Thoughts on The Way


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

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

The Gospel According to Angry Birds (Sabbath Meditations)
I’m an addict. I admit it. I love Angry Birds.
From the moment my daughter sat next to me on the couch one evening and said, “Dad, you’ve got to try this new game. It’s awesome!” I was hooked. I just couldn’t get enough of sling-shotting those little angry birds through the air to destroy whatever impregnable pig fortress stood in their way. One night, my wife came over to where I was sitting at my lap top, and asked, “what are you working on so intently? Something for work? A new blog post?” I sheepishly looked up at her and mumbled, “uhh … Angry Birds.”
I think what appeals to me most about the game is its simplicity. It hearkens back to a simpler time. I grew up in the day when video games typically had two controls, a joystick to maneuver and a button to fire. Packman, Tron, Tanks, Pong, Centipede. These were the games of my youth. These are the games I mastered. Unfortunately, they are old school now. They’ve gone the way of eight track tapes and record players.
Sure, I tried playing the new-fangled games with my teenage son. He just laughed at me. By the time I figured out which of the the umpteen buttons or knobs to push, each performing different functions depending on the order or combination in which they are supposed to be manipulated … it’s too late, I’m toast. It’s way too overwhelming and confusing for my old brain to handle.
In 2 Corinthians 11:3 Paul tells the Corinthian brethren,
“But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.”
Paul was warning the Corinthian brethren about becoming confused by false teachers coming among them seeking to complicate the simple message of the Gospel. These teachers were trying to persuade the brethren of the necessity of mastering a bunch of unneeded rules and a bunch of different knobs and buttons while ignoring the one button that was most important to “winning.” As a result the brethren were becoming confused and frustrated.
One Pentecost, I sat next to a lady on a three hour flight to Dallas. When she learned during the course of polite conversation that I was travelling to speak at a church congregation in Big Sandy, her eyes lit up. “I attend a church not too far from there in Gladewater,” she said. “What are you speaking about?” While I was tempted to launch into a dissertation on the meaning of Pentecost and its relationship with the other two harvests, I chose another tack. “I’ll be speaking about the importance of letting Jesus Christ live His life within us.” “Oh!”, she said excitedly, “That’s wonderful! I’m reading a book on that very topic” … and off we went talking for the next two hours about our shared belief in Christ. We talked about faith. We talked about the importance of walking the walk, not just talking the talk. She was a Sunday school teacher, so we talked a great deal about how critical it is to teach children a love for God and His way of life. Then, with a tear forming in her eye, she began sharing with me the ache in her heart for some of those children she had witnessed grow up and wander away from the faith and her deep concern that they will be condemned to a future in hell. It was then and only then that I began to share with her the hope of the resurrection and God’s plan as revealed by the Holy Days.
I feel it’s important to mention that I have no reason at all to brag. Although I’m sharing one of my few successes, there have been many more opportunities that I’ve botched miserably. Times when someone merely asking, “so why do you attend church on Saturday?” caused me to excitedly launch into a treatise on everything from the influence of Constantine on the doctrines of the Church to the prophesied ultimate destruction of the beast in the bottomless pit. “Over the top”, you say?
I think all of us who are passionately convicted about the things that we feel have been lost by so many of our brothers and sisters in Christ would do well to remember Paul’s example.
In 1 Corinthians 2 he writes,
“And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
At the risk of overdoing an analogy, Paul is basically saying that he refused to get lost in all these complicated buttons and knobs on the controller. Though he had mountains of knowledge and years of experience to share, that’s not where He started. Instead, he kept it simple. In his sharing of the gospel, he focused on the majors, not on the minors. In doing so he let people be drawn to the clear, pure core message of the Gospel, Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Nothing else has any meaning, any relevance, aside from that.
How much more effective would our witness be if we adopted Paul’s approach? If, when presented with an opportunity to share, we’d step back, take a breath, set aside for a moment all of those tempting buttons and knobs, and lead with the one button that really matters, Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
It’s not an easy principle to keep in mind, especially when your in the heat of the moment and you’re bursting at the seams with excitement and passion for the truth. If there were only something to always keep us reminded of that simple principle.
Hmm … anyone for a game of Angry Birds?

A Wonder (New Church Lady)
It is common in the American South to hear someone say, “I don’t want to be beholden to anyone.” It’s a way of refusing help, so that one doesn’t owe help back to another – even upon pain of failure or facing a long struggle on one’s own when a little help would make the solution much easier. That’s often how the world works – I do something nice for you and I hold that in reserve against the day that I need help. Then I can say, “Well, I helped you when you needed it.” It’s the way of the world and not altogether bad that, if you help me, I feel like I need to also help you. However, this exchange of debt is why some folks refuse help and seek rather to pull themselves up “by their own bootstraps.”
As with most things that are natural in this world – natural according to human nature – that isn’t how it’s supposed to work according to God.
Romans 13:8 [KJV] says, Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.
This would seem to support the idea of not being “beholden” to anyone. I like the NIV better on this one because it seems to clarify what the writer is getting at: Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. There is a difference, to my thinking, in how these translations instruct me. The NIV seems to imply that I do have an obligation to pay folks back what I owe – whether money or service or goods. It doesn’t say to me that I need to never have any debt or anything I owe others, need to never be “beholden” to anyone, to never accept help. Rather, it tells me that I should pay it back in a timely manner and not let it remain outstanding.
It also says to me that the debt to love one another – a debt that all believers owe – is impossible to pay back – it remains owed no matter how many payments I make.
We do not owe this debt of love to others because of anything a family member or neighbor or friend or stranger has done for us. We owe it to others because of God’s love for each of us and because of what Jesus has done for each of us.
I finally got to watch the movie Wonder, about an extremely disfigured boy named Auggie and the impact his life makes on those around him, primarily the other 5th graders in his school. Auggie, of course, gets picked on and misunderstood in the beginning, but eventually wins over his classmates and gathers a group of true friends who love him for the person he is inside. (I hope that isn’t a spoiler for any of you.) Because of his ability to inspire others to kindness, his mother says, “Auggie, you are a wonder.”
True, godly love, especially shown in acts of kindness, is a “wonder” in the real world we live in too. Love that is outward facing, given generously and without thought of payback, which is given to those from whom I have received hate, and that is given inexhaustibly, isn’t natural in this world. Yet
Romans 13:8 tells us that this is exactly what we owe – and that it is a debt that remains open and owed for our entire lives. We are required make regular payments.
Acts of kindness – showing love for others – need not be big and bold – don’t need to involve a large charitable donation or massive group effort.
Mark 9:41 [NIV] sets the bar really low for us when it says, Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.
A cup of water – whether literal water or refreshing of the spirit through encouragement – even this most simple acts of kindness is precious to our Heavenly Father.
As in all of our Christian walk, Jesus’s example is the marker toward which we should strive.
1 John 2:6 [NIV] Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.
Jesus lived a life of love that we can only hope to emulate. Though we never achieve His level of love for one another, we must try for it every minute of every day. Simple acts of kindness are one way to inch toward that goal and chip away at the debt we owe.
Be a wonder in this world – a person whose godly love and acts of kindness cause folks to marvel. I say this not so we can cause wonder for ourselves, but so that, then, we can point others to the debt of love we owe to one another because of the great love that God and Jesus have shown each of us. We do this so we can point to the Wonderful God we have.
Because God’s limitless love for us is the greatest wonder in all the earth and through all eternity, let’s commit ourselves to ask what we can do each day to refresh another, to encourage another, to help another – to make a payment on the unrelenting debt of love we owe – by being a wonder in this world.
Please share the acts of kindness that you see around you and/or that you receive. Post them on Facebook to encourage others that there is good – that there is wonder – in the world and to inspire others to do the same. By this we can encourage others to seek the God of all Wonder.
It’s all just a small down payment on the wonderful love of God; on the wonderful debt we owe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uber, Lyft and Curb Enter a Race (New Church Lady)
When it rains in New York City, getting a cab is nearly impossible. I mean, I see people in cabs and I wonder, “How did
he get a cab?” but I never see an empty cab. Finding a cab on a rainy day in NYC feels like chasing after the wind.
So, one rainy Wednesday, I gave myself 40 minutes for a 20 minute drive and I used the official app of the NYC cab system, Curb, to schedule a cab. The Curb app kept looking, looking, looking, to no avail – not an available cab in all of NYC, apparently. But, no worries, I opened the Uber app and checked there. Uber said the nearest driver was 17 minutes away. Nope. So, I opened up the Lyft app and was told it would be 11 minutes. I had already chewed up 5 of my 40 minutes but it would have to do. I scheduled the Lyft driver.
The great thing about these apps is that you can watch your driver’s car as it makes the trek toward you. So, I watched with dismay as my Lyft driver got further away instead of closer. In 5 minutes he was 17 minutes away. How does
that happen? I canceled the Lyft, went back to Curb, still unable to find a driver, so I let the app continue to look, and then went to Uber and scheduled a driver there. While I had the Uber driver on the way, I scheduled a new one for Lyft as well, hoping to get one who would travel toward me instead of back in time. As I watched the moments tick away, I switched from app to app to app, watching the progress. Uber won, and as I hopped into the Uber, I canceled the Lyft and Curb rides.
Some people treat church that way – first one use my gifts the way I want to use them, gets my tithes. Some people treat religion that way – first god to meet my needs gets my worship. Some people treat life that way – first pursuit, activity, person or organization to make me truly happy gets my respect and support.
Solomon did that. The book of Ecclesiastes is about exactly that process.
First Solomon tried wisdom –
Ecclesiastes 1:16-18 [NIV] I said to myself, “Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.” Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind. For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.
Then he tried fun:
Ecclesiastes 2:1-3 [NIV] I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. “Laughter,” I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?” I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly–my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.
Then he tried gaining “things” – acquiring any item his heart desired:
Ecclesiastes 2:4-11 [NIV] I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well–the delights of a man’s heart. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me. I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.
None of these things brought him true fulfillment or lasting happiness. In fact, Solomon’s most repeated conclusion throughout the book of Ecclesiastes was that each thing was meaningless or amounted to chasing after the wind.
Solomon did the work for us. It’s like he opened all the “apps” available to him during his lifetime and looked for one to bring him lasting happiness and fulfillment. He ruled out every pursuit, option, theory and opportunity – except God. Nothing worked. So, buy process of elimination, that leaves God as the sole viable solution.
If I allow myself to pursue fulfillment or happiness like Solomon did it is pretty clear from the book of Ecclesiastes that I’ll be chasing after the wind.
As human beings, we want to belong. We want our gifts to be used. We want to be fulfilled. We want to feel needed – a part of something – important. We want happiness and fulfillment that stands the test of time. For all of that, we only need to open the God “app” and pursue Him with everything we’ve got.
We can also open the Holy Spirit “app” and open yourselves up to bearing fruit that lasts a lifetime. We can open the love “app” and find true fulfillment by giving it away generously. We can open the forgiveness “app” and find true freedom by offering it liberally to others.
The Bible is an invaluable resource – the single location for everything we need to know about any of these “apps.” And, guess what, there are actually a myriad of Bible apps. The Blue Letter Bible is one I use that includes dozens of translations of the Bible as well as the Strong’s concordance and a search function that will help you find every use of a word or that scripture you want to quote but can’t quite remember.
After all the things he tried Solomon bottom-lined it for us at the end of the book of Ecclesiastes.
Ecclesiastes 12:13 [NIV] Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.
Let’s open the God “app” every day of our lives and pursue meaning, purpose and happiness through Him alone. It’s the only thing that isn’t chasing after the wind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Of This World (Sabbath Thoughts)
“My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36).
I’ve been thinking about that lately. The Jews of the first century – up to and including Jesus Christ’s own disciples, even after His resurrection – were looking for a Messiah who would overthrow the Romans and “restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6). What they got was a Savior who sacrificed Himself for the world and then asked His followers to do a very difficult thing: To wait.
Those are His last words in Luke’s gospel account: “tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).
Wait. Be patient. So they did. And they were. Finally, on the Feast of Pentecost, God poured out His Spirit on them, and they set about fulfilling their divine commission: to make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them and teaching them to obey the words of God (Matthew 28:19-20). All the while, these faithful disciples were looking to the horizon, waiting for the Kingdom their Lord and Savior had promised to establish at His return.
But it didn’t come – not during their lifetimes, anyway. Even Paul, who wrote with confidence about “we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:15), eventually came to accept that Jesus would be returning after his own death, and not before (2 Timothy 4:6).
For the last 2,000 years, Christ’s disciples have been waiting. And while we wait for the Kingdom not of this world, Jesus asks us to do another difficult thing: To
live like we’re not of this world.
Because, of course, we aren’t. Jesus told the Father, “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (John 17:16). Paul told the Philippians, “Our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). He told Timothy, “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him” (2 Timothy 2:4, ESV). The author of Hebrews urges us to follow the example of those who “confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth,” who “declare plainly that they seek a homeland” (Hebrews 11:13-14).
The world wants you to get involved – to get
entrenched – to find a hill to die on and battle it out till the bitter end. And if you want a hill to die on, this is the year to find one. There is n