Thoughts on The Way


cropped-7da97df5ccd44411a2567567be55a5df7-e1521842100252.jpg

Google Translate 

Cain, Balaam and Korah (part 1) (Sabbath Thoughts)
I want to
take a look at a single verse in the book of Jude.
But first, we need to set the scene with some context.
We don’t go to the book of Jude very often. In the original Greek, it’s only 461 words long, making it the fifth shortest book of the Bible, so that’s part of it. But it’s also not a particularly
encouraging or uplifting book, either.
There’s a reason for that. As the gospel began to spread and the early Church began to grow, new philosophical and spiritual ideas also began working their way into the Church. These ideas started mixing with Church doctrine, gradually warping and corrupting the core message of the gospel. When Jude wrote his letter, Church members were beginning to be seriously affected by some of those ideas. He’s pretty clear from the outset that this wasn’t a letter he
wanted to write – it was a letter he had to write.
Early on, he writes,
“Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3).
He
wanted to write to them about the salvation we’re all looking forward to as Christians, but instead he “found it necessary” to urge them to “contend earnestly” for the foundational principles of the Christian faith. This is stronger language than it looks like in English. He’s essentially saying he felt he had no choice but to write this letter, that the brethren needed to contend, struggle, wrestle for the faith that had been delivered to them.
Why?
“For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:5).
Bible commentaries will describe these “ungodly men” with some fancy-sounding words – proto-gnostics, libertines, antinomians – but we’re not digging into those ideologies today. The context we have here is enough to understand the kind of person Jude was writing about.
These were men who were abusing the grace we’ve been given through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. They either believed that God no longer held Christians to any kind of moral standard, or else believed that their sins gave God an opportunity to show
extra grace.
That’s the train of thought Paul shot down when he asked,
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not!” (Romans 6:1-2) – or “May it never be!”
And so Jude feels compelled to write a letter to the Church, because these immoral, ungodly, lecherous human beings are peddling their twisted version of Christianity. Jude tells the Church, “No, this isn’t the faith that God delivered to us, and if you don’t
fight for that faith, these men are going to trample all over it.”
And that’s just the first few verses! Jude also says,
“These are spots [the Greek there means “hidden reefs” – not a stain, but something dangerous lurking below the surface, waiting to destroy entire ships] in your love feasts, while they feast with you without fear, serving only themselves. They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots; raging waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame; wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever” (Jude 1:12-13).
No one had to ask how Jude really felt about these men and their view of religion. He calls them
grumblers, complainers, walking according to their own lusts; and they mouth great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage” (Jude 1:16).
But what really fascinates me about this epistle is in verse 11:
“But these speak evil of whatever they do not know; and whatever they know naturally, like brute beasts, in these things they corrupt themselves. Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah” (Jude 1:10-11).
I have wondered about that verse for
years. Cain, Balaam, Korah.
Why those three men? The Bible is filled with dozens of rogues and villains. What about Ahab, or Sennacherib, or Nebuchadnezzar, or Saul, or Haman? Did Jude just reach into a jar of rotten Bible characters and run with the first three he pulled out?
I don’t think so. He’s very intentional in his choice of words here. There’s a
progression, an order to this. They have gone in the way of Cain. They have run greedily in the error of Balaam. They have perished in the rebellion of Korah. They have gone, they have run, they have perished. The way, the error, the rebellion.
And when we look at the Greek, there’s an added layer of depth here. “The way” – probably not surprising, but it’s talking about a road, a path, a journey. The way of Cain is a lifestyle, a road we can choose to travel.
“Run greedily” is interesting, because the verb here is actually about pouring out water. They have
poured themselves out in the error of Balaam, without restraint. And “error” is interesting too, because in English, we might talk about an error the way we’d talk about a mistake, an accident. But this word isn’t talking about “the whoopsie” of Balaam. The Greek word here deals with wandering or straying, and implies the delusion or deception that results from it. Jude is saying they’ve poured themselves out into deception or delusion for the sake of gaining something. The English Standard Version says they’ve “abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error,” which is a pretty accurate translation.
And then when it talks about the “rebellion” of Korah, the word there literally means “speaking against.” The King James Version calls it “the gainsaying” of Korah, which is a word we don’t really use anymore, but it helps highlight that rebellion isn’t just an action; it’s an entire campaign. There are a lot of words moving behind the scenes before the action ever happens.
So that’s sort of a high-level overview. The way of Cain, the error of Balaam for profit, the rebellion of Korah. But it still leaves us with a lot of questions, and I think the best way to explore those questions is to look at the stories of these three men and see what lessons we can learn from their lives.
To be clear, I don’t think any of us reading this are antinomians or libertines or Gnostics. I doubt that any of us are turning the grace of God into lewdness or denying the power of God the Father and Jesus Christ. But what Jude gives us here is a roadmap, a path that any of us could choose to walk down if we’re not careful. It begins with the way of Cain, pours us out into the error of Balaam, and rushes us headlong into the rebellion of Korah. It’s worth taking some time to understand this progression so that we can steer clear of it. Over the next three weeks, I want to ask two questions of each of these stories: What exactly was the problem Jude was highlighting, and what template should we follow instead?
Next Sabbath, we’ll start with Cain.

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

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.

Retreat of Freedom (New Horizons)
If all mankind were motivated by the consciousness of the 24 hour presence of the one true God would there be corrupt business practices, defrauding of customers, shoddy workmanship, secret bank accounts and corporate greed?
The encroaching deployment of authoritarian measures in society strips away personal responsibility for obedience to the one true Authority. It is an open door to compliance with the world and its standards.
Warned Jesus:
‘because lawlessness shall have been multiplied, the love of the many will grow cold’.
Few regulate their life by the revealed will of God. Millennia of neglect for God’s great law of love, that is, willing compliance with His perfect will, has adversely affected body and mind. God is not a constant presence (cf Psalm 10:4), nor is a balanced care for those around us, our neighbour’.
As wrote the prophet Isaiah:
‘Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!’ (ch.5:20).
Such a universal mindset influences the man-in-the-street. Having abandoned our moral compass (the Christian scriptures) society degenerates and all manner of sinful behaviour is tolerated, even embraced.
He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?’
Despite our supposed Christian principles we are an ‘endangered species’ being slowly engulfed by a rising tide of illiberal pressures from governments in thrall to hidden authoritarian global forces.
It’s a well-publicized fact that government employs consultant psychologists to advise it on how to manipulate the populace to accept its plans. We are ‘nudged’ slowly, step-by-step to embrace concepts alien to us, a panoply of restrictive edicts such as face coverings, or social isolation or climate change ‘solutions’.
It has been said, a matter of common observation, that ‘every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business and eventually degenerates into a racket’.
It applies in every sphere of life, in business, in government, in entertainment and even in churches. And to promote the ‘common good’ movement we are guided towards ‘global solutions for global problems’.
No matter how high in the hierarchy of control, there is always someone ‘pulling the strings’.
Top-down (e.g. global) organization encourages dependency, and a dependent population is at the whim of the organizers and we can come to lose the readiness to think independently.
However benign the motive and however ‘soft’ the presentation (wolf dressed as lamb) basic freedoms are being eroded and we are increasingly at the mercy of forces alien to our settled way of life.
We might not like a particular government ‘nudge’, but hey! – it’s only a small step, we might say, so we take it on board, however reluctantly. The time comes, however, when enough is enough, for we begin to compromise with essentials, with the Word of God.
We still have choices, but our freedoms are slowly being stripped away (mandatory vaccine, cashless society, digital currency etc) as the state becomes increasingly authoritarian.
But what if, like the three Jewish lads in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar, you are faced with a life or death choice affecting your allegiance to God, to Jesus? When such authority touches faith? The three faithful Jews (see Daniel 3:3-21) faced with enforced idolatry responded:
‘If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods, nor worship the golden image which you have set up’.
Recall the admonition Jesus gave the apostles:
‘whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven’.
Loyalty is all. Loyalty to the one true God the Creator of all. Loyalty to His covenant with us. Loyalty to His revealed will, to His unchanging way of life as made plain in the Word of life, the Scriptures. As we edge towards the dawn of a new age, darkness dressed as light will envelop us. As Paul warned the Ephesian brethren:
‘Have nothing to do with the barren unprofitable deeds of darkness, but, instead of that, set your faces against them’ (Ephesians 5:11).
As brethren it is imperative we together face these forces, support and encourage one another,
‘knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed’.

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

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

Growth Happens in the Secret Places (Sabbath Thoughts)
We forget that, sometimes.
It’s easy to think of growth as visible, obvious, easy to point to and say, “There it is.” But it’s not.
We see the
fruits of growth in others. The by-products. We don’t see the actual growth, because that’s happening deep under the surface, where no one else can see.
That’s where it’s happening for you, too. Under the surface, in a place only you and God can see. Sometimes only God.
So many times now, I’ve watched my kids struggling for days or even months to master something. Walking, talking, using the potty, sure, but then a host of other things besides. Dancing. Blowing a harmonica. Drawing a picture. Expressing a complex thought. Brushing teeth. Singing. Labeling emotions. Pouring a glass of milk. Jumping.
Handling emotions. Turning the pages of a book. Recognizing numbers and letters and pictures. They would struggle and struggle and struggle and then, one day, it was like a switch flipped in their mind and it was all second nature.
But the activity wasn’t the growth. The growth is what happened in a place deep inside, where I couldn’t see. They didn’t just decide to be good at these things one day
they grew, they began to understand things they couldn’t understand, started processing the world in new ways, started integrating new things into the way they thought.
And then it all exploded outward in a way I could see it.
The point is, the growing is always happening.
Always. It doesn’t matter if you can see evidence of it in yourself right away. It doesn’t matter if others can. If you stick with it, if you’re trying, it doesn’t matter how many times you feel like you’re beating your head against the wall – eventually, the switch will flip, and “suddenly” (to others, not to you) you’ll discover you aren’t where you were before. You’ve moved forward. You’ve grown.
Paul reminded Timothy to focus on the fundamentals of Christianity
to “set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” To “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” Timothy’s job was to “practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress” (1 Timothy 4:12-13,15, ESV).
We grow in what we immerse ourselves in. And eventually
eventually that progress becomes obvious to those around us. But the growth that leads to that progress is like a seed growing in the dirt. A lot of things are happening under the soil before the plant is ready to emerge, and when it does emerge, it always feels like it came out of nowhere.
But it didn’t come out of nowhere. It was there the whole time. Changing. Transforming. Growing in ways no one else could see. You are, too.
Immerse yourself in the things that matter, give it time, and you’ll start to see the proof.

Weather – Why? (New Horizons)
Our climate is the headline consuming hot topic.
‘ A bit chilly today’. ‘I hate this weather’. Wow! Isn’t it hot – never seen anything like it’. Weather – it is (certainly in England) top of our small talk. From the seventeenth century’s ‘little ice age’ to today’s headline devouring ‘global warming’, we have been through every extreme.
Since we first put a spade into the ground, our local weather has determined our activity and we have been at its mercy. It has throughout history caused prosperity and it has, as today, driven mass emigration.
Meteorologists understand (partially) the complexity of the natural forces that shape today’s weather pattern near you. – from ocean currents to cosmic rays to the jet stream. And, of course, the various gaseous elements in the atmosphere: carbon dioxide, nitrogen, etc. All elements that are essential for life on earth to thrive. Indeed the data indicate that CO2 in the atmosphere has contributed to enhanced green growth, and may even be in deficit.
The apostle Paul observes:
‘[God] left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness’ (Acts 14:16, James 1:17).
And after the catastrophic climatic change of the great flood, He promised:
‘While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night won’t cease.’ (Genesis 8:22).
So – what happened? Why is our climate disrupted?
The ability to control our weather isn’t a skill claimed by science! Yet it isn’t just random, for it is firmly under the control of the Creator. God designed our world, He engineered the natural forces that underpin all life. Through trial nd error science discovers these fundamental interacting laws. And they learn to respect them, as do we all! Take the law of gravity – for we all quickly learn not to ‘break’ it! We avoid known poisons. On the global scale, however, the effect of transgressing the natural laws can be devastating. Like climate change or pollution.
There’s a tendency to treat statements in the Scriptures as mere suggestion – take it or leave it – and of no consequence. But our weather, our climate, depends on taking such seriously, for when God speaks (whether or not you believe He exists!) He means it and He has much to say about the climate:
‘The LORD will make the sky overhead seem like a bronze roof that keeps out the rain, and the ground under your feet will become as hard as iron. Your crops will be scorched by the hot east wind or ruined by mildew.’ (Deuteronomy 28:21-23 CEV)
That’s climate change. But why? Archaeologist David Wright notes:
‘Humans don’t exist in ecological vacuums. We are a keystone species and, as such, we make massive impacts on the entire ecological complexion of the Earth. Some of these can be good for us, but some have really threatened the long-term sustainability of the Earth’.
For example, it is now thought that the once verdant Sahara became desert as a result of human activity – overgrazing, deforestation etc.
Your lap-top is designed, made with purpose, and equipped with appropriate software – and an instruction manual, which guides you in its use. But misuse it and you are in trouble.
Planet earth with all its intricate interconnected programmed systems is like that. If you follow the ‘manual’ (ie the Scriptures) it works, but :
‘it shall be, if you will not heed the voice of your God, to take heed to do all His commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today, even all these curses shall come on you and overtake you’ (Deuteronomy 28:15).
And there follows a list of the inevitable negative consequences.
Earth is mankind’s inheritance and it is our responsibility – long neglected – to preserve it. The Creator instructed our first parents ‘dress and keep it’ (Genesis 2:15). We now reap what we sowed – pollution, poor health, real poverty (people die), over population, drought, famine.
Neglect of these basic principles, however, is just one strand in how we experience the climate. For there is an unbreakable link between a harmonious climate and morality – as instanced by the great flood of Noah’s day:
’GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth’ (Genesis 6:6-7). He warned: ‘yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights’ (ch 7:4).
Mankind in general has failed to learn the lesson of that mass destruction four millennia ago. Nor from more recent mass climate change episodes, such as in the sixth century, which sealed the demise of the corrupt Roman Empire or the 14th century Black Death, which carried off 50% of the population of Europe.
Our failure to care for the planet, coupled with our neglect of divine moral requirements, directly affects our environment. A stable climate is a partnership between man and the Creator.

Resisting to Bloodshed (Sabbath Thoughts)
Here’s the bad news: Satan is out to get you. To
destroy you. He wants very much to rip away your salvation, to crush your spiritual potential, and to leave you empty and ruined by the wayside of life.
Here’s the good news: He can’t. You and I are safe in our Father’s hands. We are Christ’s sheep, and He promises,
“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 10:29).
More bad news: Just because Satan can’t attack our salvation directly doesn’t mean he can’t convince us to give it up. After 6,000 years of antagonizing the human race, Satan has an impressive repertoire of ways to leave us distracted, discouraged, and disillusioned about the path we’re on. At every opportunity, he’s going to bombard us with everything he can to get us to walk away from God’s calling of our own accord. He wants us to be too tired, too focused elsewhere, too resentful, too doubtful, too bitter to continue seeking the Kingdom of God.
More good news: That’s a fight he can only win if we let him.
One week without eating leaven, a week designed to teach us about taking the sin out of our lives, about being aware of all the ways our adversary tries to sneak it in without us noticing, and about replacing that sin with God’s righteousness. It has also been a week that teaches us about resisting.
Being aware of Satan’s tactics doesn’t make us impervious to them. The Bible is full of admonitions to actively oppose him. Peter warns,
“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world” (1 Peter 5:8-9).
Resisting isn’t a passive thing. We don’t resist by simply “not giving in.” We resist by
pushing back. Planting our feet on God’s truth and shoving our enemy backward.
Paul tells us,
“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For 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 the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:11-12).
Wrestling doesn’t mean “sitting there and taking it.” It means grappling with our opponent and refusing to surrender. It means stepping onto the mat with every intention of winning. Not that it’ll be easy. Not that we’re capable of winning that fight without God’s mercy and grace. This is a battle that requires us to always be on guard,
“lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Corinthians 2:11).
Quick physics question for you: Two empty, identical clay flower pots fall from two equally high ledges at the same exact moment (no doubt due to the shameless machinations of a cat). When they hit the ground, one pot shatters immediately while the other bounces off the ground. Which pot hit the ground harder? Common sense would suggest the first pot. After all, it hit the ground so hard that it shattered! But common sense would be wrong.
You’re probably familiar with Newton’s third law of motion: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” In our little flower pot scenario, that means that when the flower pots hit the ground,
the ground hit back. As gravity did its work, the pots applied more and more force to the ground, which applied it right back to the pots. For the first pot, the stress was too much. It shattered, and both it and the ground stopped pushing so hard. But the pot that bounced actually absorbed (and applied) more force, enough to bounce back into the air.
Satan would like to shatter you. He wants to break you like that flower pot, which means he’s going to ratchet up the pressure every chance he gets, hoping you’ll crack.
But here’s the thing: We only shatter if we give up. If we stop pushing back. And no one understands that better than Jesus Christ, who
“was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). We can be certain that Satan used every weapon in his arsenal to take a swing at the Son of God, but none of it worked. Satan hit Jesus with everything he had, and Jesus pushed right back. Satan was standing in between Christ and His goal, and Christ refused to give in, which is why we in turn may “come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
And we
will have times of need. We’ll have moments where the battle is too much for us, when we falter and stumble, but through the grace and mercy of God, we can find the strength to get back on our feet and keep resisting.
For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:
“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord,
Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;
For whom the Lord loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives.”
If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?
(Hebrews 12:3-7)
We are the children of God. Our Father is shaping us in His perfect image, allowing us to endure the trials we need to build the character He requires in us. Meanwhile, our enemy is hoping those same trials will shatter us.
Resist. Resist now; resist all the way to bloodshed if that’s what God allows. That’s what Christ did. He strove against sin until His last breath, paving the way for us and opening the door to salvation. Now He stands as our High Priest, sympathizing with our weaknesses and providing the strength we need as we journey toward the Kingdom.
In this life, Satan is never going to stop pushing.
Keep pushing back.

Seeing Is Not Believing (Forerunner)
We all know the old saying that claims, “Seeing is believing.” It has us trusting that if we can see whatever it is with our own two eyes, we can accept it to be so.
For instance, we would probably be skeptical about a snake and a hamster being best friends. Perhaps even more astonishing would be the friendships among three predators: a bear, lion, and tiger (affectionately labeled “BLT”). Yet, these animals have grown up together since they were mere babies, and the bond between them is so close that it displaces their natural enmity. We can see pictures and videos of these “friendships” online. With such visible evidence of these animals co-existing, we find it easier to accept these assertions as true.
Perhaps we have an acquaintance whom we have always considered mean or rude, yet a friend tells us that he or she has changed. We are most likely to say, “Yeah, I’ll believe that when I see it.” However, the next time we cross paths, the person is kind, gentle, and soft-spoken. Having seen evidence of the purported change, we can now believe that the formerly mean person has matured.
We also rely quite a bit on our hearing. This reliance is especially true when it comes to human interaction and relationships. If someone tells us they will do something, we take them at their word, while hanging onto the thought that something could come up and change what we were initially told.
However, sight is different. When we see something, the truth seems almost imprinted in our minds. No one can change what we saw because, well, we saw it firsthand! It cannot be changed. Or can it?
In 2011, National Geographic debuted a show called “Brain Games,” which the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) describes as “an examination of the nature of human perception and how it can be fooled.” Several episodes revealed how magicians and even brain doctors use techniques like sleight-of-hand, distractions, and props to “play” the brain game.
It is truly amazing to see how an expert in sleight-of hand can make a coin appear to move upward from one hand to another! He then impresses all the onlookers by “miraculously” causing the coin to appear on his shoulder. Interestingly, the episode’s producers next show his actions in slow motion, pointing out his tricky movements along the way. The viewer can now see which hand holds the coin and how his hand and arm movements narrow the participant’s field of view. It becomes apparent that he uses distraction to “force” the participant to look where he wants him to look. He is so effective in distracting them that, not only did he make the quarter disappear then reappear on the participant’s shoulder, but also he removed the participant’s watch and put it on his own wrist without him noticing!
So, seeing is
not necessarily believing.
This principle appears in a familiar episode in Scripture, John 7:21-24:
Jesus answered and said to them, “I did one work, and you all marvel. Moses therefore gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath, so that the law of Moses should not be broken, why are you angry with Me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath? Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”
Jesus, referring to the miracle He had performed in John 5, healing the paralytic on the Sabbath, rebukes the Jews for condemning Him for healing on the Sabbath day. In doing this, they disregarded the fact that they circumcised baby boys on their eighth day, even if that day was a Sabbath. He instructs them not to judge solely according to what they see but with righteous judgment – how God sees things. He sees things far differently than we humans do.
The idea of seeing and believing appears again in John 20, where Christ appears to the disciples:
Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.
Now Thomas,
called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”
And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!”
Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:19-20, 24-29)
People are not always ready and easily persuaded to believe what people tell them. Thomas had the testimony of ten disciples; twenty eyeballs had witnessed Jesus appear in the closed room. They saw Him as He showed them His hands and side. They gave Thomas more than enough corroborating eyewitness accounts of the event, yet he still would not believe until he saw for himself.
People often refer to Thomas as “Doubting Thomas,” and one could conclude that he merely wanted the same validating experience that the other disciples had gone through. In verse 20, Jesus shows them His hands and side, so the ten saw the evidence that He indeed was the crucified Jesus, now alive again. Yet, Thomas’s own words in verse 25 go beyond this. He says that he needed even more sensory evidence to prove that the apparition was indeed the Christ: The disciple needed to see
and touch His hands and His side. It seems he refused to rely on the testimonies of others based on sight alone. We realize God says and does things purposefully. Jesus appears to the disciples again eight days after the original appearance. He seems to reappear for Thomas’ edification alone, to help him specifically with his lack of belief. The Good Shepherd did not want to lose even one of His disciples, and as we know, He did not lose any except for the son of perdition, Judas Iscariot, who in the role of betrayer fulfilled scripture (John 17:12).
Notice verse 29 specifically:
“Jesus said to him, ‘Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’”
Our eyes can be deceived – in fact, all our senses can be fooled. We can think that we have seen, heard, felt, smelled, or tasted something only to discover that our perspective was off, our hearing muffled, our touch calloused, our nose stuffed, and our taste distorted. Humans are easily distracted, which makes them susceptible to deception.
Jesus speaks to this fact in Matthew 24:23-26:
Then if anyone says to you, “Look, here is the Christ!” or “There!” do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. Therefore if they say to you, “Look, He is in the desert!” do not go out; or “Look, He is in the inner rooms!” do not believe it.
Throughout the end times, we can expect frequent efforts to deceive us. People will believe they have “found” Christ in some secret place. False messiahs and prophets will rise and exhibit great signs and wonders – perhaps “magical” things like sleight-of-hand and distractions? – that have us looking in one direction while our very salvation is being threatened from another. Will we want to “see” them, believing that, if we can witness what the false teachers are up to, we will be able to determine if they are believable ourselves? To the contrary, Jesus says flatly, “Don’t believe it.”
In Matthew 9:27-30, two blind men ask Jesus to have mercy on them and restore their sight. Of course, they could not physically see Him, but they believed in His ability to heal them if He was willing. Jesus touches them and says,
“According to your faith let it be to you.” And they were healed. They walked “by faith, not by sight” (II Corinthians 5:7).
The author of Hebrews expresses the principle of faith before sight in Hebrews 11:1-3:
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.
At least in part, faith is generated by the evidence presented to us of things we have not seen. In verse 3, the writer provides an example: that the Word of God constructed “the worlds” (the times we live in) from invisible things. What we see, then, provides evidence that a Creator God, whom we cannot see with our eyes, exists. So, we can believe – have faith in – Him, despite His invisibility. Romans 1:20 supports this conclusion: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and [divine nature (margin)], so that they [humans] are without excuse.”
Considering all that God’s elect goes through – various sicknesses, employment trials, and tribulations created by governmental mandates – we need more than ever to find faith, hope, and strength in the Scriptures. We need to consider daily the One whom we believe in despite never setting eyes on Him. The apostle Peter writes in I Peter 1:6-9:
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith – the salvation of your souls.
“Brain Games” shows how our physical senses work and how our brains process what we see, revealing how easily we can be distracted and misled. Our attention can be directed toward a particular thing or place so that we miss what is happening outside our scope of vision. The show even illustrates how simple color changes can make our brains think a thing is in motion when it is completely stationary. We cannot always believe what we see with our physical eyes. And the story of Thomas teaches that, spiritually, belief through sensory validation is not the kind of faith that Christ seeks from us. Obviously, examples and metaphors break down at some point. For good reasons, God Himself created in humanity what the doctors and scientists presented on “Brain Games.” A takeaway from the show is that our complex brains need to be only slightly tweaked by various stimuli to re-write how our brains see and respond. We must be cautious about why we believe and trust certain people and ideas. Are our beliefs based on faith or sight?
Christ used Thomas’s physical sight to help his unbelief, and it serves as an excellent example for those of us who have not seen our Savior in person. Knowing that we believe in a perfect Creator and Son of God, One who took such wounds and died to pay for our sins – yet rose again! – should give us great joy.
Knowing and believing that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8) and that “it is impossible for God to lie” (Hebrews 6:17-18) should embolden our faith because we know that, unlike fallible men, God and Christ are working with us with purpose and design. They are creating a Family in God’s image and working diligently to bring the elect into the Kingdom of God to reign with Christ forever.
But, as humans, we want something we can see, something that provides us with evidence and makes us comfortable with what we believe. We, however, have something even better. Paul writes in II Corinthians 5:5-8:
Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.
The Israelites had a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night that led them through the wilderness. They witnessed the Red Sea parting, manna provided every morning, and great armies decimated before their eyes. Yet they did not believe.
As the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16), we in the church do not see such astounding miracles and the visible certainty of God’s presence in our lives. It is typically only after much reflection and prayer that we finally understand the true reason for what is happening to us. But we do
see the evidence of Almighty God and Jesus Christ working in our lives and in creation. So, we can be of good cheer. We have genuine proof for our belief.
God has provided us with His words in the Bible, and they are true (John 17:17) and, like God Himself, unchanging (Malachi 3:6). He has given us His Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 2:6-16), one of power, love, and a sound mind (II Timothy 1:6-7). These gifts enable us to worship God in both spirit and truth (John 4:24) and open our eyes to “see” God working out His purpose. Finally, as Jesus says in John 20:29, we are among the blessed because we have not seen Him yet have believed. And that is something to be very thankful for!

Till We Can See The Sun (Sabbath Thoughts)
Before we say goodnight to our daughter Prim, Mary and I take turns every evening to sit beside her and have “chat time.” For about 10 minutes, one of us hangs out in her room and talks about
well, whatever her three-year-old mind feels like talking about.
Sometimes we puzzle over what giraffes would look like if they were blue and lived in the ocean. Sometimes we talk about the adventures she had that day (or the ones she wants to have tomorrow). Sometimes she wants to hear a story.
And sometimes … sometimes she has questions about God.
Those are always some of my favorite chat times, because I can see the little wheels in her head turning. Those are the moments when I know she’s been listening to what Mary and I have been trying to share with her about God and His plan for us.
I forget what prompted it, but in one of those moments, I was explaining to Prim what Jesus looked like. I told her how His throne looked like it was made out of beautiful blue stone (just like her favorite color!), how it was surrounded by a rainbow (Ezekiel 1:26-28), how His voice was like rushing water, how His hair was white, and how His face was like the sun (Revelation 1:12-20).
She looked confused for a second, then asked, “How are we going to look at Him?”
Smart kid. She made the obvious connection
Jesus is coming back to the earth one day (to heal all the boo-boos and make people “not dead anymore”), His face shines like the sun, we can’t look at the sun for very long, so how are we going to be able to look at Jesus?
I had to explain that when Jesus comes back, He’s going make us like He is. We’re going to be able to do what He can do, and looking at something as bright as the sun won’t even bother us.
Prim said, “Ohhhhhhhh,” and nodded like she couldn’t believe she hadn’t thought of that herself. She thinks the idea of being able to fly is very cool. Once Jesus comes back, she plans to give Him a big hug, then fly to the Paw Patrol tower, followed by Mémère and Pépère’s house. (Priorities.)
But it got me thinking. We can’t really see the sun, can we? I mean, we know it’s there, and when it’s cloudy enough we can even glance at it for a few seconds. But even in those moments, we can’t
really see it.
We can’t see what it really looks like. We can’t see the sunspots and solar flares that dance across its surface. We can’t see the radiation bursts and electromagnetic fields generated by its burning, swirling gases. We can’t see the 500 million metric tons of hydrogen it slams together each second to initiate the nuclear fusion that keeps it burning. We can’t see the gravimetric force it expends on the fabric of spacetime all around it.
We just see a bright circle that hurts to look at.
So much of God’s creation is like that. We see the colors that come from the wavelengths our eyes are capable of processing. We hear the sounds that come from the frequencies our ears can pick up. We feel, we taste, we smell within the limited, narrow band of stimuli that our bodies are designed to function in. Anything outside of that may as well be invisible to us.
The cells that make up our bodies are filled with microscopic structures built from atoms, which are made up of mysterious subatomic particles so small that the normal rules of the universe don’t seem to apply to them. We can’t perceive any of that
but it’s there. We can’t perceive the rotation of the Earth or the movement of the spiral arms of our galaxy. The physical universe, from microscopic to macroscopic, is filled with more secrets and wonders than we can possibly imagine and our most advanced technology has just enough sophistication to show us that we were designed with the ability to perceive only a fraction of them.
That’s not how God sees the universe. He can see the sun. Not just look at it without hurting His eyes, but
see it. Every atom whizzing around in every nuclear-powered collision every electron circling those atoms every subatomic particle composing those atoms He sees it all, knows it all, and has power over it all. He made it and set it motion.
And one day, when the seventh trumpet sounds and Jesus returns, we’re going to be transformed. “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). That’s incredible enough on its own, but it’s not just Jesus and the Father we’ll be seeing differently.
One day, we’re going to see the sun
and the universe like They do.
Won’t that be something?

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 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.

Finding the Lonely Places in an Overly Connected World (Sabbath Thoughts)
Ding.
I hate that noise. No matter how hard I try, it’s impossible to keep my brain from honing in on the source with laser-like accuracy.
Ding. Facebook. Ding. Email. Ding. Text message. Ding. Google Hangouts. Ding. Some app I don’t even remember installing. Ding. Facebook again. Ding. Ding. Ding.
A single ding is all it takes to derail my train of thought and send it careening into the great abyss where, presumably, it explodes into a million pieces of shrapnel before vaporizing into total oblivion.
I can’t say for sure. At that point I’m usually too busy scrolling down my Facebook newsfeed, so it’s anyone’s guess. I just know that, wherever my train of thought goes during those
dings, it never seems to find its way back.
Dopamine is the culprit, from what I understand. Dopamine is a chemical produced by your brain to give you a mental high-five for accomplishing something. “You did it! Great job! Here’s some dopamine, you go-getter, you!” And then you feel good for a bit, because you are the Accomplisher of Things, the Completer of Tasks, the Mayor of Git-R-Done-Ville, population
you. It’s a great feeling, but it doesn’t last forever so when it wears off, it’s time to go conquer a different mountain and get another high-five.
This is all gross simplification, but dopamine is essentially a mechanism God set up to keep us from staring at the wall all day and starving to death, because we just don’t care enough to eat. It’s dopamine that lets your brain say, “Pouring yourself a bowl of cereal, eh? High five for not dying, you roguishly handsome, breakfast-eating stud muffin!”
It’s a great system. You do stuff and your brain rewards you for not gazing into nothingness and composing poems about ennui. The problem is, it’s a system we can (and often do) short-circuit. Dopamine reinforces behavior, just not necessarily
good behavior. The promise of dopamine is what makes addictions so hard to break. In Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek explains how excessive reliance on short-term, dopamine-powered rewards has poisoned corporate culture and how every ding or buzz from our cell phones prompts our brain to give us a shot of that addictive chemical. It’s hard to focus on anything else when your brain is shouting, “HEY CONGRATULATIONS YOU GOT A THING, GO CHECK IT OUT RIGHT NOW.”
It’s not going to get better any time soon. One of the big buzzwords in the world of software development right now is “the Internet of Things,” or “IoT.” The IoT is an environment where everything
yes, everything can be given a unique IP address and then connected with everything else. According to WhatIs.com, “A thing, in the Internet of Things, can be a person with a heart monitor implant, a farm animal with a biochip transponder, an automobile that has built-in sensors to alert the driver when tire pressure is low or any other natural or man-made object that can be assigned an IP address and provided with the ability to transfer data over a network.”
If that seems unrealistic, consider the fact that our current IPv6 protocol allows for 340 undecillion IP addresses. I don’t even know what that number
means but some basic math reveals that “we could assign an IPV6 address to EVERY ATOM ON THE SURFACE OF THE EARTH, and still have enough addresses left to do another 100+ earths.”
You think life is hectic now? Just wait till you start getting notifications from your toaster.
Ding. Your toast is ready. Ding. Your flowers need watering. Ding. You’re running low on peanut butter. Ding. The dishwasher is ready to be unloaded. Ding. Your coffee is finished brewing. Ding. Time for a new water filter. Ding. Ding. Dingdingdingdingdingdingding.
We can’t slow it down, either. In a lot of ways, it’s already here. Smart TVs? Internet of Things. WiFi lightbulbs? Internet of Things. Smart watches? Internet of Things. Personal voice assistants? Internet of Things. Automated homes? Internet of Things.
The technophile in me is overjoyed; the Christian in me is terrified. Daniel was told that, at the time of the end, “many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase” (Daniel 12:4). I don’t believe we know what the word “hectic” even means. Not yet. All these “time-saving” technologies, they’re speeding us up, not slowing us down. We’re already moving at such a breakneck speed, but the technologies on the horizon are promising to get us moving even faster.
How much more can we handle? How much longer until we realize that “faster” and “more connected” don’t always mean “better”?
We can’t redline forever. The human mind has its limits, and we’re already pushing them. Being notified of everything makes it hard to pay attention to anything. Meanwhile, in the midst of all the dinging, all the speed, all the chaos and beeping and chirping and buzzing, the thing that most needs your attention has been making the least noise.
How’s your relationship with God?
Your Facebook account and your toaster might
ding at you for your attention, but God doesn’t work that way. Quite the contrary, the Bible tells us that when the world around us gets loud, God tends to be the one speaking with a “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12). God isn’t going to out-shout your Twitter feed. The onus is on us to silence the competing noise and make time for Him. That’s what Christ had to do, too. The fame of the Man who could cure diseases and raise the dead spread like wildfire through the first-century world, and “great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by Him of their infirmities” (Luke 5:15). Jesus may not have had to contend with emails and text messages, but He did have to deal with the constant ding of those who sought His time and attention. How did He make time for God? According to the very next verse, “So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed” (Luke 5:16). Other versions translate wilderness as “desolate” or “lonely places.” Whatever the translation, the point’s the same. He withdrew. He got away from the noise, away from the dings, away from every distraction, and He spent time with God. If Jesus Christ if the very Son of God Himself needed to cut Himself off from the low-tech distractions of 2,000 years ago, how much more do we, in our twenty-first-century world, need to do the same?
Now, I’m guessing you’re not fortunate enough to have easy access to a wilderness for prayer. I know I don’t. But it’s okay
because as fancy as our technology is today, it still runs on power. Your Internet router has a plug. Your smartphone has an on/off button. Your computer has a hibernate setting. When Jesus gave us the model prayer, He told us to “go into your room, and … shut your door” (Matthew 6:6) before talking to God. Find a place where the distractions can’t reach you, even if that means unplugging a few gadgets for a while. Hit the power button. Silence the notifications. Open your Bible; start reading; start praying. The Lord of the universe wants to have a conversation with you, but that can’t happen in a world full of dings.
Power down and listen up.

How We Became a Melting Pot (Morning Companion)

For those who now consider Italian-Americans “white”–understand it wasn’t always so. The largest mass lynching in U.S. history took place in New Orleans in 1891 — and the victims were Italian-Americans. What was the reaction of our country’s leaders to these lynchings? Teddy Roosevelt, not yet president, famously said it was “a rather good thing.” The response in The New York Times on March 16, 1891 referred to the victims of the lynchings as “… sneaking and cowardly Sicilians, the descendants of bandits and assassins.” An editorial the next day argued that: “Lynch law was the only course open to the people of New Orleans. …” John Parker, who helped organize the lynch mob, later went on to be governor of Louisiana. In 1911, he said of Italians that they were “just a little worse than the Negro, being if anything filthier in [their] habits, lawless, and treacherous.” (Anthony Petrosino)
How did we of Italian descent end up being demoted (sarcasm intended) to whiteness? Much contributed to that sad shift (/snark) in history. Among the factors, of course, were strong family and community ties, strong religious connections that tied it to the mainstream, a willingness to battle the ugly criminal element in Italian-American culture (a battle still going on), and a willingness to work hard and fully integrate into the American culture.
But other institutions and traditions were just as important, and they originated in the American culture that was already here.
First among these was the Catholic Church, an institution that had been established in this country long before the first wave of Italian immigrants arrived. It provided both a moral base and formal education in the form of parochial schools that (contrary to propaganda of the time) reinforced traditional morals and American traditions. The Catholic Church brought together such diverse ethnic groups at Italians, Lebanese, Poles, Slavs, Germans, Irish, etc., and this motley ethnic milieu came to realize that they shared more than a common faith. Friendship and even marriages eventually followed.
Public education also became a major force in assimilation, something which was markedly different in years past from current educational theories. Among the goals of public schools in those days was the teaching of civics in the American tradition and the assimilation of European immigrants.
Then there was baseball. What could be more American than that? Many sons of Italian immigrants excelled at it. Phil Rizzuto, the DiMaggio brothers, Yogi Berra, Billy Martin, Sal Maglie, etc., etc. That game became a gateway to acceptance and commonality in the great American pageant.
And finally, World War II and the American military. Attitudes shifted greatly after WWII. Something about fighting together for a common cause changed attitudes. My father’s home town in rural Appalachian Pennsylvania had a different attitude toward him post-1945 than it did pre-1940.
There you have a blueprint. Family, community, self-policing. Assimilation and acceptance through worshipping together. Proper education, playing together, working together, and struggling together.
Why can’t that blueprint also work today?

Apples of Gold in Settings of Silver (Sabbath Thoughts)
James doesn’t have a lot of nice things to say about the tongue. He focuses on its destructive capabilities, calling it
“a fire, a world of iniquity” that “defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell … It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:6,8).
It’s not hard to find examples of the kind of speech James is talking about. It’s everywhere.
But the tongue can do some truly incredible things, too. Solomon said, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11). He also said, “A man has joy by the answer of his mouth, and a word spoken in due season, how good it is!” (Proverbs 15:23). Words – fitly spoken, offered in due season – can be as beautiful as an ornately crafted work of art. But the focus here is on when and how the word is given. There is a joy in giving a thoughtful and accurate answer that meets the needs of those hearing it. Inaccurate and unhelpful words, spoken at the wrong time and delivered in the wrong way – those can quickly become the destructive fire and deadly poison that James warns us about.
It’s on us, then, to be “swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19) – to wait for the right window, to carefully consider the impact of the words we’re choosing. In that vein, Paul tells us, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11, ESV).
The ability of the tongue to encourage is just as potent as its ability to destroy … but it’s so much easier to tear down than it is to build up. As Christians, we’re supposed to be doing the harder thing: edifying, building each other up. We are “living stones … being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5-6).
So … are we doing that? Are we going out of our way to find opportunities to encourage each other? To build up this spiritual house through the power of our words? Mark Twain once wrote, “I can live on a good compliment two weeks with nothing else to eat,” and there’s a lot of truth to that. When someone comes up to Mary or me and tells us that we’re doing a good job parenting, or that they appreciate this, that, or the other about us – well, we’re always a little surprised, but that compliment, that encouragement, it hangs around. It builds us up. We draw some strength from it.
What about the last time you had a sincere compliment – especially one that came unprompted and out of the blue? How did it make you feel? Isn’t it such an uplifting thing to know that someone else sees the work you’re putting in – and values it? How would it make others feel if you made a point of doing the same thing for them?
That’s what it comes down to. Yes, we can do some incredible damage with our tongues – but we can also choose to be handing out apples of gold in settings of silver to those around us. Make the effort to choose the fitly spoken word.

The Vulgar State of America (Joseph Baity, Forerunner)
Time was, in America, when we did not accept crude language, gestures, or behavior in polite society – certainly not in mixed company – and never during prime-time television. Offensive words and actions, those that transgressed decency, were reserved for adult-only entertainment venues, back alleys, and the proverbial locker room. Alas, that is no longer the case. Public discourse and what passes for entertainment are now coarser than ever. Vulgarity has gone mainstream, and few, if any, seem to care.
Nine years ago, Dr. R. Albert Mohler, as president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, penned an article decrying the growth of vulgarity in America. In it, he proclaimed:
“The collapse of the barrier between popular culture and decadence has released a toxic mudslide of vulgarity into the nation’s family rooms – and just about everywhere else. There is almost no remote corner of this culture that is not marked by the toleration of vulgarity, or the outright celebration of depravity.”
Movie theaters and strip clubs used to be the only venues for viewing live-action, graphic sexuality. With the advent of the video cassette player/recorder, such base forms of “entertainment” entered the American living room. Today, the advancement of technology continues to play a significant role in mainstreaming our cultural vulgarity.
Pointing out technology’s unfortunate impact on our culture, American writer and cultural critic Lee Seigel authored a much-read article entitled “America the Vulgar” for the
Wall Street Journal in December 2013. Seigel opined: “Today, our cultural norms are driven in large part by technology, which in turn is often shaped by the lowest impulses in the culture. Behind the Internet’s success in making obscene images commonplace is the dirty little fact that it was the pornography industry that revolutionized the technology of the Internet. Streaming video, technology like Flash, [and] sites that confirm the validity of credit cards were all innovations of the porn business.
Indeed, as technology advanced, especially in the realm of the Internet, pornography and all its vile and destructive heritage became more ubiquitous, less stigmatized, and highly monetized. As streaming platforms take over home television viewing, the most popular programming – not surprisingly – is steeped in indecency. The glorification of graphic violence, nudity, and X-rated language dominates most newer offerings. As a result, the legacy networks (like CBS, ABC, Fox, NBC) strive to compete by producing “edgier” material rife with coarser language, subject matter, and even blurred or pixelated nudity.
Even our politicians are getting in on the act. A recent trend reveals popular politicians peppering their speeches with crass, off-color language, fueling acrimony, loathing, and malice toward their opponents. And the conservative right wing of the Republican Party resorts to a rallying cry of “Let’s go, Brandon!” with its euphemistic, vulgar meaning.

Following the battles in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s to keep rock and pop music as “PG” as possible, especially on the radio, the over-the-top vulgarity of Rap and Hip Hop now confronts the popular music industry. Sadly, we are witnessing much less struggle and much more acceptance and compliance throughout the industry, media, and buying public for these genres. There is still censorship and bleeping of the most noxious language on the radio. Still, the music available for easy purchase and streaming by most anyone is depressingly repulsive. It promotes degenerate and debased sexual behavior, drug use, and violence, making celebrities out of shallow-minded women, gangsters, and thugs.
Each year, millions of American and international viewers look eagerly to the National Football League’s Super Bowl halftime entertainment show, typically performed by a popular musical artist, band, or collection of them. Often seen as a barometer of American culture, this year’s troubling offering was certainly no exception. The NFL, responsible for selecting the talent and managing the show, chose an infamous collection of Rap and Hip Hop “artists” to perform a tribute to the repugnant genres. For fifteen minutes, the massive Super Bowl audience, replete with young children, was subjected to a glorification and celebration of the Rap and Hip Hop culture – culture awash with hypersexuality, overt drug use, gang violence, and a general assault on civil society.
Rap and Hip Hop are each over 30 years old, so few were surprised at the profane content performed. However, what was surprising was the nearly unanimous acclaim the show received from the media, politicians, cultural observers, and the viewing audience. The few conservative spokespersons that dared to criticize were immediately shouted down, vilified, and shamed on all forms of media.
Author and columnist Steven Kalas, writing for the
Sparks Tribune, declared in his 2017 article, “Vulgarity Won’t Make America Great”: “The wholesale surrender to vulgarity has consequences. It has an echo effect. It sets loose dark energies, ping-ponging a siren seduction of fear and anger.”
Sadly, Americans remain blinded by their Creator to these tragic consequences (Deuteronomy 28:28-29). Their wholesale acceptance of vulgarity is heartbreaking and portends a grim future. As Christians, we must remain wary about a society that celebrates openly unwholesome thoughts, speech, and activities, focusing instead on words and actions that uplift and edify everyone (Ephesians 4:29-32; 5:3-4; Galatians 5:19-22).

Written on your Doorposts (Sabbath Thoughts)
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).
Look at the emphasis there. Look how
comprehensive it is.
In your heart.
Teaching them diligently.
Talking of them in the house, by the way, when you lie down, when you rise up.
Bound on your hands, placed between your eyes, written on your doorposts and gates.
Am I
that engaged with the Word of God?
Is it in my heart? Is it on my mind when I wake up and when I go to bed at night – or is my mind elsewhere? Is it guiding what I do with my hands, where I look with my eyes, and where I travel with my feet? Is it just as important to me inside my home as it is outside of it? Do I take every opportunity to share its guiding principles with my children?
I wish I could say the answer is an absolute, unqualified yes for every one of those questions. But it’s not. I don’t always measure up to those standards – but I want to. You do, too. And sometimes, it helps to hold up that passage like a mirror to our spiritual life and ask, “How am I doing? Where have I improved? Where am I falling short?”
David asked,
“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?” (Psalm 139:7). And that’s the goal, I think – to feel like there’s no area of our lives where God and His Word don’t have a place. When we walk, we take that Word with us. When we lie down, when we rise up – whatever we do, wherever we look, wherever we are – we take it with us.
The goal is to have it always there in our heart – because we value it enough to keep it there. Even when other things try to push it out, we make sure it has a constant, immovable place. We need to make sure it’s woven into the very fabric of our day-to-day life that there’s nowhere we can go where it isn’t already firmly rooted.
That’s the goal.
Today is a chance to do it better than we did yesterday.
It’s time to be diligent.

Correct Diagnosis, Wrong Medicine (Morning Companion)
These times are challenging, and it’s easy to see why. Simply fire up your computer or turn on your favorite news channel. They’ll be glad to rattle off everything that’s going on in the world that cranks up our anxiety meters regarding our health, safety, and culture. Wars and rumors of war, high prices, rising crime, political corruption — it’s all there in living color and has been for some time.
Problems are easy to diagnose. When you ache because of poor diet or lifestyle, no one needs to tell you there is something wrong on your insides. But the diagnosis does not mean that the offered remedy is the correct medicine.
The Israelites in Samuel’s day had the diagnosis right. Samuel was for the most part a righteous leader, but his judgement was sometimes suspect. He had appointed his corrupt sons to important positions where they took bribes and perverted justice. Everybody knew it and the elders of the land complained about it. They correctly diagnosed the problem. It was their offered remedy that was the problem:
Give us a king to judge us.
Think about this solution. They were upset at Samuel’s nepotism, yet they wanted a hereditary kingship that would change nepotism from a flaw to a feature. Samuel warned them of such dangers and more when an autocratic system is taken to its logical conclusion:
This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.
(1 Samuel 8:11-18 NIV)
That warning sounds familiar from where I’m sitting. The medicine the people demanded in response to a correct diagnosis turned out to be worse than the disease. They got a king named Saul, a history of questionable successors, and all the curses that Samuel predicted.
Remember that. When the modern successors of that philosophy offer more sacrifice from you and more control for them, run. Run away as fast as you can.

The Secret is Showing Up (Sabbath Thoughts)
People talk a lot about “being your best self” and “doing your best work.” Those are, in a lot of ways, ideas I can get behind. Solomon said,
“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.” (Ecclesiastes 9:10).
We get one go-around in this physical life; there’s no sense wasting time with shoddy, half-hearted, lazy work. If you’re going to do it, give it everything you’ve got.
But I also have a problem with these ideas of “best self” and “best work.” I think they can easily become shields that we hide behind – excuses to stop doing work altogether. It happens to me a lot. There’s no telling how many words I’ve written in my life. I do it for my day job at work, I do it for my side project here. Whatever the number is, it’s a big one. But there’s also no telling how many words I’ve backspaced or crossed out. How many papers I’ve crumpled up and tossed aside. How many half-finished files I’ve left alone in some abandoned folder because they just weren’t coming together the way I wanted. Even though I love writing, it is
work. And I always spend at least some of that time in my own head, doubting what I’m doing.
Is this my best work? Is it good enough? Am I good enough?
And there’s the trap – because it can always be better. Always. And from a purely objective standpoint, only one single project in my entire life’s anthology will really count as my “best work,” and I have no idea what it is or if I’ve even written it yet. I won’t know the answer to that question until after I’m dead. So the questioning and hemming and hawing and self-doubt winds up accomplishing very little, because the secret to any project is never being your best self and doing your best work.
The secret is showing up. That’s as complicated as it needs to be. It’s enough to show up and do good work. Consistently. Over and over again. That’s where growth comes from. That’s where progress comes from. Consistency in the things we find important. And in the process of all that, we wind up producing our best work and developing our best selves. But asking ourselves – interrogating ourselves – over and over about whether what we’ve done and who we are is our absolute, inarguable best is an absolute, inarguable waste.
“Do it with your might” doesn’t mean “make it a masterpiece every time.” It means give it your best shot.
Show up and try. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it doesn’t have to be the best thing you’ve ever done.
Show up. Do good work. Move forward. Lather, rinse, repeat.
“Best” is an ideal. It’s what we’re chasing after. We “go on to perfection” (Hebrews 6:1) – it’s not where God expects us to be every step of the way. That’s not how this works, and we sabotage ourselves if it becomes our expectation.
But there’s another aspect to all this. Showing up is the secret, yes – but we can’t show up for
everything, all the time. There’s too much. Try and show up for all of it, and you’ll accomplish none of it. So we pick and choose instead. We have to decide what we’ll show up for. And that’s true for everything – in our professional lives, in our home lives, in our hobbies, and most importantly, in our spiritual lives. Bible study? You have to show up for that. Prayer? You have to show up for that. Meditation, fasting, fellowship? You have to show up for all of them. But it doesn’t need to be your best Bible study every time. Or your best prayer. Showing up consistently is so much more important than doing something excellent every once in a while. And the great big ironic paradox is that waiting for your work to be excellent is the best way to keep it from ever being excellent. We get there by showing up. One step at a time. One day at a time. Choosing to be there for the things that matter, choosing to try rather than hiding and waiting for the kind of perfection that’s just beyond our reach.
Paul tells us,
“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
The Greek word for “abounding” means “overflowing.” We are to be steadfast, immovable, and abounding in the work of the Lord
. We don’t get there by waiting and hoping to become our “best selves” and do our “best work.” We get there by overflowing in our dedication to show up and try.
You might be wondering why Sabbath Thoughts has been inactive for so long. Last week’s post was the first new post since August of last year, and it’s only one of three that I’ve written in the past 365 days. There’s a long answer and a short answer. The long answer is that it has been an absolutely crazy year. Our van broke down and needed major repairs – twice. We had colds. We had COVID. Our waste line clogged and flooded – twice. The first time ruined the flooring in a third of our house, so we replaced it on our own – slowly, over the course of multiple months. Between two kids, we worked through potty training and sleep training and sleep regressions and all sorts of developmental milestones. We made multiple road trips to visit family. We signed up to help out with an assortment of other projects. It’s been a lot.
The short answer is that I was busy showing up for other things. And for the most part, I don’t regret those other things (except for maybe a few late-night Netflix binges). I made the choice to take care of other things, to spend more time focused on family, and to use my limited cache of spare time on other hobbies and projects. And in all honesty, I was getting a little burned out. I kept telling myself I’d get back to writing Sabbath Thoughts, but every week that went by without writing a new one made it easier and easier to let it go for another week, and another week.
All the same, it serves to drive home the point that you make progress on what you show up for. I stopped showing up for Sabbath Thoughts, and the site got stagnant. Something would have been better than nothing, but the longer I spent away from it, the more pressure I felt to make sure the first new post was “worth it” – whatever that means. I wanted it to be my best. Every time I tried to write something, it was never quite what I wanted it to be. Never quite good enough. And so here we are.
I want to start showing up for this site again. It means a lot to me, and many of you have expressed that it means a lot to you, too. I don’t know if that means a new post every week, but I’m going to try to make sure
something goes up every week – even if it’s an older post. They might be shorter than usual, they might not be as insightful as I want them to be – I don’t know. But I do know that I want to show up consistently, because this is something worth showing up for. I might not be able to offer you my best self or my best work, but I do know this: I want to show up and try.

Three Questions for the Advanced Bible Student (Morning Companion)
Jeremiah asks a provocative question we all ask from time to time.
From Jeremiah 12 in the New Jerusalem Bible translation:
Your uprightness is too great, Yahweh, for me to dispute with you. But I should like to discuss some points of justice with you: Why is it that the way of the wicked prospers? Why do all treacherous people thrive? You plant them, they take root, they flourish, yes, and bear fruit. You are on their lips, yet far from their heart.
* How would you answer Jeremiah’s question?
* What other instances in the Hebrew Scriptures can you cite where followers of the God of Israel question God’s wisdom?
* Can you think of instances where God changes his mind after talking it over?
In the Christian way of thinking, this seems almost blasphemous. In the Jewish way of thinking, it’s a normal way to interact with God. Yet, even in the New Testament we find this: Luke 18:1-8 and Luke 11:5-8.
Could it be that we do not fully understand the relationship God wants to have with his people?

The Overview Effect (Sabbath Thoughts)
I watched a video of a dad sobbing as he said goodbye to his young daughter and wife as they boarded a bus. They were leaving; he was staying behind.
Most people are saying the man is a Ukranian father sending his family to Hungary, so he can stay behind and fight the invading Russian troops. Others are saying he’s from the pro-Russian city of Gorlovka, sending his family to Russia, so he can stay behind and fight the invading Ukranian troops.
I don’t know which one is true. Maybe neither. And that’s part of the problem. I get so tired of having to sift through which parts of which news stories are true, which parts are false, and who stands to profit by peddling which cleverly spun lies.
Isaiah lamented,
“Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands afar off; for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter” (Isaiah 59:14).
Every day, I feel like I can relate to that lament more and more.
But … that video. Whoever it was, whatever “side” he was on, whenever it happened – all I could think about was my own little girl. My son. My wife. I thought about how I would feel if it were me in his shoes – saying goodbye to my children, my wife – wondering, praying, hoping.
Blubbering. It made me angry. I’m still angry.
This is our world. This is the world humanity has managed to create in 6,000 years of doing whatever seems right in its own eyes. We pride ourselves on all our accomplishments, but at the core of it, we’ve never moved past that basic human instinct of saying, “I want what he has” – and trying to take it. From the man in the field with his brother Abel to the man in charge of a nuclear superpower, it’s the same old story. We want, we take, we destroy. Families are shattered. Lives are disrupted, ruined, ended.
And fathers put their daughters and wives on buses and weep.
When astronauts go into space for the first time and see our little blue-green planet floating in the inky, star-filled cosmos, they tend to experience something called the “overview effect.” Edgar Mitchell, an Apollo 14 astronaut, spent 33 hours on the moon in February of 1971. This is how he described the feeling of seeing Earth from that new perspective:
“You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a b***h.’”
I hope you’ll forgive the language. But I think that quote communicates something powerful.
As Christians, our knowledge of God’s plan gives us something of an overview effect, too. We can have that feeling of stepping out into space and seeing the absolute madness of this world we’ve built for ourselves, of wanting to force the leaders of the world to see the same truths we can.
They can’t see, though. Not yet. But they will.
Isaiah may have seen truth fallen in the street, but he also saw a far better vision from God:
Look to Me, and be saved, All you ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other. I have sworn by Myself;
The word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness,
And shall not return, That to Me every knee shall bow,
Every tongue shall take an oath. He shall say,
“Surely in the LORD I have righteousness and strength.
To Him men shall come, And all shall be ashamed
Who are incensed against Him. In the LORD all the descendants of Israel
Shall be justified, and shall glory.”
(Isaiah 45:22-25)
When we know what’s coming, the politics and wars of this world do become so petty – and so heartbreakingly
pointless.
When every knee bows to the Creator of the universe, the pointlessness will finally come to an end. The brutal senselessness of invasions and territorial squabbles will be forcibly ended, because “everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken” (Micah 4:4).
The world will be what it was always meant to be,
because the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken. That is the world that’s coming. That is what we’re looking toward and praying for. Sometimes, it can be easy to forget how broken our little blue-green planet is. Sometimes, we can convince ourselves that the human race is actually doing pretty well and things aren’t so bad.
And then there’s a video of a daddy saying goodbye – maybe for the last time – to his little girl, and you realize how terribly we need those knees to bow. Habakkuk asked,
“O LORD, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear? Even cry out to You, ‘Violence!’ and You will not save. Why do You show me iniquity, and cause me to see trouble? … The law is powerless, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore perverse judgment proceeds” (Habakkuk 1:2-4).
God answered, “
Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end – it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay” (Habakkuk 2:2-3, ESV).
The vision
is coming. The knees will bow. The mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.

Revelation and the Three Seats of Power (Morning Companion)
This will be one of my rare forays into the Book of Revelation. It’s not that I discount its value. But having read and heard the failure of prognosticator’s prophetic timelines, I’m inclined to be extra careful when drawing any conclusions about prophecy and end-time interpretations.
Having said that, I find a certain section in the book to be an interesting framework by which to view the political history of the world, and, by extension, a framework that can help us understand the state of society in the end times.
The section in question is Revelation 17 and 18. But before we get into that, I’m going to posit a theory of history, and we’ll see how that matches up with those two chapters.
Under this theory of history, there are three centers of power. Let’s call them
estates, borrowing a phrase from the French Revolution. These three estates are 1) the political, 2) the ecclesiastical, and 3) the financial. They will often work together to create a stable society (or to enrich and empower themselves), and at various times and places one of those three will have the dominance. For example, in Communist nations, the political dominates through its exercise of force. During the Middle Ages, the religious establishment dominated the kings and the financial interests of Medieval Europe. The city-states in Renaissance Italy were dominated by financial interests.
Under this theory, history is a matter of which estate is best positioned to dominate society. Sometimes two of the three estates will form an alliance to marginalize the third estate. It is also fair to say, even if they are rivals, and even if sometimes they hold great animosity for each other, they can all accumulate wealth and power.
Let’s take a look now at Revelation 17 & 18. Chapter 17 pictures a harlot riding a beast. This symbol hearkens back to Greek mythology.
In this myth Europa, a virgin Phoenician princess, is seduced by Zeus. Zeus transforms himself into a bull, which seduces Europa into climbing onto the bull’s back. Zeus in the form of the bull then charges into the sea and brings Europa to Crete.
Early Christians reading Revelation would immediately make a connection between the Greek myth and the symbols that John uses in Revelation 17. They would connect the symbolism of a princess from Phoenicia, Jezebel’s land of origin and also that of Baal, and Zeus, a power from Europe, joining forces. Here we have a corrupt ecclesiastical system merging with a powerful and dominant political/military force. Here we have two of the three estates combining to exert power and influence. This is in stark contrast to Jesus’s statement that his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36), nor are his followers of this world (John 17:16).
Revelation 17 shows in a metaphorical way what happens when the political and the ecclesiastical combine: the ecclesiastical does not purify the political. Instead, the political corrupts the ecclesiastical and then turns the ecclesiastical into a metaphorical Jezebel. It’s important to emphasize here that this metaphor does not point a finger exclusively at one prominent religious organization. It is a mistake to do that. Every religion of this world is at risk of that corrupting influence. It has happened in many Protestant and Orthodox-dominated countries, not to mention non-Christian religions such as Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism.
In any case, and relevant to the Christians reading and understanding Revelation, the warning to followers of Christ is to avoid becoming the consort — the harlot in Biblical terms — of politics or of any political party. They will court you and use you, but will end up resenting you and destroying you if you cease to submit to their manipulation (Revelation 17:16).
That becomes even more relevant when we consider the Jezebel nature of an ecclesiastical system that craves political power. The woman riding the beast will, like Jezebel, try to rule the politics of the domain and become drunk with power, often leading to death or banishment of those who dare disagree with her enlightenment (Revelation 17:6).
The role of the Body of Christ, on the other hand, is an evangelistic and prophetic one: to preach the gospel to the world (Matthew 28:19-20) and to proclaim a prophetic message (Isaiah 58:1, John 16:8 on revealing to people their sins). Those roles are often incompatible with political goals because the purpose of evangelism and moral teachings is not to gain power or money, but to advance this world’s rival, which is the Kingdom of God.
So far we have addressed two of the estates: the political and the ecclesiastical. The third estate, the financial, is addressed in Revelation 18. In this chapter the fall of Babylon is illustrated. If we take Babylon to mean the system of this world’s politics and its bedfellows which were introduced to this world in the mists of the ancient world dating back to the Tigris and Euphrates, we can see that the power and wealth of that system results in fantastic wealth and power for a few while the majority live subsistence lifestyles. Thus, when the Babylonian system falls and is replaced with the government of God that has an entirely new ethic (Luke 22:24-26, Matthew 5-7), the kings of the earth will weep over their loss (Revelation 18:9-10). So will the merchants of the earth (Revelation 18:11-19). Look at what this passage says. Notice the words in the italics that I have added:
And the merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her, for no one buys their merchandise anymore: merchandise of gold and silver, precious stones and pearls, fine linen and purple, silk and scarlet, every kind of citron wood, every kind of object of ivory, every kind of object of most precious wood, bronze, iron, and marble; and cinnamon and incense, fragrant oil and frankincense, wine and oil, fine flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and bodies and souls of men. The fruit that your soul longed for has gone from you, and all the things which are rich and splendid have gone from you, and you shall find them no more at all. The merchants of these things, who became rich by her, will stand at a distance for fear of her torment, weeping and wailing, and saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city that was clothed in fine linen, purple, and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls! For in one hour such great riches came to nothing.’ Every shipmaster, all who travel by ship, sailors, and as many as trade on the sea, stood at a distance and cried out when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, ‘What is like this great city?’
They threw dust on their heads and cried out, weeping and wailing, and saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city, in which all who had ships on the sea became rich by her wealth! For in one hour she is made desolate.’
The picture we see in chapters 17 and 18 of Revelation is one where all three estates are working closely together to achieve their sometimes overlapping objectives. Throughout history, each estate vies for supremacy and sometimes achieves it, but that supremacy is only temporary because the other two power bases act as rivals for the preeminence of power. When all three decide to cooperate and attempt to consolidate power, they will still be rivals, but their marriage of convenience spells the loss of freedom and the transfer of wealth from everyone who is not of their club. Notice the words “body and souls of men” in Revelation 18. That’s a reference to physical and psychological slavery for the rest of us.
The view of Revelation 17 and 18 through the lens of the Three Estates is probably different than the interpretations you have seen elsewhere, although likely complementary to most of them. It is my belief that this most opaque book of the Bible was encrypted in the way it is in order to protect it, but also to hide its meaning until the time it needs to be revealed. As events unfold, the fog will begin to lift, we will see the connections of the book’s symbols with the real world. Then its meaning will become more clear.
Post Script: From C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity. “What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’—could set up on their own as if they had created themselves … invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.’

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 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 she was begging for a water filter.
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, 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.
The purpose of a filter, in any application, is to separate two things that are stuck together. The spam filter on whatever e-mail 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.
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.
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 entry way for sin to snake its way into your life.
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.

An Eye for an Eye? (Morning Companion)

An eye for an eye is not the way the government should be run.
(George Gascon, District Attorney, Los Angeles County)

With all due respect, the District Attorney doesnt know what he’s talking about. If he understood the ancient saying and its context in the Book of the Law, his city and county wouldnt be the criminal dystopia that it has become. The famous quote an eye for an eye is found in two places in the Law of Moses (Exodus 21 and Deuteronomy 19). Both instances refer to judicial proceedings, and it illustrates a profound advancement in jurisprudence that was revolutionary in its own time and too often ignored today. Anyone with a simple sense of justice will recognize the concept: the punishment must fit the crime.
Read this passage from Deuteronomy 19. It
s describing a due process for determining innocence or guilt that is in many ways similar to our current Common Law approach:
You must not convict anyone of a crime on the testimony of only one witness. The facts of the case must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If a malicious witness comes forward and accuses someone of a crime, then both the accuser and accused must appear before the Lord by coming to the priests and judges in office at that time. The judges must investigate the case thoroughly. If the accuser has brought false charges against his fellow Israelite, you must impose on the accuser the sentence he intended for the other person. In this way, you will purge such evil from among you. Then the rest of the people will hear about it and be afraid to do such an evil thing. You must show no pity for the guilty! Your rule should be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. (Deuteronomy 19:15-21 New Living Translation)
Notice a few things. Where guilt has been established, the penalty must fit the offense. If something is stolen, for example, the guilty party must make restitution plus a 20% penalty to the offended party (see Leviticus 6:1-5). Note that the offender was not sent to prison. Nor did the government share in a piece of the action. The eye for an eye metaphor here demands a standard of fairness from the judges.
Notice too that, if the plaintiff was trying to frame the other person, he was to suffer the penalty that he hoped to impose on the innocent party. Imagine if we had a law like that today. It would discourage crooked cops from planting evidence and discourage ambitious prosecutors from tampering with and withholding evidence while coercing false pleadings from those they know to be innocent.
“An eye for an eye in that context does not look all that extreme, unless one considers it extreme to send crooked prosecutors and law enforcement officers to prison.
Finally, note that this passage refers to a legitimate function of a government — to try a case based on evidence, so that justice is rendered between the two parties and to the community as a whole. Without an official, sanctioned process that the community trusts, people revert to personal vengeance for justice, often carried out by vigilantes. Mr. Attorney General, if you believe your role is not to render justice in proportion to a crime, are you prepared for the damage that approach will render, indeed, is rendering upon your community?
This isn
t to say there is no room for mercy. Consider this proverb: People do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy himself when he is starving (Proverbs 6:30 NKJV).
There was a time in England, it has been said, that hungry children were executed for stealing a loaf of bread. Such is what happened in the case of Michael and Ann Hammond, ages 7 and 11, in 1708. That was not a case where the punishment fitted the crime, and it certainly was not an
eye for an eye. Yet even in our day people have been incarcerated for lengthy periods for minor drug offenses. The eye for an eye can be cause for great mercy.
Sadly, the reverse is often happening in too many jurisdictions today, and that too is a miscarriage of justice. Consider the burning of police precincts, wholesale looting in the name of
social justice, and run of the mill shoplifting, all occurring in the absence any meaningful prosecution. That also violates the principle of punishment fitting the crime. The summer of love as we had in 2020, where anarchy ran rampant for weeks, has escalated to a nationwide crime wave which will likely escalate in both scale and gravity. When prosecutors ignore such crimes, they invite more crime. Again, a proverb: Because a sentence of 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).
So with all due respect to the office of that certain district attorney and others like him, an
eye for an eye is more progressive and equitable jurisprudence than what you are imposing on your communities now. And the principle behind that ancient proverb is exactly how the government should be run, your uninformed statement notwithstanding.

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.
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 entertained 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.
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

How the Greek Present Tense Offers Hope for Your 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 constructions. 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 fourteen 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 licence 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.

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].

Anchors Aweigh (Sabbath Thoughts)
Life is an ocean. It’s vast, intimidating, and filled with things we don’t fully understand. Storms can come out of nowhere and wreak havoc on our tiny little boats, subtle currents can pull us this way and that, and unforgiving waves can leave us disoriented and reeling. Paul talked about being “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14), but the reality is that we can be overwhelmed by so much more than the winds of doctrine. There are emergencies. Responsibilities. The cares of this world. A million and one different things that can hijack our attention and our time, leaving us feeling adrift and hopeless on the ocean of life.
So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6:17-20, ESV)
An anchor.
The hope, the unchanging promises of our Father in heaven, is the anchor for our souls. Whether life is raging in a vicious storm or just tugging at us with subtle undercurrents that we can barely sense, our God-given hope is the anchor that holds us in place – steady, unchanging. And as long as we have that anchor in place, as long as we stay connected to that hope, we’re going to stay right where we need to be staying in that great big ocean. Focused on what matters.
When my anchor is up – whenever I get the feeling that I’m lost at sea, at some point I raised my anchor. I stopped letting my hope be my focus. I started letting other things become the stars of the show, and the more that happens, the more listless and unsettled I get.
Why is that when things get hectic, the easiest things to let go of are the most important? Prayer, Bible study, meditation – when time is at a premium, they’re always the first things out the window. It’s hard to squeeze them in. We forget. We’ll “get to them later.” But those components are part of our anchor – and without them, we’re going to drift.
The storms, the waves, the currents – those are all coming whether we’re prepared for them or not. The irony of it all is that we need our anchor the most during the times when it’s hardest to prioritize it – but if we want to survive everything the ocean has to throw at us, it’s vital that we make the effort. Paul told Timothy:
Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership. Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you. (1 Timothy 4:13-16)
There were a lot of things in Ephesus that could have eaten up Timothy’s attention –
fables and endless genealogies, for example, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith (1 Timothy 1:4). There were also the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge (1 Timothy 6:20).
Distractions. Time-suckers. Arguments Timothy could easily have sunk hours into while slowly losing sight of the bigger picture. Paul told him to avoid those things, and to zero in on what mattered – Timothy needed to have his anchor down if he was going to face the challenges ahead of him.
So do we. Just because we’re not pastoring a congregation in the first century doesn’t mean we can’t benefit from Paul’s advice. Two thousand years later, the problem and solution are still the same. When distractions creep in – when Satan fills our lives with urgent fires we can’t seem to keep up with – when we find ourselves being pushed and pulled in all directions by the invisible currents of life – when we wake up and discover ourselves adrift on the ocean of life – there’s only one thing to do:
Let down the anchor of our souls. Hold fast to the hope set before us by God. Your adversary’s goal is to drag you away from the unchanging promises of God, but he can’t do that if we cling to those promises first and foremost. Even when it’s hard. Even when it feels impossible – because the truth is, what God has secured, Satan can’t budge.
Anchors aweigh.

Love Thy Neighbour! (New Horizons)
It is common humanity for each of us to be aware of the needs of all those we encounter – and to ‘do something’.
Countless acts of compassion are, daily, part and parcel of all civilized life.
The accident victim. The lost child. The neighbour’s illness.
Complete strangers experiencing the milk of human kindness.
The sacrificial support after disasters.
It’s also a theme that resonates throughout the Scriptures of the Old and the New Testament, and is summed up by ‘…love thy neighbour as thyself’ (Leviticus 19:18).
Indeed the instruction included in the Law (Heb. torah) overflows with guidance on how to apply this maxim in daily life. Such principles are not backed up by legislation but stem from the foundation of ’love thy neighbour’: don’t bear grudges; don’t be a tale-bearer; help your neighbour when he’s in difficulty; care for the safety of your property and animals etc. Such humanity pervades all faiths and isn’t simply a ‘Christian virtue’.
But we have also seen – and in all faiths – the breakdown of a society under pressure of disaster, of conflict, of disease, violence, theft, looting, neglect.
The social history of the world before the ministry of Jesus isn’t pretty.
For all the claim to Greek civility, society in general merited the term ‘barbarian’.
The state of society in Rome, in Corinth and elsewhere, as the eye-witness Paul relates (Romans 1:26-31, 1 Corinthians 6:8-11), opens a window on that world.
Those lofty principles embedded in Judaism had become corrupted and were brought to the surface by the Messiah, Jesus, and gradually spread through the brethren of the infant church.
Sadly, over ensuing centuries the witness and influence of that church faded into the barbarism of the Middle Ages, surviving in individuals dedicated to the Saviour no matter what the adverse external pressures.
The revival of the Biblical faith in the sixteenth century led to the rekindling of those foundation principles and unshackling from the chains of Biblical illiteracy across those societies exposed to the Scriptures.
That moderating influence is fading, A generation arises in ignorance of the divine mandate: ‘…you shall teach them [His principles of living] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up. And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them upon the posts of your house, and on your gates’ (Deuteronomy 6:7-9).
How many even in Christian homes – are prepared to invest such effort. How many people, how many in financial or political or social or religious leadership, are guided by God’s instructions for a settled society. Indeed, how many trust in a loving, active God who interacts with His creation in accord with how they comply with His guidance (cp Leviticus ch 26).
No surprise, then, that the apostle Paul predicts: ‘…in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof’ (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
Note Paul’s summary: ‘…from such turn away’ .
Most of us do indeed ‘love our neighbour’. It is, however, a truism that it is exceptional for us to care for others when we face deprivation – starvation, personal safety, fear for example. It is in the face of such extremes that God empowers His children to ‘good works’, to follow His guidance in His ‘Law’, through His in-dwelling Spirit.
When life flows along smoothly it is relatively easy to ‘be my brother’s keeper’. As Christians, when tough times envelop us we must be prepared to serve our fellowman as we serve ourselves.

So let it be written, so let it be done (Morning Companion)
In Cecil B. Demille’s
Ten Commandments, the Pharaoh, played by Yul Brynner, is depicted as a despot who seemed to think of himself as one greater than God. That’s probably close to the truth of history, as ancient tyrants often held themselves out to be gods. The Pharaoh’s signature line suggests his self-image. “So let it be written; so let it be done”, as if all he needed to do was to put forth his word, and somehow, magically, everything would fall into place just as he envisioned. When the real God utters the words, “Let there be light”, light really does appear, unlike the word of that self-absorbed and over-confident Pharaoh.
It’s a stretch to compare our world to that of Pharaoh’s, but it is not a stretch at all to look at some mindsets and see the parallels.
Recently, the U.S. federal government promised to acquire 500 million corona virus test kits to be shipped to every American household by mid-January. Nobody, it seems, has stopped to ask where these tests will come from, given the already stressed balance between supply and demand resulting in significant shortfalls. Nobody has bothered to ask how the federal government, given its famous lack of efficiency, can institute a better distribution network than the one that already exists in the extensive, experienced, and privately operated pharmacy and medical providers’ pipeline. It might now be written, but it might not get done.
Not to be overshadowed is the government program to buy up 20 million courses of the new anti-viral drugs. This, in spite of the statement from the manufacturer, that they will have only 10 million courses available by June, with the balance not available until September. Effectively, the government’s plan amounts to confiscating all the production, and given their typical level of efficiency, what can we expect from a bureaucratic supply chain and all that this implies? How will our friends in Washington decide who gets the treatment? Will it be on the same basis that these same purveyors of confusion used when they confiscated Florida’s monoclonal antibodies stash and redirected the therapy to blue states? Do you think no sane government would do that with these valuable treatments, ruminate, if you will, on the article linked here about certain preferred demographics will have priority in the name of so-called equity:
Biden’s Administration Guidance in Administering Drugs
And why, in spite of soothing words from D.C., is there still many months later, rationing of the supply and of the treatments?
Self-important modern Pharaohs need to take a lesson from the Legend of King Canute. Canute was a medieval Danish king who, as legend has it, sat on the seashore and demanded that the tide not come in. You can guess how that turned out.

The Stories We Tell Ourselves (Sabbath Thoughts)
The people were terrified – and for that matter, so was their king. They found themselves at the brink of war with an enemy whose army was “as the sand which is on the seashore in multitude.” The threat was enough to send grown men scampering to hide wherever they could find shelter – in caves, in thickets, in holes, in rocks, and in pits.
The men brave enough to remain followed their king, trembling, to the place where a prophet would make a sacrifice of supplication to God on behalf of the entire nation. They waited seven days – the time set by the prophet himself – but he didn’t come.
A week of waiting for nothing. Some of the people, disillusioned by the turn of events, began to disperse, and the king could do nothing but watch. His people were losing faith in him, a powerful nation had gathered at his borders to destroy him, and the prophet of God had abandoned him. Unless he did something soon, everything would be lost.
So he took action. He broke all convention and offered the sacrifice on his own. Someone had to, after all – and if the prophet wouldn’t do it, why couldn’t the king? He had no sooner finished presenting the sacrifice when he found himself face-to-face with the absentee prophet.
“What have you done?” the prophet asked.
The king, desperate to justify himself, rattled off a string of excuses: The people were leaving. You were late. The army of the enemy was at our doorstep.
I had no choice. “Therefore I felt compelled, and offered a burnt offering.”
The prophet was having none of it.
“You have done foolishly,” Samuel told Saul. “You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you. For now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you” (1 Samuel 13:13-14).
Saul had an excuse for disobeying God – but then, he always had an excuse. He had an excuse for the sacrifice; he had an excuse for not killing King Agag; he had an excuse for taking the best of the plunder from an accursed city. There was always, always a reason. Always a justification.
But Saul had more than excuses. He had a narrative – and so do you.
Author Seth Godin explains the concept of a narrative this way:
In fact, all of us have a narrative. It’s the story we tell ourselves about how we got here, what we’re building, what our urgencies are.
And within that narrative, we act in a way that seems reasonable.
To be clear, the narrative isn’t
true. It’s merely our version, our self-talk about what’s going on. It’s the excuses, perceptions and history we’ve woven together to get through the world. It’s our grievances and our perception of privilege, our grudges and our loves.
No one is unreasonable. Or to be more accurate, no one
thinks that they are being unreasonable. That’s why we almost never respond well when someone points out how unreasonable we’re being. We don’t see it, because our narrative of the world around us won’t allow us to.
Saul’s narrative told him that he had no choice but to make that sacrifice. He told Samuel as much –
“When I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered together at Michmash, then I said, ‘The Philistines will now come down on me at Gilgal, and I have not made supplication to the Lord.’ Therefore I felt compelled, and offered a burnt offering” (1 Samuel 13:11-12). Within his own narrative, Saul’s actions made perfect sense. Unfortunately for him, it didn’t change the fact that what he was doing was perfectly wrong. Because of his continual excuse-making and disobedience, Saul lost his kingdom, and God replaced him with a man after His own heart.
We all have narratives. We all have stories we tell ourselves about how the world around us works,
and we believe them. These are stories that explain who we are, where we’re going, how we got here, who’s on our side, who isn’t, what matters, what doesn’t, and most importantly, why.
When it comes to the thoughts and intents of those around us, our narratives fill in the blanks. So-and-so did such-and-such because ______.
Godin adds, “We come up with a story (about an organization, a person, a situation) and all the data that supports it, we notice, and the nuance we discount or ignore.”
The Republicans have a narrative. So do the Democrats. FOX News, CNN, Black Lives Matter, the NRA, ISIS, Walmart, Apple, Microsoft, Greenpeace, the Red Cross – every single one of these organizations has a story they tell themselves, a lens through which they see the rest of the world.
So does the company you work for. So does the little store down the road. So does the guy who wrote the blog you’re reading. So do your neighbors, your friends, your enemies – so does everyone, all across the world.
And yes, so do you. What’s
your story?
Identifying our narrative is a tricky business. We don’t mentally file it under a folder called “The Story I Tell Myself About How the World Works.” We file it instead in a folder called “How the World Works.” And when someone challenges that story – when someone tells us we’re wrong, that we’re not seeing things correctly – we bristle, open up our folder, and we say, “No,
you’re wrong. This is how it works.”
As if it’s the gospel truth. As if the story we tell ourselves is flawless, bulletproof, unassailable. Because to us, it’s not a story. It’s reality – not to be challenged, not to be questioned.
That was Saul’s problem. Saul was never wrong, even when God told him he was. He had reasons for performing the offering – the people were leaving, the Philistines were coming, Samuel was late. He had a reason for not utterly destroying Amalek – the people wanted to offer the best of the plunder to God. He could always justify his disobedience, because within his narrative, what he was doing always made sense.
He couldn’t see that his narrative was setting him at odds with his Creator. He couldn’t see that his narrative was the very thing causing him to lose his grip on his kingdom. He couldn’t accept that maybe, just maybe, he was looking at the world the wrong way. Can you?
God replaced Saul with David,
“a man after My own heart, who will do all My will” (Acts 13:22). On the surface, that’s a curious accolade, since even a precursory reading of David’s story reveals his own share of serious mis-steps. Like Saul, David made some terrible decisions that cost him dearly – and yet it’s in the middle of David’s darkest moment that we see what set him apart from Saul.
The story of David and Bathsheba hardly needs an introduction. The whole grizzly affair is laid bare in 2 Samuel 11:1-12:23, where we can watch on as David commits sin after unspeakable sin. He covets his neighbor’s wife. He commits adultery with her. He tries to cover up the resulting pregnancy, and when that fails, he has her husband sent to an untimely death on the battlefield. And those are just the moments we know about! The whole story plays out over the course of many months – who knows what other sins David committed in that time? Like Saul, David had a narrative. Judging by his actions, that narrative seems to have been, “I am king; I have the right.” Not terribly different than the narrative that kept getting Saul into trouble, if we’re being honest – and yet we never see Saul called a man after God’s own heart. Why is that?
David’s sins took him down a dark and terrifying road, twisting his conscience until he was numb to his own increasingly heartless decisions. Then God sends Nathan the prophet, and we see what sets David apart. Nathan tells David the story of a heartless rich man who robs a poor man of his only lamb – a lamb who “ate of his own food and drank from his own cup and lay in his bosom; and it was like a daughter to him” (2 Samuel 12:3). The reason for the theft? Because the rich man didn’t feel like eating a lamb from his own sizeable flock (2 Samuel 12:4).
David was incensed. He immediately saw the cruelty and injustice of the situation and pronounced judgment, sentencing the rich man to death.
Nathan replied with four words:
“You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7).
Suddenly, it wasn’t a story about sheep any more. It was a story about a heartless king who had greedily taken what didn’t belong to him, who lied and killed just to get what he wanted. For the first time in a long time, David was forced to look in a mirror, and the reflection he saw was something wicked and hideous. In that moment, David had a choice. It was same choice Saul had to make when Samuel confronted him – and in many ways, it’s a choice you and I have to make on a fairly regular basis. David had to choose whether or not he’d allow God to correct his narrative.
That’s harder than it sounds. For David, for Saul, and for all of us, the easiest option is ignoring the correction. Reasoning it away. Shrugging it off. Explaining why it doesn’t apply to us in this specific instance. Opening up our folder of “How the World Works” and arguing that it’s just the way things are. That’s what Saul did. Sometimes, it’s what we do too, if we’re willing to admit it.
The thing that sets David apart from Saul – the thing that makes him a man after God’s own heart – was his willingness to
change his narrative. To accept the blame and look at things through God’s perspective. Nathan came to David with a searing rebuke from God (2 Samuel 12:7-12), and look at David’s response: “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13).
No excuses. No justifications. No bartering. God was showing David a clearer picture of himself, and David responded with repentance. When we look at the psalm he wrote afterward, it’s clear just how deep that repentance went:
Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your loving kindness;
According to the multitude of Your tender mercies,
Blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
And cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions,
And my sin is always before me.
(Psalm 51:1-3)
What about us? That’s always the question, isn’t it? When we’re talking about Saul and David, we’re talking about the stories of other people – other people who have been dead for millennia. None of this matters unless we’re willing to take the lessons preserved through the stories of their lives and apply them to our own.
How unassailable is your narrative? I’m not asking if you think it’s true or not. Of course you think it’s true. We all think our individual narratives are true, or else they wouldn’t be our narratives. The question isn’t, “Do you believe it?” but, “Are you willing to be shown where you’re wrong?”
Because I can almost guarantee that none of us have all the answers in our “How the World Works” folder. I can almost guarantee that all of us have missing pages or incorrect information in the stories we tell ourselves. It’s part of being human – we infer, we misinterpret, we misunderstand, we assume, and then we take those inferences and misinterpretations and misunderstandings and assumptions and we integrate them into how we live our lives.
In this life, I doubt any of us will have to face the challenges Saul and David had to face at the scale they had to face them. We’re not kings. We don’t have that kind of power or that kind of responsibility. But we
are going to face moments of correction. We are going to have to decide what to do when God sends someone or some event to tell us, “You’re wrong, and you’re looking at this wrong.” What happens then? We can respond with either the self-justification of Saul or the humility of David – but what determines which path we’ll take?
The Bible has a lot of pointed things to say about fools and foolishness. They are, to summarize, not positive. The book of Proverbs, for example, features a rather unflattering discourse on what to expect from fools:
A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, and a rod for the fool’s back.
Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him.
Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.
He who sends a message by the hand of a fool cuts off his own feet and drinks violence.
Like the legs of the lame that hang limp is a proverb in the mouth of fools.
Like one who binds a stone in a sling is he who gives honor to a fool.
Like a thorn that goes into the hand of a drunkard is a proverb in the mouth of fools.
The great God who formed everything gives the fool his hire and the transgressor his wages.
As a dog returns to his own vomit, So a fool repeats his folly.
(Proverbs 26:3-11)
But it would be a mistake to stop there. Solomon’s main focus with the passage wasn’t fools, but something else entirely. He concludes:
Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him. (Proverbs 26:12)
Sure, fools are a headache. Sure, they can be absolute nightmares who fill their lives and the lives of those around them with needless misfortune. But you know what’s worse? Someone who’s wise in their own eyes. Someone who has all the answers. Someone who refuses to admit they could ever be wrong – whose personal folder on “How the World Works” is filled only with immutable, unquestionable truth. A fool, says Solomon, is going to have an easier time making his way through life than a person like that.
James provides the antidote. When God forced Saul and David to confront their own flawed narratives, He essentially had them look at themselves in a mirror. James shows us how to access that same mirror:
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:22-25)
The truth is, the only one with a perfect understanding of the world is God. The best way to deceive ourselves is to do what Saul did – to look in the mirror and then walk away; to hear and not do. We’ll quickly forget what kind of person we are and go back to telling ourselves the stories that sound good to us.
The best way to avoid that ditch is to do what David did – to look in the mirror and then
keep on looking. When we hear God’s Word and engage with it on a regular basis, it’s going to change us. Transform us. When we’re willing to see who we are instead of what we want to see, God can work with us, mold us, and begin to show us where our narratives need some work.
As James says, that requires
doing. David acted on what he was shown in God’s mirror, but Saul refused. Thousands of years later, we face the same choice.
Everyone has a narrative. More importantly, everyone has an
imperfect narrative. They’re filled with flaws and holes and misconceptions that God is willing to help us fix – “if we’re willing to let Him. The easiest and most effective way to do that isn’t to wait until God has to send a Samuel or Nathan with a wake-up call – “it’s to dig into God’s Word, to study, and then to take what we’re shown and put it into practice. The more we do that, the more God will help us develop a better – and more accurate – narrative.
So … what’s your story?

Telling God how to do his job? (Morning Companion)
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you. (Matthew 16:22)
Peter said to him, You shall never wash my feet. (John 13:8)
Hopefully we can all agree from the benefit of hindsight that Jesus knew what he was doing. He knew what he was doing when he went into Jerusalem at that fateful Passover season. He knew what he was doing when he washed his disciples’ feet. He knew what he was doing when he told his disciples to stop hindering children from coming to him. He knew what he was doing when he refused the mother of James and John who wanted assurance that her sons would rule from his right and left.
Trying to tell Jesus how to do his job seems like a fool’s errand, does it not? Yet I wonder: when we pray, do we try to tell the Father how to do his job?
Suppose you’re unhappy with your boss. Do you ask God to find you another job, or do you pray for divine intervention in the way that’s best according to God’s will in your life, even if that means staying in that situation for a while longer for reasons that you will know later.
Struggling with a difficult child? Do you pray that God will make that child behave, or do you pray for guidance and intervention in all aspects of the situation?
Are you looking at moving to another home? Do you pray that God will give you THAT house, or do you pray that God will guide the process toward the best outcome and be resolved according to his will? The point is, we do need to seek God’s guidance, but we have a choice.
We can be like the disciples and try to tell God how to do his job, or we can rely on the sure knowledge that God knows what he is doing.
It’s “thy will be done” rather than “my will be done”.

What Not To Wear (Sabbath Meditations)
I heard a comedian joke the other day that, when it comes to clothing style, we men are hopeless. Basically, most of us pick out a point of time in our lives when we felt at the top of our game looks wise, and whatever style we were wearing at that time we just ride out for the rest of our lives. You can walk down the street and see a guy over 40 and pretty much pick the year: It’s funny but true.
There was a time when you probably would look at me and say…“ahh… 1986.” But that all changed when I came home from work one day to find my closet empty and all of my clothes sitting in garbage bags on the floor in our side entrance. To my dismay, while I was at work, my wife and daughter had performed a “What Not to Wear” on me. Frankly, I was a little distraught. Gone were my pleated, cuffed dress pants. Gone were my favorite mock turtle necks. Gone were my sear sucker sport shirts. And gone was my collection of beloved sweaters and sweatshirts I’d accumulated over the years. All gone.
Admittedly, I wasn’t all that much into fashion. In fact, for the most part I really could have cared less. But, even so, I was shocked at how my self-image took a hit that day. I really didn’t think I had looked that bad. In fact, I kind of liked the way I dressed. The 1980s were good years.
It took me a while to recover from the shock. Any confidence I had in my ability to dress myself went immediately down the drain. For some time after that I was afraid to leave the house without first getting the thumbs up from one of my two self-appointed fashion consultants.
Now, in looking back, the whole thing makes me laugh. I’ve come to appreciate the women in my life who love me enough to make sure I don’t look like a throwback from the 1980s.
As Christians, living in this physical world, focused on physical things, it’s easy for us to get a little too wrapped up in maintaining a certain image sometimes. We walk around wearing remnants of the old man, focused on self-image, self-preservation and self-promotion. Remnants of pride or human fearfulness at times cause even converted people to go to great lengths to cover up their blemishes, to dress up their faults, to maintain the image they want others to see. Publicly hiding behind facades of wholeness, they privately nurture areas of brokenness and pain.
James 5:16 instructs us to “Confess your faults to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”
1 Thessalonians 5:10 tells us to “…encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”
This Church thing that we are a part of isn’t some spiritual fashion show. It’s not so we can parade around displaying how put together we are. God put us in the body to do just the opposite. It’s a place we share our hurts, we share our weaknesses and our burdens, so that we might together find strength and encouragement to overcome and grow up into Him, Jesus Christ, in all things. We can’t do that if we are protecting an image.
You know, it might not be a bad idea, if, as Christians, we all did a spiritual “What Not to Wear” on ourselves once in a while. In fact, occasionally going through our spiritual closets and cleaning out some of the outdated remnants of the old man is something scripture tells us we are supposed to do from time to time.
Romans 13:14 encourages us to put off the remnants of the old man and to “clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.”
We are to put on the attitude, the heart and mind of our Savior, who we are told in Philippians 2, “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross!”
If only we as His disciples could lay aside aside our facades, lay aside our pride and be clothed with the kind of humility that would allow us to share our weaknesses, to carry one another’s burdens, rather than hiding and shielding them from others. God could and would use to help us to heal. How much more powerfully could God’s Spirit work among His people to grow us and mold us into His image? If only we had the courage to open up our spiritual closets and start tossing.
When I came home to find my clothes in garbage bags, I have to admit that I did rummage through to reclaim a couple of my favorite old sweatshirts. I only got away with it after promising my two fashion consultants that I wouldn’t wear them in public. It was a small price to pay to hang on to some sense of my former identity. Now, they too, have found their way to the garbage. I’ve finally let go of the 1980s and moved on.
My spiritual wardrobe is still a work in progress. There is still some cleaning out to do. I know the same is true for all of us. The more we strive together to put on Christ, in humility sharing, encouraging and building up one another in Him, the clearer we will see to discard the remnants of our old man. Clothed with His heart and mind, we’ll never have to worry about going out of style.

Stop Condemning and Start Teaching (Morning Companion)
When I first got into the business that became my career, a wise man told me that it’s better to tell a client what is good about your product rather than telling the client what is wrong with the competitors’. It would be good if there were more of that in the world. It’s true in the world of religion as well.
Too many people in my corner of the faith need to learn that lesson. I agree it’s good to know and teach that much of what traditional Christianity teaches is extra-biblical and in many cases hearken back to non-Judeo Christian, or as we like to say, pagan roots.  But what if, rather than approaching such facts of history with a finger of accusation, we offer why the Biblical alternatives are superior to the man-made ones? We know that the Biblical Holy Days have a deeper significance than the popular substitutes. The Biblical day of rest is a more meaningful and blessed alternative than the traditional weekly hour of worship. None of this negates the teaching of the true origin of much of this world’s practices and traditions. It does, however, allow us to relate what’s superior about our faith and practices over what’s wrong with theirs. 
If you want a Biblical example of how this could look in practice, read how the Apostle Paul handled a similar situation in Acts 17. Read from verse 18 to the end of the chapter and listen to his speech in front of the pagan Greek philosophers on Mars Hill. Yes, some mocked, but others wanted to hear more (verse 18). And best of all, some believed (verse 34).

The King Is Coming (Sabbath Thoughts)
It’s been a long time since Christ told the Church, “Surely I am coming quickly” (Revelation 22:20). Almost two millennia, actually.
And for those two millennia, Church members have had their eyes fixed on the state of the world, believing,
knowing, that the return of Jesus Christ was right around the corner – probably within their life times.
Except they were wrong. Paul, who wrote about “we who are alive and remain” (1 Thessalonians 4:17) at Christ’s return has been dead and buried for centuries. Tens of thousands of faithful believers have lived and died since then – and “these all died in the faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13).
I think the usual question to ask here is, “If you knew Jesus was returning tomorrow, would that change how you live?” That’s a good question. It’s one we should think about. But it’s not the one I want to ask. I’d rather ask this:
If you knew Jesus was
not returning tomorrow, would that change how you live?
What if you knew – absolutely knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt – that He wasn’t returning within the next ten years? The next hundred? The next
thousand?
Kicking into spiritual overdrive is easy when we feel like we have a deadline looming. It’s so easy to sprint when we’re certain the finish line is just ahead, but that’s not a sustainable pace if the line is actually ten, twenty, eighty years ahead of us. Sprinting toward that is a surefire way to collapse from exhaustion; to burn ourselves out.
Christ gave the example of a master who left for a wedding, leaving his servants behind to manage his affairs.
“Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning; and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately … And if he should come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants” (Luke 12:35-36, 38).
Peter asked for clarification, and Christ elaborated on two types of servants: a “faithful and wise steward, whom his master will make ruler over his household” (Luke 12:42) and a wicked and lazy servant who “says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and be drunk” (Luke 12:45).
What stands out the most to me in this story is that the faithful servants were ready no matter when their master came back. It could have been the first watch, the second watch, or the third watch – their waists were girded and their lamps were burning.
The danger with a mentality that says, “Live like Christ is returning tomorrow” is that Christ probably
isn’t returning tomorrow. For almost 2,000 years, He hasn’t been returning tomorrow, because “I am coming quickly” means something different to God than it means to us (2 Peter 3:8). But that mindset encourages us to enter a spiritual sprint, attempting to cram decades of growth and study into a single night – only to find that Christ isn’t returning tomorrow. Or the next day. Or the day after. And then?
Scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:3-4).
I think it’s important to ask ourselves, “If Christ returned tomorrow, would I be ready?” But I also think the “Live like Christ is returning tomorrow” mentality can set us up for spiritual exhaustion and disappointment when He doesn’t return as soon as we’re expecting. I’d like to propose an edit to that approach:
Live like Christ is returning.
Not tomorrow. Not a hundred years from now. Those numbers are irrelevant, because,
“It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority” (Acts 1:7). Instead, let’s focus on the truth that assures us: Christ is returning. The King is coming. It doesn’t matter if it’s the first watch or the third watch – the simple fact that Christ is coming means every day not spent preparing for the King’s return is a wasted day.
That’s true today. That’s true tomorrow. That’s true every day from now until Christ’s return, whether that’s five years from now or five thousand years from now. What we need to be doing doesn’t change. Who we need to be becoming doesn’t change. Every day we’re given is another opportunity to push toward those goals.
Therefore,
“Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning; and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them. And if he should come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants” (Luke 12:35-38).
The King is coming. Are you preparing?

Get out of your Comfort Zone (Morning Companion)
A prophet can lead a lonely and disillusioned life. The prophet’s job is to deliver unpleasant news to non-receptive people, and that often separates the prophet from the company of others. Who wants a Grinch in one’s social network?
A people person prophet would have been an especially miserable prophet, and therefore many very good prophets leaned toward being task-oriented as opposed to people-oriented guys. That’s a problem, and it may be why God gave his prophet Elisha a very special assignment.
There was a woman in Elisha’s life who had shown him some special kindnesses. Whenever he passed through her part of the world, she and her husband made sure that he had a decent meal and a place to stay.
Read the account beginning in 2 Kings 4:8 and see that, in spite of this hospitality, Elisha seemed to keep a cool and formal distance from this family. Even though he was just a few feet from them, he preferred to communicate by using his servant as a go-between. He clearly appreciated all they had done, reciprocating with kindness of his own, but we don’t see him exuding warm fuzzies. This just wasn’t who Elisha was.
This woman of Shunem was God’s gift to Elisha, not just because of her hospitality, but also because of what she argues him into doing during her time of need. When Elisha tried to send his assistant Gehazi as a sort of stand-in for the man of God, she would have none of it. “I’m not leaving here without you,” she said. We can almost hear Elijah sighing in resignation as he grabs his travel gear and treks with her back to Shunem. It is in Shunem that he finds her dead son whom Elisha’s servant could not revive.
God had arranged the circumstances in such a way that they compelled Elijah out of his normally detached comfort zone. To do his job, Elijah had to allow himself some physical contact with another human being. Not being a “hugger” to begin with, this would have been an especially unpleasant event for him. But what he did was not only a good thing for the family (the resulting miracle restored their son), it was also good for Elisha. He needed the lesson on the importance of human touch.
Now here’s the point: Most management gurus teach that one’s skills are best optimized only if that person steps outside of his comfort zone. Personally, I hate leaving my comfort zone, but thank God (literally) that frequently I have been forced to do so. If you are facing some new challenges that you think are just not “you”, maybe God is trying to stretch your world of experiences a bit so that you can be more effective in his service.
Get out of your comfort zone.

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.

Welcome Strangers … a lesson from history (New Horizons)
Ancient Israel was established as a model nation
though they failed miserably. Their constitution wasn’t cobbled together from varied sources but was divinely inspired:
‘… this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people’ (Deuteronomy 4:6). Coming from the Creator of mankind surely worth attention, even in the twenty-first century!
Ancient Israel’s difficultiesand ultimate demise resulted from neglect of the principles underlying that God-given constitution. Yet they had wholeheartedly agreed to it: ‘…All that the LORD has spoken we will do’ (Exodus 19:8). But as the centuries passed they lacked both sound leadership and the self-restraint of the people to abide by them.
Nations teem with millions of citizens – China and India each over a billion, the United States over 300 million and others over 100 million. But each has its roots, however long ago, in a single family. They joined with kindred families (their offspring) eventually becoming a ‘nation’.
Ancient Israel models this pattern, and the Anglo-Saxon nations of today have their roots in them. And don’t we, as do other nations, share and fiercely guard a common culture distinct from other nations. When this is expressed, it is often branded ‘racist’. No surprise that when significant numbers from other cultures are introduced clashes become likely. But they are not inevitable, for Israel’s mentor (God!) provided a solution.
Essentially, every immigrant was not just welcomed but was to be classed as a full citizen.
‘…the stranger that dwells with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and you shalt love him as yourself’ (Leviticus 19:34).
More: ‘… You shall neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him’ (Exodus 22:21).
Ancient Israelites were inculcated from a child’s earliest years with the guiding principle:
‘…You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (Leviticus 19:18).
There were, of course, Terms and Conditions applicable to immigrants. Every natural-born Israelite (ie descended from Isaac) and every immigrant was obligated to obey the ‘law of the land’ as defined by Israel’s God-given constitution as summarized by all Ten Commandments and the various dependant laws and statutes. Much of their law was drafted to combat idolatry and the obscene associated foul practices. Leviticus chapter eighteen defines some of these, summing up as:
‘…Defile not yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you: And the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomits out her inhabitants. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations; neither any of your own nation, nor any stranger that sojourns among you’ (vv.24-26)
It is a guide and a warning for modern race relations.

On Dictators, God, and other thoughts (Morning Companion)
If there is one line that sticks with me that I heard as an impressionable teenager, it was one from the pulpit about how a dictatorship works. The preacher was decrying know-it-all control types who seem to know what’s best for everyone else and are determined to make the world right by mandating behavior. The snarky but all too true line? “If it’s good for you, we’ll do it to you.” That, my friends, is a good characterization of a tyrant, and an arrogant one at that.
I was browsing around Wal-Mart earlier this week and passed by their book section. There I saw a giant, and I mean, GIANT-sized Bible for sale with giant, and I mean GIANT-sized print. Made me glad that as my eyes age I will be able to find something meaningful to read.
On the back of the Bible box the publisher featured an oft-quoted verse displaying the font used in the edition at hand. In giant, I mean GIANT-sized print, it said, God so loved the world … Imagine that. God loves (Greek: agape) the world (Greek: kosmos). I must confess I have a hard time coming up to that standard. But God does.
He loves the curmudgeon on the corner who yells at the kids to keep off his grass.
He loves the politician who is more interested in lining his pockets than serving his constituents. He loves the school superintendent who allows and even encourages pornographic books for the school library.
He loved Saul of Tarsus in spite of his persecution of godly people.
He loves the world in spite of its middle finger in His face attitude.
And he loves you in spite of your wayward ways.
Notice, clearly, he doesn’t love what’s going on in the world, but he loves the people so much that he has made provision for us to change our ways and reach out to him, just as he did with Saul of Tarsus.
I confess again that I have a hard time loving this world, what with all the dysfunction we see in every quarter. And I feel powerless to fix much of it. But that curmudgeon on the corner? Or that sincere and maybe troubled person with whom I disagree on matters of lifestyle or worldview? Well, it behooves us to remember John 3:17: For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
That adrift person presents an opportunity to shine some light and reflect the glory of God’s love. That’s something I can do something about. For God so loved the world that he effected a Divine rescue plan for those trapped in deception and despair.
Because God so loved the world.
Some closing thoughts …
I’m a multitasker. I can listen, ignore, and forget all at the same time.
Whoever says to the wicked, “You are in the right,” will be cursed by peoples, abhorred by nations. (Proverbs 24:24)
To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle. (George Orwell)
Government is asking us to render unto Caesar what properly belongs to God, and we can’t do that. (Archbishop Charles Chaput)
My heart says chocolate and wine, but my jeans say, please, please, please, eat a salad!

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.

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.

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.

Spiritual Disarmament, Twisting of Words, and Wise Quotes (Morning Companion)
If we are engaged in spiritual warfare, which we are, how do we fight this war? Paul in his letter to the Ephesians talks about this, and says something about the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God.
Have you ever known anyone engaged in warfare (other than some of duly elected and unelected officials) who advocate unilaterally giving up one’s means of defense?
The sword of the word cannot be broken, but we can unwisely put it back in its sheaf.
We cannot let the Enemy of truth convince us to unilaterally disarm.
The Word of God is not out of bounds just because the Opponent says it is.
We are one nation under God, not one nation under the president. (Kevin D. Williamson)


Sean Spicer says, Words matter. When politicians speak of freedom of worship, they are saying that you are free to worship any way you choose in your home or in your house of worship. But they don’t want your religion to affect the way you live your life in public or the way you conduct your business. Democrats and progressives say that you are perfectly free to pray and worship in any way you choose – as long as you do so behind closed doors.
More at:
It began with an innocuous sounding phrase


Danielle Scarpellino is running for the school board in Guillford, Connecticut. She correctly describes the gaslighting being attempted upon parents and students, and not just parents and students. It’s being directed at the rest of us too.
“Pushback is considered white fragility. Running for the school board to effect change makes you an extremist. They have all their bases covered. You either agree with them, or you are racists that should not have a seat at the table.”


“I’m not going to spend my life being a color.” (Michael Jackson)
“When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.” (Jimi Hendrix)

I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me … All I ask is that you respect me as a human being. (Jackie Robinson)

Are You For Us? (Sabbath Thoughts)
Imagine, for a moment, being alone with your thoughts … and then looking up to find a man standing in front of you, holding a sword. It’s not like he sneaked up on you
he wasn’t there a minute ago, and then he just appeared, weapon in hand.
Oh, also imagine you’re surveying a heavily defended city in a foreign land where all the inhabitants want to kill you. I should have mentioned that earlier. That’s probably relevant.
Joshua found himself in that position after leading Israel into the Promised Land. The Bible account reads:
And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, “Are You for us or for our adversaries?” (Joshua 5:13)
Joshua’s response was to go up and talk to the Man. Mine would have been to run screaming like a little girl in the opposite direction, which is why Joshua was in charge of leading Israel and why I am content with just reading about it. But the really interesting part of this account is the Man’s response:
So He said, “No, but as Commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” (Joshua 5:14)
“No.”
Joshua asks this Commander whether He was on Israel’s side or Israel’s enemies’ side, and He responds with a flat “No.”
Thanks to the next few verses, we can safely deduce that the Commander of the Lord’s armies was the Being who later came as Jesus Christ. The Commander accepts Joshua’s worship (something we never see angels do, cf. Revelation 22:8-10) and tells Joshua that the ground on which he stands is holy (something only God is recorded as doing, cf. Exodus 3:5). Because we also know that no one has seen God the Father at any time (John 1:18), this enigmatic Commander
must have been the pre-incarnate Christ.
So what about His answer to Joshua? What about the “No”?
I guess what I get from this short little passage is a reminder
a reminder that we will never persuade God to be on our side. We have to be on His side. He isn’t looking to see which team has the most convincing arguments or offers the biggest salary if we want to play on the same side as God, then it’s on His terms, not ours. We can’t lobby for His stamp of approval or campaign under His banner when the things we want contradict with the things He wants.
The prophet Amos once asked,
“Can two walk together unless they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3). It can’t be done not with man, and certainly not with God. Walking with God requires a perspective change it means realizing that if we want God to be for us, we must also be for God.
Joshua was for God. After meeting with the Commander, he and all of Israel overthrew the impenetrable city of Jericho thanks to some divine intervention. And if you and I are truly for God, then, like Joshua, no obstacle can stand before us on our journey to
our Promised Land.
After all …
”If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

Churchill and Other Random Thoughts (Morning Companion)
During World War II someone asked Winston Churchill if he wondered how history would treat him. He answered,
History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it. And write it he did. I happen to have on my bookshelf Churchills six-volume history of World War II. Its extensive reading, but worth the ride.
The point to be made is to take your destiny and reputation into your own hands. Turning the other cheek does not mean becoming a floormat. Jesus himself often went toe to toe with his detractors, as did Paul, as evidenced in both the book of Acts and in his epistles. There does come a time to answer a fool according to his folly, and often that
s when we can do something to prevent people being hurt by the promulgation of false narratives.
On a personal level we can
t trust others to be looking out for whats best for us. The brickbats others may throw in our direction we must take in our stride, and we cant let such opposition deter us from our course. Its all a part of life, and its just not worth it to let others define us and what we do.
Im looking at the ingredients label on a natural nutritional supplement from a well-known brand. Here are some of the listed ingredients:
Hypromellose
Sodium copper chlorophyllin
Ascorbyl acetate
Mixed tocopherols
If you are concerned about not knowing what you are putting into your body, you might want to start with supplements.
Speaking of that, isn
t it odd that many of these companies and their marketing agents rail against conventional medicine for making high profits from their services, while they themselves are doing the same thing?
It has been a puzzle for me why so many in our foreign policy establishment are willing to believe the lies promulgated by the regimes in China, Russia, Iran, and the Taliban. On further thought, I think I know. Someone once told me that people who are in the habit of telling lies usually lose their ability to discern when they are being lied to. Seems to me there is truth in that.
They also begin to believe their own lies.
Some other random thoughts:
I used to believe that we have the best politicians money can buy. I now know this isn
t true.
Roy Cohn says,
Dont tell me what the law is. Tell me who the judge is.
It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. (Lamentations 3:23)

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 matter 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.

King Cnut and Other Random Thoughts (Morning Companion)
There is a medieval legend about the Danish king Cnut the Great. The story goes that he sat on the seashore and commanded that the ocean not rise. You can guess how that one worked out when the tide came in.
When I hear the influencers of our day promising a human made utopia where all diseases are cured, where oceans stop rising, and where all the world shall be as one, I think of old King Cnut.
Here’s the full legend. At least this king came to the right conclusion.
When he was at the height of his ascendancy, he ordered his chair to be placed on the sea-shore as the tide was coming in. Then he said to the rising tide, “You are subject to me, as the land on which I am sitting is mine, and no one has resisted my overlordship with impunity. I command you, therefore, not to rise on to my land, nor to presume to wet the clothing or limbs of your master.” But the sea came up as usual, and disrespectfully drenched the king’s feet and shins. So jumping back, the king cried, “Let all the world know that the power of kings is empty and worthless, and there is no king worthy of the name save Him by whose will heaven, earth and the sea obey eternal laws.”
Earlier this week the Biden Administration convinced California longshoreman and the port authorities to operate 24/7 instead of their normal limited work schedules in order to reduce bottlenecks in the supply chain. Some are wondering why they weren’t working 24/7 all along.
That, of course, is only one of the disruptions in the supply chain. Whether there are enough trucks and drivers to transport the goods inland is a question circumstances will soon answer.
But don’t bet on help from the Secretary of Transportation on this one. He has been out on paternity leave for two months. It is an open question whether this is is a good or bad thing.
This week I took advantage of one of those wonderful autumn mornings and took a walk in the woods. This forced me to learn a lesson about being prepared. When rounding a bend on the trail, three deer, just a few yards away, greeted me with curious but wary stares. I reached for my zoom lens camera and remembered I had left it at home. Opportunity lost. Always be prepared.
Leaving off today with two thoughts, one from Solomon, the other from British theologian N. T. Wright.
From Proverbs 29:9, “If a wise man contends with a foolish man, whether the fool rages or laughs, there is no peace.”
From N. T. Wright, “Logic cannot comprehend love. So much the worse for logic.”

Dominion and Glory and a Kingdom (Prophecy Watch)
As the illegal trial of Jesus of Nazareth dragged on, the prosecution struggled to make its case that the humble Carpenter and Teacher deserved death. It even sought false testimony, and many witnesses came forward, but the chief priests, the elders, and the council could not make any charges stick (
Matthew 26:59-62). Finally, in a desperate bid, they demanded that Jesus tell them whether He was the Christ, the Son of God (verse 63).
Jesus could have remained silent, as He had before. Instead, He gave the prosecutors what they were seeking. He helped the prosecution by speaking the evidence that would condemn Him:
Jesus said to him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothes, saying, “He has spoken blasphemy! What further need do we have of witnesses? Look, now you have heard His blasphemy! What do you think?” They answered and said, “He is deserving of death.” (Matthew 26:64-66)
Christ’s testimony of “the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven” draws on two Old Testament passages that identify the Messiah. Before examining them, we must consider the fulfillment of what Jesus said, especially the timing.
His words sound like He speaks of His return because of His reference to “coming on the clouds.” Scripture contains abundant references to Christ’s return on or with clouds (
Matthew 24:30; Mark 13:26; Luke 21:27; I Thessalonians 4:17; Revelation 1:7), and Christ’s words at His trial seem to match them.
If so, it would mean that
these specific leaders [“you”] would see Christ coming on the clouds of heaven. His words would pose a significant challenge if He were prophesying of His return because they indicate that these same Jewish leaders will be resurrected at His second coming. Scripturally, that is a rather difficult case to make. God will resurrect only those who are Christ’s at His return, but the leaders to whom He was speaking were resisting Him with everything they had! So, either Christ’s audience on that fateful night will be resurrected at His return, or this interpretation is wanting. We will see that we can understand Christ’s words another way.
Verse 64 contains a few words to note. First, “hereafter” is a reasonable translation, but several Bible versions instead use the phrase, “from now on.” This latter translation suggests an event or condition that begins shortly, almost immediately.
Second, Christ says that His audience would “see” the Son of Man. The Greek word
optomai typically means “to perceive with the eyes,” indicating physical sight. However, Greek contains an exception to this meaning: When the word depicts seeing something in the future, the meaning is “to comprehend” (see The Companion Bible, Ap.133.I.8.a).
For example,
Luke 3:6 says, “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (emphasis ours throughout). Salvation is not seen with the eyes but comprehended with the mind. Similarly, Romans 15:21 uses optomai for a future event in which it is paralleled with understanding: “but as it is written: ‘To whom He was not announced, they shall see; and those who have not heard shall understand.’” Jesus says in Matthew 26:64 that, “from now on,” His audience would comprehend or understand or know “the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power.”
Third, in verse 64 is the word “coming,” which means “arriving at a location.” Notice, though, that no location is specified. It is logical to assume this refers to His return to earth, as other verses do, but the Bible also shows another arrival, which we will see. For now, remember that this verse specifies no location (nor do the parallel verses, Mark 14:62 and Luke 22:69).
As mentioned above, Christ’s declaration to the Jewish leadership comes from two passages. The first is
Psalm 110:1, in which David writes, “The LORD said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.’” By referring to Himself as sitting at the right hand of the Eternal, Christ claimed this Messianic psalm. Understandably, this made the blood of the chief priests, the elders, and the council boil! Moreover, applying Psalm 110:1 to Himself implies that His present adversaries were the enemies the psalm mentions. So, not only were the Jewish leaders the Messiah’s enemies, but they also would become His footstool! In response, the high priest tore his clothes – which God had forbidden him to do in Leviticus 21:10. Christ’s legitimate boldness does not end there. He also drew upon Daniel 7, which contains Daniel’s dream of the four great beasts rising from the sea. Within his dream is an inset that is not part of the general flow of the prophecy but clarifies a portion of it. The dream focuses on the four beasts and their judgments, but it contains an inset of another vision that provides the backstory to explain the dream’s end:
I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)
The opening phrase, “I was watching in the night visions,” indicates a separate vision and marks the inset’s beginning. Then, the prophet exactly describes what Christ says about the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven. Notice, though, that this vision is not about Christ coming to earth but to the Ancient of Days!
This vision, then, answers the question of location in
Matthew 26:64. During His trial, Jesus was not talking about coming back to earth but arriving before the Father. Once He came to the Ancient of Days, He would receive dominion, glory, and a Kingdom. When Jesus told the Jewish leadership that, from now on, they would comprehend Him sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds, they caught His reference to this prophecy and His claim to be the Messiah, the Heir of the Kingdom.
When does this inset take place? Within the flow of the chapter, this inset appears after the fourth beast is killed (
Daniel 7:11), yet the events within the inset happen long before, providing the backstory for understanding the origin of the divine Kingdom that will replace all other governments at the end of the age. The clouds of heaven had already brought the Son of Man to the Ancient of Days – when Jesus ascended to the Father for acceptance. At that time, Christ received dominion, glory, and a Kingdom. Overall, Daniel’s prophecies describe the Kingdom’s future establishment on earth, but here we see a flashback to Christ’s ascension.
In I Peter, the apostle draws on Daniel’s vision twice, repeating that to Christ belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever (
I Peter 4:11; 5:11). John uses the same phrase in the introduction to the Book of Revelation, writing, “to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever” (Revelation 1:6). Clearly, the inset has already come to pass.
What Christ declared to the chief priests, the elders, and the council began to be fulfilled shortly after He spoke it. Their eyes could not literally see what took place in heaven, but the events following His crucifixion pressed in on their minds, and they realized something supernatural was happening. The leaders heard the reports of His resurrection. Christ’s guarded and sealed tomb stood empty, three days after His body had been placed in it, just as He had said (
Matthew 12:40).
Then came the events of Pentecost and Peter’s explanation of them:
This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: ‘The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”’ Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. (Acts 2:32-36)
After his explanation for all the miracles that day, Peter draws on the same psalm Jesus used about sitting at God’s right hand. In response, the crowd was cut to the heart. The people could glimpse the heavenly reality in their minds. They felt it and wanted to know what to do about it.
We do not know whether the religious leadership was present for Peter’s sermon. Still, they certainly heard about it, for it was accompanied by displays of power, the miracle of languages, and the mass baptism of 3,000 people.
To paraphrase what was said later, those events did not happen in a corner (
Acts 26:26). The chief priests and elders knew something was happening. They did not accept it, but evidence that the Man they had crucified had been resurrected, had ascended to the Ancient of Days, and had received power that was fueling a movement was overwhelming their minds.
We can trace this theme of the resurrected Jesus having received power through the early chapters of Acts. Peter heals a well-known lame man (
Acts 3:6-10), after which he preaches a sermon by way of explanation:
So when Peter saw it, he responded to the people: “Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this? Or why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go. But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses. And His name, through faith in His name, has made this man strong, whom you see and know. Yes, the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.” (Acts 3:12-16)
Thus, Peter proclaims that God had raised and glorified Jesus Christ, and through His power, the man walked. In this way, Peter reiterates the heavenly vision Christ gave at His trial.
In Acts 4, Peter and John are arrested and brought before the elders, the rulers, the chief priests – undoubtedly many of the same men whom Jesus told that, from now on, they would comprehend the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power. They demand to know by what power or name the apostles had healed the man (
Acts 4:7):
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole.” (Acts 4:8-10)
The leaders saw the healed man, and they could not answer. They saw the effects of divine power, and their comprehension was growing. They still would not accept it, but neither could they deny it (verse 14). All they could do was threaten the messengers to keep quiet (verses 16-18).
After performing more miracles, the apostles are arrested again, but an angel frees them from prison. He tells them to go stand in the Temple and speak the words of this life (
Acts 5:17-20). Prison is no obstacle when the exalted Son of Man has other plans.
The apostles suffer arrest a third time the next day and appear before the chief priests and the council. In
Acts 5:30-31, Peter testifies, saying, “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior.” Christ’s claim has come to pass. The council members, furious with the reminder, command the apostles to be beaten.
In Acts 6, Stephen is dragged before the council for doing great works in Jesus’s name. In Acts 7, he gives his testimony, and like the Pentecost crowd, his audience is also cut to the heart (verse 54)
. But, instead of repenting like the believers on Pentecost, they gnash at Stephen with their teeth.
In verse 56, he tells the defiant council,
“Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” Why Jesus was standing instead of sitting, we do not fully know. He may have stood to honor this loyal follower who was willing to testify of the spiritual reality even though it would cost him his life. But this vision, this comprehension of the very thing Christ had told the leaders, was more than they could bear. They stopped their ears and silenced the messenger. The same heavenly vision that sealed Christ’s fate also condemned Stephen to death.
However, mere men could not stop the message. All they could do was persecute and sometimes silence the messengers, not believing that this was a work of the Almighty. But just as death could not hold the Son of Man (
Acts 2:24), so the gates of hell cannot prevail against His spiritual Body (Matthew 16:18) because all the dominion and authority are His (Matthew 28:18). Stephen’s testimony was the final witness against the Jewish leadership. After this, the church’s evangelistic efforts moved to other peoples and nations (mentioned in Daniel’s inset) through the new gift of languages. Later, as Jesus had prophesied in a parable, a King sent out His armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city (Matthew 22:7). As He had also told the chief priests and the elders, the Kingdom of God was taken from them and given to a nation – a spiritual nation – bearing its fruits (Matthew 21:43). The church of God is that spiritual nation, and the heavenly vision involves us:
… the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:18-23)
As Daniel saw, Jesus Christ already sits at the right hand of the Power, already invested with glory and dominion. Here, though, Paul draws the church into this very privileged position because its members comprise Christ’s Body. Notice how he builds on this:
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-6)
The apostle writes that God made
us alive together with Christ and raised us up and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. God considers us to be sitting at His right hand! It is part of the same heavenly vision the Jewish leaders could not stomach. We are physically on the earth, but we are also part of a far greater spiritual reality that we cannot fully grasp. Paul’s words should encourage us, bolster us, knowing that we are at the right hand of the Power. More, He accepts us because of Christ’s work and because He put us in Christ and into His Son’s everlasting Kingdom. To Him be the glory and dominion, forever and ever.

Waiting for the Final Trumpet (Sabbath Thoughts)
Being a Christian is
hard. Maybe that’s just me. But I don’t think so. I think we’re all on the same page here. It is hard to consistently do the right thing. It is hard to consistently keep ourselves away from the wrong things.
I was born in the Church. Maybe you were, too. Maybe not. Some of us came into the Church later in life. Some of us were born into the Church, left it, and came back. Some of us have only a few years of experience living this way of life. Some of us have a couple dozen. Some of us have half a century or more under our belts.
I don’t get the impression that any of us would say it stops being
hard.
I want to talk about why that is – and why it won’t be true forever.
If you’re baptized – if you’ve made the life-changing commitment to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ – something happened to you the day you went under the water and had hands laid on you: You changed. Forever. Irreversibly.
When God placed His Spirit in you, it didn’t get compartmentalized; it’s not just sitting neatly and quietly in its own little box until you take it out to use it. Paul says:
“the Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16) and that “he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him” (1 Corinthians 6:17).
That Spirit is in you. It’s
part of you. Entwined within you.
But it’s not like you stopped being a flesh-and-blood human being, either. If a hospital had run a battery of tests on you the day before you were baptized and the day after you were baptized, what would they have found different?Nothing. Not a thing.
The Holy Spirit doesn’t show up in bloodwork or on an x-ray or an MRI. And from a physical standpoint, the only thing baptism accomplishes is that you come out of it wetter than you were going into it.
But please understand: even though it doesn’t show up on your medical records, having the Holy Spirit is not normal. It is not normal for human beings to be carrying around within them a fragment of the power of the God who created and rules the universe. That is not the normal human condition. Which means … well, it means you’re not normal. You are not a normal human being. If anything, you’re a hybrid now – you’re this blend of carnal, physical human nature, and the flawless, spiritual character of God. And that’s where things get hard.
Paul wrote:
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. (Romans 8:5-9).
So you’ve got these two components – human nature and the Spirit of God. And they don’t play well together. Worst of all, when our carnal human nature is calling the shots, we can’t please God. We can’t even really
understand God. And the solution Paul gives us is, “don’t live according to the flesh; live according the Spirit.”
But that’s not as easy as it sounds. You know that. I know that.
Paul knew that. Just turn back one chapter and you’ll see him sharing his own struggles. In chapter 7, Paul writes:
We know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:14-24).
I wish, I
wish I could have called this blog “3 Easy Ways to Beat Your Human Nature for Good,” but I don’t have those answers. Paul didn’t have those answers. PAUL. The apostle Paul, through whom God accomplished more in 30 years than most of us in this room will accomplish in our collective lifetimes. That Paul is the one saying, “I don’t know how to kick this to the curb. There is an evil in me and it’s a fight I don’t always win.”
How many times have we turned to those words, brethren, how many times have we looked at Paul baring his soul and crying out, “O wretched man that I am!” and thought, “Yeah, I know exactly what you mean, Paul”? And not just us, but think about the almost 2,000 years since Paul wrote those words. How many of our fellow Christians throughout history have read and connected with those words since Paul wrote them?
Let’s not sugarcoat it. This is a battle. This is a
hard battle. This is a daily battle. This is, more often than not, an exhausting battle.
In many of his writings, Paul talks about the old man and the new man – who we were before we dedicated ourselves to God and who we became after. He talks about putting off the old man.
Crucifying him. Burying him. The old man pictures who we are when our carnal nature is calling the shots, and he has to go.
One of the more painful lessons I’ve learned since baptism is how determined the old man is to hang around. He doesn’t stay buried. If you let him, he will get right back in that driver’s seat, and it takes a monumental effort to get him back out again. To bury him again.
And Satan, our enemy, the adversary of God’s people, is eager to go after our weaknesses. He will hit them as hard and as often as God allows him to do it. Add those attacks to our daily struggle against our own human nature, and it can all get absolutely overwhelming.
I don’t know where you are in your fight. I don’t know what you’re wrestling with or what your old man even looks like, but I do know this – if you’re like anyone else who has ever been part of God’s Church, then you have days – weeks – months – maybe even years – when you are tired. When you are exhausted. When you start to lose hope, when you feel beaten down and powerless, when you become convinced that you are a failure who cannot win this fight.
But you are not a failure. You’re not.
Last Passover, you ate the bread; you drank the wine – the body that was broken and the blood that was spilled so that each of us can find not just forgiveness but the strength to get back up and keep fighting, even when it seems impossible.
And then during the Days of Unleavened Bread, you were focused on putting sin out and taking in righteousness – putting off the old man; putting on the new. On Pentecost, you were reminded of the Holy Spirit God has placed in you; of the life-changing power that comes with that Spirit.
And the Day of Trumpets? What was that day about?
It’s about the return of Jesus Christ. It’s about the seventh trumpet blast as our older Brother assumes rulership over the entire earth and saves this world from itself.
But the Day of Trumpets is also about what happens to
you. This internal battle we have between the flesh and the Spirit, the sins and flaws we find ourselves wrestling with over and over again – the seventh trumpet is the moment that battle ends. Forever.
If we stay faithful to God – if we make it our focus to “live according to the Spirit,” even though sometimes the flesh drags us down – then something incredible is going to happen when that final trumpet rings out.
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed – in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?”
The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
(1 Corinthians 15:50-58)
Imagine not having to wrestle anymore between what you know you
should do and what every fiber of your humanity wants to do. Imagine waking up one morning and never feeling the tug of your carnal nature ever again, because it’s gone and you don’t think like that anymore, you don’t act like that anymore. Imagine never being tempted to sin ever again because you can see sin clearly as the ugly, painful, self-destructive thing that it is. Imagine not having to push away thoughts that aren’t true, noble, just, and pure, because those are the only subjects you think about anymore. Imagine being like God. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told us:
“Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
Shall be. Not now. But one day. Yes, being a Christian is hard – but the seventh trumpet is a promise that our labor is not in vain.

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

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

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? (1 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. (1 Corinthians 3:11-14)

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.

Pray For Our Enemies (Morning Companion)
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 we’ll 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 don’t 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 that’s 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? What’s 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, it’s 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).

A Loud World and a Quiet Voice (Sabbath Thoughts)
The world is so loud.
All it takes is the push of a button for noise to come crashing in like an unrelenting waterfall. My car has a button that funnels popular music and obnoxious advertisements through my speakers. My remote control has a button than transforms my television from a sedentary black square into a theater filled with perpetually changing sounds and scenes. My laptop has a button that connects it to every opinion, production, and scrap of knowledge possessed by mankind.
That’s insane. There is a time within living memory when carrier pigeons were a viable means of communication; today a handful of devices found in most American homes are capable of sending messages across the world in less time than it takes to address an envelope. My toaster cannot yet access the Internet, but it is only a matter of time. Every day technology makes mind-boggling leaps and bounds into areas previously considered impossible – and every day, it grows increasingly intertwined with our lives.
I’m reminded somewhat of Elijah’s encounter with God, when God called him to
“‘stand on the mountain before the Lord.’ And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave” (1 Kings 19:11-13).
It was all so much noise, so much spectacle, so much distraction. What Elijah really needed to focus on was not the sight of the fire, or the sounds of the wind, or the rumblings of the earthquake. What God called him to that mountain to hear was instead a still small voice.
God’s still small voice.
Elijah had winds and fires and earthquakes; we have Facebook and Primetime TV. These things aren’t wrong in and of themselves. They’re not inherently evil, but, like the things Elijah saw from atop the mountain,
the Lord is not in them. When our time is filled mostly with the distractions – the parts of life that don’t contain God or Godly things – then we’ll start to notice that we’re hearing less and less of that still small voice. It’s not God getting quieter; it’s us getting louder.
Our Creator will not shout above the world in order to be heard. He wants to speak with us, but the words He wants us to hear are ones that will only do us good when we are willing to hear them. If the noise you let in is too chaotic to hear your own thoughts, how can you expect to hear God? To focus on the still small voice of the Lord, we must first quiet ourselves and shut out the noise of the world.
There exists within every human being a kind of vacuum. It isn’t comfortable. If anything, it’s unsettling – part of our very being, empty and crying out to be filled. The natural inclination is to fill it, and the myriad of
stuff in the world seems like such a perfect fit. Even as converted, baptized Christians, it can be hard to resist filling that vacuum with the distractions around us – but, somewhere around our third time breaking our own highscore in Angry Birds, we become aware of the nagging realization that all these distractions aren’t filling anything. They only convince us to look the other way while the real problem worsens.
That vacuum within the inner parts of our being was designed to be,
can only be, filled by God. Nothing the world has to offer, no matter how flashy, no matter how impressive, no matter how advanced, can fill that void. It’s God and God alone. If you want to try and fill it with other things, He won’t stop you from drowning out His still small voice while you seek out your own solution, but the end result will be the same. Until you tell the world you have more important things to do and begin to diligently seek after what that still small voice has to say, your vacuum will only tug at your consciousness harder and harder.
The world is so loud … but that doesn’t mean we’re obligated to listen to it. There are better things to give our attention to – and those things begin and end with God.

Who Is Your Canada? (New Church Lady)
Mary Ann Shadd Cary, born in 1823, was a writer, an educator, a lawyer, an abolitionist and the first black woman in North America to edit and publish a newspaper. Her obituary was published in the NY Times in June 2018 in a special series called Overlooked.

“In 1850, when the US Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act – which compelled American to assist in the capture of runaway slaves, and levied heavy penalties on those who did not comply – Shadd Cary and some other members of her family left the United States for Canada.
From there, she published several pieces that “advertised Canada as a safe haven for former slaves.”
During the Vietnam War, many American men, seeking to evade the draft fled to Canada – perhaps up to 40,000, according to some estimates. Among them was Eric Naglar:
In Canada the worst that we had was the French-English problem …” he said. “Why would I want to live there? This is a much, much better place to be.”
An article written by Robin Levinson King, “A Brief History of Americans Moving to Canada,” recounts this phenomenon going all the way back to the time when “About 100,000 colonists loyal to the king fled the thirteen colonies either during or just after the Revolutionary War”.
In the fictional book “The Handmaid’s Tale” written by Margaret Atwood, those seeking freedom from an oppressive regime, that has taken over the former USA flee, to Canada.
Who is your Canada? Where do you flee when you need to escape oppression? When you are afraid? When you need to be free?
The Psalms repeatedly point us to our place of refuge from any trouble, fear or trial.
Psalm 143:9 [NIV] Rescue me from my enemies, LORD, for I hide myself in you. The King James says I flee unto Thee to hide me.
Psalm 32:7 [NIV] You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.
Psalm 27:5 [ESV] For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock.
Psalm 64:2 [ESV] Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked, from the throng of evildoers.
Hopefully, all of you already view God as your place of refuge to hide from the storms of life and have developed the habit of fleeing to Him in prayer and study.
In addition to finding refuge in God’s presence, your place of worship should be a refuge – a place where you are safe from the struggles and drama of day-to-day living, free from tyranny and oppression and where you are welcomed, as Canada has welcomed US Citizens for centuries. You should look forward to going there and fellowshipping with other refugees from Satan’s world.
It is in my sincere hope that in addition to God and your church services/church family, you have close friends who also provide you with refuge. Hopefully, you are that friend to others as well.
The book of Proverbs has a few things to say about being this type of friend.
Proverbs 17:17 [ESV] A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
Proverbs 18:24 [ESV] A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
Proverbs 27:10 [ESV] Do not forsake your friend and your father’s friend …
Proverbs 18:24 [KJV] A man [that hath] friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend [that] sticketh closer than a brother.
We have a responsibility to be this type of friend to each other – a Canadian friend – a place our friends can run to in time of fear, oppression, trouble and trial – one who can be trusted to be open and welcoming.
Further, we have a responsibility to teach our children to be this kind of friend – one who is truly a person who provides comfort to others – one who can be trusted to be open and welcoming.
Too much of society is mean. Too many interactions we hear about among junior high and high school students involve bullying, harassing, and picking on others. Too many interactions we hear about among business associates involve gossip or stepping on others to gain opportunities.
Every health and wellness book I’ve read stresses the importance of having at least one friend with whom you can share everything. I believe it is important to our spiritual health as well. Although your spouse might be your closest friend, I still think you need others (whether by blood or choice) in whom you can find refuge in fellowship and conversation. I believe we also benefit when we seek refuge in God’s presence together – whether praying together, studying together or singing together.
Find “Canada” in God and Jesus. Find “Canada” in your church or fellowship group. But, let us each also be “Canada” to others.

Growing up is hard work (Sabbath Thoughts)
I mean that in the metaphorical sense, but also in the very real, very literal sense. You began your existence as a single cell, which multiplied at an incredible rate until it became trillions
each of them designed by God to go exactly where it needed to go and become exactly what it needed to be.
As you continued to grow in your increasingly cramped little cave, you were changing drastically. Some cells became your brain. Others became your eyes, your ears, your nose, your mouth. Your five senses started to come online. You could see
but everything was a dim and fuzzy shade of red. You could hear, but everything was muffled and distorted by the liquid around you. You could taste, but only in a limited way.
And then, one day, everything you knew disappeared. You were forced into a strange new world
and even though your five senses didn’t change, they were immediately flooded with input they’d never had before. Your eyes were perceiving the entire visible light spectrum; your ears were hearing noises with greater clarity, and your nose was processing all kinds of brand-new smells. Everything you knew about how the world worked was turned on its head, and you were having to cope with it all at once.
And then a doctor probably smacked you.
Growing up is hard work.
And that’s just day one.
Your world didn’t stop changing for a long, long time. You weren’t born being able to intentionally control your arms or your legs. You weren’t born being able to focus your eyes on the things you wanted to look at. You weren’t even born with object permanence. For a brief period of your life, if something left your field of vision, it was like it had never existed.
It wasn’t a matter of, “Hey, where did that red ball go?” It was a matter of, “What red ball?” But your brain continued developing, and eventually you were able to understand that there was more to reality than the things you can perceive in any given moment. Of course, that meant you also understood that sometimes, your mom was doing the unthinkable. She was walking away. Leaving you by yourself. Maybe forever.
Growing up is hard work.
But you grew. And you learned. The first few years of our lives are filled with those moments of enormous cognitive development, where we develop the capacity to understand and interact with the world in brand new ways that had never even occurred to us as possible.
Every time that happens
when we develop object permanence, when we develop a sense of self, when we start to recognize cause and effect, when we start to process symbolism it literally changes our world. One day we wake up and realize, “Oh wow, when I do something, it makes other things happen.” That’s huge. That changes how we look at everything we do for the rest of our lives.
Parents, you’ve seen your children hit those milestones. I’ve watched Prim hit dozens of them, and now I’m watching Peter hit them as well, all while Prim goes on to tackle brand new ones. I have conversations with Prim now.
Conversations. That boggles my mind. We talk about her day. We talk about things we’ve done together. We talk about how she’s feeling. We’ve even started to talk about abstract concepts. A few months ago, while we were playing, I told her she was making a good effort. She paused and asked, “What effort mean?” So I had to do my best to explain the concept of effort. We could not have had that conversation two years ago. I don’t think we could have had it two months earlier, honestly. And it’s crazy for me to think that there are even more milestones ahead of us. The more she grows in how she sees the world, the deeper and more meaningful our conversations are going to be. I’m excited about that. I’m excited about being able to sit down with my children and talk with them about the things that really matter. But we’re not there yet. There are some concepts that are still beyond her at the moment. Some concepts that will be beyond her for years. But she’s getting there. She’s moving forward.
Sometimes I wonder if that’s how God feels about us. I see so many parallels about the way Prim and Peter are growing physically and the way we’re supposed to be growing spiritually. I wonder if God gets excited knowing that we’re getting closer to spiritually comprehending concepts that aren’t even on our radar. I wonder if He’s eagerly anticipating us coming to the point where we can have a genuine conversation with Him about the things that really matter.
Prim is great with numbers. She’s been counting for quite a while now, and we’re starting to explore the world of addition. But what about multiplication and division? Linear algebra? Trigonometry? Calculus? She’s not at a place where I can even begin to explain those concepts in a way she’d understand. (I mean, it doesn’t help that I barely understand some of them myself.) But she doesn’t even know those concepts
exist. She doesn’t even have the context to understand the implications of that existence.
Yet. But one day, she will. So will Peter.
Prim is also in the “why” phase. And I know, I know a lot of people talk about how terrible that is, but Mary and I love it. Is it exhausting sometimes? Oh, absolutely. It’s not easy to navigate a constant stream of inquiry into everything. But she
wants to know. She wants to understand. She has a genuine desire to make sense of the world around her, and we want to foster that. But sometimes I can’t answer all her “whys.” Not because there is no answer, but because she can’t understand it yet. She’s asking questions about advanced calculus, but she hasn’t mastered addition.
I wonder about that, too. We often talk about the questions we don’t have answers to in God’s Word. Not contradictions, just … pieces of the puzzle God chose not to share with us yet. We can read the Bible and come away wondering, “Well,
how exactly is God going to accomplish X, Y, or Z?” or, “How is X, Y, or Z even possible?” What if God sat down with you and answered every single question you have right now? Would the answers even make sense? I’m not asking, “Would we disagree with God’s reasoning?” but, “Do we even have the mental capacity to understand the kind of concepts He’d be sharing with us?” I don’t think so. Forget calculus I think it would be like explaining quantum mechanics to a toddler. We might understand a few of the words involved, but it’s not like we’re going to really understand what’s going on. Not yet. But one day.
Author C.S. Lewis had been married to his wife for three years when he lost her to cancer. The journals he kept as he processed that death eventually became part of a book he published called
A Grief Observed, which includes one of my favorite quotes:
When I lay these questions before God, I get no answer. But rather, a special kind of ‘no answer.’ It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand.’ Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable. How many hours are there in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask
half our great theological and metaphysical problems are like that.
The apostle Paul wrote, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known” (1 Corinthians 13:11-12).
I used to think that Paul was using “childish things” as a put-down. As if he was saying,
“You have to put away these childish things in order to grow up spiritually.” But that’s actually the reverse of what he’s saying here. He was saying, “When we physically mature, our childish speech, childish understanding, and childish thoughts are naturally replaced with something deeper.”
No child decides, “Today, I will put aside my childish thoughts and start thinking like an adult.” That’s not how that process works. That happens as we mature, not because we decide to mature. As we grow, our brains are literally changing to accommodate new thought processes, new ways of understanding the world. In other words: spiritually, we’re not finished growing. None of us. Paul said, “We know in part and we prophesy in part (1 Corinthians 13:9). We don’t have the whole picture yet. We have the parts of it we’re capable of understanding. We still see in a mirror, dimly. We’re not there yet, and that’s okay. We’re not supposed to be there.
Paul continued,
“When that which is perfect [or “complete”] has come, then that which is in part will be done away” (1 Corinthians 13:10).
There’s nothing shameful about “childish things.” They are an important and inescapable part of our progression to spiritual maturity. They aren’t things we put away in order to get to the next level
they’re things that naturally put themselves away as God opens our eyes to see the next level. You don’t still struggle to focus your eyes. You don’t panic anymore when a loved one leaves your field of vision. You have put away those childish things, not because you chose to, but because your natural cognitive development caused you to see the world differently. Spiritually, we’re experiencing a similar process. And it is a process a process made possible by nothing less than the Holy Spirit of God Himself.
Before Paul talked to the Corinthians about childish things, he told them,
“The Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit [which] is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:10-12). On our own, we do not have the ability to understand these spiritual truths. The Spirit is what helps us start making sense of them helps us start seeing the world a little more accurately. I think it’s interesting that Jesus referred to the process of receiving the Spirit as being “born again” or “born from above” in John 3.
That says a lot. When we are baptized and given the Spirit of God, it opens up a whole new way of seeing and processing the world. That perspective change can be as radical as a newborn seeing and hearing the outside world for the first time. That also tells us that it’s not about being perfect on day one. It’s about
heading in that direction. And make no mistake, family, it is vital that we are heading that direction. But this isn’t so much about how far along that pathway we are, or how many bumps we’ve had along the way this is about the fact that we are moving. That we’re allowing God, through His Holy Spirit, to guide, mold, and direct us as we begin to put away the childish things in favor of … well, in favor of what, exactly?
Let’s see what Paul has to say one more time. He reminds us that our goal is to
“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” (Ephesians 4:13-15).
I doubt anyone reading this feels like they have come to the
“the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” But that’s the goal. That’s the ultimate destination. That’s where God is guiding us through our spiritual development. Slowly but surely, we are all engaged in the process of growing up in all things into Him who is the head.
We won’t get there today. We won’t get there tomorrow. Let’s cut ourselves a little slack and not expect to grow an impossible amount in an impossible time frame. We’re not going to develop the fullness of the stature of Christ in a day, or a year, or a decade, or even
decades. But we are going to get there. One day. One day, we are going to put away the childish things things we don’t even know are childish right now. One day, we are going to stop asking God how many miles are in an hour and whether yellow is square or round. And one day, we are going to know God the Father, just as He also knows us. Growing up is hard work. But it is so, so worth it.

Prophetic Insight (New Horizons)
When we set out to explain prophecy the keynote must be to acknowledge ‘I’m probably wrong’. Down the centuries Bible pundits have been wrong – wrong more often than right.
Time and again it’s the date for the return of Jesus Christ that is wrongly predicted. So we wait. That will be a pivotal date for all of mankind, for it signals the overturn of our present civilization; and it is an inevitable and momentous event, an awesome event.
But its timing is locked in the counsel of the Father. Inevitable – so at some point in our trajectory through time Jesus will return. The divine plan will advance into a new phase. But that golden era is predicted to be preceded by a time of turbulence. The ‘wolf’ will come and will seek to devour what’s left of our civilization.
In regard to the final outcome, the real significance of prophecy, we can be certain that the final outcome will be exactly what God wants – and probably the process to achieve it will surprise us! Given that the likelihood of worldwide repentance and a return to the true God by all mankind is an unlikely outcome we turn to the apostle Paul:
‘…that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sits in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God’.
One aspect of this in dispute among Bible students is the ‘falling away’. For some it began in the first century (e.g. Acts 20:29, 1 John) as the church departed from the true teachings and absorbed pagan concepts.
For others it is an end-time event – within the true remnant of the Church of God.
Also in dispute is what the apostle means by the ‘temple’. Many understand it as referring to a yet-to-be-built – and perhaps imminent – physical Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, with a secular leader supported by the papacy (the ‘little horn’ of Daniel 9) seen as the fulfilment of antichrist who enforces his authority by ten European military powers.
Others refer the ‘temple’ to the church, to Christendom, or limited to the ‘true church’. In this scenario the papacy (also the little horn’, the then Pope) supported by Protestantism unveils himself as antichrist and wields the military power of the UN’s ten regions.
However the process might unfold, as true believers we should ‘sit light in the saddle’. The kaleidoscope of world events changes daily and can be confusing.
Yes – we must be always prepared – but a continuing spiritual preparedness.
It would be naïve to think that the ground-plans for such a coup have not been laid over many years, even centuries. Since earliest times despots and the ‘elite’ have sought to control their fellows, to build a world empire: Babylon, Alexander, Rome, Charlemagne, Napoleon, Hitler, to name a few.
Our own era witnesses the rise of so-called globalism – proposed as the solution to all our challenges. Mankind, however, doesn’t willingly trot into slavery. We must be seduced to comply – slowly, quietly, clandestinely, but ultimately by a manufactured fear that induces submission to those claiming to have the answer to lethal threats from man or from nature (or the ‘gods’). Under human jurisdiction such schemes begin benignly, but inevitably end in despotism, in draconian control of all resources (including human resources) to advantage a global elite motivated by dark spiritual forces. Such are still ‘out there’ and – however long delayed – we must each be constantly aware: Be on the alert therefore, for you do not know the day on which your Lord is coming’ (Matthew 24:42).

The Last Trumpet (Sabbath Thoughts)
“I can tell you exactly when Christ will return.”
My ears perked up at hearing this, because that is their default response whenever I hear someone announce their intention to do what the Bible says is impossible.
“He’ll return at the moment of your last heartbeat … plus one.”
There are two great things about that last sentence. The first is that it isn’t laden with heresy, which is always a plus. The second is that it speaks to a matter of focus. With the world scene edging perpetually closer to a global meltdown, it’s hard not to have the same curiosity as the apostles and wonder,
“Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). The apocalyptic end of human civilization as we know it is one of those things that would be really nice to have marked on our calendars – so when Christ replies, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority” (Acts 1:7), it’s hard to keep from taking a couple educated guesses anyway.
But we don’t know. We can’t. It certainly looks like God is lining up events to bring about the end times, but His people have literally thought that since the moment Christ ascended back into heaven. Paul even wrote about
“we who are alive and remain” (1 Thessalonians 4:17) at Christ’s coming, indicating Paul believed that he would witness Christ’s return in his own lifetime. He was wrong, of course, and we could be too – and the most important part is, that’s not the most important part.
You and I, if we hold fast to our calling, are going to see Christ the moment after our last heartbeat. When that last trumpet sounds, it doesn’t matter if we died thousands of years beforehand or if we’re still living and breathing – our next moment of consciousness will be that of a spirit being belonging to the family of God.
The “when” doesn’t matter. What matters is that it’s coming. Make no mistake: that last trumpet
will sound. The only question is whether or not you and I will be ready for it. Because the Christian journey isn’t a matter of studying for a final exam – as if we could wait until the very last minute to cram ourselves full of the right kind of character and then pass the test for entering the Kingdom of God. No, for converted, baptized Christians, the final exam is NOW.
Peter wrote,
“the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17). We know that the rest of the world will have the opportunity to learn and accept God’s way after Christ’s return, but not us. Our time is now. Today. And when that trumpet does sound, if you aren’t being caught up in the air with the rest of the newly transformed saints, you missed the boat – your time is up. The five foolish virgins were in earnest when they begged to be let into the wedding (Matthew 25:11-12), but because they squandered their time in an unprepared state, they lost their opportunity.
One day, that final trumpet blast will reverberate across the heavens and serve as a wake up call for all those asleep in Christ. Our time is now, and it’s only getting shorter. If we want to be there on the day God calls forth His sons and daughters from their graves and into eternal life, then we need to get our act together
today. The trumpet will sound. Will you be ready?

Who Decides Your Rights? (Morning Companion)
My beliefs would have received no more welcome in the Massachusetts of 1640 than they do in the Massachusetts of today. The Puritans of 1640 were a moralistic crew who had little tolerance for dissent unless it was their brand of dissent.
This hardy band was forced from England because of their dissenting ways, but once they established their own hegemony they forced all who would not conform to leave the colony. Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson, the Seventh Day Baptists – all sought refuge in a small colony called Rhode Island in a quest for religious liberty.
Not long ago I was engaged in an interesting discussion on the internet regarding the concept of the role of religion in American history. Was the United States ever really a Christian nation? It became apparent to me that the real concern among the secularists goes straight back to the experiment at Massachusetts Bay where an attempt to bring a theocracy to the American continent resulted in inflexible intolerance and loss of liberty. Whereas some of us may view the term “Christian Nation” as generic shorthand for a kind of syncretism of a civil and religious ethic of behavior and thought, many view it in terms of the Inquisition and the Salem Witch Trials. Who can blame them?
In fact, I would not want to go back to a society of Blue Laws and other subtle forms of discrimination against my brand of religion, while at the same time I bemoan and mourn the loss of the basic moral ethic that has its roots in Judeo-Christian thought. But then again, my contact with the Evangelical Right does not inspire worries about their agenda, nor do I have a concern about a return to expulsions from the body politic.
I am concerned, however, about the new Puritans, the Puritans of the left. They seem to have an entirely different ethic and even religious fervor that has its own non-negotiable rules of morality. The debate is over, they tell us, on climate change, carbon (dioxide) emissions, same sex marriage, illegal immigration, free speech rights, and whatever else that is a part of the new orthodoxy. Dissent is good, they say, even patriotic as long as they are the dissenters, but now the questions have all been decided. They won the election! Game over!
In this we see a new intolerance born of the misunderstanding of the origins of our liberty. Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?” If one does not believe in universal, inalienable rights endowed by one’s Creator (for in the world of secularism, there is no Creator) then from where do your rights come?
My internet interlocutor offered the case that the people get to decide which rights we have. But if that’s the case, the people by a majority vote or a majority vote of their representatives can decide that no one has a right to be Jewish and can initiate an Inquisition. They can decide that homosexuals can be strung up and beaten with rubber hoses. They can legislate or even prohibit religious beliefs and enforce compliance. Why not? They won the election! Game over!
Inalienable rights endowed by a Creator is a more sure road to freedom. As for me, I prefer that world view whether this is a Christian nation or not.

On Ripping Our Muscles (Sabbath Thoughts)
Muscles are peculiar, in that if you want to improve them, you have to rip them. And I don’t mean that in a metaphorical sense. I mean that, quite literally, if you want stronger muscles, you have to cause them acute trauma
that is, work them until they start tearing. The body responds by repairing the damage and then adding a little extra muscle to prevent future tearing from the same activity.
The process almost seems backwards. How could you possibly make something better by
damaging it? You don’t improve a building by slamming a wrecking ball into it; why on earth would tearing muscle tissue be a step toward strengthening it?
And yet, impossibly, that’s the way God designed our bodies. We don’t grow stronger by making sure our muscles never experience any stress
on the contrary, it’s in pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone that we develop. Speaking of things that seem backwards, there’s an apparent “inconsistency” that most followers of God tend to notice and have noticed for thousands of years. Asaph noticed it too, and recorded it in the book of Psalms, saying, “But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the boastful, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Psalm 73:2-3). He goes on to express his disbelief at those who “set their mouth against the heavens” and still “have more than heart could wish” (Psalm 73:9, 7).
It’s hard to make sense of these prosperous sinners,
“the ungodly, who are always at ease; they increase in riches” (Psalm 73:12). That those who so brazenly defy God can lay claim to such impossibly comfortable lives seems like some sort of divine mistake. Asaph cries out, “Surely I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocence. For all day long I have been plagued, and chastened every morning” (Psalm 73:13-14). It’s a slightly more poetic rendering of the often unspoken questions that linger somewhere in the mind of almost every Christian namely, “God, why are the unrighteous around me living in such luxury while I feel punished for remaining dedicated to you?”
So what is it, then? Is God failing to see that His people are suffering trials while those who hate Him are living the high life?
Certainly not! One of Asaph’s complaints, that he is “chastened every morning,” alludes to a key Biblical principle that the author of Hebrews would later be inspired to record as,
“For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives” (Hebrews 12:6).
And it’s backwards. To our tiny human conception of how the universe should work, it’s totally, impossibly backwards. When we do good, we feel we should
get good. Instead, we seek to follow God and get … chastened? What’s the point? If God is going to cut us down for performing the very commands He gave us, why not join the sinners in the lap of luxury?
Because of muscles, that’s why. It’s the same impossible-sounding principle: Before we can become stronger, we must first be torn. Just as physical strength doesn’t come from sitting on the couch all day, spiritual stamina cannot be built in the absence of trials. God shows His love by chastening
because that chastening makes us stronger. The trials we face under the watchful and loving eye of our Father in heaven are the very ones that He uses to shape our character into something that belongs in His Kingdom.
It’s why we have verses that tell us to
“count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4). The difficulties you are facing aren’t some arbitrary punishment for trying to do good they are the fiery trials that God has allowed in your life to make you perfect.
The sinners who Asaph spoke of in Psalm 73 are the spiritual equivalent of a morbidly obese man sitting on a couch, one hand in a bag of Cheetos and the other holding a funnel cake. They’ve faced no challenges and built no character
and beyond that, their lifestyle is ensuring that what muscle strength they do have is in a constant state of atrophy.
Asaph was ultimately inspired to see to the end of such people, writing,
“Surely You set them in slippery places; You cast them down to destruction. Oh, how they are brought to desolation, as in a moment! They are utterly consumed with terrors. As a dream when one awakes, so, Lord, when You awake, You shall despise their image” (Psalm 73:18-20). The wicked may prosper … for a time. God may delay His judgment on their sinful actions … for a time. But in the blink of an eye, their prosperity, their comfort, and their riches can vanish, and they are reduced to nothing.
So you have a decision to make. You can continue on this path of chastening and trials. It will be hard, and you’ll face the wrath of our adversary the devil at every turn. Every day of the rest of your life will find you on the battlefield, defending your salvation from an army of demons who would rip it from your grasp.
Or you can walk away and join “the ungodly, who are always at ease.” You can live easy, for a time, until your foot slips and everything you call your own vanishes like smoke. And that will be it. The end. All your existence frittered away on trifles while your character, your spiritual strength, atrophies into nothingness. You will have no future to look to, no hope to rescue you. Meanwhile, we on the battlefield will be fighting with a vision burning within us, knowing that,
“We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10).
Yes, we face trials and tribulations. Yes, the ungodly around us are prospering for a time. And yes, at first glance, it seems backwards and unfair. But when I consider that our trials and tribulations are preparing us to be kings and priests in an eternal Kingdom where the very causes of tears have ceased to exist, where death and sorrow have passed away into a distant memory, where
“the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18), then I have only one conclusion: The Kingdom is worth every trial.  

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

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

How Do You Move a Mountain? (Morning Companion)
On the southeast quadrant of the interchange at Missouri 291 and Interstate 70 in Independence, Missouri is a Costco, a hockey arena, a CarMax and myriad other shops and restaurants. It wasn’t always that way. When I moved to this part of the world that space was occupied by a poorly maintained 9-hole golf course on a hill. That hill is now gone and the golf course with it, replaced with a bustling monument to commerce funded in part with taxpayer incentives.
Often I drive past that shrine to our consumer society and marvel at the engineering feat of removing a sizable hill and replacing it with some developer’s dream. Jesus once talked about what it takes to remove mountains, but I doubt he had something like this in mind.
Still, there is a lesson in there. Jesus said that if one has the faith of something as small as a mustard seed – a small seed indeed – that’s all that’s needed to move a mountain into the ocean. That’s a concept that’s hard to grasp. I have a little bit of faith, and I presume you do too, but to move a mountain into the ocean? I’m not so sure about
that. How can that possibly be? Wanting to see big, sudden, earthshaking events to crack open those mountains that plague our lives and our world and watch them crumble into rubble is what we want, but things don’t happen that way very often. Life does not hand us many sudden, life changing events. Instant gratification is a rare commodity in spite of the promises of Madison Avenue and political campaigns.
Then I remember those days when the contractors were at work at the southeast quadrant of that MO-291 and I-70 interchange. They literally moved a small mountain, but they did not move it overnight. Of course they didn’t. It took time, and it took perseverance. They did not jack it up and load it on a flatbed truck and deposit it in the Missouri River. They moved it in the same way we move our mountains in life. They moved it one shovelful at a time. It took faith, it took time, it took hard work, it took perseverance. And the mountain got moved.
That’s the way our mountains get moved with mustard seed faith, one shovelful at a time.

The Time That Matters (Sabbath Thoughts)
Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land, and it turns out that that Bible gives short shrift to most of those years. It’s not immediately obvious until you pay close attention to the timestamps scattered throughout the Pentateuch, but 38 of those years happen between chapters 15 and 36 of the book of Numbers.
That’s a blip. Israel’s journey from Egypt to Canaan spans the books of Exodus all the way to Deuteronomy
and 38 years of that journey are crammed into 22 chapters. Why? Because those years, for the most part, don’t matter.
Those were the years of punishment. Israel lost their nerve in Numbers 14
they rejected God, they rebelled against His commands, and they were sentenced to spend a total of 40 years wandering in the empty space between what they’d left behind and where they were going. An entire generation needed to die off before God would allow Israel a second opportunity to claim their inheritance.
Those years happened. That generation died. God doesn’t tell us much about what happened during that time. From what we can tell, most of those years weren’t time that mattered.
By contrast, Israel only spent about 11 months camped out in front of Mount Sinai. Those 11 months are recorded beginning in Exodus 19… and they continue on all the way into Numbers 10. That’s 59 chapters
over one and a half books of the Bible dedicated to the events of 11 months.
What do we get in those 59 chapters? We get the Ten Commandments. We get the layout and the function of the tabernacle. We get insight into sacrifices and priestly duties and dozens upon dozens of statutes, precepts, and commandments detailing what it means to live a Godly way of life.
Time that matters. Time that doesn’t.
The 38 years those Israelites spent waiting to die weren’t actually shorter than the months they spent at Sinai
but they weren’t worth detailing in the same way.
The contrast is even sharper when you step back and look at the whole Pentateuch. The first five books of the Bible cover more than 2,500 years of human history. They take us from the dawn of creation all the way up to the border of the Promised Land
and God used one of those books (plus significant portions of two others) to tell us about what happened during a span of time measured in months. Then He gave us the book of Deuteronomy essentially a highlight reel covering much of that same short timeframe.
Two and a half millennia stretching across 5 books, and around half of that text is focused on the 11 months Israel spent at Sinai. I think it’s safe to say that God places a special emphasis on those 11 months. I think it’s safe to say those might be 11 of the most important months in all of human history. I think it’s safe to say there’s a lesson for us in that.
A second is a second. An hour is an hour. A year is a year. There’s nothing inherently special about the passage of time itself. What makes a second or an hour or a year special is what we
do with it.
Given the choice, are we more likely to spend our time wandering in the empty spaces of life, or seated before the mountain of God, waiting to hear what He has to say?
One is easy to do. One is hard. One matters. One doesn’t.
We won’t always get it right, but we always have the
opportunity to get it right. That wasn’t true for the Israelites, but it is for us. No matter how long we’ve spent wandering, we always have the ability to come back, pitch our tent, and listen. God had a destination in mind for Israel, but they chose the long and painful route. If we trust Him, God will take use where we need to go, when we need to go there.
The time that matters is the time we spend following His lead.

Sharing Your Shalom (Morning Companion)
Have you ever had someone shine a flashlight in your face? It’s not a pleasant experience. It’s uncomfortable, annoying, and even downright rude. When Jesus said we are to be the light of the world, it’s a good guess he wasn’t talking about directing a flashlight beam into people’s eyeballs. What he was doing was illustrating an Old Testament principle in symbolic terms. His audience would have recognized this and his “city on a hill” allusion and would not have thought of it as finger-pointing evangelism.
Much of the book of Deuteronomy is an account of the time just before the tribes of Israel were to enter the Promised Land near the end of their 40 years in the wilderness. Moses uses this occasion to remind his people of their obligations to God and to each other. Not only that, they were to have obligations to the other nations around them.
Some words from Deuteronomy 4:
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? (Deuteronomy 4:5-8 ESV)
Israel was to be a nation of light to the world, a city on a hill, a model nation whose existence was to reveal to the world the God of creation and who were to model a way of life for all other nations to emulate. Sometimes they succeeded in this, and other times they failed miserably, but that mandate never went away. Even as they were taken into captivity, Jeremiah reminded them to continue with that mandate and to share their “shalom” with their new Gentile neighbors in exile.
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all who were carried away captive, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit. Take wives and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters—that you may be increased there, and not diminished. And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace. (Jeremiah 29:4-7 NKJV)
That word peace in this passage is translated from the Hebrew word shalom. We don’t have an English word that adequately catches the nuances of that word. It carries the sense of completeness, soundness, prosperity, welfare, and, yes, peace. To a large extent, that’s what those exiles delivered to their land of exile.
So when Jesus said,
Blessed are the peacemakers, and then extended to idea with illustrations about being a light, being the salt of the earth, and being a city on a hill, he was telling his listeners that they were to continue sharing their shalom with all those around them.
I know we often think of evangelism as sharing the gospel forthrightly with the world. That’s the right thing to do, and may God bless those who have the gift of preaching and teaching the Word of God. But for those of us not blessed with that gift – well, we have other gifts by which we can share our shalom. In much of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus follows his city on a hill illustrations with instructions about how we can share our
shalom.
In Matthew 5:21 he talks about sharing our shalom through emotional self-control. In verse 22, we are to share our shalom by treating other people with respect and not demeaning them. In verses 23 – 25 our shalom is shared by reconciling our differences, even putting that ahead of religious liturgies and duties.
In verses 27-28 men are to share their shalom by treating women them with proper respect.
In verses 31-32 sharing our shalom means to build strong families and marriages.
In verses 33-37 keeping our word is a way of sharing our shalom.
In verses 43-48 Jesus introduces an entirely new concept – sharing our shalom by loving our enemies and praying for them.
While sharing of our shalom in this way might not result in mass conversions to Christ, it is a certainty that hiding our light under a basket will lead to no conversions at all. And if nothing else, if enough Christ-followers do it, our small contributions together can soften and transform our increasingly coarsening culture.

No Brown M & M (Sabbath Thoughts)
The world of rock and roll confuses me. Let’s just go ahead and get that out of the way right now. The more I read about it, the less I feel like I understand it
and the less I feel like the bands who made it a reality understand it. Most bands’ stories read with all the coherency and plot twists of a prime time soap opera crumbling relationships, promiscuity, drug dependency, public feuds, mud slinging, and then, against every semblance of probability, the previously disowned band members get back together for a highly successful reunion tour.
With an industry that seems to operate exclusively on drug-fueled drama, it’s unusual for any rock-related stories to really outdo other rock-related stories. “So-and-so trashed a hotel room.” Yeah, no surprise there. “This one guy has a serious substance abuse problem.” Kind of figured that a while ago, actually. “You won’t believe how much this one band makes.” I bet I will. “These guys have a ‘No Brown M&M’ clause in their contract.” Yeah, of course they d
o. Wait, what?
In a contract rider that lead singer David Lee Roth compared in terms of thickness to “the Chinese Yellow Pages,” the band Van Halen had sneaked in a perplexing demand. In addition to highly specialized technical requirements, the band required a bowl of M&Ms to be placed in the backstage area
but not just any M&Ms. The rider stated specifically, “There will be no brown M&Ms in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation” (Roth, Crazy From the Heat)
Brown M&Ms: Not even once.
In other words, if the band showed up at a venue and found a bowl containing brown M&Ms or no M&Ms at all, they were legally within their rights to collect their checks and drive off without ever putting on a show. Typical rock star arrogance, right? Well …
The now infamous “M&M clause” from Van Halen’s contract rider does look, at first glance, to be the typical wild demands of a rock band that knew it could ask for the moon without fear of rejection. But decades later, Roth would explain in his autobiography,
So, when I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl … well, line-check the entire production. Guaranteed you’re going to arrive at a technical error. They didn’t read the contract. Guaranteed you’d run into a problem. Sometimes it would threaten to just destroy the whole show. Something like, literally, life-threatening.
The M&Ms were a test. If the venue had overlooked the clause about the M&Ms or worse, ignored it because it didn’t seem important then it was entirely likely it had overlooked another, truly important article in the rider. Roth related the story of one venue which didn’t understand that Van Halen’s equipment “weighed like the business end of a 747,” so when everything was set up, “the staging sank through their floor. They didn’t bother to look at the weight requirements or anything, and this sank through their new flooring and did eighty thousand dollars’ worth of damage to the arena floor”.
Never in a million years did I think I would transition directly from talking about a rock band into a spiritual principle, but here we go. Christ explained to His disciples that “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?” (
Luke 16:10-11). That principle is reflected the Van Halen’s M&M clause if the venue could not be faithful in following that simple instruction, how could they be trusted to follow some of the vital technical instructions? The fact that one venue had an entire stage fall through their brand new flooring illustrates potential for damage in failing to adhere to the rest of the contract.
As thick as Van Halen’s contract rider might have been, it’s safe to assume that the word of God is a bit thicker
and filled with instructions of much greater significance than the acceptable spacing of fifteen-ampere receptacles. In the space of 66 books, the Creator of the universe lays out the “vital technical instructions” for not only a fulfilling existence in this passing, temporary life, but also the pathway to eternal life in the Kingdom of God as His child. That’s kind of a big deal.
As ingenious as Van Halen’s M&M clause was, God beat them to the punch by several thousand years. With a set of instructions as important as the ones contained in the Bible, God provided a handful of “test commandments”
instructions that would make it obvious as to whether or not we’re paying attention. Instructions that make it clear whether or not we’re taking His word seriously.
Take God’s Sabbaths. Vital in their own right, how we treat these Holy Days, whether they be weekly or annual, is an indicator of how we treat God’s word as a whole. Sceptical? Then consider the reason God gives for Israel’s captivity: “because they had not executed My judgments, but had despised My statutes,
profaned My Sabbaths, and their eyes were fixed on their fathers’ idols” (Ezekiel 20:24). Again and again, Israel’s lack of regard for God’s Sabbath is linked to their lack of regard for His entire way of life. The prophet Isaiah reminds us:
If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath,
From doing your pleasure on My holy day
And call the Sabbath a delight,
The holy day of the Lord honorable,
And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways,
Nor finding your own pleasure,
Nor speaking your own words,
Then you shall delight yourself in the Lord;
And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth,
And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father.
The mouth of the Lord has spoken.

(
Isaiah 58:13-14)
The Sabbath is a day of rest; not a vacation day. If we’re using a day intended for worshipping and honoring God as a day to serve our own interests and hobbies, then what other parts of God’s law are we failing to properly honor? Not that the Sabbath is the only thing God looks for in His people. He calls it
a sign, not the sign between Himself and His people (Ezekiel 20:12). Other “no brown M&M clauses” include Paul’s admonition to “let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth” (Ephesians 4:29), to “in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” (Philippians 2:3), and of course Christ’s command, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). These are just a few of the benchmark indicators that help reveal whether or not we’re serious about living “by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
When it came to Van Halen’s contract rider, there were two main reasons technicians might have failed to honor the “no brown M&Ms” clause: either they completely overlooked it when reading through the rider, or else they saw it and didn’t think it mattered. Neither of these scenarios is particularly comforting when some of the other requirements were literally a matter of life and death. If they overlooked that one clause, what other clauses did they miss? Would a steel support beam break mid-performance? Would an electrical outlet fry an unsuspecting band member? And if they read that clause and felt like it wasn’t important enough to follow, then what other clauses did they take this “pick and choose” approach with? Both scenarios suggest a high probability that something very important was overlooked. This life is peanuts compared to the responsibilities we’ll face serving as kings and priests in the Kingdom of God. If we’re skimming or ignoring the instructions for this passing, temporary life, why on earth would God trust us with something as monumental as membership in His eternal family? Now is our time; now is our proving ground. God’s way of living ought to be something we continually strive to internalize, seeking daily to allow His Holy Spirit to bring our feelings and thoughts ever more in line with His own.
There is no inconsequential or unimportant aspect of the word of God. It’s all vital, and it’s all worth our complete attention. Even the bits about brown M&Ms.

The Fellowship of His Suffering (New Horizons)
We are all familiar with the encouraging words found in Hebrews 10:25 which admonish us in
not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”
There are two significant parts here. The primary directive to this warning is that we should not forsake, reject or abandon gathering together as the saints, as the children of God. But why is that? Why did the writer tell us not to give up on this assembling together?
Was it so we could pass the plate and collect tithes?
No!
Was it so we could have more and larger church events? Not really.
Was it so we could have safety in numbers? Perhaps.
Was it so we could encourage and support one another in a world that is dangerous and deadly to the new creature in Christ inside each and every one of us? Absolutely!
To truly understand what we are being told here we must ask a broader question: Why do people gather together at all? Well, in simple terms it’s for the purpose of mutual support.
For example, companies were formed so workers could collectively do things that no single individual could accomplish.
Another example might be from the days of the Old West when a posse was formed for the purpose of bringing fugitives to justice.
Another example is seen in support groups such as
Alcoholics Anonymous, which was formed so that the encouragement and support of the whole group could help the suffering individual stay sober and healthy and live life in a more positive way.
People need support. Even the most introverted of us benefits from personal interaction and from participating in the collective congregation. In fact, I have often thought of the church as a support group of sorts for recovering sin addicts. Each one of us has been, and to a certain extent still is, an addict of sin.
Just two chapters past that first admonition, the writer of Hebrews in 12:1 tells us to:
lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
Almost before we are aware of it, sin can wrap its destructive tendrils around us and bring us down and away from the healthy life we so very much want to live. Life is hard and we need to come together in what Paul calls
the fellowship of His sufferings (Philippians 3:10). This fellowship is not just with Christ Jesus but is also with one another.
Now some might say, “I don’t think I would be missed; I don’t have responsibility; I don’t do anything in church.” Yet that assessment misses completely the purpose of fellowship and the mysterious power of encouragement that your brothers and sisters in Christ feel when they just see that you have joined them in the fellowship of His suffering.
This reminds me of the
Fellowship of the Ring from Tolkien’s famed novels. We are a fellowship, not of a ring but of the Lamb, of the Lion and the suffering of the Son of God. We are on a journey in an unholy land, there is darkness and danger all around us. But if we stick together, we can fight for one another. We can stop one another from falling off a frozen windswept ledge. We can fend off the fiery darts of the enemy and perhaps stop that dragon taking his toll on our fellowship.
The second significant part to the warning in Hebrews 10:25 is tied to the first. He says:
not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”
What do you think the “Day” is that the writer is referring to? Well, it makes me think of the Day of the Lord, the day when all our suffering, all our efforts, all our struggle, will finally end and we will be changed. We will be changed completely and thoroughly into a being of righteousness, goodness, power and eternal life in Christ Jesus. The day that we long for, and so very much want to arrive at, ready and prepared for the Wedding Supper of the Lamb.
But what if we are all coming to a different Day before we come to the Day of the Lord?
What if the Day that we are all hurtling towards is in fact a Day of darkness and struggle?
What if the Day is out there when we will no longer be able to gather in freedom?
A Day when we will no longer be able to peaceably assemble in our fellowship of suffering?
In fact, we have already seen this situation over these last year, haven’t we?
We have seen churches around the country prevented by local and state governments from fellowshipping. Believers prevented from coming together to worship, to encourage one another and support one another. Now some might say this was for the health of the community and we were doing our part to help and perhaps this was true. But it shows very clearly how tenuous our freedom to peacefully assemble really is.
There is a Day coming, a Day that precedes that Day of the Lord when our fellowship will be outlawed, not as an unintended consequence of measures taken to combat a disease, but rather because what we know and what we believe will be considered by others to be a disease. A dangerous pathogen to the power and control of our old enemy. We know this is true because it has happened many times before. Talking about men and woman just like us it says in Hebrews 11:35–38 (NKJV).
Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented – of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.”
There is a Day when we will no longer be able to gather, to fellowship. When we will not be able to encourage each other. When we will not be able to fight for each other. In that Day we will of course have the Spirit of Christ Jesus in us and on us, strengthening us and supporting us. But we also need something else. We need the ability to remember, to play over in our minds the friendships, the smiles, the kind words of encouragement, the loving embraces. We need to bring to our remembrance the tears of joy and of suffering, of sharing one another’s burdens, of praising God, singing of His love, the quiet prayers and the spoken Word of God washing over us. We need to remember the fellowship.
All these things are only made possible by gathering together. We gather together so that we may store up these moments for help and comfort in the day of darkness to come. There are always sicknesses that keep us away from community. Certainly, people are doing their part to not spread Covid-19. There are family events and hopefully some fun weekend trips. Sometimes a private time for Sabbath rest, prayer and meditation is needed. There are many reasons that we can be kept away from our church fellowship. But I encourage all of us to examine ourselves and make sure that we are not creating a new tradition, a tradition of abandoning the gathering of ourselves together. For most certainly each of us benefits from the love, support, encouragement, and strength we both give and receive from one another. And all the more as we see the day approaching.
Above all, dear brothers and sisters, make no mistake. You are needed. You are loved. You are precious and beautifully unique. You are irreplaceable. Your presence does indeed lift the hearts and minds of your brothers and sisters in Christ, with whom you are joined through the Spirit in the Fellowship of His suffering.
God bless, be safe – and see you on Sabbath!

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

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

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

Reverse Engineering Your Destiny (Sabbath Thoughts)
The seventh trumpet.
It’s the moment everything changes. It’s the reason
“the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now” (Romans 8:22).
It’s the reason
“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 8:23).
As Christians, that trumpet will be the moment that defines us for eternity. As our Lord and Savior descends through the skies and voices from heaven proclaim Him King of kings and Lord of lords, we’ll either rise up to meet Him … or we won’t.
Those are the possibilities. There isn’t a third option. If our minds are open to God’s truth and we’ve accepted His calling, then this is our chance.
This is our day of salvation. We don’t get to scoot into the second resurrection with the rest of the world and try again in round two.
“For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:48).
We’ve been given much. How we live now
right now, today and every day that follows determines what happens to us when Christ returns.
Do you want to be there on that day? Do you want to be made fully and completely into the image of God Himself? Do you want to live forever as a child of God?
Then reverse engineer it.
Start with the finished product
the moment you want to get to and work backwards. The seventh trumpet sounds, and you’re transformed into a spirit being.
How did you get there?
Step backward in time. What kind of life did you live? What kind of choices did you have to make along the way? What did you value, and what did you let go of? What did you have to overcome? What aspects of your character changed
and what stayed the same?
Take another step backward. How did those changes happen? What habits did you develop or break that helped lead to them? Who influenced you
and whom did you have to step away from so they’d stop influencing you? What sacrifices did you have to get used to making, and what things were so important that you vowed to never let go of them?
Keep stepping backward from your future until you get to the present, then connect the dots.
God’s Word lays out the causes and effects pretty clearly. It explains how to fail and how to succeed. It’s our compass and our map, and God’s Spirit helps it all make sense. Using the tools we’ve been given, we chart our way to the finish line, plotting out a life that leads to hearing,
“Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).
Or we can ignore all that, let life push and pull us wherever it wants, and let the finish line catch us unprepared and unaware.
Because the seventh trumpet is going to sound. We will be judged based on how we live our lives in the days and years to come. What we have right now is the opportunity to correct course, to take a closer look at the direction we’re heading and to make sure it’s the direction we want to be heading.
This isn’t just a thought exercise. Your destiny hangs in the balance.
If you want to make sure it’s a good one, now’s the time to reverse engineer it.

The Violent Demise of Sin (New Church Lady)
I am not one who believes that doctors are out to keep you sick. I believe they are motivated to remove disease where they can and manage symptoms where they cannot. They often advise us on what we can do to get or stay healthy, but too often are faced with folks who are going to keep having jelly donuts, bacon and frappuccinos for breakfast and then come to the doctor for medication for pre-diabetes and high blood pressure.
However, I think that doctors are never more motivated to violently rid someone of a particular disease then when it comes to cancer. I speak from experience here. I have lost both of my parents and one sibling to this disease. Of the five remaining siblings, three of us battle skin cancer regularly.
Once cancer attacks your body, all of the medical cures involve a measure of violence: 
▪ Freezing off small skin cancers creates blisters and leaves a scar
Cutting out cancers and tumors creates scars
Radiation damages all the skin it touches, can create burns and blisters
And then there is chemo. Chemo destroys cells, burns skin, makes you achy, makes you vomit, causes your hair to fall out and more. Was there ever a more violent means of treatment? (Well, maybe shock treatment. That seems pretty violent.)
Often, doctors prescribe a regimen of chemo, radiation and surgery to attack cancer from every angle and eradicate it completely.
When I read Matthew11:12, it reminds me of the violence of eradicating cancer from a human body.
Matthew 11:12 [ESV] From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.
According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, the meaning of this passage is that a share in the heavenly kingdom is sought for with the most ardent zeal and the intensest exertion.”
The phrase “take it by force” can mean to seize, carry off by force, seize on, or claim for oneself eagerly.
The Kingdom is offered freely, but it was paid for with violence – the violent death of Jesus, preceded by an unimaginable beating.
Furthermore, at least for me, violence is needed for removing the cancer of human nature, the cancer of this world’s influence and the cancer of the Devil’s temptations and reasoning. Like the physical disease of cancer, these things were growing in us before we were called. And, like cancer, they can spring back if not completely, continually and zealously eradicated.
Mark 9:43-48 goes into great detail about the need to be willing to cut out/cut off anything that causes us to stumble. Mark refers to hands and eyes and feet as analogies, not literally to be cut off. Clearly we are to be willing to cut out any activity or focus, any behavior or thoughts that cause us to stumble.
Hebrews 4:12 tells us: For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. [ESV]
The word of God is made for the activity of cutting away any part of us that has no place in the heart, mind, words or life of a follower of Christ Jesus. Let me be clear, though: it is for cutting away those things in our own lives, not for hacking away at others.
There are preventative measures for cancer too. A healthy lifestyle is important – eating good food, getting rest, moderate exercise, sun screen, managing stress, etc.
Preventative measures for Christians include prayer, Bible study, meditating on the word, keeping the Sabbath, “iron sharpens iron” relationships, attending church services, esteeming others better than ourselves, helping the poor and needy, etc. When we focus on these things, human nature, Satan and his world have a hard time finding a toe-hold in our lives.
Romans 7:13-25 goes into great detail about the struggle against sin within us. I have days when I think, as Paul did, “who will save me from this body of death?
Sin is a cancer. We followers of Jesus are to be motivated to the chemo, radiation and surgery level of attack on sin in our own lives – using all means available to press into the Kingdom and away from this world.
Satan is a roaring lion. We must meet his violence with violence of our own. Those of us who want the Kingdom of Heaven, take it with force, using whatever means necessary. We must go after sin with all means of violence until it meets its complete demise and eradication from our lives. It is a life-long process.

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

They Cast Him Out (Morning Companion)
In many traditional cultures one of the worst things that can happen to someone is to be cast out of the community. One’s identity is directly tied to one’s status in the community. One’s social connections depend on the community. One’s economic wellbeing is tied to the community. To be at odds with the community could mean the severing of family ties. In some instances it could lead to honor killings. Barring that extreme, to be cast out almost certainly means exile and possibly the life of a vagabond.
When Jesus told his disciples that a person’s enemies would be those of his own household (Matthew 10:36) and that he would bring division to the earth (Luke 12:51), his listeners would have understood what this meant in terms of their own world, and that the cost of discipleship could be a high one.
That’s why the newly healed blind man (John 9) engaged in some risky business when he refused to acquiesce to the authoritarian religious leaders. Even his own parents waffled about the obvious when accosted and intimidated (verse 18-23). Jesus had healed him, he knew Jesus had healed him, and the religious leaders had all the evidence that Jesus had healed him. But Jesus did not fit their narrative of how a man of God should conduct himself. They couldn’t countenance someone going around doing good works who did not conform to their mold.
We see here a tactic that remains in the toolkit of modern day inquisitors. Not only did they try to intimidate him, they also tried to get him to deny clear reality. The formerly blind man refused to surrender and reverted back to the obvious truth of the matter, after which they imposed the penalty:
They cast him out. Or, in contemporary terms, when he refused their gaslighting, they canceled him. Speaking the truth to those who refuse to hear it can often lead to being canceled, and if the cancelers are in a position of power, they can do a lot of damage.
Then something important happened.
Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” (John 9:35-39 ESV)
If there is a comfort in facing a system that relies on cancel culture to enforce its preferred narrative, it is that Jesus is there to offer encouragement. He will not leave us comfortless. It’s time to tell the truth. It will surprise some and infuriate others, and it could lead to unpleasant retaliation. But you won’t be alone if and when that happens.

How to Grow Old Poorly (Sabbath Thoughts)
The problem with getting older is that it happens when you’re not looking. There was a time in my life when no sane human being would have classified me as “old.” Now I seem to have reached a point in life where
most sane human beings wouldn’t classify me as old – but I’m starting to notice exceptions.
I don’t get carded at restaurants anymore. My campers default to calling me “Mr. Lallier” instead of “Mr. Jeremy.” There are more than a dozen tiny people who know me as some variation of “Unka Jermy.” I just bought a house. I find myself telling younger people about life when I was their age.
Whoa. Sorry. This is supposed to be a Sabbath Thought, not a Sabbath Creeping Existential Horror. And I know, I know – there are those of you reading this and saying, “Oh, come on, Jeremy. You’re still a kid. Why, I remember when I was your age …”
But I also know that some small handful of you are reading this and saying, “It’s not so bad, Mr. Lallier. You have plenty of years left. Maybe even an entire decade or two!” And to you, dear readers, I can only say that when I was your age –
No. No. Not doing this. I was making a point, and the point was …
The point was …
Oh. Right. The point was that, whatever side of the spectrum you think I’m on, I’m still getting older. We all are. And at some undefined moment in the future, if all things continue as they have been, I’ll cross a threshold where most sane human beings
will call me old. That moment is going to do a number on my psyche, but it’s coming and there’s nothing I can do about it.
But as much as this post is heading into decidedly morbid territory (especially for my brothers-in-law – most of whom are reading this and all of whom, I should point out, are older than me), I did have a reason for steering it this direction. I was digging through Proverbs recently when I came across an intriguing passage:
The silver-haired head is a crown of glory,
If it is found in the way of righteousness.
(Proverbs 16:31)
It turns out the “if” isn’t there in the Hebrew manuscripts. It was added by translators who felt it best conveyed the original meaning of the verse – which fascinates me, because it makes the verse conditional. And it makes sense. There are two ways to get gray hair: You can find it in the way of righteousness, and you can find it outside the way of righteousness.
Only one of those routes is pleasing to God – and only one of those outcomes can be called a crown of glory. Even if the “if”
doesn’t belong in that particular verse, the same principle shows up in other passages.
The gray-headed deserve respect and deference (Leviticus 19:32), but Solomon notes:
“Better a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who will be admonished no more” (Ecclesiastes 4:13).
Elihu recognized that,
“age should speak, and multitude of years should teach wisdom” (Job 32:7), but he also understood that “great men are not always wise, nor do the aged always understand justice” (Job 32:9). It’s entirely possible to reach the trappings of old age without learning the lessons God has for us along the way.
So. Which way are you walking?
If you’re young and still getting carded at restaurants, it might seem like you have a few more years to really worry about it, but you don’t. “The way of righteousness” isn’t a lifestyle God calls us to adopt once the gray hairs start coming. He calls us to start living it
now – so that by the time the gray hairs do come, you (and others!) can look at them and see the crown of glory God intended them to be. We can’t backfill time – the decisions you’re making now are the decisions you’ll be looking back on one day, though whether that’s with regret or fondness is up to you.
And if you’re already in the gray-haired camp, have you missed the boat? Is the time for doing already over? Is your crown destined to only ever be what it already is?
Far from it. We’re
all still getting older, and that’s something to be glad about. You can’t undo the choices of yesterday, but each new day means new decisions – opportunities to repair a lackluster crown or make a good crown even better. That’s true no matter what color your hair happens to be.
The secret to growing old poorly is to ignore everything we’ve covered today. Make bad decisions, tell yourself you’re too young or too old for them to matter, and continue plowing ahead. It’s easy – but it’s not what God wants. Gray hair, found in the way of righteousness,
is a crown of glory – a crown God wants all of us to find. Elihu was right: Age should speak, and multitude of years should speak wisdom. Old age is a gift that ought to provide us with insight and experience to share with the increasing number of people who classify us as “old.”
What you’ll have to offer
then depends on the path you’re walking now. If you haven’t already found it, there’s a crown of glory waiting for each of us on the way of righteousness. Let’s go get it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more words of Martin Luther King, Jr., Stanford University’s research project at www.stanford.edu/group/King.

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

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

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

Universal Basic Income (World Watch)
Regardless of one’s perspective, the COVID-19 pandemic historically upended the global community. Of the many burdens the world has suffered in its wake, some of the greatest have been economic. In the United States, many businesses – large, medium, and small – were forced to shut down or dramatically scale back their operations for the best part of a year as much of society sheltered-in-place at home. Tragically, many of these businesses never reopened. Unemployment naturally skyrocketed to levels not seen since the Great Depression, and with that unemployment came widespread economic pain.
Responding to the many fiscal woes of the people, the federal government passed “emergency” legislation that authorized economic stimulus in the form of generous cash payments to the majority of all citizens, regardless of employment status. In addition to the cash payments, the government increased the weekly unemployment compensation payment and extended the duration of eligibility for receiving the benefit. In many cases, the monies provided by the government equaled or exceeded what an individual could earn by actually working. Many observers report that the political will exists to continue these stimulus payments as long as COVID-19 remains a threat to economic growth.
An additional “benefit,” quietly included in the federal legislation, is a drastic change in the child tax credit. Initially designed as a benefit (in the form of a tax deduction) for working, tax-paying parents, the credit has now been increased and changed into direct cash payments to the parent(s). More significantly, the legislation eliminates the work requirement. Once a tax credit for the employed, it is now a cash handout to all parents of young children, without regard to employment.
This proposed benefit is a colossal undertaking, especially if it is made permanent. All indications are that it will be if the Democrat party retains control over the executive and legislative branches of the federal government. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C., released a report describing the legislation:
If enacted permanently, the Biden cash grant plan would constitute the second-largest expansion of means-tested welfare entitlements in U.S. history. In constant dollars, its annual cost would dwarf the initial costs of the Medicaid, food stamp, and Aid to Families with Dependent Children programs. Only Obamacare would be more expensive.
Acton Institute’s Jordan J. Ballor surmises: “The creation of a new, permanent entitlement program for parents seems particularly unwise while our federal debt skyrockets and reform for already existing entitlement programs is so desperately needed.”
Oren Cass’ article, “The Biden and Romney Family Plans Go Too Far,” in
The New York Times on March 2, 2021, opines:
To be clear, America should provide basic necessities to those who cannot provide for themselves … But the safety net’s assistance should not replicate the income associated with engaging productively in the society … A generous cash benefit disconnected from work can also be economically and culturally counter-productive. Work plays a critical role in people’s lives as a source of purpose, structure, and social interaction; a prerequisite for upward mobility and a foundation of family formation and stability.
The news and social media overflow with anecdotal reports from employers who have recently reopened their businesses but cannot rehire old employees or find new ones because they cannot compete with the cash “benefits” paid by the federal government.
Richard Giacovas, reporting for Fox5NewYork.com on March 31, 2021, quotes restaurant owner Dean O’Neil, who has struggled to staff his restaurant recently: “I couldn’t work out really why. And then I found it was basically they could receive money without having to work.”
Tyler Durden from ZeroHedge.com opines in an April 9, 2021, article:
The trillions in Biden stimulus are now incentivizing potential workers not to seek gainful employment, but to sit back and collect the next stimmy check for doing absolutely nothing in what is becoming the world’s greatest “under the radar” experiment in Universal Basic Income … Early in the Covid-19 pandemic, Melissa Anderson laid off all three full-time employees of her jewelry-making company, Silver Chest Creations in Burkesville, KY. She tried to rehire one of them in September and another in January as business recovered, but they refused to come back, she says. “They’re not looking for work.”
U.S. history is replete with the efforts of conscientious men and women rolling up their sleeves and working to overcome almost any crisis at hand. But powerful, secular, anti-God winds are blowing, and the era of big government is back in vogue in Washington, D.C. With that, we are witnessing a purposeful pivot away from our Judeo-Christian heritage and its conservative, capitalist roots toward liberal, interventionist, and even socialist policies that will eventually bankrupt the country – fiscally and morally. Moreover, if our incentive for employment is taken away, we oppose our Creator’s design for us and abandon one of His greatest gifts – work – while slipping into indolent oblivion (Genesis 1:26; 2:15; Proverbs 19:15; Ecclesiastes 5:18; John 5:17).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Illusion of Gray (Sabbath Thoughts)
The remarkable thing about the human race is our ability to botch things up, even when the odds are undeniably in our favor. Our story began in the Garden of Eden – a lush paradise designed by God Himself and filled with “every tree … that is pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Genesis 2:9). A husband and his wife lived in this utopia, surrounded by the creation of a loving God and sharing a close, personal relationship with their Creator. And all they had to do was keep their hands off of one tree.
One, Measly, Tree.
But they couldn’t do it. They succumbed to temptation. Satan came in and muddied the waters with lies and half-truths until Eve saw the tree as “good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise” (Genesis 3:6). So husband and wife took of the forbidden tree, the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and officially began the proud human tradition of “every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes” (Deuteronomy 12:8). (Re)drawing the line
Not much has changed since that historic sin. Adam and Eve got exactly what they asked for: knowledge of good
and evil. What they didn’t get was knowledge of the defining line between the two categories – and for 6,000 years of human history, some of the greatest minds of our race have been engaged in a never-ending debate about where that line belongs.
One of the more interesting ideas to come out of that debate is the concept of “gray areas”. The idea is pretty straightforward: if we define wrong and right in terms of black and white, then gray areas are actions that are ethically ambiguous. They’re harder to pin down as strictly right or wrong because they appear to contain elements of both. Maybe it’s a question of stealing… to keep your family from starving. Maybe it’s a question of lying… to protect someone else’s life. Or maybe it’s the classic question that ethics professors love so much about you standing next to a railroad switch with the opportunity to throw it and save someone’s life … at the cost of ending someone else’s.
To be fair, the average Christian faces slightly less dramatic gray areas. I can’t remember the last time I stood by a railroad switch, pulling my hair out over an ethical dilemma while a train barreled toward a junction. You know what I
do puzzle over, though? The kinds of entertainment a Christian should avoid. What constitutes an acceptable activity on the Sabbath. When and how a sin should be confronted. These and similar topics are extremely tricky when it comes to providing definite answers, simply because there are so many opposing viewpoints to consider. Whatever the gray area happens to be, we’re pretty much guaranteed a mental workout when we attempt to understand it. What’s the right course of action? What’s the wrong course of action? How can we be sure?
Does God see gray?
Before we head any further into this maze of questions marks, let’s look at the bigger picture for a helpful dose of perspective. We’ll start with a different kind of question:
Do you think God struggles with gray areas?
Think about that for a second. Do you think God, arrayed in divine majesty and unsearchable wisdom, ever looks at the action of a human being and thinks to Himself, “That’s not ri… actually, wait a minute. I’m not sure about this one.
Was
that a sin?”
If we answer yes to that question, then we need to very seriously consider how much faith we place in God’s omnipotence and omniscience. But if we answer no – if we believe that God is never uncertain about any action being right or wrong, that “His understanding is infinite” (Psalm 147:5), then we are faced with an immutable fact:
There are no gray areas in the eyes of God.
A matter of perception
So what does that mean? If there are no gray areas from God’s perfect vantage point, we must conclude that
there are no gray areas at all. What we perceive as gray areas are nothing more than illusions resulting from an imperfect understanding of God’s will.
Here’s the real question, though: Why does this distinction matter? What difference does it make if gray areas are real or not when the effect on us is still one of confusion and uncertainty?
It makes
every difference in the world. Just because we can’t see God’s standards in a particular scenario, it doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Any action or thought can only fall into one of two categories: acceptable before God or unacceptable before God. There is no middle ground. When we find ourselves enshrouded by a gray area, we must keep in the forefront of our minds that, although the waters might be murky to us, they are perfectly clear to God. The boundaries between right and wrong are still perfectly defined, even if we’re having trouble perceiving them.
The way things are
The world loves gray areas, because it’s easy to treat gray areas as free passes. If the waters are murky – if black and white have blended into shades of gray – then judgment is impossible and anything goes. It becomes an excuse to act without restraint and without consideration, because, after all, who’s to say for sure what’s right? And if we have the audacity to suggest that there might actually be a concrete right and wrong, we’ll be met with criticism – we’re seeing things in black and white, refusing to consider the more nuanced aspects of an issue.
God created very definite boundaries between right and wrong, and however fuzzy they might look to us, they remain constant and unchanging. Christ warned “that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few” (Luke 12:47-48).
Not knowing God’s will doesn’t excuse us from it – it is our constant duty to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). How do we do that? “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20). God’s word contains the priceless wisdom we need to sharpen our discernment and draw closer to our Creator.
That passage in Isaiah continues with a warning against those who walk outside the light: “They will pass through it hard-pressed and hungry; and it shall happen, when they are hungry, that they will be enraged and curse their king and their God, and look upward. Then they will look to the earth, and see trouble and darkness, gloom of anguish; and they will be driven into darkness” (Isaiah 8:21-22).
The more time we spend embracing the “freedom” of gray areas, the closer we move toward the darkness. And that’s not where the children of light belong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Careless Farmer (Morning Companion)
What kind of farmer would throw seed in places where there is little chance for growth?
One time Jesus told a parable about just such a man. We know it as the Parable of the Sower and the Seed (Matthew 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, and Luke 8:4-15).
In this parable the farmer throws seed almost indiscriminately. Some falls on good ground and flourishes, but some also falls on stony ground where the seeds sprout but have no depth for their roots. Some falls on ground full of thorns and weeds where shortly after sprouting it gets choked off, while some falls by the wayside and is gobbled up by fauna and fowl and otherwise trampled underfoot by those who pass by.
Would a prudent farmer sow seed in such a way, where much of it would be wasted and lost? Would he even think about doing this deliberately? What kind of sower is this?
Mark’s Gospel tells us that the “sower is the one who sows the word.” That could be Jesus himself, but the wording does not exclude anyone else who is spreading the Good News. What if the ground appears to be poor ground for the Gospel? Is the parable teaching us that we should sow the seeds there anyway?
Maybe part of the answer can be found in the parable that immediately follows the Sower and the Seed (Matthew 13:24-29).
Sometimes known as the Parable of the Tares, it reminds us that bad seed can get mixed in with the good, resulting in a mixture of good crop and weed crop. The parable reminds me about something that happened during my early days of backyard gardening. I noticed mid-spring a rather odd looking plant growing where I didn’t think it should be. I had planted potatoes in one corner of the garden and they had begun to sprout, but there was this odd plant in an odd place that I thought maybe was a potato plant, but it didn’t look like the other plants — and it was in the wrong place.
After a few weeks I couldn’t take it any more and decided to pull the rogue plant out of my well-groomed garden, at which time I realized my mistake. Dangling from the roots was a small, immature potato. This plant was not a rogue weed. It was a different variety of potato. It might have looked different and maybe wasn’t growing where I thought it should be, but it was absolutely a good, healthy plant that should have been allowed to mature.
The Parable of the Tares came to mind. I learned that in matters of the spirit we often lack the judgment to know the difference between tares and wheat, weeds and good crops, and sometimes it’s best just to let them grow together to avoid hurting the healthy plants.
This seems to be an extension of the lesson found in the Parable of the Sower. In that parable we seem to be told not to pre-judge the receptiveness of the soil to the Gospel, and in the Parable of the Tares we’re told to be careful about weeding out what appear to be tares. In other words, our job is to sow the seed in hope and tend the field in compassion. But at the same time, be aware that failure for good seed to take root and for tares among the wheat will always be a given.

Preparing for Passover – what the Pharisees can teach us (Sabbath Thoughts)
During His time on earth, Jesus Christ had a lot of things to say about the Pharisees. They weren’t kind things.
Because they sat “in Moses’ seat” (Matthew 23:2), they were responsible for the spiritual guidance and development of the