to ignore or oppose the commandments of God.
With
“the days of Noah” and “the days of Lot” (Luke 17:26,28) as a backdrop for the arrival of the Kingdom of God, Jesus continued:
It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. On that day no one who is on the housetop, with possessions inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it. I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left. (Luke 17:30-35, ESV)
What happens on the day the Son of Man is revealed?
Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matthew 24:30-31)
The return of Jesus Christ is the moment when the faithful servants of God are transformed
“in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet” (1 Corinthians 15:52). It’s the moment when the corruptible puts on incorruption, when the mortals put on immortality, when death is swallowed up in victory and the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ. That’s the moment Jesus is talking about.
And then He says, “Remember Lot’s wife.”
Is that possible? Is it possible for the people of God to come right up against the moment of their ultimate salvation and then look over their collective shoulders and think, “But I’m not ready to leave”? Can we get so attached to a world that is passing away, so involved and integrated into it, that when the time comes to leave,
we’re not ready?
It’s not that we shouldn’t care about the people in this world. As Christians, we must. Jesus was moved with compassion for the multitudes, “because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). We should “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15) and “do good to all” (Galatians 6:10) as we have the opportunity. But a big part of letting go of the world means acknowledging that the answers and solutions the world needs aren’t in the world. As much as we should be making the effort to improve whatever corner of the world we find ourselves in, we do that knowing that the only way forward is leaving these broken foundations behind.
The Flood and the fire caught the world by surprise, but God’s people had a heads-up. They knew what was coming.
We know what’s coming. We know who parades himself as the god of this world. We know he wants us to be distracted by and clinging to anything but the truth. We know he’s a master of making good look evil and evil look good.
When the time comes to go, will I miss what I’m leaving behind? Will I want to rush down from the rooftop, gather up my possessions and take all the cares of this world with me? Will I look back?
I hope not. That’s the uncomfortable question we all have to wrestle with. And I think that’s the key – we have to wrestle with it
now. We have to start letting go of the world now if we want to be ready for the future that’s ahead of us – a future where, ultimately, we’ll be involved in fixing everything that the god of the age has broken and twisted. But we don’t get there by holding onto what we have here.
Remember Lot’s wife.

Daddy’s Girl (New Church Lady)
Proverbs 3:13-20 [NKJV] 13 Happy [is] the man [who] finds wisdom, And the man [who] gains understanding; 14 For her proceeds [are] better than the profits of silver, And her gain than fine gold. 15 She [is] more precious than rubies, And all the things you may desire cannot compare with her. 16 Length of days [is] in her right hand, In her left hand riches and honor. 17 Her ways [are] ways of pleasantness, And all her paths [are] peace. 18 She [is] a tree of life to those who take hold of her, And happy [are all] who retain her. 19 The LORD by wisdom founded the earth; By understanding He established the heavens; 20 By His knowledge the depths were broken up, And clouds drop down the dew.
Proverbs 3, verses 13-18 encourages us to actively pursue wisdom and gives us the benefits of doing so. The benefits of pursuing wisdom, once you have grabbed her, include riches and honor and peace. Pursuing wisdom and its benefits are recurring themes in the book of Proverbs.
And then, in verses 19 and 20, Solomon pivots from telling us about pursuing wisdom for the good it brings us to explaining how the Father used wisdom in creating the heavens and earth. It seems to me that he pivoting from saying to pursue wisdom in order to reap its benefits to saying “pursue wisdom so you can be more like the LORD” – more like the creator who used wisdom in His creation. Solomon is saying wisdom will make you more like your Father in heaven.
Matthew 5 also encourages us to act a certain way in order to be more like our Heavenly Father, especially verses 44 and 45. The chapter concludes in verse 48 with this: Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
I was a “daddy’s girl” growing up and everyone knew it. One story often told about me is that I would sit on my father’s lap and eat “stinky cheese” just to be more like him. He had a love of exotic cheeses. And I must say that, because of the time I spent trying these cheeses with my father, I do enjoy a variety of cheeses to this day.
Because I imitated Dad, I eventually became more like him in this aspect.
If we seek wisdom we will reap the benefits of it. If we use wisdom we will be more like our Heavenly Father who is wise and used wisdom in all His creation – from creation of plants and animals, to creation of man and creation of His plan for all mankind.
When we use wisdom in all we do, we will find that we have become more like Abba.

Leaving Those Safe Spaces (Morning Companion)
When he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. (John 10:4)
Everybody wants peace and safety. Within the past 10 years or so, safe spaces have become a “thing” on many college campuses. The intent of such places at first was to provide an area where students could retreat to regroup against the stresses of campus life. That might seem like a noble goal – we all need a place for rest and recuperation – but the concept has morphed into protection from emotional upset caused when confronted with new ideas. Dissent from the current orthodoxy is not tolerated, and in fact is often shouted down.
In John 10 Jesus describes a “safe space”. He calls it a sheepfold. The sheepfold was truly a safe space for the sheep. It was an enclosure where the sheep would be gathered at night in order to protect them from predators. Clearly sheep need a safe space.
If safe spaces are a “thing” in John’s gospel, it’s curious that the Shepherd leads the sheep out of the protective enclosure into a potentially dangerous world. This rings of the words of the Psalmist about the sheep walking through the valley of the shadow of death.
We do not have the luxury as followers of the Good Shepherd to remain inside our spiritual safe spaces. We can turn our faith into a type of Christian ghetto where we can find our comfort zones. By doing this we neglect Jesus’s reminder that we are the salt of the earth, and we ignore his admonition not to hide our light under a bushel. There comes a time when we must be willing to take a risk for Christ, when the gospel must run to the darkness. That might be out of our comfortable safe space, but the charge to go into all the world and preach the gospel is inherently risky business.
But we need not fear it. The Shepherd does not open the gate to the sheepfold and let us run off on our own. Notice what the Shepherd tells us. “He brings out his own sheep and goes before them.” He goes in front of us. He accompanies us. As the 23rd Psalm reminds us, his rod and his staff comfort us. These were tools the shepherd used to ward off predators and to protect the sheep. “I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
Safe spaces are not to be our main abode in these days of disorder. It is time to take some risks.

When My Neighbour Can’t Breathe (Sabbath Thoughts)
Jesus taught that the two great commandments, the summation and foundation of “all the Law and the Prophets” (
Matthew 22:40), the pathway to inheriting eternal life (Luke 10:25), are these:
“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,” and “your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)
These are not complicated commandments – but we make them complicated, sometimes. We certainly made them complicated 2,000 years ago when a lawyer,
“wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (Luke 10:29).
Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?”
And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
(Luke 10:30-37)
In the eyes of many first-century Jews, one of the worst things a person could be was a Samaritan. The Samaritans were non-Israelites, brought in by the conquering Assyrians to supplant the nation of Israel. They took Israel’s faith and bastardized it, mixing in pagan traditions and false worship. And so when the expert asks, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus tells him a story that flips the question on its head:
Who
isn’t your neighbor?
Who
doesn’t deserve your love, your attention, and your concern?
It wasn’t a coincidence that Jesus chose to make a Samaritan the hero of the story. It was a chance for everyone listening to re-evaluate how they looked at the world – and, more importantly, the people in it. Jesus was telling them, “These people, the ones you look at as the lowest of the low, they are just as much your neighbors as the people living next door to you. The boundaries of this commandment don’t end at the boundaries of your community, and they certainly don’t end at the feet of someone different than you. Love your neighbor as yourself.”
It’s a theme Paul keeps coming back to. He tells the Romans,
“For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.’” (Romans 13:9).
He tells the Galatians,
“For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Galatians 5:14).
Love your neighbor is a tall order on its own.
Love your neighbor as yourself is in another league altogether.
Human nature makes it hard. And yet it’s such a key part of what it means to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, ”who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (
Philippians 2:6-8).
What does Paul say just before giving that description of Jesus?
“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. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:3-5).
There is no command to approve of everything your neighbor does. There is no command to accept his ideology as true and valid no matter what it happens to be. There is no command to support or embrace his sins. There is a command to love him as yourself.
Paul mentioned Peter’s hypocrisy in avoiding the Gentile brethren while the Jewish brethren were around (
Galatians 2:11-13). James had to chew out the Church for showing favoritism to the rich brethren over the poor brethren:
“If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:8-10).
Last week, I posted a blog called “How to Save the World.” The whole point of that particular blog was that we
can’t save the world – that the world is fundamentally broken in a way that no one but God can truly fix. It was meant to be a reminder that the solutions we really need to our problems will not and cannot come from within ourselves. We might sometimes stumble into a brief moment of temporary improvement, but it’s never enough. It never lasts.
“The way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jeremiah 10:23).
I still think that’s important to keep in mind. There are layers to everything that’s unfolding – and like everything in our world, those layers stem from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. No matter how we try to tease those elements apart, those layers will always be a mixture of right and wrong – and as Christians, we should be hesitant to throw our support behind whatever movements we perceive as “least wrong.”
But that’s not the point of this blog. The point of this blog is a reminder that the Biblical injunction to love our neighbors as ourselves sits at the very core of our identity as Christians – and that thousands upon thousands of our neighbors have been marching through cities, holding up signs that say, “I Can’t Breathe.”
If you are like me – a white person whose only real experience with racism comes second hand, from the stories of others – then the easiest thing to do is move to the other side of the road and keep on walking.
That’s not what God says to do.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
Don’t brush it off. Don’t look the other way. Don’t rationalize, justify, or excuse it. Cross the road and see what you can do to help.
I don’t think that means joining in a protest or getting involved in a political movement – but I do think it means trying our best to understand what our neighbors are dealing with. It means putting aside our preconceived ideas of how life works for people who aren’t us. It means
listening. It means figuring out what we change in our own lives to make ourselves a better neighbor – from the things we say, to the things we do, to the things we think in the privacy of our own minds.
“And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:9-10). Especially. Not exclusively. All means all, and neighbor means so much more than the people on our streets.
Love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your soul. Love your neighbor as yourself.
On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.

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

The Trust Factor (New Church Lady)
Proverbs 3:5-6 [NKJV] 5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.
We have a trust problem in this world – not surprising when politicians, business leaders, priests and pastors have very publically failed the trust we have placed in them. Money laundering. Putting personal gain above public service. Sexual misconduct. Lying. These are too often the hallmark of those who are to be our leaders, servants and benefactors.
These so-called “leaders,” rather than setting a good example, have failed to show themselves worthy of our continued trust. When we put our trust in the leaders in this world, experience has shown that we might be disappointed more often than not. Little wonder we have a trust problem in this world.
But we also have to watch out when we are tempted to follow the often quoted advice of “trust your gut.” You see,
Proverbs 3:5-6 indicates that we have to be careful about trusting out own human hearts, thoughts and perspectives.
Our own human hearts can deceive us, if we are not careful, because human nature is easily lead by Satan.
Jeremiah 17:9 [NKJV] tells us The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?
God asks us, instead, to completely trust Him – in His guidance and direction for our lives. And He makes the point that His ways and His thoughts are completely different from our own, natural ones.
Isaiah 55:8 [NKJV] For My thoughts [are] not your thoughts, Nor [are] your ways My ways, says the LORD.
God, who never changes [Malachi 3:6], is completely trustworthy. He always leads in the right direction. He always has your best interest at heart. His laws, His ways, His standards and His behavior are not impacted by pop culture or situational ethics.
You can put complete trust in God because He has earned our trust through the ages. We read about His complete trustworthiness in the Bible and, if we have worshipped Him for any period of time, we’ve seen His trustworthiness in action in our own lives. Whatever comes your way in life, you can put your complete trust God to be who He says He is and to do what He says He will do. Human leaders: not so much.

How to Save the World (Sabbath Thoughts)
I want to live in a world where black people don’t have to worry about being abused, harassed, or murdered by police officers who have no business wearing the badge.
I want to live in a world where police officers who put their lives on the line to protect others aren’t vilified for doing their job.
I want to live in a world where anarchists don’t see a protest as an opportunity to loot a city and set it on fire.
But we don’t live in that world. We are a million light-years away from that world. So how do we fix it? How do we save the world?
It’s simple, really: We can’t.
It isn’t possible. No matter how much we might want it, no matter how much effort we put into it, we’re dealing with a foundational issue that stretches back to the dawn of human history. The world has been coming undone for 6,000 years, and no human being – no coalition of human beings – will ever have the insight and the ability to reverse it.
Which is good. Paul explains:
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. (Romans 8:20-23)
Birth pangs.
You don’t reverse birth pangs. You don’t find a solution for birth pangs. You move forward into something new. The change is essential and inescapable.
That’s what’s coming. A change. Something new. That’s what the whole creation is groaning for, whether it knows it or not. It’s what we who have the firstfruits of the Spirit are groaning for.
When that Spirit was poured out during the Feast of Firstfruits – Pentecost – almost 2,000 years ago, Peter was inspired to quote from the prophet Joel:
And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God,
That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your young men shall see visions,
Your old men shall dream dreams.
And on My menservants and on My maidservants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days;
And they shall prophesy.
I will show wonders in heaven above
And signs in the earth beneath:
Blood and fire and vapor of smoke.
The sun shall be turned into darkness,
And the moon into blood,
Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD.
And it shall come to pass
That whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.
(Acts 2:17-21)
The world can’t be saved.
“The world is passing away” (1 John 2:17), to be replaced by “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). We need that, and nothing we’re capable of doing now can stand in as an acceptable substitute. But it’s not the world that needs saving, anyway. It’s the people in the world – and the solution has been sitting there in the book of Joel for thousands of years.
“Whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.”
That’s the only solution, and that’s the reason any attempts to fix things in the here-and-now are doomed to failure. No problem in our world can be truly solved without repentant and obedient hearts that are willing to follow where God leads – and we will not have that until after things get much, much worse. Wonders in heaven above; signs in earth beneath. Blood and fire and vapor of smoke. It won’t be pretty – but it has to happen before things get better.
Pentecost is the start.
Today is the start. So much of the world is burning, literally or metaphorically, and this is a day that reminds us why creation is groaning. A change is coming. Our ways aren’t working, our foundation is irreparably flawed, and we can’t fix any of it.
But God can. God will pour out His Spirit on all flesh, and those who turn to Him will be saved.
The Feast of Firstfruits pictures the beginning of a much greater harvest. Until then, we who have the firstfruits of that Spirit have to represent the change that’s coming. That means praying for a world that’s burning. That means treating others, even those who hate us, with love and respect. That means holding fast to the truth regardless of how others look at it.
None of it is going to be easy – but that day is a day that reminds us why it’s important. The harvest is coming, and even though we can’t save the world, God has a plan to save the people in it. Pentecost matters – not just for us, but for everyone.
There’s a reason the world is groaning. Don’t forget it.

Hang On (New Church Lady)
Proverbs 3:3-4 [NIV] 3 Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. 4 Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.
I might rephrase this in this in more modern terms this way: “Hang onto love and faithfulness with all your might. Make them a part of you. They will serve you well in this life and in the next.”
When you think of writing something on the tablet of our hearts, you may think of the word “internalize” – as in, “we must internalize love and faithfulness.” Love and faithfulness must be a part of our own character and makeup. This is what comes to mind for me.
What do you think of when the scripture says “bind them around your neck?” It makes me think of something that is right there, always visible. People should easy see love and faithfulness in our lives.
Also, our necks are close to our mouths. Calling to mind the proximity to my lips and the need for my words to be filtered by love and faithfulness.
Binding love and faithfulness around my neck also makes me think of something like a necklace that adorns us. Love and faithfulness provide adornment to our lives when we internalize them.
Love for God and love for others more than self are things that will make us stand out in the world. Faithfulness to God’s law of love, of which acts of service are a big part, will also make you stand out in this world.
Twice in Matthew 25, Jesus recounts these words for those the obedient servant:
The lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
Goodness (the acts of love) and faithfulness receive the promise of entering “into the joy of the Lord” in the future.
I pray you are adorned with love and faithfulness today and always. I pray you will hang onto them as precious gifts of the Holy Spirit. They will make you stand out in this world and they will stand you in good stead for your eternal future.

O Wretched Man That I Am! (Morning Companion)
I can sympathize with the Apostle Paul
s lament. No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to get it right. I try with my willpower. I cry out to God for forgiveness. I try educating myself, discplining myself. But the old human nature rears its head, and bad stuff pops out of my mouth, or I put the wrong things in my mouth, or the wrong things in my head, or commit the wrong action out of my passions.
O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
Paul, as you probably know, answers that question:
I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:25)
Simple, right? Well, I suppose. We can keep going to that source of grace and forgiveness as often as we need, but there is more to the story than that. And the key is in the way Paul uses language in chapters 7 and 8 of Romans, specifically in a word count in chapter 7 and another word count in chapter 8. Pull out your Bible, turn to Romans 7, and sit down with a pencil. Begin in verse 7. Now every time you see a first person singular pronoun (I, me, my, myself), circle that word. In the 19 verses between verse 7 and verse 25 of my New King James Bible, we see the first person pronoun no less than 47 times.
Paul, through his intentional use of the first person, is telling us that even he, the great Apostle, does not have within himself, no matter how hard he tries, the ability to live a life worthy of his calling. He cannot do it himself, and we can
t either.
Shortly after his resurrection Jesus told his disciples to
stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:49). That power, through Jesus Christ, is what Paul needed.
Which brings us to chapter 8, which extends Paul’s answer to the
who will save me from this body of death? question. Here is our second word count. Take out that New King James Bible and your pencil. Read through the first 16 verses, and this time circle the word Spirit and its derivatives. Here youll find Spirit, clearly referring to the Holy Spirit, no less than 17 times in 16 verses. And if you read the entire chapter with Pauls message in mind, youll see that its the Holy Spirit, as the gift from God, that empowers us to live the life worthy of our calling. Its the mind of God that dwells in us and converts us into Gods way of thinking and acting.
Nothing here is surprising for those of us who have attempted to walk in The Way. We know we struggle and we know we need God’s help. But I wonder sometimes if we spend too little time in considering the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We honor and worship the Father and Jesus, and well we should, but I wonder if we understand the importance to us of the Holy Spirit. Jesus certainly did not minimize the role of that other
Comforter or Helper that he promised to send, even telling the disciples that it was good for him to go away so that he could send the Spirit. It was so important to him that he made these remarks during his final instructions to them just before his crucifixion (John 14:14-18, 26; John 16:7-14).
From the very first chapters of Genesis, throughout the Torah, the prophets, the writings, right through to the last chapter of the book of Revelation, we see the Spirit of God mentioned and active. Maybe we should take the hint and read the Book with the Holy Spirit in mind, including Paul’s admonition to
quench not the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19).

The Key to being Understood (Sabbath Thoughts)
…is to understand.
It’s great to have the best argument, the clearest articulation, and the cleverest presentation. But the (often frustrating) truth is that none of those things amount to a hill of beans if we can’t understand the person we’re talking to.
Being right isn’t enough. Being clever and polished isn’t enough. We can beat others over the head all day long with superior reasoning and unassailable logic, but if we don’t get through to our audience, what’s the point? What have we accomplished? Not much.
Here’s the problem:
Everything that comes out of your mouth is going to make sense to you. You have a reason for saying it, after all. Your knowledge, your life experiences, your thoughts and feelings, your beliefs and values – with all those things as context, it’s easy to understand what you’re saying and why you’re saying it. The person you’re talking to probably doesn’t have any of that context. They’re coming to the table with their own knowledge, their own life experiences, their own thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and values – and in
that context, what you’re saying might sound like something else entirely. It might sound like absolute nonsense.
That’s the root of miscommunication. We all have our own frameworks for looking at the world – and trying to communicate with others without taking that into account is like trying to jam a cassette tape into a CD player. Even if you manage to force it in there, it’s not going to serve any useful purpose.
There’s a reason people don’t tend to leave a Facebook comment thread with a changed mind or a fresh perspective. Most people aren’t coming to social media so they can understand others – they’re there to be understood. To tell, not to hear. And so we post and argue and debate and pepper our eloquent rebuttals with memes and insults and condescension, and everyone walks away feeling more entrenched in their particular camp of choice than they were when they started.
I like Paul’s approach better. When the Athenian philosophers overhead Paul reasoning with the Jewish and Gentile worshippers, they took him to the Areopagus and asked him to explain these “strange things” (Acts 17:20) he was teaching in the synagogues and the marketplace.
Paul was right in his beliefs, and the philosophers were wrong. He worshipped the one true God, and the philosophers “spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing” (Acts 17:21). So how does he begin his defense of the gospel? With a blistering retort to cut them all down to size? With a self-assured smirk because of his moral superiority? By pointing out every wrong thing they believed and taking them to task for their ignorance?
“Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious” (Acts 17:22).
He meets them where they are. This was a city “given over to idols” (Acts 17:16), filled with the exact kind of pagan worship that God finds repulsive and abhorrent. Paul doesn’t approve of it, but he uses it as a way to find some common ground. He points to one of their many altars, dedicated “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD” (Acts 17:23), and explains that his God
is this unknown God. The God.
He explains that God created mankind from one blood, one family, “so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him” (Acts 17:27). The unknown God wants to be found by them. He points them toward a verse from one of their own poets, which happens to land on the truth: “For we are also His offspring” (
Acts 17:28).
Then Paul talks about the gospel message. About how the idols of the city can never capture the true divine nature of God. About how God commands us to repent. About a coming judgment and the resurrection of the dead. But he doesn’t start there. He starts by showing them that he sees where they are. That he understands them.
He doesn’t agree with them. He doesn’t approve of their beliefs. He doesn’t suggest there are other valid alternatives to the Word of God. But he shows, before ever asking to be understood, that he understands.
Does the entire Areopagus fall to its knees in repentance? Hardly. Some of them mocked Paul. Some of them were intrigued but not convinced. “However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them” (Acts 17:34). We all want to be understood. That’s hard-coded into our human nature. When someone tries to change our mind on an issue, it’s a lot harder to listen (or even
want to listen) when we don’t feel understood – when we feel like the other person cannot or will not take the time to see the world through our eyes.
Our job is to take the first step. Don’t expect others to go out of their way to understand you – go out of your way to understand them. Show them with your words that you’ve taken the time, done the research, and tried your best to put yourself in their shoes. Talk to them from where they are; talk to them about what they see, the
way they see it. It won’t be a perfect job, and it doesn’t require us to approve or accept things we don’t believe – but common ground is a lot easier to find when we’re willing to “be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19).
Let’s take the time to understand before we ask to be understood.

Riddles (New Church Lady)
Proverbs 1:5-6 [NLT] 5 Let the wise listen to these proverbs and become even wiser. Let those with understanding receive guidance 6 by exploring the meaning in these proverbs and parables, the words of the wise and their riddles.
I really loved learning algebra. It was one of my favorite classes in school and I tutored more than one family member through their own algebra classes. It was like solving a puzzle or finding a treasure to me. Following the steps outlined, we solved the mathematical riddle. I enjoyed algebra even though there was one piece of the instruction I never really understood – the practical application of it.
The wiser people of this world, according to Proverbs, speak in riddles, proverbs and parables. The book of Proverbs was written to help us explore and understand their meaning so that we can apply them to our lives. Proverbs is like key to an algebra problem in that it is a key to a good life, helping us figure life out. Its practical application is to make our lives better, wiser – to guide us.
Do you have a favorite proverb? A wise saying that has guided you? Feel free to share it in the chat. Here is one I like from Maya Angelou
When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. People can be a puzzle, but sometimes they show us the truth and we need to believe it.
Solomon took it upon himself to be our tutor through the puzzle of life. Ultimately, it seems that he didn’t always follow his own advice. For example, even though within the book of Proverbs he warned often against temptations of the opposite sex and those who would draw a person into sin, he didn’t take his own advice. Instead he gathered many pagan wives who he eventually followed into the sin of idolatry.
Proverbs 1:5-6 tells us that even those who are already wise can and should learn from this book. We should be always on a quest to understand God’s word better, to gain more knowledge of scripture and life lessons, and to apply them to the riddles of life – whether those riddles are people or events or opportunities.
God doesn’t expect us to just
understand the proverbs. He doesn’t want us to just solve the riddle of living a good life. He wants us to apply these lessons, to be guided by them into a better and happier life – because all the pieces of the puzzle fit together when God’s word guides us.

Do The Work (Sabbath Thoughts)
From a calendar perspective, Pentecost is an odd duck. It stands a good distance away from the hustle and bustle of the initial spring Holy day season. Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread are preceded by a flurry of intensive cleaning and meaningful introspection – but as the Last Day of Unleavened Bread ends, it’s easy for all that momentum to peter out. For a while, there’s nothing right around the corner, no urgent feeling of “What’s next?” to keep us focused on the next key element of God’s plan.
And then, after Pentecost, it’s easy for that feeling to intensify. The next Holy Day is a small eternity away – with the exception of the weekly Sabbaths, Pentecost is the last commanded assembly we’ll see for a while.
After Pentecost, the annual holy days become a waiting game.
We’re still waiting for Trumpets to be fulfilled. We’re still waiting for the events pictured by Atonement and Tabernacles and the Last Great Day to unfold. The big events of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Pentecost have already come and gone. Christ died on the cross, gave us a way to put sin out and replace it with righteousness, and then gave us the tool we need to make it all happen. Now there’s nothing left to do but wait.
Except that’s the worst possible approach we can take to God’s Holy Day plan –
especially Pentecost.
From an agricultural perspective, Pentecost makes perfect sense. It’s the Feast of the Firstfruits – and firstfruits take time. They have to be planted, they need to be cared for, they have to be watered and nurtured. They need time to grow and come to fruition.
The time between the Last Day of Unleavened Bread and the Feast of Pentecost is a reminder that we need to be
growing – not waiting. You’re not where you need to be yet, and neither am I. We need to be taking every opportunity to grow in grace and knowledge, to cast aside the sin which so easily ensnares us, and to develop into the spiritual firstfruits God would have us become.
Pentecost itself, though – I think Pentecost is a reminder of something else:
We have work to do.
It’s so easy to turn the cycle of personal growth into a way to hide. Self-examination means we’re confronted with our own flaws again and again – the reasons we’re not good enough, the ways we’re falling short of where we should be, the reasons God can’t use us.
And then we’re Moses, standing in front of the burning bush and explaining to God why His plan won’t work because, hey, let’s be honest, we’re just not the right person for the job. We’re so far from where we need to be; we have so much more growing to do before we’re ready to –
And then God tells us to quit making excuses and to go do the work. When Moses told God he wasn’t a good public speaker, God replied, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord? Now therefore,
go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say” (Exodus 4:11-12).
When Jeremiah told God, “I cannot speak, for I am a youth,” God replied, “Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, for
I am with you to deliver you” (Jeremiah 1:6-8).
God knows who you are. He knows your weaknesses and your limitations – and He has a job for you to do. When we tell God all the reasons we can’t, He tells us all the reasons
He can. Then He tells us to get to work.
We don’t get excuses with God. He made us; He formed us; He knows exactly what we’re capable of – and, more importantly, He knows exactly what
He’s capable of.
Christianity is, in many ways, intensely personal. It’s about self-examination and how you’re growing as an individual. But Christianity isn’t compartmentalized, either. It’s not a matter of me growing quietly over here while my neighbor grows quietly over there, and we’ll just exchange pleasantries when our paths happen to cross.
God gave the Church work to do –
and the Church is you. It’s me. It’s the entire assembly of God’s called-out ones, not just a handful of people working at a headquarters or home office. We all have different roles to play, for “there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7).
We have work to do, you and I – and Pentecost reminds us to get to it. Trumpets—the return of Christ – is still off in the distance. For all we know, that day is a lifetime away. Right now, in this empty space between now and then, we must do the work.
When Peter gave his sermon on that fateful Pentecost, he got a response. His audience was “cut to the heart” and determined to find out the answer to an important question:
“Men and brethren, what shall we
do?” (Acts 2:37).
Peter gave them the initial steps: repent, be baptized, receive the Holy Spirit. But it doesn’t stop there. Any veteran of the Church knows that receiving the Holy Spirit is only the beginning of the work; only the first step into a much grander and much bigger world.
Skip down a few verses, and you’ll find that “the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). Why do you think that was? Was it only Peter’s ability to deliver sermons that stirred people to action? Or did it have anything to do with the Church members who “ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people” (Acts 2:46-47)?
Which had the greater impact – one extremely effective speaker, or 3,000 lives all setting an example of Godly living for their friends and families and even enemies to see?
I think God used both those avenues to accomplish some incredible things, and I think it’s a powerful reminder that as members of the Body of Christ, the work we must do extends so far beyond just showing up for services once a week.
“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).
Light.
Good works. We can’t stay forever in a loop of self-examination. Eventually, we have to stop navel-gazing and start doing, being “diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Our internal growth must result in action.
Passover teaches us to begin. Unleavened Bread tells us to keep going. And Pentecost has a message for us, too:
No more excuses. No more delaying. No more hiding.
Do the work.

The Big Why (New Church Lady)
Proverbs 1:1-6 [CSB] 1 The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: 2 For learning wisdom and discipline; for understanding insightful sayings; 3 for receiving prudent instruction in righteousness, justice, and integrity; 4 for teaching shrewdness to the inexperienced, knowledge and discretion to a young man — 5 let a wise person listen and increase learning, and let a discerning person obtain guidance — 6 for understanding a proverb or a parable, the words of the wise, and their riddles.
Breaking from the ways of my parents, and of many from their generation, I told my children that they could ask me “why?” when I gave them instructions, rules or punishments, as long as they did it respectfully and listened to my responses. My hope was that a further explanation when they didn’t understand would allow them to grow in wisdom. Frankly, I also hoped it would help prevent them from rebelling against my reasonable edits. (At least, I thought I was reasonable.) I also understood that my explanations to my children would help me to ensure I was being fair and reasonable.
It didn’t always work so well or provide the desired effect. However, I believe it was still worth the effort to for me to give my children better understanding and for them the opportunity to gain better understanding.
God doesn’t always give us the “why” of His answers to our prayers. He doesn’t always tell us why we go through a particular trial. In
2 Corinthians 5:7, He tells us we walk by faith, not by sight. However, He inspired the writers of the book of Proverbs to tell us why the book was written. He lets us know that these wise words are here to change our lives.
Verse 6 indicates that what we learn here, will help us unravel the next scripture or book. It will help us build up our knowledge. Proverbs bids us not only to
listen and increase learning, but also to obtain guidance. In other words, that learning isn’t just so we know stuff – it should guide our daily lives so that we live lives of righteousness, justice and integrity.
God also gives us the answer to what I call “the big why?” – Why are we here? Or why did God create us. We find the answer at the very beginning:
Genesis 1:26-27 [NKJV] 26 Then God said, Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. 27 So God created man in His [own] image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
Our lives are a journey on the path to being made over into the image of God. Genesis 1 indicates that we look similar to Him physically now. However, His work did not end with the physical image. God continues to work with us through His word and His spirit so that our hearts and minds are crafted more in His image. It is a process we participate in by spending time in the Bible and by praying to Him.

Would a True Christian Wear a Mask? (Morning Companion)
If food makes my brother to stumble, I will never again eat meat. (I Corinthians 8:13)
The favorite indoor sport of Christians is to change each other’s minds.
A thought has occurred to me recently related to the ongoing national argument, spurred by lingering virus concerns over whether to wear a mask. The World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and other worldly-wise outfits have confused matters with contradictory guidance and ever-shifting recommendations. Now marry those confused signals with a well-deserved suspicion of anything that comes from political mouths and a toxic propaganda on social media, and I see a near civil war (only a slight exaggeration) brewing over a piece of fiber called face mask.
Would a real Christian wear a face mask? Is it equivalent to the Mark of the Beast? If you think I’m going overboard with these questions, you should read my Facebook feed.
I suspect, though, that the real beef isn’t with masks. Masks are more a symbol for something else for those frustrated with draconian and often downright irresponsible reactions to a real problem.
Talk to any medical professional who has had to deal with this virus, and they will tell you that it is indeed a nasty and debilitating pathogen. Many who survive it will endure permanent disabilities. By its nature (manufactured nature?) it is not akin to a flu bug. Agreed from where I sit that the experts’ reaction to the thing could be seen as narrow-minded and sometimes counter-productive. (Mandating COVID-19 positive residents be admitted to nursing homes is one egregious example. Bankrupting over 100,000 businesses and the national treasury is another.)
Experts too often remind me that to a hammer everything looks like a nail.
Face masks seem to be the one thing that we frustrated plebs can use to show our disgust. But before we use this as a symbol of our freedom, consider something else, and I back what I am about to say with a slew of links at the end of this essay. The best medical evidence shows that, while face masks have but limited use in protecting you from others, when properly used they will protect others from you. That mask catches the water droplets from your exhale that, if you are infected, will contain the virus. Somehow I don’t see this as asking too much of me.
Besides, if wearing a mask makes others in my presence more comfortable and thereby encourages them to resume some semblance of a normal life, that benefits them and all of us. I thought about this when recalling Romans 14. During Paul’s day the brothers and sisters in Rome had 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 just as the controversy over masks threatens division today.

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 greater spiritual deficiency.
As I thought about this, I wondered about a way to apply that principle to the current context. If we make a few changes to Romans 14 to reflect the current 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 (at least in a spiritual sense) whether you decide to wear a mask or not. 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 does not need to wear a mask when in public, but he who is weak removes the mask at home
only.
3 The one who wears the mask is not to regard with contempt the one who does not wear one, and the one who does not wear one is not to judge the one who does, 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 way above another, another regards both
alike in this matter. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.
6 He who wears the mask, wears it for the Lord, and he who does not wear the mask, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who wears not the mask, for the Lord he does not wear it, and gives thanks to God.
7 For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself.
10 But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt?
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.
16 Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil;
15:1 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 that spiritual disease, which he addressed in a similar way in:
Galatians 6:2. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Respect each other, people. Respect where your brother is, whether weak or strong. And please, please get out of your echo chamber.
Links:
Asymptomatic Spread of COVID
Asymptomatic spread after lockdowns
Masks more effective than lockdowns
Austria: 90% drop in infections due to masks
Czech Republic and masks
Slovakia
Detailed: Masks more effective than lockdowns
Spread through water droplets
Wake Forest Study: Masks stop droplets
Even unfitted masks help
Video of droplets with and without mask
Effect of reducing but not eliminating droplets

What We Took For Granted (Sabbath Thoughts)
The coronavirus changed things.
It doesn’t matter how you feel about it or whether you disagree with how it’s being handled. It changed things, and it changed them
fast.
Think back to the beginning of this year, when COVID-19 was just beginning to emerge as a news item from China. What did life look like just a few months ago?
We weren’t standing six feet away from everyone. We weren’t arguing the pros and cons of wearing masks in public. We weren’t being advised to stagger our trips to the grocery store. We weren’t wondering if there’d be any toilet paper left when we got there. We weren’t dealing with the impact of lockdowns and quarantines on our jobs and our routines. We weren’t trying to figure out what services were closed (and for how long).
Oh, and we were going to church.
Remember church? Remember that thing we did every seven days? The thing that reconnected us with our brethren? The thing that fed us spiritually and physically? The thing that we did even if we were tired and really just wanted to relax at home after a long week? The thing that we all assumed would just be there waiting for us forever, week after week?
It’s been 11 weeks since I was in a room with my brothers and sisters in Christ.
Eleven weeks. Almost three months. We missed assembling for two holy days and Passover. Passover! One of the most singularly meaningful evenings in the year, and we weren’t able to come together for it.
This isn’t an opinion piece on how we should be handling the coronavirus. I don’t think I know enough to weigh in on that, although quite a few of my Facebook friends seem to believe they do. Here’s what I
do know:
The things we take for granted … aren’t.
They can change. They can disappear. And they can do it overnight.
I miss my brethren. I miss them a lot. But even they aren’t the point of this article today – because there’s another thing in our lives that’s very, very easy to take for granted:
The truth.
God’s truth. The truth we’ve been given; the truth we can see only because God opened our eyes to the pages of His Word. COVID-19 can’t take that from us, thankfully – but there’s a danger to thinking of it as our untouchable possession.
The five foolish virgins looked at it that way. They had their lamps, they had their oil, but when the time came to use it, they didn’t have as much as they thought. They hadn’t been tending to it. They assumed it would always be there, only to find their supply seriously lacking when they needed it most. Immediately after that parable, Jesus told another about a servant who buried his talent in the ground – only to discover that it, too, was not enough.
What about us?
We don’t grow in grace and knowledge by taking God’s truth for granted. We have to engage with it. Study it. Meditate on it.
Live it.
Having it isn’t enough. Oil that isn’t replenished will burn itself out. A fortune buried in the ground gains no interest. The Word of God is a precious resource, but when spending time with it starts falling down our list of priorities, its influence in our lives can disappear quicker than a sense of normalcy in a pandemic.
There’s a sea of disagreement out there about COVID-19 – how bad it is, how we should be handling it, what we have a right to be doing. I don’t expect that to change anytime soon, but the global impact of the coronavirus ought to leave us with at least one lesson we can all agree on:
There is a danger in taking the most important things for granted.
None of us can afford to do that.

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

Stand Still and See (Morning Companion)
We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age., against spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)
Often in this sick world I feel like the Apostle Paul who wrote to the Corinthians that he felt “hard-pressed on every side” (II Corinthians 4:8). That’s part of life on this side of the river, and it is certainly how the Israelites must have felt when trapped with Pharaoh’s army behind them and the Sea in front of them. In so many instances we cannot know in advance how a dangerous dilemma will unfold.
The present woe on the world makes many of us feel how the Israelites must have felt. We’re concerned about what happens after we’re set free from isolation. How will our world look? We’re already hearing the rumblings of some that this is an opportunity for central planners to reorder our world into some kind of new normal of expansionary monetary and fiscal policies, new moves for global initiatives, and novel environmental theories. Others see a spiritual renewal and reordering of priorities around family, friends, and faith.
However we look at it, the uncertainty of what lies ahead can be seem troubling. Add that to the financial and psychological stress so many have experienced, and we can feel like we are caught between our own personal Pharaoh and a raging Red Sea.
The way the world will turn after this is strictly out of my hands and yours. But that’s nothing to be discouraged about. Take a few steps back and view what’s in front of us through a spiritual lens. A warfare is raging, but it’s not a physical war that is the concern. At this point in history the warfare is a spiritual one. It is not a battle of flesh and blood. As such we need to put on the right armor, a different kind of armor. It’s what Paul calls the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-11).
The armor of God is to stand tall in the truth, to live righteously while preparing ourselves with the good news of peace. We need to remain strong in the faith in order to fend off the barbs and arrows that will be launched against us. We must remain fully immersed in the Word of God that we may parry lies and falsehood.. We need to be in communication with our spiritual Commander in Chief and persevere in this battle.
While “putting on the armor of God” might sound like an aggressive act, note this: in the passage where Paul describes the armor of God, every piece of military equipment that he mentions save one is defensive equipment. (See Ephesians 6:14-19). The only offensive weapon we are allowed is the “sword of the Spirit”, which is the Word of God. Put differently, it is not our own words or actions that will ultimately prevail, but the Word of God that will bring victory. Whether we see that as the truth of God saving people from their slavery to this system, or Jesus as the Word of God being the ultimate victor (both, of course, are correct), it’s a reminder that victory cannot come through us alone. We need the help of God and his “armor” to attain the victory, and that victory is meaningless if we forget that our battle is not according to the flesh, but according to the spirit.
When the world around us tries to steal our joy and steal our hope, it’s understandable that we react as the Israelites did at the Red Sea. The people said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? … It would have been better for us to be slaves to the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness” (Exodus 14:11,13).
Sadly, many would trade their freedom for slavery if the price of freedom appears too dear. Fear is a motivator that can push us into foolish actions when a better solution can be right in front of us, begging for us to recognize it if we only refuse to give into fear and instead seize the day. These newly released slaves did not know how to don the armor of God in order to fight the spiritual battle against fear and despair. They only saw a binary choice: slavery or death.
But Moses knew how to wear the armor of God. “Do not be afraid!” he said. Good advice, but then he says something unusual. “Stand still and see the salvation of God. … The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace” (verses 13-14).
Understand something. This virus thing is a horrible disease, very contagious and can create lifelong disabilities in survivors. It is not “just another flu virus”. I get all that. But recognize that the next battle will not be against the virus. The next battle is against those who want to use it to reorder society according to their own utopian visions. We do what we can to fight against man made dystopias, but in the end we must know that Moses was right about who is in charge: “Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.”

Stop Your Whining ~ God (Sabbath Meditations)
We Christians do a lot of whining.
As I write this, understand that I have one finger pointing out and three pointing back at me. We whine to God about so many things big and little.
It’s not as if we whine like spoiled little children. “Wahhh, that’s not fair!” “Wahhh, I want that toy! Give me that toy!” We know that wouldn’t fly with God. So, our whining is more refined, more … spiritual. “Please most powerful high benevolent God …” or “Oh merciful Father, who knows all of our needs and answers all of our prayers, please …” and then we proceed to pour out our litany of requests and petitions.
It’s not that asking God to provide for us is a bad thing. If it were, we wouldn’t be instructed to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” God wants His children to come to Him with their physical needs and concerns. But, there is a thin line between asking and whining.
“God, why do you allow our family to keep struggling financially?” “Why did you let my children abandon their faith?” “Why can’t you give me the perfect church to attend?” “Why can’t you change my husband or my wife?” In short, “Wahhh … I follow you, why aren’t you blessing me?”
When we question God, aren’t we really questioning whether He loves us? After all, if He really loved us, He would take care of all of the problems in our lives, wouldn’t He? Thus, we measure whether God really loves us by how He provides for our well being. God becomes a kind of magic “genie in a bottle.” If we rub that magic bottle by doing all the right things and obeying in every way, God will fulfill all our heart’s desires. We get so focused on all the things we don’t have that we forget the one huge thing we do.
The children of Israel spent a lot of time questioning God’s love. From the day they were delivered from Egypt, their voices were a constant stream of whining and complaining. It started with their sojourn in the wilderness and didn’t let up, even after entering the promised land.
God addresses their whining in Malachi 1:1-3, “The burden of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi. I have loved you, says the LORD. Yet you say, wherein have You loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? says the LORD: yet I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness.”
Notice how God cuts to the chase here. He doesn’t waste time addressing their litany of complaints and unmet requests. He gets to the heart of it. “You don’t think I love you?! For crying out loud, I chose you! I set My name on you! You are blessed above all the nations. Isn’t that enough?!
In God’s words to Israel there is a powerful, perspective changer for you and me.
In John 3:16 we read, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Isn’t that amazing! Doesn’t that blow your mind? God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, loves you so much that He sent His Son to die on a cross for you. He made a way for those He would call to become part of His Family. He chose you. He set His name on you. If you never receive one more thing from God in this life, isn’t that enough?
Apparently Paul thought so. In Philippians 4:11-12 Paul writes, “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”
It’s not that Paul didn’t petition God to provide for his physical and emotional needs. He did. But regardless of the outcome of those requests, he didn’t question God’s love for Him. He knew he had plenty for which to be thankful and in that knowledge, he was content.
Notice it says that Paul learned these things. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Paul was a whiner. But it does seem that he didn’t always have the right perspective. It’s possible, that at one time, Paul had to learn to see beyond his physical condition, his physical needs and wants, to appreciate the one amazing gift he did possess.
In II Corinthians 12:7-9 Paul says, “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
God used this situation, only one of many in Paul’s life, to teach Him to be content in the grace that God had provided. God had redeemed Him. God had chosen Paul according to His purpose. God said, “Paul, if you get nothing else from Me, my grace should be enough.”
It’s that lesson that allowed Paul to declare in Romans 8:18, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
I find it encouraging to think that if Paul, a man mightily used by God, can learn to see beyond today to the awesomeness of tomorrow and let that hope be sufficient to sustain, strengthen and drive Him, then maybe there is hope for this whiner. Maybe I can stop treating God like a genie in a bottle and truly give thanks for the awesome grace that I have been given through the loving gift of His Son. And maybe I can truly come to the place where, from my heart, I can say, “your grace is sufficient for me.” It is enough.

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

Let God Decide (Morning Companion)
Say “Joshua”, and people think “Jericho”. But Joshua was an integral part of the Exodus story from Egypt to the Holy Land, a span of time that exceeded forty years. He was effectively Moses’ second in command throughout much of that period, and he had much to learn.
One time Moses came to the limits of his frustration with the people of Israel, and effectively, in his completely transparent way, tells God, “Fix it or kill me, because I don’t want to deal with this anymore.” (Numbers 11:14-15).
Part of the problem was Moses’ own management style, and the solution was to delegate responsibility to others. Verse 16: ‘So the Lord said to Moses, “Gather to me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them. Bring them to the tabernacle of meeting, that they may stand there with you.”’
These seventy men were to take on some of Moses’ responsibilities. They would be closer to the people and thus be more aware of their needs. Moses would no longer have to be burdened with minutiae but could focus on the big picture. And these seventy would be a ready-made parliament to provide advice and consent.
When they had all gathered together, God “took of the Spirit that was on him [Moses] and placed the same on the seventy elders. And it happened when the Spirit rested upon them that they prophesied, although they never did so again.” (Verse 25)
Here is where Joshua comes into the picture. Two of these seventy had ignored Moses’ instructions to assemble before God. They had remained in the camp with everyone else. In spite of this, the Spirit of God came upon them anyway, and they too began to prophesy. (Verse 26). Joshua was intent on stopping them. These two men had not followed the instructions they were given, and in Joshua’s eyes had forfeited their right to perform the duties assigned to them.
But Joshua was wrong, as Moses pointed. “Oh that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit upon them!” (Verse 29)
The lesson here is that God gives his Spirit to whomever he chooses, and you and I don’t get to decide how God does it. Just because somebody sits in a different building with a different denominational name out front, it does not mean that God isn’t working with them. They might have slightly different beliefs and practices and might even have some questionable doctrinal positions, but if they exhibit the gifts of the Holy Spirit in their lives, no one should minimize or quench that Spirit. Even Jesus’s disciples needed to be warned about this attitude. When someone other than those in Jesus’s inner circle was casting out demons in Jesus name, the disciples wanted to put a stop to it. But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side.” (Luke 9:49-50)
In this world where so many are against us, we need all the friends on our side that we can get. If people are doing good things in the name of Jesus, or if people are persecuted for holding fast to the name of Jesus, who am I to pass judgment on them? God will decide who are his people and who are not.

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

A Dystopian World (New Church Lady)
Apparently, we humans have a very dim view of our ability to actually better the world we live in or to rule it in peace and kindness, let alone love. According to Hollywood movies and the books some of those movies are based on, the future for mankind is bleak. Literally, every futuristic movie I researched paints a dystopian future, mostly of our own making.
We see our efforts to cure disease potentially going very wrong:

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

Judah and Reuben (Morning Companion)
“You may put both of my sons to death if I do not bring him back to you.”
(Genesis 42:37, Reuben guaranteeing the safety Benjamin)
“Please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me?”
(Genesis 44:33-34, Judah pleading for the freedom of Benjamin)
The offers of Judah and Reuben are instructive in how these two brothers of Joseph had changed since the time they had sold their brother into slavery.
Reuben, the one who had previously looked for a way to rescue Joseph, now tells his father that if any harm befalls brother Benjamin, then Jacob can feel free to kill Reuben’s sons.
Judah, whose idea it was to sell brother Joseph into slavery for thirty pieces of silver, offers himself as a hostage in order to protect little brother Benjamin. People change with time, but not always for the better.
Strange, is it not, that Reuben would offer his sons as expiation for his own wrongdoing, yet Judah (an ancestor of Jesus) would would offer himself.
We don’t want to read too much into events such as this, but Judah offered to do what his descendant the Messiah in fact did do: offer himself for the freedom of another.

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

Fake News (New Church Lady)
All the best lies include a modicum of truth. It’s what makes them so credible, so alluring, so tempting to believe. A half-truth, they say, is more effective that a whole lie. Not a day goes by that we don’t hear the accusation of “fake news” from one side of the political spectrum or the other.
But fake news is nothing new. In
Genesis 3:1-6, we find the very first time a woman saw a meme on Facebook and reposted it without fact checking first. Well, not quite – but we do find that Eve, the first woman, fell for the first recording of “fake news” in the Bible.
Genesis 3:4-5 [ESV] But the serpent said to the woman, You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.
Eve did not take the time to chat with Adam about it or wait for God to come back to the garden the next day to question Him about it. No, she fell for Satan’s lie, because it sounded so good, and ate the fruit. Her eyes were opened all right. But what she saw was her own nakedness. What she felt was not godliness but shame. And she definitely did die. Not exactly what she was promised by the serpent.
Centuries later, Satan tried the same tactic on Jesus Christ, with entirely different results.
Matthew 4:5-10 [ESV] Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, He will command his angels concerning you, and, On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.
Jesus said to him, Again it is written, You shall not put the Lord your God to the test. Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me. Then Jesus said to him, Be gone, Satan! For it is written, You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.
Whether Satan quoted scripture or made an offer that seemed too good to be true, Jesus was not fooled, because He knew the word of God. He knew the truth. He knew God’s plan.
Make no mistake, Satan will use the same tactics on you that he has been using on mankind since the Garden of Eden. We need the same tools that Jesus used – a solid understanding of God’s plan and a thorough knowledge of the Bible – to combat Satan’s lies and half-truths in our own lives.
Satan will tell you that God cannot or will not forgive you for that repeated sin.
The Bible says,
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. I John 1:9 [ESV]
Satan will tell you that you cannot endure, God’s word bids us remember: I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13 [ESV]
Satan will say that God has (or will) abandon you because of your guilt. But God says, I will never leave you nor forsake you. Hebrews 13:5
Satan will tell you that you are destined for nothingness – nothing but dirt and oblivion. The Bible repeatedly tells us that we will be kings and priests in His Kingdom. [Revelation 1:6; 5:10]
Satan is a bold faced liar. He is also a subtle snake. He’ll use whatever works best against you. But in the face of the truth of God’s word, all of Satan’s fake news, half-truths and bold lies crumble.
There are a variety of websites we can use to fact check anything we find posted on Facebook, Youtube, Instagram or any other social media, anything we read in the paper or see on the news. Or we can read about a story from a variety of sources to get a better, more rounded sense of what is really going on. We cannot afford, as Christians, to be inadvertently aligned with a lie – there is just too much at risk – namely not only our own reputations, but those of God and Christ as well. [
Rev. 14:4-5]
But,
more importantly, remember that fake news has been around since Lucifer spun a yarn that convinced one third of the angels to follow him into rebellion. He is going to try this tactic on you, just as he did with Eve and with Jesus.
So don’t be taken in by Satan’s lies about your life, about your future, about who you are in Christ. Fact check it with the Bible. It is our number one resource for fighting the father of fake news. [
John 8:44]
Believe God, because He cannot lie. [
Titus 1:2] He will never give you fake news.

Calling Down the Wrath of God (Morning Companion)
Psalm 69:22-28 New International Version (NIV)
May the table set before them become a snare;
may it become retribution and a trap.
May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see,
and their backs be bent forever.
Pour out your wrath on them;
let your fierce anger overtake them.
May their place be deserted;
let there be no one to dwell in their tents.
For they persecute those you wound
and talk about the pain of those you hurt.
Charge them with crime upon crime;
do not let them share in your salvation.
May they be blotted out of the book of life
and not be listed with the righteous.
Have you ever prayed this way, calling down the wrath of God?
The Bible, particularly in the book of Psalms, is filled with such prayers.
Here’s a partial list:
Psalm 35  Psalm 40:14-15  Psalm 55:15  Psalm 58:6-8  Psalm 68:28
That’s just a partial list. Theologians call these psalms “Imprecatory Psalms”, meaning psalms that contain curses or prayers for the punishment of the psalmist’s enemies. We even find such wording in the New Testament.
Galatians 1:8-9: But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!
 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!
1 Corinthians 16:22:
If anyone does not love the Lord, let that person be cursed! Come, Lord!
2 Timothy 2:14: Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done.
Jesus used imprecatory language in Matthew 23 and elsewhere.
How can a Christian, who is instructed to love one’s enemies, square the circle with the maxim of loving one’s enemies?
Note that all of these Psalms and the other invocations of curses are consistent with a poignant Biblical principle: “Vengeance is mine: I will repay” (Romans 12:19, Hebrews 10:30. See also Leviticus 19:18 and Deuteronomy 32:35). All of that uncomfortable imprecatory language are sincere cries for God’s intervention on behalf of a suffering people.
Think about the implications of this: It is right for us to ask God to intervene and bring justice against those who are harming innocent people, and it is right to seek vengeance for the suffering of the inflicted. It is right to ask God to destroy those who are by nature destroyers.
But it is
not right for us to render vengeance ourselves (Romans 12:19 – “do not avenge yourselves”). We see this principle in Revelation 6:10: “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until you judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” We see it fulfilled in Revelation 19:1-2: “Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power belong to to the Lord our God! For true and righteous are his judgments, because he has judged the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication, and he has avenged on her the blood of his servants shed by her.”
When we see evil being foisted upon the people around us, when we see them being led into the tyranny of sin and slavery, it is right for us to pray for the destruction of those who are destroying the people.
When we pray “Thy kingdom come!”, we are praying that very thing.

Further reading:
1. 10 Things You Should Know about Imprecatory Psalms
2. Theopedia: Imprecatory Psalms

We Are Not All #Safe At Home (Sabbath Thoughts)
This is something my wife got me thinking about a couple days ago.
One of the more popular hashtags on social media right now is #SafeAtHome. People are using it to highlight pictures and discussions about what they and others are doing to stay safe and stay home during the coronavirus pandemic – while encouraging others to do the same. It’s a nice thought, especially since a lot of us could use some inspiration for ways to avoid cabin fever while the quarantines, lockdowns, and social distancing measures continue.
But that’s not how it works for everyone.
If your biggest problem during this pandemic is fighting the urge to go a little stir-crazy, take a second to appreciate how very, very lucky you are. Take a second to remember that there are homes out there – in your country, in your town, probably even in your neighborhood – where boredom would be a godsend.
Domestic abuse didn’t stop when the coronavirus started. Terrible people didn’t stop being terrible people when countries started instituting lockdown procedures. And now, around the world, those terrible people are spending more and more time at home, doing terrible things more and more often. Their victims have fewer and fewer avenues of escape or relief. They even have fewer opportunities to
report that abuse – and a staggering percentage of domestic abuse is already believed to go unreported.
There are people out there right now who are not safe at home.
They’re trapped at home.
Some of them are dying at home.
And there is so very, very little most of us can do to help any of them.
But we can pray. Remember them tonight, when you’re praying for this pandemic to end. And remember them when you’re praying for God’s Kingdom to come. The terrible things happening behind closed doors and in the shadows aren’t going to stop when this pandemic has run its course. They might happen a little less frequently; there might be some relief for some people, but there’s only one thing that will finally put an end to this evil lurking in our societal darkness. You know what it is:
“Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
Until that day comes, these days will keep happening. The very best we can hope for right now is a change in frequency and intensity.
The world was a mess before the coronavirus, and it will still be a mess after the coronavirus, too. Let’s pray about the short term solutions, but let’s never forget how desperately we need the day when God steps in to wipe every tear from our eyes – when He puts an end to death, sorrow, crying, and pain – when today’s nightmares become “the former things” (Revelation 21:4).
One day – one beautiful, perfect, wonderful day – things will be different. “Everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree,” says Micah,
“and no one shall make them afraid.” And we can be confident in this, “for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken” (Micah 4:4).
So many people have good reason to be afraid right now. The only thing that can truly solve that problem is the Kingdom of God.
God speed the day when we can all be #SafeAtHome.

To Save Many People Alive (Morning Companion)
I confess to being confused about the last chapter of 2 Samuel. King David does something stupid, and God punishes the entire nation for it. I won’t try to explain it except to note the obvious, that the sins of government can curse the innocents of society.
The point I wish to make relates to what King David, a deeply flawed but sincere believer, did in response to God’s correction.
2 Samuel 24:10 says that David’s heart “condemned him after he numbered the people.” He knew that he had done wrong and admitted it. “I have sinned greatly in what I have done,” he said.
Through the prophet Gad, David is given a menu of choices for his punishment. David refuses to make a choice, instead saying something profound. “I am in great distress. Please let me fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercies are great: but do not let me fall into the hand of man” (Verse 14).
I would hope that our approach to God would be the same. If I have to be judged, let the Almighty who has abundant mercy do the judging. David was content to fall directly into God’s hands rather than those of his enemies.
If there is one thing we can be thankful for during days of trial, it is that we as believers are in the hands of God, and God’s mercy endures forever. During the times of distress that we currently experience we can be thankful that great famine or great war is not being visited on our land.
We can also be thankful that it is an opportunity to rest from the distractions of living, those trivialities that can replace the place of God in our hearts, while refocusing on things of true and eternal value: friends, family, and faith.
The governments of this world do stupid and ungodly things, and sadly we all have to pay for it. But if you read the rest of the story in 2 Samuel 24, you’ll see that the distress on the land was followed by a great blessing once David repented. It led to the purchase of the land upon which Solomon built the First Temple, a temple that was to be a house of prayer for all nations.
As of this writing none of us know when or how the current distress will end, but we can be sure of one thing. In the words of Joseph to his eleven brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring it out as it is today, to save many people alive” (Genesis 50:20).

When the Lines Blur (Sabbath Thoughts)
My least favorite side-effect from this global quarantine has been the way it makes the holy days feel.
We’re all home more often. We all have fewer opportunities (and fewer good reasons) to leave home. It’s easy to feel stuck, isolated, and trapped even for a self-proclaimed introvert. And the longer we do this, the more every day starts to blend together into an amorphous mess. The Sabbaths and the annual holy days have always been significant mile markers for us. Our schedule for those day used to be drastically different when we get moving, what we eat for breakfast, how we get dressed, where we spend most of our day, whom we spend time with and now all of a sudden it’s … less different.
Same location. Same people. Sometimes the same food. We still dress up nice, but a holy day doesn’t feel like a holy day when Church services means sitting on your couch and looking at your TV. We’re grateful for it, and it’s infinitely better than the alternative, but it’s still so,
so easy for holy time to blend and blur into every other day we spend cooped up in our house. How do you treat it with reverence and honor when it so quickly starts to feel like … everything else?
Has it been the same for you?
I can’t believe the Days of Unleavened Bread are over. It almost doesn’t even feel like they were ever here. I don’t feel like the lessons sunk in quite as clearly for me. It was so easy this week to lose sight of the vision and the purpose of this festival. It was so hard to carve out the time for real, meaningful study when my house has become my every day, my every minute. The lines, the transitions, the mile markers, they’re all so blurry. And I guess that
is the lesson for me, this year. Maybe you too, if you’re in the same boat.
Keeping the holy days holy takes effort from us.
Especially now. Especially when Satan has found a way to make time feel blurry and inconsequential for so much of the world. I don’t know how long these quarantines will last, but the Sabbaths, the annual holy days they’ll keep coming. And if we if I don’t get better at making those lines special, the meaning and value of these days will keep passing me by.
I don’t want that. I don’t know the exact steps I need to take to counteract all this in my own life, but I know it’s going to take more than sitting and wishing. It’s going to take thoughtful, intentional steps from every single one of us. God told us, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). That’s always been important, but in these strange times, it might be more important than ever. Satan absolutely wants us to forget it and lose it in the blurriness of our newly refurbished lives. Don’t let him get away with that.
Remember it. Keep it.
We need what these days picture.

Sabbatical in Progress Exit Now (Morning Companion)
Wednesday was a good day even though we’re only partly into the 30 day shelter-in-place. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and the grass is green. That made it a good day to walk around the neighborhood and putter in the yard.
I wasn’t the only one who had that thought. Up and down the street and around the corner were dads and moms walking with their dogs and their kids, greeting neighbors on their porches whom they had never met. In the front yards fathers played wiffleball with their young sons and daughters. Cars as they passed waved at strangers, and strangers on the sidewalks exchanged greetings with other strangers.
Clearly stress and anxiety are a part of the psychology of the day, but as I witness the human exchanges and the six-foot-away social discoursing, it seems to me that it would be a good thing if every now and then all of society stopped for a little while to reconnect with each other.
Once a week would be nice.
Surely this is part of the intent behind the Sabbath command: Stop your busyness and enjoy the moment. But a Sabbath of that sort is just one day. What if there were an extended Sabbath? Imagine an entire year to reconnect with family and friends.
We don’t have any record that Israel ever kept the statute, but one of the provisions in the laws of ancient Israel was to do just that. Every seven years the nation was supposed to slow down. They were not to sow their crops, but were to simply take from the field what grew of itself. Imagine a sabbatical such as this, where more time could be spent with family and friends. Instead of toiling in the field, mom and dad could take the kids fishing, teach them how to hit a baseball, and take care of honey-do lists that had built up over the years. Debts were to be forgiven, and slaves were to be set free.
And if you’re given ample time to plan for it, it could be a real blessing rather than a curse.
As I wandered the neighborhood and later watched from my own front yard, I thought about how nice it must be for the children of the neighborhood to have mom and dad wrapping their time and attention around them. The interesting times in which we live are unpleasant and uncertain, but good things are happening because of it. In the words of Joseph to his brothers who had earlier sold him into slavery, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”
Note: For more information on the seven year Sabbatical and the Jubilee year, read Leviticus 25 and Deuteronomy 15.

Service Engine Soon” (Sabbath Thoughts)
My “SERVICE ENGINE SOON” light came on today.
I hate that light. It is probably the most evil light in the world. That one light can mean everything from “Your fuel cap isn’t on tight enough” to “In less than two hours, your entire car is primed to explode,” and I have no way to know which.

IMG_0318-1024x683.jpg
Not that it will stop me from trying. I already know that, sometime before I bring it to a mechanic (and probably while my wife is watching), I will open up the hood of my car and stare thoughtfully at the collection of unintelligible parts in front of me. My brow will likely be furrowed.
“The anti-carbonation injector is jammed,” I will say emphatically. “Maybe.” And then I will take it to someone who knows what they are doing, because I know in my heart that if I tried to tamper with any of those rubber hoses, my car would shoot transmission fluid out its exhaust pipe the next time I honked the horn.
After the mechanic has examined my car and explained the problem to me in a language I don’t understand, he will tell me that the part he needs to fix my problem is only manufactured in a war-torn country located in the Baltics, and that I will have to personally provide the airfare for the five secret agents who will be risking their lives to smuggle it into the United States. I will do this because I desperately want my transmission fluid to remain doing whatever it does in the transmission. Transmissioning, I guess.
Making the problem worse …

SERVICE-ENGINE-SOON.jpg
It’s not that I’m stupid. I regularly change my own oil, and I’ve even (with help) swapped out a radiator and an alternator on separate occasions. I just don’t have the working knowledge of a car’s innards like a mechanic does – and even if I did, I likely wouldn’t have the tools required to get the job done right. If there’s a problem that takes much more than duct tape, WD-40 or Google to fix, I’m going to be seeking out a professional – someone with the knowledge and the resources to ensure the job gets done the way it needs to be done.
And yet, I’m amazed at how often I and others take the opposite approach when it comes to life’s problems. When the “SERVICE ENGINE SOON” light comes on in our own lives and we realize something’s wrong, our first reaction can be to confidently pop open the hood and start ripping out and replacing parts we know nothing about. Almost inevitably, those “improvements” tend to backfire in undesirable ways and make the matter worse – all because we tried fixing the problem before we were even sure what that problem
was. There’s a better way.
The Master Mechanic
God designed your every working part; He has an intimate and perfect understanding of every little thing that has, will, or could possibly happen in your life and how it can affect you. Before you go trying to rebuild your entire engine based on your best guesses, why not consult your Creator? This is the same God who designed the complex interactions of the universe on an subatomic level and set the planets revolving around their respective suns; it’s safe to assume He can also show you the reason for your “SERVICE ENGINE SOON” light.
The book of Judges tells some of the early history of Israel, and its author was twice inspired to write, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25). In the absence of any God-fearing leadership (or any leadership at all!), the nation of Israel had reverted to doing its own thing. Because the people on their own were not inclined to seek after God, Israel plunged itself again and again into a state of chaos and disrepair – and despite several instances of returning to seeking God, they would still choose to settle back into their approach of everyone doing “what was right in his own eyes.”
Read through the book of Judges and you’ll see a historical account of what this approach to life produces – more than anything, you’ll find a lack of order, safety, consistency and a degraded quality of life. That’s the same thing that happens when we try to fix ourselves without God’s help. When we ignore God’s infinite wisdom and act on our own ideas of right and wrong, we will find ourselves living a life filled with confusion and worries, falling consistently short of its potential.
Consult the owner’s manual
Inside your car’s glovebox, probably buried under napkins and old receipts, is a thick little manual that explains how to take care of your car. It explains everything from how to turn it on to exactly how many pounds per square inch of air your tires need to be properly inflated, but there’s no way it can get that information to you if you don’t first open it up and
read it.
Our owner’s manual, the Bible, was inspired by our Master Mechanic. We talk to God through prayer, and the Bible is one way He talks to us. It doesn’t make sense to call up a mechanic, tell him your car has a problem, and then hang up before he can answer – and it makes just as little sense to ask God for His help and then not read what He has to tell you in the pages of the Bible. If you want to know how to live your life to its maximum potential,
read the manual. The Author knew what He was doing when He inspired it to be written. There is a part that looks right to a man…
This is a lesson I learned the hard way. When my brother-in-law and I tried to replace my car’s alternator, I went to O’Reily’s Auto Parts, I told them my car’s make, model and year, I bought the replacement part, we opened up the hood, and found … that it didn’t fit. Which was
awesome.
Long story short, we found out my car changed its models mid-year, which meant the alternator I had was designed to fit in the car one model year behind mine. It looked just like the part we’d taken out, it performed the same function as the part we’d taken out, but it just didn’t fit right, no matter how many times we tried to muscle it on there. It didn’t matter that it was only one model year away from what we needed – it could have been one hundred years away and been just as useless. If you don’t have the right part, you can’t do the right job.
The Bible tells us, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25). After we’ve gone to God and studied His Word for an answer to our difficulty, we can sometimes trick ourselves into thinking we’ve found a replacement part that works just as well as what God prescribed. Sometimes, like in my story, we might honestly believe we’re putting the correct part in place, only to meet with frustration and wasted effort. There are parts that look right to us, but unless we’re absolutely sure that they’re the ones
God told us to use, they can only end in headache.
In our physical, day-to-day lives, we take our cars to mechanics when the problem is beyond us because they have the knowledge and the ability to fix what’s broken. In our spiritual lives, we can – and
must – take our problems to our Father, since He is the only one in the universe with the understanding and capacity to repair us. With Him, we have the added benefit of a Mechanic who never makes mistakes and who can perfectly diagnose and help us to correct the problem. The “SERVICE ENGINE SOON” light in your life need not be a mystery. As Daniel told King Nebuchadnezzar, “there is a God in heaven who reveals secrets” (Daniel 2:28), and there is no doubt that He can do just that in our own lives. Ultimately, how you approach a problem in your life is your decisionbut there are smart decisions and there are stupid decisions. Trying to do it your own way is undoubtedly a stupid decision.
As for me and my house, we will have our cars serviced by the Lord.

The Business of Christianity (Morning Companion)
During the 2000 years of church history, Christianity has battled the temptation of being absorbed by the society around it, and the results have too often been mixed. In Palestine Christianity was a brotherhood. The Greeks turned it into a philosophy. In Rome it became a political system. In America it has become a business.
This piece is not meant to disparage those churches with thousands of members and a Starbucks next to the sanctuary. A look at the community churches in my neighborhood gives lie to the notion that bigness is always bad. Nor is it to celebrate small fellowships as the ideal. Too many small churches have grown small because of dysfunction.
Size is not the question. The question is the mandate to transform society instead of being conformed to it. Christianity in America faces the temptation of measuring itself in the best MBA tradition, which is by the numbers. Budgets and income, membership and attendance are often used as measures of effectiveness, whereas the true effectiveness of a church is better reflected in intangibles which by nature are difficult to quantify. Changed lives do not always translate into dollars and cents.
If you were a visitor from a foreign country and view the public display of American religion on the airwaves, you might notice the frequent appeals for financial support “so that we can keep this program on your station.” You would see the almost daily mail solicitations for donations alongside the sometimes massive physical plants that have been built to support some ministries. You would see too large a percentage of the American church engaging in the business of religion, and maybe, just maybe, you would think of Paul’s warning not to “be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2 NKJV)
Instead of imbibing the values of this world, the believer needs to transcend them. When we see churches building businesses and investment portfolios, it is time to start asking questions about that church’s mission. If a church or ministry refuses to give full financial disclosure, it does not deserve your support. If fundraising campaign is followed by fundraising campaign, question the need for so much cash.
Money is a necessary commodity in carrying out the work of the church, but we are all susceptible to the spirit of the age. If we are not careful, we will be conformed to this world without our knowing it. The words of Jesus: “Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!” (John 2:16-17 NKJV)

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: